Performing Beauty: Liturgy, Theology, and Aesthetics

Greg Miller
3 min readFeb 14, 2021

Unit 2: Theological Foundations of the Aesthetic

The beauty of Divine Revelation in Catholicism has been lost on those practicing popular forms of the religion. This beauty can only be understood by grasping both the positive messaging of love and Christian solidarity, while also facing the immense suffering of Christ being crucified, and our role and responsibility for the necessity of His suffering. While there is tremendous beauty in the image of the crucified Christ for all that this symbolism represents, it is only through the eyes of the suffering of the poor that we can find an appropriate lens for true appreciation. As society has advanced and created greater economic power, we have, over time, disassociated ourselves from the Catholic symbolism that represents the power and Majesty of God’s incomprehensible act of love for all mankind.

Balthasar writes that the essence of Divine Revelation is lost in either a cosmological; religious philosophy, or anthropological; suitability to the subject, reduction. His main point here is that we lose the ability to grasp the meaning and genuineness of Christianity the moment we attempt to understand it through the lens of knowledge, thought, existence, or deed. He asserts that the only genuine way to approach Divine Revelation is within the realm of “disinterested beauty.” God’s ultimate act of love should be taken in totality; unchanged and viewed with reverence.

Goizueta states that our reduction is rooted in our fear of death, which threatens our security in this life. The poor live at the edges of life each day and have no buffer, no false sense of self and security that drive them to create this face. This buffer hinders our ability to connect with others and challenges our ability to feel or express feelings of joy and love. This sense of false security is why we wish to only perceive revelation without its suffering.

And so it follows that the symbolism of Divine Revelation, and thus, Divine Love forces man to consider what Balthasar (page 61) calls an “undeniable fact” that he is a sinner without the capability to possess true love. Therefore any full symbolism of Divine Revelation and Love must be diluted or cleansed to become palatable for man’s consumption.

Goizueta finds the symbolism of Divine Love and revelation abundant in the communities of the poor. He contends that the deracination of religious symbols is a result of the tendencies of theological propositions and religious subjectivism.

Balthasar compares the love of God to that of a new mother radiating love in the face of her newborn. He contends that the seed of love is planted in the newborn or there would be no ability for the mother and child to connect in such a way. He states that God and man have the same connection. If that is true we must also have that same connection between men, both the rich and the poor, and yet, for the most part, we ignore the suffering of the poor to our own peril. Balthasar writes (page 97), “And thus whoever simply refuses to shut his eyes to the abyss of hatred, despair, and depravity that can be seen in the life of men on earth, and thus who refuses to close himself off from reality, will find it difficult to contrive his own escape from this damnation through a purely individualistic conception of salvation, and to abandon everyone else to the grinding wheels of hell.”

Goizueta clearly expresses that we have shut our eyes as Christian Catholics to the plight of the poor. He contends that they are much richer as Christians for their experiences. Much of the richness is that the poor have not divorced themselves from the theological foundations of the aesthetic beauty of the Divine. The poor have kept the connections between the symbolism and the sacraments as they have not yet been lost to consumerism.

While practicing popular forms of Catholicism have reduced much of our Catholic Divine symbolism to simple and more abstract forms, such as a cross without a corpus; we have the ability to view these majestic Divine symbols through a more appropriate lens: of self-surrender to God; submitting to God’s meaning of love, justice, truth, humanity, and freedom.