The question of truth, beauty, and goodness is one that has intrigued men for centuries.
The pagan philosophers seek to identify that which is True, Good, and Beautiful. For the Christian, however, there can be no other answer than that which affirms that the Triune God is the True, the Beautiful, and the Good. By His very essence God is all three. Everything else is so only by participation. We can know this because God has chosen to reveal Himself to us. The Catechism of the Catholic Church #2500 tells us that “even before revealing Himself to man in words of truth, God reveals Himself to (man) through the universal language of creation.” All creation reflects its Creator; therefore, we can see something of Beauty itself in creation. Truth, beauty, and goodness, which are called “the transcendentals,” cannot be separated from one another because they are a unity as the Trinity is One. Truth is beautiful in itself. And goodness describes all that God has made. “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good” (Gen.1:31).
Thus, Adam and Eve immediately lost the grace of original holiness, and the harmony in which they had lived was destroyed. They were separated from Beauty Itself. God, however did not abandon mankind, all of whom share in the sin of Adam, since “by one man’s disobedience all were made sinners” (Rom. 5:12). In the fullness of time God sent His Son to restore that which had been lost. The Son, who is “beautiful above the sons of men,” came to restore us to beauty.
Thus, we turn now to beauty.
Von Balthasar once remarked that when one is seeking to draw others to God, he should begin with beauty because beauty attracts. Beauty will then lead to truth and goodness. Hence, if one is going to begin with beauty then one must know what beauty is. I will make a distinction between two types of beauty, although only one of them is beauty in the truest sense of the definition. There is “seductive” beauty, which is often reflected in our current culture. This would entail whatever allures us to our self-destruction (morally or spiritually). It takes us away from what we were created for, union with Beauty Himself. This type of beauty I will return to, but first I want to establish a definition and proper understanding of what “true” beauty is. This is first and foremost whatever attracts us to our true fulfillment and happiness. In his book The Beauty of Holiness and the Holiness of Beauty, John Saward, drawing on the work of St.Thomas Aquinas, defines beauty as: “the gleaming of the substantial or actual form that is found in the proportioned parts of a material things.” In other words, while one can find beauty in the outward appearance, one must go deeper to the nature or the essence of the thing.
“Thus, in a material substance (such as man) there is beauty when the essence of a thing shines clearly through its outward appearance.” The beauty of one’s soul can be said to shine through a person’s countenance. For this to occur, three things are necessary -wholeness (integrity), due proportion (harmony), and radiance (clarity). It is important to note that understood in this definition is the fact that beauty is a reality in itself, it is not something that we produce by looking at a work of art or some other thing that attracts us. Rather, beauty radiates out of what we see. It radiates out because it is participating in Beauty itself. In regards to Jesus, “Christian Tradition – from Augustine and Hilary to Peter Lombard, Albert, Thomas, and Bonaventure – holds that beauty can be appropriated in a special way to the Second Person…”
St. Thomas says that all three marks of beauty are found in Jesus.
Radiance is found in Him because He is the Word of the Father, and the Word eternally uttered by the Father completely and perfectly expresses Him. He is the brightness of the Father’s mind. Due proportion is found in the Son of God because He is the perfect image of the Father. As the perfect image, He is divine beauty. Jesus has wholeness because He has in Himself the whole nature of the Father. In begetting the Son, the Father communicates the whole of His divine essence. Thus, we have a Divine Person, God the Son, who without ceasing to be true God, has been made true man for us in the Virgin’s womb. When one sees the Virgin and the Child, one sees a witness to the Trinity. Pope John Paul II explains that this picture of Mother and Child “constitutes a silent but firm statement of Mary’s virginal motherhood, and for that very reason, of the Son’s divinity.”
It is as such a witness to the Trinity that allows Mary a special place in relationship to the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. The Blessed Virgin, said the fifteenth century poet John Lydgate, is the “Fairest Mother that ever was alive.” Many poets and artists have sought to express their praise and admiration for Her who is so closely united to Divinity. When Dante reaches Paradise, he finds the beauty of the Son of God most perfectly mirrored in Mary, of whom He was born. Thus, we will see how Mary is to be for all, but especially women, a model of true beauty, and thus, goodness and truth, as she reflects a sharing in the life of the Trinity. “All the beauty for soul and body that the Son of God brought into the world, all the loveliness He wanted to lavish on mankind, is summed up in, and mediated by the person of His ever virgin Mother, ‘a woman clothed with the sun, the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars’ (Rev. 12:1). If there is beauty, it is here.”