The Afterthought

…in which I say all that I wanted to say in Beauty-Addicts.

Besides the really long name, another funny thing about the Holy Roman Catholic Church – may she live long and prosper – is this: While she struggles to unite her own children into some form of agreement with her teachings, she maintains the extraordinary habit - it might even be called the extraordinary knack – of uniting mortal enemies in common disagreement with those very same teachings. Thus a lesbian activist and a Southern Baptist might put down their arms long enough to lambaste the Church’s antiquated ‘no’ on condoms. A creationist and atheist might find it within in them to go to dinner and a movie, providing that the evening’s discussion revolved around the Church’s obviously ridiculous ruling on divorce.  Or – for a real life situation – the Nazi and the Communist could – and did – manage to find common ground in their mutual disgust with Catholic Social Teaching, what with all its calls to care for the poor and weak. There often seems to be but two Churches in our modern world; the Catholic Church and the Definitely-Not-Catholic Church. So it is no real surprise that we find the Puritans – who can be fairly described as the neighbor who thinks you drink too much - holding hands with the Hellenists – the neighbor who thinks you drink too little – in defiance of the Catholic Church’s terrible and sensible statement: that the naked body is beautiful.

Of course it is? I hear the world agree with me in word, but not in action. One the one hand we have the Puritan reaction: it would have no children running naked, it would have nude art covered – as a few counter-reformation popes did in the Vatican – and it is based on a fear that associates the naked form immediately with sex, and sex with evil. It is the art critic who hit Botticelli’s ‘Birth of Venus’ with a cane, declaring it “too immodest”. It’s the abstinence programs, the “don’t have sex or you’ll burn in hell” talks. It is not human, to fear that so close to home. On the other hand, there is the Hellenistic reaction. This is one is more apparent in our Brave New World; it is the porn industry, the sex-sells mentality. It is the strip-clubs and the immodesty. It’s attitude towards the naked body can be fairly summed up in a word; worthless. Oh, to be sure, it will make money, this nudity thing, but beyond that it is an object, an object for pleasure, and who is it to tell anyone else that they shouldn’t star in pornography, to reveal this meaningless flesh? It is not human, to place so little value on that so innate to us.

Thus, on the side of Puritanism and an excess of prudence we hear the stern cry to “hide!” our nakedness, while from the side of Hellenism and the absence of modesty comes the cruel call to “expose!” But on the side of the Church – which is no side at all, but the center around which all sides are drawn – our bodies are neither evil nor worthless, but beautiful. And here the Church shines. She shines resplendent because she does not pick a middle ground between two fashions, but drives home what both fashions miss – that we are created in the image and likeness of God, and if we cover it is not to hide or to fear, but to protect and cherish. If we reveal it is not to sell or tempt, but to give and be appreciated. It is merely a way we try to be human – we appreciate beauty by respecting it, making it all the more lovely.

Would the world follow.

Fortunate Fall
The Mode in Which We Go To Mass
The Art of Dying
What We're Doing In Steubenville
  • Samantha & Frank

    Well put!

  • Mary

    As an hopeful catholic artist who has to deal with this issue (both in trying to discover its depth personally and in defending it in conversation, etc) I found this refreshing and encouraging. Love this and the last post. Funny how this and many other topics are all centered around "being human"…. I mean, it's almost painfully evident to me at times and in this post, and yet it's so over looked and ignored today….. I wish there was a way to wack people in the head with this and all of a sudden they would realize how true it is! (sorry, I spose I've been watching Tangled a biiiit too much…)

  • Rachel Bostwick


  • Heidi

    "There often seems to be but two Churches in our modern world; the Catholic Church and the Definitely-Not-Catholic Church." Hm, maybe often but not always. I am a protestant Christian from an Evangelical background. I find I have a lot in common with Catholics, even while I don't agree with all of the teachings of the Catholic Church. I feel like you over-simplify protestants in your posts. But I still like your blog very much.

    • Montague

      Totally agreed there.

  • Brent Stubbs

    The only problem is the dichotomy, Hellenism and Puritanism isn't compatible. Hellenism is a pagan movement. Puritan is building off of Christian principals. I think the Church isn't 'between' those two views. She is not in the middle. Chesterton talks about how the Church doesn't get involved to begin with because she is not, shall we say, en vogue.Theology of the Body is Her position. This is lived out in a beautiful nude statue, a Saint who throws himself into the snow to avoid temptation, and a married couple who enjoy each other all the way to 10 kids.

    • Montague

      No, I think that the Christianity IS a balance – the Tao, as Lewis puts it – a straight and narrow road, which on one hand leads towards amorphous chaos, the other to reasonless rationality. Once gone too far either way, it proceeds by infinite regression into grey and then black blankness. But Christianity does not fall either way, but is the synthesis, harmony, infinite epitome of the fusion of opposites in perfect unity.

      And it’s a shame if wee fall off in some other way.

      (This is from a comment a friend of mine made about Art – real art and two forms of abstract art)

  • Peter Liao

    Heidi: I think you're right, but unfortunately we have to "over-simplify" Protestants to even start talking about them because Protestants as a group hold so many different views that there is really nothing substantial that can be said of them as a group that holds true across the board. This is true even to the point that some refuse the name of Protestant because they do not object to Catholicism… Anyway what I'm saying is that yeah, we do "simplify" Protestants to talking about specific groups, be it Southern Baptists or creationists or Puritans (I think Marc is referring to the truthfully "definitely-not-universal" nature of Protestant denominations) because that is where particular issues arise. You bring up an interesting point, because Protestants as a group are so complex and diverse that indeed no justice could be done and nothing could be said of them that would recall unity and a singleness (read simplicity) of purpose. I don't think that is anything to be proud of though, and certainly is not a defense :/Truth is that if you don't believe certain things, then you aren't really a Catholic. It is pretty simple. But there are plenty of Protestants who believe all other Protestants (and Catholics) are going to hell and there are plenty of things that even the more rational ones disagree upon which is one reason why denominations continue to grow. There is a growing movement of "non-denominational" Christians, but in my experience there isn't as much a unity of mind as an attempt to overlook the more contentious points of doctrine. In my nondenominational fellowship, for example, I found myself in a debate with one of my fellow leaders who believed in predestination and the nonexistence of free will. If that doesn't make things complicated, I don't know what does. Things are indeed complex in the Protestant world; I would say too complex, haha. It used to be said that the only thing Protestants have in common (and you can see the complexity from the beginning in the dramatic differences in teaching between Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli) is that they opposed Catholicism. But nowadays, they don't even really have that in common :)

  • Marc

    @Brent True. I do not think -at all – that the Church is some sort of moderate position between views, rather it is the home that all odd views – like Hellenism and Puritanism – have strayed from. Sorry that wasn't clear.

  • Practicing Mammal

    These last couple of posts have prompted in me some commentary that has been rattling around in my brain for some time. If I may impose my two bits worth here…The appreciation of Art, however that is defined and with all the latitude that we can grant the term is not an educational issue. It is a cultural issue. By that, the responsibility of creating an environment of Beauty which inevitably points to good lies squarely on the shoulders of parents. 'Tis a very sad thing indeed that our young people, in general, and in particular young parents are so far removed from the ideas of truth, beauty, religion, sacrifice that they do not even know about it, never mind have the capacity to pass it on to their children. We are a technologically sophisticated world with very little sophistication of anything else. We are creatures made to yearn for God in all the ways the world points to Him. And yet there is so little yearning for anything beyond temporal happiness and self satisfaction.It seems to me that we, who have been given the gift of faith must take on that responsibility for mentoring young people in what it means to be human. Here is one of the outrageous and ridiculous analogies that is prevalent today. For the last forty or fifty years, organizations have been trying to convince and teach young mothers to nurse their young. Fifty years before that, it was ridiculous not to. In a mere two generations, society has forgotten that we are mammals. It has forgotten that reproduction is a good.It knows not how to be a Christian culture. The means through which change comes about is by way of the family. The practice of faith, the practice of being human, the practice of sacrifice and blessings must come through a RADICAL, and I do mean radical way of living one's life and sharing it intimately with others through mentorship, particularly to young adults who are thinking about what kind of person, what kind of spouse, what kind of mother or father they would like to be.The discussion of Art, Music, Beauty, Babies, Cooking, Love and Work are all doors that we can use to open hearts that do not know.We are mentoring a culture that doesn't even know it is ignorant. And there go I but for the grace of God. There is much work to be done.

  • Heidi

    @Peter The lack of unity among Protestants is certainly something I am not proud of and I certainly don't mean it as a defense. I admire the unity of the Catholic church and desire it among all Christians. However, I also value honesty and I cannot honestly claim membership to a body that in certain respects I do not agree with. I believe Catholics and Protestants can and often do have much in common, but I'm still protesting! :-) so yes, the Catholic Church continues to be a source of unity for both Catholics and non-Catholics, which I think ties in with Marc's point. But I believe the Catholic Church sacrifices certain things for such unity. The truth is, I probably am more "Catholic" than a lot of people who claim to be Catholic. There is a wide variety of opinion among members of the Catholic Church, which is an odd sort of unity isn't it? I'm not trying to point fingers or bring you down to the Protestant level. I'm simply trying to make it clear that unity is both something we as Christians ought to strive for and something that is difficult to achieve. And I guess I'm also a bit hurt at the (perhaps unintended) insinuation that Protestants have as little in common with Catholics as non-Christians. Whatever our faults, we too look to Christ as our savior.

  • Marc

    dang, blogger ate my comment. Alright, I'll give you the bulleted version:1. I did not mean to insinuate that Catholics and Protestants have that little in common. Merely that the Church has the irritating habit of teaching certain things that EVERYONE disagrees with.2. i freaking love protestants. they are responsible for a lot of growth within the church, my own conversion. my mom's conversion, my continued conversion, and my inspiration. I have high regard for you, I just believe you to be wrong. 3. I do not mean to lump protestants – though it can be hard not to, as was pointed out. I understand my writing is full of stereotypes, abrasive and immature, but i hope you'll bear with me, who knows, i may yet grow up.

  • Heidi

    @Marc1. I assumed not. 2. I freaking love Catholics. You call us out on a lot of our idiocy. I just believe you to be wrong. 3. I mostly wanted an excuse to post a comment on your blog because I think you all are cool and I am an attnetion-seeking dork. Who knows, I may yet grow up.

  • Marc

    well if you ever want to talk about the various ways Catholics are wrong, I don't really do a lot with my