instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A beautiful paradox

In the previous post, I proposed the following paradox:
  1. Revelation and theology teach that God is necessarily beautiful to all men.
  2. Empirical experience shows us that God is not regarded as beautiful to all men.
Using the per effectum definition of beauty as "that which, being apprehended, pleases," #1 means that we  always and necessarily find it pleasurable to apprehend God. We can't look at God and find Him not beautiful.

On the other hand, #2 means that we do, in fact, look at God and find Him not beautiful. We can go all the way back to Adam in the Garden: "I heard thy voice in paradise; and I was afraid."

Some might say, "God isn't beautiful to a sinner because sin implies desiring something other than God more than God. Anyone who does find God beautiful wouldn't desire something else more than God, and therefore wouldn't be a sinner."

The problem with this is that it resolves the paradox by denying tenet #1. If God is necessarily beautiful to all men, then God is necessarily beautiful to all sinners.

I think a better resolution is to say that sin impairs the ability to apprehend God. Sin darkens the eye of reason, and we can't see in the dark. It's not God that we don't find beautiful, but a partial, darkened, distorted image of Him, which is all we can see with those logs in our eyes. Adam wasn't afraid of God's voice, he was afraid of what he heard, and what he heard wasn't God's voice. No longer clearly hearing God's voice was one consequence of sin Adam learned first by experience.

Still, even the sinner finds God beautiful to the extent he can perceive Him. The sinner desires what he perceives as beautiful, and all that is beautiful comes from, and returns to, God. As Pseudo-Dionysius puts it:
...the licentious man, even if he have been deprived of the Good, as regards his irrational lust, in this respect he neither is, nor desires realities, but nevertheless he participates in the Good, in his very obscure echo of union and friendship.*
 You'll note that I used a quotation about the Good to bolster an argument about the Beautiful, but then, as you know, the Good and the Beautiful are the same thing.

* Thereby showing that the old wheeze, that the man who knocks on a brothel door is seeking God, is a very old wheeze indeed.