09 October 2014

Beauty of Mystérium Fídei

Last month, I decided to do something I had never done before and submit a paper to a philosophical conference. As a trained computer programmer that has only taken one course in philosophy, this was a rather assuming thing to do. However, I do consider myself a theologian, though only as Evagrius of Pontus so succinctly described this discipline: “If you are a theologian, you will pray truly. And if you pray truly, you are a theologian.” Unfortunately, almost two weeks after submitting my abstract, just as I finished my paper, I received an email saying that they had received an unexpectedly large amount of response and could not accept all of them, including mine. Thus, I have decided to post it here.

I admit that it is a bit more scholarly than what I usually post, but perhaps not as scholarly as what an actual scholar would write. Additionally, I had a 3000 word limit, so I was not afforded sufficient space to explain all that is mentioned in this paper. There are many brief references to concepts and ideas that would take other papers, if not books, to adequately describe. As well, there is much room for misinterpretation, particularly in a tone of judgement. To that, I will humbly say, we are all being perfected and that process will not be accomplished in this life. No one can judge persons or culpability, even of oneself. However, one must judge actions and apply that judgement to one’s own conscience.

Moral relativism is a false notion in view of the reality of absolute truth, but which of us is fully aware of that reality? I would suggest there have been only four of us: Two lost that awareness, One was Divine, and the other was His Mother. Thus, moral relativism is a reality of our fallen nature that is limited in comprehending absolute truth. (I live in a paradoxical world that is both comfortable and uncomfortable and in which I can never become bored.)

Incidentally, the mystérium fídei is the mystery of the Christian Faith, of which the source and summit is the Eucharist and the Incarnation, both being the same reality and mystery (and Person, not to mention Absolute Truth).

At the bottom of this post, there is a video that prompted me to go ahead and write this paper.

Beauty of Mystérium Fídei

The source and summit of all beauty is God, who is love (i.e. caritas or γάπη). God’s presence is in everything that is created. God’s creative presence is even in hell, for if it were not, hell would not exist, nor would those who choose not to spend eternity with God. Temporal hell, like eternal hell, is a rejection of God’s love. Even with a total rejection of God and His love, a creature cannot escape the creative presence of God that is in his very created being. The only way for a creature to stop being the creative presence of God is to stop being; that is, to cease to exist. And, the only way for a creature to cease existing is by God to stop “thinking” of him; that is to say, for God to stop loving him. For God to stop loving any creature is an impossibility because God is love. God would cease to exist if He were to ever stop loving anything created or uncreated. This is impossible.

It is God’s beauty in His creatures, His works of art, that is both the glory of heaven and the torture of hell. His beauty is so unimaginably torturous to those who completely reject Him, that they will go to great lengths to disfigure themselves to try to escape the beauty of God, which is inescapable. In eternal life, this is seeming infinite, but in this temporal world, there are varying degrees by which we reject God, and disfigure the beauty of God in ourselves. Likewise, His beauty is so unimaginably glorious to those who accept Him, that they will go to great lengths to not see themselves and try only to see God. Or, better said, to let God allow them to only see Him and not themselves. In eternal life, this is infinite as we can approach, but never actually arrive at, the very essence of God. However, in this temporal, fallen world, we are distracted with ourselves, and may end up disfiguring the beauty of God in ourselves to some degree.

With the distraction of ourselves and, more specifically, with the actual and purposeful rejection of God, the disfiguring of our beauty (i.e. the creative presence of God) is often called “beautiful.” This is the very same as calling good “evil,” and evil “good.” This is the unforgivable sin when ignorance is no longer available due to the passing from this life (i.e. χρόνος) to eternal life (i.e. καιρός).

When saying all creation is God’s artwork, it is only in speaking figuratively. One could say that God is the “Divine Artist,” but since art is a learnt skill, this is not literally so. Artists take God’s creation, His beautiful creative presence, and compose, not create, it into works of art. If this art disfigures God’s presence, is it truly worthy of being called “art?” Perhaps not. However, if it leads one to contempt the very beauty of God, it is most definitely the essence of true art.

This is not just a description of what we commonly refer to as art, but the description of everything we do in this life. We are fallen artists, and so our art is often disfigured. That is to say, our sin disfigures us and our lives. With this in mind, what we commonly refer to as art can depict our disfiguring of our lives to inspire us to compose ourselves to better reflect the beauty of God’s creative presence within us. Thus, such artwork might not be directly beautiful, but the direction it leads us truly is. The most obvious example is a depiction of the most horrendous crime possible: the torture and murder of our God, which provided us with the most beautiful redemption.

It is sacred art that is the highest form of art. No place is this noble aspiration more evident than in the Eucharistic Liturgy. While still a pagan, Vladimir, Prince of Kiev, found the true religion through the beauty of the Divine Liturgy celebrated in Hagia Sophia, the most splendid and beautiful church in all of Christendom. (Now’s not the time to debate if just at that time, or of all times.) As related in the Russian Primary Chronicle, his envoys reported to him, “We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth, for surely there is no such splendour or beauty anywhere upon earth. We cannot describe it to you: only this we know, that God dwells there among humans, and that their service surpasses the worship of all other places. For we cannot forget that beauty.” Six centuries later, the Divine beauty of this temple was whitewashed and the true worship was replace with, as St. Vladimir’s envoys had earlier described, “There is no joy among them, but mournfulness and great smell; and there is nothing good about their system.”

What would Vladimir’s envoys report upon visit many churches today? There are some that would evoke the description, “We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth,” but, sadly, there are many that would not. While much of the architecture and decor is neutral at best, some is very much inspired by the “art” of the world that is devoid of God’s beauty. This is even more the case with the music.

The abandonment of beautiful liturgies is most poignantly felt in the abandonment of sacred music. While Vladimir’s envoys questioned whether they were in heaven or on earth, such envoys to many churches today would question whether they were in a church or in a coffee shop, a cocktail bar, or even a rock concert. While there is often sincere intentions by using such music, there is a reason why such music is attractive us, and this reason is not of noble character. It is based in concupiscence.

The source of this style of music is not in aspiring to the heights of heaven, but is best described by the names given to two such genres of this style: Jazz and Rock & Roll. Before being used as titles for genres of music, both were derogatory terms for sexual intercourse. Although the influence of sacred music may be felt in these genres, their roots go back to the profaning of the sacred. One may even say they go back to the entrance of evil into this world.

There has been much speculation concerning the original sin. Many believe that it was sexual in nature, and even if it were not, one could not argue that it did not have a profound affect on our sexuality. Our sexuality is felt at our deepest level and can be profoundly beautiful; however, due to our fall in the garden, all too often it is corrupt and disfigures such beauty.

This is evident when comparing the artwork of masters such as Michelangelo, Raphael, and Botticelli with the pornographic images in the public media that one cannot seem to avoid, even on the street (no need to compare with the private media that one can avoid). With the first, it is the beauty of the “Divine Artist” that is captured in a pure and inspiring way. With the second, the beauty of the “Divine Artist” is used to illicit lust and play on our fallenness. To those with evil intent, there may be little to no difference between the two. For this reasons, they often point to the first as justification for the second. They admit the first is beautiful, but in attempting to say the second is beautiful, they equate evil with good.

The human body, particularly the female, is the most beautiful part of creation. Thus, the body itself is not evil as it most reflects the beauty of God. It is an icon of God. It is our fallen nature that disfigures the body by perverted thoughts. Hence, the body must be veiled to protect not just the body, but God Himself in His creative presence. It is this veiling, sometimes taken to excess, that confuses many. They see it as somehow asserting that the body is evil. They have a hint of truth in saying that it is evil to say that which is good is “evil”; however, that is not what the veiling is declaring. The veiling of the body is declaring that the body is so beautiful, so good, that it must be kept hidden so that evil cannot disfigure it, even in thought.

Rejection of God and confusion as to why the body must be veiled has led to what is commonly called “the sexual revolution.” It appears to be no small coincidence that this revolution of disfiguring the beautiful creative presence of God in the humans body has happened while sacred art, particularly music, and art inspired by the sacred, has been almost completely abandoned by the general population and replaced with the profane. This is most apparent with the above mentioned forms of music: Jazz and Rock & Roll.

This is not to say that this art is completely devoid of beauty; or rather, totally disfigures the beauty of God’s creation. Beauty, to varying degrees, is found in this art. Since the human body, including sexuality, is an icon of God, it is of the greatest beauty. Since the beautiful creative presence of God is inescapable, no matter how devoid of beauty this art may be, God’s beautiful presence will remain present. However, as the artists and the consumers grow more and more confused about what is good and evil, this “art” becomes more and more disfigured. Thus, the beauty may even be called “evil,” while the disfiguring of that beauty may be called “good.” It is even becoming common to call depictions of hell “beautiful.”

As modern society progresses in such a direction, it is no wonder that what was formerly accepted as ugly and grotesque is becoming the norm. What was once considered taboo because of obvious satanic connotation, is now considered vogue. Since what is now called Satanism is actually a religion that does not believe in either God or Satan, there is apparently nothing wrong with anything satanic. Such an attitude is seen not just in music and visual media, but clothing, makeup, language, tattoos and piercings, and moral character. There is no need to show that one leads to the other or vis a versa as it all come together in a combined package. This has been the crisis ever since the greatest of God’s “artwork,” woman, listened and copied the one who said, “Non serviam.”

What is the solution to this crisis?

The solution is again in the greatest of God’s “artwork,” woman, but the one who said, “Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum.

In imitating the example of this woman, the “Divine Artist” become His own “Divine Artwork.” The source and summit of all art, both what is commonly called art and all that we do in this life, is the mystery of the Incarnation. This mystery remains present with us in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is not just an icon of God (i.e. the creative presence of God), It is God: Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. The Eucharist is all Beauty. Thus all artwork, both what is commonly called art and all that we do in this life, must be ordered to the Eucharist.

This is the only solution to the crisis in this world, and it is only in the Eucharistic Liturgy that this solution become present. Thus, this Liturgy must be made as pure as possible against the “art” of this world that disfigures the very beauty that is made present in the Liturgy. This is an impossible task while in this his life (i.e. χρόνος) but will be the only task in eternal life (i.e. καιρός).

Anything that is inspired by the Divine is proper to the Liturgy, and everything that is inspired by this fallen world is not only foreign to the Liturgy, it is harmful to the Liturgy. It is the Liturgy that transforms our disfigured lives and prepares us for the Heaven Liturgy. Thus, anything in the Liturgy that is inspired by the disfigurement of this fallen world is a hinderance to the whole purpose of the Liturgy. However, in no way does it lessen the Real Presence of Christ made present on the altar in the Liturgy.

With Liturgies that are truly beautiful, we will be transformed. The sacred artwork in the Liturgy will help the Eucharist compose us to be more beautiful, to better reflect the beautiful creative presence of God that is our very person. We will be divinized, a process which is called theosis in the East. This is not only necessary for our eternal happiness, the eternal happiness of the rest of humanity depends on it.

When we become true icons of Christ through the work of the Eucharist and with the help of sacred art in the Liturgy, we take Christ out of the Liturgy and into the world. We are the Beautiful Christ to the world that disfigures her beauty, which is really Christ’s beauty. Our beauty, which is really the beauty of Christ, will draw others to Christ and His Liturgy, and they will become beautiful. They will be divinized and become the Beautiful Christ (i.e. His creative presence, not His essence).

The keyword here is “draw.” In a world where the disfigurement of beauty is called “beautiful,” and the beautiful is called “disfigured,” we may not appear beautiful to the world. We must be keenly aware of this. Our beauty as icons of Christ may repulse some. However, if we are truly beautiful, if we are purely beautiful and reflect only Christ and not ourselves, our beauty will eventually attract rather than repulse.

There is a danger in the above awareness. There is the tendency to conceal our beauty so that we do not repulse the fallen world. We allow some disfigurement of ourselves that is in vogue to attract the world and hope that the world will eventually see only the beauty under the disfigurement. While this may be a good intention and have some good result, the notion is fatally flawed, and more evil than good will be the eventual result.

Although it may initially attract, we must remember that it is the disfigurement that is attracting and not the beauty. It is evil that is attracting and not good. How can we bring other to Christ with evil? We cannot!

Additionally, those who are already attracted by the beauty of Christ and see the disfigurement being use to attract others to this beauty will be confused. They will, and rightly so, begin to see the disfigurement as beautiful. They will begin to see evil as good right in the presence of God in the Liturgy. Although it is impossible to remove any of the beauty from the Eucharist, any evil that is misguidedly associated with the Eucharist will have a damaging affect on those present. Often the Eucharist can overcome this effect, but if this effect can be eliminated, there is no reason not to.ur salvation depends on beauty. Our effectiveness in drawing others to that beauty depends on our beauty. We must be icons of Christ and our Liturgies must cause visitors to exclaim: “We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth, for surely there is no such splendour or beauty anywhere upon earth. We cannot describe it to you: only this we know, that God dwells there among humans, and that their service surpasses the worship of all other places. For we cannot forget that beauty.”