Denis McNamara and the Search for Beauty at Benedictine College
Denis McNamara, director of the Center for Beauty and Culture at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, has just completed a podcast series answering those questions.
The series is part of his popular Liturgy Guys podcast, which is now sponsored by Benedictine College in addition to its longtime sponsors, the Liturgical Institute and Adoremus at Mundelein, Ill. The podcast broadcasts a conversation between McNamara and Christopher Carstens, hosted by Jesse Weiler.
This series begins with Denis describing how Benedictine’s Transforming Culture in America strategic planning process has committed the college to a new direction.
“Benedictine College is this interesting place where they’ve more than doubled their student body,” he says. “It is this intensely Catholic place where the students who came here are really excited about their faith. They realized that they have done what they wanted to do here with their strategic planning over the last 20 years and now they want to turn it outward and take the great stuff they have done here and send it out to the world.”
That means Transforming Culture in America. Citing Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, McNamara defines culture as “the record of human beings’ search for the divinity,” and points out that “The faith is carried through the culture.”
In subsequent episodes, he begins a fascinating look at what beauty is. Is it in the eye of the beholder or in the beautiful object itself?
It’s in the object, he says, describing the “realist” or “objective” understanding of beauty from St. Thomas Aquinas.
When we see something beautiful, says McNamara, we see an attribute of God.
“Basically we’re getting an all-access pass to the mind of God. God understands something perfectly and we don’t, but the more perfectly the thing on earth expresses that fullness of the understanding, the more we call it beautiful.”
In part two he discusses what this means in the life of a Catholic. He describes how it is really true that a saint is “more beautiful” than someone who is not a saint and asks what part our experiences of beauty play in our faith, or, vice versa, our faith in our experiences of beauty? How does one evangelize with beauty, in the world and in the liturgy?
Last, in part three, he discusses how to tell if something is truly beautiful by assessing three elements: integritas (wholeness), consonantia (proportionality), and claritas (radiance).
These help reveal when a chalice is beautiful or a not, why a well-crafted crucifix is beautiful even though it is a record of torture and suffering, and more.
“Beauty is not a thing in itself,” he says. “It’s a quality of being. When we experience something beauty we understand the depth of its inner reality without labor.”