For a number of us on the faculty of Regis College, the importance of being attentive to beauty and its significance to religious experience and to the practice of theology has become central to research, reflection and teaching. Among our numbers are at least 5 musicians and singers, 2 photographers and one painter. Regis’ collection of modern religious art (begun by Fr. Peter Larisey in the early 1970’s), the welcoming of the Saint John’s Bible to the College, and the ongoing Regis in the Arts program (including the annual Artists’ Liturgy) have served to amplify and anchor this commitment to the dialogue between religion and beauty.
In the past year, Regis professors have been involved in preparations for an upcoming Art Gallery of Ontario exhibit that will explore the role of the mystical in modern art. Professors Michael Stoeber, Maureen McDonnell, Gordon Rixon and I are members of the interdisciplinary scientific committee that has been gathered by the AGO. The committee also includes other theologians from the Toronto School of Theology, art historians, psychologists and AGO curators. This has proven to be a most exciting exploration of the meaning of beauty across Christian traditions and academic specialties; what do we mean by “mysticism” and how might works of art communicate the mystical experience of the artist, or even be the occasion of mystical experiences in the viewer?
For some time now, I have collaborated with AGO assistant curator Alexandra Suda. We have given joint presentations on the Thomson Collection of Medieval Ivories, and have had numerous conversations about our mutual research interests in religion and culture in the Middle Ages. These conversations have been invaluable to my development as a scholar. I have also been involved in preparations for the upcoming exhibit “Revealing the Early Renaissance: Stories and Secrets in Florentine Art”, culminating in the co-sponsorship, by Regis College and the AGO, of this year’s Artists’ Liturgy. Assistant Curator Suda and I will give another joint talk, “Navigating a Gracious Cosmos: Faith and Creativity in 14th-Century Florence” on May 22nd.
What does all this mean for Regis College? Our Ignatian heritage orients us to the beautiful as a privileged place of encounter with God and as a source of new freedom and deeper understanding to serve truth and justice in the world. Regis’ growing collaboration with the AGO is an opportunity for all of us to learn from our partners how to be of service to society and culture. Exposure to the AGO’s collection means that our reflection, far from being abstract, is rooted in living contact with actual works of art and with developments in contemporary culture. All of which enables us to be a positive and engaging presence of the Church in the public square.
This year's Artists' Liturgy was held at the Art Gallery of Ontario on March 17th at 9am.
We collaborated with the Art Gallery of Ontario hosting a roundtable discussion "The Mystical Landscape: A Conversation on Art and Mysticism", which was held at Regis College on April 30th at 7:30pm.