The Way of Beauty

A few months ago I was asked to give a class on the subject of Beauty for the men in our Diocesan Diaconate program, which I will be giving in a few weeks. It has led me to reflect more deeply on an area that, thanks to the influence of some of my theology professors, has been a real inspiration to my own love for and practice of the faith.  In fact, this is one of my New Year’s resolutions, to make a concerted effort to experience beauty (along with my other resolution, to slow down!). Along with seeking to experience beauty, I would like to take the opportunity to share something of the incredible riches of the Church’s tradition with you. Art, poetry, literature, and music are classical forms of beauty and all ways that we can encounter God through His creation. From time to time this year, I will be sharing some reflection on this in the bulletin section titled “The Way of Beauty” (via pulchritudinis).

Truth, beauty, and goodness are known as the Transcendentals (we can thank the Ancient Greeks for this). They are universally recognized elements of our human experience and can be described as our ultimate desires. They are transcendental because they pull us out of ourselves and point us to the source of all that is true and good and beautiful. Because God is Truth, Beauty, and Goodness in Himself, every encounter with truth, beauty, and goodness can lead us to and point to God Himself.  This is why as Catholics we should love, protect, and promote all that is true and good and beautiful.  The more we do so, the more we come to appreciate and understand these realities of our existence, the easier it will be to fall more deeply in love with God.

I just finished re-reading “Beauty: What It Is and Why It Matters” by John-Mark Miravalle. He makes this very point, that created beauty, although it may delight and nourish our souls, ultimately cannot fulfill in the way divine beauty can. He quotes the great philosopher Plato, who in his written work on the nature of love, Symposium, recognizes that beauty is meant to lead us in a progression to greater and higher things:

And the true order of going, or being led by another, to the things of love, is to begin from the beauties of earth and mount upwards for the sake of that other beauty, using these as steps only, and from one going on to two, and from two to all fair forms, and from fair forms to fair practices, and from fair practices to fair notions, until from fair notions he arrives at the notion of absolute beauty, and at last knows what the essence of beauty is. . . . What if man had eyes to see the true beauty — the divine beauty, I mean, pure and clear and unalloyed, not clogged with the pollutions of mortality and all the colours and vanities of human life — thither looking, and holding converse with the true beauty simple and divine? Remember how in that communion only, beholding beauty with the eye of the mind, he will be enabled to bring forth, not images of beauty, but realities (for he has hold not of an image but of a reality), and bringing forth and nourishing true virtue to become the friend of God and be immortal, if mortal man may. Would that be an ignoble life?

It is my hope that we can all learn a greater appreciation of beauty in its many forms. With the ultimate purpose and goal, though, of encountering the true beauty of God Himself as found in the person of Jesus Christ, and through him coming to live a truly beautiful life. I close with this exhortation from St. Paul: “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. “ ~ Philippians 4:8

 Peace and Good,

Fr. Eric