Beauty: An Introduction to the Transcendental

Welcome to the first of many posts about beauty! Allow me to begin with just an introduction, through which I hope to lead you into a deeper appreciation of this transcendental.  Let’s dive right in!

In a culture which claims that truth is relative and goodness is unattractive, beauty is the last access point through which man can come to know God.  Think about that carefully, especially in light of “modern” art and music.  How quickly is society trying to demolish this last access!  It is precisely beauty, with its mysterious and captivating power, which inspires the young and old alike to seek for something beyond their own existence.  Once this transcendental has captivated a person, he/she is led to seek the truth which makes the given object beautiful.  The object is thus permitted to reveal its fullness—the ontological reality it expresses—and thus lead to Truth Himself, the Creator of all things.  This leads to a movement of the will, through which one desires the good which the Creator had in mind when creating the given object.   It is precisely this movement of the will towards the good that we call love.  That’s a lot of wording, but in short, beauty, if understood and embraced, has the tremendous power to lead man to love God on a level previously unknown.  It is through the contemplation of creation that man comes to know God—God’s creative work is an action of self-revelation.

The presence of beauty must be understood through the use of tangible things, namely tools.    This is crucial in a culture which incorrectly defines beauty as a subjective element based solely on one’s personal tastes.  Such a relative view of beauty leads to selling out and betraying the theological dimensions of this transcendental to current viewpoints of an inner-worldly theory of art.  Notions such as “art for art’s sake” and art as a mere “expression of emotion” are thus fashioned, which result in a misrepresentation of beauty.  If God desired to create beauty exclusively for its own sake, or if He simply wanted to express some emotion, creation would cease to be an eschatological sign ever drawing man to God.

Hans Urs von Balthasar, a 20th century theologian, movingly places his hope in youth, as he states that they have an “impulse toward totality of vision” which is “natural, because it is in one one’s youth that the eye first perceives in all its freshness the emerging wonder of Being”[1].  It is precisely this wonder that leads the young to question that which strike them with awe.  If embraced, this natural curiosity can become a great moment of faith.  Von Balthasar goes on to claim that this is possible because, “before the beautiful—no, not really before but within the beautiful—the whole person quivers.  He not only ‘finds’ the beautiful moving; rather, he experiences himself as being moved and possessed by it.  The more total this experience is, the less does a person seek and enjoy only the delight that comes through the senses or even through any act of his own…such a person has been taken up wholesale into the reality of the beautiful and is now fully subordinate to it, determined by it, animated by it.”[2]  The Holy Trinity, being the object of this subordination, determination and animation, is Beauty.

In the following weeks, all of these big concepts will be unpacked as we view beauty though the thoughts of great theologians, such as St. Thomas Aquinas, Jacques Maritain and Hans Urs von Balthasar.

God bless you!  May He open your eyes and your heart to see beauty, and to experience Him through it!

[1] The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics, volume 1, Hans Urs von Balthesar (p. 178).

[2] The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics, volume 1, Hans Urs von Balthesar (p. 247).


Posted on September 24, 2012, in Beauty, Catholic and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. So you don’t consider a crucifix submerged in a jar of urine art? I do wonder though, the state of a man’s soul when he does see chaos and wickedness as beauty… Besides that, thanks for the pictures; when I see a beautiful landscape I enjoy losing myself in it. God bless! -Travis

  1. Pingback: Beauty: An Introduction to the Transcendental | Catholic Canada

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