We are made for beauty. In it we find both our origin and our destiny. A hunger and yearning for beauty surrounds and guides, penetrates and even protects us. Beauty is found in harmony, in order and design. Even when I behold at something as seemingly disordered and chaotic as the Universe itself, I am soon awestruck by the grace of the natural world. This sense has been reinforced by all of my varied comings and goings of the last 30-odd years. In everything I have experienced and encountered, I have come away with a profound appreciation for structure and order, harmony and design. All of which flows from the sublime trinity of beauty, truth, and goodness.
So pervasive and intertwined with our universe is beauty, I believe it can be utilized to discover as well as determine truth.
Now, admittedly, I’m hardly a trailblazer here. The Greeks called referred to kalon, agathou, aletheia (beauty, goodness, and truth) as transcendentals. In the Christian paradigm we understand these attributes to represent the ultimate yearnings of mankind, in all of their varied manifestations.
Across whatever denominational disputes that may have cropped up since an obscure Jewish carpenter was executed by the ruling authorities, everyone from Augustine to Billy Graham are united in the belief that each of these transcend limitations of place and time, and they are woven into the very fabric of our being. beauty, goodness, and truth are not contingent upon cultural diversity, personal ideologies, or religious doctrine but are the objective features of all that is.
Of course, that’s not really all there is, is it?
Where there is beauty, there is also ugliness. Where there is goodness, there is also evil. Where there is truth, there are also lies. These are the balance of the ideal, each one fallen into corruption by the “fallen-ness” of humanity. Of curse, each of these ruins have no being of their own, only that which results from a corruption of the ideal. Evil itself is only a perversion of what is good.
In our baleful and jaded day beauty, goodness, and truth have indeed fallen on hard times. It seems that our culture actually has a strange aversion to these transcendentals, especially in their larger sense.
Goodness used to be a higher way which everyone subscribed to. Our culture is quick to dismiss such things as being oppressive, small-minded. In our eyes, goodness is about personal rights, nothing must be imposed. We are free to decide the way we will follow. Our arts no longer serves a higher cause, it simply protects what we are personally entitled to. When this is affronted, we feel victimized
Beauty used to relate to universal symbols which governed our existence, our architecture, music, stories and so forth. Today we live with the loss of universal symbols, these have disappeared and we are free to invent our own. In my experience many see it as dishonest to their experience of reality. It is cloying and maudlin in the glowering face of our modern-to-postmodernistic existential despair. Others have given up on the idea of beauty altogether and seek instead to reap the whirlwind.
Truth used to be something which one believed described things as the way they really were. This belief provided the basis from which we acted on the world. We have cultural pronounced the death of objective truth in this sense. Our safe little “truths” are just about big enough for us, perhaps, but not big enough for the universe. Today’s truth is largely about introspection. No longer is reason directed outwards into the world of ideas, it’s turned inwards onto the self and reason is used as a tool to explore and dwell upon the self for its own sake.
We have shrunk these large concepts; they have been pulled down from the supernatural realm. Where we once followed their demands, they now follow ours. Mind you, they’ve not been destroyed (as if it were possible) but we have domesticated these absolutes to suit our whims, fancies and desires.
But I am hopeful, eternally hopeful
Like Dostoyevsky I believe “beauty will save the world.” Though truth and goodness have been abandoned, despised, and discarded… there is yet beauty shining forth with every dawning and dusk. If the too obvious, too straight sprouts of truth and goodness have been knocked down, cut off, and hindered — perhaps the whimsical, unpredictable, unexpected branches of Beauty will work their way through, rise up to that very place, and thus complete the work of all three.
Of course, it will not do so on it’s own, for there is One greater than all of these… the One from Whom all of these radiant jewels derive their shine.
Perhaps this tender shoot has a strange ability to work through the hardness and indifference of our culture. For when beauty, pointing through to the transcendent, is revealed… goodness and truth cannot help but follow.
All of Creation yearns for beauty… it bows before it in awe.