Sunday, November 30, 2014

"On Biblical Aesthetics" by Hans Urs von Balthasar


This quote is from Hans Urs von Balthasar's book The Glory of the Lord, Vol. I: Seeing the Form (2009, San Francisco, Ignatius Press)

Excerpt from section B. The Experience of Faith, from pages 312-313



This…characteristic of archetypal Biblical aesthetics may, in this respect, also be compared with the perception of what is beautiful in the world. We cannot say that the difference between them lies in the fact that worldly beauty bestows a fullness that quenches the heart of the beholder and makes him repose in his vision, while the beauty of divine revelation causes a holy unrest in the person contemplating it which points beyond itself to something else, for instance, to the practical aspects of the Church’s life or to the Christian mission to one’s neighbor. Rather, a merely self-gratifying absorption of the beholder in what he beholds falls, even at the worldly level, below the threshold of true beauty. The experience of sublime beauty is overwhelming and can be enrapturing and crushing. The poverty and uncomeliness of eros were known to Plato. The true admirer of sublime feminine beauty willingly goes into banishment in the service of courtly love, in order to become worthier of the grace of restful possession. In all mythical beauty there is a moment of fear; in every act of grasping a sublime work of art there is experienced an unattainable majesty, and this experience is a part of aesthetic enjoyment and the dangerous locus where the magnificence of the beautiful demands for itself something like adoration. The author of the Book of Wisdom shows gentle forbearance for those who are overpowered by the word’s most sublime beauty (Wis. 13.6f.). Eros contains a promise…which is always pointing beyond the sentiments that sighs ‘Abide a while, thou art so beautiful!’ and which, therefore, if it is not transposed onto the Christian level, must condemn itself to eternal melancholy and self-consumption. This total structure of beauty can be redeemed only if the risen Lover is again met at the other side of death (and beyond all melancholy yearning for the Kingdom of Death, as portrayed by the Greek myths, but also by Mary Magdalen, Jn. 20.11) –the risen Lover who does not disappoint with his blessed Noli me tangere and with his withdrawal at the Ascension, the Lover who leaves no shadow of sorrow behind him, but who snatches up the loving and adoring heart and caries it away with him: where you treasure, where your darling is, there also is your heart. Not a single shadow of melancholy darkens Christ’s Ascension, and the visionlessness of the intervening period has something about it of the blissful transport of a lover for her beloved, something of the gladsome ecstasy of those who ‘live no longer for themselves but for him who dies and rose for their sake’ (2 Cor. 5.15).

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