The Way of BeautyThe beauty of Christ

In what sense can we speak of the beauty of Christ? In the next few reflections, this topic will receive our focus.  When something beautiful reveals itself to you, whether animate or inanimate, and you perceive it as beautiful, you allow yourself to be drawn to it.  You are transported from your self to the beautiful.  You may be in a stationery position, but your attention is captured by the beautiful thing.  This dynamic movement, uniting your very self with the beautiful, has made you a better person for that experience.  The common parlance refers to it an ‘aha’ experience.  Experience with the beautiful prepares us for the encounter with the beauty of Christ. Not so with ugliness unless an artist like Shakespeare is portraying evil personified in a masterful way.  The Bard’s depiction of ugliness urges us to repudiate it.   

Most assuredly, ugliness and pornography, like beauty, fascinate the eye.  But unlike beauty, they prowl about to lure us into their wiles.  We fix our gaze on an ugly or horrific thing, but its purpose is singular:  to debase and drag us down until we are ashamed and embarrassed for having engaged in the activity. They can never prepare us for an encounter with the beauty of Christ.  So saturated is the culture with offensive images that we fail to see that they weaken our ability to enjoy beauty.  Vulgar media that include most sitcoms, soaps, talk shows, and TV commercials, are antithetical to an encounter with the beauty of Christ. 

1. Revelation of Jesus Christ, the Form of God’s Glory
Christianity remains implausible without the two fundamental dogmas of the Incarnation and the Trinity. Jesus is the appearance of God who does not appear in the world, a world marked by the creator’s artistry. What Jesus was, he remains–God; what he was not, he assumed–human nature (St. Augustine, “Faith, Hope, and Love XI”).  Jesus is the reason for Christian faith and the form of Christianity because he is its content.  It was out of the question for a Jew to think of God in human form.  In the Old Testament, the equivalent of the external form of God would be his glory. Glory includes the radiance of holiness, splendor of beauty, truth, and goodness—the perfection of all attributes.  Form is understood in the sense that Jesus possessed the quality associated with the glory of Yahweh in the Old Testament. He is the objective self-expression of God’s glory, God’s Word and Image, Expression and Exegesis. Divine glory appears in the humanity of Jesus and in his marvelous deeds.  His human form emerges and sheds its light from his divine glory and not from subjective evidence.
Before all else, Jesus is the face of God, icon of the Father. Jesus’ beauty has in itself the interior rightness and evidential power to illumine the perceiving person by his own radiant light.  We accept him just as he offers himself to us down to the smallest detail.  The hymn quoted below beautifully expresses the glory of the Lord:

Jesus is the brightness of the Father’s glory
Springing from eternal light,
Source of light by light engendered,
Day enlightening every day. 

(Morning Prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours)

The Incarnation changed the course of history. The physical body of the historical Jesus received its form from Mary of Nazareth, and this body was the instrument of universal redemption (von Balthasar, “The Glory of the Lord” I:529). The Word stooped to become a human being to take upon himself all that is human, except sin. Jesus pulls us out of our selfishness and hypocrisy toward him.

Christianity is set apart from all other faith-traditions because Jesus stands as the mediator between the divine and the human.  All things will be restored and made new in the cosmic Christ.

2.  Light and Power Expressed by the Form: Jesus in Art and Music

The revelation of God’s glory in Jesus Christ assumes a singular radiance attributable to God alone and needs no justification but itself.  No historical figure before or since Jesus has influenced history, culture, science, and the arts in quite the way he did.  Throughout the ages, artists, poets, writers, and composers have depicted him as Lord of the universe in response to the question he asked of Peter, “who do you say that I am” (Mk 8:29)? 
The Evangelists tell us nothing about Jesus’ physical appearance except by inference.  Yet, artists have portrayed him as the God-Man in a way that is always recognizable yet different according to their own imaginations: as a good shepherd, as teacher and ruler, healer and miracle-worker, as the symbol of human suffering. Most times he is shown with gentle features, but at other times, as the emaciated suffering savior of the world and as the risen savior.  In the last century, modern artisans portrayed Jesus in the most personalized, subjective, and realistic ways.  No longer is Jesus the savior who gave himself for the sake of humanity, but he is now as an allegory of universal suffering. 
Through the various musical periods, from Gregorian chant to the present, hymn-texts and music proclaim Jesus as Lord and savior of all.  However depicted, he is a conspicuous, compelling, unique figure, the hope of the world, a beauty beyond whom there is no greater beauty. Jesus is the only world figure who has declared: “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6). Consequently, Jesus says everything to everyone.

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