Tag Archives: Bernini

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.

Explosion of Love: the Holy Spirit in Your Life

Back-of-Chair-of-St-PeterOne of my favorite works of art here in Rome is Bernini’s Chair of Peter. This masterpiece employs a variety of media in typically Baroque fashion: the chair and the Fathers of the Church are made of bronze, the Holy Spirit is alabaster, and the angels surrounding the Holy Spirit are gold 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  into the Basilica with amazing power: the angelic figures surrounding it are blown back from the dove, even as some try to go towards it.

A Gentle Wave

a-surfer-rides-a-powerful-wave-off-the-north-shore-of-maui-island-1Although the Third Person of the Holy Trinity is often referred to as “Gentle Guest of the Soul”, his gentleness in no way diminishes his power, and I can say that from personal experience. Although he never forces himself upon us and always awaits our consent, as soon as we give it, he does indeed feel like an explosion as all of his divine energy is manifested in our lives.

I like to think of life in the Spirit as surfing, but with one big difference: as powerful as this “wave” is, it protects and cares for us, never letting us fall or topple. The Holy Spirit is mighty, yet gentle. While he can amaze and disconcert, perhaps making us a little nervous, he never harms us and he always looks out for our personal well-being.

Explosion into my Life

The first time that the Holy Spirit exploded into my life was not long after I received the sacrament of confirmation at the age of 14. Although at the time I barely knew what I was doing, looking back there is no doubt that confirmation marked a major turning point in my life.

BBDiacOrdin2010575-NAC-Magazines-conflicted-copy-2012-01-29With my confirmation began an amazing series of events (material for a whole other blog!) that led me to make a radical, life-changing decision, one that I attribute to Holy Spirit: I decided to leave home to enter a minor seminary.

It was a huge decision, and people have asked me whether I was ready to take such a step. All that I can say is that, despite my age, I was entirely convinced – I simply knew it.  Beyond any doubt, I was certain that God was calling me to the priesthood, and this conviction has remained undiminished for the past 15 years.

My journey since then has been an amazing one: it has been one long explosion of the Holy Spirit. He has taken me to places I never dreamed I would live and had me do things that I never dreamed I would be able to do, all along purifying me and drawing me closer to himself. I have been pushed out of my comfort zone, learned new languages, and met amazing people.

Exploding through the Centuries

On Sunday, we celebrate the Solemnity of Pentecost, the day that the Holy Spirit burst into the lives of the Apostles and poured himself upon the infant Church. It was the beginning of one big explosion that has lasted for almost two millennia. From Pentecost onward, each of the Apostles was caught up in the Holy Spirit and led to do incredible things, everything that Christ had promised them before his Ascension in Heaven:

These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages. They will pick up deadly serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them.  They will lay hands on the sick and they will recover.  – Mark 16:17-18

Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father. – John 14:12

pentecost-canadaWe have to realize that as members of the Body of Christ, we are a part of this same explosion of the Holy Spirit into the world and into history. Even though we are human beings constricted by time and space, the Holy Spirit transcends these limitations and does amazing things through us. When we open ourselves to his action, we should not be surprised when amazing things start happening.