July 17, 2017


Beauty and the Imagination : The imagination is a gift from God, given in His own image, to conceive of a Glorious Reality that does exist, that we cannot yet fully see... (Aaron Ames, 7/17/17, Imaginative Conservative)

The capacity to create and experience beauty is dependent upon this interaction between imagination and wonder. For, in seeing a beautiful sunset, the imagination allows the mind to transcend the individual physical realities of the sun, the landscape, the colors, etc., and to see it all as one interdependent whole, and so to wonder and delight in such beauty.

Or, consider listening to Beethoven's 5th, in which the imagination perceives the many instruments, all playing independent parts, as one complete whole, as if it were only one instrument, and so one sound. Yet, in truth, it is many instruments, and many sounds. And, so it was that surely Beethoven must have conceived the beauty of his symphony in the imagination before it was ever put to paper or played. And surely the harmonious beauty of the created world was in the Mind of the Grand Composer before it was composed:

Beauty... can be appreciated only by the mind. This would be impossible, if this 'idea' of beauty were not found in the Mind in a more perfect form.... This consideration has readily persuaded men of ability and learning... that the original "idea" is not to be found in this sphere (Augustine, City of God).

Open the door to the imagination, and you will open the door to Eternal Beauty.

Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988), a Swiss theologian and priest, who upon completing his seven volume work entitled The Glory of the Lord, concluded that "beauty is the word that shall be our first." Indeed, in the opening story of Genesis, God creates harmony out of chaos, and the lush Garden of Eden can only be described as beautiful. Likewise, Revelation returns to the Garden, only it is even more beautiful than before. What is the connection, then, between the beauty we see in the world around us and the Transcendent Beauty of God?

What is it in a serene and picturesque landscape that seems to overwhelm us? What is it in a carefully composed melody that brings us a deep sense of joy? Skeptic Anthony O' Hear attempts to answer this question:

In experiencing beauty we feel ourselves to be in contact with a deeper reality than the everyday.... Art can seem revelatory, just as it does seem to answer to objective standards. It can seem to take us to the essence of reality, as if certain sensitivities in us... beat in tune with reality. It is as if our... appreciation of things external to us... are reflecting a deep and pre- conscious harmony between us and the world from which we spring (Anthony O'Hear, Beyond Evolution).

Many of us could hardly disagree with such an interpretation of the experience of the beautiful. Yet, while O'Hear is happy to admit the transcendence of such experience, he strangely concludes:

If this feeling is not simply an illusion... it may say something about the nature of reality itself, as responsive to human desires.... But how could we think of an aesthetic justification of experience... unless our aesthetic experience was sustained by a divine will revealed in the universe, and particularly in our experience of it as beautiful? It is precisely at this point that many or even most will draw back. Aesthetic experience seems to produce the harmony between us and the world that would have to point to a religious resolution were it not to be an illusion (Beyond Evolution).

In a similar way, Karl Barth relays the story of Baron Friedrich Grimm, a skeptic and agnostic, who after attending a young Mozart concerto exclaimed:

I have now for the first time in my life seen a miracle.... I truly fear that this child will turn my head if I hear him again; he has shown me how difficult it is to preserve one's sanity in the face of a miracle (Barth, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart).

Barth noted this peculiar quote from a skeptic because he himself assumed the experience of Mozart to usher him into an eternal, transcendent, beautiful world: "Whenever I listen to [Mozart], I am transported to the threshold of a world which in sunlight and storm, by day and by night, is a good and ordered world" (Karl Barth, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart).

Posted by at July 17, 2017 7:24 AM