Perception of beauty leads to belief in God’s existence

By Dr. Donald DeMarco
Catholic Life

When I was seven years old and the whole world lay before me, I fell in love. The object of my affection was Virginia Mayo. Her appearance, along with Bob Hope, in “The Princess and the Pirate” thoroughly captivated me. The Sultan of Morocco could not have better expressed my sentiments when he exclaimed in a letter he sent to Warner Brothers: “Virginia Mayo is tangible proof of the existence of God.”

My love was unrequited, but I do not think I was alone in that regard. Yet I sensed, even at that tender age, that beauty elevated the spirit.

Aquinas’ five proofs for God’s existence, reasonable as they are, are decidedly less than tangible. Beauty is an attribute of God and manifestations of this quality are visible throughout creation. But when God’s beauty smiles back at you, even from a movie screen, something very special happens. At that auspicious moment, we receive a convincing assurance of the Artist’s existence.

Virginia Mayo starred in 45 movies. Her one marriage, unusual for Hollywood glamour queens, lasted 26 years until her husband’s death. In her later years, she doted on her three grandsons. She was one of many who were led into the Catholic Church through the assistance of Bishop Fulton Sheen. Pope Pius XII once asked the Venerable Sheen, “How many converts have you made in your life?” He responded with good humor and sound theology: “Your Holiness, I have never counted them. I am always afraid if I did count them, I might think I made them, instead of the Lord.”

Pro-life stalwart Joe Scheidler once mentioned to me that just looking at his young daughter, Sarah, was proof enough of the creator’s existence. Such loveliness, he averred, could not possibly have been the result of mere chance.

“The world will be saved by beauty,” exclaimed the Russian existentialist, Nikolai Berdyaev.

For Plato, wisdom is not visible, but beauty is not only visible, but it reminds souls of its mystery as no other visible objects do. It is a mystery that intimates divinity. Without beauty, the whole world would sink into a permanent gloom. Beauty is God’s calling card.
Whittaker Chambers recounts his first glimpse of his daughter, Ellen. He peered through a glass panel into the antiseptic nursery where banks of babies lay in baskets. A nurse pointed out his child: “Her face was pink, and peaceful. Her long lashes lay against her cheeks. She was beautiful.” This was his child who, “even before her birth, had begun, invisibly, to lead us out of that darkness, which we could not even realize, toward that light, which we could not even see.”

His devotion to the Communist Party had obscured his vision. The beauty of his daughter opened his eyes. The epiphany came one day while he was observing his daughter, sitting in her highchair, smearing porridge over her face: “My eyes came to rest on the delicate convolutions of her ear – those intricate, perfect ears. The thought passed through my mind: ‘No, those ears could not have been created by any chance coming together of atoms in nature (the Communist view). They could have been created only by immense design.’ The thought was involuntary and unwanted. I crowded it out of my mind. But I never wholly forgot it or the occasion. I had to crowd it out of my mind. If I had completed it, I should have had to say: Design presupposes God. I did not then know that, at that moment, the finger of God was first laid upon my forehead.”

The daughter that was almost aborted, according to the custom of high-ranking Communist officials, led her father back to God. The delicate convolutions of her ear were tangible evidence that a Master Creator not only existed but could come into our lives. It is sadly ironic that man continues to abort tangible proofs of God’s reality. Abortion shuts out the creator.

There are atheists, of course who would disagree. Consider the following comment from the pen of Christopher Hitchens: “You see, it’s just very, very difficult for most mothers and fathers to look at their children and to understand as we Brights do that those creatures are randomly assembled confections of molecules and limbs that have been adapting willy-nilly since the lungfish.”

Blessed, however, are those mothers and fathers who see their children through loving eyes and not through the lens of intellectual arrogance.

The enigmatic close of John Keats’ poem, Ode on a Grecian Urn, makes one thing clear, namely, that beauty and truth are conjoined: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty, — that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

We cannot all be philosophers or theologians. But we can all perceive beauty and be stirred with wonder. The human anatomy must be functional so that the organism is kept alive. The beauty of the human body does not add to its functionality. It has no evolutionary purpose. The presence of beauty in the world suggests the existence of another realm where beauty reigns independent of functionality. Beauty belongs to the spiritual order.

“Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God’s handwriting,” said Ralph Waldo Emerson. In so saying, he exemplified this conjunction between beauty and truth.

Life is not as complicated as certain intellectuals make it out to be. The perception of beauty leads to the recognition of God’s existence. In that simple formula, we find peace and reassurance.

Dr. Donald DeMarco is a senior fellow of Human Life International, professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ontario, and an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College in Cromwell, Conn. This article appeared in the March 17 edition of The Wanderer and is reprinted with permission.

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