Friday, May 10, 2013

A Remnant from The Purple Curtain

The following excerpt touches upon a point that has piqued my interest for the past few years now.  Although the author, Brian S. Chan, does not deal specifically with liturgical ceremonies or worship practices, I believe that what he has to say does pertain to the diversities and controversies that have come to be the norm in those areas.  From my reading, it is clear that Luther's views on music, in particular, coincide closely with the ancient and medieval understanding of beauty, such as Chan describes (drawing upon Umberto Eco):

"It is fascinating to see how the definition of beauty in society changed from a sense of objectivity to relativity over the last two thousand plus years, an aesthetic evolution that Umberto Eco detailed in his monumental work History of Beauty.  The ancient Greeks and medieval philosophers predominantly subscribed to a canon or standard of beauty, which held to the qualities of harmony, proportion, goodness and truth.  This standard, however, in no way diminished the pleasurable effects beauty has on the one who experiences it.  But there is a difference between the definition and the effects.

"As Eco tracked beauty's definition over the centuries, he discovered the canon gradually became less popular.  Society wanted to push beyond the canon.  People wanted to define beauty according to originality, the surprise factor, the genius factor and the passion element.  When Eco's research finally landed in our contemporary day of mass media and plurality, he concluded that a single idea of beauty no longer exists.  Beauty could be whatever is pleasing, provocative, marketable or consumable.  Beauty was defined by 'whatever sells,' fueling an overall superficial sense of beauty.  He reasoned that if a time traveler from the future visited our present-day, he would 'have to surrender before the orgy of tolerance, the total syncretism and the absolute and unstoppable polytheism of Beauty.'

"According to Eco, beauty in contemporary time no longer had a unified definition.  It's not surprising that the plurality of beauty reflects the plurality of spirituality as well.  Tolerance that allows for multiple views versus an objective view of truth became the greatest virtue and definition of ideologies in our time" (The Purple Curtain, by Brian S. Chan, Chapter Two).

1 comment:

  1. Rev. Fr. Stuckwisch,

    Perhaps our contemporary liturgical confusion stems not only from our complacency about the reality (and implications) of God's Presence, but also from the unhappy loss of a shared definition of Beauty ... how we in practice dare to approach that Presence. Righteousness and Peace may kiss (Ps 85:10), but I think Presence and Beauty ideally go hand in hand in Lutheran worship.

    The ancient and medieval mind prized order and rules (that "canon of beauty" thing) quite highly; it is why arithmetic and geometry were part and parcel of the Quadrivium of yore. Arithmetic is essentially the theory of number, while geometry constitutes the theory of space. The truths described by their theories allow for no tolerance, no margin of error, no personal subjectivity, and certainly no "close enough's." The solutions most admired by their students and practitioners were those commonly reckoned as "elegant," that peculiarly splendid stuff piercing the tohu and bohu of confusion with the blinding flash of inspiration. "And God saw the light, that it was good..."(Gen 1:4). It necessarily follows that James Clerk's Maxwell's descriptive mathematics of God's light, would of course be something elegant.

    Music, approached seriously as it deserves, is but the application of the theory of number, while astronomy ... the music of the spheres ... is but application of the theory of geometry. Cacophony will not do, in flow of worship or the workings of the Universe; because God never declared the confused darkness to be good, and the Son (we are told) holds all things together, whether we speak of the highest heavens, the depths of hell, or the matter-slurping black holes.

    The ways in which we acknowledge God's Presence, in our worship, best be those which prize Beauty of an orderly kind, because the Christ who is Present is the Truth of truths. The Lord Jesus did not reject, but reveled in the elegance of an alabaster box once. One might hope the thing was crafted to reflect the geometer's Golden Mean, as well as the higher Golden Rule: a beautiful sacrifice for Him, as we desire the beautiful Sacrifice suspended from a tree.

    "Beauty is truth, truth beauty," -- that is all
    Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

    (From Ode on a Grecian Urn: John Keats, licensed apothecary, physician, and surgeon)


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