A Tendency to Beauty

Beautiful-GOD-s-creation-god-the-creator-10864871-480-360Evolutionary theorists have a very difficult time suggesting a mechanism for life. How do plain chemicals – minerals and dissolved substances – combine in a manner that constitutes a living thing? In fact, why would they? I have no interest in discussing the pro’s and con’s of evolutionary theory. It is not interesting to me if you think Darwin was wrong or the devil incarnate. I want to think about some other things.

Those other things can be seen first in the questions already asked. How do minerals and substances combine in a manner that constitutes a living thing? Among the reasons that science is propelled to seek life somewhere other than the earth is to find out whether life is an earth-only phenomenon or, actually common, something that happens many times and places under certain conditions. I should say that if that is true, I am not troubled by it.

But the matter of origins is interesting, both as science and as theology. For though we see crystalline structures in some minerals, we do not see biological structures. The “shape” of living things is interesting in and of itself.

Secondly, the question of “why” would this happen, is simply non-Darwinian. It is impossible to have survival of the fittest as an explanation of how a primordial soup becomes a living cell. It does not become a “fitter” soup.

Of course, science is unable to answer “why.” The only “plausible” scientific answer to “why” is absurd. “Why” is the language of theology.

Both questions, “how,” and “why,” are complicated by a third thing: the tendency towards beauty. For there is a movement discerned in the rise of creation and that movement is a consistent transformation of inert materials into the wonderful order of beauty. Of course, beauty is already present in many ways within inert materials themselves – but that beauty is transformed into something that transcends their lifeless form. For the reality of living things takes on purpose and direction and an ordered existence, all of the things that human beings perceive as beauty.

These questions are addressed in the teachings of the Christian faith, particularly as outlined in the writings of St. Maximus the Confessor. Drawing on numerous strands within the Tradition, he wrote about the logoi of all things. Scripture says that all things were created “through the Logos” (Word). Christ is the Logos made man. But all things are not only made through Him, but they have within them their own logos, which is, in some manner, a reflection and participation in the Logos (Christ God). These logoi (plural) are what give things their shape, order, purpose, form, direction, end, etc. It is an account that says the universe has at its most fundamental level, a spiritual meaning and purpose. One could even say (in the words of Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople), “The whole world is an icon.”

Another way of saying this is that every created thing tends towards the Logos. This is the inner-meaning of a universe that tends towards Beauty, order, goodness, etc. Nothing has altered the essential meaning of God’s declaration in the beginning of creation, “It is good [beautiful].”

This must also be understood as we think about ourselves and other people. Though we may speak of human beings as “fallen” (a phrase that occurs nowhere in the Scriptures), the “Fall” is not a change in the fundamental goodness of creation or human beings. Human nature remains good. What we are (the meaning of “nature”) is essentially good. The “Fall” simply describes a brokenness on account of which we are hindered from living in accordance with our nature. Something impedes us from being what we truly are.

The coming of Christ (the Logos) is the summoning and restoration of the unity between all creation and its Logos. Every created thing is drawn to Christ – for their nature is a reflection of Christ. He is the Who that calls to the What of all things.

Thus, in His presence, the blind see, the lame walk, the poor are set free, etc. This is because seeing, walking and freedom are inherent to our nature. In His presence, things (and persons) become what they truly are.

The efforts of salvation (if I might so call our cooperation with God’s grace) are never to become something other than what we are, but to be what we truly are. And this differs from the achievement-oriented message of our culture. The culture would have me be the most successful economic unit that I can. God would have me become truly human. The path towards our true humanity is revealed to us in the commandments of Christ.

The words of the Word, are verbal expressions of the logoi of all things. The actions of the Logos are a dramatic presentation of the truth of existence. Jesus the Christ is what it looks like to be truly human. The truly human person, as icon of the Logos, is a summary of the universe, both in general and particular. St. Maximus expresses this by saying that man is the “microcosm” (the world in miniature) of all things.

All of the disciplines of the Orthodox life, when practiced in their proper manner, are not efforts to efface our humanity but to become truly human, to be more fully alive as the icon of the Logos. The image of being transformed into the image of Christ is misunderstood when it is treated in a moralistic manner, “What would Jesus do?” Mere behavior is not the same thing as true union and transformation. We are to become like Christ, not simply act like Christ.

This is the true tendency to Beauty that marks us all.

18 comments:

  1. Thank you father for this. Am dealing with some tough “challenges” in life at the present and this reinforces what I have been reading in St. Isaac oc Syria. Again, thanks you and God bless
    In Christ,
    Reader John

  2. So much “Wow” in this! And very timely as well, Father. I have been wrestling with this idea of transformation (Deny myself; Not I that lives but Christ in me) lately and this beautiful homily (if I may call it that) brings so much together into one focus, if that makes any sense. Many thanks!

  3. Fr. Freeman,

    You may or may not have intended it, but that beautiful picture of the Maroon Bells across Maroon Lake is the scene that stands just above Aspen, Colorado, which is no doubt one of the best examples of our achievement-oriented culture. Nice contrast.

    Awesome article again. Thank you.

  4. Human nature remains good. What we are (the meaning of “nature”) is essentially good. The “Fall” simply describes a brokenness on account of which we are hindered from living in accordance with our nature. Something impedes us from being what we truly are.

    Once again you say beautifully what has been nagging at the back of my mind, but which I am unable to capture. Like chasing a butterfly.

    Something that has struck me with looking at the awesome pictures of nebulae and stars and all the “stuff” of space that we are able to see thanks to our science, is how much it resonates and resembles what one sees under a microscope and even the smaller units than that. It is that same beauty, writ so very small and at the same time, immense. Glory to God for All things!

    Thank you, Father Freeman.

  5. “The “Fall” simply describes a brokenness on account of which we are hindered from living in accordance with our nature. Something impedes us from being what we truly are.”

    The sense of that statement misses the desperation Paul expresses in Romans 7, or so it seems to me.

  6. Yes! Beautiful.

    “The coming of Christ (the Logos) is the summoning and restoration of the unity between all creation and its Logos. Every created thing is drawn to Christ – for their nature is a reflection of Christ. He is the Who that calls to the What of all things.”
    Your passage here brings to my mind Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem when the crowd cried out praises to him in loud voices and he said, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” The true nature of the whole universe, all Creation, speaks to Christ.

    Thank you for your beautiful words and your beautiful heart!
    Pax Christi
    Christina

  7. Richard,

    I do not think that Romans 7 can be taken in isolation. The very next chapter is illuminating in this regard. In fact, Fr. Stephen’s blog post might very well be a commentary on Romans 8; I don’t know if he had that in mind or not, but if you read Romans 8, they certainly sound similar to me.

    Just a thought.

  8. Thank you again Father for expressing so beautifully the ever present, continuous Word of GOD – “letting there be ____” and creating us and all we see since it’s first expression.
    Science strives, unsuccessfully, to answer why, or to find out why and explain everything and to make order. When the real question of importance is not “why?, but “who?” Science can not answer why and makes no attempt to answer who, except for the “Big Bang”, but that explanation begins to fall apart on the theories of how.
    I read some years ago a reflection by a Rabbi (un-named) who re-phrased the Genesis account, to read :”In the beginning was nothing and then it exploded”. science can give us marvelous views of mountains in Colorado, can explain the movement of tectonic plates, the tilt of this planet on it’s axis, the movement of the winds and the temperature of the Pacific Ocean and it’s currents – but has no explanation for – “Who”. Accident, Chance and Natural Selection over time may explain some changes in man and animal, but it will not and can not explain “who”; or the ultimate questions of “why” and “beauty” .

  9. I wonder if you realise how many people you touch deeply with these blog entries -deeply enough that it encourages them to strive to be who they truly are. Thanks again.

  10. It is so beautiful and healing and astonishing to me that Christianity is not what I thought it was. As an evangelical, it was like I was always looking at a picture of a flower. It was pleasant, but so one-dimensional, and over time, it became a bit tacky. Discovering Orthodoxy has been like seeing a blooming flower for the first time in real life. And as time passes, it’s like walking through a magnificent garden, with each new flower and tree and vine more beautiful than the last. It’s deeper than I will ever be able to comprehend, and yet far more simple than it ever was before.

    Glory to God, and thank you for your words.

  11. Keats said “truth is beauty, and beauty truth, that is all you know and need to know”
    Christ said, “I am the way, the truth, and the light…”

    The utter simplicity has absolutely confounded America, who doesn’t believe in beauty, never has. A Japanese once asked me to take him for a ride up into the mountains on an untraveled winding mountain road. Not to far, he told me to stop the car, turn around, he was getting sick. “Air problem?” I asked. “No,” he said. “the gound is littered with pop, paper, and beer cans, and graffitti mars the holy rocks.” I had never heard of such a thing. In fact I didn’t see it, so I asked, “How are mountains regarded in Japapn?” “Mountains are sacred to us. We go to the mountains to pray. You defile your mountains.” I had absolutely nothing to say. We turned around and went back.

  12. A big cost of an individualist, consumer culture is the loss of any sense of the sacred. That being the case nothing has value except what it can be sold for whether it is human labor, the natural world, human beings themselves, the list is practically endless. When everything has a price, nothing has a value.

  13. “When everything has a price, nothing has value.”

    Very pithy. I like that. So true.

  14. Michael Bauman,
    I don’t know if it’s your quote or someone else’s, but I really liked it…”When everything has a price, nothing has a value.” This is the true cost of consumeristic “values”. Is irony the word?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.