Category Archives: Power of Beauty

The Post-Modern Rebellion Against Beauty: Part 2

In my last post, I spoke about the reasons for postmodernity’s rejection of beauty and its declaration that beauty is an illusion in the midst of the ugliness of reality. In this post, I speak about why beauty is in fact real, and how the ugliness that does exist in our world does not overcome true beauty.


In his desecration of beauty, postmodern man declares that it is nothing more than an illusion, that the truth of reality is instead fundamentally ugly. If artistic beauty has any value, it is only in the fact that we can use it to cushion ourselves from the absurd and ugly world which we inhabit. As the precursor of postmodernity, Nietzsche, put it, “we have art in order not to die from truth.”

We need not look far to see the influence of this view on contemporary art and literature. In fact, it is one of the underlying messages of Donna Tartt’s recent bestseller The Goldfinch. The protagonist, Theodore Decker, having tragically lost his beloved mother and, later on, his father, struggles to make sense of his troubled existence and the absurd hand that life has dealt him. He turns to drugs to escape from the cruel reality of his life, and, interestingly enough, he also turns to beautiful art, symbolized by the painting from which the novel takes its name. For him, “beauty alters the grain of reality”; it makes the world more bearable and life more livable.  Truth is an illusion and reality is undesirable, but, “where the mind strikes reality, there’s a middle zone, a rainbow edge where beauty comes into being, and where two very different surfaces mingle and blur to provide what life does not: and this is the space where all art exists…”

For Theodore Decker, beauty is a happy dream while reality is a living nightmare. The best that one can do in such an absurdly cruel world is “wade straight through it, right through the cesspool.” Through her character, Tartt articulates well how beauty fits into the postmodern worldview: it is nothing more than an anomalous parenthesis in the fundamentally meaningless and ugly reality of our existence.

While Tartt’s realist fiction does mirror Dostoevsky’s, there is nevertheless a big difference: where Tartt sees only meaningless suffering and illusion, Dostoevsky sees meaningful suffering and salvific beauty. Although his literature is painfully unrelenting in its realistic depiction of human depravity and anguish, glimmers of hope nevertheless shine through. The Idiot is perhaps one of the clearest examples. Prince Myshkin is the center of a high society circle in 19th-century St. Petersburg whose members are complicated characters with complex, selfish, and often downright evil motives. The Prince, by contrast, is characterized by incredible goodness and innocence. His only motive is the well-being of others, and he pursues this to his own detriment. While his love and goodness are attractive (although perplexing) to some, others take advantage of him and cause him great emotional and physical suffering.

Prince Myshkin is clearly a literary icon of Christ, the suffering servant, and we find insight into his character in Hans Holbein’s Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb, which is mentioned twice in the novel. Holbein’s painting shows an emaciated cadaver in the early stages of putrefaction. His eyes are slightly open and his skeletal hand is reaching out, giving the body a disturbing semblance of life that makes it seem as if Christ’s suffering continues. The body is shown without the onlookers who are usually present in such artistic renditions of Christ’s Passion, thus intensifying the isolation of death.

The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb by Hans Holbein
“The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb” by Hans Holbein

Holbein’s painting, like Dostoevsky’s Idiot, are works of art that do not shy away from showing human suffering in all of its ugliness. Nevertheless, their art simultaneously points to a beauty that goes beyond appearance; it points to the beauty of love.

In the suffering of Jesus Christ, the undeniable ugliness of evil has been subsumed into a greater beauty – “the beauty of love that goes until ‘the very end,’” as Pope Benedict described it.  This is the beauty that will ultimately be our salvation; this is the beauty to which Dostoevsky refers in the same novel when he says that beauty will save the world. When the world asserts that reality is actually ugly, we can point to the Face of him who was “crushed for our sins” to show that there is a deeper beauty behind the ugliness of evil, an unvanquished beauty that offers us hope and meaning in a world full of despair.

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The Post-Modern Rebellion Against Beauty: Part 1

 Our insatiable longing for ever greater beauty and for union with it is itself evidence that we were made for something more, for something greater; it is an indicator that we are destined for a final end.  C.S. Lewis puts it excellently:

Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.

Our unsatisfied desire for beauty here on Earth is proof that we are made for Beauty that can only be found in another world. Beauty and our irresistible insatiable attraction to it are evidence of an objective final end, of Something that attracts us in a way that is beyond our control. To admit this transcendent end is to admit that it determines what we ought to do, because to accept a certain end automatically implies limiting oneself to the actions that lead towards it and denying oneself all those that lead away from it.

But this is unacceptable for the postmodern man who believes himself to be an ontologically autonomous “creator” of his own reality in which he is the sole determiner of the good and, ultimately, of the beautiful. The postmodern glorification of the self-determining individual allows room for nothing that challenges his absolute freedom, not even beauty. To admit that something is objectively beautiful regardless of his self-determining perception is to admit that there is an objective order that in some way conditions how he ought to think and act. Admission of beauty thus requires humility and deference. As Roger Scruton in his excellent book on the subject, “beauty makes a claim on us: it is a call to renounce our narcissism and look with reverence on the world.”

This claim of beauty challenges postmodern man’s absolute freedom and provokes him to reassert his autonomy by defying it. We find ourselves in a world that rebels against beauty and is rife with artistic ugliness. To quote Scruton again: “There is a desire to spoil beauty, in acts of aesthetic iconoclasm. Wherever beauty lies in wait for us, the desire to pre-empt its appeal can intervene, ensuring that its still small voice will not be heard behind the scenes of desecration.”

In his desecration of beauty, postmodern man declares that it is nothing more than an illusion, that the truth of reality is instead fundamentally ugly. If artistic beauty has any value, it is only in the fact that we can use it to cushion ourselves from the absurd and ugly world which we inhabit. As the great precursor of postmodernity, Nietzsche, put it, “we have art in order not to die from truth.”

In next week’s post, I will discuss how to respond to the postmodern claim that beauty is nothing more than an illusion.

Beauty that Draws Us to the Creator

The beauty of this world is evidence of a Great Intellect who orders all things to himself. An example taken from art can help us see this. We look at beautiful artwork in one of two ways: either in itself (horizontally), or in relation to its artist (vertically). To look horizontally at Nicolas Poussin’s Israelites Gathering Manna is to appreciate the balance of its composition, the harmony of its colors, the depth of its meaning, and the perfection of its mathematical proportions. However, we look at it vertically when we seek to understand what the work tells us about Poussin. Looking at the painting alone and knowing nothing else about the artist, we can nevertheless deduce that the creative intellect behind it was incredibly rational, methodical, and precise, which was indeed the case with that Baroque genius.

"Israelites Gathering Manna" - Nicolas Poussin
“Israelites Gathering Manna” – Nicolas Poussin

The same goes for the beauty of Earth, which is a complex and amazingly fine-tuned reality. As Eric Metaxas points out in his recent book Miracles, the very fact that our planet can support life is itself a sort of miracle given the incredible amount of necessary conditions and the infinitesimal margin of error allowed for each. If Earth were just slightly larger and had just slightly more gravity, toxic gases such as methane and ammonia would remain too close to the surface for life to be possible. If Earth were just slightly smaller, water vapor would dissipate leaving a virtually waterless planet. If it rotated just slightly slower, our nights would be too cold and our days would be too hot. If it rotated just a little more quickly, winds would reach insupportable velocities. Metaxas mentions many more requirements and only just scratches the surface.

The Earth and all that it contains overflows with so much perfection, harmony, and splendor that a vast number of sciences are dedicated to studying it. Through geology, meteorology, ecology, zoology, and so many other disciplines, we grow in our knowledge of the Earth’s beauty and come to appreciate it horizontally. However, marveling at the amazingly precise calibration of this beautiful planet, it is almost impossible not to ask why and how it is so perfect; it is almost impossible not to consider it vertically. If Earth is so fine-tuned, there has to be a Fine-Tuner. Just as the perfection of Israelites Gathering Manna points to the creative genius of Poussin, so the super-abundant perfection of Earth points to the super-abundant creative genius of its Maker. To say that Earth came together randomly would be like saying that Poussin’s masterpiece came about from a random spilling of paint. The beauty of Earth points to the Great Artist who is behind it.

And through the beauty of his creation, this Great Artist draws us towards himself, who is Perfect Beauty. The natural beauty of this Earth and the artistic beauty of its human inhabitants, although truly wonderful, never seem to be enough. We all know that unsatisfied feeling when the curtain goes down and the lights go on; when the sun sets and it’s time to go home; when the movie finishes and the credits roll – we can never get enough of beauty, and the precious times when we have it leave us aching for more. C.S. Lewis describes well this universal yearning: “We do not merely want to see beauty…We want something else which can hardly be put into words – to be united with the beauty that we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become a part of it…”

The Explosive Power of Beauty

One of the most spectacular works of 17th-century Italy is Bernini’s Chair of Peter. This masterpiece employs a variety of media in a typically Baroque fashion: the cathedra and the Fathers of the Church are bronze, the Holy Spirit is alabaster, and the angels surrounding the Holy Spirit are gilded stucco. In an equally Baroque manner, it portrays dramatic motion that breaks through the barrier between art and reality and comes into our space. The Holy Spirit appears to be exploding with amazing power into St. Peter’s Basilica: the angelic figures surrounding it are blown back from the dove, even as some try to go towards it.

"The Chair of Peter," by Gian Lorenzo Bernini
“The Chair of Peter,” by Gian Lorenzo Bernini

Besides being an icon of the power of the Holy Spirit, Bernini’s sculpture is an icon of the power of beauty. In a no less spectacular fashion, beauty explodes into our lives. We see it in sunsets and snow-covered mountains, and we marvel at it in the astounding creative accomplishments of our fellow humans. Whenever we experience reality that overflows with perfection we experience “beauty”, and, confronted with it, none of us can remain indifferent. But its power can be disconcerting because beauty demands, and it exerts undeniable influence over us: it fascinates, entrances, moves, and challenges.

Beauty confounds us. Why does it draw us so powerfully? In a world full of ugliness and suffering, how do we make sense of it? Dostoevsky was aware of this conundrum: interestingly, in both The Idiot and The Brothers Karamazov he refers to beauty as a “riddle.”  Beauty is indeed mysterious, and its mystery affects each person differently, depending on his openness to truth.

For the hedonistic Dmitri Karamazov, the riddle of authentic beauty is unbearable. In a conversation with his brother, Alyosha, he grapples with its mystery: “Beauty is a fearful and terrible thing! Fearful because it is undefinable, and it cannot be defined, because here God gave us only riddles.”

The human mind finds security in definitions, because if something can be defined, it can be controlled. In man’s understanding and knowledge of things, he finds intellectual self-assurance. However, mystery makes him nervous because before it he must admit that there is something beyond him, and this admission in turn leads to the possibility that this “something beyond”, this source of mystery, has power over him and limits him.

For sensualists like Dmitri, this possibility is unbearable. In the same dialogue, he contrasts the “ideal of the Madonna” (beauty with truth) with the “ideal of Sodom” (beauty without truth), and he asserts that Sodom “for the vast majority of people…is just where beauty lies.” Dmitri is a type of all those who prefer the dazzling beauty of the world, the beauty of Sodom and Babylon, the beauty of billboards and magazines, the beauty that, according to Pope Benedict, “does not bring people out of themselves into the ecstasy of starting off towards the heights but instead immures them completely within themselves.” It’s the beauty of the fruit that seduced Eve: beauty that offers power, possession, and pleasure.

But try as they might to close themselves in the “beauty of Sodom”, authentic beauty maintains its fascination and continues to bear witness to the truth, because the beauty of this world is evidence of a Great Intellect who orders all things to himself.

“Charged with Grandeur”: A Reflection on Hopkins’ Classic Poem

I like to start my days with a bit of beauty, so every morning, I spend a moment reading and memorizing some poetry. Right now, I am working on Gerard Manley Hopkins’ classic Grandeur of God.

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
    It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
    It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
    And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
    And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
    Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
    World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

The poem is divided into two stanzas. Stanza 1 has a rhyme pattern of ABBA ABBA, and Stanza 2 has a rhyme pattern of ABABAB.

Stanza 1 presents us with a conflict and Stanza 2 with a resolution.

In Stanza 1, lines 1 – 3, Hopkins begins his poem referring to radiance of God’s creation: God’s grandeur that “flames out” and “gathers to a greatness.” But in line 4, beginning with the word “Crushed,” he introduces the conflict: “Why do men then now not reck his rod?”

The three sets of alliteration, one of after the other, (men-then, now-not, reck-rod), give a sense of acceleration that emphasizes the discordance that is being introduced. Despite the grandeur of God, men do not “reck” (archaic word for “heed”) His governing rod. Instead, they carelessly exploit creation, and they trod and trod and trod in their pursuit of gain, mindless of the beauty of the world around them.

As a result, the world has been “seared with trade” and “smeared with toil.” Nature has been polluted with “man’s smudge” and “man’s smell”. There has been a fundamental divorce between man and nature, and the tables have been turned: man, who once walked barefoot upon the earth, has bared the earth and no longer feels it – he has separated and insulated himself from it with his industry.

After introducing the conflict,  Hopkins offers hope in the second stanza – hope that is found in nature itself because it is “never spent”, despite man’s heedlessness. He refers to the “dearest freshness deep down things”, the unique beauty that can be found in every single thing created by God. (This unique beauty of every individual reality is a recurring theme of Hopkins’ poetry.)

Even when things seem to be irreparably marred, even after “the last lights off the black West went,”  there is always hope; morning is always on the other side of the blackness of night. There is always this hope because God the Holy Spirit remains present in His creation.

To describe the Holy Spirit (whom he refers to with the old title of “Holy Ghost”), Hopkins evokes a bird-like image, perhaps of the dove so often used as a symbol of the Paraclete. Just as a mother bird covers her young with her wings (i.e. “broods”), so tenderly does the Holy Spirit care for His creation.

Hopkins ends his poem as he started with a reference to God’s luminous beauty. At the beginning of the poem he referred to God’s beauty as it is manifested in His creation. However, at the end of the poem, he makes a symbolic reference to the beauty of God Himself with his ecstatic recognition of the “bright wings” of the Holy Spirit.


In one way are another, we all have to wake up to face a world that is “seared with trade” and “smeared with toil,” but Hopkins offers us a beautiful insight and a wonderful reminder that not all is lost. No matter how dull or drudging our daily life may seem, and no matter how weary and gray our daily environment may be, there is always “the dearest freshness deep down” in everything around us. God’s beauty still charges the world.

All we have to do is take a moment to linger in God’s grandeur for the never-depleted freshness of His creation to fill and charge our own lives.

“Beauty Will Save the World”

I have been reading a lot of the Christian reactions that have appeared on the internet since the Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage last Friday. No one is surprised by the outcome, most are very upset, and all agree that something momentous has just taken place. Decades-worth of built-up decadence has finally burst the dam, and all doubts that America has drifted from its Christian roots have been entirely dispelled. We live in a nation that so idolizes freedom that it sanctions unnatural and gravely immoral actions in the name of personal liberty.

One commentator said that America is now in a “Cold Civil War”, and I entirely agree with this statement. As our nation was once polarized by slavery, we are now polarized by gay marriage and related issues. Families are divided and friends are at odds because of mutually incompatible viewpoints. Although it has not escalated to widespread violence, as it did in the first Civil War, we are engaged in an intense verbal conflict. Whoever shouts the loudest wins, and, based on the Obergefell decision, it is not hard to see which side is shouting louder.

It is becoming more and more evident that of politics will not save our country, so I believe that we Christians need to invest our energy in other approaches. The head-on approach is often counter-productive because many people are no longer capable of rational and sincere discussion. Since we lack common principles upon which we can agree, it is next to impossible to engage in discussion in which we reason together to a consensus. Conversations on gay marriage and related moral issues quickly devolve into verbal boxing matches.

This is not to say that we should not stand up and speak the truth, nor that we should give up the political battles altogether, but rather that we should increase our efforts to evangelize through other modes of persuasion. Since rational persuasion is not working, we must turn to emotional persuasion which can be achieved through Christian beauty.

I lived in Rome for four years and fell in love with the Baroque art with which the city abounds. The Baroque style developed in large part because of the 17th-century mode of evangelization which placed its emphasis on emotional persuasion rather than on rational argumentation, employing the visual arts to communicate truth with great theatricality and dynamism. Carracci, Bernini, Borromini, and others strove to recover the sense of transcendent truth with the marvelous sublimity, soaring verticality, and explosive three-dimensionality of their art: they sought to emotionally overwhelm the viewer and thus persuade him to acknowledge a reality that surpassed his own ability to fully understand.

I strongly believe that the conversion of our nation will depend on a similar method. People can close their minds to the truth, but it is much harder to close one’s heart to beauty.

We Christians need to dig deep into our rich artistic heritage and revive it in culturally relevant ways. We need to foster a new flourishing of beautiful art in order to overwhelm the hearts, and eventually the minds, of our secular contemporaries.

Fyodor Dostoevsky once wrote that beauty will save the world. I firmly believe this, and I would like to suggest that we channel our energy towards the communication of Christian beauty. Whether we are artists or not, we can manifest the beauty of our faith by living it to the full, and by striving to make our own lives as beautiful as possible.

The Obergefell decision may be a defeat, but only in a little skirmish. Christ told us that “the gates of hell will not prevail” against us, so we know that we will win the final battle. Although our world is becoming more and more rife with the ugliness of immorality, it’s nothing more than one of the Satan’s final bursts of energy as he desperately fights to thwart the Christian revolution that began with an empty tomb 2000 years ago in Jerusalem. He knows that his time is limited. In the end, the beauty of Christian love will triumph.

How to Find Beauty When Life is Ugly

The_Body_of_the_Dead_Christ_in_the_Tomb,_and_a_detail,_by_Hans_Holbein_the_YoungerHans Holbein’s Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb shows the results of Christ’s suffering with startling realism. It depicts an emaciated and lacerated cadaver in the early stages of putrefaction. His eyes are slightly open and his skeletal hand is reaching out, giving the body a disturbing semblance of life and making it seem as if Christ is still suffering. The body is shown without the onlookers typical in similar artistic renditions, thus intensifying the isolation of death. We are the only ones who have been placed in disconcerting intimacy with the dead body of Our Lord.

Holbein radically departs from the tradition of showing the suffering Christ with at least some physical beauty. He does not shy from showing his suffering and death with all of its ugliness and horror. With unflinching realism, he puts us up close and personal with the agony of Christ so as to shock us out of indifference or complacency regarding what Our Savior did for us.

Making Sense of Ugliness

In “Charged with Grandeur”: the Universe and You I wrote aboutroad-flower-sm600 the amazing beauty of God’s Creation. The world is indeed charged with God’s grandeur, but we are all well aware that ugliness exists in our world as well, and plenty of it, unfortunately. How do we make sense of it, especially when we are forced to bear it ourselves?

The answer is found in the suffering Face of him who was “crushed for our sins.”

Our postmodern world tells us that beauty is just an illusion; it tells us that reality is fundamentally ugly and cruel. We can either hide from the ugliness and absurdity of life, or we can defiantly rebel against it, asserting our freedom even as we accept the very meaninglessness of doing so. It tells us to stop seeking hope and truth, because there is none.

Is beauty really just an illusion? Our answer as Christians is a resounding “No!” Thanks to the suffering of Jesus Christ, the ugliness of suffering has been made subject to the deeper beauty of love.

The Face of Beauty

No one puts is better than Pope Benedict:

“Precisely in the Face [of Christ] that is so disfigured there appears the genuine, the ultimate beauty: the beauty of love that goes ‘to the very end’ and thus proves to be mightier than falsehood and violence.” This is “the Love that can risk setting aside his external beauty in order to proclaim, in this very way, the truth of beauty.”

imageIt’s true that we live in a world that is replete with ugliness, but it is also true that precisely because of this ugliness, an even greater beauty is present, a beauty that would not exist if it were not for the ugliness that it conquers.

All of us have to deal with ugliness in one form or another. It may be the ugliness of physical or mental suffering in our own lives or in the lives of loved ones. It may be the ugliness of injustice or human spite. It may be the ugliness of greed or lust or sloth. It may be the ugliness of addiction. Whatever the form that it takes, we need to keep it very clear in our minds that it will not have the final say, nor does it have the power to eclipse beauty in your life.

Your Final Beauty

Taking the Twelve aside again, Jesus began to tell them what was going to happen to him. “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the Gentiles who will mock him, spit upon him, scourge him, and put him to death, but after three days he will rise. – Mark 10:32-34

Jesus went to Jerusalem knowing that he would have to face a lot of
ugliness, but he also knew what awaited him at the end of it all: the beauty of his Resurrection. Thanks to his love until “the very end,” he carried out the most beautiful act of human history: his Passion.

When life presents you with ugliness, remember that God20140418-112248.jpg is allowing it only so that a greater beauty may come about. Every time you suffer out of love for him and for others, you make yourself more and more the beautiful person whom God made you to be.

“Charged with Grandeur”: the Universe and You

THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God./It will flame out, like shining from shook foil. – Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

The Vatican Observatory in Castel Gandolfo
The Vatican Observatory in Castel Gandolfo

Shortly after arriving in Rome four years ago, I went to the Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence, to attend the weekly address of Pope Benedict. I was just getting over my jet lag and feeling a little overwhelmed by the newness of living in a foreign country, so it was a welcome surprise to find myself waiting for the Pope next to a friendly American Jesuit. He introduced himself as Fr. David Brown and we began chatting; since it turned out that we knew people in common (it’s a small Catholic world) and had similar interests, we hit it off right away.

Visiting the Vatican Observatory 

Since then, Fr. Brown has come to be a great friend and mentor who is always more than willing to host me at the Vatican Observatory in Castel Gandolfo, where he is a resident astronomer. Like the fictional Chesterton character with whom he shares a name, Fr. Brown’s unassuming and kind demeanor hides an incredible intellect: not only is he a brilliant astrophysicist with a doctorate from Oxford, but he also speaks Spanish, Italian, and French fluently. I love visiting with him and benefiting not only from his vast intellectual knowledge, but also from his spiritual wisdom, which is no less extensive.

I have taken advantage of his invitations to visit the VaticanThe bright light of a solar flare on the left side of the sun is seen in this NASA handout image Observatory on a couple of occasions and I always leave very impressed. On one occasion, he took me up to one of their massive telescopes to look at the sun. After putting on the sun glass and focusing, he let me take a peak, and I was mesmerized by why I saw: despite the 93,000,000 miles of distance, I could see the surface of the sun, make out sun spots, and distinguish solar flares. It was incredibly beautiful.

Looking at the sun that day was more than a cool experience: for me, it was an epiphany. If the sun is so mesmerizingly beautiful, how much more must be the God who created it!

An Amazingly Calibrated Planet

We live in an incredibly fine-tuned universe. Everyday, we see the sun rise and we see it set, but seldom do we take the time to consider that if the sun were even slightly closer to us, or if it were even slightly larger, the Earth would be incapable of supporting life, and we wouldn’t exist.

In his book, Miracles, Eric Metaxas spends an entire chapter marveling at the very fact that our life-supporting planet even exists; when you think about it, it truly is a miracle! As he puts it,

Our existence is a statistical and scientific virtual impossibility. That may sound far-fetched, but it’s what the most advanced science now leads us to conclude: that the odds are stacked so dramatically against even a single planet in the universe possessing the proper environment to support life that the existence of this planet and life is an anomaly of an impossibly high order. 

downloadThe Earth is a complex and amazingly delicate reality. For our planet to be capable of life, there is a huge amount of conditions that have to be met, and each condition allows for only the most infinitesimal margin of error. If Earth were just slightly larger and had just slightly more gravity, toxic gases such as methane and ammonia would remain too close to the surface for life to be possible. If Earth were just slightly smaller, water vapor would dissipate leaving a virtually waterless planet. If it rotated just slightly slower, our nights would be too cold and our days would be too hot. If it rotated just a little more quickly, winds would reach insupportable velocities.

A Fine-Tuned Solar System

Additionally, there are a number of conditions that need to be met in our solar system for our fragile planet to be able to exist. For example, if it weren’t for massive Jupiter, Earth would be hit a thousand times more frequently by comets and comet debris. Thanks to the fact that our humongous neighbor has 318 times the mass of Earth and thus 318 times the gravity, many comets that come anywhere near us are absorbed into its gaseous depths; but in most cases, it simply deflects incoming debris away from our solar system.

We also owe a lot to the moon. Since it has just the right size and is409950main_image_1538_946-710_Moon_NASA just the right distance from the Earth, it stabilizes the Earth’s rotational axis at its current optimal angle, without which we would not have our seasons nor our relatively stable temperatures.

If the moon were just a little bigger, we would be dealing with hundred-foot tides, which would make coastal cities and maritime travel impossible. If it were slightly smaller, the tides would not be strong enough to cleanse coastal seawater and replenish its nutrients.

Marveling at the extremely fine calibration of our universe, we cannot help but be moved to worship its Creator.

Deum Creatorem venite adoremus! 

The Creator of the Universe and Your Father

hands-440But here’s an awesome thing to think about: all the attention that God put into creating the universe is no less than the attention that He put into creating you! Just as He perfectly planned every detail of the solar system and set it up just right, so has He planned out your life and guides you towards eternal happiness.


The reflections on our fine-tuned universe were taken from Eric Metaxas’ book Miracles, which I highly recommend as a faith-inspiring and wonderfully entertaining read.

Fleeing Beauty

fliesSome years back, while doing an internship in New York City as a seminarian, I regularly went to the Upper West Side of Manhattan to teach a catechism class. It so happened that the family hosting the classes had an interesting contemporary art collection in their apartment. For weeks, as I went from the foyer to the living room, I would walk past a large black rectangular object hanging on the wall behind plexiglass. My curiosity was always piqued, but I never took the time to get a close look at it until the afternoon of my last class.

As I inspected the object, it took me a while to fully register what I was looking at: the artwork had a maximum depth of about five inches, the surface was uneven and lumpy, it was made of small pieces of something that I could not quite make out… As I leaned in to look closer, I realized what those pieces were: flies! I was looking at thousands of house flies that had been glued together and displayed as a work of art behind glass in the foyer of a private home.

Even though people will always marvel at beautiful things, this does not stop them from producing things which are not. I wrote previously in the Power of Beauty, that although we live in a relativistic world that rejects Truth, it can never fully reject Beauty: no sane person will call a truly beautiful image, like Michelangelo’s Pietà, “ugly” . However, we must nevertheless admit that the artistic world of today flies (no pun intended) from Beauty. A contemporary artist or an art collector may not deny the beauty of the Sistine Chapel, but he will likely deny that he is beholden to such standards of beauty.

beautyAs the English philosopher and aesthete, Roger Scruton, writes in his excellent book entitled Beauty, people flee Beauty because its acceptance implies a limitation of their freedom: to admit beauty is to admit that there is a deeper meaning to this world, one that is not compatible with narcissistic, arbitrary  liberty.

To admit that some things are objectively beautiful brings one very close to admitting that there is an absolute source of Beauty and, ultimately, of Truth, which is unacceptable to a relativistic world that wants truth to be submitted to the absolute freedom of each individual.

We live in a culture that is willing to sacrifice Beauty and Truth for the sake of a false idea of personal freedom. We must counter this by living lives that are charged with Beauty and oriented towards the Truth. We must show that true freedom can only be achieved by living lives in accord with the True and the Beautiful, which is to live in accord with God Himself.


This small reflection was inspired by a superb essay which can be found at the blog Journey towards Easter:  Roger Scruton: the Flight from Beauty.

The Power of Beauty

imageOver the years, I have lived in and near many different cities, but none of them can boast of the artistic beauty that fills Rome. After living here three years, I finally had the chance to join a bus tour of the city, which allowed to me appreciate even more its density of history and artwork. Most of the time, I get around Rome on foot or in bus, so, until yesterday, my trips limited me to one part of the city at a time.

The bus started in the south, near St. Paul Outside the Walls, and then worked its way around the city in a roughly counter-clockwise fashion passing Circus Maximus, the Palatine Hill,  Campidoglio,  the Colosseum, Piazza della Repubblica, Villa Borghese, the Milvian Bridge, Castel Sant’Angelo, and finally St. Peter’s Basilica. Throughout the entire trip, it was impossible to look out the window without seeing something of historic or artistic significance. We passed churches that are homes to Caravaggios and Berninis, and palazzos packed with art collections that are the envy of many a museum.

During our circumnavigation of the Eternal City, I began thinkingmichelangelo_-_creation_of_adam-29p8ptc about something that has frequently been on my mind of late: the power of Beauty. The other day, a good friend of mine who works at the Vatican Museums said something that sparked this reflection: “No one argues with the Church in the Sistine Chapel.” It’s so true! I give lots of tours of the Sistine Chapel to all sorts of people, and I have noticed that surrounded by the grandeur Michelangelo’s frescos, even the most hardened atheist is disarmed. You can’t argue with Beauty.

We live in a highly secular world that has paradoxically come to an all-time low of irrationality, despite our amazing scientific progress. What I mean is that while we have certainly advanced in science, we have lost a lot of ground in true wisdom. A good number of us are extremely knowledgeable in science and other areas, but fewer and fewer of us are open to the Truth that transcends all knowledge: the supernatural Truth of God.

imageIn our world, all truth (except for what can be proven through scientific experiments) has become relative, a matter of personal choice. As a result, lacking a true framework upon which to base our decisions, our emotions have become the driving force behind what we decide to do and believe. For example, there are people with whom I could sit down and walk through Thomas Aquinas’s five extremely logical proofs of the existence of God, and yet at the end they would still tell me, “That may be true for you, but it’s not true for me.” There is not much more that you can say to such people who are so blinded to the truth by their emotions. As Thomas Paine put it, “To argue with someone who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead.” Unfortunately, much of our world is tainted to one degree or another by emotional irrationality.

However, there is still hope. As Dostoevsky wrote in a one of his novels, “Beauty will save the world”: in the post-modern world, this is truer than ever. People may obstinately argue against Truth, but no one can argue with Beauty. Presented with the truth of rational proofs of God’s existence, someone may be able to say “That is false”, but presented with the beauty of the Sistine Chapel or a symphony by Beethoven, no sane human being will say “That’s ugly.” Our recognition of Truth can be confused, but our appreciation of Beauty is so deeply ingrained in human nature that it is inseparable.

The good news is that Beauty and Truth are intimately connected, so once you touch someone with the former, it is just a matter of time before you can bring him to accept the latter, and I attest to that personally.

Beauty touches our hearts and awakens in us our inborn desire for God, who is Beauty Itself. As C.S. Lewis once wrote:

We do not merely want to see beauty…We want something else which can hardly be put into words – to be united with the beauty that we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become a part of it…

This longing will only be fully satisfied when we finally behold God in all of His Beauty and Truth.

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I strive to lead a beauty-oriented life, recognizing and appreciating the beauty of the world that I live in and the men and women who fill it. I have dedicated myself to bring as many people as possible to experience the Beauty of God and at the same time recognize their own supernatural beauty. My goal with this blog is to share with you how Beauty has touched and continues to touch my life, with the hope that it may resonate with and touch you as well.

Let’s marvel at Beauty together!