The Way of BeautyThe Taste for God

Of the 21,000 restaurants in New York City, more than half specialize in Italian cuisine.  Whether the 12,000 serve Milanese, Venetian, Roman, Florentine, or Sicilian, Italian food reigns supreme.  People never lose their taste for ‘Italian,’ it seems.

Taste in Sacred Scripture

Hunger, thirst, taste, and tongue are words often used in Sacred Scripture.  When the Jews were trekking across the desert toward the Promised Land, they grumbled against God; ‘why did you bring us to this place? There’s no food to be found here.’  The Lord heard their prayer.  In the mornings, he rained down on them sweet cakes, called manna.  In the evenings, quail were miraculously provided for them in abundance.

What Is Taste?

Strictly speaking, taste refers to the appetite and is understood in the physical sense, as the intake of food and liquid.  In its basic expression, taste grasps what is bitter, sweet, salty, and sour.  Tasting food is meant to be enjoyable, but suppose one loses the sense of taste?  To be sure, it’s an unnerving disorder but can be cured by stimulating the taste buds with medication and natural remedies.  

Food provokes a reflex of pleasure or revulsion.  Certain kinds bring the expectation of pleasure and our eagerness to enjoy them.  Sweets and fast foods are included in this category. Other kinds of foods conjure up disagreeable reactions, and we avoid them.   Brussel sprouts may feel like the loneliest vegetable on the shelf.


Taste, good or bad, is an analogous word extending to clothing and entertainment, to one’s choice of friends, and other aspects of life.
Good taste is restrained.  Bad taste is excessive. 

The adage, taste must not be questioned (de gustibus non disputandum est), has its limits. Sound taste is not arbitrary but is based on the particulars of truth. Bitter is bitter and not sweet.

Good taste pleases. It gives the sense of what is balanced and appropriate, a sense of what is polite and tactful. Good taste applies to table manners and public courtesy, caring for the body, and to attitudes of the mind that reveal one’s choices.   

Bad taste offends. Vulgarians are bearers of bad taste. 

Impeccable Taste

Those with impeccable taste acquire the art of discrimination.  They have an eye for quality and “can infallibly distinguish art from kitsch, and excellent quality from average or merely good quality.” (Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord, I: 481).

A Sommelier and a Nose in the wine and perfume profession respectively have acquired the sense of discriminating taste.  We call them connoisseurs. 

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Audrey Hepburn were known for their impeccable taste in clothing, their elegant simplicity. Experts who know when something is too much, too little, or just right have transformed their professions into art forms.  The art of impeccable taste is a never-ending process because it chooses the better of two goods. 

When Emperor Joseph II complained to Mozart that there were too many notes in his opera, “The Marriage of Figaro,” the composer indignantly replied:  ‘Too many notes, Sire? Not too many.  Just enough.’

The Taste for God

More in The Way of Beauty

The practice of Lenten asceticism is meant to intensify one’s taste for God. In the Psalmist’s exhortation to “taste and see how good the Lord is,” taste is used in the spiritual sense (Ps 34:8).  It participates in the act of faith.  The goal of spiritual taste is enjoyment and union with God.  Those with a distaste for God or for the things of God may suffer from acedia or sloth, “a loathing of the spiritual good as if it is something contrary to ourselves” (Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung, “Acedia’s Resistance to the Demands of Love: Aquinas on the Vice of Sloth”).

Acedia or sloth, one of the seven deadly sins, was first discussed by the fourth-century desert fathers, but it is a contemporary problem.
Acedia is an aversion of God, a restless resistance to God, and a distaste for spiritual things because of the effort involved in pursuing them.

Those who live in the sacrament of the present moment live with purpose, directionally and dynamically.  They are aware that “in him, we live, and move, and breathe, and have our being” and that whatever they do is done to praise, reverence, and serve God (Acts 17:28; St. Ignatius of Loyola). The taste for God is beautifully expressed in Psalm 63:2-3, 9:

“O God, you are my God, for you I long;
for you my soul is thirsting.
My body pines for you!
Like a dry, weary land without water. . . .
My soul clings to you;
Your right hand holds me fast.”

Defamation of Character, Lying, and Slander

The tongue is a small organ of the body with power beyond description.  The first of its uses is of course to taste food.  But in the epistle of St. James (1:26), we are told to bridle our tongue because it acts like a sharp razor.  As a two-edged sword, it can devise wicked things and craft treachery (Ps 52:2).  It takes only a spark to start a forest fire and destroy the entire forest.  Similarly, through gossip and ridicule, the tongue can destroy a person’s reputation. 

Lying or slander is a serious offense against one of God’s commandments, the Eighth in the Christian tradition; it is a tragedy as well. Where does one go to retrieve a shattered reputation?   

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Men and women are daily scorned by talk-show hosts who, in the name of humor, earn their millions at the expense of their victims, the Catholic Church, included.  Some of it is light banter; much of it is not. Profanity is an integral part of these programs. Do the hosts suffer from a paucity of vocabulary?

Talk-show hosts with unbridled tongues act as questionable role models for our youth.  By validating their cynical humor, we are unwittingly raising a generation of cynics who roll their eyes at the mere mention of words like love, charity, and kindness but applaud ridicule of others.
1 Corinthians 13 overrides these harsh sentiments with a few beautiful thoughts: “Love does not dishonor others; it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth.”

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