Aesthetic judgements may look subjective when you are wandering in the aesthetic desert of Waco or Las Vegas. In the old cities of Europe, however, you discover what happens when people are guided by a shared tradition which not only makes aesthetic judgement central, but also lays down standards that govern what everybody does. And in Venice or Prague, in Bath, Oxford, or Lisbon, you come to see that there is all the difference in the world between aesthetic judgement treated as an expression of individual taste, and aesthetic judgement treated in the opposite way, as the expression of a community. Maybe we see beauty as subjective only because we have given the wrong place to aesthetic judgement in our lives—seeing it as a way of affirming ourselves, instead of a way of denying ourselves.
Beauty is a major interest of this philosopher and musician. (He has composed two operas.) Here is another great article, published in The City Journal in the Spring.
Playing a similar theme, though with a nobler instrument and on a grander scale, Cardinal Newman has a Christmas sermon called “Religious Joy”—joy sprung from lowliness.
Why should the heavenly hosts appear to these shepherds? What was it in them which attracted the attention of the Angels and the Lord of Angels? Were these shepherds learned, distinguished, or powerful? Were they especially known for piety and gifts? Nothing is said to make us think so. Faith, we may safely say, they had, or some of them, for to him that hath more shall be given; but there is nothing to show that they were holier and more enlightened than other good men of the time, who waited for the consolation of Israel. Nay, there is no reason to suppose that they were better than the common run of men in their circumstances, simple, and fearing God, but without any great advances in piety, or any very formed habits of religion. Why then were they chosen? for their poverty’s sake and obscurity. Almighty God looks with a sort of especial love, or (as we may term it) affection, upon the lowly.
I have recently discovered, thanks to the Mark Steyn Christmas Show, Elizabeth von Trapp, granddaughter of Maria and the Baron. I downloaded her Christmas Song album at itunes. Its gentle, prayerful music has been helping me enter the mystery of these holy days. You can listen to clips of it here.
Friend Mike Wallacavage sent the link to this beautiful Bach piece: Thomanerchor: “Jauchzet frohlocket”
“Triumph, rejoicing, rise, praising these days now,
Tell ye what this day the Highest hath done!
Fear now abandon and banish complaining,
Join, filled with triumph and gladness, our song!
Serve ye the Highest in glorious chorus,
Let us the name of our ruler now honor!”
Every Christmas I marvel anew at the depth and majesty and beauty and poetry of the lyrics of the traditional hymns. They are the best of prayers. “Radiant beams from Thy holy face, with the dawn of redeeming grace…”
“Veiled in flest the Godhead see, hail the Incarnate Deity. Pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus our Emmauel…”
Having heard—I forget now where—that this version is the best film rendition of Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol, our family watched it together the other night. It is charming, especially in its entirely convincing evocation of the life and sensibilities of Victorian England.
I wish everyone in the world had a subscription to Magnificat.