Understanding that man is body, soul and spirit might be a step towards establishing a culture of beauty.
I have written before, here of the idea that liturgy and culture are linked. Each forms and reflects the other. If this is the case, then the answer to the question of how to reform a culture of ugliness, even a culture of death in any lasting way has its roots in, or at least must include firmly at its heart, liturgical reform.
A true Catholic culture is one that not only reflects the liturgy but through its compelling beauty, is so powerful that it overcomes other cultures and dominates the profane (ie the wider culture outside the domain of religious practice). This is the case with the gothic and the baroque. All art, architecture, and music during these periods, for example, seemed to be drawing on the forms that were set in the liturgy. In his book The Spirit of the Liturgy, Pope Benedict XVI says the following: ‘The Enlightenment pushed the Faith into a kind of intellectual and even social ghetto. Contemporary culture turned away from the Faith and trod another path, so that faith took flight in historicism, the copying of the past, or else attempted to compromise, or lost itself resignation and cultural abstinence.’
In other words, by the 19th century and as a result of the Enlightenment, the culture of faith was separated from the wider culture. Catholic culture, as it was manifested at this time, was not a genuinely Catholic culture of beauty, but rather an emasculated, paler version. In the area that I know well, art, we see this very clearly. There are some exceptions, but in general, the academic art of the 19th century is only a poorly defined shadow of the 17th century baroque from which it is descended. For those who are interested to know more, you might read for example articles here and here or for a fuller account read the book Baroque by John Rupert Martin.
To give you sense, look for yourself. The paintings below are St Paul by Velazquez, the Baroque master;
and by Ingres, the star of the 19th-century French Academy, which in comparison, to my eye, is sterile, cold and clinical:
If we accept the premise and this assessment of the culture, then it indicates that in the 19th century there were problems with the liturgy as well as the culture. This would explain why the response to the Enlightenment in this period was not only intellectual but also liturgical, with the beginnings of a liturgical reform movement.
This being so, the question remains as to what it is about the Enlightenment that affected the liturgy? There is a helpful essay in a booklet called Looking Again at the Question of the Liturgy with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger: the Proceedings of the July 2001 Fontgombault Liturgical Conference, edited by Alcuin Reid. One of the presentations was by the late Stratford Caldecott called Liturgy and Trinity, Towards a Liturgical Anthropology. In this, Mr. Caldecott argued that the problems lay in the fact that the anthropology – the understanding of the nature of man – had strayed from a full recognition of the spirit as part of the anthropology described by scripture. St Paul, for example, talks of body, soul, and spirit. There had been tendency argues Caldecott, to equate, or at least insufficiently differentiate between (in our understanding), soul and spirit. (To read this online, go to the link here; in the left-hand column click ‘Online Reading’; scroll down the articles by Stratford Caldecott and you will see the essay title.)
His description of the ‘spirit’ is most interesting. Equating it with the intellectus of the Western medievals or the nous of the Eastern Church in the tradition of Church Fathers, the spirit is the spiritual receptive knowing power of the human mind. This is the aspect that ‘sees’, so to speak, God and is receptive to grace. The use of the terminology can vary from person to person and this can be confusing sometimes, for me at least, when trying to understand these things. One thing that the Catechism is clear on as that talk of the spirit, which is non-material and spiritual in nature, does not introduce a duality into the soul. So man is a profound unity of body and soul and this describes the human person. The spirit is the higher part of the soul or as I once heard it described, the ‘soul of the soul’. It that part that is closest to God, the portal for grace which pours out from God, transforming us (transfiguring) into the image and likeness of Him. While the fathers do therefore sometimes use the word soul interchangeably with a description of the full spiritual dimension of man that includes the spirit, the distinction of the two in the minds of the medievals, it seems, is not lost either. Occasionally in icons, the artist paints a ‘bump’ on the forehead. I was told that this shape drawn in the forehead, between the eyes, is sometimes considered a physical manifestation of the spiritual eye, the nous. (See the icons displayed here.)
A quote from Joseph Pieper’s Leisure the Basis of Culture (p11-12) was helpful to me here: ‘The medievals distinguished between the intellect as ratio and the intellect as intellectus. Ratio is the power of discursive thought, or searching and re-searching refining and concluding, whereas the intellectus refers to the ability of ‘simply looking’ (simplex instuitus) to which the truth presents itself as a landscape presents itself to the eye. The spiritual knowing power of the human mind, as the ancients understood it, is really two things in one: ratio and intellectus: the act of knowing involves both. The path of discursive reasoning is accompanied and penetrated by the intellectus’ untiring vision, which is not active but passive, or better, receptive – a receptively operating power of the intellect.’ It seems that the intellectus here could be identified with the nous or spirit.
Without a full acknowledgement of this tripartite anthropology, suggested Caldecott, a flawed dualism consisting only of body and soul is created and an instability in which one of the aspects tends to dominate the other to the exclusion of God (just as Cartesian dualism was inherently unstable and led in two very different directions: materialism and idealism). According to trinitarian anthropology, the human person is by its very nature other-centered. We love God, and this opens us to the life of the other; we love our neighbor, and this opens us to the love of God. Without fully appreciating the spiritual faculty of the soul we cannot properly understand either marriage (based on the self-giving love of man and woman) or the Mass (the marriage of heaven and earth). Thus the crisis over Humanae Vitae in the 1960s was paralleled by the crisis over reforms in the liturgy because both had the same root — an earlier loss of the sense of the spirit uniting husband and wife in openness to new life on the one hand, and of the spirit uniting priest and laity in one single work of sacrifice on the other.
To those who had acquired this mentality, it seemed that the Mass had become an exercise in which the priest did his thing at the altar and the laity waited and watched or prayed their rosary in the pews. This is why there was also, more recently a reaction that went to the other extreme by over-stressing “activity” in the Mass, along with human fellowship and social justice, as though these were the only things that were important. Many religious orders went into steep decline as the communitarian aspect of their mission took precedence over the liturgical, the love of neighbor over the love of God. It is the spirit in man that opens us to the “vertical” dimension of grace: without it, both marriage and the liturgy are reduced to activities performed on the horizontal plane, with little or no relationship to heaven.
It strikes me that such a neglect as a result of the Enlightenment should result in a cultural decline as well as a liturgical decline is made all the more understandable when one considers the role of the intellectus, or spirit, in the apprehension of beauty. In the first part of her little essay Beauty, Contemplation and the Virgin Mary, Sister Thomas Mary McBride, OP describes succinctly in just a few paragraphs, the traditional understanding of beauty and how man apprehends it (and as such I would recommend this piece for anyone seeking an introduction to this subject). She draws on the Latin medievals and states that beauty illuminates the intellectus, describing the apprehension of beauty as the ‘gifted perfection of seeing’. Then echoing Caldecott in the connection between intellectus and spirit says: ‘In the light of the above, this writer would suggest that the proper place of beauty is in the spirit.’
An appropriate active participation in the liturgy is one that engages the full person in order to encourage within us the right interior disposition. Any participation in the liturgy that does not engage body, soul, and spirit, therefore, does not engage the full person. Our participation in the liturgy is the primary educator in the Faith at all levels. A true conformity of body, soul, and spirit is what is desired. One can see that any participation in which consideration of the spirit is neglected (through a balanced active participation of soul and body) will result in therefore necessarily result in a deficiency in our ability to apprehend beauty, which resides in the spirit. This explains this link between culture and liturgy and how important liturgical reform is in our efforts to create a culture of beauty today.
St Ephrem the Syrian who lived in the 4th century AD in modern-day Turkey is a Doctor of the Church and one of the Church Fathers referred to by Pope Benedict XVI in one of his weekly addresses and whom he encouraged us to read. St Ephrem wrote the following in the 9th of his Hymns to Paradise:
Far more glorious than the body is the soul, and more glorious still than the soul is the spirit, but more hidden that the spirit is the Godhead.
At the end, the body will put on the beauty of the soul, the soul will put on that of the spirit, while the spirit shall put on the very likeness of God’s majesty.
For bodies shall be raised to the level of souls, and the soul to that of the spirit, while the spirit shall be raised to height of God’s majesty;