Human Deceit of God’s Beauty

Ambrose of Milan (339-397) projected strong views about God as creator. He believed that beauty given by God could not be improved and when one attempted to do so, they were being deceitful. He explains,

Man has been depicted by the Lord God, his artist. He is fortunate in having a craftsman and a painter of distinction. He should not erase that painting, one that is the product of truth, not of semblance, a picture, expressed not in mere by smearing on their complexion a colour of material whiteness or by applying an artificial rouge. The result is a work not of beauty, but of ugliness; not of simplicity, but of deceit. It is a temporal creation, a prey to perspiration or to rain. It is a snare and a deception which displeases the person you aim to please, for he realizes that all this is an alien thing and not your own. This is also displeasing to your Creator, who sees His own work obliterated. Tell me, if you were to invite an artist of inferior ability to work over a painting of another of superior talent, would not the latter be grieved to see his own work falsified? Do not displace the artistic creation of God by one of meretricious worth, for it is written: ‘Shall I take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot?’ By no means! He commits a serious offense who adulterates the work of God. It is a serious charge to suppose that man is to be preferred to God as an artist! It is serious, indeed, when God has to say this about you: ‘I do not recognize My colours or My image, not even the countenance which I have made. What is not Mine I reject. Take up your abode with him who has painted you. Seek your favours from him to whom you have given payment.’[1]

One could easily dismiss Ambrose, accusing him of being unduly influenced by previous church fathers such as Tertullian. Both Ambrose and Tertullian suggested that adornment of the body should be regarded as deceit of God’s beauty. However dismissing Ambrose’s assertion completely would allow us to forgo dealing with real issue he pursued. Ambrose was suggesting that we be content with how we are created because God created us in this way.

How can we exceed beauty that the Divine Creator has imbued upon us? We can’t and when we attempt to do so, we are suggesting that God did not get it right, it must be improved. Even though I believe Ambrose’s examples are skewed, the point remains that we should be comfortable how God created us. We should rejoice in the manner that God created others too. When we fail to recognize the Creator God’s work we become self-absorbent, focusing on the next improvement. In doing so, we take our gaze off God’s work and place it on our efforts. We seek to change others into what we want not how God created them. In this, we fail to find the beauty placed on us and others by God. Our pursuits become never-ending. We deceive ourselves thinking we can improve on what God has created beautiful.

[1] The Fathers of the Church, Saint Ambrose, Hexameron, Paradise, and Cain and Abel, trans. John J. Savage, New York, Fathers of the Church Inc., 1961, para. 47, pp. 259-260


1 Comment

Filed under Aesthetics, Spirituality, Theology

One response to “Human Deceit of God’s Beauty

  1. Awesome post. Thanks for the thoughts.