Rules for the Aesthetics of the Universe

Beauty consists in unity within variety, a principle that can help us to understand what the Catholic Cause is, considered as an ideal that aims to ensure that creation as a whole, and not just in some partial aspects, gives glory to God.

Considering creation, we can ask ourselves why God, being infinitely perfect and having in himself all plenitude, wished to create the immense quantity of beings that make up the universe.

While it is true that there was no reason why He could not give existence to the cosmos, on the other hand there was no reason that obliged Him to do so. In His infinite goodness and wisdom, God wanted it that way. And then, as if by an outpouring, a countless number of beings were produced by Him.

Mirror of the divine perfections

His intention in creating such a great number of beings was that they should not only mirror His perfection, but reproduce it in the most varied degrees.

Could not God create a single creature which, by itself, reflected all His perfections as well as the whole of created beings? We do not think that this answer to this question can be considered the object of unanimous opinion among philosophers, but we are very much inclined to think that it would be metaphysically impossible. God created the universe composed of many creatures so that, through their plurality on the one hand, and their hierarchy on the other, they might mirror divine perfection in an appropriate manner.

The raison d’être of creation consists, therefore, in giving glory to God by mirroring in a complete and full way the perfections that exist in Him.

These considerations are important for an accurate understanding of what the Catholic Cause is. It could be defined as the ideal that aims to ensure that creation – considered as a whole and not only in one or another of its partial aspects – gives glory to God. It is the ensemble of families, cities, nations, humanity and, ultimately, the entire universe that is to glorify God.

The principle of unity within variety and its laws

According to Scholasticism, beauty consists in unity within variety. We judge an object beautiful when its varied elements form one single whole. Fragmented beings, without unity, have neither beauty nor attractiveness. Therefore, unity is the form of beauty; and variety is its matter, a secondary but indispensable element of beauty.

In a certain sense, every being has in itself this unity and this variety. Let us examine, for example, the human soul. We know that it has intelligence, will and sensibility. This is the variety of the human soul. But this variety is set within the unity of the human person.

The principle of unity within variety has its laws, which embody what we call the aesthetics of the universe. Let us first analyse the laws of variety.

Laws of variety: the law of typical character

To understand this law, let us use an example. Let us take a room with various objects: armchairs, paintings, chandeliers, carpets, and curtains. This is the variety of elements. Under what conditions, however, will this variety be authentic?

Only when each of the objects is typically and characteristically itself. The armchairs must be typically themselves; the paintings must be characteristically themselves. Let us say that all these objects were made of a single substance – of plastic, for example – and that their shapes did not differ between them, the chandelier looking like the armchair and the armchair like the chandelier: we would have no variety. The characteristic is, therefore, a distinctive sign of authentic variety, in which true variety is realized.

Why, for example, do we have a tendency to like and admire a characteristic Andalusian? Because in him are very distinct all the notes which make him different from a Biscayan or a Navarrese. If there were nothing but the modern standard man, there would be no variety. We find it beautiful, in ancient Spain, that the sovereign called himself king of all the Spains. Yes, for each of its regions was like a little Spain, with its architecture, its dances and its music, all very characteristic of each one.

The same can be admired in the Gothic style which, while being full of variety, preserves a profound unity and is therefore balanced and harmonious.

Law of contrast: necessary for the completeness of beauty

The Catholic Church unites within itself institutions with diametrically opposing aspects, in a harmonic contrast that constitutes one of its beauties
“St. Benedict and Bishop Donatus”, by Gherardo Starnina – National Museum of Fine Arts, Stockholm (Sweden)

Different beings must also manifest a certain contrast, a certain opposition, for their beauty to be complete.

The Catholic Church has, in its institutions, many varieties that strike a contrast. There is a magnificent contrast between the Pope, who is at the pinnacle of power and before whom everyone kneels, and a humble lay brother who protests if anyone kneels before him. This opposition is full of harmony. It is precisely in this contrast, in this extreme of antagonistic aspects, that variety takes on all its richness.

In this sense, it is painful to see how, in the modern world, beauty is mutilated by uniformity.

Law of gradation: entirely harmonious hierarchy

It pleased Divine Providence to make all things hierarchical. In creating minerals, plants, animals, men and Angels, He established within each of these categories an immense range of intermediary degrees. This hierarchy, full of diversity, is at the same time entirely harmonious. There is an infinity of nuances between the various degrees, without any abrupt leaps.

Moreover, without these intermediate degrees the universe would be harsh and inhospitable. Let us imagine that man lived in a world where there were only minerals, and that Providence made him draw from them the food indispensable for his sustenance. He would not feel right, for there is an abyss between man and minerals. But when he finds plants and animals next to him, a natural scale is established which produces in him a feeling of well-being.

The organic and graduated hierarchy is pleasing to the Catholic spirit because it constitutes a unity full of variety. This law of gradation, transposed to the social-political field, produced medieval society, in which the social classes formed a smooth hierarchy, with an infinity of intermediate statuses between the peasant and the king.

Modern civilization, on the contrary, hates variety and idolizes a pseudo-unity. It detests everything that is typical and, in general, loves what is promiscuous and confused. By abolishing variety and replacing it with a senseless uniformity, the Revolution destroys the resemblance of the creature to its Creator.

Law of harmonious movement: element of beauty in creation

There is yet another interesting type of variety: that of transformation. There is a constant transformation in the world, a continuous movement. But the varieties of movement God has placed in the universe are gradual and harmonic, following the example of the gradations of the hierarchy we analysed in the previous law. This harmony of movement constitutes an element of beauty in creation.

As an example, let us consider the development of human life in a just man. The man is born, blossoms with a movement rich in harmony in adolescence, and nobly becomes mature; he grows old in dignity and when God calls his soul, it is like the harvest of a precious fruit that will be taken to Heaven. It is a beautiful trajectory.

But what does the modern spirit want? It wants men to be young men until they drop dead. Whether in dress or grooming, everyone has to appear to be of the same young age.

The divine plan, which established the inequality of ages, is not tolerated. When, however, the modern spirit is forced to acknowledge this inequality – which, moreover, is indisputable – it does so in a brutish way, disregarding the gradations between the ages and despising old age, which is of no use since it produces nothing…

This can be concluded by observing the life of an old family and that of a modern family. In the former, grandparents, parents, children, relatives and friends gather in the same room; the most varied ages mingle together, chatting: variety in unity. In the modern family, if the parents throw a reception, the children should not attend. If the children throw a party, the parents – especially the mother – must leave… The parents are called “the old folks” by the children, and they do not want to spend any more time with them.

The revolutionary mentality rejects that intermingling, that rapport between the ages, which is a mark of divine perfection that God placed in creation.

Let us now move on to the study of the laws of unity.

Laws of unity: law of continuity and cohesion

Unity presupposes an absence of interruption, two types of which can be observed: by continuity or cohesion. Continuity is the simple absence of gaps, so that in a single being there is no rupture. Much more profound is the unity that is observed in cohesion: in this case there is an internal articulation between parts, so that they are bound to one another by intimate and powerful bonds.

Among the social classes, in a Christian civilization, there should be continuity and cohesion. Although numerous and profoundly different from one another, the whole that they constitute is continuous and cohesive.

It is continuous because the different classes explain each other, help each other mutually, and form a whole without the ruptures which characterize revolutionary society. And it is cohesive because the classes, though distinct, esteem each other, defend each other, do not consider each other strangers or enemies, but love each other in the true spirit of Our Lord, who was a prince and an artisan at the same time.

How different all this is from the class struggle of the modern world!

Law of harmonious transition

When dealing with the laws of variety and examining the law of gradation, we have seen that there must be hierarchy in creation. If we now study the laws of unity, we shall see that this hierarchy, in order to be authentic, must be composed of degrees which overlap one another harmoniously, and not in any haphazard manner.

In hierarchy, variety is assured by the multiplicity of intermediate degrees, whereas unity is assured by the seamless transition between these degrees.

This is what we see in the rainbow: the colours that make it up are arranged in a suave transition. Here we see the wisdom of God, who created the universe with magnificent unity, the expression of great force, and at the same time with magnificent variety, the expression of great power.

In the rainbow, with its colours arranged in a suave transition, we see the wisdom of God who created the universe with magnificent unity
Sai Thong National Park (Thailand)

These are the very values we should love from the depths of our souls, for they relate to a perfection – the perfection of hierarchy – in which variety and unity are found in an excellent degree.

Laws of proportion and symmetry: different elements interacting

Sacred Scripture teaches us that all things were created by God with number, weight and measure. We see, in fact, that in all bodies, nature, movement and mass are proportional.

We have an expressive example of this proportion in the Catholic Church. Being an immense, rich and beautiful organization, it is personified par excellence in the person of the Pope. But at the same time we find it touching that the Catholic Church is also personified in a small village priest. This personification is more in proportion to the peasants; it is at the level of their souls, without intimidating or constraining them. In the curé of a village, the representation of Our Lord’s priesthood takes on a kind of humble condition, proportionate to these also humble people.

Even with beverages, we can observe proportion. Alongside wines of the highest quality, there are good popular drinks, made specifically for common people.

This is the proportionality of good things. In the king’s house, there are gilded furnishings; in the peasant’s, there are those of carved oak, as in some parts of Europe. In the king’s house, there is gold and silver; in the peasant’s, rustic objects, but which, since they are dignified and artistic, are sometimes as valuable as gold and silver.

This is the proportion – beautiful, light, moderate and reasonable – that we should love with all our strength.

Let us imagine a building with a façade so extensive that it runs the risk of losing unity. If, however, it has at equal towers on either end, its unity will be recuperated through symmetry. In Christianity, the existence of many kings who were equal in strength, glory and power was, precisely, an expression of the principle of symmetry.

Law of monarchy: order according to a supreme element

The fifth law of unity is the law of monarchy. It is indispensable for the beauty of human life. All things, in order to be reduced to their unity, must tend to order themselves around a supreme element, which will be a symbol, a kind of personification of the whole. And it is this personification that gives perfection to unity.

Monarchy is not, as it might perhaps seem, the opposite of hierarchy, but rather its consummation. In it, the beauty of all the different perspectives is concentrated.

Alongside the law of monarchy, there is the law of society. It consists in the fact that things, when placed together, complete and embellish one another.

We have analysed, though very briefly, the laws of the aesthetics of the universe. We shall treat of one more point, closely related to this subject.

Attraction for what best mirrors the perfection of God

Let us take the words: decent, excellent, noble, majestic and sacred. They constitute an ascending gradation.

Of a given object, we can say, first, that it is decent, in the sense of having no stain of shame. Further, we may say that it is excellent, a quality superior to decent. We may, proceeding further, affix the adjective noble, which is more than excellent and decent. More than noble, we can say that the object is majestic, a term which, however, is not specifically different from noble, since it differs only in degree. Finally, we may add that the object is sacred, when it contains values that surpass human majesty.

In this gradation of values, a very religious spirit will be attracted by that which best mirrors the perfection of God: the majestic and the sacred. He will seek, in everything, those supreme values and will thirst for them.

Having this spirit, man will desire a society in which, alongside many decent things, there are several excellent, noble, majestic and sacred things. And then that man will naturally create a society that realizes, in this almost fluid order of things, an admirable variety and a perfect unity.

It is clear, then, that when a person knows and loves the principles of the variety and unity of the universe, and when this person professes the Catholic Faith – for only the Catholic has the presuppositions to understand these principles fully – such a person in fact profoundly religious, in the truest sense of the word.

This picture we have described of the aesthetics of the universe with its laws, of the divine reflections placed by the Creator in all things, in the last analysis, everything that fervent Catholics love, everything that they thirst for, this the Revolution wants to destroy, to eliminate, to extinguish.

As Catholics, then, we must deeply love the face of God reflected in the true order of things. But in order that our love may reach the heights it should, let us learn to apply these laws of variety and unity.

Thus, whenever something causes admiration and delight, let us know how to perceive which of the laws of the aesthetics of the universe is applicable to it. By acting in this way, we will do something immensely pleasing to Our Lady. 

Taken from: Conference.
São Paulo, 1/2/1965



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