Photo by Eric Vanden Eykel
Beauty is not necessary to theology, and this is what makes it indispensable to theology.
There are many necessities in theology; that is, many inherent qualities and determinations without which theology ceases to be. For example, theology disintegrates without the great inheritance it receives from the Tradition, those age-old faces and writings and practices that never die. Theology denies its own heart if it rejects Christ, the very figure who forms the sinews of its operations. Christ is the peerless revelation of God’s own face, and theology cannot function without constant reference to who he is and what he has accomplished. This is also why theology cannot renounce its past, since it receives the contours of Christ’s countenance from the Church’s living memory. And indeed, theology cannot be theology without the Church.
Theology has its own logic. This is not the logic of the contemporary academic mind, which worships facts and denies truth in a single oblation unto the luminous present moment. Theology does not long live in such an environment, in the current whirlwind of thoughts. It has its own logic, but not the sort that withstands the iron utilitarian pressures of a world that cannot help but see theology as a game of shadows. A shouting match woven of silver clouds and rumors.
Stung by the implication that it has no use, that it has no worth, theology has scrambled to prove that it is a science. It introduced sociological studies to its writings. It exalted empirical history over faith. But it never was a science, not as we use the word. It was never this, and should never have tried to be this, and the world rightly exposed the lie.
The world can still smell a lie.
Instead of redeeming itself, theology now endures a strange and tragic guillotine – beheading itself first so that it may more quickly be consigned to a benighted past.
Despite being functionally dead, theology continues on. Some do not acknowledge its death, and speak to Charon as if he were at a conference with them. Others do, and retreat to a peevish fundamentalism. Theology lives in the Church, which acts and reasons as of old – and is treated by theologians as the most embarrassing anachronism.
It is all such a terrible shroud.
But beauty – beauty is not necessary. Beauty delights in the extravagant, leaps beyond the reasonable, and indeed outmatches our hearts. It is more-than-emotion, though not without feeling. It relishes without dissolving into the saccharine. So wonderful we wonder how we can do without it.
And Christ is beautiful. Most beautiful – Beauty itself. The most extravagant expression of God’s love, for he is God’s love – for he is God. He outdistances our minds and our hearts without relinquishing them. He is the more-than-emotion so strongly felt. To be yearned for without exhaustion.
And of course the world needs him, but it could never force him. He—the most necessary to theology, to the world—is not anyone’s logical conclusion. We did not decide to love him; he decided to love us, and first, and we love him for it.
Theology must recollect his face as beautiful if it wishes to live again. If it wishes to speak to the world again.
Theology desires the beauty it has forgotten.
And the world loves the beauty it forsakes.