Art, Beauty and God. Gaudí, incarnation of divine beauty.

The name of Antoni Gaudí is directly associated with his greatest work: the church of the Sagrada Familia, emblem of the city of Barcelona and in which Gaudí brilliantly captured his deep Catholic faith, his strong spiritual experience and his way of understanding art as a way of direct union with the Creator.  

Federico Fernández de Buján-January 22, 2023-Reading time: 9 minutes

Love is the motor of History. Although, sometimes, History must be explained through lack of love. Everything good that has ever been in this world has been made out of love. It was the lack of love that has caused evil to encamp in our land. Man is moved by the impulses of love, sometimes by the impulses of lovelessness. At the impulse of his heart of flesh, pure and generous... or under the premonition of his heart of stone, perverse and arrogant.

All that is good and bad in man comes from the depths of his being, from his impregnable heart that no detector can penetrate. 

From the whole heart, without duplicity, from the heart that does not deceive and does not allow itself to be deceived. From the heart, where everything is truthful, comes true thinking and feeling. It is also from the heart that we do and act. And, thus, true affection, that which comes from the sincere heart, needs to express its feelings and give material form to its affections. 

In this way and for this reason, sometimes love needs to manifest itself through the most beautiful, since beauty is a reflection, albeit a pale one, of goodness.

Beauty is also a way of expressing the truth. With beauty we poor human beings, who are always in need of external signs, try to express our love. If this is how we behave in human love, is it different when we express the love of God? Do we have two different hearts, depending on who is the subject of our love?

For centuries man tried to present to his God the most sublime creations of ingenuity. It was love that worshipped God. It was love tending to "Love". It was love loving "Love". Creation offered to the Creator. 

And peoples and nations, centuries and epochs arise, consecrating the best of each one to offer to the Lord the works recreated by men. And cathedrals, collegiate churches, churches, chapels, monasteries, abbeys and convents rise, with their facades, porticoes, vaults, cloisters, columns, pillars, capitals and altarpieces, which are, in ineffable artistic expression in corporeal expression, the manifestation of faith and spiritual experience of those who were their mentors and artists. And all art and human creation, architectural, sculptural, pictorial, musical and literary... wanted to worship the Creator. 

This generous explosion of ingenuity dedicated to the Lord of all creation is undoubtedly not present in our days. Is it that our time is presided over by lack of love? Is it that man's love today does not have "Love" as its subject? I believe that the aesthetic deficiency in today's religious manifestations has different, perhaps complementary, causes. The world, for centuries, has been suffering a progressive process of loss of the transcendent sense of History. Man walks horizontally and has lost the vertical reference. Thus, religious sentiment has declined as a source of inspiration for artists. 

Moreover, the secular nature of our world has also led to the distortion of the incalculable artistic treasure with sacred representation, which previous generations have handed down to us, with the inescapable mandate that we be mere possessors during our existence and faithful transmitters at its end. Not only has the purpose for which these artistic manifestations were conceived and created been altered but, at times, betrayed. 

Taking cathedrals as a paradigmatic example, it is unquestionable that their current destination -as a center of tourist attraction-, is far from the original purpose for which they were built, as places of worship and prayer. With astonishing naturalness, in too many of these temples, the presence of their exclusive Lord is hidden and almost concealed, in order to "reconvert" their destiny into "museums" through which their visitors pass, without the elementary limitations and precautions required in their profane counterparts. The naves are transformed into transit corridors, through which masses of people seek a hasty vision of these creations, without stopping to consider, not even for a moment, the reason for the existence of everything they contemplate. 

At the same time, in a small, poor and dreary chapel, the One who is the exclusive "Lord of that House" is often transferred. It is necessary to ask our world: For whom were the cathedrals built? For whom were the high altars built? For whom were the apse chapels built? For whom were the images carved and sculpted? For whom were the frescoes and canvases built? For whom were the patens and chalices built? For whom were the rich chasubles embroidered? For whom were the precious monstrances built? For whom were the precious tabernacles built? For whom were the valuable tabernacles made? 

And man, who has lost, to a great extent, the sense of transcendence, becomes himself the center of History. And this new feeling also invades artists. Returning again to exemplify, I find it disheartening to see how, on occasions, sacred vessels of little or no artistic and economic value are used to celebrate Holy Mass and to consecrate, in short, to "pose" the Most Sacred Body and Blood of Christ, while valuable patens and chalices are piled up in cathedral museums. 

It seems that today the world has dissociated human love and love of God. And it applies to these loves "two weights and two measures". And God has been given the poorer measure. However, in spite of the little appreciation we express today for the "physical and real" presence of the true God in the consecrated species, He is still there, hidden, patient, silent, in the Tabernacle.

I now turn to some reflections on Gaudí, as a paradigmatic example of an artist who recreates his work from his faith and for the glory of God. Hundreds of pages have been written to highlight this aspect. Among which I highlight the works of José Manuel Almuzara, architect, tireless lecturer, writer in love with Gaudí and his work and today only Gaudiologist: Gaudí and the Sagrada Familia y From the stone to the MasterThis was co-authored with Etsuro Sotoo. 

The eventual originality of my approach could consist of a sort of "linguistic guide" that I call the "ABC of our dear Antonio Gaudi, Servant of God". 

With A, Love, as the cause of Art. 

The dictionary of the Real Academia Española de la Lengua (RAE) defines love in its first meaning as: "Intense feeling of the human being who, starting from his own insufficiency, needs and seeks the encounter and union with another being.". It is completed with the following that state: "Feeling towards another person and that, seeking reciprocity in the desire for union, completes us, makes us happy and gives us energy to live together, communicate and create. Feeling of affection and devotion to someone or something".

Gaudí conceives, plans and executes the expiatory temple of the Holy Family from the age of thirty-one until her death, from her passionate love for Jesus, Mary and Joseph. His heart was centered on Love "to" God and Love "of" God. Holy Mass and devotion to Our Lady and St. Joseph were the powerful energy from which he drew the strength to work without sleep and even without food. 

The daily Rosary was his rest. When he is run over by a streetcar, one of the few belongings found in his pockets is a Rosary. In Park Güell he built an itinerary with one hundred and fifty stone balls, corresponding to the ten Hail Marys of each of the fifteen mysteries. Gaudí completed the "vertical" aspect of love for God with the "horizontal" one of love for others. Thus he affirms: "Work is the fruit of collaboration that is based on love.".

As far as the concept of Art is concerned, the dictionary of Authorities defines it as: "The faculty that prescribes rules and precepts for doing things rightly. It is also valid as perfection in the work done. Thus, that which is executed or carved with all care, and composed according to the precepts and rules of each art, is said to be executed with art.". He adds: "It is also called dexterity, skill of a person and the ability with which he or she arranges things. 

 And the general dictionary of the RAE defines art as the: "Manifestation of human activity by means of which the real is interpreted or the imagined is embodied.". It can be seen -just by contemplating Creation- that the Supreme Artistic Creator is God. 

Thus, in Genesis, the whole of creation, which is set out in the six days of the formation of the world and enjoyed on the seventh day, is made from the Beauty of God, who shapes the beautiful things and transmits them to man for his enjoyment and delight. 

God gave man the ability to achieve beauty through aesthetic expressions and inspires the hearts of artists to create their works. And Christianity is the greatest influence on art in the history of mankind. So it is affirmed: "Remove works of Christian inspiration from your museums and you will have irreparably diminished the artistic heritage of humanity." 

 "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.". This becomes a reality in Gaudí. His art was a manifestation, even more, an extra-human extension of his faith. The Sagrada Familia reveals his whole soul. In Gaudí and in his work, one discovers that "God is more intimate to him than his own intimacy." 

With B, beauty

In the dictionary of Authorities of the RAE, beauty is defined in its second meaning as: "It is usually taken for an excellent thing, well executed, and which has in itself great excellence and perfection". 

It seems to me that Gaudí, who would not be in favor of "art for art's sake", but art as "means of expressing the beauty and qualities of the created." to contribute to bringing man to the fullness of his being, which is neither more nor less than God. Thus let us recall the luminous thought of St. Augustine who expresses: "You have made us Lord for yourself and our heart is restless until it rests in You." 

With C, create

In the last edition of the dictionary published on the occasion of its third centenary, the first meaning was: Attribute of God by which he is able to bring something into existence from nothing at any time. Unfortunately, the digital edition -which is at www.uned.es-, relegates it to the second meaning and defines it as: "To produce something out of nothing." And he gives as an example "God created the heavens and the earth." 

It is evident that language has been degraded and the dictionary also follows this trend, insofar as it defines create, in its first sense, by saying: "To produce something new, disregarding its pristine meaning, the only one that fully defines creating. The rest is to recreate". 

With D, God

The Diccionario de Autoridades states. "Sacred Name of the first and supreme. Necessary, eternal and infinite entity, whose Being, as it cannot be comprehended, cannot be defined and can only be drawn from his Sacred Oracles, the beginning and end of all things. He who "created" the Universe by his Power, who preserves by his Goodness, who governs by his Providence, whose everything hangs on his infinite magnificence". And the general dictionary of the RAE in its first meaning defines: "Supreme Being who in monotheistic religions is considered to be maker of the universe.".

The arm of God is a symbol of his power and greatness and the finger of God is a symbol of "divine grace", Gaudi's mission in the Sagrada Familia was supported by the "arm" and delineated with the "finger" of God. Both were always with him. 

With G, genius

The RAE dictionary states: "Genius saying, deed or ideas." And of genius he points out: "Proper to someone's genius. Outstanding, extreme, revealing creative genius". 

Define genius as: "Extraordinary mental capacity to create or invent new and admirable things." 

Gaudí is absolutely unrepeatable, unique. His genius comes from his religiosity. 

It aims to transmit to posterity the message that God, who is close to us, takes care of us and enters into our lives. 

Its architecture is conceived as a participation in the creative work of the One who sustains us in His infinite Providence. 

With I, inspiration joined to S, sacrifice 

Inspiration is defined as the "stimulus that encourages creative work in art or science". But inspiration leads to nothing, it is sterile without perspiration. 

Sweating is defined as "exhale through body. Said another way: to sweat".. Perspiration is therefore the fruit of sacrifice and dedication. 

It is evident that in the artistic world "creation" depends on "inspiration", more than in the scientific field. In the latter, study is the cause of the result achieved with 99% of perspiration and 1% of inspiration. Moreover, it usually appears when the former is more intense. It is often stated: "Inspiration will always find you sitting down."  

Sacrifice is defined as: "Offering to a deity as a sign of homage or expiation. Act of abnegation inspired by the vehemence of love". And it delimits "to give oneself" as: "attention, interest, effort, in support of a person or persons, an action, an ideal."

If sacrifice is "offering to God as a sign of homage or atonement", and if in a complementary meaning sacrifice is "act of self-sacrifice inspired by the vehemence of love".It is evident that Gaudí is the perfect incarnation of sacrifice to the point of exhaustion, in the faithful fulfillment of the mission entrusted to him. 

Convinced that things without sacrifice have no value, Gaudí dedicated himself to his work of the Sagrada Familia from an austere life, always accompanied his work with much prayer and penance.

If delivery is "action and effect of surrendering" and a complementary meaning is "attention, interest, effort, to make an action possible." it is evident that Gaudí "gave" most of his life to his most exalted work for which he lived and for which he died: the expiatory temple of La Sagrada Familia. 

With N, nature

The dictionary says in its first meaning: "Set of everything that exists and that is determined and harmonized in its own laws."

Gaudí's childhood, with delicate health, was spent a long time in the countryside, where he learned to contemplate the beauty of nature. Thus, his conception of art is based on the models of nature, such as "the masterpiece of the Creator, in which the Truth shines".. For him, everything beautiful must lead to God, since, in reality, it is only a pale manifestation of him. 

I conclude. And I wish to do so with a few words from José Manuel Almuzara: "Gaudí acted in accordance with his thinking, lived with absolute loyalty to his deep-rooted religious beliefs and his refined aesthetic ideals, and demonstrated that the highest artistic inspiration crowns intense, sustained, slow, methodical and disciplined work.".

The authorFederico Fernández de Buján

Professor of Roman Law. UNED. Full member of the Royal Academy of Doctors of Spain.

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