September 15, 2017


Demand Moral Beauty: It Is Our Birthright (PAUL KRAUSE, 9/15/17, Crisis)

In the second book of Confessions Augustine recalls one of the more shameful and peculiar moments of his youth--the stealing of a pear from a neighbor's pear tree in the company of his friends. Augustine goes through his usual analysis as to why he engaged in the action that he did. He contemplates that he could have committed the action for some greater good, for honor, or for power, but soon realizes that he engaged in sin with the company of others to share the burden of sin and to get a thrill from the momentary action.

Augustine maintains in the Confessions, as Catholic doctrine proclaims, that happiness is the end to human existence--this is what our restless heart and soul seeks. But in reflecting upon his actions, Augustine concludes that the stealing of the pear and throwing it to the pigs "brought [him] no happiness." He is also very candid as to why it brought him no happiness: "[there was] no beauty because it was a robbery." Augustine links the beautiful with the good, and he openly cries out that he stole the pear in a moment of unrestrained and disordered desire. Augustine acted without reason which subsequently negated the beautiful. In contemplating this incident, Augustine realizes that his actions weigh on him because there was no beauty in what he had done.

Beauty is something that calls us to higher heights. As Augustine states in his commentary over Genesis 1 at the end of Confessions, it is the beauty and sublimity of the creation from God's love, wisdom, and truth that is principally to be understood as being embodied in the phrase that the "Spirit moved over the deep." Augustine poignantly stated, "But in our love of that life where all care is banished, the holiness of your Spirit raises us aloft, so that we may lift up our hearts to you, to the place where your Spirit moved over the waters." Beauty also calls us to participate with it in its splendor and brilliance.

The participation with beauty is the participation with the Logos; the participatio Trinitatis that Augustine and other Latin Fathers speak of in their writings. Augustine asserts that the Spirit that moves over the deep fills us with a sense of the sublime that calls us "to that peace which is high above all." He continues to state that through this participation "our hearts are set on an upward journey, as we sing the song of ascents." Those songs of ascent are also meant to be the hymns and chants of the Mass, a soothing and majestic invitation back to order rather than the chaotic and unorderly "melody" of songs that unleash nothing but pure desire and emotionalism--something that Roger Scruton calls "the tyranny of pop music."

Augustine instinctively knew that the call to participate with beauty is a call to participate with Logos, the Word that is Christ.

It's why the Puritan world has been uniquely immune to art trends, which is nicely illustrated by one of our favorite stories.
Posted by at September 15, 2017 7:12 AM