Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Pius XI, Vigilanti Cura, "On the Motion Picture": Notes and Quotations

Vigilanti Cura was published on June 29, 1936, on the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. Consider the date, the nature of films, and its evolution to the present day. With that in mind, let us look at the Holy Father's words on this important matter.

Pius XI describes motion pictures as "a matter which touches intimately the moral and religious life of the entire Christian people."

He recalls the warning he gave in his previous encyclical on Christian education:
In the Encyclical "Divini illius Magistri" [n. 90], We had already deplored that "potent instrumentalities of publicity (such as the cinema) which might be of great advantage to learning and to education were they properly directed by healthy principles, often unfortunately serve as an incentive to evil passions and are subordinated to sordid gain".
He continues to insist that film is not a trifle, morally neutral matter but one of great importance, to be guided above all by the essential purpose of art from a Catholic point of view, namely, the formation of good morals:
In August 1934, addressing Ourselves to a delegation of the International Federation of the Motion Picture Press, We pointed out the very great importance which the motion picture has acquired in our days and its vast influence alike in the promotion of good and in the insinuation of evil, and We called to mind that it is necessary to apply to the cinema the supreme rule which must direct and regulate the great gift of art in order that it may not find itself in continual conflict with Christian morality or even with simple human morality based upon the natural law. The essential purpose of art, its raison d'être, is to assist in the perfection of the moral personality, which is man, and for this reason it must itself be moral.
The Holy Father speaks especially of the urgency in these times (i.e. the 1930s!) to establish clear norms so that modern arts and sciences may help establish the kingdom of God.

In the next section, Pius XI begins with this correlation:
[...] it is a certainty which can readily be verified that the more marvelous the progress of the motion picture art and industry, the more pernicious and deadly has it shown itself to morality and to religion and even to the very decencies of human society.
He draws attention to the fact that the producers of film have a global and even a political influence. Films affect morals and the very fabric of society.

He then discusses the history of the "Legion of Decency" and its pledge that many American Catholics took, promising to avoid films that went against Catholic morals and human decency. It's interesting to note that the Holy Father called this movement a "holy crusade" and that even non-Catholics participated in it. He discusses the noticeable positive changes in the production of films after this movement gained traction: sin and false ideals were not depicted as much as they previously were.

Today, isn't it true to say sadly that Catholic money is as good as the filth it wallows in? Imagine if every Catholic refused to pay for movies that contained blasphemy! But now our moral authority is as good as the next heathen.

The Holy Father begins the second section "The Power of the Cinema" by noting that the harsh conditions of the Industrial Age have caused an increased need for recreation, and recreation since it is a moral action must itself support good morals. Youth are especially endangered by the proliferation of immoral recreation. Hence films are especially important for our consideration today.

He draws attention to the fact that motion pictures are now easily the most popular form of entertainment, yet such a form of media is quite apt for educational and moral purposes because of its very nature.

He then comes to the essential nature and effects of film:
The power of the motion picture consists in this, that it speaks by means of vivid and concrete imagery which the mind takes in with enjoyment and without fatigue. Even the crudest and most primitive minds which have neither the capacity nor the desire to make the efforts necessary for abstraction or deductive reasoning are captivated by the cinema. In place of the effort which reading or listening demands, there is the continued pleasure of a succession of concrete and, so to speak, living pictures. 
This power is still greater in the talking picture for the reason that interpretation becomes even easier and the charm of music is added to the action of the drama. Dances and variety acts which are sometimes introduced between the films serve to increase the stimulation of the passions.
This recalls St. Thomas Aquinas's summary of the principal effect of music: "For such like musical instruments move the soul to pleasure rather than create a good disposition within it" (Summa Th., 2a2ae.91.2 ad 4).

The Holy Father continues with the application of this essential nature of film to its moral implications:
Since then the cinema is in reality a sort of object lesson which, for good or for evil, teaches the majority of men more effectively than abstract reasoning, it must be elevated to conformity with the aims of a Christian conscience and saved from depraving and demoralizing effects.
He summarizes some of the evil and beneficial effects of film:
Everyone knows what damage is done to the soul by bad motion pictures. They are occasions of sin; they seduce young people along the ways of evil by glorifying the passions; they show life under a false light; they cloud ideals; they destroy pure love, respect for marriage, affection for the family. They are capable also of creating prejudices among individuals and misunderstandings among nations, among social classes, among entire races. 
On the other hand, good motion pictures are capable of exercising a profoundly moral influence upon those who see them. In addition to affording recreation, they are able to arouse noble ideals of life, to communicate valuable conceptions, to impart a better knowledge of the history and the beauties of the Fatherland and of other countries, to present truth and virtue under attractive forms, to create, or at least to favor understanding among nations, social classes, and races, to champion the cause of justice, to give new life to the claims of virtue, and to contribute positively to the genesis of a just social order in the world.
He then reminds us of an important essential aspect to film: its viewership is the multitudes, of all ages. The young, who are still being formed in their notions of upright morals and justice, are especially under the influence of the messages and values that films communicate:
These considerations take on greater seriousness from the fact that the cinema speaks not to individuals but to multitudes, and that it does so in circumstances of time and place and surroundings which are most apt to arouse unusual enthusiasm for the good as well as for the bad and to conduce to that collective exaltation which, as experience teaches us, may assume the most morbid forms.
He expands on this line of reasoning a few paragraphs later when he writes:
Their [i.e. the bishops] sacred calling constrains them to proclaim clearly and openly that unhealthy and impure entertainment destroys the moral fibre [sic] of a nation. They will likewise remind the motion picture industry that the demands which they make regard not only the Catholics but all who patronize the cinema.
The Holy Father concludes this philosophical-theological reflection by explicitly linking the production of cinema of whatever sort to moral purposes, to the contemplation of the truly good and elevated, for education. He says it is an obligation incumbent upon both clergy and laity:

It is therefore one of the supreme necessities, of our times to watch and to labour [sic] to the end that the motion picture be no longer a school of corruption but that it be transformed into an effectual instrument for the education and the elevation of mankind. [...]
This is an obligation which binds not only the Bishops but also the faithful and all decent men who are solicitous for the decorum and moral health of the family, of the nation, and of human society in general.
The problem of the production of moral films would be solved radically if it were possible for us to have production wholly inspired by the principles of Christian morality. We can never sufficiently praise all those who have dedicated themselves or who are to dedicate themselves to the noble cause of raising the standard of the motion picture to meet the needs of education and the requirements of the Christian conscience. 
Pius XI therefore exhorts the bishops of the world to be careful and vigilant of the films being produced in the lands they govern and to place those films on ban that go against Christian principles.

In his final section "A Work for Catholic Action," the Pope laments that the problem of motion pictures would be instantly solved if all films produced were able to be conformed to Catholic principles, yet the best films must be both morally sound and artistically beautiful. It's not enough to produce a moral film that is amateur.

Therefore the Holy Father tells the bishops to exhort those Catholics who hold positions of power in the film industry to begin shifting the content of production towards good morals. It is a matter of Catholic duty in fact. Further, this field provides ample opportunity for those in Catholic Action who possess the talents and means to become involved in order to steer film production in the right direction.

The Holy Father summarizes his discussion:
Why indeed should there be question merely of avoiding what is evil? The motion picture should not be simply a means of diversion, a light relaxation to occupy an idle hour; with its magnificent power, it can and must be a bearer of light and a positive guide to what is good.
In other words, film is not a neutral matter, and leisure activities must be directed according to reason enlightened by supernatural faith. Leisure is a moral activity and is therefore always to be guided by objective principles and directed to the betterment of participants.

The Holy Father recommends the use of a yearly pledge for Catholics to stay away from bad films. He exhorts pastors to encourage the faithful to take these pledges, especially for the youth in schools. The Holy Father then demands that lists classifying the moral content of films be created to guide the faithful. But the Pope notes that a single, global list would be impossible because there is room for flexibility in some aspects of the moral judgment of a film due to its wide audience with different cultural and intellectual backgrounds.

Therefore, it is up to the bishops of nations to create organizations to publish lists that classify the morality of films based on their regions and cultural norms.

No comments:

Post a Comment

All comments ad hominem or deemed offensive by the moderator will be subject to immediate deletion.