Aesthetic Relativism

If you don’t have standards for beauty, how do you have them for truth and goodness? Father Dwight doesn’t explain:

If you are a convert to the Catholic faith from Lutheranism or Anglicanism or any other form of tasteful religion, then you will have to deal with Catholic kitsch. What are we to do with the trashy trinkets, the horrid holy cards, the sappy statues? How do you put up with the banal hymns, bad preaching and sentimental religiosity? . . .

It’s true Catholics have some awful music and bad hymns. But we also have Palestrina, Elgar, Mozart and Byrd.

Yes, we do have plastic glow in the dark rosaries and those night lights you plug in where the plastic statue of the Blessed Mother lights up. But we also have the Pieta and the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo and Caravaggio.

It’s true we have brutalist churches that look like a cross between a flying saucer and a parking garage, but we also have Chartres, St. Mark’s in Venice, Sainte-Chapelle, Notre Dame, St. Peter’s and Mont Saint-Michel.

This is the authenticity of the Catholic faith. It is universal. It has room for the peasant and the aristocrat, hoi polloi and high falutin’, the learned and the ignorant, the tasteful and the tacky, the sinner and the saint.

With that kind of tolerance, why would you ever reject Protestantism?

But Father Dwight insists he has standards:

“If I were choosing a church I liked I’d still be an Anglican. I didn’t become a Catholic because I liked the Catholic Church.” I retorted. “I became a Catholic because it’s the true Church.”

How would he know? Because the bishop with all the high end art told him?

You can’t argue this stuff up.

Liberal Education After the Fall

Must a student be baptized before pursuing the true, good, and beautiful? That questioned occurred after reading Fr. James Schall’s summary of Tracy Rowland’s lecture on Roman Catholic education.

For Rowland and Schall, the Trinity informs the study of everything and so Christianity is at the foundation of any genuine education:

…the basic Catholic approach to education is that there “exists a relationship between the human intellect, the theological virtue of faith, and the transcendental of truth; there also exists a relationship between the human will, the theological virtue of love, and the transcendental of goodness, and there exists a relationship between the human memory, the theological virtue of hope and the transcendental of beauty.” The transcendentals—one, being, good, true, beautiful—are predicates we can apply to everything that is. They reflect in our being the inner relation of the three persons within the Trinity.

It is possible to pass through schools, even at the graduate level, and not really learn much of truth or of what is important. This result can happen also in Catholic schools. Thus, we need graduates who actually have “Catholic intellects, Catholic wills, Catholic imaginations, and Catholic memories.” They need to be conjoined in a proper order of soul. We want to know the truth, to control our own disorders, to imagine what can enlarge our vision. A Catholic memory will know of its saints and their foibles, of glories and tragedies.

But I wonder why a Christian approach to education, one that takes Genesis 3 and the triumph of Augustinianism over Pelagianism seriously, wouldn’t first start with fallen human nature and the incapacity for those, either unregenerate or unbaptized (depending on your communion), to see the Trinity in the true, good, and beautiful because unbelievers are turned in on themselves. In other words, doesn’t a Roman Catholic view of education presuppose that professors and students are baptized and belong to the same communion?

Schall goes on to explain that Rowland acknowledges that not all students have the same intellectual capacities:

This is not an evil, but an aspect of a common good that makes it possible to participate in a broad range of goods and fruits of labor, and insights of others. Some will be more gifted intellectually than others. Some will have greater hearts, be more insightful, or possess skills or virtues that are good. Not everyone is a genius. Indeed, studies show that only about twenty percent of students are able to grasp subtle abstract points of knowledge. The teachers and schools must know and attend to the differences.

An educational egalitarianism that presupposed that all students have the same capacities, talents, and discipline will probably end by teaching very little to neglect the real needs and skills of actual students. Some students will be more attracted to truth, others to goodness, others to beauty, and still others to all sorts of practical and unexpected things. “Human lives can turn into narrative wrecks if educators produce people who can think at high levels of abstraction but are emotionally retarded or who lack sapiential experiences, or who conversely are emotionally sensitive but have no intellectual framework with which to make judgments about their inner life.”

But imagine the narrative wreck that comes with a failure to acknowledge that students can’t understand the Triune God without a prior work of grace, that all students try to suppress the truth in unrighteousness apart from God’s saving work.

If Christian education is going to be redeemed, doesn’t redemption need to be part of the conversation?