- The Sacred Is Still Beautiful:The Liturgical and Theological Aesthetics of Pope Benedict XVI
In his postsynodal apostolic exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis, Pope Benedict XVI wrote that the "liturgy is inherently linked to beauty: it is veritatis splendor" (35). The veritatis splendor, which the liturgy reveals is Jesus Christ himself, who is the living revelation and icon of the Father's love. Beauty is not merely an accidental or ornamental part of the liturgy. Because God himself is unveiled in sacramental form in the celebration of the liturgy, Benedict wrote that beauty is "an essential element of the liturgical action" (Ibid.). Through man's participation in the Liturgy, he is transfigured in the beauty of Christ so he can transform the culture through a Eucharistic life.
Beauty is the foundation of the Holy Father's liturgical and eucharistic theology. Tracey Rowland has argued that the transcendental of beauty is one of the central themes and concerns of his pontificate.1 Genuine and authentic reform of both the liturgy and modern culture can take place through the theological aesthetics that has influenced the thought of Benedict. First, I will present the Holy Father's liturgical aesthetics in relation to the development of the philosophical aesthetics of Saint Thomas Aquinas and the theological [End Page 101] aesthetics of the Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar. Second, I will outline Benedict's writings on the celebration of the liturgy and the mystery of the Holy Eucharist in light of his theological aesthetics. Finally, I will conclude with how his beautiful vision of the Eucharist is part of the antidote to the ugly formlessness of the culture of utility and death.
As head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger gave an interview with Vittorio Messori. The course of their discussion inevitably led to the topic of the liturgy. In the course of the conversation, Ratzinger stated, "The only really effective apologia for Christianity comes down to two arguments, namely, the saints the Church has produced and the art which has grown in her womb."2 Holiness and beauty go hand in hand in the mind of the Holy Father. This is why the true transfiguration of culture begins with a rebeautification of the Liturgy through an authentic "reform of the reform."3 Ratzinger continues his response: "If the Church is to continue to transform and humanize the world, how can she dispense with beauty in her liturgies, that beauty which is so closely linked with love and with the radiance of the Resurrection? No. Christians must not be too easily satisfied. They must make their Church into a place where beauty—and hence truth—is at home. Without this the world will become the first circle of hell." According to Fyodor Dostoevsky, "Beauty will save the world." From his prepapal and papal writings, it is clear that Benedict believes beauty will save and reform the Liturgy and subsequently it will save the world. Yet it can only be salvific insofar as beauty transcends this world to point toward Christ (who is the form of beauty) and sanctity itself. The encounter of Christians with the beautiful face of Jesus Christ is a constant theme in the papal addresses and homilies of the Holy Father. This iconic Christology is the source and summit of Benedict's theological aesthetics. [End Page 102]
Toward a Theological Aesthetics
Benedict shares and reechoes the sentiments of the Balthasar regarding theological aesthetics. Insofar as beauty ultimately reveals the face of Christ, it leads the person to discover the Truth.4 Often, Benedict makes reference to the via pulchritudinis, the path of beauty, which leads to the truth of the faith. On November 21, 2009, in a meeting with artists in the Sistine Chapel, Benedict stated:
The theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar begins his great work entitled The Glory of the Lord—A Theological Aesthetics with these telling observations: "Beauty is the word with which we shall begin. Beauty is the last word that the thinking intellect dares to speak, because it simply forms a halo, an untouchable crown around the double constellation of the true and the good and their inseparable relation to one...