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"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

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Thursday, 24 January 2013

THE BEAUTY OF TRUTH AND THE EXISTENCE OF GOD IN RUSSIAN THOUGHT and BEAUTY IN HANS URS VON BALTHASAR by Stratford Caldecott



my source: Glory to God for All Things (An Excellent Orthodox Blog)
What is the criterion of the rightness of this life? Beauty.  - Fr. Pavel Florensky

It is our habit of thought to think of Truth as, more or less, a correct description or a correct statement. As such, Beauty belongs to some other realm of thought. Beauty cannot be “correct” or “incorrect.”

In Orthodox thought, Truth is understood as a matter of being (it is ontological). If something is true, then it has true being, true existence. Thus, imaginary things can be described in many ways, but never as “true.” Having true or real existence is only part of the story. For it is God alone who possesses true being (“the only truly existing God” in the words of St. Basil the Great). The true existence of created things is relative to the being of God. It is God who creates and establishes all things and sustains all things in their existence (no created thing has existence in itself). True being (or Truth) is an existence that is according to the will of God – according to right relationship with the Only Truly Existing.

In this understanding, sin is a distortion of that relationship. We distort ourselves when we move away from right relationship with God. Instead of life, we have death. Instead of well-being, we have being that verges on non-existence.

When we understand that Truth is a matter of being and existence, then Beauty easily becomes an aspect of Truth that we can consider. For all that God has created is “good,” according to Genesis. The word “good” (?a???, ????? ) in both Hebrew and Greek carries the additional meaning of “beautiful.” Creation is not only given true existence, but that true existence is well-ordered and beautiful.

For a believer, knowing and understanding the world is far more than mustering “facts.” We do not know things as they truly exist when we fail to perceive their beauty.

In the Fathers, this perception of beauty is among the things we engage in when we practice theoria (often translated as “contemplation”). It is in the practice of theoria that the Psalmist says:

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained,
What is man that You are mindful of him, And the son of man that You visit him?
For You have made him a little lower than the angels, And You have crowned him with glory and honor.
You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet,
All sheep and oxen– Even the beasts of the field,
The birds of the air, And the fish of the sea That pass through the paths of the seas.
O LORD, our Lord, How excellent is Your name in all the earth! (Ps. 8:3-9 NKJ)

The Psalmist is considering the beauty of man and perceives the truth of his existence. We are “crowned with glory and honor.” We are, indeed, created in the image and likeness of God. This perception, the root even of the modern understanding of human rights, is endangered when man (or any part of creation) is reduced to a merely factual expression.

This approach to truth and beauty are also helpful when thinking about the existence of God. Discussions of God’s existence often turn around various arrangements of facts. Medieval scholasticism argued for the existence of God in the chain of causation: God as First Cause or Prime Mover. This is quite problematic since God does not belong to the category of facts. He is not a fact among facts and cannot be considered in such a manner. We may follow a chain of causation and arrive at what we cannot know. For some, this constitutes proof. For others it begs the question.

It is also true (in Christian understanding) that God is “beyond being,” (hyperousia). However, we are told that:

…since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead… (Romans 1:20)

It is more useful, both for believer and non-believer, to consider existence itself and the character of existence as a means of practicing theoria. I would suggest that there are many things in our world that we perceive in our “peripheral” vision, that cannot be seen by direct sight. In my experience, many of the things concerning God are seen in just such a manner.

In considering existence we see not only that it is – but that it is beautiful. In science this beauty is described as “elegance.” Our modern world now takes for granted Einstein’s equation, e=mc2. The wonder of the equation is not only in what it says about matter and energy (that they are interchangeable), but in its pure, simple elegance. Who would have thought that the interchange of matter and energy could be accurately expressed in such an elegant manner?

This is but a minor example. The universe is replete with such expressions – not only because it exists – but because it is beautiful. The unbeliever can, of course, dismiss this as a mere artifact of physics – but that, too, begs the question. When the Christian learns to argue less and wonder more then we can suggest that as we stand before all that exists and see its beauty – its elegance – we wonder – together.

The Christian claim is that the Beauty and Wonder of existence became incarnate in the Person of Christ. Though there is much that we say as a matter of Orthodox dogma, all of our words are simply a shield of protection that we might rightly regard the wonder. But the simple act of wonder borders on worship (rightly so). It is this common ground of wonder on which the conversation between believer and unbeliever can best take place. And when voices are raised, the same wonder can offer a hush that allows the heart to return to theoria and say something useful…or nothing at
In the mid 1930s, as a Jesuit novice, the young Hans Urs was studying Scholastic theology at Fourvière, just north of Lyons. He found St Thomas Aquinas interesting enough, but what his professors seemed to have done to St Thomas was so boring that he eventually resorted to stuffing his ears during lectures in order to read something much more thrilling: the writings of St Augustine and the early Church Fathers.
What had gone wrong with theology to make it so boring? Unlike many another who has found it a tedious waste of time, before and since, this particular Jesuit novice set out to discover why. In the course of answering that one simple question, he had practically to reinvent the whole subject.
Theology, Balthasar believed, is supposed to be the study of the fire and light that burn at the centre of the world. Theologians had reduced it to the turning of pages in a dessicated catalogue of ideas – a kind of butterfly collection for the mind. The philosopher Maurice Blondel had warned as far back as 1870 (in his groundbreaking thesis L'Action) of the danger in treating God in this way: "As soon as we regard him from without as a mere object of knowledge, or a mere occasion for speculative study, without freshness of heart and the unrest of love, then all is over, and we have in our hands nothing but a phantom and an idol."

For Blondel and Balthasar the living God, if he is anything, must be supremely concrete; not something abstract, and certainly not a ghostly, forbidding presence with a long white beard. The true God is to be found wherever the "parallel lines" of this world meet, at the converging-point of the common or "transcendental" properties of being that we call Truth, Goodness and Beauty. It is only in Beauty that Truth is good, and that Goodness is true. By losing the sense of Beauty, by closing the spiritual senses that grasp the colours and the contours, the taste and the fragrance of Truth in its radiant body, the theologians had betrayed even the very Master they claimed to serve.

Of course, the word "beauty" in some circles today evokes nothing but a sneer. But there is nothing self-indulgent, luxurious or sentimental about what Balthasar had in mind. The problem is our distorted concept of beauty. Balthasar was not advocating an "aesthetic theology" but a theological aesthetics opening on to a theological dramatics. In the first volume of his series, The Glory of the Lord [T&T Clark and Ignatius Press] he made it clear that beauty is not a matter of appearances alone.

"We no longer dare to believe in beauty and we make of it a mere appearance in order the more easily to dispose of it. Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness, and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking them along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance. We can be sure that whoever sneers at her name as if she were the ornament of a bourgeois past – whether he admits it or not – can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love" (p. 18).
Outside the shrinking islands of religious belief maintained by tradition, a culture of self-indulgence and violence has gained an unprecedented hold. Modern man has lost his grip on morality partly because the deepest reasons for being good have been systematically denied him. What Balthasar saw more clearly than anyone else was that the unity of Truth and Goodness in Beauty is evident above all in the very thing that ought to be the subject of theology, but which has been almost completely forgotten by the theologians: the Glory of God, which is incarnate in Jesus Christ.

His major achievement was fifteen massive volumes (in the English translation), in which he gathered together the scattered achievements of the European theological, philosophical and literary tradition around this fundamental insight. By the end of this series theological truth had become once again living, dynamic and glorious.

In his little "introductory" book Love Alone [Sheed & Ward], Balthasar showed how his major works were a way of placing at the centre of theology the simple fact that "God is love" (1 John 4:8). Love, correctly understood in its full cosmic and personal meaning, is itself the Glory of God; it is the essence of Truth, Beauty and Goodness. The whole history of civilization can therefore be read as a history of what we have done and failed to do in relation to the call of divine love within our being and the being of the world.



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