Monday, July 19, 2010

Genius does not equal grace

I just finished reading "Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling," by Ross King, a semi-biography of both Michelangelo and Pope Julius II, documenting the creation of the frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. It was a really great read, very interesting (my only complaint being that the book needed MORE PICTURES to go with the excellent text). This book sparked a whole cascade of thinking for me, since it totally demolished something that I had believed for a long time.

Where did I ever get the idea that Michelangelo was a nice person? He was absolutely NOT. He was arrogant, rude, selfish, whiny, and utterly unsociable. Boy, did I ever deceive myself somewhere along the way that he must have been a "nice" person in order to create such magnificent Christian art. Now, I KNOW better than that, really I do - I don't make that assumption about people in general, that their talent makes them automatically more pleasant to associate with. Plenty of people of great talent or even genius are really unlikeable, obnoxious, nasty, or even evil. All people (from great to average to mediocre to nonexistent talent) can be just as hard to deal with at times. Heck, we're all broken and dysfunctional in some way. I don't know any natural-born saints. But somewhere in my life I got the idea that Michelangelo was a "good man" because of what he created. I think it's fair to say that the Lord uses all of us in some way every day in spite of our brokenness, and not only when we're actually obeying Him and living the way He calls us to.

I've known for quite a while that Pope Julius II was a nasty piece of work. He may have represented Christ's authority to the Catholic world during his lifetime, but anyone with eyes could (and did) see that he was NOT any kind of paragon of Christian behavior. I don't think it's any coincidence that during his papacy a monk named Martin Luther visited Rome and was totally disillusioned by what he saw, and went home to do some serious thinking and praying. Still, I was upset at the portrait of the man and the Catholic church hierarchy that emerged in this book. How could someone claim to be Christ's representative to humanity and act the way he did? How could so many of the church leaders act that same way? Where were the people who really loved the Lord during this time? How many people lost their faith because of how their leaders acted? What a mockery of Jesus the church made!

But, this begs the question: Are we any different today? I don't think so. The failings of leadership are always more obvious to the public than those of private (anonymous) citizens, but in my own life I have been just as much a hypocrite, just as selfish, just as sinful as any church leader held up to the glaring light of the Truth. Does it matter that I influence "only" dozens of people, instead of hundreds, thousands, millions? No. I'm still responsible for my actions before God and other people. And no church or church leader is perfect. (If they claim to be so, run, don't walk, the other way!)

So, Michelangelo Buonarotti and Pope Julius II - we're more alike than I ever knew. How sobering.

I don't know the state of the artist's soul, but maybe I'll see him in heaven. I hope I do. Two forgiven sinners, who tried to glorify the Lord through their art.