“Beauty will save the world.”
To be completely honest, I always thought this quote by Dostoevsky was a little corny. I mean, how could beauty ‘save the world’? It’s not even a living thing, much less Superman. In fact, it seems completely intangible and hard to even define. So why in the world would Dostoevsky, the famous writer, say such a thing? And why would great Catholic thinkers and popes such as St. John Paul II, Paul VI, and Benedict XVI echo this statement?
When we were in Europe, most especially in Rome, these words finally made sense to me and took on meaning in a powerful way. As I stood in St. Peter’s Basilica and looked up, I was completely surrounded by beauty from every side, and it was breathtaking. I felt like I was being embraced, entirely taken into the beauty around me. Not only did I realize the power of beautiful art, but throughout our time there I witnessed the power of beautiful music, beautiful Liturgy, beautiful churches, and beautiful souls to transform us, as a huge signpost pointing to the beauty of God.
God not only created beauty, but He Is Beauty Itself! He is the True, the Good, and the Beautiful, so anything on earth that is true, good, or beautiful is a reflection of Him. When something is wholly beautiful, it is entirely good as well and leaves the soul with pure and perfect joy. Of course, on earth we can only experience this joy partially and incompletely, but it is a foretaste, a cherished glimpse of what is to come—eternal bliss with our God forever. I realized that it is precisely this kind of genuine beauty that leads us out of ourselves and our own problems and draws us up to God.
But isn’t beauty in the eye of the beholder? I’ve heard this phrase so many times, but I’m realizing more and more that it’s only part of the story. There is some truth to this statement, because although God’s fingerprints are everywhere it depends on the openness of the person to recognize the traces of beauty. But beauty, at its heart, is objective—it’s a reflection of God Who Is Beauty. Beauty on earth has the power to save the world because it leads us back to the goodness and beauty of our Maker.
Benedict XVI said this so perfectly: “An essential function of genuine beauty is that it gives man a healthy “shock”, it draws him out of himself, wrenches him away from resignation and from being content with the humdrum.” How often do we get caught up in the humdrum of life? We get lost in our daily lives and need that “shock” to be able to recognize God and His hand in the ordinary.
This is why beautiful churches, beautiful music, and beautiful Liturgies are so important. There’s quite a bit of debate on whether churches should have statues, sacred art, etc. or whether they distract from the Eucharist. I see now more clearly than ever that the beauty of sacred art and statues, far from distracting us from what’s happening in the Mass, leads our hearts and minds to Jesus because it reflects the beauty of the Heavenly Church and of God Himself.
So my challenge to you is this: look up some sacred art or sacred music online or find a truly beautiful church to spend some time praying in. Or find a genuinely beautiful soul to spend some time talking with on a deeper level. Let yourself be drawn into the authentic beauty in front of you and out of your day-to-day routine in order to see a glimpse of Beauty Himself.