The Disputation of the Holy Sacrament
by Hannah Hanson
The Disputation of the Holy Sacrament (pictured above) is a mural painted by Raphael and can be viewed in the famous Raphael rooms in the Vatican. I first saw this painting while studying abroad in Rome. It has since stuck with me, providing deep content to ponder over the years.
In the painting, there are three levels: the bottom level, an earthly level if you will, and two top levels, heavenly levels. All three levels are curved, drawing your eyes to the figures in the center. The earthly level is made up of religious and holy lay people alive at the time of Raphael’s painting. This level is curved towards an altar with the Holy Eucharist in the monstrance in the middle. The two heavenly levels are filled with saints and angels curved towards the three persons of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These figures, those at the center of each of the levels, form a direct, vertical line from top to bottom.
The beauty of this painting, the rich truths worthy of meditation, are in this line. Raphael used this painting to show the mystery of the Holy Trinity, what the Catechism terms “the most fundamental and essential teaching in the hierarchy of faith” (CCC234) while, at the same time, revealing the true, real presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist. In a clear, truly beautiful, and contemplative way, Raphael catechized every person who has ever laid eyes on this masterpiece. By drawing a direct, vertical line through the Three Divine Persons to the earthly presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, viewers can see these fundamental truths of our Catholic Faith. In a time when most of the lay people of the Catholic Faith were illiterate, Raphael, and others, were commissioned by religious leaders to create masterpieces that spoke to the deep truths of our Faith. Art, at this time, held not just an artistic power, but a catechetical power.
We wonder why the art of the Renaissance is considered to be such masterpieces. Perhaps it is due to the true, the good, the beautiful it shows. Perhaps, as fellow Renaissance painter Michelangelo states, “Every beauty which is seen here on Earth by persons of perception, resembles, more than anything else, that Celestial Source from which we all are come.”
Hannah Hanson is originally from Rapid City and is a graduate of St. Thomas More High School and the University of Mary in Bismark. She is currently teaching kindergarten and sharing her love of the faith and of art with her students in St. P