Archive for June, 2011
Alice von Hildebrand, wife of the Catholic philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand, examines the thoughts of two very different leading philosophers of aesthetics. First is Jacques Maritain and the second her husband. Alice von Hildebrand is professor emerita of philosophy at Hunter College of the City University of New York and a renowned author and speaker.
While many revere her husband Dietrich von Hildebrand as a religious author, few realize that he was a philosopher of great stature and importance. “Those who knew von Hildebrand as philosopher held him in the highest esteem. Louis Bouyer, for example, once said that “von Hildebrand was the most important Catholic philosopher in Europe between the two world wars.” Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger expressed even greater esteem when he said: “I am personally convinced that, when, at some time in the future, the intellectual history of the Catholic Church in the twentieth century is written, the name of Dietrich von Hildebrand will be most prominent among the figures of our time.”
Maritain at the time of his death in 1973 was arguably the most well known Catholic philosopher. Despite his fame it is not easy to place Maritain’s work within the history of philosophy in the 20th century. “Clearly, his influence was strongest in those countries where Thomistic philosophy had pride of place. While his political philosophy led him, at least in his time, to be considered a liberal and even a social democrat, he eschewed socialism and, in Le paysan de la Garonne, was an early critic of many of the religious reforms that followed the Second Vatican Council. One can say, then, that he would be considered by present-day liberals as too conservative, and by many conservatives as too liberal. Again, though generally considered to be a Thomist, the extent to which he was is a matter of some debate. Indeed, according to Etienne Gilson, Maritain’s ‘Thomism’ was really an epistemology and, hence, not a real Thomism at all. There is, not surprisingly, no generally shared view of the precise character of Maritain’s philosophy.”
Having taught both ethics and aesthetics many times in the course of my career, I’ve come to the conclusion that the latter is a much more demanding task. In both cases, the enemy to be fought is the deeply rooted relativism and subjectivism prevalent in our society. But in ethics, there’s always a possibility that students will agree that in some cases, the evil nature of certain acts cannot be contested.
But when it comes to aesthetic appreciation of individual works of art — much as thinkers might agree on some basic principles — the disagreements are baffling. Two philosophers might agree that there’s a hierarchy among beautiful objects but disagree violently as to which one is actually more beautiful.
Is aesthetic appreciation a question of taste, as one can like or dislike beer? Tastes cannot be debated, and such debates would be totally meaningless.
Just as mystifying is the fact that some great artists have often shown no appreciation for other artists. One is tempted to assume that artists are qualified to pass judgment on the works of their peers, but this is far from the case. It is amazing, for example, that an artistic giant such as Michelangelo “was singularly hard on Flemish painting,” “which attempting to do so many things does none of them well” (Maritain, Creative Intuition). Just as amazing is El Greco’s judgment on the same artist: “Michelangelo was a good man, but he did not know how to paint” (Ibid.). These assertions are so shocking that one’s tempted to draw the conclusion that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder and is therefore purely subjective.
Both Jacques Maritain and Dietrich von Hildebrand have written extensively on aesthetics. As close as these two devout Catholics were on central philosophical questions — the existence of God, the objectivity of moral values, the capacity that man’s mind has to reach absolute truth — their approach to aesthetics was vastly different.
Both men were great devotees of art. As a young man and later with his wife, Raissa, Maritain enjoyed going to the Louvre and contemplating its treasures. Dietrich von Hildebrand was the son of a great artist, brought up in Florence, acquainted with leading musicians and artists. He wrote his two-volume Aesthetics (close to a thousand pages) when he was more than 80 and completed the work in less than a year. Alice, the author of this piece was his wife.
Maritain based his views of aesthetics on the philosophy of St. Thomas. In his early work, Art and Scholasticism, Maritain acknowledged his debt to his master. But aesthetics, as Etienne Gilson remarked, is a field in which the Angelic Doctor had made but few major contributions.
In his writings, Maritain distinguished between two types of beauty: The first was “beauty as transcendental,” that is to say that beauty — like being, truth, and goodness — transcends all categories for the simple reason that it is a property of everything that exists. In other words, everything that is is beautiful. For God, Maritain argued, everything is beautiful, though he clarified this in a footnote:
Evil, it is true — the wound of nothingness by which the freedom of a creature deforms a voluntary act — is ugly in the eyes of God. But no being is ugly, as Angelus Silesius (Johann Scheffler) repeatedly points out.
Thus not only does Silesius claim that everything is beautiful, but he writes that “a frog is as beautiful as a Seraphic angel.” Whether everything is beautiful is one thing. The claim that an animal is as beautiful as an angel is quite another. Let us assume for the time being that the first assertion is true, and the second is obviously false. As there is a hierarchy of being, there is also a hierarchy of beauty: To claim that a saint is as beautiful as the Holy Virgin is plainly false.
One can also ask whether man can really know how God experiences beauty. Being Beauty itself, He need not perceive it frontally, as angels and humans do. Maritain proceeds: “Thus, just as everything is in its own way, and is good in its own way, so everything is beautiful in its own way.”
But this transcendental beauty isn’t what our senses perceive. And so we have another distinction that Maritain calls “aesthetic beauty,” that is, the type of beauty that we perceive through our eyes and ears. While transcendental beauty is intellectually perceived, our senses play a vital part in aesthetic beauty. The result is that not all things are beautiful to us. Writes Maritain: “The presence of the senses, which depend on our fleshly constitution, is inherently involved in the notion of aesthetic beauty. I would say that aesthetic beauty, which is not all beauty for man but which is the beauty most naturally proportioned to the human mind, is a particular determination of transcendental beauty: it is transcendental beauty as confronting not simply the intellect, but the intellect and the sense acting together in one single act.“
Maritain didn’t stop there. He further praises Jean Paul Sartre for having highlighted the fact that ugliness, filth, and their cortege of negative characteristics are a category in existence. In other words, ugliness is a human phenomenon: that which is ugly, being seen, displeases; “where there is no sense, there is no category of ugliness.” For purely spiritual beings, “everything is a kind of spatial-temporal number, as Pythagoras saw it.” And if certain objects are experienced by man as noxious, “it is not because they are noxious, it is essentially because they are repugnant to the inner proportion or harmony of the sense itself.”
Ultimately, then, the artist aims at absorbing aesthetic beauty in transcendental beauty.
One can question whether it’s really true that “for a pure intellect, everything is a kind of spatial-temporal number, as Pythagoras saw it.” Certainly, there is such a thing as a beautiful mathematical demonstration, but one can raise the question whether this beauty can trigger in us the enchantment and Sursum Corda [Vocab: (Latin for "Lift up your hearts") (Slavonic: Милост мира) is the opening dialogue to the Preface of the Eucharistic Prayer or Anaphora in the liturgies of the Christian Church, dating back to at least the third century and the Anaphora of the Apostolic Tradition.] that we experience in contemplating a great work of art or a glorious sunset.
Once the mind has perceived the convincing luminosity of a geometrical demonstration, the latter is hardly an object that it will contemplate over and over again. What is typical of the aesthetic experience is the desire to go from a joyful acquaintance with a beautiful object to a contemplative attitude characterized by the desire to dwell on it again and again. Quantum notiores, tantum cariores, writes St. Augustine. The better we know it, the more we love it. He who does not wish to go back to Florence because he’s seen it once is either blind to its beauty or very foolish. We rate our love for a piece of art according to our longing to see or hear it again.
Which one of us would prefer to have a Pythagorean acquaintance with aesthetic beauty than the one granted to us through our eyes and ears? John Henry Cardinal Newman had a particular love for music. In his monumental biography of this great English writer, Ian Ker writes that, listening to Beethoven’s quartets, “. . . he thought them more exquisite than ever” — “so that I was obliged to lay down the instrument and literally cry out with delight.” (Let us not forget that the English are well-known for controlling their feelings.) It’s hard to imagine that upon giving assent to the Euclidian proof that the sum of the angles of a triangle is equal to two right angles, Newman would have expressed the same explosive joy.
A Very Different View
Von Hildebrand’s presentation is different. He rejects the notion that whatever exists is beautiful and justifies his position — partly — by appealing to what he calls “metaphysical beauty.” This differs from transcendental beauty because it isn’t a characteristic of being. Rather it’s the radiance, the splendor, the glory of every value. But what is meant by value? Von Hildebrand distinguishes between two categories. The first he calls “ontological.” These are characterized by the fact that a being either possesses them or not. For example, man has an ontological value that is shared by all men: They’re all equally men.
Moreover, ontological values have no opposite: Logically, the opposite of man is “non-man;” but non-man is a concept, not a real entity. The universe is a hierarchy, and ontological values are structured according to this hierarchy. At the top, we have God, then angels, then men, then higher animals, then lower ones, then plants, then inanimate matter. Each one of them, according to its value and dignity, possesses beauty.
Von Hildebrand remarks further that it’s vitally important for human beings to be aware of their ontological value — their dignity as persons made in God’s image and likeness. The pantheistic view that we’re but drops in an immense universe is fake humility, a subtle lack of gratitude for the fact that God — in His infinite bounty and generosity — has metaphysically “knighted” us.
Apart from ontological values that are more or less beautiful according to their ontological rank, von Hildebrand speaks about qualitative values, moral values, intellectual values, and aesthetical values, to mention the most important ones. These clearly differ from ontological values for the obvious reason that one can possess them more or less. Men are not equally just, or kind, or generous, or beautiful. Some are geniuses, some are intellectually talented, and some have a mediocre intelligence. Some are exceptionally handsome, some are pleasant-looking, and some have a physical appearance that only a mother’s love can appreciate.
Moreover, qualitative values have opposites: Moral goodness is opposed to moral evil; stupidity antagonizes intelligence; ugliness is at loggerheads with beauty. He stresses the fact that moral wickedness isn’t just an absence of goodness, but, alas, a very real quality called sin, which, because of its reality, offends God. Stupidity isn’t just a weak intelligence but a full-fledged negative quality. And ugliness isn’t just an absence of beauty but wages war on it.
The author tells us, further, that qualitative values are beautiful and that once again, their degree of beauty depends on the degree in which a good incorporates this value. In other words, the moral value of a saint is infinitely more beautiful than the moral value of an honest man. Plato’s genius is more beautiful than the mind of a thinker of lower rank. Good is opposed to evil, intelligence to stupidity, beauty to ugliness.
Qualitative values, as opposed to ontological ones, shouldn’t make us focus on our own persons. The saint doesn’t contemplate his own humility — that would be the best and fastest way to lose it. The person endowed with remarkable intellectual gifts should be concerned about using the gifts for God’s glory and not gloat over them. Similarly, the beautiful person who is narcissistic would inevitably lose one dimension of aesthetic beauty.
All values are beautiful, whether ontological or qualitative. But in all of them, except in aesthetic values, beauty isn’t the theme. Rather, it’s a halo, a perfume that necessarily accompanies them, but shouldn’t be the locus of our interest. Moreover, all of them (except some aesthetic values) are intellectually perceived. Whereas only persons can be morally good or intelligent, aesthetic values can be found in every single level of being: An animal can be beautiful, as can plants and inanimate matter. Beauty is the most universal of all values. It’s found both in ontological and qualitative values.
But some aesthetic values (should we call them artistic values?) need the integrity of our sight and hearing in order to be perceived. In this Maritain and von Hildebrand agree. The beauty that we find in art is “thematic.” The philosopher worthy of the name should be a truth lover and a truth seeker. Neither his “brilliance” nor his style should be our concern in reading his works. The one question that is crucial is: Is what he says true? This does not prevent us from appreciating his stylistic gifts, but his work should not be rated according to it. The aesthete — that is, the person who makes of beauty his one exclusive concern — would have to rate Nietzsche above Aristotle because of the beauty of his style. This would clearly be a perversion.
The artist’s aim should be to create beauty. If he fails to do so, he is a bad artist. A writer whose novels are boring and clumsy is a bad writer. And a philosopher whose aim is “originality” and who cares not whether his claims are justified by agreeing with reality is a bad philosopher.
Clearly, Maritain and von Hildebrand have different approaches to aesthetic beauty. As mentioned, the latter makes no use of “transcendental beauty,” arguing that the knowledge that something exists does not guarantee that this object is beautiful.
Moreover, both thinkers differ in their interpretation of sense-perceived beauty. Maritain considers it a purely human phenomenon, as it necessarily presupposes sense perception. Far from denying the importance of the senses, von Hildebrand differs from the French philosopher in his claim that whereas the beauty of a painting or of music is perceived through the senses, the message it delivers totally transcends the world of matter.
Whereas for Maritain, sense experiences are purely human, both Newman and von Hildebrand claim that though man’s senses are necessarily involved, the message they communicate radically transcends the world of pure matter. It transmits a message coming from above, some mysterious echo of “the eternal hills” that sharpen our longing for Beauty itself — that is, God.
In metaphysical beauty there’s a perfect proportion between the dignity of the object and its beauty. In sense-perceived beauty — and this is a mirandum — there’s a total disproportion between the material used and the result obtained. What, after all, are tones? What are colors and forms? What are canvasses and bronze? They rank low on the metaphysical scale, but by some mysterious artistic transformation, they can radiate a beauty that brings tears to our eyes.
This is why von Hildebrand speaks of a quasi-sacramental dimension of sense-perceived beauty. In baptism, plain water is poured on the head of a child, while the priest pronounces some words, and lo, through these mediums, the Holy Trinity takes hold of the child’s soul and blots out the stain of original sin. Our response to beauty is awe, enchantment, gratitude — something that a meditation on purely abstract being cannot give us. Our senses are like windows opened to a sublime world — a sort of Promised Land. This explains the deepest stirrings of the heart, this profound emotion that takes the one whose eyes and ears are opened to the message of beauty.
The aesthetic difference between Maritain and von Hildebrand also finds its expression in their appreciation of concrete works of art. Maritain — a close friend of Georges Rouault — sees 19th- and early 20th-century French painting as a climax of artistic beauty. Echoing her husband, Raissa Maritain calls Rouault “the greatest religious painter of our time” and adds “one of the greatest painters of all times.”
Maritain feels so strongly about this that he doesn’t hesitate to disparage the distinguished historian of art, Hans Sedlmayr, for criticizing Cezanne in his famous work Verlust de Mitte. (Maritain accused Sedlmayr and Fritz Novotny of being “biased doctrinaires” and of making “blind judgments” for detecting in Maritain’s favorite painter the germs of cultural degeneration.)
Von Hildebrand would certainly not place Cezanne, Rouault, Chagall, Braque, and some of the “most durable works of Picasso” on the level of Giotto, Giorgione, Titian, Leonardo, or Michelangelo (to mention some of the many geniuses that Catholic culture has produced).
The reader is free to draw his own conclusions. Disagreements between art lovers — much less philosophers — don’t prevent us from claiming that artistic beauty is a great gift, not only in our human life but in our religious life as well. Indeed, it’s a faint reflection of the Eternal Beauty.
The moment one touches a transcendental, one touches being itself, a likeness of God, an absolute, that which ennobles and delights our life; one enters into the domain of the spirit. It is remarkable that men really communicate with one another only by passing through being or one of its properties. Only in this way do they escape from the individuality in which matter encloses them. If they remain in the world of their sense needs and of their sentimental egos, in vain do they tell their stories to one another, they do not understand each other. They observe each other without seeing each other, each one of them infinitely alone, even though work or sense pleasures bind them together.
But let one touch the good and Love, like the saints, the true, like an Aristotle, the beautiful, like a Dante or a Bach or a Giotto, then contact is made, souls communicate. Men are really united only by the spirit; light alone brings them together, intellectualia et rationalia omnia congregans, et indestructibilia faciens.
Art in general tends to make a work. But certain arts tend to make a beautiful work, and in this they differ essentially from all the others. The work to which all the other arts tend is itself ordered to the service of man, and is therefore a simple means; and it is entirely enclosed in a determined material genus. The work to which the fine arts tend is ordered to beauty; as beautiful, it is an end, an absolute, it suffices of itself; and if, as work-to-be-made, it is material and enclosed in a genus, as beautiful it belongs to the kingdom of the spirit and plunges deep into the transcendence and the infinity of being.
The fine arts thus stand out in the genus art as man stands out in the genus animal. And like man himself they are like a horizon where matter and spirit meet. They have a spiritual soul. Hence they possess many distinctive properties. Their contact with the beautiful modifies in them certain characteristics of art in general, notably, as I shall try to show, with respect to the rules of art; on the other hand, this contact discloses and carries to a sort of excess other generic characteristics of the virtue of art, above all its intellectual character and its resemblance to the speculative virtues.
There is a curious analogy between the fine arts and wisdom. Like wisdom, they are ordered to an object which transcends man and which is of value in itself, and whose amplitude is limitless, for beauty, like being, is infinite. They are disinterested, desired for themselves, truly noble because their work taken in itself is not made in order that one may use it as a means, but in order that one may enjoy it as an end, being a true fruit, aliquid ultimum et delectabile. Their whole value is spiritual, and their mode of being is contemplative. For if contemplation is not their act, as it is the act of wisdom, nevertheless they aim at producing an intellectual delight, that is to say, a kind of contemplation; and they also presuppose in the artist a kind of contemplation, from which the beauty of the work must overflow.
That is why we may apply to them, with due allowance, what Saint Thomas says of wisdom when he compares it to play: “The contemplation of wisdom is rightly compared to play, because of two things that one finds in play. The first is that play is delightful, and the contemplation of wisdom has the greatest delight, according to what Wisdom says of itself in Ecclesiasticus: my spirit is sweet above honey. The second is that the movements of play are not ordered to anything else, but are sought for themselves. And it is the same with the delights of wisdom. . . . That is why divine Wisdom compares its delight to play: I was delighted every day, playing before him in the world. “
But Art remains, nevertheless, in the order of Making, and it is by drudgery upon some matter that it aims at delighting the spirit. Hence for the artist a strange and saddening condition, image itself of man’s condition in the world, where he must wear himself out among bodies and live with the spirits. Though reproaching the old poets for holding Divinity to be jealous, Aristotle acknowledges that they were right in saying that the possession of wisdom is in the strict sense reserved to Divinity alone: “It is not a human possession, for human nature is a slave in so many ways.” To produce beauty likewise belongs to God alone in the strict sense. And if the condition of the artist is more human and less exalted than that of the wise man, it is also more discordant and more painful, because his activity does not remain wholly within the pure immanence of spiritual operations, and does not in itself consist in contemplating, but in making. Without enjoying the substance and the peace of wisdom, he is caught up in the hard exigencies of the intellect and the speculative life, and he is condemned to all the servile miseries of practice and of temporal production.
“Dear Brother Leo, God’s little beast, even if a Friar Minor spoke the language of the angels and raised to life a man dead for four days, note it well that it is not therein that perfect joy is found. . . .”
Even if the artist were to encompass in his work all the light of heaven and all the grace of the first garden, he would not have perfect joy, because he is following wisdom’s footsteps and running by the scent of its perfumes, but does not possess it. Even if the philosopher were to know all the intelligible reasons and all the properties of being, he would not have perfect joy, because his wisdom is human. Even if the theologian were to know all the analogies of the divine processions and all the whys and the wherefores of Christ’s actions, he would not have perfect joy, because his wisdom has a divine origin but a human mode, and a human voice.
Ah! les voix, mourez donc, mourantes que vows etes!
The Poor and the Peaceful alone have perfect joy because they possess wisdom and contemplation par excellence, in the silence of creatures and in the voice of Love; united without intermediary to subsisting Truth, they know “the sweetness that God gives and the delicious taste of the Holy Spirit.” This is what prompted Saint Thomas, a short time before his death, to say of his unfinished Summa: “It seems to me as so much straw”– mihi videtur ut palea. Human straw: the Parthenon and Notre-Dame de Chartres, the Sistine Chapel and the Mass in D — and which will be burned on the last day! “Creatures have no savor.”
I feel today that I must apologize for the sort of thoughtlessness with which I adopted this phrase here. One must have little experience of created things, or much experience of divine things, in order to be able to speak in this way. In general, formulas of contempt with regard to created things belong to a conventional literature that is difficult to endure. The creature is deserving of compassion, not contempt; it exists only because it is loved. It is deceptive because it has too much savor, and because this savor is nothing in comparison with the being of God. 
The Middle Ages knew this order. The Renaissance shattered it. After three centuries of infidelity, prodigal Art aspired to become the ultimate end of man, his Bread and his Wine, the consubstantial mirror of beatific Beauty. And the poet hungry for beatitude who asked of art the mystical fullness that God alone can give, has been able to open out only onto Sige l’abime.
Rimbaud’s silence marks perhaps the end of a secular apostasy. In any case it clearly signifies that it is folly to seek in art the words of eternal life and the repose of the human heart; and that the artist, if he is not to shatter his art or his soul, must simply be, as artist, what art wants him to be — a good workman.
And now the modern world, which had promised the artist everything, soon will scarcely leave him even the bare means of subsistence. Founded on the two unnatural principles of the fecundity of money and the finality of the useful, multiplying needs and servitude without the possibility of there ever being a limit, destroying the leisure of the soul, withdrawing the material factibile from the control which proportioned it to the ends of the human being, and imposing on man the panting of the machine and the accelerated movement of matter, the system of nothing but the earth is imprinting on human activity a truly inhuman mode and a diabolical direction, for the final end of all this frenzy is to prevent man from resembling God,
dum nil perenne cogitat,
seseque culpis illigat.
while thinking but the thoughts of time,
they weave new chains of woe and crime
Attributed to Pope St. Gregory the Great (540-604), Hymn, O Blest Creator of the Light
Consequently he must, if he is to be logical, treat as useless, and therefore as rejected, all that by any grounds bears the mark of the spirit.
Or it will even be necessary that heroism, truth, virtue, beauty become useful values — the best, the most loyal instruments of propaganda and of control of temporal powers.
Persecuted like the wise man and almost like the saint, the artist will perhaps recognize his brothers at last and discover his true vocation again: for in a way he is not of this world, being, from the moment that he works for beauty, on the path which leads upright souls to God and manifests to them the invisible things by the visible. However rare may be at such a time those who will not want to please the Beast and to turn with the wind, it is in them, by the very fact that they will exercise a disinterested activity, that the human race will live.
The speculations of the ancients concerning the beautiful must be taken in the most formal sense; we must avoid materializing their thought in any too narrow specification. There is not just one way but a thousand or ten thousand ways in which the notion of integrity or perfection or completion can be realized. The lack of a head or an arm is quite a considerable lack of integrity in a woman but of very little account in a statue — whatever disappointment M. Ravaisson may have felt at not being able to complete the Venus de Milo. The least sketch of da Vinci’s or even of Rodin’s is more complete than the most perfect Bouguereau. And if it pleases a futurist to give the lady he is painting only one eye, or a quarter of an eye, no one denies him the right to do this: one asks only — here is the whole problem — that this quarter of an eye be precisely all the eye this lady needs in the given case.
It is the same with proportion, fitness and harmony. They are diversified according to the objects and according to the ends. The good proportion of a man is not the good proportion of a child. Figures constructed according to the Greek or the Egyptian canons are perfectly proportioned in their genre; but Rouault’s clowns are also perfectly proportioned, in their genre. Integrity and proportion have no absolute signification, and must be understood solely in relation to the end of the work, which is to make a form shine on matter. Finally, and above all, this radiance itself of the form, which is the main thing in beauty, has an infinity of diverse ways of shining on matter.
By “radiance of the form” must be understood an ontological splendor which is in one way or another revealed to our mind, not a conceptual clarity. We must avoid all misunderstanding here: the words clarity, intelligibility, light, which we use to characterize the role of “form” at the heart of things, do not necessarily designate something clear and intelligible for us, but rather something clear and luminous in itself, intelligible in itself, and which often remains obscure to our eyes, either because of the matter in which the form in question is buried, or because of the transcendence of the form itself in the things of the spirit.
The more substantial and the more profound this secret sense is, the more hidden it is for us; so that, in truth, to say with the Schoolmen that the form is in things the proper principle of intelligibility, is to say at the same time that it is the proper principle of mystery. (There is in fact no mystery where there is nothing to know: mystery exists where there is more to be known than is given to our comprehension.) To define the beautiful by the radiance of the form is in reality to define it by the radiance of a mystery.
It is a Cartesian misconception to reduce clarity in itself to clarity for us. In art this misconception produces academicism, and condemns us to a beauty so meagre that it can radiate in the soul only the most paltry of delights. If it be a question of the “legibility” of the work, I would add that if the radiance of form can appear in an “obscure” work as well as in a “clear” work, the radiance of mystery can appear in a “clear” work as well as in an “obscure” work. From this point of view neither “obscurity” nor “clarity” enjoys any privilege. 
Moreover, it is natural that every really new work appear obscure at first. Time will decant the judgment. “They say,” Hopkins wrote to Bridges apropos the poem The Wreck of the Deutschland, “that vessels sailing from the port of London will take (perhaps it should be / used once to take) Thames water for the voyage: it was foul and stunk at first as the ship worked but by degrees casting its filth was in a few days very pure and sweet and wholesome and better than any water in the world. However that may be, it is true to my purpose.
When a new thing, such as my ventures in the Deutschland are, is presented us our first criticisms are not our truest, best, most homefelt, or most lasting but what come easiest on the instant. They are barbarous and like what the ignorant and the ruck say. This was so with you. The Deutschland on her first run worked very much and unsettled you, thickening and clouding your mind with vulgar mud-bottom and common sewage (I see that I am going it with the image) and just then you drew off your criticisms all stinking (a necessity now of the image) and bilgy, whereas if you had let your thoughts cast themselves they would have been clearer in themselves and more to my taste too.” [Letter of May 13, 1878, in The Letters of Gerard Manley Hopkins to Robert Bridges, edited with notes and an introduction by Claude Colleer Abbott (London: Oxford University Press, 1935), pp. 50-51.]
There is the sensible radiance of color or tone; there is the intelligible clarity of an arabesque, of a rhythm or an harmonious balance, of an activity or a movement; there is the reflection upon things of a human or divine thought; there is, above all, the deep-seated splendor one glimpses of the soul, of the soul principle of life and animal energy, or principle of spiritual life, of pain and passion. And there is a still more exalted splendor, the splendor of Grace, which the Greeks did not know.
Beauty, therefore, is not conformity to a certain ideal and immutable type, in the sense in which they understand it who, confusing the true and the beautiful, knowledge and delight, would have it that in order to perceive beauty man discover “by the vision of ideas,” “through the material envelope,” “the invisible essence of things” and their “necessary type.” Saint Thomas was as far removed from this pseudo-Platonism as he was from the idealist bazaar of Winckelmann and David. There is beauty for him the moment the shining of any form on a suitably proportioned matter succeeds in pleasing the intellect, and he takes care to warn us that beauty is in some way relative — relative not to the dispositions of the subject, in the sense in which the moderns understand the word relative, but to the proper nature and end of the thing, and to the formal conditions under which it is taken. “Pulchritudo quodammodo dicitur per respectum ad aliquid… “Alia enim est pulchritudo spiritus et alia corporis, atque alia hujus et illius corporis.” And however beautiful a created thing may be, it can appear beautiful to some and not to others, because it is beautiful only under certain aspects, which some discern and others do not: it is thus “beautiful in one place and not beautiful in another.”
If this is so, it is because the beautiful belongs to the order of the transcendentals, that is to say, objects of thought which transcend every limit of genus or category, and which do not allow themselves to be enclosed in any class, because they imbue everything and are to be found everywhere. Like the one, the true and the good, the beautiful is being itself considered from a certain aspect; it is a property of being. It is not an accident superadded to being, it adds to being only a relation of reason: it is being considered as delighting, by the mere intuition of it, an intellectual nature.
Thus everything is beautiful, just as everything is good, at least in a certain relation. And as being is everywhere present and everywhere varied the beautiful likewise is diffused everywhere and is everywhere varied. Like being and the other transcendentals, it is essentially analogous, that is to say, it is predicated for diverse reasons, sub diversa ratione, of the diverse subjects of which it is predicated: each kind of being is in its own way, is good in its own way, is beautiful in its own way.
Analogous concepts are predicated of God pre-eminently; in Him the perfection they designate exists in a “formal-eminent” manner, in the pure and infinite state. God is their “sovereign analogue,” and they are to be met with again in things only as a dispersed and prismatized reflection of the countenance of God. Thus Beauty is one of the divine names.
God is beautiful. He is the most beautiful of beings, because, as Denis the Areopagite and Saint Thomas explain, His beauty is without alteration or vicissitude, without increase or diminution; and because it is not as the beauty of things, all of which have a particularized beauty, particulatam pulchritudinem, sicut et particulatam naturam. He is beautiful through Himself and in Himself, beautiful absolutely.
He is beautiful to the extreme (superpulcher), because in the perfectly simple unity of His nature there pre-exists in a super-excellent manner the fountain of all beauty.
He is beauty itself, because He gives beauty to all created beings, according to the particular nature of each, and because He is the cause of all consonance and all brightness. Every form indeed, that is to say, every light, is “a certain irradiation proceeding from the first brightness,” “a participation in the divine brightness.” And every consonance or every harmony, every concord, every friendship and every union whatsoever among beings proceeds from the divine beauty, the primordial and super-eminent type of all consonance, which gathers all things together and which calls them all to itself, meriting well in this “the name Xakos, which derives from `to call.’ ” Thus “the beauty of anything created is nothing else than a similitude of divine beauty participated in by things,” and, on the other hand, as every form is a principle of being and as every consonance or every harmony is preservative of being, it must be said that divine beauty is the cause of the being of all that is. Ex divina pulchritudine esse omnium derivatur.
In the Trinity, Saint Thomas adds, the name Beauty is attributed most fittingly to the Son. As for integrity or perfection, He has truly and perfectly in Himself, without the least diminution, the nature of the Father. As for due proportion or consonance, He is the express and perfect image of the Father: and it is proportion which befits the image as such. As for radiance, finally, He is the Word, the light and the splendor of the intellect, “perfect Word to Whom nothing is lacking, and., so to speak, art of Almighty God.”
Beauty, therefore, belongs to the transcendental and metaphysical order. This is why it tends of itself to draw the soul beyond the created. Speaking of the instinct for beauty, Baudelaire, the poete maudit to whom modern art owes its renewed awareness of the theological quality and tyrannical spirituality of beauty, writes: “. . . it is this immortal instinct for the beautiful which makes us consider the earth and its various spectacles as a sketch of, as a correspondence with, Heaven. . . . It is at once through poetry and across poetry, through and across music, that the soul glimpses the splendors situated beyond the grave; and when an exquisite poem brings tears to the eyes, these tears are not proof of an excess of joy, they are rather the testimony of an irritated melancholy, a demand of the nerves, of a nature exiled in the imperfect and desiring to take possession immediately, even on this earth, of a revealed paradise.”
Saint Thomas, who was as simple as he was wise, defined the beautiful as that which, being seen, pleases: id quod visum placet.[Summa Theologica I, 5,4, ad 1] These four words say all that is necessary: a vision, that is to say, an intuitive knowledge, and a delight. The beautiful is what gives delight — not just any delight, but delight in knowing; not the delight peculiar to the act of knowing, but a delight which superabounds and overflows from this act because of the object known. If a thing exalts and delights the soul by the very fact that it is given to the soul’s intuition, it is good to apprehend, it is beautiful.
Beauty is essentially an object of intelligence, for that which knows in the full sense of the word is intelligence, which alone is open to the infinity of being. The natural place of beauty is the intelligible world, it is from there that it descends. But it also, in a way, falls under the grasp of the senses, in so far as in man they serve the intellect and can themselves take delight in knowing: “Among all-the senses, it is to the sense of sight and the sense of hearing only that the beautiful relates, because these two senses are maxime cognoscitivi.”
The part played by the senses in the perception of beauty is even rendered enormous in us, and well-nigh indispensable, by the very fact that our intelligence is not intuitive, as is the intelligence of the angel; it sees, to be sure, but on condition of abstracting and discoursing; only sense knowledge possesses perfectly in man the intuitiveness required for the perception of the beautiful. Thus man can doubtless enjoy purely intelligible beauty, but the beautiful that is connatural to man is the beautiful that delights the intellect through the senses and through their intuition. Such is also the beautiful that is proper to our art, which shapes a sensible matter in order to delight the spirit. It would thus like to believe that paradise is not lost. It has the savor of the terrestrial paradise, because it restores, for a moment, the peace and the simultaneous delight of the intellect and the senses.
If beauty delights the intellect, it is because it is essentially a certain excellence or perfection in the proportion of things to the intellect. Hence the three conditions Saint Thomas assigned to beauty: integrity, because the intellect is pleased in fullness of Being; proportion, because the intellect is pleased in order and unity; finally, and above all, radiance or clarity, because the intellect is pleased in light and intelligibility. A certain splendor is, in fact, according to all the ancients, the essential characteristic of beauty — claritas est de ratione pulchritudinis, lux pulchrificat, quia sine luce omnia suns turpia [Commentary in Psalms, Ps. XXV,5] — but it is a splendor of intelligibility: splendor veri, said the Platonists; splendor ordinis, said Saint Augustine, adding that “unity is the form of all beauty”; splendor formae, said Saint Thomas in his precise metaphysician’s language: for the form, that is to say, the principle which constitutes the proper perfection of all that is, which constitutes and achieves things in their essences and qualities, which is, finally, if one may so put it, the ontological secret that they bear within them, their spiritual being, their operating mystery — the form, indeed, is above all the proper principle of intelligibility, the proper clarity of every thing.
Besides, every form is a vestige or a ray of the creative Intelligence imprinted at the heart of created being. On the other hand, every order and every proportion is the work of intelligence. And so, to say with the Schoolmen that beauty is the splendor of the form on the proportioned parts of matter, is to say that it is a flashing of intelligence on a matter intelligibly arranged. The intelligence delights in the beautiful because in the beautiful it finds itself again and recognizes itself, and makes contact with its own light. This is so true that those — such as Saint Francis of Assisi — perceive and savor more the beauty of things, who know that things come forth from an intelligence, and who relate them to their author.
Every sensible beauty implies, it is true, a certain delight of the eye itself or of the ear or the imagination: but there is beauty only if the intelligence also takes delight in some way. A beautiful color “washes the eye,” just as a strong scent dilates the nostril; but of these two “forms” or qualities color only is said to be beautiful, because, being received, unlike the perfume, in a sense power capable of disinterested knowledge,”” it can be, even through its purely sensible brilliance, an object of delight for the intellect. Moreover, the higher the level of man’s culture, the more spiritual becomes the brilliance of the form that delights him.
It is important, however, to note that in the beautiful that we have called connatural to man, and which is proper to human art, this brilliance of the form, no matter how purely intelligible it may be in itself, is seized in the sensible and through the sensible, and not separately from it. The intuition of artistic beauty thus stands at the opposite extreme from the abstraction of scientific truth. For with the former it is through the very apprehension of the sense that the light of being penetrates the intelligence.
The intelligence in this case, diverted from all effort of abstraction, rejoices without work and without discourse. It is dispensed from its usual labor; it does not have to disengage an intelligible from the matter in which it is buried, in order to go over its different attributes step by step; like a stag at the gushing spring, intelligence has nothing to do but drink; it drinks the clarity of being. Caught up in the intuition of sense, it is irradiated by an intelligible light that is suddenly given to it, in the very sensible in which it glitters, and which it does not seize sub ratione veri, but rather sub ratione delectabilis, through the happy release procured for the intelligence and through the delight ensuing in the appetite, which leaps at every good of the soul as at its proper object. Only afterwards will it be able to reflect more or less successfully upon the causes of this delight.
Thus, although the beautiful borders on the metaphysical true, in the sense that every splendor of intelligibility in things implies some conformity with the Intelligence that is the cause of things, nevertheless the beautiful is not a kind of truth, but a kind of good; the perception of the beautiful relates to knowledge, but by way of addition, comme a la jeunesse s’ajoute sa leur; it is not so much a kind of knowledge as a kind of delight.
The beautiful is essentially delightful. This is why, of its very nature and precisely as beautiful, it stirs desire and produces love, whereas the true as such only illumines. “Omnibus igitur est pulchrum et bonum desiderabile et amabile et diligibile.” It is for its beauty that Wisdom is loved. And it is for itself that every beauty is first loved, even if afterwards the too weak flesh is caught in the trap. Love in its turn produces ecstasy, that is to say, it puts the lover outside of himself; ecstasy, of which the soul experiences a diminished form when it is seized by the beauty of the work of art, and the fullness when it is absorbed, like the dew, by the beauty of God.
And of God Himself, according to Denis the Areopagite, we must be so bold as to say that He suffers in some way ecstasy of love, because of the abundance of His goodness which leads Him to diffuse in all things a participation of His splendor. But God’s love causes the beauty of what He loves, whereas our love is caused by the beauty of what we love.
Any argument, scientific or philosophical, that attempts to establish the existence of something that is not immediately evident to sense perception must take the form of positing the existence of a cause that is needed to explain observed phenomena or to explain the existence of something that is already known to exist.
The only justification for affirming the existence of something unperceived and, perhaps, imperceptible is that whatever it is that needs to be explained cannot be explained in any other way. This is the sound rule laid down by William of Ockham in the fourteenth century and it has been followed ever since by careful, cautious scientists and philosophers.
The reasoning of nuclear physicists concerning the existence of certain elementary particles that are intrinsically imperceptible takes this form. So, too, does a valid argument for the existence of God.
No similar form of argument is available with regard to the existence of angels. There are no observed phenomena (excluding, of course, experiences reported in Sacred Scriptures) that cannot be explained unless we affirm that angels exist and engage in certain causal actions. Nothing known by us to exist has an existence that is inexplicable unless it is understood as an effect of angelic action.
What is often miscalled an argument for the existence of angels amounts to nothing more than an effort to explain why God included them in his creation of the universe. Why, in addition to creating the whole physical cosmos and all the corporeal things that constitute it, did God also create a realm of purely spiritual beings — intelligences or minds without bodies?
If rational reflection can provide the explanation, it not only enhances the religious belief in angels by rendering it intelligible. It also defends such a belief as reasonable against those who scoff at it as absurd or preposterous.
The explanation advanced by Thomas Aquinas rests on a single insight. In his Treatise on Angels in the Summa Theologica, answering the question whether there are entirely spiritual or incorporeal creatures, Aquinas asserts that “the universe would be incomplete without [them].”
In another treatise on the same subject, Aquinas further explains that the reason why God created angels is “the perfection of the universe.” To have perfection, “it must not lack any nature that can possibly exist.”
Aquinas then adds a second reason. The perfection of the universe not only requires the existence of every kind of thing that is possible. It also requires an orderly arrangement of the things that constitute the aggregate of created substances.
An orderly arrangement would not be present if there were unfilled gaps in the scale of beings. “At the topmost summit of things there is a being which is in every way simple and one; namely, God.” Therefore, Aquinas argues, corporeal things cannot be “located immediately below God, for they are composite and divisible.” That is why “one must posit many intermediates, through which we must come down from the highest point of the Divine simplicity to corporeal multiplicity.”
Angels, being incorporeal and, therefore, having the simplicity that belongs to anything indivisible, occupy places in the scale of beings between God and man. This completes the picture.
The orderly arrangement that Aquinas thinks must characterize any universe created by God involves an ascending scale of beings from
(1) inanimate and mindless physical things to
(2) living beings without minds, and
(3) minds that are somehow associated with animate bodies, and from them to
(4) spiritual beings — minds without bodies.
Etienne Gilson summarizes the argument by saying that “the general plan of creation would display a manifest gap, if there were no angels.” An orderly arrangement of the created universe involves “a hierarchy of created perfections” from the most perfect to the least perfect of creatures, i.e., from creatures that have the highest grade of being to creatures having the lowest. To this it must be added that all creatures share in the creaturely imperfection that consists in their dependence on God for their existence.
It is not surprising to find a reiteration of this reasoning by Dante who, in his Convivio, declared that, in an orderly universe, “the ascent and descent is by almost continuous steps, from the lowest form to the highest and from the highest to the lowest.”
Dante then went on to say that “between the angelic nature . . . and the human soul there is no intermediate step” as is also the case “between the human soul and the most perfect soul of the brute animals.”
The same line of reasoning can be found in the work of a seventeenth-century English empirical philosopher, John Locke. In Book III, Chapter VI, Section 12 of his Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Locke observed that
in all the visible corporeal world we see no chasms or gaps.. . . Down from us the descent is by easy steps. . . . There are some brutes that seem to have as much reason and knowledge as some that are called men; and the animal and vegetable kingdoms are so nearly joined that, if you will take the lowest of one and the highest of the other, there will scarce be perceived any great difference between them; and so on until we come to the lowest and most unorganical parts of matter, we shall find that the several species are linked together, and differ but in almost insensible degrees.
In the light of this observation, Locke then continued as follows:
When we consider the infinite power and wisdom of the Maker, we have reason to think that it is suitable to the magnificent harmony of the universe, and the great design and infinite goodness of the architect, that the species of creature should also, by gentle degrees, ascend upwards from us towards his infinite perfection, as we see them gradually descend from us downwards.
Locke repeated this argument in Book IV, Chapter XVI, Section 12 of his Essay, but there he pointed out that, since the reasoning rests on the principle of analogy, the conclusion it reaches concerning the existence of angels is at best only probable, not certain. On this point, he differed from his philosophical contemporary and opponent, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz, who employed similar reasoning but regarded it as establishing the conclusion with certitude.
In the same century, Sir Thomas Browne, in his Religio Medici, expressed wonder that “so many learned heads should so far forget their metaphysics, and destroy the ladder and scale of creatures, as to question the existence of spirits.” This line of thought generally prevailed in the following century, too, and not exclusively in philosophical circles, though undoubtedly under the influence of John Locke.
The essayist Joseph Addison wrote, in one of his occasional papers, that
if the notion of a gradual rise in beings from the meanest to the most high be not a vain imagination, it is not improbable that an angel looks down upon a man, as a man doth upon a creature which approaches the nearest to the rational nature.
The poet Alexander Pope, in his Essay on Man, exclaimed:
Vast chain of being! which from God began, Natures aethereal, human, angel, man, Beast, bird, fish, insect, what no eye can see, No glass can reach.
And a great American statesman, John Adams, echoed Pope, maintaining that “Nature, which has established a chain of being and a universal order in the universe, descending from angels to microscopic animalcules, has ordained that no two objects shall be perfectly alike and no two creatures perfectly equal.”
Finally, there is no sense in investigating the details. But one has an obligation to seek out the essentials, the truth of things, because otherwise, why has one lived at all? Why has one endured these forty-one years?
This is a wonderful book that we had spoken of earlier. Now I can offer you some firsthand evidence in the form of reading selections. Some like The Old Nurse below here show the remarkable eye for detail that Marai possessed and that now comes to us in the form of memory.
His style in this novel is elegiac, the feel is that of a legend but the echo is that of myth, truths like the gospel stories that reach far beyond the events of the story. The Trip Home selection demonstrates this.
These characters are people who are frozen in time unable to escape the traumas of their past and subjected to what Eric Ormsby, in his review A Hungarian Novelist’s Literature of Fidelity called “corrosive remembrances.” In “Embers,” the General has been waiting for 41 years to confront the friend who has betrayed him. Here memory is a “caustic,” that “strips away the cozy lies and half-truths, the well-buffed legends, we concoct about ourselves.” It leaves the characters mercilessly aware of the sins and truths of their lives.
For Márai, who had “lost his faith” according to these literary historians, the world sits “on a black lake, motionless and mirror-sharp” and “no one knows its chasms.” Yet even despite himself and his nightmare visions, Márai creates an “unexpected nobility on his characters.” These are, after all, Maritain’s human persons – “their fixation on the past stands finally revealed not as a pathological symptom but as a rare fidelity to something essential in themselves, to some small but hard-won truth about their obscure lives that even time recovered cannot eradicate.”
It is, as noted below in Details vs Essentials, there is no sense in investigating details. But one has an obligation to seek out the essentials, the truth of things, because otherwise, why has one lived at all? Why has one endured these forty-one years? the General asks himself.
The Old Nurse
“Sit down, Nini,” said the General.
The nurse sat down. In the last year she had become old. After reaching ninety, one ages differently from the way one aged at fifty or sixty: one ages without bitterness. Nini’s face was rose pink and crumpled — such is the way noble fabrics age, and centuries-old silks that hold woven in their threads the assembled skills and dreams of an entire family. The previous year she had developed a cataract in one eye, leaving it gray and sad. The other eye had remained blue, the timeless blue of a mountain lake in August, and it smiled. Nini was dressed as always in dark blue, dark-blue felt skirt, simple blouse. As if she hadn’t had any new clothes made in the last seventy-five years.
The Trip Home
It was autumn when they came home, almost a year later. The foreign lady sat deep inside the coach, swathed in veils and coverlets. They took the mountain route across Switzerland and the Tyrol. In Vienna they were received by the Emperor and Empress. The Emperor was benevolent, just the way he was always described in children’s textbooks. “Beware,” he said. “In the forest where he’s taking you, there are bears. He’s a bear too.” And he smiled. Everyone smiled. It was a sign of great favor that the Emperor should joke with the French wife of the Hungarian Officer of the Guards. “Majesty,” she replied, “I shall tame him with music, as Orpheus tamed the wild beast.”
They journeyed on through fruit-scented meadows and woods. After they crossed the frontier, mountains and cities dwindled away, and the lady began to weep. “Darling, I feel dizzy. There is no end to all of this.” It was the Puszta that made her dizzy, the deserted plain stretching away under the numbing, shimmering blanket of autumn air, now bare after the harvest, transected by primitive roads along which they jolted for hour after hour, while cranes wheeled in the empty sky and the fields of maize on either side lay plundered and broken as if a retreating army had passed through at the end of a war, leaving the landscape a wasteland.
The Officer of the Guards sat silently in the coach, his arms crossed. From time to time he ordered a horse to be brought, and he rode for long distances alongside the carriage, observing his native land as if he were seeing it for the first time. He looked at the low houses, with their green shutters and white verandas, where they spent the nights, Magyar houses with their thick-planted gardens all around them, the cool rooms in which every piece of furniture, even the smell in the cupboards, was familiar to him, and the landscape whose melancholy solitude moved him as never before. He saw with his wife’s eyes the wells with their hanging buckets, the parched fields, the rosy clouds above the plain in the sunset. His homeland opened itself before them, and with a beating heart the officer sensed that the landscape that now embraced them also held the secret of their fate. His wife sat in the coach and said nothing. Sometimes she raised a handkerchief to her face, and as she did so, her husband would bend down toward her out of the saddle and cast a questioning glanced into her tear-filled eyes. But with a gesture she signaled that they should continue. Their lives were joined together now.
“Vienna wasn’t just a city, it was a tone that either one carries forever in one’s soul or one does not. It was the most beautiful thing in my life. I was poor, but I was not alone, because I had a friend. And Vienna was like another friend. When it rained in the tropics, I always heard the voice of Vienna. And at other times too. Sometimes deep in the virgin forests I smelled the musty smell of the entrance hall in the house in Hietzing. Music and everything I loved was in the stones of Vienna, and in people’s glances and their behavior, the way pure feelings are part of one’s very heart. You know when the feelings stop hurting. Vienna in winter and spring. The allees in Schonbrunn. The blue light in the dormitory at the academy, the great white stairwell with the baroque statue. Mornings riding in the Prater. The mildew in the riding school. I remember all of it exactly, and I wanted to see it again,” he says softly, almost ashamed.
“And after forty-one years, what did you find?” the General asks again.
“A city,” says Konrad with a shrug. “Change.”
“Yes, you certainly experienced a great deal in the world out there. But it’s quickly forgotten.”
“No,” is the reply. “The world doesn’t count. One never forgets what is important. I learned that only later, when I was somewhat older. Nothing secondary remains — it gets thrown away along with one’s dreams. I have no memory of the regiment,” he says stubbornly. “For some time now all I remember is the essentials.”
“For example Vienna and this house, is that what you mean… .
“Vienna and this house,” the guest echoes mechanically. He stares straight ahead with eyes half-closed, blinking. “Memory has a wonderful way of separating the wheat from the chaff. There can be some great event, and ten, twenty years later one realizes that it had no effect on one whatsoever. And then one day, one remembers a hunt or a passage in a book or this room. Last time we sat here, there were three of us. Krisztina was alive. She sat there in that chair. These ornaments were on the table, too.”
“Yes,” says the General. “East was in front of you, South was in front of Krisztina, and West was in front of me.” “You remember it down to the details?” asks the guest, astonished.
“I remember everything.”
“Sometimes the details are extremely important. They link everything together into a whole, and bind all the ingredients of memory. I used to think about that sometimes in the tropics, when it rained. That rain!” he says, as if to change the subject. “For months on end, drumming on the tin roof like a machine gun. Steam comes up off the swamps and the rain is warm. Everything is damp, the bedclothes, your underwear, your books, the tobacco in its tin, the bread. Everything feels sticky and greasy.
You’re in your house, the Malays are singing. The woman you’ve taken to live with you sits motionless in a corner of the room and watches you. They can sit for hours like that, staring. At first you pay no attention. Then you start to feel nervous, and order them out of the room. But it doesn’t help: They go and sit somewhere else, you know, in another room and stare at you through the partitions. They have huge brown eyes like those Tibetan dogs, the ones that don’t bark, the most subservient animals in the whole world.
They look at you with those brilliant, quiet eyes, and no matter where you go, you feel that look pursuing you like some noxious ray. Scream at her and she smiles. Strike her and she smiles. Banish her and she sits on the threshold and looks in until she is called back. They are constantly having children, though nobody ever mentions this, least of all they themselves. It is as if you are sharing quarters with an animal, a murderess, a priestess, a magician and a fanatic all rolled into one. Over time it becomes exhausting; that look is so powerful that it wears down even the strongest man. It is as powerful as the touch of a hand, as if you were constantly being stroked. It drives you mad. Then that, too, begins to leave you indifferent.
It rains. You sit in your room, drink one schnapps after another, and smoke sweet tobacco. Sometimes a visitor comes, drinks schnapps, and smokes sweet tobacco. You would like to read, but somehow the rain gets into the book, too; not literally, and yet it really does, the letters are meaningless, and all you hear is the rain. You would like to play the piano, but the rain comes to sit alongside and play an accompaniment. And then dry weather returns, which is to say there is steam and bright light. People age quickly.”
Solitude And Faith
What’s even worse is if you take this upsurge of feeling, which has accumulated in your heart over so many lonely years and you push it back inside. And you don’t run. And you don’t kill anyone. And what do you do instead? You live, you maintain discipline. You live like a monk of some heathen worldly order. But it’s easy for a real monk, because he has his belief. A man who has signed away his soul and his fate to solitude is incapable of faith. He can only wait. For the day or the hour when he can talk about everything that forced him into solitude with the man or men who forced him into that condition. He prepares himself for that moment for ten or forty or forty-one years the way one prepares for a duel. He brings his affairs into order in case he dies in the duel. And he practices every day, as professional duelists do. And what weapon does he practice with? With his memories, so that he will not allow solitude and time to cloud his sight and weaken his heart and his soul. There is one duel in life, fought without sabers, that nonetheless is worth preparing for with all one’s strength. And it is the most dangerous. And one day the moment comes. What do you think?” he asks courteously.
“I quite agree,” says the guest, and looks at the ash of his cigar.
“I’m so glad you take the same view,” says the General. “The anticipation keeps one alive. Of course, it, too, has its limits, like everything in life. If I hadn’t known that you would come back one day, I would have probably set out myself to find you, in your house near London or in the tropics or in the bowels of hell. You know I would have come looking for you. Clearly one knows everything of real importance, and — you’re right — one knows it without benefit of radio or telephone. Here in my house I have no telephone, only the steward has one down in the office, nor do I have a radio, as I have forbidden any of the stupid, sordid daily noise of the outside world in the rooms where I make my home.
“The world holds no further threat for me. Some new world order may remove the way of life into which I was born and in which I have lived, forces of aggression may foment some revolution that will take both my freedom and my life. None of it matters. What matters is that I do not make any compromises with a world that I have judged and banished from my existence. Without the aid of any modern appliances, I knew that one day you would come to me again. I waited you out, because everything that is worth waiting for has its own season and its own logic. And now the moment has come.”
Guilt Does Not Reside In Our Acts But In The Intentions That Give Rise To Our Acts
“I am not quite certain,” says the General. “That is also why you’re here. It’s what we are discussing.” He leans back in his chair and crosses his arms calmly and with military precision. He says, “There is such a thing as factual truth. This and this happened. These things happened in this and this fashion and at this and this time. It isn’t hard to establish these things. The facts speak for themselves, as the saying goes; in the last years of our lives, facts confess themselves in ways that scream more loudly than a victim being tortured on the rack. By the end, everything has happened and the sum total is clear.
And yet, sometimes facts are no more than pitiful consequences, because guilt does not reside in our acts but in the intentions that give rise to our acts. Everything turns on our intentions. The great, ancient systems of religious law I have studied all know and preach this. A man may commit a disloyal or base act, even the worst, even murder, and yet remain blameless. The act does not constitute the whole truth, it is always and only a consequence, and if one day any of us has to become a judge and pronounce sentence, it is not enough for us to content ourselves with the facts in the police report, we also have to acquaint ourselves with motive.
The fact of your flight is easy to establish. But not your motive. Believe me, I have spent the last forty-one years turning over every possible reason for your incomprehensible act. No single examination of it led me to an answer. Only the truth can do that now.”
When The Act Of Killing Still Had A Symbolic And Religious Significance
“One evening our hosts invited Arab guests in our honor. Until then, their hospitality had been more or less in the European style; the owner of the house was both a judge and a dealer in contraband, one of the wealthiest men in the city. The guest rooms had English furniture, the bathtub was made of solid silver. But on this particular evening we saw something quite other. The guests arrived after sundown, only men, grand gentlemen with their servants. In the middle of the courtyard the fire was already lit, burning with that acrid smoke that comes from camel dung. Everyone sat down around it in silence. Krisztina was the only woman present. A lamb was brought, a white lamb, and our host took his knife and killed it with a movement I shall never forget … a movement like that is not something one learns, it is an Oriental movement straight out of the time when the act of killing still had a symbolic and religious significance, when it denoted sacrifice. That was how Abraham lifted the knife over Isaac when he was preparing to sacrifice him, that was the movement in the ancient temples when the sacrifice was made at the altar before the idols or the image of the godhead, and that was the movement that struck John the Baptist’s head from his body. . . it is utterly ancient. In the Orient it is innate to every man. Perhaps it is what first distinguished humans as a species, after the interval when they were part human, part animal…
“According to current wisdom, being human began with the opposable thumb, which made it possible to pick up a weapon or a tool. But perhaps being human begins with the soul and not the thumb. I don’t know…. The Arab slaughtered the lamb, and as he did so, this old man in his white burnous, which remained unspotted by blood, was like an oriental high priest performing the sacrifice. His eyes gleamed, for a moment he was young again, and all around him there was absolute silence. They sat around the fire, they watched the act of killing, the flash of the knife, the twitching of the lamb, the jet of blood, and their eyes gleamed also. And then I realized that these people are still intimately familiar with the act of killing, blood is something they know well, and the flash of the knife is as natural to them as the smile of a woman, or the rain. We understood — and I think Krisztina did, too, because at that moment she was seized with emotion, she blushed, then went white, breathed with difficulty, and turned her head away, as if she were witness to some passionate encounter — we understood that people in the East still retain their knowledge of the sacred symbolism of killing and its inner spiritual meaning. These dark, noble faces were all smiling, they pursed their lips and grinned in a kind of ecstasy as they watched, as if the killing were a warm, happy event, like an embrace. Curious, that in Hungarian our words for killing and embracing (Oles and oleles) echo and heighten each other.
“Well, of course we are westerners,” he says in another voice, sounding suddenly professional. “Westerners, or at least immigrants who settled here. For us, killing is a question of law and morality, or medicine, at any rate a sanctioned or prohibited act that is very precisely delineated within our system of thought. We kill, too, but in a more complicated way; we kill according to the dictates and authorization of the law. We kill to protect high principles and important human values, we kill to preserve the social order. It cannot be any other way.
We are Christians, we have a sense of guilt, we are the product of Western civilization. Our history, right up to the present, is filled with mass murder, but whenever we speak of killing, it is with eyes lowered and in tones of pious horror; we cannot do otherwise, it is our prescribed role. There is only the hunt,” he says, suddenly sounding almost happy. “Even then, we observe rules that are both chivalrous and practical, we protect the game according to the demands of the situation in any particular area, but the hunt is still a sacrifice, a distorted residue of what can still be recognized as a ritual that once formed part of a most ancient religious act. It is not true that the huntsman kills for the prize.
That has never been the case, not even in prehistoric times, when hunting was one of the few ways to obtain food. The hunt was always surrounded by religious tribal ritual. The good huntsman was always the leader of his tribe and also in some fashion a priest. Over the course of time, all that has naturally faded, but even in their faded form, the rituals are still with us. In my whole life I think I have loved nothing so much as the first light of dawn on the day of a hunt. You get up in darkness, you put on clothes quite different from those you wear every day, and clothes that have been selected for a purpose, in a lamplit room you eat a breakfast that is quite different from the usual breakfast: you fortify your heart with schnapps and eat a slice of cold meat with it.
I loved the smell of hunting clothes; the felt was impregnated with scents of the forest, the leaves, the air and blood, because you had hung the birds you had shot from your belt, and their blood had dirtied the jacket. But is blood dirty? … I don’t believe so. It is the most noble substance in the world, and in all eras the man who wished to say something inexpressibly grand to his God made a blood sacrifice.
And the oily, metallic smell of the gun. And the raw, sour smell of the leather. I loved all of it,” he says, sounding suddenly like an old man and almost ashamed, as if admitting to a weakness. “And then you step out of the house, your hunting comrades are already waiting, the sun isn’t up yet, the gamekeeper is holding the dogs on the lead and gives a murmured report on the events of the previous night. You take your place in the shooting brake, and it starts to move. The countryside is beginning to stir, the forest stretches and rubs its eyes sleepily. Everything smells so clean, as if you have entered another homeland that existed once before, at the beginning of the world.
The brake comes to a halt at the edge of the forest, you get out, your dog and your gamekeeper follow you silently. The wet leaves under the soles of your boots make almost no noise. The clearings are full of animal tracks. Now everything is coming to life around you. The light lifts and opens the roof of sky over the forest, as if the secret mechanism in the rigging-loft of a fairy-tale theater has begun to function.
Now the birds are beginning to sing and a deer crosses the forest path a long way ahead, about three hundred paces in front of you. You pull back into the undergrowth, and watch…. The animal stands still: it cannot see you, it cannot smell you because the wind is in your face, and yet it knows that its fate is awaiting it somewhere close. It lifts its head, turns its delicate neck, its body tenses, for a few moments it stands motionless, rooted to the spot, the way one can be paralyzed by the inevitable, absolutely helpless, because one knows that the menace is no accidental piece of bad luck but the necessary consequence of incalculable and incomprehensible circumstances.
Now you are already regretting that you are not carrying a cartridge pouch. You, too, stand frozen to the spot in the undergrowth; you, too, are bound inextricably to the moment; you, the huntsman. And you feel the tremor in your hands that is as old as man himself, you prepare for the kill and feel the forbidden joy, the strongest of all passions, the urge, neither good nor evil, that is part of all living creatures: the urge to be stronger, more skilled than your opponent, to preserve your concentration, to make no mistakes.
The leopard feels it as he tenses for the spring, the snake feels it as she rears to strike among the rocks, the falcon feels it in his plummeting dive, and a man feels it when he has his quarry in his sights. And you felt it, Konrad, perhaps for the first time in your life, when you shouldered your gun and took aim, intending to kill me.”
He bends over the little table that stands between them in front of the fireplace. He pours himself a sweet liqueur in a tiny glass and tests the surface of the crimson, syrupy liquid with the tip of his tongue, then, satisfied, sets the glass back down on the table again
Every Human Relationship Has A Tangible Core
The human night is filled with the crouching forms of dreams, desires, vanities, self-interest, mad love, envy, and the thirst for revenge, as the desert night conceals the puma, the hawk and the jackal. It is the moment when it is neither night nor day in man’s heart, because the wild beasts have slunk out of the hidden corners of our souls, and something rouses itself, transmits itself from mind to hand, something we thought we had tamed and trained to obedience over the course of years, decades even. In vain, we have lied to ourselves about the significance of this feeling, but it has proved stronger than all our intentions, indissolvable, unrelenting. Every human relationship has a tangible core, and we can think about it, analyze it all we want, it is unchangeable.
The truth is that for twenty-four years you have hated me with a burning passion akin to the fire of a great affair — even love. “You have hated me, and when any one emotion or passion occupies us entirely, the need for revenge crackles and glimmers among the flames that torment us. Passion has no footing in reason. Passion is indifferent to reciprocal emotion, it needs to express itself to the full, live itself to the very end, no matter if all it receives in return is kind feelings, courtesy, friendship, or mere patience. Every great passion is hopeless, if not it would be no passion at all but some cleverly calculated arrangement, an exchange of lukewarm interests.
You have hated me, and that makes for as strong a bond as if you had loved me. Why did you hate me? … I have had plenty of time to think about it. You have never accepted either money from me or presents, you never allowed our friendship to develop into a real relationship of brothers, and if I had not been so young back then, I would have known that this was a danger signal. Whoever refuses to accept a part wants the whole, wants everything.
You hated me as a child, from the very first moment we met at the academy, where the best our Empire had to offer were reared and educated; you hated me, because there was something in me that you lacked. What was it? What talent or quality? … You were always the better student, you were always unintentionally a chef d’oeuvre of diligence, goodness, and talent, for you possessed an instrument, in the true sense of that word, you had a secret — music. You were related to Chopin, you were proud and reserved.
“But deep inside you was a frantic longing to be something or someone other than you are. It is the greatest scourge a man can suffer, and the most painful. Life becomes bearable only when one has come to terms with who one is, both in one’s own eyes and in the eyes of the world. We all of us must come to terms with what and who we are, and recognize that this wisdom is not going to earn us any praise, that life is not going to pin a medal on us for recognizing and enduring our own vanity or egoism or baldness or our potbelly. No, the secret is that there’s no reward and we have to endure our characters and our natures as best we can, because no amount of experience or insight is going to rectify our deficiencies, our self-regard, or our cupidity. We have to learn that our desires do not find any real echo in the world. We have to accept that the people we love do not love us, or not in the way we hope. We have to accept betrayal and disloyalty, and, hardest of all, that someone is finer than we are in character or intelligence.
“Over the course of my seventy-five years here in the middle of the forest, I have learned this much. But you have not been able to accept it,” he says softly, definitively. Then he stops, and his eyes stare blindly into the half-darkness.
One Can Kill A Friend, But Death Itself Cannot Undo A Friendship
“Evidently there is no external power that can alter human relationships. You killed something inside me, you ruined my life, but we are still friends. And tonight, I am going to kill something inside you, and then I shall let you go back to London or to the tropics or to hell, and yet still you will be my friend. This too is something we both need to know before we talk about the hunt and everything that happened afterwards.
Friendship is no ideal state of mind; it is a law, and a strict one, on which the entire legal systems of great cultures were built. It reaches beyond personal desires and self-regard in men’s hearts, its grip is greater than that of sexual desire, and it is proof against disappointment, because it asks for nothing. One can kill a friend, but death itself cannot undo a friendship that reaches back to childhood; its memory lives on like some act of silent heroism, and indeed there is in friendship an element of ancient heroic feats, not the clash of swords and the rattle of sabers, but the selfless human act.
And as you raised the gun to kill me, our friendship was more alive than ever before in the twenty-four years we had known each other. One remembers such moments because they become part of the content and meaning of the rest of one’s life. And I remember.
The Shape of Fate
Outside, beyond the windows, the landscape and the town are invisible in the darkness; not a single lantern is burning in the night. “One can also shape what happens to one. One shapes it, summons it, takes hold of the inevitable. It’s the human condition. A man acts, even when he knows from the very onset that his act will be fatal. He and his fate are inseparable, they have a pact with each other that molds them both. It is not true that fate slips silently into our lives. It steps in through the door that we have opened, and we invite it to enter.
Perhaps this entire way of life which we have known since birth, this house, this dinner, even the words we have used this evening to discuss the questions of our lives, perhaps they all belong to the past. There’s too much tension, too much animosity, too much craving for revenge in us all. We look inside ourselves and what do we find? An animosity that time damped down for a while but now is bursting out again. So why should we expect anything else of our fellow men? And you and I, too, old and wise, at the end of our lives, we, too, want revenge…Against whom? Each other? Or against the memory of someone who is no longer with us? Pointless.
And yet it burns on in our hearts. Why should we expect better of the world, when it teems with unconscious desires and their all-too-deliberate consequences, and young men are bayoneting the hands of young men of other nations, and strangers are hacking each other’s backs to ribbons, and all laws and conventions have been voided and instinct rules, and the universe is on fire?..
Revenge. I came back from a war in which I could have died, yet didn’t, because I was waiting for my opportunity to take revenge. `How?’ you may ask. `What kind of revenge?’ I can see from your face that you do not understand this need. `What revenge is still possible between two old men who are already waiting for death? Everyone is dead, what point is there in revenge?’ you seem to be saying. And this is my answer: Yes — revenge. That is what I have lived for, for forty-one years, that is why I neither killed myself nor allowed others to kill me, and that is why I have not killed anyone myself, thank heaven.
The time for revenge has come, just as I have wished for so long. My revenge is that you have come here across the world, through the war, over mine-infested seas, to the scene of the crime, to answer to me and to uncover the truth together. That is my revenge. And now you must answer.
I have thought a great deal about this too. Is the idea of fidelity not an appalling egoism and also as vain as most other human concerns? When we demand fidelity, are we wishing for the other person’s happiness? And if that person cannot be happy in the subtle prison of fidelity, do we really prove our love by demanding fidelity nonetheless? And if we do not love that person in a way that makes her happy, do we have the right to expect fidelity or any other sacrifice? Now, in my old age, I would not dare answer these questions as unequivocally as I would have done forty-one years ago, when Krisztina left me alone in your apartment, where she had been so often before me, where you had assembled all those objects in order to receive her, where two people close to me betrayed and deceived me so vulgarly, so ignominiously, and — as I realize now — with such banality. That is what happened.” His voice is indifferent, almost bored.
“And what people call `deceit,’ the sad and banal rebellion of a body against a situation and a third person — in retrospect is almost alarmingly a matter of indifference, almost the source of pity like a quarrel or an accident. I did not understand this back then. I stood in your secret apartment as if I were taking in the details of a crime, I stared at the furniture, the French bed…. When one is young and one’s own wife deceives one with the only friend who is closer than a brother, it is natural to feel that the world has crashed around one. It is inevitable, because jealousy, disappointment, and vanity are all excruciating. But it passes … not consciously, and not from one day to the next. Years later, the fury is still there — and yet finally it is over, just as life will be one day. I went back to the castle, to my room, and waited for Krisztina. I waited to kill her or to have her tell me the truth so that I could forgive her. I waited until evening, then I went to the hunting lodge, because she had not come. Which was perhaps childish…. Now, looking back, when I want to pass judgment on myself and others, I see this pride, this waiting, this departure, as somewhat childish. But that’s how things are, do you see, and neither reason nor experience can do much to change one’s stubborn nature. You, too, must know this now.
Details vs Essentials
Finally, there is no sense in investigating the details. But one has an obligation to seek out the essentials, the truth of things, because otherwise, why has one lived at all? Why has one endured these forty-one years?
The Pauline Anthropology Of The Resurrection by Pope John Paul II From his general audience of Wednesday, 3 February 1982
Pope John Paul II explains the Pauline theology of the body with regard to the resurrection of the dead.
FROM THE WORDS OF CHRIST ON THE FUTURE RESURRECTION OF THE BODY, reported by all three synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), we have passed to the Pauline anthropology of the resurrection. We are analyzing the First Letter to the Corinthians 15:42-49. In the resurrection the human body, according to the words of the Apostle, is seen “incorruptible, glorious, full of dynamism, spiritual.” The resurrection is not only a manifestation of the life that conquers death — almost a final return to the tree of life, from which man had been separated at the moment of original sin — but is also a revelation of the ultimate destiny of man in all the fullness of his psychosomatic nature and his personal subjectivity.
Paul of Tarsus — who following in the footsteps of the other apostles, had experienced in his meeting with the risen Christ the state of his glorified body — basing himself on this experience, Paul announces in his Letter to the Romans “the redemption of the body” (Romans 8:23) and in his Letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 15:42-49) the completion of this redemption in the future resurrection.
In The Perspective Of An Eternal Destiny
The literary method Paul applies here perfectly corresponds to his style, which uses antitheses that simultaneously bring together those things which they contrast. In this way they are useful in having us understand Pauline thought about the resurrection. It concerns both its “cosmic” dimension and also the characteristic of the internal structure of the “earthly” and the “heavenly” man.
The Apostle, in fact, in contrasting Adam and Christ (risen) — that is, the first Adam with the second Adam — in a certain way shows two poles between which, in the mystery of creation and redemption, man has been placed in the cosmos. One could say that man has been put in tension between these two poles in the perspective of his eternal destiny regarding, from beginning to end, his human nature itself.
When Paul writes: “The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:47), he has in mind both Adam-man and also Christ as man. Between these two poles — between the first and the second Adam — the process takes place that he expresses in the following words: “As we have borne the image of the man of earth, so we will bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:49).
This “man of heaven” — the man of the resurrection whose prototype is the risen Christ — is not so much an antithesis and negation of the “man of earth” (whose prototype is the first Adam), but is above all his completion and confirmation. It is the completion and confirmation of what corresponds to the psychosomatic makeup of humanity, in the sphere of his eternal destiny, that is, in the thought and the plan of him who from the beginning created man in his own image and likeness. The humanity of the first Adam, the “man of earth,” bears in itself a particular potential (which is a capacity and readiness) to receive all that became the second Adam, the man of heaven, namely, Christ, what he became in his resurrection. That humanity which all men, children of the first Adam, share, and which, along with the heritage of sin — being carnal — at the same time is corruptible, and bears in itself the potentiality of incorruptibility.
That humanity which, in all its psychosomatic makeup appears ignoble, and yet bears within itself the interior desire for glory, that is, the tendency and the capacity to become “glorious” in the image of the risen Christ. Finally, the same humanity about which the Apostle — in conformity with the experience of all men — says that it is “weak” and has an “animal body,” bears in itself the aspiration to become full of dynamism and spiritual.
Potential to rise again
We are speaking here of human nature in its integrity, that is, of human nature in its psychosomatic makeup. However, Paul speaks of the body. Nevertheless we can admit, on the basis of the immediate context and the remote one, that for him it is not a question only of the body, but of the entire man in his corporeity, therefore also of his ontological complexity. There is no doubt here that precisely in the whole visible world (cosmos) that one body which is the human body bears in itself the potentiality for resurrection, that is, the aspiration and capacity to become definitively incorruptible, glorious, full of dynamism, spiritual. This happens because, persisting from the beginning in the psychosomatic unity of the personal being, he can receive and reproduce in this earthly image and likeness of God also the heavenly image of the second Adam, Christ.
The Pauline anthropology of the resurrection is cosmic and universal at the same time. Every man bears in himself the image of Adam and every man is also called to bear in himself the image of Christ, the image of the risen one. This image is the reality of the “other world,” the eschatological reality (St. Paul writes, “We will bear”). But in the meantime it is already in a certain way a reality of this world, since it was revealed in this world through the resurrection of Christ. It is a reality ingrafted in the man of this world, a reality that is developing in him toward final completion.
The Vision Of God
All the antitheses that are suggested in Paul’s text help to construct a valid sketch of the anthropology of the resurrection. This sketch is at the same time more detailed than the one which comes from the text of the synoptic Gospels (cf. Matthew 22:30; Mark 12:25; Luke 20:34-35). But on the other hand it is in a certain sense more unilateral.
The words of Christ which the synoptics report open before us the perspective of the eschatological perfection of the body, fully subject to the divinizing profundity of the vision of God face to face. In that vision it will find its inexhaustible source of perpetual virginity (united to the nuptial meaning of the body), and of the perpetual intersubjectivity of all men, who will become (as males and females) sharers in the resurrection.
The Pauline sketch of the eschatological perfection of the glorified body seems to remain rather in the sphere of the interior structure of the man-person. His interpretation of the future resurrection would seem to link up again with body-spirit dualism which constitutes the source of the interior system of forces in man.
This system of forces will undergo a radical change in the resurrection. Paul’s words, which explicitly suggest this, cannot however be understood or interpreted in the spirit of dualistic anthropology, (“Paul takes absolutely no account of the Greek dichotomy between ‘soul and body’…. The Apostle resorts to a kind of trichotomy in which the totality of man is body, soul and spirit.…
All these terms are alive and the division itself has no fixed limit. He insists on the fact that body and soul are capable of being ‘pneumatic,’ spiritual” (B. Rigaux, Dieu l’a ressuscité. Exégèse et Théologie biblique [Gembloux: Duculot, 1973], pp. 406-408).