Nietzsche confronts theology with a story this is diametrically opposed to the Christian story. And for this Christians should be thankful, since through Nietzche’s opposition, the reminder exists that there is another story to tell, Hart writes, “in which the being of creation is an essential peace, hospitable to all true difference, reflecting the infinite peace of God’s triune life in its beauty and diversity.” Hart’s story here is that the Christian evangel (not always Christianity mind you, but the kerygma of the faith) is one of beauty because it brings peace to a world held in subject to other stories that keep up the violence against one another. With all of the energy that Hart employs against Nietzsche’s Dionysian story, it almost appears that for Hart, if the Christian evangel is not the one true story, then there is no story that would better describe our reality than Nietzsche’s.
But Hart’s concern is actually in beauty, and he goes through great lengths to lay out and unfold (beauty cannot be defined) what he means, and gives some boundaries as to how beauty operates. In section 3 of his Introduction, he undertakes this task. Hart writes, “beauty is a category indispensable to Christian thought; all that theology says of the triune life of God, the gratuity of creation, the incarnation of the Word, and the salvation of the world makes room for – indeed depends upon – a thought, and a narrative, of the beautiful.” His first theme into beauty is “Beauty is objective,” meaning beauty is not something ephemeral. Beauty possesses as Hart says, “a phenomenal priority, an indefectible precedence over whatever response it evokes.” The beautiful is a vehicle for communicating God’s glory, and as such, one finds it to be delightful (the theme of delight/joy arises again and again). The second theme is “Beauty is the true form of distance.” While reading through Beauty, this distance theme arises again and again, and by the end, it is certainly resonant that beauty is the true form of distance, but for me, it remains elusive, slipping through my fingers whenever I try to make it more concrete. This elusiveness is most likely my inexperience with the concepts. To help elucidate this theme, Hart writes,
If the realm of created difference has its being for God’s pleasure (Rev. 4:11), then the distance of creation from God and every distance within creation belong originally to an interval of appraisal and approbation, the distance of his delight. God’s pleasure – the beauty creation possesses in his regard – underlies the distinct being of creation, and so beauty is the first and truest word concerning all that appears within being… beauty does not merely adorn an alien space, or cross the distance as a wayfarer, but it is the true form of that distance, constituting it, as the grammar of difference.
At its heart, it would seem that the distance Hart speaks about is one that will allow for the procession and return, a continual donation and response brought about by beauty. Without that distance, that boundary, how would we know that we are not in the end curved in on ourselves, wrapped up in the continual struggle and violence that grasps every other story.
His other themes of beauty that follow after this are, “Beauty evokes desire.” Here Hart quotes Gregory of Nyssa and Augustine in his support. Once one tastes God’s glory, then one is led to stretch out ever more toward a greater and greater embrace of the divine glory. This sort of thing is truly one of the strengths of the book. Hart, being Eastern Orthodox, is clearly ingrained with the teaching of the Church Fathers, but not to the exclusion of the West, exemplified here, by the use of both a Cappadocian and Augustine. Hart seems to be fluently bilingual in both Eastern and Western Christianity. Perhaps this sort of argument is precisely what is needed to answer the modern voice of Nietzsche, a return to the voices before the Enlightenment and the split between East and West. Then, as much as now, the Church sought to be a formative voice in the creation of a Christian people. Perhaps it is to that time that the Church must return to find once again the voice that shares this story of peace to a people mired in sin.
“Beauty crosses boundaries.” Because beauty is about revealing God’s glory, it cannot be held back by any obstacle we try to set in its way. “Beauty’s authority, within theology, guards against gnosticism.” Hart gives two reasons for this. First, beauty in the real world shows the world to be the theater of God’s glory. If beauty exists here, then God must not eschew this world. It is not irretrievably bad. Second, the revelation of God’s glory in the beautiful shows this world to be unnecessary. God’s expression is free and for God’s pleasure alone. Finally, “Beauty resists reduction to the ‘symbolic.’” The aesthetic moment, when the beautiful is regarded, cannot later be appropriated to create a more vital meaning. The symbol “arrests the force of the aesthetic, the continuity of the surface, in order to disclose ‘depths.’” At the moment beauty is apprehended, one is to attend to the glory proclaimed there, and avoid seeking some secret gnosis.