In his book Spiritual Passages, the late Fr. Benedict Groeschel, OFM Cap, (may he rest in ambrosial peace), notes that people tend to be attracted to God by way of four transcendental values: beauty, truth, goodness, and unity. Everyone naturally delights in these, but each is oriented toward God with different emphases on each value.
Some find peace most of all in God’s ability to draw all things to himself (unity), while others are taken primarily by the authenticity of God as Truth, etc. But Hans Urs von Balthasar, one of the foremost influential theologians of the last century, theorized that every person is first drawn to God as Beauty. Perhaps this is why St. Augustine wrote of his adult conversion, praying, “Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new”.
Whether we’re admiring a stunning piece of religious artwork, listening to a Tom Waits song, or holding a baby, beauty is the foundation of fascination. “Before the beautiful,” von Balthasar wrote, “no, not really before but within the beautiful—the whole person quivers. He not only ‘finds’ the beautiful moving; rather, he experiences himself as being moved and possessed by it.”
Fyodor Dostoyevsky famously said (and several popes have quoted him) that “Beauty will save the world.”
Advent is here, the season of candlelit waiting. Christ rests in the warm darkness of Mary’s womb, and we try to keep indoors for long and chilly evenings. Christ was nourished by Mary’s body, protected by his mother and Joseph, who waited upon the Lord’s providence.
As dusk narrows our focus, let’s make repeated attempts to recognize beauty. And by that, I don’t mean trying to enjoy saccharine holiday specials and cloying artwork. I mean seeking out things that make faith both sweet and credible; that create a desire for other things that are good, pure, and intimate; that offer a space for us to rest, be healed, and challenged.
Contemplating beauty is not optional. Without it, we can’t be saved.
But if we train ourselves to ponder beauty, we can become the Church led by a Child (and a Dove), under the tender care of his Mother.