Monday, October 08, 2007

Beauty, part 2

I believe that Bill Cork misses the point entirely. (what is more ironic, several months ago I believe he would have known better!) It might seem, based upon what he has written here, that his interpretation of beauty seems more in line with how our culture interprets beauty. He says, "Jesus, however, had no beauty to attract us..." No, Jesus did not appeal expressly to what is pleasing to the eye, and yes, superficiality constitutes a form of beauty, but in a narrow sense, certainly not the sense in which I understand the pope sees it.

Is superficiality all there is to beauty? Is beauty merely what is "pleasant to the eyes" or merely "outward adornment"? Absolutely not. Otherwise one could not behold the paradox that is the profound beauty of Christ's suffering and death, and the struggle of artists to convey that beauty. Superficiality can be deceptive. The contemplation of beauty is more than a fleeting, emotional response to what looks nice. Satan himself can appear alluring and seductive, giving the appearance of beauty. Furthermore, beauty is in itself not a thing to be worshiped. And, as a human creation, artistic beauty is limited, even if inspired.

One needs to understand how to appreciate authentic beauty. I struggled with this. I believe our culture has a problem with beauty, between superficiality and profundity. Authentic beauty stirs something up upon which faith acts. Even the Scriptures themselves are beautiful and, as art, communicate an eternal reality not readily perceivable to the eye.

The pope writes in his letter to artists:
Every genuine artistic intuition goes beyond what the senses perceive and, reaching beneath reality's surface, strives to interpret its hidden mystery... True artists above all are ready to acknowledge their limits and to make their own the words of the Apostle Paul, according to whom “God does not dwell in shrines made by human hands” so that “we ought not to think that the Deity is like gold or silver or stone, a representation by human art and imagination” (Acts 17:24, 29). If the intimate reality of things is always “beyond” the powers of human perception, how much more so is God in the depths of his unfathomable mystery!

The knowledge conferred by faith is of a different kind: it presupposes a personal encounter with God in Jesus Christ. Yet this knowledge too can be enriched by artistic intuition... Saint Bonaventure comments: “In things of beauty, he contemplated the One who is supremely beautiful, and, led by the footprints he found in creatures, he followed the Beloved everywhere”.
I suspect that non-Catholics intuitively struggle with this notion more than Catholics, but that's not universally true. Possibly because of beauty's relation to this notion of mystery.

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