The word of God and culture together give the soul an appetite for a happiness which will be fully satisfied only in eternity. Faith and literature, instead of satiating the Christian, stimulate his thirst for God, his eschatological desire. Grammar’s role is to create in him an urgent need for total beauty; eschatology’s role is to indicate the direction in which to look for its fulfillment. There is a book which the finger of God writes in the heart of each monk; no other can substitute for it. No written literature, even sacred literature, can dispense with the state of recollection essential for hearing God’s word within one’s self: “We read today in the book of experience,” said St. Bernard.
—Jean Leclerq, O.S.B., The Love of Learning and the Desire for God: A Study of Monastic Culture
In this passage from his classic study of monastic culture Dom Jean LeClercq is writing about monks and “men of letters” whom he calls: “these men of God, the word-possessed.” “Grammar” may be taken here to mean more than simply the formal rules which we associate with learning a language. This is also, more broadly, the art of writing, the maintenance of its integrity, and the literature which enriches a culture. I would like to further extrapolate its use to stand for the arts in general. It is the arts which are, like grammar, assigned the role of presenting the soul with messages from God; communication Dom Jean describes as “His [God’s] truth under beauty’s fairest guise.”
How does the apprehension of our own art create an “urgent need for total beauty?” And is that need first of all our own?