Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Von Balthasar on Beauty and Liturgy

While this passage was written regarding the liturgy, it's not restricted to that.

"Beauty is the last thing which the thinking intellect dares to approach, since only it dances as an uncontained splendor around the double constellation of the true and the good and their inseparable relation to one another. Beauty is the disinterested one, without which the ancient world refused to understand itself, a word that both imperceptibly and yet unmistakably has bid farewell to our new world, a world of interests, leaving it to its own avarice and sadness...

"No more loved or fostered by religion, beauty is lifted from its face as a mask, and its absence exposes features on that face, which threaten to become incomprehensible to man. We no longer dare to believe in beauty and we make of it a mere appearance in order the more easily to dispose of it.

"Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness, and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking them along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance"

--(H.U. von Balthasar, "The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics," Volume 1, "Seeing the Form," T&T Clark, Edinburgh 1982, p. 18).

Fr. Gagliardi explicates:

...beauty is useful. It is useful precisely when it is gratuitous, when it does not seek an immediate use, when it is the radiation of God.

Benedict XVI states: "This relationship between creed and worship is evidenced in a particular way by the rich theological and liturgical category of beauty. Like the rest of Christian Revelation, the liturgy is inherently linked to beauty: it is 'veritatis splendor.' The liturgy is a radiant expression of the paschal mystery, in which Christ draws us to himself and calls us to communion. [...]

"The beauty of the liturgy is part of this mystery; it is a sublime expression of God's glory and, in a certain sense, a glimpse of heaven on earth. [...] Beauty, then, is not mere decoration, but rather an essential element of the liturgical action, since it is an attribute of God himself and his revelation. These considerations should make us realize the care which is needed, if the liturgical action is to reflect its innate splendor" ("Sacramentum Caritatis," No. 35).


The risk today is less that of aestheticism, and much more that of informal pragmatism. At present we are in need not so much of simplifying and pruning, but of rediscovering the decorum and majesty of divine worship. The sacred liturgy of the Church will attract those of our time not by wearing more of the everyday gray and anonymous clothing, of which he is already very accustomed, but by putting on the royal mantle of true beauty.


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