The more that Christ is present in the soul of a culture or society, the more will such a society or culture truly reflect the goodness, truth, and beauty of His image. We can see the very pattern of history as a tapestry, time-stitched and weird-woven, of varying threads which are good, bad, or beautiful.
Director Sergio Leone considered his iconic “Spaghetti Western,” The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, to be a satire on the Western genre and a deconstruction of the romanticism surrounding the Old West. His anti-hero, played by Clint Eastwood, represents the antithesis of the archetypal Western hero, the latter of whom, epitomized by John Wayne, could be seen as a modern-day knight in shining armor, sure-sighted in terms of both virtue and marksmanship, and unswervingly chivalrous in the face of chicanery.
In shockingly sardonic contrast, all three of the protagonists in Leone’s Western are utterly self-serving, spurning the self-sacrifice which is the very essence of true heroism. It could be argued, therefore, that a more accurate and fitting title for the film, or at least a more accurate depiction of its spirit, would be “The Bad, the Worse, and the Ugly.” In this sense, it can be seen that Leone looks at what he perceives to be New World naiveté from the jaded perspective of Old World cynicism.
And it could be argued that Leone takes his cynicism still further. On a deeper level than the desire to deconstruct and subvert the romance surrounding the Old West is the desire to subvert the traditional transcendental foundation of wisdom itself. At the heart of all healthy societies and cultures is the presence of the good, the true, and the beautiful. This triune presence is perfected in the person of Christ who is, as He tells us, “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” He is the way of goodness, which is to say that he embodies the fullness of virtue made manifest in love; He is the truth, which is to say that He is the end to which all properly ordered reason points; and He is the very life of beauty, which is to say that He shines forth the glory of Creation as the Word made flesh: He is the Poem which perfectly reflects the perfection of the Poet. Since this is so, it can be seen that the more that Christ is present in the soul of a culture or society, the more will such a society or culture truly reflect the goodness, truth, and beauty of His image. Conversely, His absence leads to the way of evil, to the de(con)struction of truth in the living of the lie, and to the killing of life in the culture of death and its cult of ugliness.
Once this is understood, we can see the very pattern of history as a tapestry, time-stitched and weird-woven, of varying threads which are good, bad, or beautiful. In every generation, the virtuous find themselves living as exiles in a vale of tears, witnessing to the goodness of love even unto death in a world of sin and sorrow dominated by viciousness. In the midst of this never-ending interwoven battle between good and evil is the indomitable power of beauty, both in the grandeur of God to be seen in the beauty of Creation and also in the glory of God’s creative presence in the beauty of great art. No one has seen this perennially present pattern in the tapestry of history more clearly than Benedict XVI. Since nothing could be added to the beauty and the brilliance of the words of the Pope Emeritus, the present author will do what T.S. Eliot did in the presence of Dante. He will point in awe at the wonderful words of one far greater than himself and remain silent:
The only really effective apologia for Christianity comes down to two arguments, namely the saints the Church has produced and the art which has grown in her womb. Better witness is borne to the Lord by the splendor of holiness and art which have arisen in the community of believers than by clever excuses which apologetics has come up with to justify the dark sides which, sadly, are so frequent in the Church’s human history. If the Church is to continue to transform and humanize the world, how can she dispense with beauty in her liturgies, that beauty which is so closely linked with love and with the radiance of the Resurrection? No. Christians must not be too easily satisfied. They must make their Church into a place where beauty—and hence truth—is at home. Without this the world will become the first circle of hell.
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Editor’s Note: The featured image is “Cowboys in the Badlands” (1888) by Thomas Eakins (1844-1916), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.