Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Deal W. Hudson

1/22/2014 (2 months ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Very religious people often have a skepticism toward the consideration of beauty as a way to God.

What did Fyodor Dostoevsky mean in The Idiot when one of his characters asserts, "Beauty will save the world?" Taken at face value, it's a claim that beauty plays a role in the salvation of us all. It also contains the implication that the culture surrounding us, as the platform where much of the world's beauty is displayed, fits into the plan of our salvation.Our unending delight is found in the beauty of God, in His presence to our souls. Yet beauty is also part of the journey, not just the destination.

Article Highlights

By Deal W. Hudson

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

1/22/2014 (2 months ago)

Published in U.S.

Keywords: happiness, virtue, beatitude, moral life, passion, beauty, culture, existential, search, Deal W Hudson


WASHINGTON,DC (Catholic Online) - What did Fyodor Dostoevsky mean in The Idiot when one of his characters asserts, "Beauty will save the world?" Taken at face value, it's a claim that beauty plays a role in the salvation of us all. It also contains the implication that the culture surrounding us, as the platform where much of the world's beauty is displayed, fits into the plan of our salvation.

There are quite a few Christians, of all denominations, who would respond to both claims with skepticism, if not outright denial. Beauty, they would say, is more like the road to ruin than the path to God. With beauty comes attraction to what may be destructive, especially to the lower appetites, as they used to be called.

I call these skeptics the "religious despisers" of beauty. I'm reversing the approach of the well known book On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers (1799) by Friedrich Schleiermacher. Those cultured despisers of religion still exist, of course, but it's the despisers of beauty, motivated by religious earnestness, that I want to address. They, I believe, are not only missing the deepest significance of our desire for beauty, but they are also putting unnecessary limits on their witness to faith in Jesus Christ.

May we begin the argument by acknowledging that beauty is part of everything we do, not just our enjoyment of the arts. We are creatures wrapped in constant aisthesis or sensation, from which the term aesthetics is derived. Sensation makes our awareness of beauty possible, from the everyday appreciation of the world around us, to the moments of overwhelming beauty that caused a reorientation of our lives. Who can deny that beauty can elicit in us such a sense of aspiration that we resolve to live in a different, and better, way?

Such moments come to many of us from works of art as well: a film, a novel, a poem, a play, a painting or sculpture, a ballet or musical, a building, or - as it did for me - an architecturally arranged place like the Piazza del Campo in Sienna, where it is said the Mother of God laid down her cloak to mark its boundaries.

Remember that aspiration you feel as you are lifted up and out of yourself, when you experience the ecstasy of beauty. You aspire to live in accord with something you glimpse at that moment - something you sense is real and within your grasp. The chorus at the end of Beethoven's 9th Symphony, the "Ode to Joy" can serve as a common reference point.  Few pieces of music inspire as much aspiration towards lasting friendship among persons and nations.

The 9th Symphony is one of those great works of art that have been transforming those who hear it for centuries. The Russian novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn argues that works of art have an advantage over unadorned concepts in changing lives. He has in mind the kinds of ideas and concepts used in philosophy, theology, and politics.  For example, Aristotle taught me a theory of virtue and vice, but it was Shakespeare who taught me about human nature (and I wish I had paid more attention)!

Solzhenitsyn writes, "Concepts which are manufactured out of whole cloth or overstrained will not stand up to being tested in images, will somehow fall apart and turn out to be sickly and pallid and convincing to no one." Works of art, he argues, that are "steeped in truth" and are "vividly alive will take hold of us, will attract us to themselves with great power - and no one, ever, even in a later age, will presume to negate them."

What is the source of this power? according to Solzhenitsyn, it's "that old trinity of Truth and Good and Beauty," the basic transcendental properties of all being and beings. In other words, everything that exists has truth, goodness, and beauty, and they are unified in every being. This is what makes possible, from a metaphysical point of view, for beauty to become an agent of salvation.

Catholic philosophers consider this oneness a demonstrable fact of metaphysics, unaided by faith. Theology, however, provided the ultimate cause for the unity: the doctrine of creation. When God creates, He shares His being, His existence - an existence that is perfectly true, good, and beautiful. It's their status as properties across all beings that make them "controvertible," meaning wherever you meet one you encounter the other.

Those "religious despisers" of beauty would welcome someone they meet who is searching for the good or the true. So why not also welcome those who search for the beautiful? The despisers do not understand that underlying the hunger for beauty is the search for God.

It is God's beauty that will be seen in the Beatific Vision, the state of eternal happiness where our infinite desire meets the only infinite object: God. As Dante says, at the end of the Paradiso, it is impossible to turn away:

And as I gaz'd, I kindled at the sight;
No Mortal from the glorious view could turn,
Paradiso
. (Canto XXXIII)

Our unending delight is found in the beauty of God, in His presence to our souls. Yet beauty is also part of the journey, not just the destination.

If a friend weeps at what is beautiful, don't tell them they are wasting their tears. If you deny a person beauty, in the name of God, that person may reject Him, He who is beauty itself. If you say beauty belongs to the Evil One, you are aiding in Satan's most devious ploy.

Instead, Christians should tell these pilgrims that their desire for beauty is as natural to the creature as the hunger for goodness and truth. Tell them that beauty can be the way, and then tell them about the beauty of Christ and His cross.

Even better, Christians should show them the cultural artifacts that Christians have produced to glorify Him - works so great and lasting that it is gazed upon every day by millions who don't even share the faith that inspired it. This is not meant as a dispensable addendum to faith or to the evangelical witness; the fullness of our Christian witness demands it.

Summary:

 1. Very religious people often have a skepticism toward the consideration of beauty as a way to God.

2. Human beings are constantly in a state of sensation -- aisthesis  -- as the world presents itself to the mind through the senses.

3. Beauty as a way to God is metaphysically grounded in its status as a transcendental property of being in union with truth and the good.

© Deal W. Hudson, Ph.D

-----
Deal W. Hudson is president of the Morley Institute of Church and Culture, Senior Editor at Catholic Online, and former publisher and editor of Crisis Magazine.This column and subsequent contributions are an excerpt from a forthcoming book. Dr. Hudson's new radio show, Church and Culture, will begin broadcasting in February on the Ave Maria Radio Network.

---


Pope Francis calls for your 'Prayer and Action'


© 2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for March 2014
Respect for Women:
That all cultures may respect the rights and dignity of women.
Vocations: That many young people may accept the Lordís invitation to consecrate their lives to proclaiming the Gospel.



Comments


More U.S.

Ron Paul warns Feds may stage 'Waco styled' raid Watch

Image of Cliven Bundy has been fighting with the Bureau of Land Management for 20 years over his cattle and grazing rights.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

While Cliven Bundy, his family, their supporters, and myriad militiamen forced federal agents from the Bureau of Land Management to back off of the Bundy's Nevada ranch and release hundreds of captured cattle, one politician warns that the feds could be planning ... continue reading


What does this say about America? More people getting food stamps than women working full-time Watch

Image of There were only 15,678,000 women who worked full-time, year-round in the United States in 1969.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

It's a distressing figure that shines a most unflattering light on affairs here in the United States. According to recent statistics, those  participating in the food stamp program, or SNAP outnumbered the number of women who worked full-time, year-round ... continue reading


Palm/Passion Sunday: Will We Make This Week Holy By Encountering Jesus Christ? Watch

Image of Holy Week invites us to let go of self and embrace the Lord Jesus anew through saying Yes to the invitation to continuing conversion. How desperately we all need to hear the Good news that we can begin again!

By Deacon Keith Fournier

Palm/ Passion Sunday: Make This Holy Week a Deep Encounter With Jesus Christ!During this week called Holy, the Lord Jesus is extending His saving Hand to each one of us anew. The timeless one has broken into time and now transforms it from within. The question is ... continue reading


Living Among the Pharisees Watch

Image of Christ Before the High Priest

By Deal W. Hudson

I will not quote directly from the article - there is no need to infect readers with the Phariseeism pervading Ruse's psychological/spiritual analysis of Thomas Williams. The readers can judge for themselves. I've been the target of similar, and worse, ... continue reading


Suffering, Struggle and the Christian Revolution Watch

Image of

By Deacon Keith Fournier

The Christian tradition instructs us that even undeserved and unmerited suffering, when joined in love to the sufferings of Jesus Christ, can produce extraordinary fruit within us - and then through us, as we change. This is a part of the teaching on the mystery ... continue reading


Time for a Movement Rooted in the Real Social Doctrine of the Church Watch

Image of

By Deacon Keith Fournier

Christian social teaching challenges any notion of human freedom which begins and ends with the isolated, atomistic, person as the measure of its application. We are by nature and grace called to relationship. Only in communion can we become fully human and find ... continue reading


Nevada cattle rancher has won fight with feds -- for now Watch

Image of Clive Bundy claims his herd of roughly 900 cattle have grazed on the land along the riverbed near Bunkerville, 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas, since 1870.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

For the time being, Nevada cattle rancher Cliven Bundy has appeared to have won his week-long battle with the federal government. His case has spurred nationwide attention, and has garnered protestors rallying for his rights.  LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic ... continue reading


Is Pope Francis Opening the Possibility of Ordaining Mature, Proven Married Men to Priesthood Watch

Image of

By Deacon Keith Fournier

The prophetic witness of voluntary, consecrated celibacy has endured beyond the ranks of celibate clergy. It is also preserved in the inspired vowed life of monastic orders and the sacrificial witness of religious men and women. In addition, in many of the ... continue reading


We Lost True North: The Epidemic of Violence in the U.S. Not Caused by Guns or Knives Watch

Image of

By Deacon Keith Fournier

A High School and an Army Base; places which should be known as places of safety, were turned into killing fields.  A Nation pauses, grieves and seeks to make sense of what seems to be a growing epidemic of violence. Efforts to point to guns as the cause of ... continue reading


Militias rally for fight with federal agents Watch

Image of The standoff turned violent within the week of April 7, bringing two decades of land disputes to a head.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Tensions have increased in Nevada after armed citizens from several different militia organizations arrived on the ranch of Cliven Bundy to support the besieged rancher. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The ranch, just 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas, has been the ... continue reading


All U.S. News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Isaiah 50:4-9
4 Lord Yahweh has given me a disciple's tongue, for ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 69:8-10, 21-22, 31, 33-34
8 I am estranged from my brothers, alienated from my ... Read More

Gospel, Matthew 26:14-25
14 Then one of the Twelve, the man called Judas ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for April 16th, 2014 Image

St. Bernadette
April 16: On April 16, 1879, Bernadette -- or Sister Marie-Bernard, as she ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter