Beauty: A Catholic on What’s Subjective & Objective

“Oh, you just don’t get it.”
“You just have to have a better sense of humor to understand it.”
“He’s just being a snob.”


I would wager a strong bet that, if you’re reading this article, you’ve heard the above statements dozens of times over the years. Maybe you’ve even been the one to say it! The modern entertainment industry, ranging from paintings to sculptures to movies to music, covers a larger range than ever before. You know what? It really doesn’t matter what your tastes are.

There will be something out there that will fit your preferences almost perfectly. It’s also an almost surefire bet that there will be someone out there who disagrees with your preference. While this disagreement is often relegated to a simple “oh, I disagree,” Altercations between rabid fans can easily grow far beyond such simple discussion. For the moment, I’d like to focus on these latter points.

With the internet being what it is, I would be willing to bet a great deal of money on the fact that any reader of this article has read stories of “superfans.” People beating up another person because of hearing spoilers of a Star Wars movie. Terminally ill fans begging to see Avengers: Endgame as their last request. Hackers crashing company servers in an attempt to protest a new microtransaction added to Fallout 76 (true
story).

So… Why do I focus on these? Simple: Most of us, when viewing such altercations from the outside, laugh at the hold that some people attach to certain fandoms in the modern world. We chuckle at hipsters who can sit for hours with a cup of coffee staring at a single dot of black paint on a white canvass. And yet, while we won’t always grow quite as violent as some. I would like to posit that most of us would fight just as fiercely as these superfans when defending our own convictions and that if we wouldn’t, we should probably change some things about our lives. Allow me to explain. The concept of beauty is one is continually under debate and definition over the centuries.

Thomas Aquinas provided perhaps the most comprehensive view possible on the subject. It’s far too long to reiterate here in its entirety), but it essentially boils down to a distinction between subjective and objective beauty. Subjective beauty is unique to each individual person, objective beauty is beauty that simply is.

For example, appreciating Chinese food would be subjective beauty, while appreciating the intrinsic beauty and design of a tree is objective beauty. It’s a fairly simple concept, in all reality, and is likely more or less accepted by most people on the planet. Which is where I would like to add in a bit of my own hypothesis.

Premise 1: Objective beauty is beauty which reflects the glory of God and points the viewer back
to himself, the one from which all light and beauty proceeds.


Premise 2: Not all people worship God, and thus see other sources of light and beauty pouring
into the world.


Conclusion: If a person does not worship God, but instead follows other idols or ideologies, subjective beauty can become seen as objective beauty in the minds of individuals. Conversely, objective beauty can, in the minds of such people, be turned into little more than subjective and easily-ignored beauty. It seems like a simple concept, but I’m going to explore a few examples. Let’s return to the rabid superfans of earlier.

Many of these people, though “good” people, objectively worship their favorite franchises. Star Wars is one of the greatest examples of this, with one of the largest and hardest-core following on the planet. When speaking with this type of person (I feel quite qualified to talk about this subject, as I clearly fell into this category in High School), they will almost invariably turn to the expansive lore of the world.

They’ll speak of the extensive cannon (before Disney, of course), the way that all the storylines clicked together. They’ll describe the layout of different starships, the battles that took place over the years. And even the minor inconsistencies that they’ve found ways of overlooking. They’ll likely do this for hours on end, boring the socks off any listener caught in their tractor beam.

Why? Because they see an objective beauty within it and desperately want to share it with you. The same principle holds true for those same fans who were outraged when the new Star Wars movies came out. Objectively, they’re terrible, but they certainly didn’t warrant the angry rants that shook the internet. The tears. The cries to return to the old cannon. The screams of rage at Disney for politicizing their beloved franchises. Their cries sounded a LOT like Michael Voris of Church Militant speaking on the errors of the modern-day Catholic Church.

And… That’s really my point. If you’re at all familiar with Michael Voris, you likely know that he truly loves the Catholic Church. He screams and rants quite a lot, but it doesn’t come from hatred. It comes from love. A love of the beauty of the true Catholic Faith, of the way that it points people back to God, directing them to heaven and a unity with Christ, and of a frustration from the way that the modern Church doesn’t do that.

Once more, I’m going to take a step back for a few seconds and return to the world of fiction. While many things can easily become idols in our world like money, jobs, significant others, food, etc, you should know this: Fictional franchises are particularly malicious in that regard. Why? Because they can actively speak and reflect back “glory” upon themselves in a way that parodies and mocks God. So let me explain particularly by looking at the current stock of Marvel movies.

Photo by Life of Wu from Pexels

At present, the franchise is with twenty-three movies, eleven television shows, and countless tie-in comics, mobile
games, and other forms of media. While it was initially a desperate attempt at making a few movies, it has become something far more. Random plot elements mentioned in the movies are into focus in the television shows.

Backstory is in the comics. It all becomes an interconnected web, clicking together with remarkable synchronization. With every new release, content is devouring us to discover the conclusion of old plot threads and uncover future plot elements. Everything you consume points back to itself. Thus directing ever-more of your time and energy into discovering the unfolding of the franchise.

Star Wars had already discovered this tactic thirty years ago, and implemented it with due fervor. In fact, almost every single franchise currently active in the world today does the same thing, albeit on different scales. Thus, as they truly are good movies and products. And that it becomes all too easy for people to become sucked in and replace simple subjective beauty with an objective obsession.

On the flip side, I present to you: The Lord of the Rings. On the surface, a classic tale of good and evil! Everyone likely knows the story by heart: A Hobbit carries the One Ring across all of Middle-Earth.

Image by Pau Llopart Cervello from Pixabay

He eventually casted it into the fire of Mount Doom and freeing the land from Sauron’s control. Below the surface, though, lies a massive network of lore that supports and reinforces the lore. I first discovered this lore when I stumbled across “The Song of Durin.” It is a poem that Tolkien composed for The Hobbit that modern composers have set to music.

Needless to say, I was blown away. I began digging into Tolkien’s lore, discovering the mindblowing level of backstory. And his history that held up his two main works: The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. It was during this stint, as I learned of the Silmarils, of the characters of Morgoth and Berin, that I realized something. In the Marvel lore, everything reflected back on itself.

While it certainly held together even tighter than the Marvel lore, it didn’t feel like it was directing me back to itself. Instead, reading the intense level of lore simply gave me a greater appreciation for Tolkien. And for the one true Creator whom Tolkien quite obviously drew inspiration from (as a brief aside here, while most people know that Tolkien was a Christian, fewer know that he was an extremely active Catholic). He was actually among a large group of men and women who, following Vatican II, petitioned Pope Paul VI to reconsider and keep the traditional Latin mass.

This same beauty can be seen, on a slightly different level, in the writings of C.S. Lewis. While not Catholic, his close friendship with Tolkien certainly bled over into his works, which can easily be seen
in his works of Narnia or Perilandra. In the movie field, Les Misérables is similar: An epic tale that points you towards a higher beauty instead of simply trying to form the basis for fan theories about Jean Valjean. So…what’s my whole point with this?

I’ll return to that little bit about Michael Voris ranting about the errors of the modern church. While he often serves as the public face for the movement of Catholics criticizing the Church today, he’s far from the only one. I won’t name any more names, but I will place myself firmly within that group. When I tell people that I love going to the Latin mass, the responses are varied.

Some people say something to the tune of “Well, you do you.” Other people have responded with “Oh, I’m so glad that’s not mandatory anymore, I would have left the Church a long time ago if it still was.” Other critiques I’ve received involve concern over the lack of a proper “community” at Latin mass parishes. They also wonder how you can possibly form connections in such a rigid environment. To which I respond: “Well… Why are you going to church at all if you’re only going for yourself?” The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith.

The Eucharist is THE reason that we go to mass on Sundays, THE reason that we pray the rosary at
home or attend a Bible study with friends. I once listened to a podcast that included Dr. Ed Mazza, where he made a great point. The only words that truly mattered were the words of consecration. Five or six words, a single sentence. That was IT. The rest of the Mass, everything before and after that moment, is just a framework for that brilliant moment when Jesus becomes truly present to us.

And, with that, I look at the old mass and the new mass. In the Traditional Latin Mass, everything points to Christ. Everything. The altar, the way that the priest faces, the prayers that he prays, the way that items are placed on and around the altar. Nothing said or done that doesn’t have some sort of meaning. Even the readings from the Bible, although translated in English, are read in Latin.

And facing away from the congregation, because the entire mass is a prayer offered up to God. When we receive the Eucharist, we are participating in that same sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, offering up Jesus’s
body and blood to God the Father. In the Novus Ordo, you don’t get that. The focus changes, shifting from a focus on God to a focus on the people. When the priest elevates the host, proclaiming “Behold the lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world,” It is seen as the moment when the priest displays Jesus for all present to gaze upon.

The readings are offered to the people in attendance, not to Christ. When the Eucharist is distributed, it’s seen as a communal meal, where everyone sort-of takes and eats Jesus. Just because? He told us to do that, so we are? For the record, I do realize that I’m generalizing, but there is a catch. In the Novus Order, you have to dig to uncover the central beauty behind the mass, because it just gets hidden under modern and frankly protestant pleasantries.

On the other hand, the beauty of the Latin Mass is just..there. Ready and available for anyone to see. And that brings me to my final point here. The Latin Mass is objectively beautiful. In fact, I would argue that the Latin Mass, along with other traditional rites of the Church (such as the Byzantine or Armenian rite) is the singular definition of beauty.

They’re the traditions in this world that most perfectly point to Christ. However, birthed from the idols of ecumenism, the choice of a parish has become seen as a thing of subjective beauty: Find a parish with a priest who gives homilies on things that you agree with and with people that you love. If that’s a Latin parish, great!

When those of us who love the objective beauty of the traditional liturgy attempt to share it with others, we’re seen as just as crazy and fanatical as those Star Wars fans who rage at the desecration of their favorite franchises. When we accept compromise and treat it as a simple preference, we’re seen as the weird ones for preferring something so bizarre.

The traditional liturgies of the Catholic Church are truly the most beautiful things that we can hope to experience here in this world. To close, I’ll quote from The Lord of the Rings, which I have aforementioned as one of the most objectively beautiful works of fantasy literature. “I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

Support us every time you shop at Amazon