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THE HEAVENLY BEAUTY THAT GRACE GIVES TO THE SOUL

Beauty is the principal object of pure love.  Even the perishable beauty of the body enkindles the heart to love.  But the higher qualities of the heart and of the spirit can so captivate a soul that the will of the beloved becomes powerless, and it stands blindly, ready to serve at the beck of the one loved.

From God’s ineffable love of our soul, we can only conclude that the soul must have a wonderful, heavenly beauty.  And this is so much the more, since the divine love is able not only to estimate things at their true worth, but is also powerful enough to make them worthy of itself.

Human love presupposes beauty in the object.  Man must find real beauty already present; otherwise, he cannot become enthusiastic enough to love.  But he cannot give the beauty.  Divine love, however, is the cause of beauty.  For all things have of themselves nothing, having received their whole being from God.  Thus, God can love a thing only insofar as He makes it partaker of His own goodness and beauty.

That holds in general for all of God’s love and for all beauty and goodness of created things.  But it holds in a very special way for the supernatural love of God and the supernatural beauty of the spirit.  When God stoops down to our soul with supernatural love, He adorns it with a supernatural beauty, and precisely because of this beauty, which He Himself has given us, His loving eye rests on us with unspeakable complacency.  But since, through grace, the love of God becomes active in us and abides with us, grace must contain God’s beauty in itself and bestow it upon us.

Therefore, St. Augustine says, speaking of the elevation of man through grace: “When human nature, distinguished above all others, is cleansed from injustice, it is changed from hideousness to beauty.” (De Trin. 1. 15, c.8, n. 14).  Still more appropriately St. Cyril of Alexandria teaches that, when we remain holy, we form Christ in ourselves and bear His features and His behavior. (Contra Anthrop. c. 6).

Indeed, the image of the Divine Nature and holiness is impressed on our soul thorugh grace.  It becomes a mirror of beauty, that is, of the holiness in God, and reflects, though not in all its purity and clarity, this holiness.  It becomes a child of God, an adopted child, clothed as it were with a mantle, with the royal ornaments of God’s own Son, that is, with His virtues.  It becomes a newborn child, because the heavenly Father, who had impressed on him at his creation only a shadow of the Divine Nature, now shares His divine life, not only in figure, but in reality and impresses on the soul His divine features, just as on His natural son.  The soul is made deiform, godlike, according to the holy Fathers and mystics; it is made like God’s holiness and thereby becomes partaker of God’s own beauty.

Whoever wishes to imagine the beauty of a soul having grace must have seen the infinite beauty of God, that beauty which the Angels long to see, that beauty which contains all created beauty in itself, that beauty which is the pattern, the measure, and the unattainable ideal of all that man considers splendid, of all the beauty that God can create.

Moreover, through grace our soul becomes a temple—the true throne—of the Holy Ghost and of the Holy Trinity, of which the Temple and the Holy of Holies in Jerusalem were only a type.  But if that temple of stone was, by command of God, decorated so splendidly that it was rightly reckoned among the wonders of the world, what will God not offer to decorate this living temple as befits His majesty!

If God covers the earth, which is but His footstool, with the richest and most diversified tapestry of beautiful verdure, crowns it with wreaths of the loveliest flowers, encircles it with silvery threads of streams and rivers and places the twinkling stars as diamonds above it, what heavenly treasures, what precious pearls, what magnificent splendor will He bestow on the temple of our soul, in which He, with all the love of His Divine Heart, dwells and will continue to dwell forever?

And if men seek to make their temple of stone grand and magnificent with all the resources of wealth and art, how much more will God adorn and glorify the sanctuary of our soul, where He is adored in spirit and truth?

“To the just soul,” says St. Ambrose, “God speaks as He once did to Jerusalem: ‘Behold Jerusalem, I have painted thy walls.’  The painting of the soul consists in this, that with the help of grace it reflects in its activity a beautiful image of the divine activity and holiness.”`

Hence, Solomon, in The Canticle of Canticles, praises so enthusiastically this divine beauty of the just soul.  How great this beauty is and of what kind—that no mortal can express or understand.  If the natural beauty of a great and noble soul surpasses all corporeal beauty, how much more true is this of the supernatural beauty that is had through grace?  For there is a greater distance between grace and the natural being of the soul than between the soul and all the beauty of the visible world.  That the heavenly beauty of grace is invisible for our bodily eye—and even for the eye of our soul—does not lessen its greatness.  This is rather a sign of its sublimity, since all that we can see or attain through reason has only a limited and earthly beauty.  Indeed, if the splendor of a soul adorned with grace could be seen, those looking on would be enraptured and transported with wonder and delight.

When God once revealed this beauty to St. Catherine of Siena, she covered with kisses the footsteps of those who were engaged in bringing sinners back to the grace of God.  Transported with joy, she said to her confessor: “If you, my father, could behold the beauty of one soul adorned with grace, you would gladly suffer death a thousand times for the sake of one such soul.”

Christ Himself, who was drawn down to earth by this splendor of holy souls, or rather with the purpose of imparting this splendor to souls, said to St. Bridget that if she would see this beauty she would be blinded and overcome and would faint away as though lifeless.

Indeed, just as our eyes can be blinded, not only by the sun itself, but also by its reflection in a crystal, so the human soul cannot bear the reflection of the divine light that is given out by the soul having grace.  If gazing at the bright sun causes all around us to become dark, what would the beholding of a soul in the splendor of its supernatural glory effect?  When St. Frances of Rome saw her Angel near her, the light of the sun was darkened by his brightness.

Even the Angels, who are accustomed to heavenly sights, are enraptured by this beauty.  It is they who in The Canticle of Canticles cry out at the sight of the soul joined to God through grace: “Who is this that cometh up from the desert, flowing with delights, leaning upon her beloved?” (Cant. 8:5).

Indeed, the glory to which God raises the soul through grace is so great that even the natural beauty of the Angels is as nothing compared with it.  The Angels themselves wonder how a soul that was sunk in the desert of this sinful earth and robbed of all natural beauty can be clothed with such a wonderful splendor.  But this wonder of the Angels will not surprise us when we see and hear that God Himself considers the beauty of grace with astonishment and rapture.  For how otherwise can we explain what He says in The Canticle of Canticles to the soul: “How beautiful art thou, my love, how beautiful art thou!” (Cant. 4:1)

God is not concerned with the beauty of bodies, which He by His word brought out of nothingness.  He can be astonished at nothing that is not divine.  As He considers throughout eternity His infinite beauty with the same endless delight, His eye also rests with unspeakable satisfaction upon the image of His Divine Nature, which the Holy Ghost impresses as a seal upon our soul.  He is astonished, as it were, at the wonderful power of His love, which is able to adorn with such beauty a poor, miserable creature and to make it so much like Himself.  He is astonished with the gold of His grace.  He is astonished with the beautiful and lovely garden, with never-fading bloom, which His love has planted, refreshed by the breath of His Holy Spirit as by a mild, vernal breeze, and in which He dwells with unspeakable delight.  And thus He cries out repeatedly: “How beautiful art thou, my love, how beautiful art thou!” (Cant. 4:1)

Does not this twofold exclamation indicate a twofold beauty of the soul?  The soul has, first, a created beauty, effected by the splendor of grace, that clothes and surrounds it and covers it with the precious, golden robe of all the supernatural and divine virtues.  Again, the soul is doubly beautiful, having also an uncreated beauty, that of the Holy Spirit, who has erected His throne within it.  For as the royal palace must first be splendidly furnished to receive the king in a becoming manner, but receives its greatest ornament in the king himself, so the Holy Ghost first forms our soul into a magnificent and glorious temple and then confers upon it its highest adornment and most excellent glory by dwelling personally in it.

The soul adorned with grace is but a golden setting in which the most precious jewel, the Holy Ghost, God Himself, is enclosed.  As in a ring, the gold is distinct from the jewel, and yet they are so closely united that they form but one whole and one beauty, so likewise the Divinity is distinct from the just soul, but is so intimately united with it through love that the beauty of both appears to be one and the same.

The same adorable truth was revealed by our Savior Himself to St. Teresa by another beautiful image.  He showed her the soul as a crystal globe that was not merely illuminated from without by the divine sun of grace, but bore this sun in its center.  From this center the sun filled with divine splendor the different parts of the globe, representing the different faculties of the daughter and bride of God: “All the glory of the king’s daughter is within.” (Ps. 44:14)

If God then considers the beauty and loveliness of your soul with such delight, ought not you, Christian soul, gladly conform your judgment to that of the highest and infallible Judge of art, even though that beauty be invisible to you?  Do you dare to esteem any other beauty, compare it, or even prefer it to this?

Compare, then, this beauty of grace with all others that delight you.  In this way you will see (by) how much grace surpasses all these.  For all that you admire in every other beauty is found here in a far higher degree and without any imperfection.

Lifeless things please you by reason of their exterior perfections, by the harmonious composition of their parts, by their pleasing colors and the splendor with which they are decorated.  Grace, however, effects a heavenly harmony among the faculties of your soul, sheds over it a divine luster, and glorifies it with eternal and imperishable beauty.  More beautiful than lifeless objects are living things.  Their beauty is in their inner perfections, the bloom of their youth, their manifold activity, the fullness of their vital power.  But there is a higher, a purer, a more perfect life—that of the soul through grace—a life that never grows old but is always being rejuvenated, a life that ever brings forth heavenly blossoms and diffuses the fragrance of divine bliss.

Every unspoiled heart is delighted by the beauty of virtue, purity of heart, the order of the moral law actually realized in the soul.  But all these receive a far higher splendor through grace, by which the Holy Ghost Himself impresses on our soul the law of God, unites it most intimately with the archetype of all justice, adorns it with the supernatural and divine virtues and invests it with justice and the true sanctity of the Son of God.

Grace, accordingly, as the image of the Divine Nature, gives to the soul a truly heavenly beauty, because it is a sharing of the Divine Nature, that is, an outflowing of its holiness.  The Holy Ghost, who wishes to dwell in the soul, cannot choose a dwelling that is unworthy of His majesty.  If Heaven is hardly sufficient for Him, therefore, how much less worthy of a human soul!  He must adorn the soul in such a way that it may become at least an earthly image of Heaven.

Here we may get a glance of the awful disorder that sin causes in us by robbing us of grace.  Sin places itself as a dark storm cloud between the divine Sun and the soul, and in a moment the splendor of its heavenly beauty if extinct, the supernatural life is killed, the virtues are destroyed and the splendid robe of the children of God is tattered.  From a fragrant and lovely garden of God, the soul is transformed into an abominable and pestilential abyss, where reptiles, serpents and the hellish dragon himself dwell.  From an image of the lovable God you are made of an image of Hell and of the devil.

The devil is so hideous that Our Lord told St. Bridget that, if she could see him in his deformity, she would either sink lifeless to the ground, or if she did not die, she would experience unspeakable pain.  Into such a monster is one changed by sin, who in grace had shone as a mirror of divine glory.

Your soul is disfigured in the same way when sin drives out the divine Sun.  This also was shown to St. Teresa by the above-mentioned image of the crystal globe, for after Christ had withdrawn Himself from its center, there remained nothing but frightful darkness.  Who would not be frightened by the thought of that eternal night, of that incomprehensible hate, of the deformation of the once so beautiful features, all of which can be caused by one sin!  And who should not tremble at the thought of how little is necessary to destroy so delicate a beauty lent to you by God and beware not only of its loss but of the least stain that might disfigure it.

What pains and time, what expense does one undergo to keep or increase the perishable beauty of the body?  Hours are not enough; one uses days; one uses days and anxious care to put the hair or some piece of clothing in order and to add grace and dignity to the deportment of the body.

And should one hour be too much for us to put the soul in order?  Should we be unwilling to bestow upon the beauty of soul, which secures for us the friendship of God and Heaven, that care which we bestow on the hair or dress?

The world hopes by such trifles to gain the empty admiration of men.  We know, on the other hand, from God Himself, that every—even the least—effort we make in preserving the purity or enhancing the beauty of the heavenly figure of our soul secures for us a greater measure of His love.  In The Canticle of Canticles He says: “Thou has wounded my heart, my sister, my spouse, thou has wounded my heart with one of thy eyes, and with one hair of thy neck.” (Cant. 4:9).

Every glance toward God, every virtuous act performed in grace and every sigh of the soul that loves God, even though so light as a hair, becomes an arrow that wounds, not the unstable heart of man, but the eternal and constant heart of God.  Every step that you take in the pathway of grace is so beautiful and lovely that God, beholding you, exclaims: “How beautiful are thy steps in shoes, O prince’s daughter!” (Cant. 7:1).  Every word that you address to God is so dear and precious that it brings down upon you His richest blessing, as the Psalmist sings: “Grace is poured abroad in thy lips; therefore hath God blessed thee forever.” (Ps. 44:3).

Nothing in the beloved is insignificant to the lover; nothing in the beloved soul is insignificant to the loving God.  Here each and every thing is great because it gains God’s love for us.  What  amotive for us to gain the love of God!                        

(From The Glories of Divine Grace by Fr. Matthias J. Scheeben (1835-1888), translated from German by Fr. Patrick Shaughnessay, O.S.B., published by Tan Books & Publishers, Rockford, Illinois, 2000) 

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