The Beatific Vision

I have previously considered the paradoxes of purpose. When we ask what something, like life, is good for, we want to know its purpose. If we are given some kind of answer, however, we might then ask what that is good for, apparently asking for another purpose. This can continue, as any five-year-old knows, and become an infinite regress. The problem is that these goods with purposes are particular kinds of goods, namely "instrumental" goods. Their goodness consists, entirely, in relation to their purpose. A good piano does what we want a piano to do, namely to produce the kind of music we expect from its design (i.e. the kind of instrument it is -- it is never going to sound like a flute). What the music is then for is something else. To stop the regress, we require some kind of good that is not instrumental, that is not good simply in relation to its purpose. The regress of purposes can only end at an intrinsic good, something that is good in itself, that is an end in itself.

Various things have been proposed as intrinsic goods, such as pleasure, knowledge, love, etc. The difficulty with all of these is that the urge is almost irresistable to ask the same question:  What are they good for? Pleasures may be all fine, and practical hedonism can make for a diverting life for a long time; but it seems like inevitably, not only do we get the "what for" question, but there is also a kind of disappointment. Even the aesthete, whose pleasures may be more refined, begins to suffer ennui, a term that seems to have entered English usage for just such a person. This consideration occurs before we even begin to worry about the moral toll that hedonism or moral aestheticism may begin to take, as explored in Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, a book about morality, even as Wilde denies, properly, that the value of art depends on its morality. For the intrinsic goods of pleasure or beauty, we might ask, "Is this all there is?" There must be some sort of deeper meaning, or higher purpose.

For example, in Advaita Vedânta, there is the ultimate reality, the supreme Being of Brahman, which is , saccidânanda, "existence, consciousness, & bliss." This is ultimately also our own Self, the Âtman, . But while I do seem to have the existence, and most times the consciousness, I otherwise seem to be lacking the last part, , ânanda, the "bliss." Where's the bliss? Well, the doctrine is that mâya, , the world, stands in the way of bliss. By religious practice, the hold of mâya can be broken, liberation and salvation achieved, and bliss realized. With salvation, rebirth is avoided, the world falls away completely, and all that is left is the existence, consciousness, and bliss.

This bliss is thus a state, and a supremely satisfying one, the consciousness of God -- perhaps the state of Aristotle's God of "thought thinking itself." "What is it good for?" is question that, presumably, one would not be asking about it. Indeed, the whole mental mechanism of asking questions, or needing to, would no longer be there.

In Buddhism, we also find bliss. The Buddha Amitâbha promises the , the "Pure Land of Utmost Bliss." The Chinese translation here is of interest. "Utmost" or "ultimate," , here is originally "the ridgepole of a house," which is culmen in Latin. So "ultimate" is the "culmination." In turn, , "bliss" is basically just "happy, pleased" and even "to laugh." This general meaning of the Chinese character is noteworthy in that the Bliss of the Pure Land () thus does not seem discontinuous with more earthy happiness; and the religious anhedonia common in the West, in which even laughter is condemned, seems (blissfully) foreign to Chinese civilization. The bliss of the Pure Land, however, is not the bliss of salvation or Nirvân.a, , in Buddhism. That remains to be worked out. So the bliss of the Pure Land is not really the "utmost" bliss, in strict doctrinal terms.

With the Greeks, the gods are happy. Theirs is a particular kind of happiness. They are or , "blessed," and so they experience , "bliss." This is ambiguous, since the gods are happy because they are fortunate or "blest" in their circumstances, namely immortality and supernatural powers. Their happiness follows from their good fortune in being gods. Humans are not immortal and so can never be fortunate in the same ways. Our happiness is a little different. It is , which is literally "good spirited," an expression that we can still use to mean "happy," but in this case also could mean favored by the spirits, without whom human happiness, , would be impossible. Nietzsche thought that the mythological account of the life of the gods was the only "truly satisfying theodicy." It was their very immorality, not just immortality, that facilitated their happiness, which was the lesson that Nietzsche took away from the whole business. The life of the "beautiful people" in popular culture tends to reproduce this, with a glamorous surface and a nasty, hidden reality underneath, occasionally exposed to public view, sometimes with murders.

Later religion in the West, in the form of the Mystery Religions and then (as one of them) Christianity, offered something rather different for us. Through salvation and immortality, we can experience the bliss of the gods, or God. Thus, the "Beatitudes" of the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5:3-11] all use , even though Jesus is not talking about Heaven, unless he is making a promise of Heaven. But Greek even had a separate word for this state, , "blessed," which can mean earthly good fortune but is used in the Homeric "Hymn to Demeter" to mean the blessed state of those initiated in the Eleusian Mysteries -- whose fortune is thus intermediate between the blessedness of the gods and the Earthly happiness of those lucky enough not to experience evils in this life. This kind of bliss certainly means a kind of fortunate circumstances, namely Heaven; but there is also an element of the experience and the feeling that Heaven makes possible, namely the inner bliss of happiness, like , ânanda.

Eventually the specific source of Christian bliss became the visio beatifica, the "beatific vision" that is actually the experience and perception of God -- as we see in the illustration of Gustav Doré at left. This is Dante's final vision of God, with angels and the Host of Heaven, indeed the entire universe, revolving around him -- see the "Spheres & Orders of Angels" below. This is what Dante's "virtuous pagans" are denied in Hell, which is not for them a place of punishment, since they have done no moral wrongs (and includes even the Sultan of Egypt and Conqueror of Jerusalem, Saladin), but does leave them cut off from God. Of course, Dante himself here is not experiencing the full and real visio beatifica, for he is not one of the Blessed in Heaven, only a visitor and a spectator. The actual Saved are flying through the ether among the Host in the rotation. Indeed, the Earthy sensation of being carried in the tide is one of the signs or clues of ecstasy, as I will consider shortly.

For what it is about what we see in God that occasions the beatific vision, we might consult someone who canonically has seen God. Like Job. I have discussed the elements of Job's experience in more detail elsewhere. Here I am interested in a feature of his testimony. Job says, "Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful [] for me, which I did not know" [Job 42:3]. Nothing quieted Job's complaints about his treatment until he sees God in the whirlwind. The difference that makes may come down to one word, , "[things] being wonderful" -- in the Septuagint, , "great and wonderful [things]."

With the Hebrew verb, the adjective is , pil'i, "wonderful." This is not much, but it may be enough. The wonder, , pele', of it can be more than the force, power, fear, or threat that God is otherwise displaying in the whirlwind. Wonder can be the fascinans numinosity of Rudolf Otto; and I am reminded of Howard Carter's reaction when first looking into the tomb of Tutankhamon. In answer to Lord Caernarvon's question about what he saw, Carter said, "Wonderful things" [which would be ]. The Book of Job remains morally incomplete, which the text itself seems to acknowledge, as Job's family and friends, "comforted him for all the evil [, 'evil, misery, distress, injury'] that the LORD had brought upon him" [42:11]. But is it incomplete for Job? Does what he has seen, the [ , "the wonder"], overwhelm and compensate for what is otherwise the cruel injustice of it all? Otto thinks so; and if the "wonder" occasions the visio beatifica, that perhaps would do it.

We get beatifica from Latin translations of the Greek terms, beatus as "blessed" and beatum as "bliss, happiness." As in Greek, different words can be used for what is happy or fortunate in more mundane circumstances, namely felix, "happy," and felicitas, "happiness." More concretely, felix can actually mean "fruitful, fertile" -- such that we get Arabia Felix, "Happy Arabia," which meant Yemen, where mountains, rainfall, dams, and irrigation made for the only area of real agricultural prosperity in the Arabian penninsula, and whose name in Arabic, , al-Yaman, itself means "happy" (from the root , yamana, meaning, not just "to be happy," but "right [handed]," and "south"). This happiness obviously began with favorable circumstances and the produced the enjoyment of internal feelings.

The intensity of the beatific vision or of what must be comparable, namely mystical transport, raises questions about analogies in ordinary experience. The great sculpture by Giovanni Bernini (1598-1680) of St. Teresa of Ávila being pierced by arrows from the hands of an angel makes it look like she is having an orgasm. Her eyes are partly closed, her mouth is open, and she slumps down, unable to hold herself up. This is what people look like at sexual climax, which is liable to be the most instense sensation of pleasure that most of us are going to have. Such a representation stands in contrast to the idea of salvation, transport, or the beatific vision as a state of peace or tranquility, what the Hellenistic moralists called . Schopenhauer has a nice description:

...we see that peace [Friede] that is higher than all reason [Vernunft], that ocean-like calmness of the spirit [Meeresstille des Gemüths], that deep tranquility [Ruhe], that unshakable confidence [Zuversicht] and serenity [Heiterkeit], whose mere reflection in the countenance, as depicted by Raphael and Correggio, is a complete and certain gospel. [The World as Will and Representation, Volume I, Dover Publications, 1966, E.F.J. Payne translation, p.411; German text, Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, Band 1, §71, Reclam, 1987, p.574]

But Schopenhauer himself has just cited some terms whose sense is a little different from this:

...and which is denoted by the names ecstasy [Ekstase], rapture [Entrückung], illumination [Erleuchtung], union with God [Vereinigung mit Gott], and so on. [ibid., p.410; German, p.572]

Here we get ecstasy, , which goes back to the New Testament, originally meaning "displacement," literally "put-out," from which we get "astonishment" or "entracement." Ecstasy does not sound like "peace," but more like the transport (transportatio, "removal") of St. Teresa, who actually described her own experience as "pain," although of an exquisite sort (herida sabrosisimente, "most delightfully wounded"), which she did not wish to end [note].
Spheres & Orders of Angels;
cf. Colossians 1:16, & Dante
Empyrean, Elohim,
God, , Deus
Primum Mobile, Seraphim,
, Seraphin
[Isaiah 6:2]
Stars, Cherubim,
, Cherubin
[Genesis 3:24]
SaturnThrones, , Throni
, Dominationes
MarsVirtues, , Virtutes
SunPowers, , Potestates
VenusPrincipalities, , Principatûs
MoonAngels, , Angeli

Even more intriguing is the term rapture (St. Teresa's arrobamiento). This is from Latin raptus, which is "carrying off, abduction," or even "rape," although the original term even in English could still be used to mean abduction alone (like the "rape of the Sabine women," which meant their capture) rather than the subsequent sexual assault -- even as "Rapture" has a special Christian meaning that the Saved are carried off from the Earth before the End of Days. This ambiguity now adheres to raptor, which these days is used to mean a carnivorous "predator" but in Latin simply means "thief" or "robber." Both "ecstasy" and "rapture" thus imply movement, even violence, which, with terms like "transport" (Teresa's arrebatamiento) or "exaltation" (Latin exsultatio, "leaping up"), give us a state that is not peaceful or tranquil but convulsive or, indeed, orgasmic. And the angel stabbing St. Teresa with the arrows may come closer to rape than we may be comfortable with -- even as St. Teresa's passive reception of the arrows contrasts with the spectator's observation of God by Dante and his guide, the aptly named Beatrice. It is really not clear that , ânanda, or , "Utmost Bliss," involves the convulsive kind of state. These tend to imply the peace and tranquility, with Buddhist monks addressed as "Placid Sir," which perhaps is why Schopenhauer gives that side of the experience pride of place. But Western mystics, and not just St. Teresa, and including the mathematician Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), often have the much more dynamic and ecstatic experiences, which is reflected in our vocabulary.

So which is it going to be, or ? In terms of human life, of course, we could say both. Mystics, even Socrates, become lost in their trances and may report ecstatic experiences. Afterwards, however, they have achieved the peace that is otherwise evident to others, even as Herman Hesse describes Ananda's ability to discern that something has changed in Siddhartha (in the eponymous book popular in the '60's), something that we may see in the wry smile that becomes the preferred depiction of the Buddha's countenance. Or, the dignity and tranquility of the death of Socrates moved Erasmus to say, "Pray for us, Saint Socrates!"

Outside of human life, in, perhaps, the hereafter, we can imagine that the peace and the ecstasy would occur together, especially in a system like Vedânta where we may shed individual existence and have a consciousness of no more than our Self, the Âtman, . Otherwise, it may be in terms of the constant visio of God, or union with God (Vereinigung mit Gott). These two features, as it happens, serve different functions. Peace and tranquility imply contentment and lack of desire, meaning a disinclination to ask the "good for" question. But this is merely negative and does not provide a positive reason not to ask the question. We might just be anesthetized, "blissed out," or uninterested. The other side of this, the ecstasy, the rapture, is the positive reason. When a person is having an orgasm, we are not going to ask them, "What is this good for?" They might not even notice us, and are likely to be annoyed if they do. Thus, ecstasy occupies our attention and blocks out everything else. If we are looking for an intrinsic good, a good-in-itself that is the culmination () of all other goods, and all instrumental goods, this may do. If the Good is Being, as I have supposed, then the visio beatifica absolutely fills us with the fullness of unhidden, unvarnished Being. Such experience may not be available in this life for most of us; but we can always read about it the works of someone like St. Teresa, who describes it in some detail, or we can see it in the art of someone like Raphael or Correggio, which, as Schopenhauer vividly puts in, "is a complete and certain gospel [ein ganzes und sicheres Evangelium ist]" in itself.

Bernini's depiction of St. Teresa, although faithful to her own account, raises a different question. Kenneth Clark remarks:

When one remembers the historical Santa Teresa, with her plain, dauntless, sensible face, the contrast with the swooning, sensuous beauty of the Cornaro Chapel [where the "L'Estasi de Santa Teresa" is held] is almost shocking. [Civilisation, 7. "Grandeur and Obedience," 1966]

What has Bernini done? He has, of course, glamorized St. Teresa. The "plain, dauntless, sensible face" does not convey the glamour of religious ecstasy as does the "swooning, sensuous beauty," who could almost have stepped out of a glossy, high end Hollywood movie. This is may not be faithful to the historical, practical author, administrator, and nun, but then again, artistically, it is -- even as Teresa does use a word about her experience, amortecimiento, that gets translated "swoon" -- and it carries us to the next issue.

Freilich ist am Menschenleben, wie an jeder schlechten Waare, die Außenseite mit falschem Schimmer überzogen: immer verbirgt sich was leidet.

Certainly human life, like all inferior goods, is covered on the outside with a false glitter; what suffers always conceals itself.

Arthur Schopenhauer, Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, Band 1, §59 [Reclam, 1987, p.457], The World as Will and Representation, Volume I [Dover Publications, 1966, E.F.J. Payne translation, p.325], color added

For about him the goddess had shed a mist [], Pallas Athena, daughter of Zeus, that she might make him unrecognizable.

Homer, The Odyssey, II, Book 13, lines 189-191, translated by A.T. Murray & George E. Dimock [Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, 1919, 1995, p.16-17], color added

Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid.

Heddy Lamarr (1914-2000)

The Power of Glamour, Longing and the Art of Visual Persuasion,
by Virginia Postrel [Simon & Schuster, 2013]

Glamour is an illusion, originally a magical spell of concealment, such as we see Athena casting on Odysseus in the Odyssey, above. Athena also conceals herself, appearing to Odysseus in the same passage as a young man, a shepherd [line 222]. Both of these instances are the opposite of the cases mainly considered by Virginia Postrel, where glamour, in most of its modern applications, conceals the ordinariness of someone and makes them appear, in turn, godlike -- the mirror image of the cases in the Odyssey. This is the clue here. We probably have never met any gods. So we can't really say, from direct experience, what they are like and can only rely on indirect testimony from someone like Homer. However, actors and other personalities, now called "celebrities" (although it is not always clear, in popular culture, what they are celebrated for), appear with a glamour that makes them appear like gods. We cannot, of course, get too close, or the illusion will break; but the glamour itself bespeaks some kind of knowledge, which we may not know we had, of what the gods would be like. There is an echo or a recognition of what the glamour means that is produced in us.

Since we know that the gods are , glamour presents us with a sort of visio beatifica of their life. As Postrel quotes "essayist" Jim Lewis:

[Glamour] offers us a glimpse into another world, more perfect than this one, and for that moment, enchantment swirls around us. And then it is gone again. [p.18]

This experience does not carry us out of the world, like mystical transport, but it involves its own kind of ecstasy and exaltation nevertheless -- the "leaping up" origin of the latter term even fits, precisely, the behavior that was evident, for instance, during the first tour of the Beatles in the United States, when fans, mainly female, bounced up and down in their excitement, eager for the darshan, , the numinous appearance and magical charisma (, "grace" as both divine "gift" and graceful form or appearance), of the gods [note]. Postrel says:

Glamour may be an illusion, but it reveals the truth about what we desire and, sometimes, what we can become. [p.23]

Thus, Postrel's whole thesis is that the ideal of this glamour, of this godlike existence, may not be possible, and may be a deception in the public persona of "beautiful people," but it nevertheless represents a goal of beauty and perfection, like Plato's Forms, towards which human life attains meaning just by striving, and just by attaining any feature of the ideal. This therefore sets for us an imitatio dei, which, oddly enough, is a Christian project, whose fulfillment is impossible, rather than a pagan one, whose very undertaking would be , húbris, insolence against the gods. The modern celebrities, of course, do achieve a pagan ideal -- , fame -- but thereby, in Christian terms, endanger their souls. Euripides explored how hollow and vulnerable this could be for those who perforce remain mortal.

Postrel quotes a character from the movie Queen Christina [1933], the Spanish ambassador, Antonio, speaking to Greta Garbo, "Why, that's civilization -- to disguise the elemental with the glamorous" [ibid.]:

By using the word disguise, Antonio acknowledges that glamour is a falsehood, an illusion. But, he declares, civilization iself is defined by such illusions -- by art and artifice, customs and manners. [ibid.]

Today, we tend to think of glamour in terms of what Postrel calls the "glamour industries," of "film, music, fashion." In former days, of course, actors were generally social outcasts, not media celebrities, musicians were little better thought of, and no one achieved any fame by designing clothes. Thus, historically, glamour was more to be seen among rulers and warriors, or even among religious "celebrities," as even now in the story relayed by Postrel of Mary Gordon, who saw nuns as glamorous, especially Audrey Hepburn in The Nun's Story [1959] and said:

To feel "exalted and apart," to be saturated in pure light, to believe in perfection, and above all, to matter. [p.39]

Here we have the intersection of Hollywood, glamour, and the genuine religious visio beatifica. If a feature of the beatific vision is to be "saturated in pure light," a consequence of the vision is to radiate light oneself. Thus, at Exodus 34:29:

When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, he was not aware that the skin [] of his face [] was radiant [] because he had spoken with him [i.e. God]. [note]

Aaron and the Israelites were afraid of this, but Moses reassured them and subsequently began to wear a veil so as not to alarm anyone. We hear less about this later, but we see it always in the iconography, where the halo, , shows the radiance of the faces of Jesus, saints, and even Christian Emperors of Romania in Constantinople:  The Emperor was the "Equal of the Apostles," , and he and the whole Imperial Family were always shown with halos (as with Theodora below). But the iconography may actually derive from Buddhism, where Buddhas, Boddhisattvas, and saints also radiate light and are shown with halos.

In modern terms, part of the illusion of modern glamour can be generated with something as simple as a spotlight. Actors and showfolk can seem to glow on stage, even with light that is actually borrowed. Lighting with a soft focus in movies can also make actors seem to glow. And many people, just from being happy or good looking, can be said to be "radiant."

Rulers and warriors, engaged in activities that now might be regarded as sordid, nevertheless were often seen with semi-divine glamour. The heroes of the Iliad were to Socrates demigods, ; but the divinity of rulers, at least after Ancient Egypt or Modern Japan, was never so conspicuous as with the Emperors of Romania. Liutprand of Cremona describes the Imperial Throne floating into the air -- although this iconography and presentation was more than a little defensive, since it was not unusual for Emperors to be overthrown.

Even now, few images bespeak such glamour as the mosaics of Justinian and Theodora in Ravenna. Unfortunately, the understanding of the glamour of political leaders, combined with the movies, served the cults of tyrants like Hitler and Stalin in the 20th century. While in democracies, citizens generally have little but contempt for politicians, some politicians, like Roosevelt or Obama, are able to take on an aura that is actually unsuited to their abilities or accomplishments and that is damaging to the welfare of the state and the citizens -- the 2008 "Hope and Change" posters of Obama enter the history of quasi-religious iconography, not to mention the class of merely symbolic, indeterminate, and mysterious political promises. Other Presidents, like Coolidge, have been both loved and actually accomplished without being glamorous (or particularly charismatic).

The look of the glamorous is a large part of their appeal. Stalin, an ugly man, got a better looking actor to play him in propaganda films. But it is extraordinary in the 20th century how whole industries were created to make people look better. Fashion is only the beginning. To just get to the fashion runway (introduced in 1900), or onto the movie screen, we need the clothing, the shoes, the hair, the makeup, the "accessories," the coaches (walk, speech, etc.), the plastic surgeons (sometimes) and, in the act, the photographers and cinematographers, who can clean up imperfections, even before the digital age, with soft focus, air brushes, lighting, etc. One scarcely need be reminded about the size of the businesses involved just in hair and makeup.

This is all raw meat to anyone, political or religious, with an anaesthetic bent. Thus, Postrel references the "Marxist critic" John Berger:

...glamour elicits social envy in order to sell commercial goods. Berger defines glamour as "the state of being envied." He argues that advertising images generate glamour by "showing us people who have apparently been transformed" by whatever is being adverised "and are, as a result, enviable." Glamour is, in his view, a byproduct of capitalism's vicious game, in which only a few winners enjoy privileged status. The many losers are jealous and, thus, susceptible to glamour. "Glamour," Berger declares, "cannot exist without personal social envy being a common and widespread emotion." [p.31]

John Berger displays the contradictory animus of the modern Marxist, who simultaneously condemns the advertising that facilitates the distribution of the economic abundance of capitialism, while, at the same time, denying that such abundance exists. Of course, if only "a few winners" were able to buy the products advertised in the mass market, then the advertisers and manufacturers would go out of business. This circumstance is often overlooked by socialists. At the same time, with their uncomfortable awareness of the actual abundance of capitalism, and of the miserable economic failure of attempts to apply Marxism (where Marx had predicted greater productivity than capitalism), Berger must find a way to condemn, indeed morally condemn, what is conveyed by advertising. This revives the anhedonia and the theory of "unnecessary desires" in Plato's Republic.

Thus, John Berger, who as a Marxist must disparage the meaning and value of merely "bourgeois" morality, has recourse to one of the Seven Deadly Sins, Envy, to condemn capitalism. Leftists, blinded by their own indignant self-righteousness, are rarely sensible of the irony of things like this. And it doesn't even make any sense. You don't need envy if it is something you can buy at Walmart, and even the glamorous gowns of Hollywood stars at the Oscars can be had as cheap knock-offs. Berger shares the notion of the whole "unnecessary desires" narrative that people only desire what they are told to desire:

Critics like Berger often assume that glamour creates those desires. They imagine that if glamour disappeared, so would dissatisfaction -- that, for example, women would not long to be young and beautiful if there were no cosmetic ads or movie stars. But glamour only works when it can tap preexisting discontent, giving otherwise inchoate longings an object of focus. [p.36]

In this, the problem is human nature, which the moralistic Left, as in feminism, detests and wishes to break and remold into something more worthy, whatever the cost. But this program is contradicted by history, when we examine the hair, makeup, and fashion of ancient people like the Egyptians, and by decency, when we realize the totalitarian and dictatorial agenda that is involved (although this would not stop a lot of self-righteous do-gooders). Many modern social and political absurdities can be exploded with just a brief examination of the images in one of the XIX and XX Dynasty workers' family tombs at Deir el-Medina. At the same time, the petty and vicious Stalinism at American universities, with fundamentals like free speech openly attacked, is making it all too obvious what the Left has in mind for all of society.

At the same time, it is obvious that the full "lifestyles of the rich and famous" is not available for all. If envy exists in that respect, it may be in the more positive form of motivating ambition, although it is hard to imagine how the ridiculous lives of people like the Kardashians represent an ideal of happiness or even comfort for most people. Advertising itself seems to be a better job in that respect, where even the shampoo commercials present a luminous ideal that may provoke suspicion about its authenticity. Envious or not, everybody buys shampoo.

The thesis here, then, is that glamour represents in outward form the blessedness that the gods experience in their own being. Both glamour and charisma are thus forms of numinosity, which is the ultimate category of value, of the Good as Being. As such, they will seem magical, supernatural, and even uncanny. In the absence of actual gods, they represent two things:  (1) they are visible clues to what is actually transcendent Bliss, the (makaría), (ânanda), ("Utmost Bliss"), or the visio beatifica, however this may be realized, whether through what passes as mystical transport, union with God, absorption in Brahman, or Nirvân.a. And (2) in secular and practical terms, they represent ideals and aspirations, which is how Postrel deals with them. Clues, of course, can be deceptive, and ideals may be attached to things or persons for whom close examination would preclude any idealization. Thus, like Beauty, which Plato regarded as a clue to the transcendent, Glamour as such is a thing of the surface and of appearances.

In popular culture, nowhere is this more obvious than with fashion models, especially the "supermodels" of the 1990's. These were stunning beauties, like Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Cambell, and Karen Mulder. Few were deceived that these women had anything going for them other than their looks. Some attempted to make a transition to acting or music, but this worked out only rarely. Of those three, Naomi Cambell maintains the most noticeable public presence, and not always for the better, since the rumors of her temper and misconduct have sometimes been realized in legal trouble. Nevertheless, a model is less damaged by revelations of bad behavior than others, since it is understood that her appearance is really all that counts.

But this is nothing new. Postrel considers the case of Helen of Troy, about whose character or even personality it is exceeding difficult to obtain a sense from the Iliad. Postrel details the variety of guises in which Helen can and has been viewed, from extremes like "devoted wife" to "whore" [p.147]. She quotes a key passage that has already come in for comment in these pages.

Ah, no wonder the men of Troy and Argives under arms have suffered years of agony
    for her, for such a woman.
Beauty, terrible beauty! A deathless goddess -- so she strikes our eyes []!
[ibid., Robert Fagles translation]

This is actually not a very good translation, inserting an entire phrase, although preserving the literal use of "eyes." The Loeb edition has it thus:

Small blame [, actually "no blame"] that Trojans and well-greaved Achaeans should for such a woman long time [] suffer woes; wondrously [, or "terribly," "strangely," "exceedingly"] like is she to the immortal goddesses to look upon. [The Iliad, I, 3:156-158, Loeb Classical Library, A.T. Murray translation, Harvard, 1924, 1988, p.129]

We have little more to go on about Helen than this. But this is enough. In appearance she is like to the immortal goddesses, which is all we need to know. And it is not just a glamour, since, unlike our previous cases of Odysseus and Athena, this is what she really looks like. At the same time, it conceals her true self, about which we are ignorant (part of the dynamic of the feminine in general, with a characteristic tension between inner and outer realites). Similarly, it is hard for us to gauge the character of the supermodels, and we often hear little personal about them. It is hard for reporters even to know what to ask them in interviews, which are not common.

This is where Nietzsche went wrong. To the extent that the Greeks perceived immorality in the behavior of the gods, this discredited them, as it does modern celebrities whose glamour is punctured by revelations of bad behavior or bad attitudes. Socrates joined those who refused to believe stories that implied immorality in the gods. Even Euthyphro, who relies on Greek mythology in all its messy and morally ambivalent glory, nevertheless says that, "Zeus is the best and most just of the gods." The intuition upon which Euthyphro and Socrates both rely is that the outward glamour and charisma of the gods is matched by their inner being, of which the attributes are only the outward, but faithful, expression.

In all of this, the bliss of the gods corresponds both to their beauty and to their goodness. In human life, these vary independently. The lesson on this page is that the visio beatifica is not just the experience of the mystics or of the saved and blessed, it corresponds to visible and tangible manifestations in the world. That these can vary independently from their counterparts, and sometimes can seem to exalt rather sordid realities, does not lessen their reality or their meaning. That foolish actors should display a godlike glamour is part of the aesthetic delight of life, and also that clue about the transcendent -- not, to be sure, a clue to the existence of the Olympian gods, much less any virtue of the actors, but a clue, just like Bernini's St. Teresa, to transcendent bliss.

The Future and Its Enemies, The Growing Conflict over Creativity, Enterprise, and Progress, Virginia Postrel, Free Press, 1998

On the Sublime and the Numinous

Philosophy of Religion


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The Beatific Vision, Note 1

A counterpoint to what mystics may experience is what we find in the 1980 movie, Altered States. In the end, William Hurt (in his first movie), who has been experimenting with sensory deprivation and drugs, dissolves into the conditions of the origin of life, which he has been told (by Mexican Indian shamans) is the primera alma, the "first soul." Blair Brown, as his wife, who manages to draw him back into human form, then tells others that he "got it on with God." She assumes that this was the revelation and ecstasy he was looking for, in comparison to which his marriage cannot count for much. He then contradicts her, saying that his experience was of emptiness and terror. Since the author of the source book and the screenplay, Paddy Chayefsky, seems to have been an atheist, he did not allow that the source of life was going to be divine in any way, let alone a personal God. So Hurt rejects the value of the experience, and settles for human love instead. St. Teresa might give him a talking to.

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The Beatific Vision, Note 2

In an interesting way, Postrel distinguishes between glamour and charisma:

Mystery plays a central role in distinguishing glamour from another alluring quality:  charisma. Though writers sometimes use the word glamour and charismatic interchangeably, these concepts are quite different. In its precise sense, charisma (originally a religious term) is a quality of leadership that inspires followers to join the charismatic leader in the disciplined pursuit of a greater cause. More colloquially, charisma is a kind of personal magnetism that inspires loyalty.

Charisma in either sense is a personal characteristic like intelligence. A place, an idea, even an object can be glamorous, but only a person can be charismatic. [p.116]

Since as "grace" can mean graceful form or appearance, this can actually be glamorous. And with as the divine "gift" of "grace," by which, in Augustinian terms, God grants salvation, there are ways in which this term intersects our themes of bliss, which results from salvation, and glamour, which is its outward appearance. But the outward appearance alone is the glamour, and Postrel accurately characterizes the aesthetic qualities of this, which are "cool" and "distant," while charisma is "warm" and "personal."

Schopenhauer's falschem Schimmer is on the aesthetic surface. Charisma goes a little deeper, although, of course, it can be as deceptive as glamour. Postrel's examples of Obama as glamorous and Bill Clinton as charismatic seem apt enough, but then Clinton hardly seems more worthy () of his alluring power as Obama () is of his, which rather spoils the effect. It may be a better example to realize that the "plain, dauntless, sensible" St. Teresa of Ávila is undoubtedly charismatic, in the fullest and most varied religious senses, without the slightest assist from Giovanni Bernini. Postrel also distinguishes glamour by "desire" and "sales," with desire nakedly evident in Bernini's St. Teresa, in a kind of theatrical setting commensurate with any advertising, as opposed to charisma with "commitment" and "leadership." Bernini's St. Teresa clearly goes with the former, while in the historical St. Teresa we find the latter.

The "cool" and "warm" contrast is something we see elsewhere. Here, I have already noted the cool nature of tranquil bliss (), and the warmth of ecstatic bliss (). Elsewhere, we see the coolness of envy and the heat of jealousy. Postrel even notes the charisma of Joan of Arc alive, but the glamour of John of Arc dead, as, in general, death can often glamorize, which is certainly no actual benefit to the person whose body has meanwhile gone from warm to cold. The dead are inevitably distant, and devoid of an actual personal existence; but seeing Marilyn Monroe and James Dean in the tourist materials on Hollywood Blvd., their glamorous presence is unmistakable. But death does not always glamorize. Postrel lists Janice Joplin, as she might Mother Theresa, as still charismatic rather than glamorous. Unlike St. Teresa, Mother Theresa, who was no mystic and has no Bernini, is unlikely to ever appear glamorous.

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The Beatific Vision, Note 3

The Greek text of Exodus 34:29 has a curious anomaly, or mistranslation.

The meaning of is a little peculiar, since the root means "having horns" or "horn" []. But then it also gets used metaphorically, as in the projections on an altar or, in this case, to "send out rays." Hence we get the meaning here "to radiate" or "glow" for the face of Moses.
Church of San Pietro in Vincoli,
Tomb of Julius II, 1513-1515
In his statue of Moses, Michaelangelo, although perhaps intending to represent the rays of light, fashioned what look like actual horns on the head of Moses. This may have led to the confusion sometimes found in the naive, ignorant, or hostile that Jews actually grow horns. That Exodus 34:29 could not possibly mean this is evident in the attribution of the glow to the skin [] of the face [] of Moses, while the rays or horns of Michaelangelo are placed above the hairline.

The Septuagint keeps the skin of the face but otherwise avoids the issue with a word unrelated to words for glowing or horns. The passage with the key phase in Greek is, "Even Moses did not know" [that] [verb] [the appearance] [of the skin] [of the face] [his]. So we want to know what was happening to the appearance of the skin of the face of Moses.

The verb there is , "to think, imagine, suppose, fancy, conjecure." This does seem to mean much in the context, In the passive, however, has another meaning, "to magnify, extole." The form is the third person perfect middle or passive, "it has been magnified." The first person form of this, which is the usual citation form, would be . It is not unusual for verbs ending in to have the letter zeta reduced to a sigma in derived forms. Thus the verb , "believe," which we see figure importantly in the defense of Socrates in the Apology, has the form in the perfect indicative middle and passive ("I have been believed"). Because of frequent irregularities, this perfect indicative middle form is given as the fifth principle part of Greek verbs (out of six parts -- where verbs in English only have three principles parts, e.g. "sing, sang, sung" -- even Latin verbs only have four, e.g. laudô, laudâre, laudâvî, laudâtum, "praise").

Apart from that interesting morphology, we have the problem of the meaning. The sense from Hebrew that the skin of the face of Moses is glowing or sending out rays seems completely lost. The basic meaning of the passive from Liddell and Scott, "to magnified, extole," gets extended in various translations to "glorify, honor, bestow glory on," which in the context could meaning anything or, as a description of actual appearance, , of Moses, almost nothing. As it happens, the unabridged Liddell and Scott lexicon has a specific entry as "glorified" in reference to the usage in the Septuagint [p.444].

As I said, however gets magnified by the translators, semantically it seems to be barking up the wrong tree. Does St. Jerome do any better? In the Vulgate we get, quod cornuta esset facies sua. Here we get "face" or "countenance," facies, but we've lost the skin. Instead we are back to horns, as cornutus, "horned." My Cassell's Latin Dictionary glosses cornu, "horn," with "as in Hebrew, poet[ic] for strength, courage." This element seems missing from the Oxford Latin Dictionary entry for the same word; and, of course, it is not clear how the skin of the face of Moses displays strength or courage. By eliminating the word for "skin," however, Jerome may have made it easier to misread the phrase as meaning that Moses literally grew horns after seeing God. Nothing remotely of the sort could be derived from the Greek version.

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