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Beauty, Goodness, and Truth

“A number of the early Fathers described the world with three terms: goodness, truth, beauty. It is grounded in the story of creation. When God creates, we are told that He says, “It is good.” In both Hebrew and Greek, the word translated as “good,” also carries the meaning of “beautiful” (a very interesting linguistic intuition). From this, the Fathers taught that what truly exists, that which has true being, is inherently good, and is inherently beautiful. Additionally, they taught that what is “evil,” does not have true being. Rather, it is a parasite, a distortion, and a misuse or misdirection of what is true, good, and beautiful. This parasitic distortion is the very nature of sin itself – a drive towards death and non-being.” (Father Stephen Freeman)


“… God was so good that His goodness could not be contained within Himself. It poured forth “outside” Himself in a cosmic Theophany over against the face of darkness. The appearing of this ultimate Beauty caused non-being to forget itself, to renounce itself, to leave behind its own “self” (non-being), and come to be. All of creation is thus marked by this eros, by this movement of doxology, liturgy, and love. Creation is a movement of repentance out of chaos and into the light of existence. Creation is repenting from its first moment, for repentance does not require the prerequisite of sin. It simply means that we put our attention still more deeply upon Christ, to love Him much more than we have before.” (St. Maximos the Confessor, Timothy G. Patitsas)


“…beauty and truth are not different things. Truth is beautiful and beauty is truthful because they are both immediate aspects of the Love upon which all things depend. Therefore, our lived proclamation of God needs to be truthful, loving, and beautiful if it is to act as a pathway.” (Sarah Clarkson)


“Beauty is notoriously hard to pin down, and it is often spoken of together with other ultimate concerns, particularly the true and the good. Dallas Willard has even defined beauty as “goodness made manifest to the senses.”…a lack of attention to beauty in presenting a truth hampers its appeal and adoption…“Intellectual examination of our hearts…can thwart the erotic drive towards Beauty and leave us imprisoned in the self. Too often, self-analysis leaves us further mired in the chaos out of which the world was made, rather than catching us up in an eros for the Super-Divine God….We “contemplate” Goodness not through theoretical reflection but by imitating it in our practice. In other words, inspired by the life of crucifixion found within Beauty, we learn to offer our own lives for the life of the world–and, like Christ, we take that life up again, now renewed and transfigured.” (Makoto Fujimura, Timothy G. Patitsas)


“For one mesmerizing moment I became aware of the personal, present goodness thrumming in every atom of the world around me. I knew that this was the beauty whose presence I yearned to touch in the mystical beauty of those butterfly wings. I knew that I was encountering God. And I knew, with a knowledge as pervasive within me as my own heartbeat, that I was loved, loved, loved.” (Sarah Clarkson)


“The “Good” is a term that ultimately applies to God. God is good and the source of all goodness. Indeed, goodness has a place in the “philosophical trinity.” That trinity is truth, goodness, and beauty. These are the three properties of being. God alone has true being. Everything that exists does so because God gives it being. Creation thus has relative being. The purpose (telos) of all created things is to move from relative being towards greater likeness and union with God in the truth of His being. In theological terms, we speak of this as “eternal life.” (Father Stephen Freeman)


“Beauty is an all-encompassing term that is nearly synonymous with “truth” and “goodness.” “Beauty is truth / truth beauty. / That is all ye know on earth / and all ye need to know” (Keats). The Greek adjective kalos can be rendered both “good” and “beautiful.” The primary text of Orthodox spirituality is accordingly called The Philokalia, a title that translates as “love of beauty,” implying as well “love of the Good.” That Good is God himself, together with his purpose for all that he has brought into being. Imbued with the spirit of the Philokalia, nineteenth century Russian philosophers could affirm: “Beauty will save the world.” (Fr. John Breck)


“The Russian novelist Dostoevsky [+1881] famously and somewhat enigmatically once said, “Beauty will save the world.” Yet, Dostoevsky also realized that in a world filled with sin, beauty can evoke responses that fall short of any saving value. In fact, beauty can even degenerate toward sin and sensuality, as one of Dostoevsky’s greatest creations, Dmitri Karamazov, acknowledged with great anguish. Therefore, for Dostoevsky beauty itself had to be “saved” and linked to Truth and Goodness. Thus, for the Russian novelist, beauty is not simply an aesthetic concept, but one that must have a moral, ethical and spiritual dimension for it to be rightly perceived and experienced. And for Dostoevsky—as well as for not only great artists, but for the great minds of the Church—beauty is not an abstract concept or Idea. Beauty is a Person, and this Person is Christ. In Christ, Truth, Goodness and Beauty are harmoniously united. This is why Dostoevesky also spoke of the “radiant image of Christ.” (Fr. Stephen Kostoff)


“We believe in a God who is fundamentally beautiful, and the worship of Him must reflect that beauty on every level of the liturgical experience. I am not speaking here merely of beauty as a subjective quality based on aesthetic taste, though that’s important as well, but beauty in an ontological sense; beauty as goodness, beauty as truth, beauty as the underlying purpose of existence…It’s not enough to have artists who seek after beauty, truth, and goodness; we must have churches, policies, and communities that promote a long-term nurture of culture that is beautiful, truthful, and full of goodness.” (Harrison Russin, Benedict Sheehan, Makoto Fujimura)


“The Christian understanding of right and wrong should never be grounded in such shifting sands. The classical Christian “trinity” of transcendantals runs: beauty, goodness, and truth. The insistence of the Fathers is that these things are realities and not simply subjective judgments. Beauty, for example, is not “in the mind of the beholder.” By the same token, goodness if not a relative matter. It does not describe what is “good for me.” And truth is a matter of what truly is. Truth is a description of reality, not simply someone’s professed perception of reality. There is no such thing as “my truth.” (Father Stephen Freeman)


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