Monday, September 30, 2013

Faces of Beauty

My German Professor once said that every young woman--even the plainest girl--becomes beautiful on the day of her wedding. Herr Pater had performed many weddings, and had seen this happen many times, and while there was more than a hint of Romanticism about the kindly priest, there was quite a good helping of matter-of-factness in him as well. He did not say what he did not earnestly know to be true.

When I think of brides, I think of a painting, one of my favorite paintings. It’s famous now, if it wasn’t always. I am no art historian, and I do not know the story of the painting. All that I can offer is an educated guess that the young woman was one of Rembrandt’s neighbors. The painting is The Jewish Bride.

Behold the beautiful young woman in the picture! She is beautiful, but is it just because of her attire? No, she herself is beautiful.

Now change her attire to modern clothes, everyday modern clothes, and place her, not yet wed, and perhaps not even yet engaged, in modern society. Is she beautiful?

Is she beautiful according to modern society? No. According to modern society, she is "overweight," her face is "plain," she doesn’t come from an “exotic” ethnic group, she has fair skin and brown hair, she doesn’t look like much of an athlete. According to modern society, the beautiful woman in Rembrandt’s painting is ugly.

If you have ever had cause to join in a festival in Germany or Scandinavia, you will see something similar. Here is a picture of some young members of a German farming community dressed up in traditional dress for their village’s Erntedankfest, the day on which rural Germans give thanks to God for the harvest.

They are beautiful, aren’t they? I mean the men too, not just the two young ladies. But wait, would anyone call all of them beautiful on any other day of the year? No. The same thing happens to many of them--perhaps even all of them--that would happen to the Jewish Bride. In fact, I have been told point blank that Germans are never beautiful. They are just an ugly ethnic group.

Well, perhaps I am being just a little bit hard on modern society. After all, there are lots of young men who leave comments on you tube videos saying things like, “Wow, there’s a German woman in this video who is attractive! I am so surprised by this!”

But, ladies, lest you think that only gentleman can be guilty of the crime of depreciating beauty, ask yourselves, "Is the gentleman in The Jewish Bride beautiful? Are all of the young men in the Erntedankfest photograph beautiful, including the two who are peeking out behind the two young ladies on the right hand side?

And is the Jewish bride beautiful? Yes, she is. And the young farm girls celebrating Erntedankfest? Yes, they are beautiful as well. And no, beauty is not relative. The farmers are as beautiful in America as in their German village, and the Jewish bride is just as beautiful in the 21st Century as she was in the time of Rembrandt.

According to Confucius, beauty is present everywhere, but beholders are wanting. According to Pope Benedict XVI, beauty is objective, but we experience it subjectively. According to Herr Pater, love makes people beautiful, and all women are beautiful when they become brides. According to Clara Schwartz all people are beautiful. They are, after all, the creations of the Almighty.

“…for Christ plays  in ten thousand places
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.”
~Gerard Manley Hopkins