The Common Task

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The form of a building, or of a city--or, for that matter, the form of an entire economy--is only 'right' to the extent that it helps us to become more human.

What it means 'to be human' is not, of course, the kind of thing one can summarize in just a few words. Obviously it has something to do with being humane--but then what inspires us cussed humans to act humanely? We tend to agree with philosophers in the Christian Platonic tradition (Balthasar, Solovyov, Pickstock, etc.) that it is beauty itself that inspires us to become more human (humane).

There are two kinds of beauty, however. There is the formal beauty of a thing or of a person. And there is spiritual beauty, such as in the face of St. Gemma Galgani (above) or in the painting (icon, really) by Rogier van der Weyden on our home page, or indeed in the little Greek town you can see on our Research page. What the icon and the face of St. Gemma and the Greek village all suggest to us is that love itself has a certain form.

Our Questions

Today we are confronted by formalism without freedom (i.e. fundamentalism), or freedom without form (i.e. liberal capitalism). One rejects nature, the other rejects spirit. Both are rather ugly. Both are inhuman.

What do economies, or cities, or buildings (and so forth) look like when people take beauty seriously? How does this concept of beauty affect our understanding of the other pillars of human culture (for example science and technology)?

These are the questions that interest us.

From The Need for Roots

Faith is above all the conviction that the good is one. To believe that there are several distinct and mutually independent forms of good, like truth, beauty and morality—that is what constitutes the sin of polytheism and not just simply allowing the imagination to play with the notions of Apollo and Diana.
—Simone Weil

From The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann: 1973-1983

One thing is clear to me: only failure is beautiful in this world, only poverty, pity, compassion, vulnerability . .

The Right is incompatible with today’s Gospel: " I was sick and in prison and you did not visit Me . . " (Mathew 25:43). The Left is incompatible with the prayer of thanks . .
—March 5, 1978

. . I thought about the deeply-rooted, hopeless well-being of the Christian West, maybe even the irreparable bourgeois state of Western Christianity . .

Maybe it is the absence of the poor and the suffering, but then I realized that this was not the reason. In Byzantium, in St. Sophia, there probably was a thousand times more gold and riches, but Byzantium was not bourgeois. There always should remain a feeling of the absolute, incommensurability: it is the knowledge that there is but one sadness, which is not to be a saint . . it cannot be reduced to "social problems" . .
—June 5, 1976