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The Beauty of Strife & Struggle

Jesuit Fr. Raymond T. Gawronski, an Assistant Professor of Theology at Marquette, has let us have it, even if obliquely. His target is our New Oxford Note, “‘Beauty’: An Ugly Excuse for Copping Out” (June 2001), wherein we discussed Gregory Wolfe’s article in Commonweal declaring his defection from cultural conservatism, his disengagement from the raging culture wars, and his offer of fealty to “beauty” instead. How does Wolfe justify all this? Primarily by appealing to Hans Urs von Balthasar.

Wolfe quoted Balthasar on beauty (this being a favorite quote of Balthasar enthusiasts): “We can be sure that whoever sneers at her [beauty’s] name as if she were the ornament of a bourgeois past…can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love” (ellipsis in the originab~ Our comment was: “That’s one of the wildest exaggerations we’ve ever heard. We do wonder if Wolfe can, or Balthasar could, cite even one individual who sneered at beauty and then was unable to pray and love.”

Wolfe responded with a lengthy letter in the September 2001 NOR, but he did not respond to our challenge.

But Fr. Gawronski, another disciple of Balthasar, does respond to our challenge, in an essay in a new book edited by Kenneth D. Whitehead called The Catholic Imagination. Says Gawronski: “Bathasar [sic] pointedly noted that the person who no longer knew beauty would soon lose the ability to pray and to love as well. I have long pondered this prophetic observation of Balthasar’s. It is interesting that the editor of an American Catholic magazine [the NOR is footnoted], adopting a rather critical stance toward mysticism while propounding a rather bellicose conceptualism, declared that Balthasar’s statement was ‘the wildest exaggeration’ he had ever heard (speaking of exaggeration!). But without beauty, prayer and charity do diminish; hearts cannot be judged, but fruits can be. And the current state of internecine Church war speaks to this lack of a common focus on love.”

Fr. Gawronski, who considers himself an orthodox Catholic, is nonetheless quite antagonistic toward those orthodox Catholics who fight the internecine Church wars — notably the NOR, which he regards as unloving, having let your Editor know this in no uncertain terms. Fr. Gawronski is a good man and a fine priest, and his spiritual counsel is not to be taken lightly. We’ll get to this in a few moments, but first let’s return to a couple of things.

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