The whole book is, simply, a scholarly contemplation of the phrase 'eating beauty' as it reveals the life and art of European history up to the modern age. Astell (echoing Simone Weil) proposes two kinds of eating beauty: 'one way of eating destroys the beauty of the world and the beloved; the other preserves and enhances it'-the antithesis between the Forbidden Fruit and Eucharist. In lust and greed, we see beauty and then consume it to our, and its, destruction. But Christ, who is Beauty Incarnate, gives Himself that we might consume Him and then be able to look to Him with 'unveiled face.' Bernard, Bonaventure, Ignatius-among many saints and mystics of the Middle Ages-understood this, and their ideal of piety was formed by attention to the Eucharistic meal as the heart of all spiritual activity. Astell is deeply read in ancient and medieval sources, as well as more contemporary thinkers such as Weil, Girard, and von Balthasar, yet her synthesis is an exciting and refreshingly original interdisciplinary work. 'What wonders could occur,' muses the author in her poetic introduction, 'if beauty could be eaten, beauty imbibed, beauty absorbed, without ever ceasing to be beauty! How beautiful we would be and become!' 296 pp.
An Eighth Day View:
"The enigmatic link between the natural and artistic beauty that is to be contemplated but not eaten, on the one hand, and the eucharistic beauty that is both seen (with the eyes of faith) and eaten, on the other, intrigues me and inspires this book. One cannot ask theo-aesthetic questions about the Eucharist without engaging fundamental questions about the relationship between beauty, art (broadly defined), and eating." from Eating BeautyIn a remarkable book that is at once learned, startlingly original, and highly personal, Ann W. Astell explores the ambiguity of the phrase "eating beauty." The phrase evokes the destruction of beauty, the devouring mouth of the grave, the mouth of hell. To eat beauty is to destroy it. Yet in the case of the Eucharist the person of faith who eats the Host is transformed into beauty itself, literally incorporated into Christ. In this sense, Astell explains, the Eucharist was "productive of an entire 'way' of life, a virtuous life-form, an artwork, with Christ himself as the principal artist." The Eucharist established for the people of the Middle Ages distinctive schools of sanctity Cistercian, Franciscan, Dominican, and Ignatian whose members were united by the eucharistic sacrament that they received. Reading the lives of the saints not primarily as historical documents but as iconic expressions of original artworks fashioned by the eucharistic Christ, Astell puts the "faceless" Host in a dynamic relationship with these icons. With the advent of each new spirituality, the Christian idea of beauty expanded to include, first, the marred beauty of the saint and, finally, that of the church torn by division an anti-aesthetic beauty embracing process, suffering, deformity, and disappearance, as well as the radiant lightness of the resurrected body. This astonishing work of intellectual and religious history is illustrated with telling artistic examples ranging from medieval manuscript illuminations to sculptures by Michelangelo and paintings by Salvador Dali. Astell puts the lives of medieval saints in conversation with modern philosophers as disparate as Simone Weil and G. W. F. Hegel.