Of Canines and Composers: Reducing the Song Celestial to a Bark in the Dark
This focus on the "aesthetics of God" was one of the preoccupations of the great theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar, whose Glory of the Lord I've been reading lately. I shouldn't say "lately." Rather, it's something I dip into from time to time, since it consists of seven large volumes which are only part of a trilogy consisting of a total of eight additional weighty volumes, including the Theo-Drama and the Theo-Logic. Like Finnegans Wake, I don't think I'll ever read the 15 volumes straight through, but you can open them to most any page and find some little jewel of spiritual vision and insight.
Although Balthasar is one of my favorite theologians, stylistically he's very much the opposite of Schuon. Schuon wrote in an extremely compact, condensed, and unsaturated way, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph. I don't think I've ever read anyone who conveys the most "information" with the least amount of verbiage. Almost all of Schuon's books are collections of essays on diverse subjects as opposed to unified works. He would have been a good blogger.
As I said, Balthasar is the opposite. Instead of cranking out compact little gems, he's like a geyser -- no matter where you dip in, you're pretty much drinking from the firehose. His central theme in the seven-volume Glory of the Lord is that in modern times, the aesthetic approach to God has become eclipsed by the ethical and the logical. However, being that the transcendentals (the Good, True, and Beautiful) are inseparable, "neglecting one can only have a devastating effect on the others."
"Glory" is the category of transcendental beauty. It specifically has to do with the seeing the form and the splendor of God. Just the fact that this glory clearly exists -- that God has a splendorous form accessible to human beings -- is an extremely provocative notion. Our age values garden-variety intelligence as measured by a high IQ, but a high IQ has no bearing whatsoever on one's ability to apprehend God's glory. Rather, it can only be grasped by the awakened intellect understood in its traditional sense, not by mere intelligence.
When we behold the glory of the lord, we are in a state of rapture. But it is not as if rapture is simply an effect; rather, it is more of a two-way street. As Balthasar writes, "no one can really behold who has not already been enraptured, and no one can be enraptured who has not already perceived." Thus, rapture is the subjective response to glory, just as glory is the objective content of rapture.
Glory be! God has a form. How patently true, and yet, how mind-boggling. But how do we begin to learn to perceive a form of the Form and be-wholed the glory?
After six days, Jesus brought them high on a mountain by themselves, and was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became white as the light.
Yeah, that's one way.
As I have mentioned before, faith is not an empty category, but a form of knowing. It is what the poet Keats called a "negative capability," by which "man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, and doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason." This highlights the critical relationship between faith and grace, "since, in giving itself, faith apprehends the form of revelation, while grace has from the outset transported the believer up into God's world."
God "presents" himself to mankind in a multitude of forms, all true in their own way. Not only is Truth one of the properties of Being, but so too is it the inseparable bond between God and the world. As Aquinas recognized, beauty is the splendor of this Truth. Beauty is not merely a pleasing surface or veneer, but something that accompanies Truth and radiates from within it.
No philosophy could be more impoverished than one which denies the existence of this radiant interior Light -- or that reduces it to some material property of physics. "Divine light" is not a metaphor borrowed from our sensory apparatus. Rather, the reverse is true: the radiant light that fills the cosmos is an analogue of God's infinite luminous presence.
I was about to say that it is impossible to imagine a world without transcendental beauty, but I'm afraid that isn't true. In fact, it is becoming increasingly difficult to imagine a world that intrinsically recognizes and values transcendental beauty, which should form one of the axes around which a healthy civilization revolves.
No one should ever consciously seek ugliness, any more than they should consciously embrace the lie, but there you go. Just as beauty and truth are inseparable, so too are ugliness and the Lie forever bonded. While there are surely "attractive lies" -- such as the constant lies of the left -- their attractiveness is always on the surface only.
And this kind of superficial beauty will eventually beget the lie, as we see time and time again with the leftist fantasists. When a fuzzy panderbore such as John Edwards oozes his platitudes, you can almost see Death in the background holding his coat and snickering.
Once a civilization has devalued transcendental beauty as one of its guiding ideals, the question naturally arises: "Why not just plumb satan's depths? What difference does it make?"
I guess that's what you call a rhetorical question.
As Balthasar points out, in a world where beauty has lost its attractiveness, truth soon follows in its wake. But it is not just any kind of truth that is eliminated. Rather, what we specifically lose is the capacity to recognize self-evident truths, the kind of self-evident truths upon which America was specifically founded -- for example, that we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights. Are any children in public schools taught how to recognize this self-evident truth -- or that it even exists? Indeed, wouldn't it now be considered against the law to teach children to perceive transcendental truth in the manner of our founders?
Some law that makes the basis of Law illegal.
And if transcendental truth and beauty are eliminated, what then is left of Being itself, since these are among its "first fruits?" Obviously, you are going to breed a population of nihilists who are paradoxically filled with existential emptiness. To put it another way, they will be filled with the world, since this is ultimately the only alternative to being filled with God. There is nothing a priori wrong with the world, unless it is drained of its transcendent light. But Balthasar asks, "Will this light not necessarily die out where the very language of light has been forgotten and the mystery of Being is no longer allowed to express itself?"
In such a debased world, all that remains is "a mere lump of existence which, even if it claims for itself the freedom proper to spirits, nevertheless remains totally dark and incomprehensible even to itself. The witness borne by Being becomes untrustworthy for the person who can no longer read the language of beauty."
In short, "Whoever insists that he can neither see it nor read it, or whoever cannot accept it, but rather seeks to 'break it up' critically into supposedly prior components, that person falls into the void and, what is worse, he falls into what is opposed to the true and the good." One then spends one's life adapting to a denatured world of one's own making, and calls it "reality."
But this secondary and derivative world is about as real as a body without a soul. In such a closed, endeadened state, Being cannot call out to being, nor Form to form, Truth to truth, Beauty to beauty. In a word, it is hell. Unhappitants of this world are physically alive even while they deprive themselves of that which gives Life. But I suppose there are worse places for the proud to live. For example, on one's knees.
You haven't perceived the hologram to your private particle? Come in, open His presence and report for karmic duty. Why, it's a Tree of Life for those whose wood beleaf. What in carnation?! Viveka la revelation! --The Weird & Wacky New Testavus for the Rest of Us