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Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Thoughts on Beauty and the Tridentine Mass

Scholars argue, even today, on Thomas Aquinas' idea of Beauty as an Attribute of God. It depends on whether one sees him as primarily Platonic, Aristotelian or Dionysian, or a combination of these, in his approach to beauty. I am not going to get into those philosophical divisions at this point, but as an Aristotelian by nature, I would be inclined to come down on the side of the form and sense of beauty starting in the perception of what is pleasing around us, rather than an ideal which is mostly super-sensible. That is not the topic of this post.

What is the topic is the idea of Beauty Himself, as God is Beauty, as He is Truth, Love, the Good. The motto of my undergraduate college was Beauty, Truth, Goodness, as in the pursuit of through study. This is a good Benedictine approach to learning, as one becomes closer to God through study. The purification of the intellect, heart and will can happen through study and prayer aimed at Beauty, Truth and Goodness, that is God Himself.

Now, in Aquinas, God is so beyond what we see as Beautiful, as He Himself created all that is beautiful, that we must refer to Him as "super-beautiful". The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, existing from all time, was revealed to us at a particular time in history, but His Beauty is beyond time.

Before I switched degrees, I was pursuing "fine art" as a degree. I write poetry and I paint. In college, my strengths in painting were nature scenes, such as water, trees, flowers, in oils , acrylics, or water color. Surprising even to myself, I actually had some talent in this small area of the fine arts. I gave up the art degree for others, such as philosophy and theology, history and English, etc. However, as with others in my immediate family, a sense of the Beautiful haunted me.

In 2009, I began to paint again after many, many years of setting this aside. I had cancer and needed some creativity other than writing prose and poetry. What I found was the same connection to Beauty Himself in the pursuit of art, which can be all-consuming, all attention being needed for at least a period of time. The pursuit of Beauty is lost in our world. Art has become political or cultural statement art. It reveals the ugly and the individualistic, rather than the sublime. A young woman being interviewed a few years ago at the Toronto Art Expo stated that all art was based on how an individual felt on a certain day and expressed that individual feeling. Yuck, stuff and nonsense. She said that, and I wish I were making this up, if she took mud and smeared in on a board, that was art.

No, dear, it is not. Art has rules and is a discipline. It has order. Mimesis, the imitation of the great work of the Creator, God Himself, who gives us this gift, has Order, the Order of the Universe. And, this Order is Love. Like Julian of Norwich's who saw all creation cared for by God and sustained by God, God is the Center of all that is, and He invites us into that creativity, by the fact that we are made in His Image and Likeness.

And in þis he shewed me a lytil thyng þe quantite of a hasyl nott. lyeng in þe pawme of my hand as it had semed. and it was as rownde as eny ball. I loked þer upon wt þe eye of my vnderstondyng. and I þought what may þis be. and it was answered generally thus. It is all þat is made. I merueled howe it myght laste. for me þought it myght sodenly haue fall to nought for lytyllhed. & I was answered in my vnderstondyng. It lastyth & euer shall for god louyth it. and so hath all thyng his begynning by þe loue of god. In this lytyll thyng I sawe thre propertees. The fyrst is. þt god made it. þe secunde is þet god louyth it. & þe þrid is. þat god kepith it.

I believe it is the duty of the Catholic to reintroduce Beauty to the world before it is lost forever to barbarism. Of course, the most beautiful thing in the world is the Tridentine Mass. There is a start in the re-education of men and women to the sensibility of the acceptance of Beauty Himself. We only need to fall in love with Love Himself to perceive the Beauty which is around us. And, the Tridentine Mass opens our hearts and our minds to this Beauty.

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you!  You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you.  In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created.  You were with me, but I was not with you.  Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all.  You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness.  You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness.  You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you.  I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more.  You touched me, and I burned for your peace.
                      St. Augustine, The Confessions

A Counter-Terrorist Named Barbie

Now, a disclaimer. I never played with Barbie and her friends. I had twenty-two dolls, (I was the only girl), and I duly baptized them all with the tap water, (and, I must admit, with holy water), and named them such late 1950s names as Cynthia, Daphne, MaryRose, Katy-Jane, Kimberley, Karen, Donna, and so on, unless they had names, like Shirley Temple, and my pre-Disney story-book dolls, Snow White, Rose Red, Sleeping Beauty, etc.

Barbie was not my thing. However, Barbie may become the iconic counter-terrorist for this site. Again, according to the keen Robert Spencer, she has been banned in Tehran. This is at least the second time Barbie has been made into an infidel doll. I can understand her appeal to very young ladies--the fake American dream of too-perfect figure, blond hair and trendy clothes-- the princess doll syndrome.

However, it is too much that Barbie is again labelled as a symbol of Western decadence. Well, maybe, in a strange way, she is, but I know lovely women in convents, traditional Catholic women, who were not as counter-cultural at the age of eight as I was, who loved their Barbies. Sigh, the only thing I really wanted for MaryRose and Karen was the pink vintage Barbie Austin Healey, but my dolls, all baptized and full of doll grace, would probably have not wanted to be caught dead in a Barbie car....

Daphne was rescued by one of my brothers from a pretend high-rise fire on my dad's recliner by a very large metal firetruck. She rode away perched on top of the ladder as my brother saved her, but that is not quite the same thing as moving in style in a pink vintage Austin Healey. Maybe this is what Tehran fears...women driving sports cars.

St. Anthony Abbot, pray for the Christians in Egypt

We know that the term "sectarian violence", when used to lie about the persecution of Christians by certain non-Christian religions, is the politically correct term used by the media. This ugly lie hides the massacre of men, women and children going to or leaving Sunday Mass, standing in front of their humble houses, or walking to work. Today is the feast of the great St. Anthony, Abbot, the Father of Monasticism. He was called into Egypt by the Holy Spirit, followed by men and women who wanted not only to dedicate their lives to the Almighty Triune God, but to renew the culture through prayer and good works. His native language was Coptic. May he intercede for us all, now and especially our brothers and sisters in the Coptic Church.