Wisdom on Wednesdays—Christian hope and the artist’s sanity

“To come as near despair as possible without losing hope—that is the aim of a Christian.
“To come as near madness as possible without losing sanity—(that is, to be as fanatical as possible without losing idiocy) is the aim of an artist.”  (1932)


St. Paul the Hermit, oil on canvas, c. 1922, 30 x 25 in. (Private collection)
Schmitt’s depiction of St. Paul of Thebes (d. c. 341) being fed miraculously by a raven was probably inspired by a painting of the saint by the great seventeenth-century Spanish artist Velázquez.  The enigmatic figure on the foreground is Schmitt’s own contribution.
A version of this painting in brighter colors is part of the Carl Schmitt Foundation’s collection.

3 thoughts on “Wisdom on Wednesdays—Christian hope and the artist’s sanity

    • Ted,

      Thanks for the comment. I do not always understand fully what my grandfather is saying, but he is always worth pondering. Let me take a shot at what he’s getting at here.

      Naturally, by “despair” my grandfather does not mean losing hope in God’s promises and help – no Christian worthy of the name sees value in putting his trust in God in jeopardy. Rather, he’s thinking that only when we “despair” of our purely human plans and motivations – “without losing (supernatural) hope” – that Christian maturity can be born. I wouldn’t consider this the “aim” of the Christian in the sense of his ultimate goal, but it is a milestone on the way. He’s putting it like this to contrast it with what he considers the artist to be up to: to be “fanatically” devoted to his art, without being completely consumed by it.

      I posted a similar quotation a couple of months ago where he says ““The ultimate gift, Hope, can only be wanted when we despair sufficiently. Today we do not yet despair sufficiently—it is a half-way affair, clinging to an old faith like a fairy-tale.” As you can see, my grandfather liked to emphasize the “radical” nature of the Christian commitment, of “putting one’s hand to the plow and not looking back.”

      I hope this helps.

  1. Nicely said Sam. It is not all roses. We are to weep and groan – to mourn with those who mourn and to pick up the cross. Life is like music. It has mixture and subtlety. The power of music and the other arts is that they can embrace counterpoint and tension.

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