The Pontifical Council for Culture invites us to Marvel at the Beauty of Creation. I’m reminded of Jodie Foster’s character Ellie Arroway in the film Contact. “They should have sent a poet,” she exclaims as she views the wonders that have opened up for her on her journey through the universe. A significant development for a person who has, up till then, been totally committed to science as her guiding light.
“Nature is a temple where living pillars sometimes unleash confused words.” If poets such as Baudelaire [Cf. the poetry of St John of the Cross, “Mil gracias derramando / Pasó por estos sotos con presura / Y, yéndolos mirando, / Con sola su figura, / Vestidos los dejó de su hermosura”; G. M. Hopkins, “The World is Charged with the Grandeur of God.”] are particularly sensitive to the beauties of creation and their mysterious languages, it is because, from the contemplation of the countryside at the setting of the sun, or snow-capped mountain summits under a starry sky, or fields covered with light-drenched flowers, or the varieties of plants and animals, there is born a palette of sentiments that invite us to read within (intus-legere), to pass from the visible to reach the invisible and give an answer to the question, “who is this Artisan with such powerful imagination at the origin of so much beauty and grandeur, such profusion of beings in the sky and on the earth?” [Aristotle had already affirmed that “in all the things of nature, there is something marvelous”, in The Parts of Animals, I, 5. The study of nature and the cosmos has played an essential role in philosophy ever since Antiquity. Also in theology, cosmology has been a fundamental element to understand the work of God and his actions in history. Think for example of the vision of the Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, so frequently cited in theology and Christian mystical traditions, or Aristotelian cosmology taken by St Thomas and used as a “proof for the existence of God”. Emmanuel Kant also recognized the beauty of creation’s capacity to arouse marvel in his Criticism of Practical Reason: “Two things fill the heart with admiration and an ever new and powerful veneration such that reflection is attached and applied to them: the starry sky above me and the moral law within me.”]
Nearly always, words fail us. As a watcher of developments in the world of songs and hymns, I lament being steered somewhat into lyrics that confirm what we already know and believe and away from expressions of God’s glory around us. Thankfully, no one has yet set the catechism or canon law to music. It seems we have a Creed and significant amens to utter to affirm our brand of orthodoxy. We should try to let other parts of the Mass sing with a bit, if not a lot more poetry.
Where some people get nervous at an expression of St Francis’ “Brother Sun, Sister Moon,” others find an encounter of contemplation and peace:
At the same time, the contemplation of the beauties of creation causes an interior peace and sharpens the sense of harmony and the desire for a beautiful life. With religious (people), astonishment and admiration transform themselves into attitudes that are interior and spiritual: adoration, praise and thanksgiving to the Author of these beauties. As the psalmist sang: “I look up at your heavens, made by your fingers, at the moon and stars you set in place—ah, what (are we) that you should spare a thought for (us), the (children of people) that you should care for (them)? Yet you have made (us) little less than a god, you have crowned (us) with glory and splendor, made (us) lord over the work of your hands, set all things under his feet, […] Yahweh, our Lord, how great is your name throughout the earth!” (Psalm 8, 3-6:10). The Franciscan tradition, with St Bonaventure, notes a sacramental dimension to creation, which carries traces of its origins. In this way, nature is considered an allegory and each natural reality as a symbol of its Author. [Cf. St Bonaventure, Collationes in Hexaemeron II, 27]
The wider definition of sacrament, here: a God-given sign intended to give grace.
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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, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=60404628