Friday, July 06, 2012

“Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful...”

Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - large view of high altar 4

Photo taken at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis.

Click for the article Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Beautiful… over at the Crescat.

Jewish law is well known for having many precise rubrics for the sacramentals of their rites, and Catholicism, which came from this tradition, retains many of these sacramental principles. But simply fulfilling the basic minimum requirements, a utilitarian sense of only observing the bare essentials of these rites, shows a certain meanness of spirit. In Jewish theology, there is the principle of “hiddur mitzvah,” which states that generosity towards the Lord is shown when an extra effort, especially a sense of beauty, is added to the rites. According to one source:
Beauty enhances the mitzvoth [commandments] by appealing to the senses. Beautiful sounds and agreeable fragrances, tastes, textures, colors, and artistry contribute to human enjoyment of religious acts, and beauty itself takes on a religious dimension. The principle of enhancing a mitzvah through aesthetics is called Hiddur Mitzvah.
Historically, this principle, although largely unwritten, was a core part of Catholicism as evidenced by the huge number of elaborate and beautiful churches.  Until our current age, the Church made a great effort in making the liturgy beautiful. The incorporation of Greek philosophy into Catholicism also gives us a solid reason for knowing why beauty has a religious dimension, for the Lord is beauty itself.

Essentialism and utilitarianism has become a part of our culture, and since they say “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and so subjective, the Beautiful has been excluded from large numbers of our churches, and indeed in life in general.

As the Crescat says, you shouldn’t give a toilet plunger to your beloved on Saint Valentine’s Day, no matter how much it is needed or how useful it is.


  1. Would you do a photo comparison of various television 'altars' to church or home altars.? I think it would be an eye-opener.

  2. Being an evangelical, and an architect, I can tell you that beauty is sorely missing in our warehouse churches today. There is no need to devoid our lives from the inspiration that beautiful architecture can provide in ushering us into the presence of God.