Comments: Jesus meets his mother

Seeing Eric Gill's work used for devotional practice makes me reflect on how far the work of deeply flawed people still holds value. Gill abused his children (which was only discovered after his death when his biographer read his diaries), and for some people, this could make his work inappropriate. Given that his most prevalent creation (Gill Sans) is used to typeset Common Worship, and is therefore present in virtually Anglican Parish Church, this is a vital question to be clear on. The Mennonite Church has a similar dilemma regarding the works of John Howard Yoder, the seminal ethicist who abused over 100 women in his time teaching in seminary.
Works by currently disgraced celebrities are now anathema to many - Rolf Harris, Gary Glitter, etc. How far do we go in regarding the work as separate from its creator? Or are they forever tainted?

Posted by Jeremy Fagan at Monday, 30 March 2015 at 4:27pm BST

Jeremy: this is a really important question, and I did anticipate someone asking it when I chose to use Gill's engravings. It's the same issue faced by the authorities in Westminster Cathedral with regards to the Stations carved there by Gill too.

All sorts of things down the ages have been created as a result of oppression. The Pyramids were built by slave labour. The glories of ancient Rome were built on conquest, the glories of renaissance Rome built on the territorial rule of the Popes, not to mention the sale of indulgences. Should we remove Michelangelo's paintings from the Sistine Chapel as a result? (Granted that was the morality of the patron rather than the artist, so not quite the same thing.)

Or do we see this as a result of fallen humanity, where we all sin and get things wrong much of the time, and yet can still create good -- even, sometimes creating good out of evil?

The Gill who made highly erotic and pornographic sculptures and images and, worse, indulged in highly inappropriate behaviour, was the same person whose God-given creativity is shown in religious commissions, war memorials, book illustrations (such as 'The Four Gospels', regarded by many as perhaps the most beautiful book created in the Twentieth Century) and even church buildings (his conception and design of the Roman Catholic church at Gorleston-on-Sea in Norfolk being a highly-significant landmark in the architectural history of the Liturgical Movement and the Parish Communion movement).

We cannot separate the man into two -- a good man and an evil one: the human condition is such that he was, like us, a bit of both.

Does that answer the question? I don't know.

Posted by Simon Kershaw at Monday, 30 March 2015 at 5:01pm BST

In his excellent Lent book, A Season of Rebirth, Marc Foley addresses this question. he invokes the teaching of ex opere operato and says: 'We may not like the instrument that God chooses to speak truth to us. In fact, he or she may be our enemy...Worldly wisdom tells us to 'consider the source.' Conversely, however, St Thomas tells us that we must consider what a person says and not who says it. Even if the devil were to speak to us, if he spoke the truth, we should attend to what he says.'

Posted by stuart currie at Monday, 30 March 2015 at 5:47pm BST

...and I would add the obvious reference to Article 26, that the unworthiness of the minister does not hinder the effectiveness of the sacrament. Yes, that's about clergy and sacraments, but surely the principle is the same. Given that we all sin and fall short of the glory of God, then if the sinfulness of the artist somehow taints the art, we would have to expunge the world of all art. It's only a matter of degree, and not kind.

Posted by Alan T Perry at Tuesday, 31 March 2015 at 12:23am BST
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