Deborah Gyapong: Wounded by beauty

Wounded by beauty

Over at the Master's Artist, my fellow blogger J. Mark Bertrand has launched a discussion about beauty and apologetics, which led me to remember an essay "Wounded by the Arrow of Beauty" in a new book released by Ignatius Press by Pope Benedick XVI called "On the Way to Jesus Christ."

Mark writes:

In other words, we don't come to the debate as neutrals. We already have positions and those positions influence the way we see the argument. Instead of forming our beliefs based on careful weighing of the evidence, we look at the whole picture -- the story -- and believe what is most compelling. Logic is a component of the process, but not its totality. We form our beliefs and commitments, Hart says, because we find them aesthetically pleasing, or beautiful.

The essay, written when the Pope was still Cardinal Ratzinger is online here:

He begins by contrasting two Scriptural passages read side by side during Holy Week, one that describes the sublime beauty of the wedding of the King from Psalm 45 [44] and the famous passage from Isaiah 53:2 "He had neither beauty nor majesty, nothing to attract our eyes."

The Pope writes:

How can we reconcile this? The appearance of the "fairest of the children of men" is so wretched that no one desires to look at him. Pilate presented him to the crowd saying: "Behold the man!", to rouse sympathy for the crushed and battered Man, in whom no external beauty remained.

Then, after summing up some of the thinking of Augustine and Plato he writes:

In the first place, the text of Isaiah supplies the question that interested the Fathers of the Church, whether or not Christ was beautiful. Implicit here is the more radical question of whether beauty is true or whether it is not ugliness that leads us to the deepest truth of reality. Whoever believes in God, in the God who manifested himself, precisely in the altered appearance of Christ crucified as love "to the end" (Jn 13,1), knows that beauty is truth and truth beauty; but in the suffering Christ he also learns that the beauty of truth also embraces offence, pain, and even the dark mystery of death, and that this can only be found in accepting suffering, not in ignoring it.

After some more wonderful, clear writing that is the hallmark of this great man, who deserves to be called the Vicar of Christ on earth, we find this:

Being struck and overcome by the beauty of Christ is a more real, more profound knowledge than mere rational deduction. Of course we must not underrate the importance of theological reflection, of exact and precise theological thought; it remains absolutely necessary. But to move from here to disdain or to reject the impact produced by the response of the heart in the encounter with beauty as a true form of knowledge would impoverish us and dry up our faith and our theology. We must rediscover this form of knowledge; it is a pressing need of our time.

Then he moves into a meditation on evil, on Auschwitz, on how it often seems these days that evil is more real than the good.

The One who is the Beauty itself let himself be slapped in the face, spat upon, crowned with thorns; the Shroud of Turin can help us imagine this in a realistic way. However, in his Face that is so disfigured, there appears the genuine, extreme beauty: the beauty of love that goes "to the very end"; for this reason it is revealed as greater than falsehood and violence. Whoever has perceived this beauty knows that truth, and not falsehood, is the real aspiration of the world. It is not the false that is "true", but indeed, the Truth. It is, as it were, a new trick of what is false to present itself as "truth" and to say to us: over and above me there is basically nothing, stop seeking or even loving the truth; in doing so you are on the wrong track. The icon of the crucified Christ sets us free from this deception that is so widespread today. However it imposes a condition: that we let ourselves be wounded by him, and that we believe in the Love who can risk setting aside his external beauty to proclaim, in this way, the truth of the beautiful.

I don't know about you, but this writing makes me want to weep for the beauty it conveys.



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