The Way of BeautyTransport: The spirit’s dynamic movement toward Christ

Christian discipleship in its very origin and essence is synonymous with a dynamic movement from self to the beauty of Christ:

Were not the disciples first transported by what they saw, heard, and touched and by everything that Christ manifested in his very person?  What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with out hands concerns the Word of life . . . . We write this to make our[] joy complete (1Jn 1).

St. Bonaventure writes about this excessus of faith–being drawn out of ourselves by being overpowered by beauty at all levels (Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord, II:335). 

A full, active, and lively Catholic faith consists not primarily in believing a series of tenets, proved by the intellect, and then believed.  Without this dynamic movement toward Christ, faith as a series of truths remains unpersuasive, formalistic, dry and without unction.
 
Nor is faith simply a matter of doing good. Without this dynamic movement toward the beauty of Christ, a full, active, and lively faith loses its attractiveness and is questioned as to why it should be done.  In fact, doing good deeds can remain hedonistic and utilitarian, stuck on the horizontal and natural plane.
 
Prompted by God’s grace, a full and complete faith is a contemplative transport of the heart, and without this movement that goes out from self toward the Beloved, the object of beauty, the experience of faith remains woefully incomplete. Together with truth and goodness, contemplation, especially in prayer, has always been, and continues to be, an essential part of Catholic faith.  

The first Preface for Christmas expresses liturgically the soul’s movement of being caught up in the beauty and love of God:

Father, ...
In the wonder of the incarnation,
your Eternal Word has brought to the eyes of faith
a new and radiant vision of your glory.
In him we see our God made visible
and so are caught up in love of the God we cannot see.

The phrase, “caught up in the love of God we cannot see,” so dramatically depicted in Bernini’s sculpture of St. Teresa in Ecstasy, says in marble what we as incarnate spirits seek in our ascent to God.  The sculpture depicts the saint in dramatic ascent to her Lord. She is poised in suspension resulting from having let herself go in an uninterrupted flight toward Divine Beauty.
 
Faith excludes two extremes blind faith and pure reason. It must include our being transported, that is, being drawn out of ourselves and by being overpowered by beauty.  Active and lively faith on a daily basis realizes its fullness by a logic of convergence in which beauty, truth, and goodness all reciprocally support one another.  The transport or dynamic movement toward Christ is the same as the dynamic movement made in contemplating something beautiful.
 
A child cannot prove, before jumping into her father’s arms, that he will catch her.  She knows he will do so. She has a subjective certainty and an objective probability that her father will catch her in his arms.  Jesus praises this childlike faith that casts one’s entire confidence into the hands of Providence because of the child’s love for her father. The dynamic flight from oneself and handing oneself over to Christ is today viewed with skepticism, if not with ridicule.  But we know that this kind of faith can demand heroism.

The Catholic tradition, more than any other, teaches the necessity of contemplative beauty as an integral part of faith.  And those who seek to banish beauty are certain to find it more difficult to love–so united is beauty with love.

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