Most of us like beauty. We look at the snow-covered mountains in wonder and are drawn to worship. Or we see a spectacular photograph and marvel at the way the photographer captured light. Beauty is something we enjoy, but is it really necessary?
In the twentieth century, many Evangelicals answered that question with a distinctive “no.” They shunned art as superfluous, focusing instead on shoring up their walls with the truth. Furthermore beauty became a sign of temptation away from moral action, from the good. Thus, the good and the true were elevated over the beautiful.
Yet see what Hans Urs Von Balthasar writes:
“In a world which is perhaps not wholly without beauty, but which can no longer see it or reckon with it: in such a world the good also loses its attractiveness, the self-evidence of why it must be carried out…In a world that no longer has enough confidence in itself to affirm the beautiful, the proofs of the truth have lost their cogency.” The Glory of the Lord, 19.
However, we cannot just blame our predecessors for separating truth, goodness and beauty. We have continued the trend in seeing beauty as not essential. It comes out in our churches’ emphasis on good morals over a beautiful sanctuary. Certainly we do not need to be excessive but the fact that many of our buildings demonstrate few aesthetic considerations suggests we have relegated beauty to the realm of the arbitrary.
Yet beauty is a vital part of our lives; it is what attracts us and pulls us towards things. It is little wonder that we see a growing number of evangelicals moving to the Orthodox and Catholic churches. Not only do they find beauty there, but without beauty, the truth and goodness that Evangelicals truly can offer become less attractive.
What does a reclamation of beauty by Evangelicals look like? Honestly, I’m not entirely sure. I do know, however that we have to seek to maintain a balance between truth, goodness and beauty. Only when the three are in balance can we live fully human lives as we reflect the one who is Truth, Goodness and Beauty himself.
But this post is not all doom and gloom either. In addition to various Evangelical artists engaging increasingly in the world of beauty (in writing, the arts, etc.), I think there is reason to be optimistic. If we recognize it’s importance, beauty has a way of seeping into our realities, filling up the cracks and spilling over. We can begin to see it in the smiles of our neighbors; we can begin to see it in the clouds on a beautiful day; we can begin to see it in the simplicity of the Eucharist. As we begin to seek beauty, we will find that it is all around us, just as the one who is Beautiful always is.
How do you think Evangelicals can reclaim beauty? Let us know in the comments.