Beauty as a Proof for God

The lead blogger behind Catholic Eye Candy has determined that he’s not called to be a priest after all, and has apparently left the seminary. He announced on Thursday that he’s closing the blog, although thankfully, leaving it up. He has determined that he is not, after all, called to the priesthood, although he seems to remain solidly Catholic, and faithful despite his wounds. His final post is gutwrenching, while the photo on which he closes it is pregnant with meaning: a young seminarian facing away from the camera (and towards the doorway outside) under an imposing and beautiful sculpture showing God’s majesty compared to the insignificance of man. I’m quite confident he’s appreciate your prayers as he transitions into being another member of the Catholic laity.

Losing Catholic Eye Candy has already been a keenly-felt loss, precisely because the blog understands something easily missed about the role of beauty as a proof for God. It operates on a transcendent argument for Catholicism: “there is beauty; therefore, there is God.” The argument is clearer, in that it’s religious art, but the truth is, all beauty points to the summit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.

For some forms of beauty, there’s a clear secular reason: more beautiful peacocks find more mates than ugly ones, so beautiful genes get passed along to a new generation of peachicks. But for other forms of beauty: natural beauty like sunsets and canyons, or the gaping cosmos, for example, this reason doesn’t exist. It isn’t as if a more beautiful universe is more likely to reproduce (the mechanism behind natural selection). This category of beauty exists for its own sake: or more accurately, to proclaim the glory of God (Psalm 19:1).

Even Charles Darwin conceeded that beauty for its own sake disproved atheistic Darwinian natural selection. Specifically, in responding to the arguments of other naturalists, he wrote that they “believe that very many structures have been created for beauty in the eyes of man, or for mere variety. This doctrine, if true, would be absolutely fatal to my theory.” He needed to only look up at the stars to see that his peers were correct.

The Church has always understood that transcendent beauty proves God. This is why, for example, the Vatican has one of the finest (and oldest) astronomical observatories on Earth, the Vatican Observatory. These priest-scientists capture some of the most incredible pictures of the universe proclaiming the glory of God.

This is also why She’s been adamant in Her opposition to the iconoclasts, those who would destroy Her sacred art. She’s embraced whole-heartedly truly beautiful art:

  • Beautiful architecture, stained glass windows, and statues;
  • Beautiful hymns, poems, and books;
  • Beautiful music;
  • Even beautiful smells (incense comes immediately to mind);
  • And most of all, beautiful Liturgy – the Mass, the Divine Liturgy, the Liturgy of the Hours, etc.

It’s what the atheist physicist Leonard Susskind acknowledges as “Cathedralitis” – when you find yourself surrounded by beauty, seeing beauty, hearing beauty, smelling beauty, singing beauty, and praying beauty. But the senses aren’t just inundated with beauty, but a very specific form, drawing the eyes, and the soul, upwards. A well-made church feels like walking into Heaven’s waiting room.

This is why God cared so much about what the Ark looked like, or what Solomon’s Temple looked like. It wasn’t for Him – not really, anyways. It was for us, to remind us of His Glory and Majesty, so we could better know, love, and serve Him. And it’s why it still matters whether Catholic churches (and Catholic art, particularly hymns) are beautiful or ugly, whether they promote transcendent beauty and worship or self-focus and a closing of our senses to God.

4 Comments

  1. Hi Joe. Just to clarify, I still have a vocation. I was just dismissed from the seminary in December much to everyone’s surprise. The struggle between having a vocation and being sent in the opposite direction is why the blog must end. Your Friend, Cliff

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