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The Way of Beauty: A Path for Evangelization

Art provides an initial sign of the Christian vision, and Christian witness confirms its living reality in the world.

(Image: TeroVesalainen | Pixabay.com)

Ugliness is a spiritual problem. If beauty manifests the perfection and splendor of something, ugliness distorts it, corrupting what it is meant to be and blinding us to its true reality. A tree struck by lightning or blighted with disease is ugly. A building sculpted with cement, with little light or elegance, depresses us. The ugliness of most modern art disturbs us and does not uplift our sensibilities. And the greatest ugliness of all — sin — corrupts and distorts the beauty of our soul by grasping after pleasurable scraps, trying to force happiness even though this pleasure, cut off from higher goods, only makes us more miserable.

We long for beauty, yet we’re not always sure how to recognize it. There are things that immediately attract us: a stunning landscape, a Renaissance masterpiece, or a beautiful figure. Why do they grab our attention? The beauty of nature awes us and give us peace. Great art amazes us and inspires our imagination. The beauty of another person moves our heart and leads us to desire communion. That is what it should do, although a merely surface attraction can lead us back to ugliness — using the person for immediate gratification and pleasure. Exterior attraction might capture our eyes, yet it should always lead us to more.

Beauty calls us to commitment, not just to enjoy another but to give our lives in love. When we are taken by someone’s beauty, it generates a spark, a desire for something more than ourselves. Falling in love is the best example of this. We’re attracted to the good of the other — their looks, personality, and companionship — but the initial draw is meant for commitment, leading us to dedicate our lives to the good of the other. Beauty leads to love, moving us to sacrifice for the good of the other, to cultivate and protect their beauty. This love helps us to see beauty more deeply than we did before. After 50 years of marriage, a couple should be able to appreciate the other’s beauty beyond the initial attraction, even if the beauty of youth has passed, because they intimately know what is within.

True beauty is deeper than any outward attractiveness. It is the splendor of a soul rightly ordered that communicates what is good and true about life in the deepest sense. Beauty is spiritual in nature. The awe that we have in nature and even the depth of human love both provide a sign of divine love — of the one who is Beauty itself. Beauty is more than skin deep, as in its deepest expression, it radiates the essential goodness, purity, loveliness of God and his creation. When we recognize the deepest aspect of beauty, we are drawn into this good and want to commit our lives to it. In fact, falling in love with God makes us beautiful, as he cultivates and protects our beauty in our divine communion with him.

Beauty’s greatest power cannot be found in a beautiful object, but in a beautiful life, and there is one life in particular reveals this power to its fullest extent. The Cross expresses the power of beauty by showing us the supreme goodness of human life. The one who is beauty itself emptied himself and took on all the ugliness of the world, even to the point of disfigurement. And yet this love and sacrifice manifests the greatest beauty — the beauty of Christ’s love and also his desire to see our lives become beautiful through that love. The beauty of Cross cuts through all the noise, vanity, and lust by unmasking their ephemeralness.

In this relativistic age, it can be hard to engage people in conversations about truth or morality. And yet, beauty and art can cut through these barriers, catching people’s attention and drawing them toward the sacred. A beautiful church, like the great Gothic cathedrals of France, draw people inside like magnets. When they step inside, tourists are greeted by a silence and peace that speaks more powerfully than anything on social media. The candles flickering before the saints create a sacred atmosphere, as they flicker on the gold leaf along the seams of their garments. The stained glass radiates with brilliant color, calling the visitor to awaken his interior senses. The arches themselves lead the mind upward to wonder, “Is there anything more than this life?” In the center of it all, treasured in a tabernacle of gold, the Lord himself awaits them and invites them quietly to meet him in their hearts.

What is needed after this visit? More than any structure or image, faith must be instantiated through a living witness. Jesus becomes present in the flesh when the world sees a different kind of life, one marked by the same sacrificial charity of the Cross. Charity is the sign to the world that beauty truly exists and that it’s worth sacrificing for it. “By this,” Jesus said, “all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35). The Christian life should be a sign of contradiction against the spiritual ugliness of sin and a sign of hope that true beauty is attainable.

Evangelization happens through beauty. Art provides an initial sign of the Christian vision, and Christian witness confirms its living reality in the world. Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the connection between holiness and art:

I have often affirmed my conviction that the true apology of Christian faith, the most convincing demonstration of its truth against every denial, are the saints, and the beauty that the faith has generated. Today, for faith to grow, we must lead ourselves and the persons we meet to encounter the saints and to enter into contact with the Beautiful.

The world needs to learn how to see again, to recover its ability to recognize the all-surpassing beauty of knowing Jesus and living in communion with him. And it starts with our own ability to recognize that beauty; only then can we truly share it with others, helping them to see as well.


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About Dr. R. Jared Staudt 17 Articles
R. Jared Staudt PhD, serves as Associate Superintendent for Mission and Formation for the Archdiocese of Denver and Visiting Associate Professor for the Augustine Institute. He is author of Restoring Humanity: Essays on the Evangelization of Culture (Divine Providence Press) and The Beer Option (Angelico Press) and the editor of Renewing Catholic Schools: How to Regain a Catholic Vision in a Secular Age (Catholic Education Press). He and his wife Anne have six children and he is a Benedictine oblate.

7 Comments

  1. “In this relativistic age, it can be hard to engage people in conversations about truth or morality…”

    Moving on to the Synodality on Synodality as a process of engagement and listening, clearly missing at the front end of the German “synodal way” is a suppressed clue! Is the real “scourge” of our time not what is branded as “clericalism,” but primarily the swamp of “relativism”?

    Might the macrocosmic Synod on Synodality also make a worse “mess of things” (a useful tactic according to some) if it also misreads the signs of the times? We have been tutored that the sexual abuse scandal was due primarily to “clericalism”…But, another voice proposed, instead, that the deeper, broader, and malignant rupture is really the “tyranny of relativism” turned loose especially in the 1960s.

    So, does the Preparatory Document on synodality—-rolled out at the Eucharistic Congress (Beauty in person!)—-downplay too much the perennial role of bishops, now cast primarily as “facilitators” in a (one-way?) listening “process”?

    Like beauty, each of the four transcendentals (beauty, oneness, truth, goodness) contains the other three. So, beginning with beauty, first, what is the real truth about our times: CLERICALISM or RELATIVISM?

    And then what is the path, surely listening to the one (!) Spirit—-even at the risk of a so-called “clericalist” Magisterium—-into the real good of all?
    Perhaps the local bishops around the world will rise to the occasion. At least some of the massive paper trail then becomes a byproduct actually suitable for the “throwaway culture.” Save a tree!

  2. Stealing Beauty 1996 is a montage of countless love stories with added mystery. As it turns out, the boy who steals Lucy’s virginity by stealth pretending to be the one she preferred who supposedly wrote her a love letter. Her’s and his [he also loses his virginity] indiscretion mimics her mother’s brief affair that brought Lucy into this world. Beauty is wonderful, it visually, anatomically reflects as St Bonaventure taught the perfect beauty of the divinity. Therein is the dividing line. Solomon is chastised by God in the psalms for his acquiescence to female beauty, as his father David smitten by bathing Bathsheba. For King David adultery, murder follow. With Samuel’s intervention and God’s justice David repents and is alleged author of the psalms. The psalms convey God’s mind to the reader, and listener of the hard truth, and the immense beauty of the divinity’s almost foolish exertions to save his loved errant children. Hosea paints God’s draw of Israel, analogously a young woman into the wilderness where he will speak to her heart. Solomon’s Song of Songs rejected by Judaism accepted by early Christians later jettisoned by the Reformers is a deeper reflection of God’s love. Stealing Beauty is where the world finds itself. Christ’s revelation of the impossibility of a suffering divinity is where we’re drawn to that impossible beauty.

    • Actually the prophet Nathan chastised David in 2 Samuel. A note on Stealing Beauty. After Lucy and friend surrender their virginity they part ways on to other things indicative of the casualness the most intimate human act is given in this world, like smoking a cigarette then stubbing it out, whereas with the grace of the Holy Spirit the human act and the human divine are most intimate beauty, indissoluble love sealed and signatured by Christ’s Precious Blood.

  3. I experience both beauty and ugliness, and I have been experiencing it for 45 years. The beauty of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. The Church is both visible and invisible and it is all about God who fascinates us with this great mysterious beauty. But then comes the ugliness which is Modernism. The Modernists have feverishly tried to destroy God’s Beauty. Destroying it in the Deposit of Faith, in the New Church which is complete ugliness. Our Churches are made to be as ugly as possible removing all artistic beauty. All because Vatican ll called for “Noble Simplicity”. I question if the Council Fathers themselves knew what they meant by this term. But “Noble Simplicity” became a tool of satan. As satan is ugly so he wants our Churches to resemble him. “How long oh God! How long?”

  4. I think people spontaneously recognize beauty. When someone has to explain to you why something is beautiful (as is the case with atonal music, brutalist architecture or abstract art), that’s a clue that it really is UGLY!

  5. We saw a real good example of one political party’s idea of beauty on April 14,2009 at Georgetown University and again on May 14,2009 at Notre Dame University.When “The One We’ve Been Waiting For” showed up to pontificate his party’s Pagan & Secular ideology.
    All Art,Icon’s,Paintings,Crosses and anything else of beauty.Was either covered up or hauled away to the basement storage areas.How soon so many of our citizens have forgotten this fact from 13 years ago,and why we find American in the shape we are in today.

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