On Sunday the death of Sir Roger Scruton weighed much on my mind. The English philosopher-knight was an Anglican but in some ways more Catholic than many Roman compatriots. His defense of beauty against the “cult of ugliness” he saw encroaching on all sides was more robust than the self-doubting, half-hearted aesthetes who flit about the usual religious milieu. One wishes he had had some influence on the last generation of Catholic architects when reading his complaints against the modernists:
Modern architecture is unavoidable. Nowhere do we feel the need for beauty more vividly than in these vast, supposedly functional, buildings. Without ornament, grandeur, style or dignity, a building is opaque to us. We cannot find our way around it. Nothing seems to face us, to beckon to us, to welcome us. When we enter such a building, we are immediately lost. (“The Modern Cult of Ugliness”)
Scruton’s death came a few weeks after a friend’s father had passed away, and a couple months after finding out that an old mentor of mine had passed late in 2018. Sometimes you seek out a memento mori, and sometimes one is imposed upon you. This mentor, a retired professor who found a spiritual home in Opus Dei many decades before, had shepherded me towards a love of great books, great philosophers, and great beauty in a time when my recent conversion seemed unlikely to grow roots. I probably owe my continued Catholicism to Dr. John Gueguen.
And yet, thriving in a hostile environment would require the appropriation of many good ideas from outside the Church, and Roger Scruton, lifelong Anglican though he remained, was a stay against confusion. He was not a perfect man nor a perfect philosopher, but he fought for the protection of a transcendental that he did not even believe was a transcendental. God forgive him his faults, and may those of us spiritually privileged with the Catholic Faith be half as courageous as he.