BEAUTY WILL SAVE THE WORLD - NOTES ON A THEOLOGY OF BEAUTY

Stavros Yiagazoglou

Beauty has a long history in Greek thought and tradition throughout its time. It is about the works and visions of Greek classical antiquity, which, through various expressions, formed an entire "mythology of beauty".

The first stage of the concept of beauty was the mythology about the beauty of the body, which the Greek spirit adored and nurtured. The beauty of the body that was embodied par excellence in works of art was a living reality for the ancient Greek. Although today we simply trace the ancient Greek world and culture through museums and fragments, the works of art of Greek antiquity encompass an entire world-theory.

The ancient Greeks had a specific view of nature as a world, that is, they saw the natural reality as order, harmony, symmetry and above all as a jewel and as beauty. Transferring these principles from the cosmological to the anthropological level, ancient Greek art captured them mainly in sculpture. Thus, studying the ancient statues one realizes that the ancient Greeks carried out in almost their entire culture an exercise and a study of the natural beauty of the world. If the first stage of the study of beauty was the highlighting of the physical beauty of the body, on a second, more refined level, the transition from the mythology and aesthetics of the body to the mental idea of ​​beauty and the mythology of the soul took place.

In Plato, the meaning of beauty refers mainly to the soul, which archetypically contains all the properties of the mythology of the body. The body is nothing but an aesthetic reflection of the virtues and qualities of the soul. With Platonic psychology, beauty is reduced and mainly located in the mental nature of the soul. With Neoplatonism, the swan song of ancient Greek thought, the mythology of the beautiful gets a definitive divorce from the mythology of the body. Plotinus came to consider that the senses are profane. That is why, after all, as Porphyrios testifies, he did not want the sculptors to describe him.

This Neoplatonic theory of the absolute character of the soul was a widespread philosophy during the early Christian centuries. In fact, Christianity in the first years of its appearance on the historical stage was accused by national philosophers as a "philosophical race" and that because of this fact it was in radical contrast with the ancient Greek tradition.


However, the biblical tradition of Christianity highlighted exactly what was missing from the ancient Greek ontology, that is, the importance and existential reality of the human person. The beauty of ancient Greek statues is a deified testimony and reflection of natural beauty.

The world and nature is a closed and self-sufficient reality, which necessarily operates in the context of eternal recycling. Everything, even the gods, are in nature, subject to the operation of nature; "necessarily no gods fight". Behind this necessarily stable edifice, where the world exists with this inviolable order, there is ultimately one and only deity. It is an impersonal cosmological principle identified with necessity. Aristotle called this principle of necessity "the first immovable mover". At this point, ancient Greek thought reached its limits.


The Christian tradition does not refer independently to the natural beauty of the world or to the mental idea of ​​beauty, but literally creates a theology of beauty. The uncreated God, a personal presence, which exists outside of cosmic reality, is the free cause and principle of everything. The world and man, who recapitulates it and represents it, is a poem and an event of freedom and not necessity.

One could establish that Christian thought is already taking steps towards the formation of a theology of beauty. This view begins with the Alexandrian theologians, Clement and Origen, and then follows the Cappadocians, Dionysius the Areopagite, Maximus the Confessor, John of Damascus, Symeon the New Theologian, Gregory Palamas and Nicholas Cavassilas, as well as the great hymnological and liturgical poetry and, certainly, the art of Orthodoxy.

However, the Christian view of beauty is not a loan or a simple transcription of ancient Greek philosophy, but has deep roots in biblical thought itself, which it interprets and fruitfully updates in the context of a creative dialogue of the Church with culture and the surrounding atmosphere of the era.


The biblical view of creation from non-being is not at all unrelated to the truth about the being of the world and man. The fact that the world is created and not eternal means that it is not ontologically given. His existence is a product of freedom which is reduced to a transcendental ontology of the creator, to the uncreated and personal God who freely willed creation. The origin of beings is referred to outside the world. The world could not exist. The fact that it exists means a gift and a gift. The world does not exist by necessity, but is a fact of freedom. The fact that beings are not self-existent and that they have a beginning means that the freedom of their existence is not complete without their uninterrupted relationship with their uncreated cause, because they come from nothing.

Read more in ANTHIVOLA, issue 2
ANTIBOLA 2

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