Sacred Art: Spiritual Principles for Faithful Interpretation

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We all want to truly understand and experience great art - especially religious art.

But you need more than just learning to value brush strokes, figure placement, and perspective. As a professor and author, Dr. Jem Sullivan is uniquely qualified to present both the artistic elements of great art and the spiritual dimension inherent in Christian art.

How Art Speaks to Us

Religious art is rooted in the theological foundation of the Church - the Incarnation. A painting, sculpture, or fresco can speak the language of the Incarnation: the Word of God. Professor Sullivan will teach you how to see that language spoken in art, how to hear it, and how to receive it into your heart. She introduces concrete tools for rediscovering the profound messages of religious art that are too often overlooked.

Professor Sullivan discusses:

  • The anthropological basis for Christian art - the human person was created for beauty
  • Our need to rediscover Christian art in our contemporary visual culture
  • Pope St. John Paul II's Letter to Artists, in which he describes the "call to the vocation of beauty"

Professor Sullivan also adapts the timeless method of Christian meditation on Scripture to studying the "visual gospel" of religious art. The four steps of Lectio Divina - reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation - are ideally suited to rediscovering the spiritual depth of religious art.

  1. Begin by "reading" the artwork as you would the pages of a sacred text
  2. Move into the "why" of the piece and meditate on the source for the scene depicted - the Bible passage, event in a saint's life, or spiritual reality presented
  3. Turn toward God in prayer, with the reflections gathered from the first two steps
  4. Rest in the mysteries of faith contemplated in the artwork, and allow God to speak to your heart and mind.

By adapting the method of Lectio Divina to the study of art, we can learn to see with the "eyes of faith" and hear with the "ears of the heart." Our appreciation of beauty should always direct us back to God.

Develop a True Appreciation for Great Art

You are invited to join Professor Sullivan on a journey through the 2,000-year history of the Church, during which you will learn not only how to appreciate art, but how genuine masterpieces can serve as a spiritual aid. With Professor Sullivan, you can finally realize your goal of developing a true appreciation for the religious masterworks of Western Civilization.


  1. Christian Art: A Visual Gospel for a Visual Culture
  2. What is Christian art? Learn how to distinguish between Christian, sacred, and religious art. Discover the significance of these distinctions.
  3. The Theological Foundations of Christian Art
  4. Permission for the existence and use of sacred art was widely debated amongst historical heresies, which has carried itself into modern-day protestant denominations. Consider the history of this belief and compare it to the Catholic Church's teachings on sacred art.
  5. The Anthropological Foundations of Christian Art
  6. Christian anthropology is the study of humanity from a Christian perspective. Discover how Christian anthropology also serves as an excellent defense for Christian art.
  7. The Witness of Christian Art in History
  8. Christianity has long defended the use of Christian art in its many forms. For example, if the beauty of Gregorian chant can elevate the mind to God, is this art? Can this point us to the intended purpose of Christian art?
  9. Rediscovering Christian Art in Our Contemporary Visual Culture
  10. What relevance does religious and sacred art have in a contemporary world? 'Art' in our society has become corrupted through the expansion of pop culture, the growing use of pornography, and other morally questionable forms of media. Discover how we can still use sacred art to defend against these cultural threats.
  11. Pope John Paul II’s Letter to Artists: A Call to the Vocation of Beauty
  12. Towards the end of Pope John Paul II's papacy, he wrote a 'Letter to Artists' in which he discussed art and artists' responsibilities to produce morally sound art. Dr. Sullivan explores this document for a beautiful view of Catholic teaching on sacred art.
  13. Lectio Divina: A Christian Guide to Art Appreciation
  14. What is Lectio Divina? Discover why Dr. Sullivan suggests using Lectio Divina as an approach to art appreciation.
  15. General Principles for Discerning Beauty and Interpreting Christian Art
  16. In this final lecture, Dr. Sullivan discusses various sources of sacred art and gives five guiding principles for the interpretation of art. Find out how these principles relate to the many different forms of sacred art.

Lecture Sample


Meet Your Professor

Dr. Jem Sullivan holds her Doctorate in Catechesis from the Catholic University of America. For over a decade, Professor Sullivan has taught graduate level courses as adjunct professor in the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of Studies, Washington, D.C. She teaches courses on Catholic Education, Catechetics and Evangelization, Documents of Vatican II, and Christian Art and the New Evangelization.

Professor Sullivan is the author of three books from Our Sunday Visitor:

  • A Study Guide to the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults (2006)
  • The Beauty of Faith: Christian Art and the Gospel (2009)
  • Opening the Door of Faith: A Study Guide for Catechists (2012)

She writes for a variety of publications on art, including Magnificat, a daily Catholic resource. Professor Sullivan also served as editor of a book authored by Cardinal Donald Wuerl on the sacraments.

Previously, Professor Sullivan served as Education Consultant for a collaborative project on pastoral excellence funded by a Lilly Endowment grant. She has also served as a catechetical consultant to the Archdiocese of Washington and the Archdiocese for the Military Services. She is a trained docent at the National Gallery of Art where she leads tours of the museum’s masterpiece collections.


Homeschooling Products

The Homeschooling Set includes the Streaming Video and Homeschooling Course Guide. Each Course Guide contains everything needed for a student to complete the course, including:

  • Lesson Plan
  • Quizzes
  • Final Essay
  • Lecture Notes
  • Answer Key


Jem Sullivan, PhD
TAN Courses
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