Via Pulchritudinis: Accepting the Challenge, part 4

All cultures are not equally open to the transcendent and welcoming of Christian Revelation.

Perhaps we have some elements in the First World who are closed to Christianity because of the contrary witness. Skeptics notice alliances with the powerful, and there’s even the perception of an institution which receives a good amount of money from the 1%. Even art in the Church’s hands is questioned: why keep it? Why not sell it or give it away?

Not all expressions of beauty—or moments which pretend to be so—favor an acceptance of the message of Christ and the intuition of His divine beauty. As their artistic expressions and aesthetic manifestations are marked by sin, cultures can attract and imprison one’s attention until it folds in on itself creating new forms of idolatry.

Certainly true. And the Church itself is not immune from idolatry.

Are we not confronted too often by phenomena of real decadence whereby art and culture are denaturalized and hurt (people) in (their) dignity? Beauty itself cannot be reduced to simple pleasure of the senses: this would be to deprive it of its universality, its supreme value, which is transcendent. Perception requires an education, for beauty is only authentic in its link to the truth—of what would brilliance be, if not truth?— and it is at the same time “the visible expression of the good, just as the good is the metaphysical expression of beauty.” [JOHN PAUL II, Letter to Artists, 4 April 1999, n. 3] And again, “Is not beauty the surest route to attain the good?” asked Max Jacob. Although accessible to all, the Way of Beauty is not exempt from ambiguity, deviations, errors, detours etc. Always dependent on human subjectivity, it can be reduced to ephemeral aestheticism and let itself be instrumentalized and made servile to the captivating fashions of consumer society. Priority must also be given to learning to discern between the uti and the frui, that is between a relationship with things and people based uniquely on functionality (uti) and an authentic and trusting relationship (frui) solidly enrooted in the beauty of gratuitous love, according to St Augustine in his De catechizandis rudibus “Nulla est enim maior ad amorem invitatio quam praevenire amando – There is no greater invitation to love than to love first” (Lib. I, 4.7,26).

Let’s wrap up this section with the question: just what is the Way of Beauty? What context does the Church discuss it?

It is necessary to clarify just what is the via pulchritudinis, and of what it is made. Which is the beauty that favors the handing on of the faith by its capacity to touch people’s hearts, to express the mystery of God and of the human person, to be an authentic “bridge”, an open space for a pathway for the men and women of our times who already know beauty, or wish to learn to appreciate it, and help them meet the beauty of the Gospel of Christ, which the Church has for its mission to announce to all people of goodwill?

Beauty is a possible foundation for the kerygma, the preaching of Christ and his Good News. This message of Good News is, as St Luke tells us (Cf. 2:10), something “of great joy for all of the people.” If beauty is to communicate the message, it must be something of the universal. That is the goal of the Gospel mandatum of Matthew 28:19 or Mark 16:15.

The full document is here.

Image: the rose window at Notre Dame in Paris, By Zachi Evenor based on File:North rose window of Notre-Dame de Paris, Aug 2010.jpg by Julie Anne Workman – CC BY-SA 2.0,

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Art, evangelization, Via Pulchritudinis. Bookmark the permalink.

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