I am like a desert owl of the wilderness, like a little owl of the waste places.
I lie awake. I am like a lonely bird on the housetop. Psalm 102:6-7
The other day I went to a talk by my cousin, Kathleen Carr, President of the Catholic Art Institute. It was a talk about Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.
I learned during the talk that even prior to Christ’s coming, the ancient philosophers deemed these the “transcendentals”, that is, something that exists beyond the time-space and material world; a universal reality that extends beyond our sensory experiences. There is an objective reality for all of us. These three transcendentals were known as the “3 sisters”, so intertwined that if you took one of them away, the other two would fall.
In other words, there really is something objective about Truth, Goodness and Beauty. It is not relative. The Christian way of life only confirms what these ancient philosophers had written naturally on their hearts.
For the Greek philosophers, Truth is that which defines reality. Goodness is that which fulfills it’s purpose and Beauty is that which is lovely. They are knowable. They are intertwined with reason (truth), morality(goodness), and emotion (beauty).
The other thing my cousin pointed out is that the easiest way to corrupt is to attack beauty first.
Eve “saw” that the tree was good for eating, and so, she ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. This corruption of beauty leads to the down fall of truth and goodness. We can say art is subjective, but really it is not. Having objective beauty can be seen by how closely it resembles the reality of nature.
From this perspective we can see why the beauty of churches and of liturgy matters. If we preach truth from the pulpit, but surround ourselves in ugliness or even stark emptiness, the emotion beauty invokes will not be attached to the reason that needs to be heard or the morality that needs to be lived. In other words, without visual beauty, words can fall on deaf ears and so no action will follow. The more chaotic our art has gotten the more chaotic everything else has gotten and soon you come across things that are unrecognizable.
Kathleen pointed out, if you put up a picture of Jesus’ Holy Face, and next to it His Holy Name, 10 out of 10 people will first stare at the Holy Face. It is a coming to know God as a person by seeing.
We come to know God face to face in Jesus and then we learn the power of His Holy Name.
It seems to me in our current world we are seeing a lot of faceless art, even in the Christian world, as if our God is not known.
But we know that this isn’t true.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. John 1:14
I don’t point this out to belittle anyone who has made this kind of faceless art. I point it out only to say that we have come to a point where we don’t recognize truth, goodness and beauty, and even our art is a reflection of that, whether we realize it or not.
All of this is tied into the deficit we see in our society. The faceless unborn babies can be slaughtered en-masse by our society. We are confused about identity and marriage. The first sister to fall, beauty, led us to the path of demise of the other sisters when we stripped out much of what is beautiful from our churches and our worship.
As a church, we are at a precipice where the forces of darkness are trying prevail. But we have a promise from God that it won’t. That doesn’t mean that we won’t experience darkness or winter. As a flock we can and do feel scattered and abandoned. I know it is hard to watch what is happening.
But remember it was in the darkness of winter that the word became flesh and dwelt among us. A baby boy with a face to gaze upon so we could know the Father who is in Him.
When Adam and Eve fell from grace instead of moving toward the Beatific vision which would have shown them the face of God, they instead had their view expanded by Satan. That is to say their view became dark and perverted. Beauty was stolen and shame took it’s place. Pride and accusation become the norm. But God, who made human beings in His image and likeness, who made them good, provided the way back. God provided a way to divinize our humanity.
Because of God and her free will choices, the Blessed Virgin Mary reached this perfection that Adam and Eve did not. She began by gazing at the infant Jesus, but she didn’t stop there. She continued the journey, the journey of sanctity, which led her to the cross, where the face that she beheld, took on our ugliness.
The face of Christ on the cross sanctifies by showing us our own sin and taking the penalty. We are staring at a lot of this now as all our evil is being made transparent. We don’t want to look. But we must look. Especially inside of our own hearts to see what ugliness we are hiding and don’t want to face. Our sin is ugly, but the crucified Christ, His face, is actually a thing of beauty, objectively, because though He was innocent, He loved us even unto death on a cross. When we stare at this face and see what we have done, our own hearts get transformed. He loves us now, in the middle of what we are in. Can we stare at His beaten Face on the cross and recognize our own need for Him? I would venture to say that for the Apostles who did not make it to the cross, they beheld this face in the eyes of His Sorrowful Mother and grace was mediated to them through her. Wrap yourself in her mantle. She is your advocate.
Let truth, beauty and goodness reign inside of your hearts this Christmas Season. In the darkest of winter, a light shines and God’s promises are made true. Fear not. God is still with us.
Merry Christmas and may God Bless you and keep you safe.
Well written and thoughtful. I love this blog. And, I have been talking about these things in my English classes for 36 years, and it has been a little harder the last 13 because I teach in a secular state college in Minnesota.
May God pour out blessings upon your teaching.
How wonderful, Jeff, that you have talked about these things in class for 36 years! So many decades ago, at what was a truly Catholic university, those 3 words were drummed into us. They were almost like part of the “definition” of God; He is the epitome of the three. (I’m explaining it badly, but you know what I mean.)
I just wanted to thankyou for your Blog. I am involved in Men’s Ministry here in Australia. The last 18 months have been a real struggle with Anxiety and Depression, something I have never struggled with my whole life. Your writings have helped me to understand God’s role in all of this. Its as if many times your words were meant for me and me alone. So thankyou, I am thankful everyday that our Lord has helped me carry my Cross. May you and your Family and indeed all those who read your Blog Have a Blessed Christmas.
Thank you Steve. God bless you and Merry Christmas.
Beautiful truth! Thank you for sharing. Merry Christmas!