Love: Dwelling of Truth & Beauty

For Msgr. Luigi Giussani, founder of the Catholic movement, Communione e Liberazione, two things in our lives are most indicative of our proximity to the divine: 'truth' and 'beauty.' These two ideas—well known in Catholic thought even from the time of the early theologians, and especially in the work of St. Thomas Aquinas—really do manifest most plainly God's presence in things of this world, and the redemptive work carried out by Christ in sanctifying the good things we encounter each day. Truth and beauty, for Giussani, are realities which 'correspond to the heart,' and things which each human heart, at its deepest level, yearns for and is satisfied by.

A common exercise among CL faithful is to examine one's life in terms of 'Where do I find truth and beauty?' It is there, we assume, that Christ is speaking to us. Certainly, this is the recommendation of the movement at large, and has proven instrumental for many individuals in coming to know more fully the depth of the divine plan which characterizes and gives meaning to their entire lives. 'When something clicks for me, I can see Christ in that truth. After reading the same passage of scripture over and over again, its beauty finally became apparent one day—it was so beautiful!—and I was able to see Christ there.' These are common experiences for any Catholic who keeps an eye open for them, and are the particular recommendations for those wishing to pursue the Lord in CL.

Without a doubt—and especially as a philosophy student—I see something admirable in searching for the Lord by searching for truth and beauty. They are, after all, two transcendental properties of all being in which, if we find one, we can often find the other. I think that's hitting the jackpot! But, it's not the only jackpot to be hit. A thing we should never forget is something given to us by St. John the Evangelist, re-presented elsewhere, and finally distilled beautifully by Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical, Deus Caritas est. This message is simply that one phrase: "God is Love."

Indeed, although sometimes our intellectualized minds (and particularly for those of us who are students) continue to find solace in ideas of truth and beauty, there is something to be said of love, which is in the end even more perfect. "In the end, faith, hope, and love remain," says St. Paul, "and the greatest of these is love." There is something about love that is more universal—more perfect—than even truth or sublime beauty. Although we continually seek the truth, we seek it out of love. Even though we are fixated upon beauty, we must realize that there is no beauty worth having that is not had in love. Love is the guardian of all other goods, and so long as it is not present than neither are we able to be present to them.

I think that a common frustration in living the 'CL-life' is that sometimes we can get too caught up in desiring these true and beautiful realities. 'I want to see Christ so badly in this or that thing, but I just can't—but I know he's there!' Perhaps what we ought to focus on instead is the presence of God in the simple yet profound ability to endure in seeking him. Patience, endurance and persistence are the labors of love. If we desire to see the Lord with our hearts, we are indeed enduring in the fight, and this is nothing short of love. Although we cannot often see it, we must never disregard it. Love—persistence in wanting to see the face of Christ in all we do—is even greater than seeing him.

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    # by Suzanne - November 24, 2008 at 9:02 AM

    Far more important in Fr. Giussani's thought, when considering how we meet the Presence of Christ, is Christian unity (another way to say Love) -- see, especially, "The Journey to Truth is an Experience," pages 88-90. Truth and Beauty (and even Love) can become abstractions, and Christ is not an abstraction but a Person. There is also a prolonged discussion of this Presence of Christ on earth in "Why the Church?" The Pope, while still Cardinal Ratzinger, addressed CL during the Meeting in Rimini, with an talk on Beauty and Truth, "The Beauty and the Truth of Christ" (http://www.ewtn.com/library/Theology/RATZBEAU.HTM). It might be useful to you.

    In any case, it is pretty much axiomatic in CL that we meet Christ in the Church, the Body of Christ. Truth and Beauty can lead us to recognize this Presence, but they are means, albeit powerful means, not the end.

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    # by Andrew Haines - November 24, 2008 at 9:11 AM

    Suzanne,

    Thanks for the comment. I think it is illustrative of the real depth of Giussani's work. I never meant to paint the picture that his thought is poorly constructed; it certainly isn't. What I was emphasizing was some of the frustration I've heard from others who, during our conversations, have expressed this sort of inorganic relationship of truth and love. It is organic, and Giussani does realize that plainly.

    Part of the problem for any Christian, though, is seeing 'God as Love' and 'Christ as Logos' as one in the same being. You are right that truth and beauty are not our end—in one sense. But in another, truth and beauty is our highest end, insofar as Christ is that made incarnate. It's a tricky thing to pin down. Obviously, love in the community of his Body is the avenue to realizing his Truth, but I'm hesitant even at that to put one above the other. All I mean to say is that they must coexist if either is to exist at all.

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    # by Suzanne - November 24, 2008 at 9:30 AM

    I understand. I'm not really arguing with you -- simply wanting to say that if you see an over-emphasis placed on Truth and Beauty, to the exclusion of Love (or one should say unity, really because it is used far more by Fr. Giussani -- perhaps to avoid the trap of sentimentality), in CL, it may be simply that you're seeing one facet of the gem right now. Also, I think that Fr. Giussani would say that truth and beauty can only take us so far (that is, our reason can only take us so far) -- it is only when we reach the apex of reason, do we see the "horizon," which show us that there is Something (Someone) more. There is an anecdote about Fr. Giussani that Chris Bacich told on one of the GS vacations -- how, when Giussani was 14 he climbed a mountain and saw a breath-takingly beautiful view, and from this experience, he concluded that God must exist -- why? Because the beauty that he saw was not enough. He knew that there was something inside him, a desire for an infinite Beauty that would not be satisfied by the beauty in front of him. How we meet this infinite Beauty, though, is through His concrete presence in our unity, in the Church. We intuit his existence, his Presence when we see natural beauty or a painting, or when we hear an amazing piece of music, but we smack up against him when we meet the Christian community -- where we find Beauty and Truth made flesh. I think we are perhaps saying the same thing, though.

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    # by Suzanne - November 24, 2008 at 9:45 AM

    I just saw this posted at Paul Zalonski's blog, Communio:

    "The essence of the CL charism is the proclamation that God became Man; in the affirmation that this man -- Jesus of Nazareth, who died and rose again -- is a present event, whose visible sign is communion, that is to say, the unity of a people led by a living person, the Bishop of Rome, in the awareness that it is only in God made Man, and hence within the life of the Church, that man is more true and humanity is truly more human."

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    # by Andrew Haines - November 25, 2008 at 8:41 AM

    Yes, I think we are saying the same thing. Somehow I always end up talking past people and letting them do the same. Maybe it's the philosophy thing? :-P

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    # by Suzanne - November 25, 2008 at 8:55 AM

    I don't have philosophy training, so I can be hopelessly imprecise with my terms -- something that hurts my pride (this is good for me, no doubt!), since I am usually very careful with words. When I started to clue into the difference between Beauty and beauty, then I started to understand better what you were saying. I feel for you -- trying to hold conversations with non-philosophers -- it is a sign of your commitment to unity.

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    # by Andrew Haines - November 25, 2008 at 8:58 AM

    Haha, no! I didn't mean to criticize the non-philosophical lingo so much as my own idealism! :)

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    # by Suzanne - November 25, 2008 at 9:15 AM

    I didn't think you were criticizing at all -- I was just observing that I think our misunderstanding was a semantic one and that I think it's beautiful that you don't get fed up with this sort of misunderstanding. As for idealism -- it's a minimum requirement for life in the Church, provided Christ is our Ideal. I hope that I, too, am an idealist.

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    # by annina - November 25, 2008 at 5:26 PM

    Hi!well, it was not a real yourney in the USA because I was only in New York... but now I'm in love with this city! I want to come back as soon as possible..I also met very nice people (my family there, some Clu guys...)who I miss now that I'm in Milan!