Sunday, March 24, 2013

The consequences of sneering at beauty

Along with Truth and Goodness, Beauty is one of the three transcendentals. Aesthetics is concerned with the expression of beauty. Hence, one need not apologize for seeking what is Beautiful along with what is Good and True. Societally, we remain afflicted by the neurosis of Kierkegaard when it comes to aesthetics. But even for Kierkegaard, aesthetics only becomes problematic when it becomes an end-in-itself, that is, ceases to be a transcendental. Disconnected from Goodness and Truth, meaning cut-off from the end for which we are made, the pursuit of Beauty can become decadence, leading a person to despair. Dostoevsky is not taken out of context when he is quoted- "Beauty will save the world."

The aesthetic aspect of Christian worship is important and always has been in the Church. If we wanted no frills worship, in these days, we have no shortage of options.

As Von Balthasar wrote: “We no longer dare to believe in beauty and we make of it a mere appearance in order the more easily to dispose of it. Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness... We can be sure that whoever sneers at her name as if she were the ornament of a bourgeois past -- whether he admits it or not -- can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love."

It seems to me that we are having a revival in these days of sneering at beauty because of the prevalent reductivist mindset. In the liturgy especially, aesthetics don't happen in a vacuum. Among the many "duties" aesthetics performs in the context of the liturgy is linking us to the past, drawing us into the communio sanctorum, which is the communion of holy people and things. If Truth is symphonic it is only because beauty, of necessity, is multi-dimensional, which is not to say it is wholly subjective, it is not.

Back in 2007 Andrea Tornielli, writing in the Communion and Liberation publication Traces, had this to say about the theme of the Fraternity's Spiritual Exercises that year, which was taken from the poet Jacopone da Todi- "Christ in His beauty draws me to Him:"
We are the irrepressible desire for the Infinite, and we depend so deeply that we can say to God, “I am You who make me.” The person cannot be reduced to his psychological, biological, or sociological elements, though the modern mentality would have it so, reducing and thus isolating man. In contrast, in affirming the dependence on God, solitude is eliminated at its root, because communion is in the “I.” Our dependence is such that we are moved to acknowledge that without His beauty we cannot be ourselves

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