What I’m Reading: Excerpts on Beauty

The Magi bring their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the Christ Child at the Epiphany. Christ, Lord of All, did not need their costly gifts. But they needed to give them to Him.

A few excerpts on the topic of beauty, and more specifically, beauty in our churches, from a good book that I am reading, “Rebuilding Catholic Culture” (2013, Sophia Institute Press), by Ryan Topping:

Arguably, in our day appeal to the true and the good are frustrated in a way that appeal to beauty is not. Our skepticism and our cynicism have left many in our culture cold to the apologist and even to the missionary of charity, but not to the artist. (p. 92)

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As the great nineteenth-century evangelist and refounder of the French Dominicans, Fr. Henri-Dominique Lacordaire (1802–1861) has said, “Truth has a vesture, a halo . . . beauty.” When beauty fails, when the arts flounder, truth is soon to be forgotten. (pp. 97-98)

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Beauty is essential to our worship; given the august tradition of Western art, beauty is, after all, what Catholics used to know most about. So, since the Church employs the arts for her worship, she can be neither indifferent nor diffident when it comes to competing accounts of aesthetics. Defenders of modernist art usually claim freedom has been given a new lease. Being liberated from actual objects, the artist was supposedly empowered to exercise an expanded freedom, so the claim went. In reality, the opposite happened. The rise of abstractionism in art is not a sign of vital creativity; it is a sign of its decay. All freedom depends upon some limit. Nowhere is this more evident than in the fine arts. (pp. 103-104)

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As the Catechism has it, church buildings “are not simply gathering places,” but they make visible “the dwelling of God with men reconciled and united with Christ” (CCC 1180). The design of a church, in other words, is meant to offer a glimpse into what it is like to live with God. Churches symbolically prefigure the worship of Heaven. (p. 109)

* * *

Finally, good ecclesiastical art comes at a high cost: for craftsmen, this cost is the long apprenticeship that is required of those who would serve within a tradition of inherited skills and symbols; for the rest of us, it is a price we would be impoverished to refuse to pay. (p. 119)

All quotations copied from the Kindle Edition.

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