A Theology of Beauty: First Thoughts

Reality is a mundane enchantment, a make-believe typical to creatures of our type, to sensate creatures who cannot see over the horizon, who cannot hear through walls, who feel but by direct touch, whose peculiar quality of taste can be known only to the self, alone.  We are pretty creatures, flesh alike pearl, geometric in harmony alike shells, graceful as any earthly creature born to move, and we can know words, god-like in conception, yet we are not gods, we are predators necessitated by the want of our body, we are flesh-eating monkeys who can know Greek, and we can love God.  This is our sum, the extent of cause to all that now you see around you, with this amendment: I am wide at the shoulders, she is wide at the hips; all civilization is built upon this.  All that you see has been constructed to allow a life suitable to creatures alike ourselves: in sight, in hearing, in touch, in taste beautifully we participate in the pattern of the universe.

The Book of the Birth of Iskandar, 15th Century; Arabic Horoscope of the Mongol Prince Iskandar, grandson of Tamerlane, showing “the positions of the heavens at the moment of Iskandar’s [Alexander’s] birth on 25th April 1384”; Wellcome Library, University of London; Credit: Wellcome Library, London.
“On Unlucky Days”, mid-15th Century, manuscript of the Pseudo-Galen Anathomia; Wellcome Library, University of London; Credit: Wellcome Library, London

Reality is a mundane enchantment, the children off to school, the dressing, the workday, the ballgame, the drinks, the earth now spins at 1,000 miles per hour, now, we are orbiting the sun at 67,000 miles per hour, and just now, our galaxy is flying through time at 1,300,000 miles per hour; how fast this universe might be moving away from other universes, and other patterns, none now living can say; likely, creatures of our type shall never know.   

What do we know: if in this moment you become aware of your tongue, you might remember that bacteria make there a home; and then, other bacteria, protozoa, fungi, even peripatetic mites call your body their world, their ecosystem, both inside, and out.  Then, consider: the ovum and the spermatozoa, creatures born of the human body, are not, in truth, us; rather, these are creatures somewhat independent, creatures who seek their own lives, their own deaths, especially the spermatozoa who is gifted with locomotion, a want, a will, a destiny…you might say.  Each creature serves the want of its body, the nature of its being.

Maurits Cornelis [M.C.] Escher (1898 – 1972); Stars, 1948

Yes, reality is a mundane enhancement, alike Quixote’s knight enchantment, alike the little girl’s Disney Princess enchantment; or, the enchantment of those who pretend themselves gods and goddesses, saints and heroes when on the subway, Saturday night date or waking dream; and then, politicians too are under enchantment, thinking themselves wizards who by the power of will, by a stealthy cunning can master all to achieve some great end, or whatever whim is just then rattling in the politician’s mind.  Reality is a mundane enhancement never to be confused with the truth of simple beauty.

Consider: you are porous, you are composed of space and of matter, within you exists the infinitely small, you exist within the infinitely large, into you passes the history of life on this planet: from earthly life’s first bloom, blossoming into pattern, into you comes all the potentiality of creatures; of you, man, through millennia, into generation then onward through you into life of other persons, other shapes, other forms of creatures yet unconceived, et cetera…we none of us can comprehend unimaginable potentialities, we are not creatures by nature formed to understand, to experience as does a God.  For just this moment…

Antonio Allegri da Correggio (1489 –1534); Assumption of the Virgin, 1522 – 1530; Cathedral of Parma

…no, let us pause, let us consider that by words, by the alchemy of language you understand all I have spoken—silently, without speaking—and more, you have considered exceptions, additions, possibilities, each exception, addition, possibility weighed and measured, tested in balance, in harmony by that still, small voice that speaks into you, that tells, that knows what is true, what is beautiful, what is good.

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (1475 – 1564); The Creation of the Sun, Moon, and Plants, 1511; Sistine Chapel, Vatican City

When was it that you came into being: that moment of the collision of two galaxies, the ovum and the spermatozoa, the feminine and the masculine, the essence of all that is conscious in God.  In that moment, you began to pattern, you began to form, to become into the same matter of those same particles that compose the sun, and then, bodied alike a living planet, you came into time’s existence.  From that moment to this you have participated in the pattern of the universe, knowing, by experience, in your body the harmony, the balance, the exquisite beauty of all that is.  In fact, thorough your body you know the pattern of creation in the universe, love, the generative force, and have known this from the moment of your conception.

Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519); Vitruvian Man, circa 1490; Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice, Italy

You are a creature born of all that is the universe, you are born into the pattern of the universe, you exist in the pattern of the universe; god-like, you have perception in senses to feel all that is of the universe; you have a mind by which you know yourself, words by which the universe comes to know itself, to be spoken into a consciousness of its existence.  Rock cannot do this, water cannot do this, wind cannot do this, feather, fin, and fur cannot do this, but you can speak into the universe knowledge of itself, and this you have done by the still, small voice which speaks through you from the place before being.

William Blake (1757 – 1827); Newton, 1795 – 1805; Tate

Now, words, well, I mean to say: words allow you to know, to comprehend not only everything beneath the sun, but all that is beyond the sun, all that is possible in existence, in being.  And here we are, you and I coming to a common understanding, sharing thought, incorporeally, alike the voices of angels, spirit to spirit, unbodied. 

Albrecht Dürer (1471 – 1528); illustration from the Four Books of Human Proportion; originally published, 1528

Have you noticed the truth of your body, its nature bilaterally symmetrical: watch this; in the line along your eyes, your face is five eyes wide, if between your eyes is less space than one eye’s width, your eyes appear narrow, close, if wider than one eye, wide, et cetera; there is a triangle, outside eye to outside eye to chin to outside eye, if this is a perfect triangle, your face has a perfectly common proportion, if the triangle is long, the face appears exotically long, et cetera; your hand, notice that moving into your body, each digit is one-third longer, even into the palm-backed hand itself (one-third longer than the preceding digit), any variation causes an exotic characterization; et cetera, and we might go on, ad infinitum.  And this, a simplicity to demonstrate that you have, by nature, the critical ability to judge of beauty, because, in all that is, you exist in the pattern of beauty; you know beauty in the superficies of things, in yourself, in the comprehending structural pattern, in the ineffable truth of that still, small voice which through your soul speaks to you, the thing itself.

And this, really, the most important bit: creatures of our type experience from the preexistent through the body into time; within the body, the experience itself, you, I, we, all know the divine by the still, small voice which though time speaks into each of us goodness, beauty, truth, immortal…the participation in God.  You hear that voice, you know of what I am speaking; you feel through your body oneness with all the universe, because, and here the leap, the universe knows itself by the mind of man…and all the rest, personal history, accident, error, plan, et cetera, forms opinion; what you see around yourself are the manifestations of beauty created by creatures of our type to serve our bodies, and these in a manner that harmonizes with that which in us is, divine pattern: this is beautiful. 

Allegri da Correggio (1489 –1534); Vision of St. John the Evangelist at Patmos, 1520-1522, central panel rendering John’s Book of Revelation; San Giovanni Evangelista, Parma

You will notice, that, all things which are corrupt, all things which are not beautiful, are not loved; unloved these things fall into neglect, crumble, fade into the dust of earth away.  Only that which is beautiful, survives.         

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These were first thoughts in consideration of a work comprehending the essentials of aesthetics: here, A Theology of Beauty

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