Blessed James Alberione

Opera Omnia


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Pictures, in other words, detailed drawings that accompany and explain or even represent the written word, can be extremely useful for the apostolate when we consider their psychological potential, and when they are used correctly.

Psychological potential of pictures1
Apart from their aesthetic intent, pictures of whatever kind or form are geared to achieve one of
three aims: to clarify the idea, to move the will, to make an impression on the feeling of [the viewer].
History makes this evident. In every age there was a deeply felt need to link up and explain facts and theories as well as literary, scientific and popular works with the aid of drawings - whether rough woodcuts or engravings - so as to help people understand and assimilate2 fully what they meant.
There is a wide-open field for pictures; a door opening on to the supernatural and the natural world.
They lend themselves in fact to portray and elucidate the loftiest truths of Christian doctrine in its three parts, that is, faith, morals and grace; just as they lend themselves to portray and to define beauty, power, wisdom and the wonders of which life and the world are awash.
This responds to one of the highest aspirations of human beings. It is to make the supernatural, the spiritual world and the natural world perceptible to them, so that they can contemplate, albeit in imagery form, that which is marvelous and unreachable: from the loftiness of the heavens to the depths of the oceans; all that is within human beings and outside of them, the beings that are and those that were, including those of the most distant ages.
When we then consider the value of pictures in the field of teaching, education and formation, we can easily comprehend how great they are, superior even to writing or to print.
A page of a book, even if it is in color, will not hollow a furrow in the spirit as deep as will that of a picture.
Reading strikes the imagination, while the picture strikes the eye. And "the light of the eyes - as Solomon writes - rejoices the heart."3
Thus, before the picture acts on the imagination, on desire, or on the mind and will it acts on feeling in a pleasant way. It has therefore a greater power of suggestion than even print itself because - as good, traditional philosophy teaches - the intellect perceives "per conversionem ad phantasmata."4 Ideas seep into the mind through the senses; the more lively and striking the images presented by the senses, the clearer and more effective the ideas.

Usefulness of pictures in the apostolate
A picture - as every other discovery of human genius - while of itself neutral, is an asset that can be placed at the service of both truth and falsehood, vice and virtue, God and Satan.
In the apostle's hands it can become a very powerful natural means which, in combination with the supernatural means of grace, arouses the mind
to faith, the will to holiness of life, the heart to union with God.
This is why the Catholic Church always professed, defended and justified the cult of [sacred] images. To be convinced of this it suffices to read, for example, the works of Saint John Damascene and the decrees of the IV and VIII Ecumenical Councils.
History, the customs of every age and place, and day to day experience all make this evident. By means of pictures the mysticism of Saint Teresa, Saint John of the Cross, the spiritual childhood of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and other lofty doctrines have been opened up to ordinary folk.
Ordinary pictures are an aid to help children learn about such lofty mysteries of the faith as those of the Blessed Trinity, the Incarnation and so on. Gazing up at Michelangelo's Last Judgment in the Vatican one cannot but feel oneself supernaturally led to admit the true meaning of Providence and of God's justice.
The depiction of the commandments, of the virtues and of the lives of the Saints helps the will to foster good and resolute intentions.
Pictures that depict the reward reserved for the faithful and punishment for the unfaithful, pictures that depict the beauty of charity and the Christian satisfaction of those who, such as martyrs and confessors,
work and suffer for God... are all an incentive to generously embrace God's will, as becomes the keeping of the commandments, the exercise of the Christian virtues, and the practice of the religious vows.
The Crucifix is a great book even for those who do not know how to read. The depiction of the commandments prepares people's minds to accept them properly. The depiction of the Mass or of the Rosary conciliates devotion, recollection, faith and charity. The depiction of the Way of the Cross fosters feelings of love, sorrow, humility and prayer. Pictures that depict Our Lady, Saint Joseph, the Angels and the Saints are an invitation to all, and exert a charming fascination on everyone, even the learned. Who, for example, is not moved when viewing a Madonna of Beato Angelico, or Vinci's Last Supper, or Reffo's Sacred Heart of Jesus?
Dogma, morals, the sacraments, the sacramentals, and prayer all have a powerful ally in art.

Norms for the apostle
Make abundant use of pictures. Often a design or a figure speaks louder than an article or a book.
For those unable to read, such as primitive peoples, or those who speak another language, the whole of religion can be set out in just 52 frames: Creation, the Trinity, the Incarnation, Passion,
Death, and Resurrection of Christ, Pentecost, the Ten Commandments, the seven Sacraments, the Last Things...
For every painter, every subject of the natural and supernatural order is a marvelous opportunity that raises him or her to the dignity of a preacher, a missionary and a teacher.
Put pictures to good use. When a picture is at the service of the written text, it must express the author's exact thought. For example, having to illustrate I Promessi Sposi, the artist will need to live the part that is in the author's mind: God will protect innocence persecuted by the arrogant, while He will, one day, punish arrogance. The artist will thus lay emphasis on what must be the main portraits: Father Cristoforo, finger raised, utters his "the day will come"; the dying and plague-ridden don Rodrigo pardoned by Renzo; the new family household of Renzo and Lucia in the company of Agnes, who are blessed by God and delight in their first-born.
The sketches that illustrate a text - whether a book or a straightforward article - are to explain, bear out and inculcate what the text's principal purpose is.
All the pictures produced by or under the guidance of the apostle ought to imply something that is doctrinal, moral or liturgical, and when possible, all three.
Pictures are to be artistic
. Pictures
are to be beautiful in the real sense, alien to the dangerous principle of "art for art's sake". They are to be suitable for the kind of people who want them; popular, if need be, but always becoming. They are to be purpose-made and treated with great sensitivity, noting that while many today claim to be painters of the sacred, they are, in reality, not so.

1 Cf. Psicologia dell'illustrato by S.T. SERINI, in Bianco e nero, Sales, Rome.

2 * The Italian text has Apprendimento, assimilazione.

3 Prov 15:30.

4 * "Through conversion to mental pictures we form reality."