Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

God's Glory Appears: Form and Splendor

IN VON BALTHASHAR'S view, every beautiful object that presents itself to us is both known and unknown. Nothing is without its sense of mystery of hiddenness. When we confront another person, a free subject, that mystery or hiddenness involves not only who that person is, but who that person might choose to become. Beyond that, however, there is the mystery that this object is, there is the mystery of being, of conditional or contingent existence, which the object before us communicates in a coy way through a form of "light."

In the contingency of the beautiful object, we perceive a freedom (it does not have to be). In the beauty of the finite object, we perceive a giftedness (its presence to us is not only freely bestowed, but attractive and thus experienced as a gift).

Steck, 15.  Every object we confront, if we are but sensitive to it, is therefore a potential epiphany or theophany.  From being we become aware of Being.  From beauty we become aware of Glory.  "The epiphany of the finite form directs us to the Giver who is self-grounded freedom."  Steck, 15.  Light from light.  Splendor from form.

This contingency in a beautiful of object which bespeaks of both gift and Giver make us aware that there is a certain "mysterious sheen" in everything which gives rise to a dual communication, a bipolarity of form and splendor.  The notion of form and splendor is important in von Balthasars theology and aesthetics, particularly in his theory of perception. What is form?  What is splendor?
Form is the external manifestation of a being's "inwardness," or what von Balthasar often refers to as its "intimacy." It is what first draws our conscious attention when encountering the object. The object's visible shape and harmony, the convergence of its component elements and dynamic "life" as a whole, allow us to see it as a form. Splendor is the radiation of the inner depths of the object out of which the form appears.

Steck, 15.  We draw out the form of the object.  We intimate the splendor.  "In short, we do not read a natural form without perceiving something, 'invisible' as well, something 'beyond and more profound.'"  Steck, 16.  Every form communicates, irradiates from within itself through by splendor its beauty.  And that beauty "testifies that this form can be found in the choice, the will, and the freedom of the Creator, and thus that in this form truth and goodness can be found."  Steck, 16.  From natural aesthetics we go into theological aesthetics.

If we are but sensitive, if we but become engaged, we will see God in all things, in the truth, goodness, but particularly in the beauty of all things.  Steck ties the Balthasarian doctrine to the Ignatian doctrine that we ought to "hallar Dios en todas cosas," find God in all things.  Steck, 16.

Unfortunately, the modern world has become disengaged from this reality.  We have bracketed ourselves from this reality.  The "spell" has been broken.  In the words of Weber, the world's become disenchanted, entzaubert.  We have to become re-engaged.  We have to "step back" to allow the things of this world to speak to us in these deeper ways again.  Von Balthasar insists that we "combine the cooly precision of scientific research with a constant awareness of the totality apparent only to the eye of reverence, the poetic-religious eye, the ancient sense for the cosmos."  Steck, 18 (quoting VB, GL5.363)

All things of this world are therefore expressive, not simply passive and inert.  They are earthly garments wherein God's glory is made manifest, albeit in hidden form.  They will, if we but let them, if we but become engaged, cast a "spell" of of wonder upon us.  They all, in lesser or greater ways, intimate the Trinitarian Creator who from his Being gives being. 

This is particularly true when it comes to persons.  There form ought to express in a particularly unique way a splendor, and, beyond that, the glory of the Lord who creates and maintains the gift that each person is:

The more the light of divine freedom illuminates the form, the more deeply will the perceiver be affected. The human person is created as uniquely expressive of God. More than any other worldy form this form can be called glorious and, more than any other form, this form requires our "stepping back" to attend to its self-expression.
 Steck, 18.

So much for the world--its inanimate things, its living creatures, and man.  But this same sort of response is required when confronting the Christ-form and seeing the Christ-splendor and in this Christ-form-and-splendor seeing the Glory of God in its fullness.  We must become engaged in Christ.  Given Christ's unique revelation, this engagement requires surrender, obedience, love.  It is Christ's beauty which, above all, draws us to the Lord.

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