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Back to 2019-09-10-Opinión-TEO-Paradoja de la belleza cristiana
Ramiro Pellitero Iglesias, Professor of Theology, University of Navarra, Spain School
Paradox of Christian beauty
According to the Spanish dictionary, paradox is a fact or expression apparently contrary or contradictory with respect to logic. For example: "Look at the miser, in his riches, poor".
Reality is full of paradoxes and Christian wisdom provides guidance to situate oneself before this reality, so that life may be as full as possible. Especially values, as sample Christianity, present a paradoxical appearance that should be discovered; also beauty, which is a way educational of first quality, especially in relation to Christian life. That has been the topic of a seminar room held recently at the Pan-American University of Guadalajara-Mexico (29-31/VIII/2019).
The Gospel of Luke tells us that when Jesus healed a paralyzed man, "immediately he rose up before them and took the stretcher on which he was lying and went home. As a result "astonishment seized them all," so that they said, "Today we have seen incredible things" (Lk 5:25-26). The original text uses the Greek word paradoxa (literally, something contrary to the opinion drawn from experience).
Paradoxes of reality
Reality is full of paradoxes, contrasts or bipolarities, and this is what the Christian tradition focuses on. Thus Quevedo says that man is "dust in love" (something apparently worthless, but at the same time valuable).
Authors such as G. K. Chesterton and G. Thibon, H. De Lubac, R. Guardini and J. Leclercq point out the need to understand the world, man and his actions beyond the appearances that are often shown in "black and white" format; for reality must be lived and understood in a necessarily bipolar tension, for example, between fullness and limit, unity and diversity, the universal and the local, etc.
When we walk through a mountain landscape, we often miss some paths or details because they are obscured by others. It is then enough to go higher to perceive the status and the relationship of each thing. In questions of anthropology something similar happens and wisdom is that higher plane from where reality is better understood. If polarities are not understood as such, one falls into extremism and lurches. On the other hand, prudence and wisdom advise us to discern the multifaceted range of "grays" that exist in reality, without falling into relativism. It is not, however, a matter of clinging comfortably to the middle ground between extremes, but of understanding the hierarchy of elements and values and their dynamics.
Thus, in human relationships, what seems "incompatible" is often "complementary". That is why we should not seek to suppress polarities, but to harmonize or balance them by listening, reflection and dialogue, going deeper or higher, in search of that principle that helps to assume a reality that normally we all grasp only partially. And this handling of "polarities", of contradictions or paradoxes, is a condition of progress in true humanity.
Pope Francis has offered examples of this handling of polarities when he has explained criteria such as: time comes before space, unity is more important than conflict, reality is more important than the idea and the whole is superior to the part (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, nn. 221-237); or when, at purpose of the relations between cultures, he prefers the image of a polyhedron, which preserves the faces and, therefore, the brightness and nuances, to that of a sphere, which assimilates the whole without respecting the particular aspects.
Christianity takes this into account with particular depth. Thus, when St. John of the Cross says: "Die if you wish to live, suffer if you wish to enjoy, leave if you wish to ascend, lose if you wish to gain", it is proposal that this is understood in the light of Christ's model and of union with him. Jesus Christ is the ever-living "principle" and the fundamental "rule" for the full realization of all that is human. The Gospel proposes that life attained to the full is achieved through humility and identification with the will of God. And the further we want to go in transforming the world, the more we must work on our interior life.
Christian contemplation of beauty
2. In August 2002, the then Cardinal Ratzinger sent a message to meeting of Rimini, on "the contemplation of beauty". In it he presented the paradox of the beauty of Christ. On the one hand a psalm affirms and prophesies: "You are the most beautiful of men; on your lips grace is poured out" (Ps 45:3). On the other hand, the book of Isaiah describes the appearance of the servant of Yahweh anticipating the passion of Christ: "Without figure, without beauty. We saw him without beauty, with his face marred by sorrow" (Is 53:2).
How can these two statements be reconciled, asks Joseph Ratzinger. And he picks up on the fact that "St. Augustine, who in his youth wrote a book on the beautiful and the desirable, and who appreciated beauty in words, in music and in the figurative arts, perceived this paradox very strongly, and realized that in this passage the great Greek Philosophy of beauty was not only recast, but dramatically put into discussion: it would have to be discussed and experienced anew what beauty and its meaning were."
Referring to the paradox contained in these texts," he continued, referring to St. Augustine, "he spoke of 'two trumpets' that sound in opposition, but that receive their sound from the same breath of air, from the same Spirit. He knew that paradox is a contraposition, but not a contradiction. The two statements - that of the psalm and that of the book of Isaiah - come from the same Spirit - the Holy Spirit - that inspires the whole of Scripture, which, however, sounds in it with different notes and, precisely in this way, places us before the totality of true Beauty, of Truth itself".
And in this way Ratzinger deduces: "He who believes in God, in the God who precisely in the altered appearances of Christ crucified manifested himself as love 'to the end' (Jn 13:1), knows that beauty is truth and that truth is beauty, but in the suffering Christ he also understands that the beauty of truth includes offense, pain and even the dark mystery of death, and that beauty can only be found by accepting pain and not ignoring it".
Tracing a quick historical pathway of thought on beauty, Ratzinger evokes how Plato recognizes that beauty wounds man by drawing him out of himself, making him go beyond himself. And, in the amorous meeting of man and woman, sexual pleasure longs for something beyond which it itself fails to reach. N. Cabasilas (14th century) says that the true knowledge is acquired by being reached by the beauty of Christ. Ratzinger maintains that, after Auschwitz, it has become clear that a purely harmonious concept of beauty is not enough.
And so we come to Christ and his submission for us: "In the passion of Christ the Greek aesthetic, so worthy of admiration for its presentiment of contact with the divine which, however, remains ineffable for it, is not abolished but surpassed. The experience of the beautiful receives a new depth, a new realism. He who is Beauty itself has allowed his face to be disfigured, spat upon and crowned with thorns. The Shroud of Turin allows us to imagine all this in a moving way. Precisely in this disfigured Face appears the authentic and supreme beauty: the beauty of love that goes 'to the extreme' and therefore reveals itself stronger than lies and violence".
It is worthwhile to continue to collect these luminous paragraphs, anticipating what would later be called a culture of post-truth:
"He who has perceived this beauty knows that truth is the last word about the world, and not the lie. It is not 'truth' the lie, but Truth. Let us put it this way: a new trick of the lie is to present itself as 'truth' and tell us: 'beyond me there is nothing, stop looking for the truth or, worse still, stop loving it, because if you act like this you are on the wrong path'."
From there, the cardinal theologian points out the true beauty, as it appears in the submission of Christ: "The icon of Christ crucified frees us from the deception that is so widespread today. However, it makes it a condition that we allow ourselves to be wounded together with him and that we believe in Love, which is capable of abandoning external beauty in order to proclaim the truth of Beauty in this way".
Ratzinger concludes by alluding to Dostoevsky's famous question: "Will beauty save us? In most cases - he warns - it is forgotten that "Dostoevsky is referring here to the redeeming beauty of Christ". And he proposes: "We must learn to see it. If we do not know him simply by word of mouth, but are pierced by the dart of his paradoxical beauty, then we begin to know him truly, and not only by hearsay. Then we will have found the beauty of the Truth, of the redeeming Truth".
How can we approach this Beauty? "Nothing can bring us closer to the Beauty, which is Christ himself, than the world of beauty that faith has created and the light that shines on the faces of the saints, through which his own light becomes visible."
Beauty in the Education of faith
3. The paradox of Christian beauty, of the Christian mystery, is sample, therefore, especially in Christ the Redeemer. And the Education of faith has a joyful responsibility to show that this is the beauty of holiness, with all its fruits of renewal of the world, of service to the common good, of promotion of peace and justice, of promise and guarantee of eternal life.
To show this - both in the class of religion and in the catechesis- it is necessary to inscribe the pedagogy of faith in the framework of a Christian anthropology sensitive to the beauty of all that is authentically human.
In particular, for the path educational of beauty, the Education of faith finds many itineraries.
Before us opens up the beauty of the created world - from the greatest to the smallest - and especially of man, both in his bodily and psychic structure and in his spiritual values and virtues, together with his relationship with others and his transcendence also towards God.
As a consequence, beauty is reflected in art: in painting and sculpture, in literature -for example, in poetry and narrative: storytelling-, in architecture and cinema, and today it is diversified in our image culture, in music and dance. And it manifests itself in cultures, each one with its own history, also in its current configurations, in the marvelous achievements of science and in the great contemporary technological development .
A special place in the expression of beauty is occupied by the Bible. Specifically, there is Christian art and sacred art (at the service of the liturgy). It should not be forgotten that, as John Paul II pointed out, each person is called to make of his or her own life a work of art.
Let us insist on the need to highlight, with concrete models and examples, the moral or interior beauty of persons, human values, cultural achievements and in a particular way what refers to the life and witness of the saints; we are all called to be, in Christ, "living icons" of beauty. And this also in all aspects and circumstances of daily life .
The Christian liturgy is also a school of beauty, as is charity and its most important external manifestation, which is mercy. Charity and mercy are the fruit of faith and Christian worship. Prayer is also a manifestation and school of beauty, a loving dialogue with God, essential for understanding and participating in the beauty of God's plans.
At the root and center of all this, in fact, is the moral or interior beauty of Christ, in his redemptive submission for humanity as a whole and for each person in his or her unrepeatable mystery.