Responding at last, in April of 2002, to the scandal created by the revelation of innumerable cover-ups of sexually pred- atory priests, Pope John Paul II told the American cardinals summoned to the Vatican, “A great work of art may be blemished, but its beauty remains; and this is a truth which any intellectually honest critic will recognize.”
Is it too odd that the Pope likens the Catholic Church to a great–that is, beautiful–work of art? Perhaps not, since the inane comparison allows him to turn abhorrent misdeeds into some- thing like the scratches in the print of a silent 1⁄2lm or craquelure covering the surface of an Old Master painting, blemishes that we reflexively screen out or see past. The Pope likes venerable ideas. And beauty, as a term signifying (like health) an indisputable excellence, has been a perennial resource in the issuing of peremptory evaluations.
Permanence, however, is not one of beauty’s more obvious attributes; and the contemplation of beauty, when it is expert, may be wreathed in pathos, the drama on which Shakespeare elaborates in many of the Sonnets. Traditional celebrations of beauty in Japan, like the annual rite of cherry-blossom viewing, are keenly elegiac; the most stirring beauty is the most evanescent. To make beauty in some sense imperishable required a lot of conceptual tinkering and transposing, but the idea was simply too alluring, too potent, to be squandered on the praise of superior embodiments. The aim was to multiply the notion, to allow for kinds of beauty, beauty with adjectives, arranged on a scale of ascending value and incorruptibility, with the metaphorized uses (‘intellectual beauty,’ ‘spiritual beauty’) taking precedence over what ordinary language extols as beautiful–a gladness to the senses.
The less ‘uplifting’ beauty of face and body remains the most commonly visited site of the beautiful. But one would hardly expect the Pope to invoke that sense of beauty while constructing an exculpatory account of several generations’ worth of the clergy’s sexual molestation of children and protection of the molesters. More to the point–his point–is the ‘higher’ beauty of art. However much art may seem to be a matter of surface and reception by the senses, it has generally been accorded an honorary citizenship in the domain of ‘inner’ (as opposed to ‘outer’) beauty. Beauty, it seems, is immutable, at least when incarnated–fixed–in the form of art, because it is in art that beauty as an idea, an eternal idea, is best embodied. Beauty (should you choose to use the word that way) is deep, not superficial; hidden, sometimes, rather than obvious; consoling, not troubling; indestructible, as in art, rather than ephemeral, as in nature. Beauty, the stipulatively uplifting kind, perdures.
aus: http://www.amacad.org/publications/…/sontagweb.pdf, An Argument about beauty
Susan Sonntag, US-amerikanische Schriftstellerin, (16.01.1933 – 28.12.2004)