MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Recovering Genius: Pope Francis and Wagner


(Pope Francis in March 2013)

By now, the extraordinary interview Pope Francis gave to fellow Jesuit Fr. Antonio Spadaro, which was recently published in America Magazine, has generated incredible interest on many fronts, from the Pope’s comments on moral priorities and his memorable metaphor of the Church as a “field hospital” to his discussion of art and creativity.

When discussing human understanding, Pope Francis revealed a fascinating perception of Wagner:

When does a formulation of thought cease to be valid? When it loses sight of the human or even when it is afraid of the human or deluded about itself. The deceived thought can be depicted as Ulysses encountering the song of the Siren, or as Tannhäuser in an orgy surrounded by satyrs and bacchantes, or as Parsifal, in the second act of Wagner’s opera, in the palace of Klingsor. The thinking of the church must recover genius and better understand how human beings understand themselves today, in order to develop and deepen the church’s teaching.

Maybe I’m on the totally wrong track here, but I almost notice an echo here of Wagner’s own formulation of the relation between art and religion from the time of Parsifal:

When religion becomes artificial, art has a duty to rescue it. Art can show that the symbols which religions would have us believe literally true are actually figurative. Art can idealize those symbols, and so reveal the profound truths they contain.

The entire interview with Pope Francis, “A Big Heart Open to God,” is in English translation here.

Filed under: aesthetics, religion, spirituality, Wagner


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