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“Beauty”: An Ugly Excuse for Copping Out

What is it about the fans of Hans Urs von Balthasar? (Not all of them, of course.) Fr. Richard John Neuhaus’s book Death on a Friday Afternoon was supposedly indebted to Balthasar, and that book came out in support of universal salvation (see the January NOR article by Dale Vree, “If Everyone Is Saved…”). Then there’s Stratford Caldecott, another fan, who pooh-poohs the importance of fighting abortion (see the April New Oxford Note, “Folks, Here Are Your Orders”).

Now we have Gregory Wolfe, Editor of Image: A Journal of Arts and Religion. In the March 9 Commonweal, Wolfe formally announces his break with cultural conservatism. His article, cutely entitled “I Was a Teenage Conservative,” tells about being “born with the conservative intellectual movement’s silver spoon in my mouth” and about going to Hillsdale College where he “apprenticed” himself to Russell Kirk and Gerhart Niemeyer. Wolfe says he “embraced the notion…that ‘modernity’ was a monolithic, and very bad, thing. In the arts this entailed a repudiation of Modern Art” because it is “all about chaos and fragmentation, unfettered sexuality, the occult, and so on.”

But that was then. Wolfe came to discover that modernity is more “complex” than he had thought. Indeed, he came to appreciate its artistic expressions, and to disengage himself from the “culture wars.”

So Wolfe, a Catholic, tells us that those Catholic bishops who objected to Martin Scorsese’s movie The Last Temptation of Christ were “inept.” He praises the movie American Beauty for signaling “the liberating and restorative power of creative intuition” (whatever that means). He castigates conservative Catholics who “routinely deride one of the most cultured and artistically sensitive Catholic bishops, Archbishop Rembert Weakland.”

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