“God is perfect beauty and all that He creates is beautiful. By rejecting God our first parents rejected beauty, but through the workings of the Holy Spirit, God calls to us through our natural attraction to all that is beautiful. Ultimately our true vocation and final destiny is to praise God in His Truth, Beauty and Goodness.”
Beauty from Emptiness
A beautiful spirit may shine even through a form that has been weakened. Drawing on both old and new testaments, the early church fathers developed the doctrine of “kenosis” from a Greek word meaning emptiness. In the context of a theology of beauty, kenosis refers to a humiliation of form, an emptying of one’s self, so that the divine beauty shines more brightly. In the Old Testament this theme is taken up in the suffering servant.
“You are the fairest of the sons of men; grace is poured upon your lips; therefore God has blessed you for ever.” (Psalms 45:2)
“For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” (Isaiah 53:2)
In Christian thought this “kenotic veil” is the virtue of humility. Humility dims the beauty of the form and is a guard against the temptation of vanity.
“So you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.” (Matthew 23:28)
“Let not yours be the outward adorning with braiding of hair, decoration of gold, and wearing of fine clothing, but let it be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable jewel of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” (1Peter 3:3-4)
The so-called “Fools for Christ” took this idea to the extreme. These were individuals who denied themselves everything, including personal dignity, so that Christ may shine more radiantly through them. In such cases, the ugliness of the infirmity becomes transfigured to serve the spirit within, and becomes an icon of suffering, and as such beautiful to behold.
By contrast there is ugliness without spirit, a perversion of natural being that borders on the demonic. Form without content, a hollow shell, it is the antithesis of being. When it manifests itself as art, it shows us a world without God. Manifested in our perception of the created world, it offers us a glimpse of Hell, the negation of all that is good and beautiful and true.
An Act of Praise
Recognizing this inner beauty, this divine spark, within all things, and drawing it out for others to see, is the vocation of the artist. This is an act of Praise. Created in the image of the Creator, man is sub-creator, artist and poet. His ultimate destiny is to praise God. Through all the covenants described in scripture, this thread is consistent. When God creates the world He is in effect creating a temple. In that temple He places man to cultivate the temple, renew it, and transform it into an offering to God.
“And God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.'” (Genesis 1:28)
Throughout all of scripture we see that our ultimate destiny is to sing the praises of God, and that praise is intimately linked with His beauty.
“Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name; bring an offering, and come before Him! Worship the Lord in Holy Array;” (1Chronicles 16:29) Holy Array is frequently translated as “beauty of holiness.”
“…and when he had taken counsel with the people, he appointed those who were to sing to the Lord and praise Him in Holy Array, as they went before the army, and say, ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for His steadfast love endures forever.'” (2Chronicles 20:21)
“Ascribe to the Lord the glory of His name; worship the Lord in Holy Array.” (Psalms 29:2)
“Worship the Lord in Holy Array; tremble before Him, all the earth!” (Psalms 96:9)
“Which is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of His glory,” (Ephesians 1:14)
“Worthy is the lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing,” (Revelation 5:12)
“And all the angels stood round the throne and round the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God,” (Revelation 7:11)
“And the twenty four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshipped God who is seated on the throne, saying. ‘Amen. Hallelujah.'” (Revelation 19:4)
A Theology of Beauty
God is perfect beauty and all that He creates is beautiful. By rejecting God our first parents rejected beauty, but through the workings of the Holy Spirit, God calls to us through our natural attraction to all that is beautiful. Ultimately our true vocation and final destiny is to praise God in His Truth, Beauty and Goodness.
Beauty then is the unique vocation of the artist. His talent has been given him to explore this vocation. His work reflects the splendor of God, brings hope and joy to His people, and lifts hearts and minds to His divine beauty. Through artistic ability, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, the artist is called upon to unite the primal beauty of creation with the divine beauty of God. Like everyone else, his ultimate destiny is to forever sing the praises of God.
And there will be obstacles. The world may attack the work of the artist and belittle his efforts. It may praise the ugly and shallow over the beautiful and sacred. But this is the artist’s battle as well. It is a battle Saint Paul prepared us for.
“For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12)
© Lawrence Klimecki