The Beauty of Being

Commenting on a recent post about Beauty, Shenpen suggested that I had got terribly mixed up about the difference between the map – our feelings of beauty – and what’s really out there, which we feel is more or less beautiful. He said two quite disparate things, at and to make quite different points in his argument:

… what can [it even] possibly mean that beauty is objectively real? That a pretty flower objectively has the same physical properties we think it has?

… “beauty” is not even a property of things, but a property of sensations in our minds.

These two statements resonated together in my mind, after I had read and responded to his comment. Their conjunction got me started.

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Beauty

The only way that our apprehensions of beauty might not be illusory is if they are possibly true – if, that is to say, the beauty we apprehend in things is objectively real, regardless of our apprehensions, so that our apprehensions of it can then be either accurate, or not. But as only finitely scient, creatures cannot establish what is objectively real. They can establish, rather, only what is real to them in their partiality and incomprehension. They can establish, to put it plainly, only what is subjectively real. So it is beyond our powers to establish objective truths of any sort, such as mathematical truths. At most, we can discover them (this incapacity of ours to establish objective truths is but a department of our incapacity to create objects of any sort – to bring things into actual existence from nothingness). So then likewise also with beauty. We don’t establish it, but only apprehend it – or, fail thereat.

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Orthodox Panentheism

Panentheism is the notion that everything is in God. It defines itself in contradiction to pantheism. Nevertheless it is a controversial idea, not least because to some it rather smells of pantheism. But in fact it isn’t anything like pantheism. Furthermore, the idea that we live and move and have being in God (Acts 17:28) is perfectly orthodox:

God is in all things; not, indeed, as part of their essence, nor as an accident; but as an agent is present to that upon which it works. For an agent must be joined to that wherein it acts immediately, and touch it by its virtue … therefore as long as a thing has being,, God must be present to it according to its mode of being. But being is innermost in each thing and most fundamentally inherent in all things since it is formal in respect of everything found in a thing … Hence it must be that God is in all things, and innermostly.

… Although corporeal things are said to be in another as in that which contains them, nevertheless, spiritual things contain those things in which they are; as the soul contains the body. Hence also God is in things containing them; nevertheless, by a certain similitude to corporeal things, it is said that all things are in God; inasmuch as they are contained by Him.

–  Summa Theologica 1.8.1

Ignorance, Responsibility, Forgiveness

Why does God forgive our sins? Why doesn’t he hold them against us? Why, indeed, has he paid for them himself?

Well, he’s omniscient. So he knows why we sin. Furthermore, he knows full well that we don’t know why we sin, or even (often) that we do sin. He said so from the very cross where he hung in the agony of his forgiving.*  Having shared in it, he knows our weakness.

The real question, then, is not why God in his infinite goodness and mercy, his boundless compassion and sympathy, his perfect comprehension of our predicaments, forgives us who are so confused even about the springs of our own acts (let alone his). How could it be otherwise, with such a being? No, the question is why we sin.   Continue reading

The Structure of Reality is the Structure of Revelation

This essay follows a previous one on the relation of education to faith; it is the second of three essays intended to critique the prevailing modern worldview of the West’s ubiquitous liberal regime by demonstrating the narrowness and insipidity of liberal views. I argued in “The Structure of Education is the Structure of Faith” in favor of several pre-modern ways of viewing education. I rehearse that gesture again, this time in respect of the prevailing modern sense of the encompassing reality in the context of which people must live their lives. A third essay, following this one, will deal with memory considered as an institution.

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Original sin as good news

From Juan Donoso Cortes’ Essay on Catholicism, Liberalism, and Socialism:

Reason, which revolts against the transmission of sin or of penalty, yet receives what is transmitted to us without repugnance, notwithstanding the sorrow which accompanies it, if in place of being designated as sin and penalty it is called inevitable misfortune.  It is not, however, difficult clearly to prove that this misfortune could not be changed into happiness, except with the condition of its being a penalty, from which we necessarily conclude that the rationalistic solution in its definitive results is less acceptable than the Catholic solution.

If our actual depravity is only a physical and necessary effect of the primitive corruption, and the effect must last so long as the cause remains, it is evident that since there is no means whatever of removing the cause, neither can there be any by which the effect may be prevented.

…For it is worthy of remark, and in opposition to what at first sight would appear, that it is not justice but mercy which is especially conspicuous in that solemn condemnation which immediately followed the commission of sin.  If God had refrained from intervening with this condemnation when this tremendous catastrophe occurred, if when He saw man separated from Him He had withdrawn Himself from man, and entering into the tranquility of His repose had no longer vouchsafed to think of man, or, to express all in one word, if God in place of condemning man had abandoned him to the inevitable consequences of his voluntary disunion and separation, then the fall of man would have been hopeless, and his perdition certain.  But in order that this disaster might be repaired, it became necessary for God to draw near to man in another way, uniting Himself to him anew, though imperfectly, by the ties of mercy.  Punishment was the new bond of union between the Creator and the creature, and in it mercy and justice were mysteriously joined, mercy being the connecting link, and justice vindicated in the penalty assigned.

If we cease to view suffering and sorrow in the light of a penalty, we not only deprive them of their power to reunite the Creator and the creature, but we also destroy their expiatory and purifying effect on man.  If grief is not a penalty, it is an unmitigated evil; if it is a penalty, it still remains an evil through its origin, sin; but it is also a great good, on account of its freeing from the defilement of sin.  The universality of sin renders necessary the universality of purification, in order that all mankind may be cleansed in its mysterious waters.

…Regard the Earth throughout its length and breadth, consider all that surrounds you, annihilate space and time, and you will find among the abodes of men only what you here behold–a grief without intermission, and a lamentation which never ceases.  But this grief freely accepted is the measure of all greatness; for there can be no greatness without sacrifice, and sacrifice is only grief voluntarily accepted.  The world calls those persons heroic who, transpierced with a sword of grief, freely accept their suffering.  The Church calls holy those who accept every grief, both the the spirit and of the flesh…

Mankind has unanimously recognized a sanctifying virtue in grief.  This is why, though the ages, in every zone, man has rendered homage and worship to great misfortune.  Oedipus is greater in the day of his calamity than in the days of his glory…

Immanuel Sabaoth

Christmas Tree; Burning Bush; Tree of Life; Yggdrasil; Menorah, Tree of Lights; Pillar of Cloud & Fire; Chariot Throne (wheels in wheels); Sun of Righteousness; Heavenly Host; Cosmos (host in order of battle); Sabaoth; Jacob’s Ladder; Rainbow Bridge: Milky Way; Gate of Heaven; Vine; Flowering Rod of Aaron; Root of Jesse (“Yah Is”); Tropaeum; Faithful Cross; one and only Noble Tree. All are types of the manner of our Lord’s descent and manifestation to us, of his creation, preservation, and blessing of all this our life; of his Incarnation and Passion, his Redemption of his world, of his Resurrection, and his Ascent.

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The Limit of Theology

Our staunch Mormon commenter Leo rightly points out that,

… apart from revelation and experience [reason must] be humble. The Book of Job is full of arguments back and forth, quite impressive ones, and the conclusion of the book suggests humility before God regardless of how tight one’s argument might look. The world’s philosophical schools are hardly in agreement, and a recent study suggests 62% of philosophers are non-believers. Many of them would argue against all religion by the light of their reason.

That this is all true is fairly obvious. And we would do well to remember it; I, in particular, should bear it ever in mind, I know (all too well, as I grope forward – I hope it is forward – through the darkness, knees skinned and toes stubbed on this scandal and that). Reason ought to be humble; reason would be the first to insist upon it. That reason should be humble is only reasonable; the notion is an issue and product of reason. Therein lies a clue.

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Any religion without a theodicy problem is immoral

Why does God allow evil?  You are asking for a reason for evil, but evil is by definition that which has no reason.  It is the absence of what should be there.  God cannot have a reason for it.  It cannot be good that evil be.  It cannot be that good relies in any necessary way on evil.  That would mean that good isn’t entirely good and can’t be self-subsistent; it means that God, Who is Subsistent Goodness, doesn’t exist.  If you think you have thought of a good reason for God to put sin in the world, repent and put such wicked thoughts aside.  It is not better that Satan fell and Adam sinned.

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