Beauty is Transcendent

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder?

What is Beauty? Is it objective or subjective? Is beauty really in the eye of the beholder?

It has been said that we fear what we do not understand. We grow to hate what we fear. And we destroy what we hate. In many ways we do not understand Beauty, and we have tried to destroy it. We try to destroy Beauty by robbing it of power. We do this by trivializing it. We make beauty something "pretty" with no power to speak to us. Theologian Hans Urs VonBalthasar put it this way.

"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."

Then we go further by claiming that beauty is subjective, that everyone determines for themselves what is beautiful. We say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

The problem is, no one really believes that. Certainly there are differences in taste. But deep in our hearts we know what is beautiful.

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David Clayton, provost of Pontifex University, has demonstrated this in some of his classes. He will show his students pictures of two different churches and ask which of the two is more beautiful. Invariably he will get a majority, if not a unanimity, of students preferring one church over the other. Beauty is not as subjective as one might think.

Transcendentals

Beauty is a transcendental. Transcendentals are properties of being that transcend the limits of time and place and are rooted in existence or reality. Transcendentals do not depend on culture, religion, or personal ideologies. Transcendentals are objective features of everything that exists, they are in a sense attributes of God.

As God has revealed Himself and Hs creation to us over time we have come to recognize three transcendentals, Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. These transcendentals, as properties of being, can teach us about God.

In theory we speak of these transcendentals as being complimentary. If something is Good, it is also True and Beautiful. Likewise if something is True, it is also Good and Beautiful. But when we consider Beauty, apart from her sisters, things begin to get complicated.

We are all drawn to Beauty. It is part of our nature. It is a spark of the Divine imparted to us by the Creator. Beauty is a part of God, and as such, it is a way in which we are connected to Him. It is a connection that leaves us feeling incomplete until we are completed in Him.

"My heart is restless, O God, until it rests in Thee." - St. Augustine of Hippo

Archbishop Cordileone of the archdiocese of San Francisco has pointed out that "Beauty is important because it's one f the ways in which we can be in touch with the divine and draw others to be in touch with the divine.

The Power of a Sunset

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Have you ever been so struck by he beauty of a sunset that just for a moment you lose all sense of time? Everything else just fades away and just for that instant, the only thing that mattered to you in the entire world, was that sunset. It was a moment that transcended the mere passing of seconds. You may even have felt something that you could only describe as homesickness. That feeling is a longing for God, the ultimate source of all that is True, Good, and Beautiful.

We long for the beauty of the place we were created for, a place where we can walk with God, side by side. We spend our existence trying to recapture Eden. In our efforts to rediscover Eden, that place of Joy, we are continually creating new revelations of God through that spark of creativity that God has imparted to us.

Because of this longing for the Beauty of God, art is an inevitable part of what man does. We are created in the image and likeness of God, with the capacity for imagination and thought. It is natural for us to have art. We see this in all ages and in all cultures.

Beauty and Art

Some of the earliest human art we know of is found on the walls of a cave in Lascaux, France. No one knows for certain why they were painted. Some of the paintings are in places that are difficult to get into. You have to squeeze through narrow fissures and and climber immense boulders.

I should say that scientists and archaeologists cannot tell us why they were painted. Theories include everything from shamanistic ritual magic, to the paleolithic equivalent of teen graffiti. But is it really so far fetched to believe that 17,000 years ago, man still pursued revelations of the Divine through works of Beauty?

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The Eastern View

The eastern fathers of the Church have contributed much to our understanding of the connection between Beauty and the Arts. We owe much to their thoughts and meditations on the place of beauty in our lives. And as the East and the West, the "two lungs of the Church," have shared much of their respective cultures in recent years, western scholars and theologians have come to recognize the value of a theology of Beauty.

What we learn from the eastern tradition is that Beauty has the power to draw us beyond itself and point to its source. When we consider a beautiful painting we are initially drawn to its superficial aesthetics. But then it should draw us beyond the painted surface to contemplate the Truth and Goodness behind the image.

Of the three transcendentals, Beauty is the one we seem to understand the least. It is easy to see how the pursuit of what is True can lead us to a greater understanding off God. The same applies to Goodness. When we act rightly, we learn more about God and the reality of creation. This is no less true with Beauty. Beauty speaks to us through our imagination, allowing us to perceive reality on an intuitive, a poetic or connatural level.

There is objective Beauty in the world. It can tell us about God, and it can also tell us much about ourselves and our place in creation.

this article originally appeared at www.DeaconLawrence.org

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Pontifex University is an online university offering a Master’s Degree in Sacred Arts. For more information visit the website at www.pontifex.university

Lawrence Klimecki, MSA, is a deacon in the Diocese of Sacramento. He is a public speaker, writer, and artist, reflecting on the intersection of art and faith and the spiritual “hero’s journey” that is part of every person’s life. He maintains a blog at www.DeaconLawrence.org

 

What is the Theme of Your Life?

"The theme is not the plot, not what happens to who and when. The theme is the overarching principle that holds the story together, that helps to make sense of what is happening."

What is the theme of your life? What is your world view?

I was recently in an online conversation regarding Archbishop Goh's recent statementabout the upcoming concert by Madonna on her world tour stop in Singapore.

It soon became apparent that the person I was trading emails with had a completely different view of the arts and the responsibility of the artist because they had a completely different world view.

So what is the world view of the Christian artist (indeed, of all Christians)? What is the theme of our lives?

Barbara Nicolosi of Act One trains writers, particularly for the entertainment industry. In her workshops she talks about the theme of a story. The theme is not the plot, not what happens to who and when. The theme is the overarching principle that holds the story together, that helps to make sense of what is happening.

For example, in the movie "A Man for All Seasons," Thomas More resists the incredible pressure that he is under to recognize King Henry the VIII as supreme head of the Church in England. A recognition that would challenge the authority of Rome and deny More's deeply held beliefs. Because of his resistance he loses his position, his power, his authority, and his wealth, leaving his family in very dire straights. He could recover all these things if he simply signs his name to a piece of paper but he refuses to do so, why?

He refuses because he believes that there is a life after this one and that what we do in this life matters very much in the life to come. This is the theme of the story, that man is immortal, if you do not at least understand Thomas More's world view, then his story makes no sense.

In contrast there is the pagan view that this life is all there is and that we should make the most of it while we are here. The difference between these two "themes" is illustrated in a story related by the Venerable Bede regarding the conversion of Briton.

Paulinus, a missionary, presents the Gospel to Edwin, king of Northumbria. This proposed Christian faith is debated among Edwin's counselors. Finally a pagan priest named Coifi addresses the king.

“Your Majesty, when we compare the present life of man on earth with that time of which we have no knowledge, it seems to me like the swift flight of a single sparrow through the banqueting-hall where you are sitting at dinner on a winter’s day with your thanes and counsellors. In the midst there is a comforting fire to warm the hall; outside the storms of winter rain or snow are raging. This sparrow flies swiftly in through one door of the hall, and out through another. While he is inside, he is safe from the winter storms; but after a moment of comfort, he vanishes from sight into the wintry world from which he came. Even so, man appears on earth for a little while; but of what went before this life or of what follows, we know nothing. Therefore, if this new teaching has brought any more certain knowledge, it seems only right that we should follow it.”

The theme of every Christian life is that we are immortal, that life here on earth is not the end, it is just the beginning, and that what we do here and now affects how we will live in the life to come. This worldview is reflected in the work we do and our consideration of how our work impacts our brothers and sisters. For artists of every stripe, it is reflected in the art they produce. It is therefore incumbent upon artists to produce the very best work they are capable of. It is the responsibility of the artist to sharpen his skills and he has a very limited time to do so.

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In the Gospel according to Luke, Jesus tells the arable of the Barren Fig Tree.

"A certain man had a fig tree, which was planted in his vineyard. And he came seeking fruit on it, but found none. Then he said to the cultivator of the vineyard: ‘Behold, for these three years I came seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I have found none. Therefore, cut it down. For why should it even occupy the land?’ But in response, he said to him: ‘Lord, let it be for this year also, during which time I will dig around it and add fertilizer. And, indeed, it should bear fruit. But if not, in the future, you shall cut it down.’" Luke 13:6-9

Like the parable of the fig tree, we are running out of time to show that we are worth saving. It is not that God’s patience with us is limited, but it is we who are limited to our own lives. We have but a short span of time to bear fruit, and we cannot hope to be rewarded if we are unproductive servants.

The gardener who intercedes on our behalf is Jesus. Nourishing and working the soil of our hearts is the grace that He offers to us.

In the eyes of Jesus we are all equally at risk. The danger is not from physical death, which is temporary; it is from spiritual death, which is eternal. To spare ourselves that fate we must respond to the offer of grace and work with Our Lord to bear fruitful lives. By this path, we will be saved.

What is the theme of your life? What is your world view? How is that reflected in the work that you do and the art you produce?

this article originally appeared at www.DeaconLawrence.org

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Pontifex University is an online university offering a Master’s Degree in Sacred Arts. For more information visit the website at www.pontifex.university

Lawrence Klimecki, MSA, is a deacon in the Diocese of Sacramento. He is a public speaker, writer, and artist, reflecting on the intersection of art and faith and the spiritual “hero’s journey” that is part of every person’s life. He maintains a blog at www.DeaconLawrence.org

The Power of Beauty to Transform

"This is the power of Beauty, to transform our souls, our spiritual nature, to the state God intended for us"

A Crisis of Beauty

The Church, and the world at large, is suffering a crisis of Beauty. We have lost the understanding of the power of Beauty to transform our souls.

Even so, on an intuitive level, the level of “poetic knowledge,” we still have a sense of this power of Beauty to transform. We remind ourselves of this in the stories we tell. We tell the same story over and over again but we dress it up in different ways. The settings may change, the characters, time and details may differ, but it is at heart the same story.

Beauty and the Beast

A merchant returning home after a long trip is lost in an unfamiliar forest. He chances upon a mysterious castle which opens its doors to him and offers him shelter. During his stay there he is tended to by unseen servants. Before he leaves he takes a single rose from the garden to give to his daughter, “Beauty.”

But this theft of a single flower enrages the master of the castle, a fearsome beast who condemns the merchant to death for his crime. The merchant pleads for mercy and tells the Beast of his three daughters who will have no one to care for them if he does not return.

The Beast relents on the condition that the merchant send one of his daughters back to the Beast to take the merchant's place as a prisoner. The merchant returns home with a heavy heart. When he tells his daughters of his encounter with the Beast, his youngest and most beautiful daughter, Beauty, offers to return as the Beast's prisoner.

Beauty's life at the castle is luxurious but lonely. All her needs are met by the unseen servants. She is given the finest food and clothing and allowed the freedom of the castle. Every night she has dinner with the Beast and every night the Beast asks Beauty to marry him. But she is repulsed by his appearance and his manner and every night she refuses.

Finally her loneliness overcomes her and she pleads with the beast to allow her to visit her sisters. The Beast permits this provided she return exactly one week later. But Beauty's sisters are jealous of her seemingly new found fortune and conspire to make her delay beyond her permitted time. When she realizes this, Beauty hastens back to the castle and finds the Beast in the garden near the rose bush, dying from a broken heart.

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Beauty tearfully proclaims her love for the Beast and her tears transform the creature into a handsome prince, the son of a king. The prince tells Beauty that he was cursed by an evil fairy for refusing her the simple hospitality of shelter from a storm. For the sin of pride he was cursed with the form of a monstrous beast, and doomed to remain so until he was loved for himself in spite of his appearance. But the love of Beauty has broken the curse.

A Christian Allegory

It is a familiar story, especially in light of recent major motion pictures. But there is a truth hidden in this simple fairy tale.

The Beast is a reflection of fallen man. Due to our transgression of Original Sin, we have been transformed into a parody of the creature God made us to be. But still we are drawn to Beauty, always seeking to be reunited with her. When we finally experience true Beauty, which is to say the love of God, our souls are transformed and we are once again sons and daughters of the King of Kings.

The Power of Beauty

This is the power of Beauty, to transform our souls, our spiritual nature, to the state God intended for us, before we turned away from him out of pride. Beauty transforms us by drawing us beyond herself and pointing us to the source of all Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.

Professor Joseph Campbell understood this. He understood the ability of story, mystery, and beauty to resonate with us. In 1949 Campbell published “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” in which he explored the story we tell ourselves in every age and every culture, the details change but the basic story remains. His book had tremendous influence on generations of writers, storytellers and filmmakers.

Joseph campbell was raised Catholic. But he left the Church in the 1960s over what he saw as a rejection of beauty. At a time when we most desperately needed to be reminded of the depth of the mystery and beauty of the Christian story, the Church went in a different direction. In an effort to be modern and “up to date” the Church suppressed thousands of years of art, music, and architecture, as old and irrelevant to the modern age.

As a result we have we have church buildings that do not lift our hearts and minds to God. Soulless structures and exercises in architecture that are filled with art that does not draw us beyond its pretty surface to contemplate the eternal truths. And the music of our liturgy no longer connects us to the order and beauty of the divine.

How have we fallen so far? More importantly how do we regain this ancient understanding of the power of Beauty to bring us closer to God?

this article originally appeared at www.DeaconLawrence.org

______________________________________

Pontifex University is an online university offering a Master’s Degree in Sacred Arts. For more information visit the website at www.pontifex.university

Lawrence Klimecki, MSA, is a deacon in the Diocese of Sacramento. He is a public speaker, writer, and artist, reflecting on the intersection of art and faith and the spiritual “hero’s journey” that is part of every person’s life. He maintains a blog at www.DeaconLawrence.org

 

Universalis.com Now Has Pointed Psalms - You Can Sing the Office At Home Using Your Smartphone

Universalis.com Now Has Pointed Psalms - You Can Sing the Office At Home Using Your Smartphone

The system is so simple, that you don't need a deep musical training - if you can sing it, you can teach others to sing it. This means that in just a few minutes, you could have a completely fresh group able to learn a tone and sing a whole Office together. 

The Artist as Priest

The Artist as Priest

Priest, Prophet and King, all of the baptized are invested in these three offices. The degree to which they fulfill these offices will depend on their individual gifts, talents, and calling.

But how, specifically does an artist fulfill the role of priest? To answer this we must first briefly examine the role of the priest and the Sacraments of the Church.

Masters Level Sacred Music Courses through NYC Seminary

Earn credit for Pontifex University's Master of Sacred Arts through St Cecilia Academy for Pastoral Musicians, Archdiocese of New York. 

St Cecilia Academy of Pastoral Musicians, which is at St Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers, NY offers a four-course 12 credit, Masters level certificate. Pontifex University will recognize these classes as constituting a concentration in sacred music as part of the Master of Sacred Arts program.

We recommend these courses to all pastoral musicians, whether for credit or personal enrichment in service of the Church.

Painting Workshop, Rome, August 6-17: The Methods of Caravaggio and Titian.

Painting Workshop, Rome, August 6-17: The Methods of Caravaggio and Titian.

This summer Pontifex University is proud to sponsor a unique workshop taking place in Italy. "The Art and Theology of the Catholic Reformation in Rome", which will take place this August 6 - 17 at the Accademia Urbana delle Arti in the center of Rome. This intensive two-week/60- hour course will provide a comprehensive overview of the painting methods of artists of the Catholic Reformation and the theology that underpinned their works.