Friday, September 03, 2004

BEAUTY AS 'A TRAP' IN THE EYE OF THE BELIEVER


David "Nihil Obstat" Impastato, sent me the following message as answer to my question about Europeans Christians surrounded by artistic beauty, but losing their faith. I love love love the Simone Weil quote. Thanks, David!

I agree with your ongoing contention, that beauty
must return to the Church. It’s an uphill battle, of course, since
contemporary ecclesiology, as taught in our seminaries, explicitly sees
aesthetic beauty as an obstacle to creating moral beauty and the sense of
“community” that liturgy (under the new dispensation) is supposed to
foster. This is an old reformation argument, which accounted for the
reformation’s iconoclastic tendency, and now accounts for ours.

In an incarnational faith, it is absurd to say that physical beauty has
no place. We are creative beings made in the image of a Creator God whose
being is embedded in the beauty of the world and indeed wherever beauty
is encountered. But the experience of the Church has been that a good
number of her communicants in the past have allowed aesthetic beauty to
define the limits of their connection with the liturgy, just as you
observed currently in Spain. Random european example from a century ago:
despite his clamorous apostasy, Ulysses’ author James Joyce faithfully
attended Easter services, especially Tenebrae, just to be ravished by
beauty. This was and is related to the concurrent phenomenon in secular
humanism to see Art (upper case) as the domain of a non-theistic
spirituality -- i.e., Art as the new religion.

These developments have made aesthetic beauty suspect in a religious
setting . But Catholicism has been, at least till now, a “both/and”
tradition. The reformation preference for “either/or” (grace OR works,
stained glass windows OR inner light) need not be our guide. What we can
and must revive is a “both/and” paradigm of beauty AND faith, which has
been our perennial tradition.

Simone Weil said, “Beauty is the trap God sets for us.” But as the
European faith in God has waned, beauty has become its own end, no longer
a means of spiriting us off to the Alpha and Omega of all that is
beautiful. True, beauty can sometimes lead us to faith in an epiphany of
grace. But generally speaking, we must first nurture a connection
between Ultimate Beauty and our physical universe at a more fundamental
level. “This is my Body” is such a connection, one of the great gifts
given us to enter the sacred trap.

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