Rorate Caeli

There is no Beauty without the Sacred



by  Gennaro Malgieri*


March 12, 2023 


'The Annunciation' 
by Antonio Canova - 1757-1822


“Beauty is a sort of visible harmony that gently pierces the human heart”, wrote Ugo Foscolo.

But how might we define Beauty today? 

All possible definitions evoking the great poet’s short but sublime description are shattered in response to this question. And if it is true that "Beauty will save the world", according to Fyodor Dostoevsky, perhaps it is equally true that the assumption of the Russian writer should be scrapped in the face of today's ‘fallen Beauty’. We are besieged by modern and ancient ruins all around, and the general context we live in is characterized by a repulsive ugliness, fruit of the libertarian madness that has sacrificed rules and harmony for the illusion of an iniquitous abomination called rationalism – itself transformed into utilitarianism aimed at making the maximum profit with the minimum resources - or even with no resources at all.

According to Roger Scruton's classification,  Human Beauty - as an object of desire, natural Beauty, as an object of contemplation, day-to-day  Beauty as an object of practical reason, artistic Beauty, as a form of meaning and object of taste and sensual Beauty as the sublimation of sexual desire - invites us to attribute the concept to the Sacred since every thing descends from that. But if the Sacred is discarded, vilified or cancelled, how is it possible to envisage an idea of Beauty that is universal and private at the same time? Indeed, in the collective imagination, the idea of Beauty has died out almost everywhere.  Yet, there are still uncontaminated oases amidst the brutish assaults of lifestyles, of art interpretations, of sensuality that is nothing but  pornography and of God’s temples hideously modeled after secular buildings, likewise horrendous.

Beauty is under attack - accompanied more often than not by metropolitan dirt, displayed in lewd graffiti, some would like to pass off as works of art.

In a word, in our times, Beauty is an arid idea. In academia (where the concept is constantly exercised), it is not even considered that Beauty cannot be fenced in by ideas, but  must fly into the open air of sentiment, where intelligence gives way to the soul, the guide of human choices. The broken bridge between rationality and the spirit has caused Beauty to fall into a void. And so it is  today, that  we try desperately to find it in the shadow of a past that is historically hesitant, unless one is willing to recognize in the forms (art, word, gesture) the harmony that comes from a mysterious world - the world of God.

Think of the miracle that happens in a human being when they manage to free themselves from the prison of Reason and approach knowledge expressed in the natural order, which, in turn, inspires the human order.  They are able to see creation in the splendor of the soul,  made manifest through the intelligence.

‘The Madonna of the Goldfinch’ 

by Raphael (1483-1529)


By way of example, the restored masterpiece of a few years ago  ‘The Madonna of the Goldfinch’, by Raphael, offered a metaphysical vision of the harmony of Beauty. It evokes  a lost world i.e. a sort of artistic-existential Eden of which Beauty was an integral part. It will be said that the sixteenth century was a 'very human' century, in the sense given to it by the artists of that age, and the splendor of European metaphysics expressed in their works. But even later on, before the ‘rationalist catastrophe’, something of the sort, albeit to a lesser extent, manifested itself in the figurative arts. Remaining, in fact, in the same system of forms, the exaltation of the Beauty of the body, of sensuality and of passion cannot be denied. Beauty was still a heartbreaking, exalted, even painful love song as in a birth or a death.

'Magdalena'  by Antonio Canova - 1757-1822

From the start to the finish the idea of Beauty was innate, given that it referred to the recomposing of the primary structures of existence which, when translated by the hand of man in creation, gave rise to the religious exaltation of the intelligence.

Why, then, is Beauty an arid idea nowadays? For the simple reason that it connotes, in adjectival terms, the deepest reasons that inspires it.

Beauty, in fact, in current, widespread thought, would be transgressive vulgarity intent on frustrating the recognition of religion, inherent in the works of man as a manifestation of the Divine. [Today] Beauty would be the conceptualization of emptiness and the ephemeral in a voluptuous pursuit of the satisfaction of lust. Beauty would be the decline of Being in violence against Creation; it would be the interruption of silence; it would be the profanation of piety; it would be the dreary rancor towards the practice of humility; it would be sin exalted as virtue.

And unsurprisingly, all of this describes Modernity.


Yet Beauty can exist in the gulag of filth wherein the ‘brothel of ideas’ holds whatever horrors together, even in the mega-cities.  The problem, if anything, is recognizing it. It is unquestionably difficult.  And certainly the educational institutions do not help. Quite the contrary, they offer an indecent spectacle of deviance elevated to normality: Ugly is Beautiful. Or, at least, all is permitted, nothing must be rejected except what is "normal" according to the millennial canons of civilizations, which (by the way) had the capacity to regenerate after their falls.

The tragedy of our time, so well described by Nietzsche and Benn, and advocated, beyond their intentions, by Hölderlin, Novalis and Goethe, is the  obscurity of the spiritual  journey in art and in thought.


A return to classicism then?  One need not fear the word or its ideas. The classical world has provided us with the forms that modernity has deformed. Rectifying things does not mean drowning in remembrance, but rendering their memory dynamic. This means looking back and recognizing the paths in which the future might unfold. It is not as intellectual, as it might appear at first. It is, in the end, a form of religious art in the restoring of the truth.  […]

Even in the ‘hope-less’ centuries after the Great Revolution which swept away certainties and made the provisional certain, relativising our very existence, the representation of the sacred in the dimensions proper to humanity was lived in such a natural way that it was not necessary to be explicit.  And the figures of antiquity are still today eloquent examples where the "divine breath" is evident. […]

In essence, there can be no Beauty outside a phenomenology of representation that does not have a religious connotation.  Our times, it must be admitted, are miserly in metaphysical terms. Everything is reduced to the material - to be consumed and thereby art, music, poetry, even nature.  […] Everything is to be used, thrown away  or broken down. Everything has a price, a market, an immediate end. There is practically nothing left linked to eternity, after the passing of the barbarians, who, for our  happiness [⸮] have built  a new Babel that will never, ever touch the heavens.

If Beauty has not disappeared from our horizon, it has at least been hidden from the eyes of most people. 

 'Sorrowful Angel'   by Antonio Canova -  1757-1822

And now ‘Modernity’ celebrates its greatest victory: the loss of the Beautiful consequent to the loss of God.


*Gennaro Malgieri – politician, lawyer, essayist-journalist – former director of the newspaper, Secolo d’Italia. 

Translation (slightly abridged): Francesca Romana 

Source: Non c’è Bellezza dopo la sparizione del Sacro dal mondo – Il Nuovo Arengario