"The fight for beauty is a true battleground of the soul and intimately linked to the crisis of faith. Dostoevsky himself indicates this in his masterpiece, The Brothers Karamazov: “The awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man.” What appears as beautiful may not be, and what appears terrible, such as the corpse of Christ, may indicate true beauty. Dostoevsky manifests this tension by placing his prophet of beauty in the midst of suffering and even insanity."For good or ill, beauty has power. This power can be used to illumine the path toward the truth and goodness, or to pull one down in the vain pursuit of self. If beauty does not point toward the true and the good, it becomes a darkness, a turning inward. Another line from The Idiot reveals this ambiguous power of beauty: “Such beauty is real power…. With such beauty as that one might overthrow the world.” This beauty is the beauty of a woman, which may have such power (think of Troy), but when beauty sheds its light in the right direction, it should save the world, not overthrow it!" Jared Staudt.
I had an interesting on-line conversation this week.
A friend of a friend was having a discussion on the nature of beauty in regards to and in relationship with various philosophical views (Realism, Idealism, and Surrealism).
After playfully replying a few times from an artistic perspective, I posted the above quotation from a piece on the nature of beauty.
My correspondent was impressed how I'd met his challenge to define what was/is beautiful, but Staudt's quote married easily with other things I've been seeking to consider of late, especially when it spoke of the corpse of Christ as something truly beautiful.
Another friend bought me a book for Christmas which was all about finding truth through art in places where it often appears hidden to begin with, and one of the sections in the work was about two paintings by the artist Vittore Carpaccio, which focus on Christ's entombment and passion. Whilst most of the other characters in these depictions are readily identifiable, one of the central figures - an old man, seated in both works close to Christ - has only recently been recognized as the Patriarch and Prophet, Job. His inclusion so centrally in these works speaks of how profoundly the artist and those of his time saw Christ's death as the true means to the fulfillment of Job's prophecy - that though worms destroyed his body, yet in his flesh, He would see God (Job 19:26).
What true art points us to is the true significance found in the finite - God coming to us in very tangible ways, so we have something to hold to which affirms Gods work and promises.
Here's how Luther put it:
“A person does not deserve to be called a
theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were
clearly predictable in those things that have actually occurred.
Someone deserves to be called a theologian
who comprehends that the truly visible and genuine things of God are revealed
through suffering and the cross” (Luther – Theses 19 and 20. The Heidelberg
Disputation – 1518).
Life is to be centered in a theology of the cross, not a theology about it.
True beauty is done - it's just a case of us seeing it, and that means really comprehending what it is and what that means, even though we currently only understand much of this only partially. The beauty of the Cross is Christ becoming Sin, tasting death, that we are made free from these murderous things. The art of our world is God seeking us in astonishing grace and mercy, and that liberty genuinely allows us to enjoy life in the surety of His profound love, seen at the cross.
Such beauty shows us that God is never absent from the world. In providence and sustenance in life, in staggering revelation through creation, and most strikingly, in the flesh of Jesus Christ. All of this is meant to move us from our poverty.
Beauty, when it removes us from the pertinent truths of life, is dangerous. It can empty us of the need we share for mercy by distracting us to turn inward and believe we can become whole by our own resources. What we truly need to engage with the beautiful, to know what counts, is an intimacy with the one who has come to us, crucified and raised, to make us whole. This is the truth, the focal point, that can lead us into the true, the good and the beautiful in the entire spectrum of what we live.