The Witness of Beauty – An Introduction (Part 1 of 3)

PART 1

PART 2

PART 3

At the turn of the twenty-first century, a revival of natural law took place among both Roman Catholics and Protestants. This revival has resulted in many contemporary Christian scholars affirming reason as the means by which “basic moral principles, assumed by and standing in agreement with biblical revelation, are accessible to all people,” regardless of their religious commitments.[1] If these foundational moral principles—i.e., the natural law—are in fact universally accessible, it seems we should be able to build upon them as “a shareable basis for organizing political orders.”[2]

However, it is widely recognized even among natural law proponents that arguments appealing to this common morality generally fail to persuade non-Christians. As Matthew D. Wright bluntly states, “There is no reason to be sanguine about the potential for success in articulating natural law arguments in the public square.”[3]

Yet even though natural law arguments often fail to persuade, natural law advocates maintain we must persist in formulating such arguments because the only alternative is an even less persuasive reliance on the Bible. Brad Littlejohn’s response to those who are skeptical of the efficacy of natural law arguments is typical:

True it may be that natural-law arguments are deeply contested in a culture in revolt against nature. But does that mean they have no persuasive value over and above straight-up biblical arguments? I find this highly doubtful…. [They] may not be easy or immediately persuasive, but they will, I warrant you, be far more persuasive than a simple, “Well, God says so.”[4]

David VanDrunen similarly writes that natural law proponents should be encouraged by the fact that “those taking the seemingly simpler route of defending public policy preferences through appeal to verses of Scripture are unlikely to be any more persuasive (and in fact likely to be much less persuasive) to the non-Christians whose consent they are trying to win.”[5]

This assumption that our only means of public engagement are natural law arguments and Bible verses has not gone unchallenged—Peter Leithart has suggested that beauty might succeed where arguments have failed: “The truth will out, of that I have no doubt. People do, mysteriously, get persuaded. Cultural revolutions happen. No one can defy creation forever. Beauty is the best persuasion, so Christians should above all aspire to form marriages and families that are living parables of the gospel.”[6]

However, some natural law advocates regard invoking the witness of beauty as tantamount to abandoning intellectual engagement altogether. Alastair Roberts wrote in response to Leithart, “The only thing achieved by Dr Leithart’s apparent retreat to aesthetics is the seeming concession that reality really is up for debate.”[7] Littlejohn likewise noted that Leithart’s invocation of beauty “could be read as a retreat to aestheticism, an abandonment of the demands of rational argument in favor of a strategy that depends merely on wooing our opponents with something pretty.”[8]

In short, a number of Christians believe that in order to promote a political order harmonious with our faith, we must engage our opponents with rational natural law arguments, whereas any appeal to beauty is a capitulation to subjectivism. Those who have this concern seem to assume the truth of what we might call “aesthetic emotivism.”

Emotivism is “the doctrine that all evaluative judgments and more specifically all moral judgments are nothing but expressions of preference, expressions of attitude or feeling, insofar as they are moral or evaluative in character.”[9] Aesthetic emotivism, therefore, is the belief that to invoke the witness of beauty is merely to appeal to one’s emotions or feelings.[10]

I have argued elsewhere that the general inefficacy of natural law arguments is often acknowledged by the very scholars who champion them, even as they continue to promote such arguments due to a perceived lack of other means of engagement with comparably universal reach.[11] My present purpose is to proceed from this observation and explore the possible role beauty could play as a means of witness that does not require argumentation. In so doing I will contend, among other things, that aesthetic emotivism is just as false as moral emotivism—experiences of beauty are not a product of our feelings or emotions, although such experiences certainly give rise to emotion.[12] Moreover, these experiences are not irrational, even while it is true that we do not experience beauty via reason. By “reason” I mean more specifically discursive reason, which James Matthew Wilson describes as “the plodding, methodical procedure that adds thought to thought in order to formulate a conclusion.”[13]

Joseph Ratzinger once said,

Being struck and overcome by the beauty of Christ is a more real, more profound knowledge than mere rational deduction. Of course we must not underrate the importance of theological reflection, of exact and precise theological thought; it remains absolutely necessary. But to move from here to disdain or to reject the impact produced by the response of the heart in the encounter with beauty as a true form of knowledge would impoverish us and dry up our faith and our theology. We must rediscover this form of knowledge; it is a pressing need of our time.[14]

I hope herein to contribute to the task of rediscovery.

Because the topic of beauty is so rarely contemplated at length by ordinary people today, it will be necessary to begin by discussing some basic questions—what is beauty, what things are beautiful, is beauty objective, and how do we experience beauty? In considering these matters, my purpose is not to argue that we can always (or even often) persuade people to support particular policies by exposing them to beauty. The very idea might sound silly and prompt one to say, as Littlejohn has said, “A retreat to aestheticism cannot be the basis for a Christian politics.”[15]

While it has been argued that politics actually not only can but should be rooted in beauty,[16] it is nevertheless true that we do not live in a time where experiences of beauty often bring our opponents around to our public policy views. What is more, if our society comes to be governed on the basis of “power rather than practical reason”[17] in the wake of its rejection of natural law, traditional Christians should be open to the possibility that what they can accomplish in conventional (i.e., electoral) politics could greatly diminish in the foreseeable future.[18]

In this scenario, our political engagement might look increasingly like what Rod Dreher has called “antipolitical politics,” wherein we commit ourselves to a common way of life—insofar as we are able—in which “the truth can be lived in community,” rather than seeking to acquire and maintain government power.[19] Such an approach is grounded in the conviction that politics is more than “campaigns, elections, activism, [and] lawmaking.”[20] Or, as James K. A. Smith puts it, “The political is not synonymous with, or reducible to, the realm of ‘government,’ even if there is significant overlap.”[21] Rather, “Politics is the process by which we agree on how we are going to live together.”[22]

If it is right to understand the political in this broader fashion, even the simple act of evangelism can be seen to have political significance. As C. S. Lewis once said, “He who converts his neighbour has performed the most practical Christian-political act of all.”[23] Smith has likewise written that, given a broader understanding of the political than is commonly assumed, “Challenging unbelief and evangelizing society become key components of the church’s political witness.”[24]

Dreher suggests three times in The Benedict Option that beauty will play an important role in this witness going forward: first, “Seeing examples of great beauty and extraordinary goodness bypasses our rational faculties and strikes the heart.”[25] Again, “The first Christians gained converts not because their arguments were better than those of the pagans but because people saw in them and their communities something good and beautiful—and they wanted it. This led them to the Truth.”[26] Finally, “In an era in which logical reason is doubted and even dismissed, and the heart’s desire is glorified by popular culture, the most effective way to evangelize is by helping people experience beauty and goodness.”[27]

The witness of beauty is therefore a witness to God, that he exists and that he is desirable. Even if conventional political engagement continues to be viable, our testimony to the world cannot but be enriched by once again recognizing beauty’s part in it.

In exploring this possible approach to witness, the discussion of beauty that follows is not meant to be novel or comprehensive. Rather, I seek only to briefly explicate some tenets of a catholic theology of beauty that originated in the philosophy of Plato and was then further developed and modified by figures such as Aristotle, Pseudo-Dionysius, Albert the Great, and Thomas Aquinas.[28] This overview is intended to be relatively accessible, but for those who wish to go deeper, I encourage you to consult the footnotes.

1. The Nature of Beauty

1.1 Beauty Defined

Beauty is, in the eyes of many today, a “subjective velleity, a term that names an incidental taste rather than a real thing: one that should be left to waste outside the threshold of serious discussion.”[29] Given this widespread skepticism that the term “beauty” really refers to anything substantive at all, any contemporary discussion of beauty must begin with the simple question of what beauty is.

Upon posing the question, however, it quickly emerges that the term “beauty” is difficult to define, as many scholars have observed. Hans Urs von Balthasar famously writes, “Beauty is the last thing which the thinking intellect dares to approach, since only it dances as an uncontained splendour around the double constellation of the true and the good and their inseparable relation to one another.”[30] Joseph Owens begins his treatment of beauty by saying, “Of all the transcendentals, beauty is the most evasive and the most difficult to understand. It has given rise to discussions and treatises that are legion. The controversies have resulted in disagreement and in no generally accepted explanation.”[31] Roger Scruton spends an entire book discussing different kinds of beauty, only to pointedly remark at the end that he has “not said what beauty is.”[32] David Bentley Hart notes that there is an “infuriating imprecision…in the language of beauty”:

The modern disenchantment with the beautiful as a concept reflects in part a sense that while beauty is something whose event can be remarked upon, and in a way that seems to convey a meaning, the word “beauty” indicates nothing: neither exactly a quality, nor a property, nor a function, not even really a subjective reaction to an object or occurrence, it offers no phenomenological purchase upon aesthetic experience.[33]

In fact, Hart goes so far as to say that “it is impossible…to offer a definition of beauty, either in the abstract or in Christian thought.”[34] But declaring beauty impossible to define at all seems like a bridge too far. As Junius Johnson points out, we can acknowledge that “beauty in its various senses has remained so long resistant to definition, because of a reverent awe that attaches to it and makes one hesitant to try to name the mystery.” This does not preclude us, though, from also holding that “our incessant desire to speak of [beauty] belies this claim [that it is ineffable]: we find it eminently effable. It may, at best, be like God: speakable, but not exhaustible.”[35]

Turning from whether beauty can be defined back to how it should be defined, the most commonly cited definition of beauty in the catholic tradition is that of Thomas Aquinas from his Summa Theologiae: “St Thomas presented the best-known definition of beauty: ‘pulchra sunt quae visa placent’ – ‘beautiful things are those that, when they are seen, are pleasing.’”[36] In a similar vein, Francis J. Hall defines beauty as “that by reason of which we admire things.”[37]

These definitions describe “beauty as first perceived”[38]—what it feels like to experience beauty—but they do not address what beauty fundamentally is. Wilson, drawing on Jacques Maritain, brings us closer to the essence of beauty by defining it as “the splendor of form,” or “the shining forth of the form that makes a being to be what it is such that it exists, is intelligible as true, and is desirable as good.”[39] Relatedly, Wilson also invokes Plato’s definition of beauty as veritatis splendor, the splendor of truth.[40]

More could be said about these metaphysical definitions of beauty, but the experiential definitions cited above will suffice for the purposes of this discussion—they intuitively ring true, for we can easily think of occasions where we saw things and, finding them pleasing or admirable, thought them beautiful. As Thomas Dubay observes, “Comeliness on the sense level is perhaps the most frequently envisioned meaning of beauty by the ordinary man: the brilliance of a floral display, the glittering diamonds in a jewelry shop, the multicolored varieties of tropical birds and fish.”[41]

However, this should not be understood to mean that beauty is found only in what is perceptible to the eyes—if this were the case, “it would exclude musical compositions and poetry of all sorts from the realm of the beautiful. It would also exclude what is sometimes referred to as the purely intelligible beauty of a mathematical definition or a scientific theory.”[42] Furthermore, while it is true that we do not usually speak of “beautiful tastes and odors,” nevertheless Aquinas “does not deny that the senses of smell, taste and touch concern beauty.” Rather, “He asserts that the more cognitive senses of sight and hearing especially have to do with it.”[43]

Mortimer Adler points out that “the Latin word ‘visum’ which Aquinas used in his definition of the beautiful…has the broader connotation of vision in the sense of contemplating an object that cannot be seen with the eyes.”[44] Therefore,

The beautiful is that which pleases us upon being contemplated. It is that which pleases us when we apprehend it with our minds alone, or, if not by our minds alone, then by our minds in conjunction with our senses, but not by the sense of sight alone. We might even say that the beautiful is something that it pleases us to behold, but only if we remember that we can behold something in other ways than by sight.[45]

This brings us to our next question: if the beautiful is that which pleases us upon being contemplated, whether it be sensible or purely intelligible, what things are beautiful?

1.2 Beauty is a Transcendental

In the catholic tradition, beauty is commonly held to be one of the transcendentals.[46] Transcendentals are “those properties which are predicated of every class of existent thing. This is the reason for the designation: they transcend normal categories of classification.”[47] Another way of describing transcendentals is that they are “convertible with being, and so with one another,” i.e., they are “conceptually but not really distinct from being.”[48]

In short, to say that beauty is a transcendental means that “everything, insofar as it is, is beautiful.”[49] Other transcendentals include goodness (bonum) and truth (verum), with which beauty (pulchrum) is often grouped as a triad, as well as properties such as unity (unum) and thing (res), or what we might call “thingness.”[50]

The inclusion of beauty among the transcendentals has been disputed.[51] However, even if it were demonstrated that beauty is not a transcendental, Christopher Scott Sevier argues that this would not affect the claim that all things are beautiful. Sevier’s reasoning is that while it is unclear whether Aquinas considers beauty to be a transcendental on par with goodness and truth, he undeniably holds that “the Beautiful and the Good are mutually convertible, differing only in ratio, that is, in meaning.”[52] As such,

It makes no difference to the extension of the concept of Beauty whether it is convertible with Being or merely with Good. Since everything that exists is good, on account of the convertibility of Being and Good, and since everything that is good is also beautiful, on account of the convertibility of Good and Beautiful, therefore, everything that exists is de facto also beautiful. Beauty is a notion that extends to all things that have being.[53]

The idea that all things are beautiful might seem prima facie absurd, given that ugly things obviously exist. In responding to this objection, it must be acknowledged that the existence of ugliness poses a formidable challenge to those who would affirm the transcendental nature of beauty. Piotr Jaroszyński writes, “We spontaneously treat the ugly as not aesthetic or not beautiful. This fact cannot be treated lightly. A rational justification for the ‘aestheticity’ or ‘beauty’ of ugliness requires deeper arguments and analyses, not simply an arbitrary broadening or narrowing of the scope of concepts.”[54]

That said, the existence of ugliness can be reconciled with the beauty of all things if we recognize that ugliness “appears as a privation of beauty, not as something in itself.”[55] This is akin to Augustine’s view that evil is a privation or lack of good rather than a positive reality in itself. As Andrew Davison puts it, “The metaphysical status of evil is…comparable to the metaphysical status of a hole: it is real, but it is characterised by an absence.”[56]

An implication of saying that ugliness, like evil, is a privation rather than its own positive reality is that things and people can be ugly to a degree, but never so completely as to efface beauty altogether: “No thing can be so totally deprived of beauty that it is completely ugly, any more than it can be so totally deprived of goodness that it is completely evil. Every being enjoys some measure of form and existence, and consequently it is beautiful to some extent.”[57] Lest this be considered a glib response, let the reader understand that I have given only the kernel of a reply rather than a full counterargument.[58]

Understanding ugliness as a privation of beauty also helps us see how beauty can be a transcendental when there are things that are both beautiful and either wicked or false. Scruton raises this difficulty: “If [beauty and goodness are substantially identical], however, what is ugliness, and why do we flee from it? And how can there be dangerous beauties, corrupting beauties, and immoral beauties?”[59]

To reiterate, things can be ugly only to a degree, never totally. Put differently, beauty is not an either/or reality, that is, nothing is ever perfectly beautiful (other than God) or perfectly ugly. In the same way, it is not a contradiction to say something beautiful is also false or wicked, because truth and goodness, too, are not either/or realities—nothing is perfectly good or true (other than God) or perfectly wicked or false. Rather, everything is true or good to some degree. (One might ask what it means for a person or thing to be true. John-Mark L. Miravalle helpfully clarifies: “If something exists, then it can be grasped by the mind, which affirms the reality of the thing. Therefore, in this sense, every real thing is true.”)[60] Thus, to use Scruton’s example, a beautiful woman with many vices can still be said to have some degree of both beauty and goodness, even if she is also wicked and ugly to the extent that she is vicious.[61]

Another objection to the idea that all things are beautiful is that, as a matter of empirical fact, we do not find everything we contemplate pleasing, even if we do not consider the things that do not actively please us to be outright ugly. The answer to this problem is to be found in the distinction thinkers in the catholic tradition draw between ontological beauty and aesthetic beauty. Ontological beauty is the “‘perceivability’ and ‘enjoyability’ [that] is intrinsic to beings” just by virtue of existing.[62] Aesthetic beauty refers to that which is found in creative works such as “painting, sculpture…music” and “poetry and literature.”[63]

Ontological beauty “does not as a rule appear too readily or too forcefully. Often it does not appear at all, or only in weaker degrees.”[64] In the same vein, W. Norris Clarke observes, “The fact that we humans cannot perceive all beings as beautiful is not due to any deficiency in being itself, but to the fact that we can have the intuitive contemplative experience of beauty only as embodied in some sensible expression, not through abstract, reasoning intelligence alone—in this life.”[65]

Thus when beauty is said to be that which pleases upon being contemplated, it is not primarily ontological beauty that is in view. As Johnson observes, “To experience a creature as beautiful qua creature is to experience it as beautiful only in a very general sense, a sense that it shares with every other creature. This is a true beauty and is to be appreciated, but it is rarely what arrests us.”[66]

However, this is not to say the experience of beauty is confined to artistic works—or, for that matter, nature—for it can also manifest in the lives of people: “In human activity [beauty] appears in the virtues and in the sublime and heroic, as in different ways an outstandingly courageous end in battle or a saintly giving up of soul amidst prayerful surroundings is called a beautiful death.”[67] In this vein, Pope John Paul II writes in his “Letter to Artists” that ordinary people are also artists in their own right: “Not all are called to be artists in the specific sense of the term. Yet, as Genesis has it, all men and women are entrusted with the task of crafting their own life: in a certain sense, they are to make of it a work of art, a masterpiece.”[68]

Dubay gives a vivid description of the potential beauty of human life that is worth quoting at length:

States in life may serve as examples of how the virtues adorn individuals and communities in the ordinary circumstances of daily life. Biographies of saints (and sometimes our favored experiences of others) are replete with living pictures of people who quietly and unassumingly are faithful to their vocations and to loving others as they love themselves. Married couples who generously sacrifice for each other and for their children, who faithfully live the marital chastity of their state, together with its indissolubility, indeed become examples of the union between Christ and his Church. Living according to this pattern demands no little sacrifice, of course, but for those with eyes to see, the beauty of fidelity to this life form readily shines forth.[69]

In sum, beauty is most apparent to us in the lives and creative endeavors of human beings, as well as the natural order crafted by God. At the same time, beauty is at least potentially appreciable in all things, insofar as they exist. The universality of beauty as a property of being brings us to our next point, that beauty is an objective reality independent of our private feelings and judgments, rather than a purely subjective phenomenon.

1.3 The Objectivity of Beauty

In society at large the expression, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is so widely taken for granted that it might justly be said to have graduated from an aphorism to a truism—to question it is considered not merely unnecessary, but ridiculous.[70]

Nevertheless, the catholic tradition holds that beauty is not “relative, subjective, and mostly a matter of feeling,” contrary to the prevailing orthodoxy that arose due to the influence of modern philosophers such as René Descartes, David Hume, and Immanuel Kant.[71] Rather, “Beauty is as objective as truth and goodness…. In other words, beauty isn’t just a matter of preference.”[72]

Note that while the experience of beauty is not purely subjective, it does still have an element of subjectivity, for as multiple scholars have acknowledged, beauty is subjective in the sense that it is experienced by a subject. However, this is not to say beauty is merely a matter of feeling or preference. As Johnson puts it,

If we are to treat beauty as a particular sort of encounter with another something in the world, then we have immediately brought subjectivity into play: for it is undeniable that there is truly an experience occurring, and so some subject is having an experience. But objectivity also enters here, because one is having an experience of something.[73]

If it seems too incredible to believe that beauty is objective, take a moment to consider how the conventional wisdom that beauty is merely subjective—despite its ubiquity and frequent public assertion—regularly falls to pieces in our everyday experience. We intuitively know, for example, that the Mona Lisa is more beautiful than a child’s finger painting. Likewise, the historical longevity of particular works of art judged to be great, such as Milton’s Paradise Lost and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, beggars the notion that so many people across so many years all just happened to reach the same conclusion by coincidence. Moreover, we instinctively argue over “whether a film, book, or song is good or not,” an endeavor which would be utterly pointless if we actually believed in the subjectivity of beauty.[74]

We also find evidence for the objectivity of beauty in Scripture: “Paul [in Philippians 4:8] assumes an objective conception of aesthetic value, for he doesn’t command Christians to dwell upon ‘whatever things happen to take your own subjective fancy’, but upon things that are true, honourable, right, pure, lovely, excellent, of good repute and, most crucially, ‘worthy of praise.’”[75]

One might protest that the sheer number of disagreements about what is or is not beautiful renders the idea of objective beauty laughable. But the reality of disagreement over aesthetic judgments does not show that beauty is purely subjective any more than moral disagreements show that morality is relative, or any more than the fact of competing religions rules out the existence of one true religion.[76] We can account for aesthetic disagreement by recognizing that the fault may well lie in ourselves. As Peter S. Williams writes, “If many people find something beautiful which I find ugly, I am likely to form the opinion that I simply lack good taste in this case, and that the object of dispute probably is beautiful, especially if the people disagreeing with me have a wider aesthetic experience than I do.”[77] Williams goes on to indicate that a lack of personal cultivation, as well as limited breadth of experience, can also account for cross-cultural disputes over beauty.[78]

If beauty is in fact objective, an important implication is that the philosophical position known as nominalism is false. According to nominalism, essences that are shared in common by different classes of beings, such as beauty, “justice or redness”[79]—known in philosophy as universals[80]—are “only abstract names…for resemblances of individuals, existing only in the human mind.”[81] Consider, for example, the essence of “dogness”—a nominalist would say, “There are no ‘dogs,’ just things which resemble each other enough that we have decided to call them ‘dogs.’”[82] Since the time of William of Ockham (at least), some Christians have either openly professed nominalism or been influenced by it. However, the idea that nominalism truly coheres with Christianity is dubious.[83]

Over and against nominalism, the catholic tradition has historically upheld some form of metaphysical realism, wherein “there are distinct essences which unite things of a common kind together. They have real existence, whether in the Platonic forms [“forms” being a synonym for universals] or in the things themselves, as in Aristotle.”[84] To continue our dog example, a realist would say, “A dog is a dog because it participates in, or contains, the universal essence of ‘dogness.’ The category of dog is, then, something real, rather than a mere linguistic aid to categorize particular objects which just happen to have similar features.”[85]

As indicated in the previous paragraph, metaphysical realism can be divided into at least two kinds. The first, which has been called Platonic realism, maintains that “reality ultimately exists within the realm of the ‘forms.’ This is an ideal world which, though real, exists apart from ordinary material reality. This realm of ideas is one in which all things participate, and through which they have their being.”[86] Under this form of realism, universal categories “exist apart from and antecedent to individual objects.”[87] This would mean that, for example, there is an ideal of “redness” that exists in the realm of forms apart from concrete red objects. Alternatively, Aristotle proposed what is often known as moderate realism, which “denies the existence of the realm of Forms” and instead posits that “universals exist only in connection with individual objects.”[88] On this theory, the universal of “redness” exists outside of my mind only insofar as there are concrete red objects.

Many Christians have opted to follow Augustine and Aquinas in adopting a version of realism in which “essences do exist apart from the actually instantiated essences, but only as ‘beings of reason,’ either in the mind of God or in the mind of man” rather than in a separate realm of forms.[89] The denial of the realm of forms and the characterization of essences as divine ideas are referred to collectively as moderate realism by Andrew Fulford and David Haines, but as “Christian Platonism” by Jordan Cooper.[90] Meanwhile, what Chris R. Armstrong and Steven J. Jensen refer to as moderate realism—i.e., the belief that essences only exist in individual objects—is identified by Fulford and Haines as “Aristotelian Realism.”[91]

Terminological differences aside, the important point is that metaphysical realism is what undergirds beauty’s objectivity and independence from us—because beauty is really (rather than only nominally) present in things, beautiful things are beautiful regardless of our own thoughts and feelings.[92] As Jaroszyński writes, “Without realistic metaphysics, the metaphysics whose object is real existing being, we cannot correctly construct a theory of beauty.”[93]

Another important implication of the objectivity of beauty is that there must be criteria by which we can judge whether something is more or less beautiful. Thinkers in the catholic tradition have historically identified these to be integrity (also known as unity), proportion (also known as harmony), and clarity (also known as radiance), sometimes mentioning others as well.[94]

What precisely it means for something to have these qualities will vary—as Armand A. Maurer observes, these terms are “analogous…having many meanings, each determined by its context.”[95] For example, the unity, harmony, and radiance of a painting or sculpture will be physical in nature, whereas the same qualities in a symphony concert will manifest themselves spiritually, that is, immaterially: “The contributions of the violin section may not be distorted either in themselves or in their relations with the other sections of the orchestra, nor may they play aside from the guidance of the maestro.”[96] Radiance, although “very difficult to analyze conceptually” compared to the other two, is said to refer to “the splendor of existence shining forth through form in creatures,”[97] in addition to “the outer brilliance of sounds, colors, [and] proportions.”[98]

Having established that the objective reality of beauty can be discerned in such qualities as radiance and proportion, we come now to our next point, which is that when we perceive beauty we experience it through a combination of senses and intellect.

1.4 Beauty is an Intellectual Experience

In conjunction with the assumption that beauty is purely subjective, it is commonly supposed that since the experience of beauty does not involve discursive reason, beautiful experiences must somehow be irrational or opposed to reason.

But the tendency to categorize reason as a power wholly independent and separate from other powers of the mind is questionable in light of classical Christian anthropology. This anthropology is rooted in Aquinas, who drew on Aristotle, and it was later adopted by (among others) the Reformed orthodox,[99] the Protestant theologians “of the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries” who came after the Reformers and “defended, clarified, and codified” the thought of their theological forebears.[100] According to this understanding of human beings, a person’s faculties can be categorized under the intellect (also known as the understanding), the will, and the affections (that is, emotions).[101]

Yet while it is possible to distinguish conceptually between the various faculties, as when we speak colloquially of reason, imagination, and so on, nonetheless “the distinctions between the faculties is not a real—that is, objective—distinction, as an arm is an objectively distinct part of the body from a leg.”[102] In other words, the human soul is not really composed of discrete parts, in which one part is responsible for reasoning, another for imagining, another for willing, etc. Rather, the soul is “metaphysically simple, without parts,” despite the fact that “in discussion of the faculties of the soul, it often seems as if each faculty does have a separate reality, a separate part of the soul.”[103]

In short, to say experiences of beauty do not involve the exercise of reason does not mean such experiences are irrational or non-intellectual, for “intellect is not confined to the operations of pure reason.”[104] This bears repeating: reason is part of the intellect, but it does not comprise the intellect in its entirety. Indeed, as Paul Tyson observes, “A modern understanding of reason—as formal logic, as pure, clear, secular, and non-religious truth, as reductively scientific knowledge, and as decidedly incompatible with dogmatic theology—is an entirely modern invention.”[105]

James Matthew Wilson particularly emphasizes that intellect is more than discursive reason in The Vision of the Soul:

To claim that man is an intellectual animal is not strictly identical with claiming he is rational. First of all, “intellect,” in the Christian Platonist tradition, means the faculty of thought itself, particular species of which we can distinguish and arrange in a hierarchy. “Mind” has sometimes been the preferred term, and “reason” will do so long as we distinguish it from what we shall define in a moment as the particular activity of discursive reasoning.[106]

Reason or ratio, then, is just one “species of, a participation in, intellect—intellectus or nous[107] rather than being identical to intellect itself: “The human mind participates in intellect, and so cannot be understood merely in terms of its particular, discursive mode of thinking, but must also be considered in light of its participation in intellectus.”[108] To believe that intellect amounts to discursive reason alone—that “the process of discursive reason is the highest or only form of intellect, or that it outfits itself with its own criteria of, or means to, truth, as if anything that comes to it from outside its own workings must be dismissed as ‘irrational’”—is to fall into the error of rationalism.[109]

Hence, some Christian scholars have explicitly defined “reason” more broadly so as to include discursive reason without confining “reason” to this discursive activity. Essentially, they use the term “reason” as a synonym for the broader category of intellect, as seen in the previous block quote and here: “Reason, the defining part of the Rational Soul, consists of intellectus (the ability to see self-evident truth) and ratio (the ability to arrive at truth which is not self-evident).” [110]

Once it is understood that the intellect is more than discursive reason, it is not strange to think we experience beauty intellectually, as the catholic tradition teaches. For example, Dubay writes, “Because we are bodily/spiritual beings, we experience the beautiful within an interdependent relationship of senses and intellect, just as we know reality with the same interdependence.”[111] From Owens, “Beauty is undoubtedly something perceptible by the intellect.”[112] And Wilson says, “The perceptions of discursive reason and the perceptions of beauty may be distinct in means, but they are one in faculty and one in end: they both are seated in the intellect and converge in being.”[113] To put it pointedly, beauty is “epistemic; it is a way of knowing rooted in the seeing of the form of things.”[114]

Moreover, as the last excerpt indicates, in this intellectual experience beauty is known “not by abstract concepts or reasoning but by direct intuitive perception of the thing in its unique existential singularity.”[115] Maritain expresses this truth forcefully:

The intelligence in this case, diverted from all effort of abstraction, rejoices without work and without discourse. It is dispensed from its usual labor; it does not have to disengage an intelligible from the matter in which it is buried, in order to go over its different attributes step by step; like a stag at the gushing spring, intelligence has nothing to do but drink; it drinks the clarity of being.[116]

To summarize the discussion up to this point: the beautiful is, on an experiential level, that which pleases when it is contemplated; beauty is found in all things, but it is especially apparent to us in human life and creative works; beauty is an objective reality, even as we experience it as subjects; and beauty is an intellectual experience that does not require the exercise of discursive reason, yet at the same time does not oppose reason. With these points established, it is now possible to discuss how beauty witnesses to God.

[continued in Part 2]

  1. J. Daryl Charles, “Burying the Wrong Corpse: Protestants and the Natural Law,” in Natural Law and Evangelical Political Thought, Jesse Covington, Bryan McGraw, and Micah Watson, eds. (Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2013), 21. See also Stephen J. Grabill, Rediscovering the Natural Law in Reformed Theological Ethics (Grand Rapids: Eeerdmans, 2006), 2; Carl Braaten, “A Lutheran Affirmation of the Natural Law,” in Natural Law: A Lutheran Reappraisal, Robert C. Baker and Roland Cap Ehlke, eds. (St. Louis: Concordia, 2011), 5; Robert P. George, Conscience and Its Enemies: Confronting the Dogmas of Liberal Secularism (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2013), 83; and David Haines and Andrew A. Fulford, Natural Law: A Brief Introduction and Biblical Defense (Davenant Trust, 2017), 5.
  2. Jesse Covington, Bryan McGraw, and Micah Watson, “Introduction,” in Natural Law and Evangelical Political Thought, x. See also Jesse Covington, “The Grammar of Virtue: Augustine and the Natural Law,” in Natural Law and Evangelical Political Thought, 182; Robert P. George, The Clash of Orthodoxies: Law, Religion, and Morality in Crisis (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2001), 7; J. Budziszewski, The Line Through the Heart: Natural Law as Fact, Theory, and Sign of Contradiction (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2009), 192–93; David VanDrunen, Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms: A Study in the Development of Reformed Social Thought (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 1; and W. Bradford Littlejohn, The Two Kingdoms: A Guide for the Perplexed (Davenant Trust, 2017), 81.
  3. Matthew D. Wright, “Natural Law, Civic Friendship, and Stanley Hauerwas’s Counter-Polis Thesis,” in Natural Law and Evangelical Political Thought, 245. See also David VanDrunen, Politics after Christendom: Political Theology in a Fractured World (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academic, 2020), 137–38, 148–49.
  4. Brad Littlejohn, “The Christian Commonwealth and Natural Law: Littlejohn Responds to Dillon,” Mere Orthodoxy, 21 November 2017, https://mereorthodoxy.com/littlejohn-responds-dillon-two-kingdoms-guide-perplexed/, emphasis original.
  5. VanDrunen, Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms, 433.
  6. Peter J. Leithart, “The World Can’t Hear Us on Marriage,” First Things, 15 March 2013, https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2013/03/the-world-cant-hear-us-on-marriage.
  7. Alastair Roberts, “Can Arguments Against Gay Marriage Be Persuasive?” The Calvinist International, 15 March 2013, https://calvinistinternational.com/2013/03/15/can-arguments-against-gay-marriage-be-persuasive/.
  8. Brad Littlejohn, “The Gay Marriage Debate: Tactical Withdrawal or a New Paradigm?” Mere Orthodoxy, 11 April 2013, https://mereorthodoxy.com/the-gay-marriage-debate-tactical-withdrawal-or-a-new-paradigm/.
  9. Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, 3rd ed. (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007), 11–12, emphasis original.
  10. Compare Jo Ann Davidson, Toward a Theology of Beauty: A Biblical Perspective (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2008), 186, and Steven B. Cowan and James S. Spiegel, The Love of Wisdom: A Christian Introduction to Philosophy (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2009), 430.
  11. James Clark, “Natural Law and the Prospects of Persuasion,” Mere Orthodoxy, 15 April 2019, https://mereorthodoxy.com/natural-law-prospects-persuasion/.
  12. See Jacques Maritain, Art and Scholasticism and The Frontiers of Poetry, trans. Joseph W. Evans (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1962), 166–67n56, and Armand A. Maurer, About Beauty: A Thomistic Interpretation (Houston: Center for Thomistic Studies, 1983), 29–30.
  13. James Matthew Wilson, The Vision of the Soul: Truth, Goodness, and Beauty in the Western Tradition (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2017), 75. See also Wilson, Vision of the Soul, 185, and Steven J. Jensen, The Human Person: A Beginner’s Thomistic Psychology (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2018), 150.
  14. Joseph Ratzinger, “The Feeling of Things, the Contemplation of Beauty,” 24–30 August 2002, Papal Archive, The Holy See, http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20020824_ratzinger-cl-rimini_en.html.
  15. Littlejohn, “The Gay Marriage Debate,” https://mereorthodoxy.com/the-gay-marriage-debate-tactical-withdrawal-or-a-new-paradigm/.
  16. Wilson, Vision of the Soul, 11–16, 125–37, 231–33, 326.
  17. Alasdair MacIntyre, “Intractable Moral Disagreements,” in Intractable Disputes about the Natural Law: Alasdair MacIntyre and Critics, ed. Lawrence S. Cunningham (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2009), 20.
  18. Clark, “Natural Law,” sections 6 and 7.
  19. Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation (New York: Sentinel, 2017), 93. See also Dreher, Benedict Option, 78–99.
  20. Dreher, Benedict Option, 88. Compare Stanley Hauerwas, The Work of Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), “I [refuse] any reduction of politics to statecraft” (182).
  21. James K. A. Smith, Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017), 9. See also Smith, Awaiting the King, 11.
  22. Dreher, Benedict Option, 88.
  23. C. S. Lewis, “Meditation on the Third Commandment,” in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, ed. Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 199.
  24. Smith, Awaiting the King, 121n57, emphasis original.
  25. Dreher, Benedict Option, 117.
  26. Dreher, Benedict Option, 118.
  27. Dreher, Benedict Option, 119.
  28. For an account of the conception of beauty as rooted in classical Greek thought and developed by medieval theologians, see Richard Viladesau, Theological Aesthetics: God in Imagination, Beauty, and Art (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 105–117; Herman Bavinck, “Of Beauty and Aesthetics,” in Essays on Religion, Science, and Society, ed. John Bolt, trans. Harry Boonstra and Gerrit Sheeres (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 246; Melanie Bender, The Dawn of the Invisible: The Reception of the Platonic Doctrine on Beauty in the Christian Middle Ages: Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite – Albert the Great – Thomas Aquinas – Nicholas of Cusa (Münster: Verlagshaus Monsenstein und Vannerdat, 2010); Piotr Jaroszyński, Beauty and Being: Thomistic Perspectives, trans. Hugh McDonald (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 2011), 11–56; Brendan Thomas Sammon, The God Who Is Beauty: Beauty as a Divine Name in Thomas Aquinas and Dionysius the Areopagite (Cambridge, UK: James Clarke & Co., 2014); and Brendan Thomas Sammon, Called to Attraction: An Introduction to the Theology of Beauty (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2017).
  29. Wilson, Vision of the Soul, ix.
  30. Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics, vol. I, Seeing the Form, Joseph Fessio and John Riches, eds., trans. Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis (New York: T&T Clark, 1982), 18.
  31. Joseph Owens, An Elementary Christian Metaphysics (Milwaukee: Bruce Publishing, 1963), 122. See also Junius Johnson, The Father of Lights: A Theology of Beauty (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2020), 1.
  32. Roger Scruton, Beauty: A Very Short Introduction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 162, emphasis original.
  33. David Bentley Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 16, emphasis original.
  34. Hart, Beauty of the Infinite, 17. See also Stephen John Wright, Dogmatic Aesthetics: A Theology of Beauty in Dialogue with Robert W. Jenson (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2014), 7.
  35. Johnson, Father of Lights, 58.
  36. Jaroszyński, Beauty and Being, 26. See Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae I.5.4 ad I, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (London: Benzinger Brothers, 1920), https://www.newadvent.org/summa/1005.htm#article4. See also Maritain, Art and Scholasticism, 23; Maurer, About Beauty, 16, 30; Thomas Dubay, The Evidential Power of Beauty: Science and Theology Meet (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1999), 36; W. Norris Clarke, The One and the Many: A Contemporary Thomistic Metaphysics (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2001, repr. 2014), 298; Bavinck, “Beauty and Aesthetics,” 257; Thomas C. Oden, Classic Christianity: A Systematic Theology (New York: HarperOne, 2009), 97; Wilson, Vision of the Soul, 15; D. C. Schindler, Love and the Postmodern Predicament: Rediscovering the Real in Beauty, Goodness, and Truth (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2018), 34; Jonathan King, The Beauty of the Lord: Theology as Aesthetics (Bellingham, WA: Lexham, 2018), 9; and Johnson, Father of Lights, 118.
  37. Francis J. Hall, The Being and Attributes of God (New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1909), 196.
  38. Wilson, Vision of the Soul, 193.
  39. Wilson, Vision of the Soul, 16, 60, emphasis original. See also Wilson, Vision of the Soul, 85–86, 93, 194, 206, 215, 226, and Maritain, Art and Scholasticism, 25.
  40. Wilson, Vision of the Soul, 73, 80, 83, 99, 229.
  41. Dubay, Evidential Power, 30.
  42. Mortimer J. Adler, Six Great Ideas (New York: Macmillan, 1981), 106. See also Maurer, About Beauty, 10; Viladesau, Theological Aesthetics, 115; Dubay, Evidential Power, 30–31; Bavinck, “Beauty and Aesthetics,” 256; Oden, Classic Christianity, 97; Jaroszyński, Beauty and Being, 26–27; Scruton, Beauty, 1, 19–21; Gerald O’Collins, The Beauty of Jesus Christ: Filling out a Scheme of St Augustine (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020), 16; and Johnson, Father of Lights, 24–25, 44.
  43. Maurer, About Beauty, 33, 42n21, emphasis original. See also Francis J. Coleman, “Can a Smell or a Taste or a Touch Be Beautiful?” American Philosophical Quarterly 2, no. 4 (October 1965): 319–24, https://www.jstor.org/stable/20009182.
  44. Adler, Six Great Ideas, 107–108.
  45. Adler, Six Great Ideas, 108. See also Sammon, Called to Attraction, 99.
  46. See Maritain, Art and Scholasticism, 30; Owens, Elementary Christian Metaphysics, 111; Maurer, About Beauty, 1, 14–15, 34; Clarke, The One and the Many, 291; Jaroszyński, Beauty and Being, 159; Sammon, Called to Attraction, 153–54; Wilson, Vision of the Soul, 190–209; Schindler, Love and the Postmodern, 18–19; King, Beauty of the Lord, 18; John-Mark L. Miravalle, Beauty: What It Is and Why It Matters (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute, 2019), 37; Benjamin P. Myers, A Poetics of Orthodoxy: Christian Truth as Aesthetic Foundation (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2020), 117; and Richard Viladesau, “Art and Meaning,” in Christian Platonism: A History, Alexander J. B. Hampton and John Peter Kenney, eds. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2021), 418.
  47. Christopher Scott Sevier, Aquinas on Beauty (Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2015), 124.
  48. D. C. Schindler, The Catholicity of Reason (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013), 63–64, and Owens, Elementary Christian Metaphysics, 124. See also Maurer, About Beauty, 14–15; Clarke, The One and the Many, 290–91; Wilson, Vision of the Soul, 82n76, 85n86, 229; King, Beauty of the Lord, 18–19; and Viladesau, “Art and Meaning,” 418.
  49. Wilson, Vision of the Soul, 224. See also Hall, Being and Attributes, 198, 307; Maritain, Art and Scholasticism, 30; Owens, Elementary Christian Metaphysics, 122–24; Maurer, About Beauty, 1, 23, 34, 113; Hans Urs von Balthasar, My Work in Retrospect, trans. Brian McNeil (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1993), 115; Dubay, Evidential Power, 45; Clarke, The One and the Many, 298–301; Kevin E. O’Reilly, Aesthetic Perception: A Thomistic Perspective (Portland: Four Courts, 2007), 20; Jaroszyński, Beauty and Being, 159; Schindler, Love and the Postmodern, 18–19; King, Beauty of the Lord, 17–18; Miravalle, Beauty, 37; Johnson, Father of Lights, 2; and Viladesau, “Art and Meaning,” 418.
  50. See Maritain, Art and Scholasticism, 172n66; Owens, Elementary Christian Metaphysics, 117–22; Maurer, About Beauty, 1, 14–15; Balthasar, My Work, 115; Dubay, Evidential Power, 45; Clarke, The One and the Many, 293–98; Jaroszyński, Beauty and Being, 159–60; Sammon, Called to Attraction, 153–54; Schindler, Catholicity of Reason, 64; Schindler, Love and the Postmodern, 18n20; King, Beauty of the Lord, 19; Andrew Davison, Participation in God: A Study in Christian Doctrine and Metaphysics (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2019), 303–304; and Myers, Poetics of Orthodoxy, 4.
  51. See Viladesau, Theological Aesthetics, 124–34; Clarke, The One and the Many, 298, 300–301; O’Reilly, Aesthetic Perception, 103–111; Jaroszyński, Beauty and Being, 160; Sevier, Aquinas on Beauty, 125–27; Wilson, Vision of the Soul, 200n33, 225; Schindler, Love and the Postmodern, 90n26; and King, Beauty of the Lord, 34n7.
  52. Sevier, Aquinas on Beauty, 125, emphasis in original. See also Maurer, About Beauty, 15, 17; O’Reilly, Aesthetic Perception, 107; and Wilson, Vision of the Soul, 20, 65, 123. Compare Davison’s definition of beauty as “the desirability of goodness, as the magnetic draw that goodness exercises on the will and intellect” (Participation in God, 327).
  53. Sevier, Aquinas on Beauty, 126–27, emphasis original. See also O’Reilly, Aesthetic Perception, 29, 108.
  54. Jaroszyński, Beauty and Being, 224.
  55. Jaroszyński, Beauty and Being, 226. See also Maurer, About Beauty, 13–14; Dubay, Evidential Power, 83–84; Natalie Carnes, Beauty: A Theological Engagement with Gregory of Nyssa (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2014), 167n131; and Johnson, Father of Lights, 33.
  56. Davison, Participation in God, 240n4. See also Davison, Participation in God, 239–59; Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy, ed. Douglas C. Langston, trans. Richard H. Green (New York: Norton, 2010), 61–62 [Book IV, Prose 2]; Wilson, Vision of the Soul, 201; and Michael J. Dodds, The One Creator God in Thomas Aquinas and Contemporary Theology (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2020), 140.
  57. Maurer, About Beauty, 14. See also Peter S. Williams, A Faithful Guide to Philosophy: A Christian Introduction to the Love of Wisdom (Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, 2013), 300; Sammon, Called to Attraction, 16; Wilson, Vision of the Soul, 204–205; Miravalle, Beauty, 82n81; O’Collins, Beauty of Jesus, 2; and Johnson, Father of Lights, 66.
  58. For a fuller treatment of the nature of ugliness, see Jaroszyński, Beauty and Being, 222–36, and Johnson, Father of Lights, 8–12, 33–41. For an argument that takes the universality of beauty to its logical conclusion by maintaining that even hell itself is, in a sense, beautiful, see John R. Fortin, “Wicked Good: Saint Anselm on the Place of Hell in the Beauty of Creation,” The Saint Anselm Journal 8, no. 1 (Fall 2012), https://www.anselm.edu/sites/default/files/Documents/Institute%20of%20SA%20Studies/Saint%20Anselm%20on%20the%20Place%20of%20Hell%20in%20the%20Beauty%20of%20Creation.pdf. See also Johnson, Father of Lights, 37.
  59. Scruton, Beauty, 4. See also Lisa Coutras, Tolkien’s Theology of Beauty: Majesty, Splendor, and Transcendence in Middle-earth (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), 15.
  60. Miravalle, Beauty, 37, emphasis original. See also Owens, Elementary Christian Metaphysics, 119; Maurer, About Beauty, 34; Clarke, The One and the Many, 295; Wilson, Vision of the Soul, 200; and Davison, Participation in God, 307.
  61. Scruton, Beauty, 2. See also Carnes, Beauty, 83, 122–23, and Wilson, Vision of the Soul, 226.
  62. Viladesau, Theological Aesthetics, 133. See also Owens, Elementary Christian Metaphysics, 124; Clarke, The One and the Many, 298, 316; and Jaroszyński, Beauty and Being, 171–81.
  63. Owens, Elementary Christian Metaphysics, 123. See also Clarke, The One and the Many, 298, 316.
  64. Owens, Elementary Christian Metaphysics, 123. See also Wilson, Vision of the Soul, 228.
  65. Clarke, The One and the Many, 301. See also Jaroszyński, Beauty and Being, 172.
  66. Johnson, Father of Lights, 83.
  67. Owens, Elementary Christian Metaphysics, 123.
  68. John Paul II, “Letter of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to Artists,” 4 April 1999, Papal Archive, The Holy See, http://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/letters/1999/documents/hf_jp-ii_let_23041999_artists.html.
  69. Dubay, Evidential Power, 245. See also Hall, Being and Attributes, 198, 308; Maritain, Art and Scholasticism, 3–4; Maurer, About Beauty, 11, 55, 67, 71–72, 74, 77; Scruton, Beauty, 42–43; Jaroszyński, Beauty and Being, 219; and King, Beauty of the Lord, 50n58.
  70. Schindler, Love and the Postmodern, 36.
  71. Montague Brown, Restoration of Reason: The Eclipse and Recovery of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), 83. See also Brown, Restoration of Reason, 28–36, 106–111; Maurer, About Beauty, 25–26; Bavinck, “Beauty and Aesthetics,” 247; Jaroszyński, Beauty and Being, 2–4, 113–35; Williams, Faithful Guide, 285–87; Sammon, Called to Attraction, 109–114; Wilson, Vision of the Soul, 48–49, 54; and Schindler, Love and the Postmodern, 36–37.
  72. Miravalle, Beauty, 39. See also Hall, Being and Attributes, 196–97, 306–307; Maurer, About Beauty, 28; Dubay, Evidential Power, 47, 63–64; Hart, Beauty of the Infinite, 17–18; O’Reilly, Aesthetic Perception, 99; Bavinck, “Beauty and Aesthetics,” 246, 259; Cowan and Spiegel, Love of Wisdom, 432; Oden, Classic Christianity, 97; Scruton, Beauty, 5, 123; Joseph D. Wooddell, The Beauty of the Faith: Using Aesthetics for Christian Apologetics (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2011), 46–59; Sevier, Aquinas on Beauty, 127; King, Beauty of the Lord, 5, 14; Paul M. Gould, Cultural Apologetics: Renewing the Christian Voice, Conscience, and Imagination in a Disenchanted World (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2019), 98;Johnson, Father of Lights, 7; and Myers, Poetics of Orthodoxy, 72–73.
  73. Johnson, Father of Lights, 4–5, emphasis original. See also Johnson, Father of Lights, 4–8, 32–33, 189; Hall, Being and Attributes, 197; Maritain, Art and Scholasticism, 166n56; Dubay, Evidential Power, 47; Edward T. Oakes, “The Apologetics of Beauty,” in The Beauty of God: Theology and the Arts, Daniel J. Treier, Mark Husbands, and Roger Lundin, eds. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2007), 211; O’Reilly, Aesthetic Perception, 40–43; Williams, Faithful Guide, 288; King, Beauty of the Lord, 14; and Viladesau, “Art and Meaning,” 418.
  74. The examples given above are taken from Cowan and Spiegel, Love of Wisdom, 430–32. See also Scruton, Beauty, 27, and Williams, Faithful Guide, 293–95.
  75. Williams, Faithful Guide, 284. See also Myers, Poetics of Orthodoxy, 4–5.
  76. Williams, Faithful Guide, 296–98. See also Wooddell, Beauty of the Faith, 48–51, and Myers, Poetics of Orthodoxy, 73.
  77. Williams, Faithful Guide, 293. See also Williams, Faithful Guide, 291–93; Adler, Six Great Ideas, 115–17; and Dubay, Evidential Power, 47, 63–64.
  78. Williams, Faithful Guide, 293. See also Adler, Six Great Ideas, 119.
  79. Peter Kreeft, The Platonic Tradition (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2018), 68.
  80. See Gould, Cultural Apologetics, 49.
  81. Chris R. Armstrong, Medieval Wisdom for Modern Christians: Finding Authentic Faith in a Forgotten Age with C. S. Lewis (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2016), 81. See also Hans Boersma, Heavenly Participation: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011), 80; Paul Tyson, Returning to Reality: Christian Platonism for our Times (Cambridge, UK: Lutterworth, 2015), 71; Jensen, Human Person, 138–39; Andrew Fulford and David Haines, “The Metaphysics of Scripture,” in Philosophy and the Christian: The Quest for Wisdom in the Light of Christ, ed. Joseph Minich (Davenant Press, 2018), 44–47; Kreeft, Platonic Tradition, 69–70; James K. Dew Jr and Paul M. Gould, Philosophy: A Christian Introduction (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2019), 105; and Gould, Cultural Apologetics, 50.
  82. Fulford and Haines, “Metaphysics of Scripture,” 47. See also Jensen, Human Person, 139.
  83. See Boersma, Heavenly Participation, 79–81; Kreeft, Platonic Tradition, 67–83; Craig A. Carter, Interpreting Scripture with the Great Tradition: Recovering the Genius of Premodern Exegesis (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2018), 84–91; and Fulford and Haines, “Metaphysics of Scripture,” 47–49.
  84. Jordan Cooper, A Contemporary Protestant Scholastic Theology, vol. 1, Prolegomena: A Defense of the Scholastic Method (Weidner Institute, 2020), 80–81. See also Cooper, Prolegomena, 115–16; Wilson, Vision of the Soul, 178n2; Fulford and Haines, “Metaphysics of Scripture,” 29, 41, 45; Dew and Gould, Philosophy, 104–105; and Gould, Cultural Apologetics, 49. Compare Wooddell’s definition of “essentialism” in Beauty of the Faith, 20, and Carter’s definition of “antinominalism” in Interpreting Scripture, 80.
  85. Cooper, Prolegomena, 116, emphasis original. See also Fulford and Haines, “Metaphysics of Scripture,” 45–46.
  86. Cooper, Prolegomena, 116. See also Cooper, Prolegomena, 116–29; Jensen, Human Person, 132–38; and Dew and Gould, Philosophy, 96.
  87. Armstrong, Medieval Wisdom, 80. See also Fulford and Haines, “Metaphysics of Scripture,” 46.
  88. Jensen, Human Person, 139, and Armstrong, Medieval Wisdom, 81, emphasis original. See also Wilson, Vision of the Soul, 178n2; Jensen, Human Person, 142–43; King, Beauty of the Lord, 50; and Cooper, Prolegomena, 129–38.
  89. Fulford and Haines, “Metaphysics of Scripture,” 46.
  90. Fulford and Haines, “Metaphysics of Scripture,” 41n49, and Cooper, Prolegomena, 138.
  91. Fulford and Haines, “Metaphysics of Scripture,” 46.
  92. See Viladesau, “Art and Meaning,” 417–18. Compare Davison, Participation in God, 192.
  93. Jaroszyński, Beauty and Being, 221. For an extended discussion of realism and nominalism, see J. P. Moreland, Universals (New York: Routledge, 2014), and Dew and Gould, Philosophy, 104–115.
  94. See Maritain, Art and Scholasticism, 24; Adler, Six Great Ideas, 112–13; Maurer, About Beauty, 10, 12, 23; Dubay, Evidential Power, 34; Clarke, The One and the Many, 299–300; Bavinck, “Beauty and Aesthetics,” 246; Sevier, Aquinas on Beauty, 103–104; Sammon, Called to Attraction, 12; and King, Beauty of the Lord, 9. Clarke writes that proportion was at some point “dropped out” as a criterion of beauty on the grounds that it “connotes some multiplicity of parts,” which goes against divine simplicity (Clarke, The One and the Many, 299). However, more recent treatments of beauty have continued to include it, with Wilson declaring proportion “the singular and central term necessary for any discussion of beauty” (Vision of the Soul, 210). See Wilson, Vision of the Soul, 196–98, 210–33.
  95. Maurer, About Beauty, 12. For more on the nature of the three criteria for beauty identified by Aquinas—proportion, integrity, and clarity—see O’Reilly, Aesthetic Perception, 18–26, and Wilson, Vision of the Soul, 196–200.
  96. Dubay, Evidential Power, 35. Compare Cowan and Spiegel, Love of Wisdom, 432–37.
  97. Clarke, The One and the Many, 300. See also Maritain, Art and Scholasticism, 24–25.
  98. Dubay, Evidential Power, 36.
  99. Paul Helm, Human Nature from Calvin to Edwards (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage, 2018), 80.
  100. Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy, ca. 1520 to 1725, vol. 1, Prolegomena to Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 27.
  101. Helm, Human Nature, xix, 81, 159, 186.
  102. Helm, Human Nature, 159.
  103. Helm, Human Nature, xix–xx. See also Helm, Human Nature, 29, 159; Mary Constance Barrett, An Experimental Study of the Thomistic Concept of the Faculty of Imagination (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1941), 5; and Douglas Hedley, Living Forms of the Imagination (New York: T&T Clark, 2008), 57.
  104. Helm, Human Nature, 17.
  105. Tyson, Returning to Reality, 53.
  106. Wilson, Vision of the Soul, 73–74, emphasis original.
  107. Wilson, Vision of the Soul, 74, emphasis original.
  108. Wilson, Vision of the Soul, 75, emphasis original.
  109. Wilson, Vision of the Soul, 77.
  110. Michael Ward, “The Good Serves the Better and Both the Best: C. S. Lewis on Imagination and Reason in Apologetics,” in Imaginative Apologetics: Theology, Philosophy and the Catholic Tradition, ed. Andrew Davison (London: SCM Press, 2011), 74. See also Douglas Hedley, “Imagination and Natural Theology,” in The Oxford Handbook of Natural Theology, John Hedley Brooke, Russell Re Manning, and Fraser Watts, eds. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 541.
  111. Dubay, Evidential Power, 36–37. See also Maurer, About Beauty, 33–38.
  112. Owens, Elementary Christian Metaphysics, 122. See also Maurer, About Beauty, 31, and Johnson, Father of Lights, 129.
  113. Wilson, Vision of the Soul, 128. See also Wilson, Vision of the Soul, 83–85, 195; Maritain, Art and Scholasticism, 23; Clarke, The One and the Many, 299; Jaroszyński, Beauty and Being, 26–27; Schindler, Catholicity of Reason, 75; and Schindler, Love and the Postmodern, 42.
  114. Wilson, Vision of the Soul, 32.
  115. Clarke, The One and the Many, 298. See also Maurer, About Beauty, 37–38; Sammon, Called to Attraction, 139; and Wilson, Vision of the Soul, 191.
  116. Maritain, Art and Scholasticism, 26. See also Maritain, Art and Scholasticism, 163n56; Maurer, About Beauty, 38, 40; Wilson, Vision of the Soul, 101,195; and Johnson, Father of Lights, 18–19.


James Clark

James Clark is the Book Review Editor at The North American Anglican. He graduated from Yale Divinity School with a Master of Arts in Religion, concentrating in Philosophical Theology. His writing has appeared in Front Porch Republic, Themelios, and Evangelical Quarterly, as well as other publications.


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