Pro-Convert through Catholicism’s Power of Beauty

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Catholicism: The Religion of Beauty

“Go therefore baptize all nations” (Matthew 28:18): In fulfilling the Lord’s command, Ignatians will focus on the beauty of Catholicism as it is found in the sacred scriptures and tradition, lived by the saints, explained by the Fathers of the Church and St. Thomas Aquinas, and touched, seen, and heard in the traditional Latin Mass and liturgy.

This is the most powerfully effective way to bring about the conversion of the post-Christian masses and of non-Christians since beauty as a transcendental includes and radiates the completion and perfection of Catholicism’s truth, goodness, and harmonious coherence.

Beautiful art, architecture, sanctuaries, altars, tabernacles and crucifixes; enchanting music whether Gregorian chant, polyphony or vernacular; saints and stained-glass windows, cathedrals and sacramentals; a traditional Latin Mass whose mystical rituals are lost in the mists of antiquity: what don’t we have in the Faith to ignite the imagination?

As the famed architect, Augustus Pugin, stated after his conversion to Catholicism, when he resolved to communicate the Faith through his masterpieces: “everything grand, edifying, and noble in art is the result of feelings produced by the Catholic religion on the human mind”.

Above all, in that pearl of priceless beauty possessed by Catholicism, the traditional Latin Mass. Christopher Dawson, in The Formation of Christendom stated: “The liturgy was itself a work of art — perhaps the greatest and the most elaborate ever created by man.” Elsewhere in the same work he noted: “Everything that the Christian world possessed of doctrine and poetry, music and art was poured into the liturgy, moulded into an organic whole which centered round the Divine Mysteries.”

What a French convert, Gabriel Frizeau, wrote about his own conversion may be applicable, within the shades of difference due to temperaments and circumstances, to many converts or reverts, who came into contact with the Ancient Rite: “I went, while waiting, into the churches, not knowing what I was searching for, being present, without fully understanding, at the ceremonies of worship that attracted me mysteriously. My heart heavy, I felt over me a fear, a hope.”[1]

Or, as in the case of Gaston Marcellin: “He was attracted by the beauty of the cathedrals, the poetry of the rituals, the mystical socialism of the communion of saints, the majesty of the tradition…. he began regularly attending the praying of the Divine Office and did not delay in becoming a believer.”[2]

Others, such as Joris-Karl Huysmans, after their conversion, sought out abbeys like Solesmes where the Ancient Rite was enacted in all its splendor. 

The writings of Catholics such as Charles de Bordeu and others show that, during the years of their distance from the Faith, the memories of the Traditional Latin Rite’s liturgical feasts continued “to rhythm their life”[3]:

“The Christian charm invaded me….It retains its power over our souls, no matter how ungrateful we may have been, because all of life is under this charm, with the best of memories…How can you imagine tombs without crosses, towns without churches….and the countryside without belfries? Christmas and its flights of happiness, the transparent joy of Easter, the imperious knells of All Saints Day?”[4]

The novelist, Paul Bourget, in his diary on July 27, 1901, wrote that his return to the Church had enabled him to reconnect with the soul of his first Holy Communion[5].

Another convert, the actor, Sir Alec Guinness, remarked:

“The longevity of the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church, her wisdom and kindness, can well embrace the naïve strugglings of an adolescent English schoolboy kicking, so to speak, against the pricks. She has books to read aloud, pictures to show, consolations to offer, strength to give and some marvellous people, from all ages, to hold up for the world’s admiration, not many in high places perhaps, but thousands in the market square, hospital ward, back pew, desert and jungle”

Not least of the Church’s sources of inspiration are her saints. As a convert, Dr.Cyprian Blamires, a former Protestant minister stated : “These saints combined as passionate a commitment to the love of God with love for their fellow humans as anyone could possibly ask for… It was the wonderful saints of the post- Reformation Catholic Church which brought me little by little, step by step, kicking and screaming, to my knees in submission” .

“I am haunted by Catholicism, intoxicated by its atmosphere of incense and candle wax. I hover on its outskirts, moved to tears by its prayers, touched to the very marrow by its psalmodies and chants” [6]

[1] Gabriel Frizeau, quoted in Frédéric Gugelot, La Conversion des intellectuels, p. 153.

[2] See Abel Biasse, “Gaston Marcellin” in Anthologie des écrivains morts à la guerre (1914-1918), p. 506, quoted in Frédéric Gugelot, La Conversion des intellectuels, p. 152. My translation.

[3] Frédéric Gugelot, La Conversion des intellectuels, p. 136.

[4] Charles de Bordeu, “Ma Conversion”, quoted in Frédéric Gugelot, La Conversion des intellectuels, p. 136.

[5] See Frédéric Gugelot, La Conversion des intellectuels, p. 134.

[6] Joris-Karl Huysmans, En Route, is also the epigraph in Michel Houellebecq, Submission: A Novel (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010), p. 1.