Truth and Beauty

John Keats opined, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

Pope John Paul II would have agreed with that, as Alan relates in a post today, quoting from the former’s “Letter to Artists”:

The link between good and beautiful stirs fruitful reflection. In a certain sense, beauty is the visible form of the good, just as the good is the metaphysical condition of beauty. This was well understood by the Greeks who, by fusing the two concepts, coined a term which embraces both: kalokagathía, or beauty-goodness. On this point Plato writes: “The power of the Good has taken refuge in the nature of the Beautiful”. …

Beauty is a key to the mystery and a call to transcendence. It is an invitation to savour life and to dream of the future. That is why the beauty of created things can never fully satisfy. It stirs that hidden nostalgia for God which a lover of beauty like Saint Augustine could express in incomparable terms: “Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you!”.

I suggest that this Greek philosophical approach is contrary to the Biblical perspective. In Scripture, beauty is not synonymous with goodness. Rather, beautiful things can draw one away from the good. This starts in the Garden, where a fruit that was “pleasant to the eyes” drew Eve away from the truth of God’s word. Beauty is fleeting (Prov. 31:30; Ps. 37:20). It was perception of her own beauty that led Jerusalem into unfaithfulness (Ez. 16). Beauty was the downfall of Tyre (Ez. 27) and the King of Tyre (Ez. 28).

Christian interpreters have through the centuries seen that denunciation of the King of Tyre as a description of Lucifer.

13 You were in Eden,
the garden of God;
every precious stone adorned you:
ruby, topaz and emerald,
chrysolite, onyx and jasper,
sapphire, turquoise and beryl.
Your settings and mountings were made of gold;
on the day you were created they were prepared.

14 You were anointed as a guardian cherub,
for so I ordained you.
You were on the holy mount of God;
you walked among the fiery stones.

15 You were blameless in your ways
from the day you were created
till wickedness was found in you.

16 Through your widespread trade
you were filled with violence,
and you sinned.
So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God,
and I expelled you, O guardian cherub,
from among the fiery stones.

17 Your heart became proud
on account of your beauty,
and you corrupted your wisdom
because of your splendor.
So I threw you to the earth;
I made a spectacle of you before kings.

Jesus, however, had no beauty to attract us (Is. 53:2, NIV). Christian women are to have an inner beauty, not a beauty that comes from outward adornment (1 Peter3:3). And Satan still deceives by appearing as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14).

So while it is true that God is beautiful (Ps. 27:4), so are many things that are opposed to God. The contemplation of beauty is not a sure path to God–it can be (and often has been) the first step in deception. Our only safety is to test every beautiful thing by the truth of God’s word, and to judge whether the fruits of that beauty are truly goodness.

4 thoughts on “Truth and Beauty

  1. “Rather, beautiful things can draw one away from the good. This starts in the Garden, where a fruit that was “pleasant to the eyes” drew Eve away from the truth of God’s word . . .”

    But all the trees in the Garden were “enticing to look at” (Genesis 2:9). The quality of beauty was not exclusive to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

    The point, I think, is that the beauty which sin appeared to Adam and Eve to offer was something which in fact they already had – in other words, the promise of sin is an empty promise.

    What led Adam and Eve to sin was not the allure of beauty, so much as their failure to perceive the beaty which God had already freely given them.

  2. Bill, sexuality is a gift from God (i.e. a good), and it obviously can lead people away from God, when they abuse it.

    Some scientists misprioritize the truths of their field and when they abuse that knowledge, they move away from God.

    As with beauty, the problem here isn’t truth or goodness: it’s people creating idols and failing to recognize He who is Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.

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