Converging and Convincing Proof of God: Beauty Ever Ancient Ever New
Oh God most beautiful, beckon me to come to you!
"Everyone loves the beautiful," wrote St. Thomas Aquinas in his expositions on the Psalms. Because the experience of the beautiful is something well-nigh universal, it seems fitting to look at our experience of beauty, the pleasing aesthetic experience, as a possible source for a converging and convincing proof that God exists.
In his audience of July 10, 1985, Blessed John Paul II briefly discussed the "proof" of God through beauty, a quality of this world and things of it "which impels us to raise our gaze aloft," to find a transcendent Source for beauty. Seizing as his point of departure Psalm 19, where the Psalmist declares that the heavens proclaim the glory of God, the Pope introduces the subject only to treat it very quickly. But we might use his short reflections as a basis for further elaboration.
Beauty, Blessed John Paul II stated, is found in three places: in nature, in human art, and in the morally noble and self-less acts of man, in particular, the saints.
Beauty "is manifested in the various marvels of nature," begins Pope John Paul II. And who can disagree?
What shall we say about the experience of nature's beauty in a pacific sunset in Hawai'i gently framed by bowing palms with their fronds billowing in the soft, salty wind? Or a winter's landscape in a still New England January evening awash in the light of a full moon? Or in the inhibiting snow-capped Himalaya caped seductively in the soft yellow-orange of the alpenglow? Or at the sound of wind rushing through millions of shimmering leaves in groves of mountain aspen in a Colorado summer? Or at the enchantment which strikes us at the remarkable repertoire of the throstling sound of the Song Thrush? Are these fleeting moments of beauty not a sign of One "whose beauty is past change" and who "fathers-forth" such natural beauty?
This insight is at the heart of Gerard Manley Hopkins's poem "Pied Beauty":
Glory be to God for dappled things-
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced-fold, fallow, and plough;
And įll trįdes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise Him.
Beauty, Blessed John Paul II continued, is also "expressed in the numberless works of art, literature, music, painting, and the plastic arts."
In a notable passage, Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) wrote about the "encounter with the beautiful" in art. He recounts his experience with the Lutheran Bishop Hanselmann at a Bach concert conducted by Leonard Bernstein after the death of the conductor Karl Richter. "When the last note of one of the great Thomas-Kantor-Cantatas triumphantly faded away," he wrote, Bishop Hanselmann and then-Archbishop Ratzinger looked at each other spontaneously said the same thing; "Anyone who has heard this, knows that the faith is true."
Ratzinger also expressed a similar experience when confronted with the beauty of Rublėv's famous Icon of the Trinity. For Ratzinger, the encounter with beauty is an encounter with truth, which means in some way an encounter with God, the source of both. "Beauty is truth, truth beauty, that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know," wrote Yeats in his famous poem on the Grecian urn, pointing to the incomprehensible and supra-rational in beauty and its tie into truth. Surely all of us have experienced such a thing?
Finally, though often forgotten in an age of utilitarian ethics, beauty Pope John Paul II observed is "appreciated also in moral conduct: there are so many good sentiments, so many stupendous deeds."
What else other than sheer beauty, sheer nobility is there in Blessed Teresa of Calcutta's devotion to the dead and the dying, to the world's poor and sick. Did she not describe it as doing "something beautiful for God"?
What else other than beautiful can we call St. Maximilian Kolbe's selfless act in giving up his life for the husband and father Franciszek Gajowniczek at Auschwitz, one of the world's most ugly places? What moral beauty may be found in the heroic, if simple words: "Ich bin katholischer ...
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