We are all looking for perfection. But do we ask whether perfection corresponds truly to the ideal (of beauty, of life)?
When, younger, I was staying at Mount Athos, under the blessing of His Holiness Bartholomew II, I remember crossing the road of many monks, some of whom – they were rare – had been members of a strange sect (Jacques Lacarrière also encountered such religious groups and described this fact in his book The Greek Summer, but with a slightly different interpretation). Basing their religious concept on a presumably neoplatonic apocryphal tradition, some Greek Orthodox consider the divinity to have created an immutable quantity of good and evil. With an equal share. This quantity has been irregularly distributed among the mass of humans, and is exchanged, like money, from soul to soul, from life to life, from day to day, from action to action, from thought to thought. If some monks isolate themselves from the world to be closer to the divinity and devote their days only to worship and prayer, others, on the contrary, travel the world to practice and cultivate vice.
They concentrate all evil in themselves, to leave for others only the good. They make the offering of their soul to the evil one (the Devil) and are damned to free the rest of the world. Self-sacrifice for the good of others. No capital sin escapes these monks: they drink without thirst, smoke, make love without interruption with prostitutes, play cards, swear and perjure, eat with gluttony, and, if they do not die of having corrupted their soul so much, at the end of a certain time, no longer able to endure this life of debauchery, they return to the tranquility of a monastery (like those of Mount Athos, for example). I remember a syphilitic old man who had been roaming for almost forty years all the brothels of Thessaly… probably the most pious and virtuous man the Earth had ever worn. Perfection can hide behind radically opposite features. Let us beware of those who are believed to do evil, for it is perhaps the good they realize.
The Cathars never called themselves “the Perfects”, considering themselves as defilements, caught in the perpetual struggle between good and evil, in a very Zoroastrian vision of life. But it was the others, notably, and including their informers, the papists who demanded their cremation with horns and cries, who called them so. They had grasped their value – impious, sacrilegious and schismatic – and this excessive light burned their eyes. When a flame is too close or too strong, it is extinguished. I have not yet ascended Montsegur, but I am sure that there is an atmosphere of peace, despite the suffering, in spite of the fire, in spite of the blood. Perfection is not necessarily beauty. The bracelet of Sappho is splendid to the sight because it is missing a stone on one of the metallic elements. A temple is ideal because a column is missing, carried by the human soul. A feminine bust is unforgettable because its symmetry is complemented by a very discreet reddish mole (tiny red spot).
Perfection is defect. The small flaw. The minor defect. Absolute perfection has no meaning. It is not accessible to man. It cannot be revealed by the divinity. She would burn the eyes of the one to whom she would be shown, too luminous, too bright. Each mirror has its stain of moisture, every cut stone has its crack, every companion has its traitor. And without betrayal, no transcendence, no redemption, no hope, no quest, no legend, no tradition, no transmission.
Philippe Charlier, MD, PhD, LittD, is a forensic practitioner and anthropologist. He works on representations of the human bodies, and rituals related to diseases and death. He loves words, and more.