On the Law of God
Let us now turn to the matter of the development of man’s heart. Under the category of the heart we understand the capability of pleasant and unpleasant sensations. These sensations are of different sorts – from the lowest organic sensations up to the highest esthetic moral and religious feelings. The higher feelings are also called emotions. The education of man’s heart consists in the development of these emotions in it.
Let us pause on one such emotion – the esthetic feeling. Esthetic feeling is the term which signifies the sense of the beautiful – the ability of man to behold and understand, to enjoy and be enthralled by any beauty, by all things beautiful no matter where or how they appear to us. Such delight in beauty can either reach a turbulent, fiery ecstasy or a quiet, calm, profound feeling. Thus, the esthetic feeling is indissolubly tied with the idea of the beautiful, with the concept of beauty.
“But,” one asks, “what is beauty?”
This question may have different answers. The best reply is this: beauty is the full harmony between the content and form of a given idea. The purer, the more salient and more perfect the form in which this idea is transferred, the more there will be beauty present, the more beautiful the phenomenon will be. Of course, Orthodox Christianity sees the highest beauty in God, in Whom there is the fullness of all beauty and perfection.
Esthetic feeling of one degree or another is inherent in every person, but is far from being developed correctly, in full measure, in every case. Its proper development and direction are brought about by uncovering the person’s ability to correctly evaluate one or another phenomenon, or work of art. An esthetically educated person is able to find features of perfection and beauty in a good picture, composition or literary work. He can himself understand and evaluate it and can explain to another what, precisely, is beautiful in a given work of art, what its content is and in what form it is transferred.
Orthodox Christianity knows how to evaluate and love beauty. And we see beauty in Orthodoxy everywhere – in church architecture, in the divine services, in the music of church singing and in iconography. Moreover, it is notable that beauty in nature was loved and valued by the strictest of our ascetics, who had completely renounced the world. The leading monasteries of Russia were founded in localities distinguished by their beauty.
In this, the bright spirit of Orthodoxy is manifested in its relationship to everything truly beautiful. In the Gospel, we see how Christ our Saviour tenderly and lovingly regarded lilies of the field, birds, fig-trees and grape-vines. Even in the Old Testament times the prophet King David, contemplating the beauty and majesty of God’s creation, exclaimed, “In wisdom didst Thou make them all ... glory to Thee O Lord Who has created all things... In another psalm, he addresses nature as if it were conscious, saying, “Let every breath praise the Lord ... Praise ye Him, O sun and moon; praise ye Him, all the stars and the light ...”
But, of course, Orthodox Christianity can not limit its concept of the truly beautiful only to what pleases our sense of beauty by the elegance of its form, but must see as truly beautiful all that is morally valuable. True beauty always elevates, ennobles, enlightens man’s soul and sets before it the ideals of truth and good. An Orthodox Christian never acknowledges as beautiful that phenomenon or work of art which, even though it be of perfect execution, does not purify and enlighten man’s soul but rather debases and soils it.
1. What does the education of man’s heart consist of?
2. What does esthetic feeling mean?
3. What is beauty?
4. What can an Orthodox Christian limit himself to?
Translated by Archbishop Lazar Puhalo - used with permission - all rights reserved.
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