“Beauty will save the world” — Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Idiot
After witnessing the five-month process of re-gilding the golden dome, one may question whether this painstaking and expensive task—manually applying 1,250 delicate strips of imported Italian gold sheets to the top of the second-tallest building on campus—was worthwhile. Why did Notre Dame endeavor to re-gild the Golden Dome? Was Our Lady not bright enough before?
Some may think this project was a waste of university resources, plentiful though they are. But it is not excessive or superfluous. Essential to the mission of the university is the pursuit of excellence, and pursuing exterior beauty is a crucial part of this excellence. The re-gilding of Our Lady is one manifestation of this pursuit.
It is not that the Blessed Virgin atop our Main Building was not plenty golden before, but she was not as bright as she could have been. A symbol of Our Lady’s protection of the university, it is important that the statue accurately reflect the woman that it symbolizes. It was not sufficient for Our Lady to be good enough. She had to be beautiful. She had to be excellent.
This pursuit of excellence is reflected throughout campus. Much like the re-gilding of the Dome, maintaining the perfectly manicured grounds is no small undertaking. The exterior beauty seen through these investments has led Travel + Leisure magazine to name Notre Dame the third most beautiful college campus in America, and Architectural Digest recognized that, at Notre Dame, “everything on these grounds works in harmony to create a place as beautiful as it is educational.”
This is not done by accident. Our university grounds are beautiful because they are meticulously kept. Our groundskeepers beautifully maintain 1,250 acres of foliage, turning flower beds and changing planters by season. Notre Dame was recognized for its beauty because it is excellent in the small things, and it strives for beauty.
This year, the university’s institutional message—“Gold”—reflects this knowledge. An obvious ode to the regilding of the Golden Dome and statue of Our Lady, this theme communicates the university’s standard of excellence in all her pursuits. People come to Notre Dame because she is excellent. This is what attracts people to her.
If our own excellence and beauty were to be pursued as ends in themselves, we would cease to be attractive, and we would never excel. All our pursuits must be ordered toward Christ—not only that we may find Him, but also that through our example, others may too.
Since pursuit of excellence is an attractive quality, these exterior aspects of beauty are a fundamental part of the Great Commission: We were instructed by our Lord to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).
When Christ is the source and final cause of that excellence, we attract others to Him. It is by our excellence, then, that we are called to preach the gospel and to draw closer to Christ. But if we are repulsive to others, even interior piety may be insufficient to draw others to Christ. Neither can we excel if we are living in a way that is ugly and discordant. Thus, when Dostoyevsky stated that “Beauty will save the world,” this beauty should refer to harmony both interior and exterior. Neither of these will ever be achieved without a well-ordering of our lives toward a standard of excellence.
We should try to achieve a gold standard. It is good to dress well for class, to workout, eat healthy, pray regularly, and live a well-ordered life. These things lose their luster, though, when they are oriented toward our own gratification.
In dressing well, the goal is not to be “fancier” than those around us. The goal of putting on a nice outfit is to honor those around us, not to one-up them. In working out, the goal is not merely to look good, but to live a well-balanced life. In praying every day, we do not try to appear holy, but to actually become holier. A life lived in proper order is not for our own glorification, but to become beautiful so that we may attract others to Him who made us beautiful.
Notre Dame’s institutional message is very good. We should all seek the gold standard. The beauty of Our gilded Lady on the Dome points us to her son, and it is by taking care of her that we take care of Him for whom she was created. When we look to Our Lady, we should be renewed in our desire to become beautiful so that we may attract others to her son. We should become excellent for Him.
Elizabeth is a junior studying political science with a minor in Constitutional Studies. She loves gold, particularly when it is in the form of earrings and bracelets. For more information on how to send her such gold, email email@example.com.
Photo Credit: photoessays.nd.edu
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