FR GIORGIO LICINI | Catholic Reporter
WHEN I ENTER A MUSEUM, a government building or even a church in Rome and spot a statue or representation of emperor Caesar Augustus, of course I don’t believe he was God, though my Roman ancestors were inclined to do so.
At the same time I don’t feel a need or uncontrollable emotion to tear the statue down and break it into pieces. And this is not just because I would end up in serious trouble with the law, but because what my ancestors achieved through carving, sculpture, painting and architecture just amazes me. It makes me feel more humble than proud.
The fact is that a subsequent generation cannot reproduce the marvels of the previous one. We do new things, of course, but why destroy what others did in the past?
Papua New Guineans of the past may have believed that certain representations were to enhance the forces of evil. So what? Are we forced to believe the same? I don’t think so. Are we compelled to destroy their works of arts? I don’t think so.
This is the phenomenon of “iconoclasm” – the destruction of symbols, often traditionally religious symbols. Europe has not been immune from it. It has been a recurrent phenomenon which has given rise to enormous religious and cultural battles.
Eventually it boils down to the debate on the possibility for arts to evoke (not necessarily to represent) the divine and the supernatural.
Generally speaking, in Christianity the pro-arts position in the debate has certainly prevailed over the centuries, but iconoclast movements from time to time have caused significant losses to the Western cultural heritage.
Christ explicitly tells us that true religion is to care for the orphans and the widows, but this is exactly what makes us overcome what people of the past may have meant about good or evil with their works of art. That's why - in my opinion - we respect them and treasure their artifacts.
A House of Parliament, anywhere in the world, may certainly accommodate new things of the present. But why remove those of the past?