Via Pulchritudinis: Creation, Used or Idolized

Section C discussing “The Beauty of Creation considers “Creation, Used or Idolized.” I think the writers of the document blunder a bit on this section. Two recent astronomer memoirs testify to the great attraction for the marvels of the heavens. Carl Sagan, not known for his religious belief, opened up worlds of wonder with his popularization of science in Cosmos two generations ago. I think of the naturalists who wrote and painted the glories, large-scale to intimate and in-between, of life on Earth from the 19th century onward.

I think we have short-sightedness, but we are just as likely to find it in the Church where sometimes the cold dictates of translation, our lack of support for the arts, and the focus on catechism and canon law dog our attempts to give seekers a glimpse of beauty. At any rate, the concerns are real. Read and see what you think:

Countless men and women, however, only see nature and the cosmos in their visible materiality, a muted universe that has no other destiny than those commanded by the cold and invariable laws of physics, without evoking any other beauty, much less a Creator. In a culture where scientism imposes the limits of its method of observation, up to the point of making an exclusive norm of knowing, the cosmos is reduced to being nothing other than an immense reservoir from which man draws to the point of draining it to meet his growing and disproportionate needs.

The Book of Wisdom warns us against such short-sightedness, which St Paul denounced as a “sin of pride and presumption.” (Romans 1, 20-23) But creation is not silent: the extraordinary natural phenomena, sometimes tragic, seen over the last few years and frequent ecological disasters demand a new understanding of nature, its laws, and its harmony. It is becoming clearer for many of our contemporaries that nature cannot and should not be manipulated without respect.

This isn’t a problem rooted in so-called scientism. (An exceedingly poor epithet, to be sure) This is the human indulgence for utility: what works for me now, and how much more wealth I can gather more quickly than others.

Appealing to the human spirit through beauty is respect for the dignity of souls:

It is not a matter of making nature a new absolute or new idol, as is the habit of some neo-pagan groups. It can never be more valuable than the dignity of the human person, who is called to be its guardian.

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.
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