What does beauty have to do with goodness and truth?

It is generally thought that Plato introduced the world to transcendentals of goodness, beauty, and truth. His Symposium provides a peek into how Plato understood their order. He says, “The true order of going is to use the beauties of the earth as steps along which to mount upwards for the sake of that other beauty [beauty]: from fair forms to fair practices, and from fair practices to fair notions [goodness]  until he arrives at the idea of absolute beauty [truth]”. Generally people understand the importance of goodness and truth to society, but many do not regard beauty as carrying the same significance as the former two. I’m sure there are many reasons for this, but the marginalization of beauty’s role in the world becomes even more apparent in religious conversations. In the Christian faith, goodness and truth reign supreme. However, is that a proper way to order the three transcendentals? The Christian faith seems to order them reverse of Plato’s order and therefore suggest truth, goodness, and beauty. Now they might not overtly claim this to be true, but their orthopraxy produces a picture of what they value most. In suggesting truth and goodness over beauty, they may actually undercut the two they value most. For without a recognition and valuing of beauty, goodness and truth can be lost. Beauty is an attribute of God that we see through his revelation to us. Hans Urs von Balthasar suggests the significance of losing beauty as he states,

“In a world without beauty – even if people cannot dispense with the word and constantly have it on the tips of their tongues in order to abuse it – in a world which is perhaps not wholly without beauty, but which can no longer see it or reckon with it: in such a world the good also loses its attractiveness, a self evidence of why it must be carried out” [Glory of the Lord, I:19].

Goodness and truth demand the presence of beauty. C.S. proposed in Surprised by Joy that beauty is the finger that points us to goodness and truth. When good flourishes so does beauty.


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