Beauty will Save the World
Dostoevsky in his novel, ‘The Idiot,’ had a character called Mishkin, a Christlike figure, who others referred to as the Idiot because he was so out of kilter with the values of the world and those around him, kept repeating the phrase, ‘Beauty will save the World.’ It is an enigmatic phrase that maybe has some credence. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, another famous Russian author, wrote later that he felt this was a prophecy about the future.
A thousand years ago Prince Vladimir the Great, the pagan monarch of Kiev, was looking for a new religion to unify the Russian people so he sent out envoys to investigate the great faiths from the neighbouring realms. When the delegations returned they gave the prince a multitude of reports on different faiths. He chose one from the envoys who went to the Hagia Sophia temple in Constantinople because of the following report they sent back:
‘Then we went to Constantinople and they led us to the place where they worship their God, and we knew not whether we were in heaven or earth, for on earth there is no such vision nor beauty, and we do not know how to describe it; we only know that God dwells among men. We cannot forget that beauty.’
Upon receiving the report Prince Vladimir adopted Christianity as the new faith for the Russian people. What persuaded Prince Vladimir to embrace Christianity was how beautiful it was.
Our Church Fathers stated that there were 3 great virtues: Goodness, Truth & Beauty. Today there are many who are in search of some form of spirituality to give them what materialism promises but is unable to deliver. Our Church responds with logical arguments for the truth of Christianity (apologetics) and also by making the case for the moral goodness Christianity can produce (ethics). This is all fine. But what about beauty? Is it possible that our faith and spirituality can be communicated in terms of beauty? To a generation suspicious of truth claims and unconvinced by moral assertions, beauty has a way of sneaking past our defences and speaking to us in unique ways. A Faith and spirituality enchanted by beauty, formed by beauty, and reflecting beauty, has the opportunity to present to a sceptical and jaded world, hope, life and passion. The story of Jesus Christ is breathtakingly beautiful! Take the cross – on the surface a hideous, repellent form of torture for those who opposed the Roman empire. And yet Jesus turns this emblem of death, suffering and torture into something beautiful, into an emblem of forgiveness, love, hope and life.
Notice the reaction of the shoppers: all are stunned, taken out of their comfort zones; some capture the moment on their cell phones; others rise to join in; some simply sit with faces full of wonder; while others wipe away tears; a minority maybe don’t experience the beauty of the moment. Perhaps what makes the video somewhat amusing is also what makes it deeply moving is its incongruence; the juxtaposing of high art and a shopping mall. In the video clip the modern banality of a shopping mall has been temporally transformed into a cathedral, something jaw dropingly beautiful. This “random act of culture” in Ontario could be a metaphor for how the church could position itself in the world. Instead of shaking our fist at a secular culture, we could attract people by enacting a beautiful presence within the world; we could be joyful singers transforming the secular with the sacred. Instead of alienated separatists sequestered in Christian enclaves, we could transform food courts into cathedrals by our song.