The power of music has been lauded as essential not just to man but to the cosmos by diverse figures ranging from Plato to Martin Luther, who declared “next to the word of God, music deserves the highest praise.” Pythagoras first spoke of the “music of the spheres” in an astronomical sense, as the same geometry found in humming strings could be found in the spacing of the planets; Aristotle argued against such “music of the spheres” (since no one could actually hear it), though two millennia (1619) later Johannes Kepler published De Harmonice Mundi (Harmony of the Spheres) arguing for just such a connection.
In speaking of this desire for our own far off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness… I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence … We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.
– CS Lewis, Weight of Glory
Blaue Blume / Langtans Blaa Blomma (Blue Flower of Longing) from wooden flower arrangement from recent local Octoberfest vendor;
Wanderer on the Sea of Fog by Caspar David Friedrich, 1818, German Romantic
“Beauty is the last thing which the thinking intellect dares to approach, since only it dances as an uncontained splendor around the double constellation of the true and the good and their inseparable relation to one another… We can be sure that whoever sneers at her name … can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love.” – Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics
“The witness borne by Being becomes untrustworthy for the person who can no longer read the language of beauty.” – Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics
“Before the beautiful—no, not really before but within the beautiful—the whole person quivers. He not only ‘finds’ the beautiful moving; rather, he experiences himself as being moved and possessed by it.” – Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics
Completing Balthasar: Garcia-Rivera and Community of the Beautiful
In developing the foundation of aesthetics, Balthasar leads us to rapture and ecstasy, beholding the splendor within the form. But what becomes of reason? Can we be enraptured of a form which deceives us? Since all that glitters is not indeed gold, we find ourselves at the nexus of faith and reason, just as, Garcia-Rivera reminds us, Dante found himself as Virgil (classical virtue and reason) led him to the gates of Paradise, at which point he needed a more capable guide, the beautiful Beatrice (faith, with a loveliness spoken of by her beauty). Continue reading