"Man's purpose is to know God and to love him and to serve Him. We do this by working towards the perfection of the world."
The Beauty of Creation
On the sixth day of creation, "God saw everything that He had made, and behold it was very good." Genesis 1:31
The word "good" in the Book of Genesis is translated from the Greek word "Kalon," which emulates the Hebrew words "towb." "Kalon" is a word that carries with it a much more nuanced meaning than simply good. It is used 559 times in the Bible in 517 verses and is translated a number of ways, such as better, best, pleasing, mercy, prosperity, and fair, just to name a few. In two verses in particular, it is translated as "beautiful."
“It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking upon the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful (kalon).” 2Samuel 11:2
“He had brought up Hadas’sah, that is Esther, the daughter of his uncle, for she had neither father nor mother; the maiden was beautiful (kalon) and lovely…” Esther 2:7
It would not be too much of a stretch then to read Genesis 1:31 as, "God saw all that He had made, and behold it was beautiful."
From the beginning, God made the world Good and Beautiful. Saint Paul affirmed this teaching in his Letter to Timothy, "For everything created by God is good (kalon), and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving." 1Timothy 4:4
God made the world beautiful and perfect. Being perfection Himself, He could not do otherwise. God is the perfect artist , expressing His creative will perfectly. Almost any artist will tell you that if they can create a work that is 50%-75% of what they imagined, they would consider the work a success. But all of creation was made exactly as God intended it to be.
The Reason for Man
It has been said that in all of creation there is only one creature that is "extra." That is, none of the food chains would be disrupted, and the balance of nature and the working of the world would continue just fine, if humans were removed from the equation.
But we know that God is incapable of waste. So then, we must look closer if we are to discover man's special purpose in creation.
Through the man's disobedience, and the envy of the devil (Wisdom 2:24), sin and death entered the world. The divine masterpiece of creation was marred.
When a painting, or a story, or even a musical composition, develops a flaw. The artist will try to repair it. If it cannot be repaired it is understandable that the artist may destroy the work and start over.
But rather than destroy His work, God chose to repair it. And since it was man that caused the damage in the first place, God allowed man to participate in the restoration of the world.
The Hebrew word, "bara,""to create," as used in the Book of Genesis, conveys an ongoing process, rather than a completed work accomplished in the past. That is to say the world was created, is created, and will be created until its completion. The vocation of man is to renew or bring to completion the world that was made imperfect by his actions. Every human person is given a unique set of gifts, talents, and abilities in order to fulfill a specific vocation, to accomplish his or her part in this ongoing process of regeneration. For the artist, this vocation shares a special relationship with Beauty.
The Church teaches that man's purpose is to be present in creation, as God was in the beginning. The work of the human person is to create new revelations of the divine, and then to sit back and praise God by saying, as God did at the creation, "it is good, it is beautiful."
This is the twofold purpose of liturgy, to sanctify man and to glorify God. Liturgy is much more than the Mass we attend on Sunday. When all of our actions are performed with the intention of sanctifying man and glorifying God, then everything becomes liturgy and man becomes a liturgical creature.
Man was created in the image and likeness of God. Man is of God's race and more intimately associated with Him that with any other creature. Researchers tell us that humans and chimpanzees share between 98.6% and 99% of their DNA. But even so, man is closer to God than he is to chimpanzees.
Man is essentially a creature of light. Light, manifested as the Holy Spirit, was imparted to man at his creation, lost to him at his fall, and restored to him at his baptism. As such, man is attracted to the divine light because it is a part of how he was made . Man naturally seeks Beauty because it is a reflection of the divine light, a reflection of Him who is Beauty perfected.
The more a person pursues the spiritual, the more the divine light of the Holy Spirit shines from within that person, and the more beautiful the person becomes. A truly spiritual person, a liturgical person, is constantly seeking his or her own sanctification by continually offering praise and glory to God. This makes that person not only good, but also beautiful in that they reflect the divine beauty.
"Kenosis" means "to empty."
When we see only the surface, the superficial aspect of Beauty, we can be deceived. Saint Paul tells us that even Satan can pass for an angel of light (2Corinthinas, 11:14.) To combat this, the so called "holy fools for Christ," emptied themselves everything, even personal dignity, so that the divine light could shine more radiantly through them. This "kenotic veil" is seen as the virtue of humility. In a similar way, during his final years as Parkinson's disease took its toll, pope Saint John Paul II was referred to as an "icon of suffering" because the beauty of his spirit could be seen even through his debility.
True Beauty cannot deceive because it will shine forth, even through a weakened form. When it does, the weakened form is transfigured to serve the spirit within, and becomes beautiful to behold.
By contrast, there is ugliness without spirit, a perversion of being that borders on the demonic; form without content, a hollow shell. It is the antithesis of being. Manifested in art it shows us a world without God. Manifested in our perception of the natural world, it offers us a glimpse of Hell, the negation of all that is True, and Good, and Beautiful.
The Vocation of the Artist
We are able to participate in the work of God, through the workings of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us. The holy Spirit also imparts to us a divine spark that shines more brightly and beautifully as we pursue the spiritual. Recognizing this inner beauty, this divine spark within all things, and drawing it out for others to see, is the vocation of the artist. This is an act of praise, and an act of love. Created in the image and likeness of the Creator, man is sub-creator, artist and poet. His ultimate destiny is to praise God, and in so doing, sanctify himself.
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