Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Beauty of Holiness vs The Holiness of Beauty

Scripture (the Proverbs in particular) are full of a particular type of comparison between two things, behind which lies an implied 2 by 2 matrix.
Let me illustrate this using Proverbs 15:17:
Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred.
Two situations are compared, but since there are two binary indices (love/hate and calf/vegetables), there are actually 4 possible combinations:

1)  Vegetables with hatred;
2)  Vegetables with love;
3)  Fattened calf with hatred; and
4)  Fattened calf with love.

This can conveniently be displayed in the aforementiones 2 x 2 matrix, as follows:

Clearly, the best of all worlds would be Beef with Love, and the worst would be Vegetables with Hatred.  Because these are obvious, the Scriptural verses which have this structure compare only the two situations in which you get one good option and one bad option.  These are the two boxes highlighted in yellow.  Proverbs 15:17 indicates that, should you find yourself in this dilemma, you should give up beef before giving up love.

And now, finally, on to the topic of this post.  The phrase "beauty of holiness" occurs not only in the Book of Common Prayer, but originally in the following places in Scripture:

O worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness: fear before him, all the earth.  - Psalm 96:9

For several years, I have thought about the trade-off between the Beauty of Holiness and what I have come to call the Holiness of Beauty.  For beauty, being a rare, fine thing created by God, is in many ways a holy thing.  The ability to appreciate beauty is part of God's gift of Common Grace, meaning that even full-tilt pagans can appreciate beauty when they see it.  In fact, the suspicion with which some sorts of Christians have viewed beauty has led some to wonder if only pagans can appreciate the holiness of beauty.

This, too, can be displayed as a 2 x 2 matrix:

Obviously, if you can manage it, you'd like to have both beauty and holiness (the green box).  And of course, the worst situation is when you have ugliness and unholiness together the red box).  But my mind is drawn to the two yellow boxes, and I am tempted to try to draft my own amateur proverb regarding the two.

This question has been in my mind lately as I ponder all of the many godly folks who have fled the Episcopal church due to its blatant unholiness.  In many instances, they fled from places of great beauty:  architectural beauty, musical beauty, and liturgical beauty.  Often, they have found refuge in holy little Anglican parishes where these sorts of beauty are, relatively speaking, lacking.  While this is sad, their action is in congruity with the proverb I would draft:

Better holiness where beauty is lacking than beauty where holiness is lacking.
or ...

Better the beauty of holiness than merely the holiness of beauty.