Much of the content is based on my reflections on the work of Hans Urs von Balthasar. Balthasar was one of the forerunners in reemphasizing the theological and philosophical importance of beauty—and referencing it to the Trinity. This chapter captures just a few of his many insights in his seven volumes on the subject (The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics). A large amount of the following material is comprised of direct quotes from his writings, or those of Aidan Nichols and Edward Oakes, two scholars who have majored on summarizing his theological legacy.
Clark Pinnock, in his book The Flame of Love, observes that, “hindrances to faith in God seldom have to do with a lack of proofs. Hindrances to faith have more to do with the quality of our theism. Theology does not have to do not with whether God is, but with who God is. Theology gains credibility when we have a doctrine of God that one can fall in love with.” For this reason Balthasar advocates, as we will see below, the restoration of beauty as an essential plank of Christian apologetics.
Balthasar believes that beauty is the most neglected of the three transcendentals (goodness, truth, and beauty), and needs to be recovered if the Gospel is going to effectively penetrate a post-modern culture. Beauty evokes a response ahead of our intellectual barriers and is therefore an immediate and self-authenticating apologetic. Our task is to set forth the gospel and our theology in such a way that it impacts someone like a great painting by one of the masters, or a symphony by Mozart. It hits us without any cognitive mediation. When we do explore it intellectually, its greatness seems inexhaustible, as with great art and music.
Various dimensions of Balthsars approach to Beauty are explored in the article, including the relationship between beauty and justice and the highest manifestation of beauty—the cross of Christ. I then give some ways in which Balthasars’ insights might be used to advance the mission of the church in a postmodern culture.
The Trinity & Beauty
The following is not intended to stand alone. It is designed as the basis for reflection and group discussion on the application of trinitarian theology to ministry, mission, and contemporary issues. Much of the content is based on my reflections on the work of Hans Urs von Balthasar. Balthasar was one of the forerunners in reemphasizing the theological and philosophical importance of beauty—and referencing it to the Trinity. This chapter captures just a few of his many insights in his seven volumes on the subject (The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics). A large amount of the following material is comprised of direct quotes from his writings, or those of Aidan Nichols and Edward Oakes, two scholars who have majored on summarizing his theological legacy.
This paper is one of a series of twelve, each using the Trinity as a paradigm to guide us in ministry and mission. Tapes are available that will fill in some of the gaps left by the sometimes rather haphazard assembly of the material.
My sources are listed in the bibliography. However, as this is not designed as a formal document (it began with my assembling random notes recorded over a period of time, which also explains some of the occasional repetition), I have not done any extensive referencing. The quotations can be referenced in the sources listed.
I have not included material from Thomas Dubay’s book The Evidential Power of Beauty (Ignatius, 1999), as I have not read it yet. However, I hope to do so shortly and to include reflections from Dubay and other authors as this paper is expanded and reworked into its final form. Any comments or additional sources you can add would be appreciated.
A quote from John G. Stackhouse Jr. in Christianity Today magazine (January 7, 2002) will set the scene: “The very idea of beauty makes many sophisticates cringe nowadays, it seems utterly out of touch with postmodern ambiguity, since the notion of beauty implies absolute standards,” which, of course, our society has now abandoned. Stackhouse continues, “Even the Encyclopedia Britannica affirms that ‘almost anything might be seen as beautiful by someone or from some point of view.’ Yet, despite the difficulty of defining beauty, the concept nonetheless is making a comeback.”
The purpose of this paper is to present an overview of how Balthasar and others are taking advantage of this “comeback” to advance the Kingdom of God.
As believers, we view the Trinity as the fountainhead of all that is beautiful. Eternal beauty, which theologically is called “glory,” resides within the Godhead. The beauty that we see in creation is simply an epiphany of that which is an eternal attribute of the Trinity. “The world gains its beauty from above; from divine love, which for its part through the reflection of the Trinitarian persons, one in another, is the archetype of all beauty” (Balthasar).
However, as the Son is the “visibility of the Godhead,” the depths of beauty that lie concealed in the Godhead are revealed to us through him (in incarnation, death, resurrection, and in his work as creator—“all things were made through him,” Col 1:16). “The Son is the focus, not only of truth but also of beauty in God. He is the Father’s art. The Father has given expression in the Son to his own being. The Son, indeed, is beautiful both as the perfect resemblance of the Father and in relation to all the beauty that is in His image. The world possesses its full goodness and beauty only in the Son.”
Clark Pinnock in his book The Flame of Love observes that “hindrances to faith in God seldom have to do with a lack of proofs. Hindrances to faith have more to do with the quality of our theism. Theology does not have to do not with whether God is, but with who God is. Theology gains credibility when we have a doctrine of God that one can fall in love with.” For this reason Balthasar advocates, as we will see below, the restoration of beauty as an essential plank of Christian apologetics.
He believes that beauty is the most neglected of the three transcendentals (Goodness, Truth, and Beauty), and needs to be recovered if the Gospel is going to effectively penetrate a post-modern culture. Our cities, our politics, our relationships, and even our church buildings and theology, are often ugly, while our message is that which should radiate the glory of creation and redemption.
In addition, the recovery of beauty is essential in the recovery of worship. Augustine laments his wasted opportunities with the words, “Too late did I love thee, O fairness, so ancient yet so new” (Confessions 10:27). But then goes on to add, “When I love God, I love the beauty of bodies, the rhythm of movements, the shining of eyes, the embraces, the feelings, the scents, the sounds of all this protean creation. When I love you, my God, I want to embrace it all, for I love you with all my senses in the creations of your love. In all the things that encounter me, you are waiting for me” (Augustine, Confessions, X, 6, 8).
“The theologian’s prime task is to lead others to see the balance, proportion, and tension within the form of Christ and then to be enraptured by the splendor. The enrapturing vision of the splendor of Christ’s form is the basic moment of self-verification in Christian theology. Theology, therefore, must be concerned much less with showing man that Christ offers him what he wants, and much more concerned with showing man that he cannot help but worship the splendor of what he sees” (Balthasar).
Theologically, it is as if the beautiful is the doorway into the welcoming presence of God. “Dante, and many others, repeatedly describe beauty as a ‘greeting.’ At the moment one comes into the presence of something beautiful, it greets you. In its etymology, ‘welcome’ means that one comes with the well-wishes or consent of the person or thing already standing on that ground. It is as though the welcoming thing has entered into, and consented to, your being in its midst” (Scarry, 25–26).
In these reflections on the Trinity and beauty, six areas will be highlighted. The sixth draws on the work of Elaine Scarry. As it concerns the relationship between beauty and justice, and as justice is such a crucial issue in the 21st century, the section is considerably longer than the first five.
1. Beauty evokes a response ahead of our intellectual barriers. It is therefore an immediate and self-authenticating apologetic.
“In order to understand, the [human] spirit must entrust itself to the loving intimations which only lead us to certainty when the intellect for a time renounces its argumentiveness” (Balthasar).
Our task is to set forth the Gospel and our theology in such a way that it impacts someone like a classic painting by one of the masters or a symphony by Mozart. It hits us without any cognitive mediation. When we do explore it cognitively, its greatness seems inexhaustible. This is true of great art and music, and even more so of the Gospel.
“Beauty…causes us to gape and suspend all thought” (Scarry, 29). It has the capacity to slip past our cognitive defenses and pierce the heart. A Christian leader in India was approached by a Brahmin who had been exposed to the Gospel with the words, “How do I get this beautiful vision?”
When Cyril—later to become the great apostle to the Slavs, creating the Cyrilic script—and Methodius went to St. Sophia and heard the liturgy, it was as if they were transported to heaven. The art, the music, the icons, and the singing all combined together to impact them with the loveliness of Christ. Beauty was for them an immediate and self-authenticating apologetic.
The gospels do not seek to prove anything. They simply set forth the beauty of the Word made flesh. If we do the same, by our lives and lips, people will be captivated by the loveliness of Jesus before their argumentative intellect kicks in and their inherited hermeneutic of suspicion is aroused. It evokes a response ahead of our intellectual barriers.
However, as with great art or music, once they are impacted by beauty, we then have an opportunity to explain it. And because their hearts are now open, our “apologetics” only unpack what they have already seen and heard. The same is true of an opera aria in Italian. We don’t know the words, the plot, or the characters, but the beauty of the aria has impacted us. Now when the rest is explained, including the complexity of the music, it only increases our appreciation of the depth—of what we intuitively knew when we first heard it.
“Something is beautiful only because the truth and goodness of the depths of reality itself are manifested through it. The light of faith also has the capacity to break forth from within the revelatory form of the beautiful. Christian doctrine circles around two themes: The incarnation of the divine glory and the consequent raising up of humanity to share in its radiance. The humanity of Jesus gives out a radiance of beauty, a glory that is intended to draw men to its source. The beauty contained in the form of revelation is itself compelling. A revelation of glory needs no justification but itself” (Balthasar).
Unfortunately, in our evangelism, we have tended to major on rationalism and logical arguments. While we should by no means neglect these, the transfiguring beauty of “Christ clothed in his Gospel” needs to be recovered as a self-authenticating apologetic (Torrance).
2. Beauty acts as the guardian of the other two transcendentals, Goodness and Truth.
“Owing to the interconnection of the three transcendentals: the True, the Good, and the Beautiful, neglecting the third member of this trio can only be gravely damaging to the flourishing of the other two. Yet, precisely this is what has transpired” (Balthasar).
The Good (the useful, how we should live) and the True (how we should think, our cognitive capacity) are both guarded by the Beautiful. The Good can otherwise simply become the utilitarian. Without doubt, both Stalin and Hitler believed that their draconian policies were for the ultimate “good” of their people. Tragically, they were blind to the true and the beautiful, which would have informed them otherwise.
In addition, the True has been uncoupled from the Good and the Beautiful and reduced to the “flatlands” of naturalism. The Good and the Beautiful should help shape our epistemology, and it is to the detriment of our culture that they were eclipsed by a naked rationalism. The philosopher Michael Polanyi believed that this distorted approach to truth is what inexorably led to the two world wars of the 20th century.
Balthasar’s belief was that, “Beauty by its very nature always elicits a response. One simply cannot experience a form as beautiful without responding, without assenting. We may doubt, and often do, the inherent goodness and truth of the being of the world but we cannot do so with beauty. Beauty brings with it a self-evidence that it enlightens without mediation. Only the perception of the beautiful is so direct as to banish all doubt. The Truth and Goodness of the depths of reality are manifested in Beauty.”
3. The highest expression of beauty is sacrificial love.
If the cross is the highest expression of sacrificial love, it is also the highest expression of beauty. This is why the glory of Christ, his beauty as the only begotten of the Father, is set forth in all its radiance by John in his suffering and death (Jn 17:1–5). His glory was his cross, which is why the only safe thing to worship is sacrificial love.
Balthasar comments, “We sometimes note of a great work of art, its power to touch and even alter the lives who come into contact with it. Such power Paul ascribes to Christ, not only in His resurrection but also in His Cross. Beauty is disclosure of the depths of being. And beauty is disinterested self-giving [manifested most vividly in the cross].”
He then adds, “There is in the time of the Church, no historically influential theology which is not in itself a reflection of the glory of God. Only beautiful theology, that is, only theology which, grasped by the glory of God is able itself to transmit its rays, has the chance of making any impact in human history by conviction and transformation. It is the beauty of suffering love which above all strikes and overwhelms the observer.”
4. Beauty points to the transcendental reality that stands behind it (Romans 1—the creation reveals the Creator)
God’s glory is analogous to beauty in the created world. The beauty of a butterfly or an Everest, are theophanies—reflecting the beauty of the creator.
Scarry writes that someone or something remains silently present in the beautiful and “even conveys a sense of the ‘newness’ or ‘newbornness’ of the entire world.” Beauty then becomes a signpost pointing away from itself towards a deeper transcendental reality (Scarry, 10, 22).
“When being loses its intrinsic radiance, transcendental beauty is lost to view and aesthetics can survive only as a science. However, even as a science it did not last long. Now beauty is regarded as a totally subjective quality, if it exists at all. However, the gracious loveliness which exists in creation and escapes exact scientific characterization still remains internal to the experience of art even in a disenchanted world. It remains a hook with which the angel draws the bleeding heart towards eternity” (Balthasar).
“Beautiful things carry greetings from other worlds within them” (Scarry, 47). Beauty calls out for attention that has a destination beyond itself. The lie, that the universe is simply the shrapnel from the big bang, is undermined by the intrinsic beauty to be found throughout the cosmos. Despite the fact that naturalism rules the day, Balthasar, as well as others like the apostle Paul, would urge us not to draw back. Instead, we must advocate that “beauty calls out for attention that has a destination beyond itself”—and inform our culture of wherein that destination lies.
5. Beauty’s negation—the ugly—points to the need for the cross —(This is dealt with in detail in the paper on Trinity and Atonement)
In addition to beauty, we are also vividly aware that ugliness and defilement also abound on planet earth as a result of man’s rebellion. However, such aberrations are not intrinsic to the original creation, which was “good” and beautiful in every respect.
The Lutheran theologian, Jakob Hamann, presents the world as God’s poem. “Creation shimmers and gleams with the divine Shekinah as man in the image of God is the highest word of the poet God. The fall of man made chaos, however, out of the ordered poem. Only if the fragments are reassembled and given a destiny can man and nature be healed. The embodiment of the divine Word in human flesh and the incorporation of the world into His divine life are the fulfillment of God’s poetry in creating.”
Homer and Augustine both see beauty as “lifesaving.” Augustine described it as “a plank amid the waves of the sea.” Scarry observes, “Beauty quickens. It adrenalizes. It makes the heart beat faster. It makes life more vivid, animated, living, [and] worth living.” Perhaps this is why the demonic always seeks to deface and debase the beautiful—it is life-affirming.
Balthasar continues, “But what of the Trinitarian Son made man? Is he even, or perhaps especially in his passion, to be called beautiful? Reviewing the efforts of the Church Father’s to come to terms with the conflicting prophecies (‘More fair than all the sons of man’—Psalm 45, ‘No beauty or comeliness’—Is. 53), Augustine asserts that Christ’s veiling of his beauty was inspired by a desire to make the ugly beautiful by His love. The Church, moved by the deformity of the Crucified, confesses her guilt and becomes beautiful. Christ is the ugly root from which the beautiful tree of the Church arises.”
“All beauty belongs to the Christ in whom all truth is grounded. More particularly, it’s related to His eternal sacrifice—that total self giving from which the creation of the world proceeds.” Because the Son is always exhaustively emptying his love upon the Father, to then assume the role of “the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world” is only natural to his nature. It is out of this sacrificial kenosis, this self-emptying, that the creation of the world proceeds. God empties himself by lavishing his love on the creation before he empties himself by lavishing his love in incarnation. As he is the Lamb slain before the creation of the world, then the creation itself must be generated out of this same self-giving love. The only way, therefore, for humankind to live appropriately in such a cosmos is by pouring one’s self out in sacrificial love towards God and neighbor” (Balthasar).
6. Beauty becomes a bridge into the realm of justice (from Elaine Scarry’s On Beauty and Being Just)
Scarry does not write from a biblical perspective, but her work has powerful theological overtones. For those of us who see the Kingdom of God being “justice…in the Holy Spirit” (Ro 14:17), beauty can significantly help us in a number of ways. Several are listed below (covered in On Beauty and Being Just), to which we can add our own biblical insights.
Beauty assigns value to creation (persons, ecology, animals, and objects), motivating us to both protect and guard them.
Simone Wiel writes, “The love of the beauty of the world…involves…the love of all the truly precious things that bad fortune can destroy.” And because something beautiful creates within us the desire to protect and treasure it, it also develops within us the same impulse to do likewise when we see “that which bad fortune [has] destroyed”—the street child, the leper, human dignity, environmental integrity, etc. All that today we categorize under the umbrella of “injustice.”
The sense of the value that we automatically confer on a beautiful person, object, or landscape should be the “prelude to acts that will add to the beauty already in the world.” This should also naturally flow into repairing an injury or a social injustice (Scarry, 75). Beauty prepares us for justice. Something that is perceived to be beautiful—and beauty it would seem is often fragile and easily lost—generates within us the desire to protect it.
Beauty ignites our creative drive, and justice needs to be created where it does not exist.
“Beauty brings copies of itself into being. It makes us draw it, take photographs of it, or [want] to describe it to other people” (Scarry, 4).
Beauty prompts begetting or creating, as of children, poems, paintings, gardens, and laws. The desire to create what does not exist, or duplicate what does, can again be put to the service of justice. Just and fair social arrangements are beautiful and the aesthetic impulse within us motivates us to create them where they do not yet exist.
Beauty inspires in most people the urge to create, even if that which we create is only verbal (“Look, it’s so beautiful”). However, in most of us this urge goes far beyond a spontaneous response. It may be an urge to write a love letter, to paint a seascape, to “create” a poem, to sculpt a figurine, to plant a rose bush, etc. Scarry builds on this, pointing out that “Because beauty repeatedly brings us face to face with our own powers to create, we know where and how to locate those powers when a situation of injustice calls on us to create [a structure for its elimination]. Beauty, with its ability to produce within us the urge to create, also highlights our duty to create just social structures where they are not yet established” (Scarry, 115).
Beauty introduces us to the state of certainty and becomes a gateway into truth. (Truth can then dispel injustice, which can only reside in deception and lies.)
According to Balthasar, beauty is the guardian of the both the true and the good. Scarry writes, “The beautiful person or thing incites in us the longing for truth because it provides by its compelling ‘clear discernibility’ and introduction to the state of certainty…What is beautiful is in league with what is true because truth abides [with beauty] in the immortal sphere. It creates…the aspiration for enduring certitude” (Scarry, 31, 53). Beauty therefore becomes a potential bridge to both truth and justice (or in Balthasar’s categorization, “goodness”).
Beauty exerts a pressure towards distribution, which in itself is an attribute of justice.
Throughout her work, Scarry speaks of the “pressure towards distribution” that seems to be an attribute of beauty. In other words, when we see something beautiful, there arises within us a natural impulse to share it, paint it, photograph it, capture it, and, if possible, “distribute” it in the sense of making it available to others. “The compatibility between this distributive feature [of beauty] and a turn toward justice will not be hard to discover, since the language of ‘distribution’ is already an abiding part of the way we every day think and speak about justice” (Scarry, 91).
“This impulse towards…distribution…is, as both museums and postcards [and art galleries] verify, the most common response to beauty” (Scarry, 6). This in itself is a signpost towards justice, which often involves the distribution of something that others do not have—human rights, food, medicine, etc. Beauty produces in us the desire to share what we are seeing with other people, and this is an impulse towards justice.
Beauty has an etymological connection with justice in several languages.
Scarry points out that the word “fairness” is “used both in referring to loveliness of countenance and in referring to the ethical requirement for ‘being fair,’ playing fair,’ and ‘fair distribution.’” She also points out that in the etymology of several European languages, “fair,” as in justice, comes from “fair,” as in beautiful—and not the other way round. Even more intriguingly, fair in German, “fegen,” is connected to the German verb “fay,” or “the transitive and intransitive verb meaning ‘to pact.’ ‘Pact’ in turn—the making of a covenant or treaty or agreement—is from the same root as ‘pax, pacis,’ the word for peace” (Scarry, 92). It is often said that there can be no peace without justice, and the connection of the words in German links the concepts of beauty, justice, and peace.
Beauty is available to sensory perception in a way that justice is normally not.
“Even when beauty and justice are both in the world, beauty performs a special service because it is available to sensory perception in a way that justice normally is not. It is this availability to the senses that is…one of the key features of beauty. The equality of beauty, its pressure toward distribution, resides not just in its interior feature of symmetry but in its generously being present, widely present, to almost all people at almost all times—as in the mates that they choose to love, their children, the birds that fly through their garden, the songs they sing—a distributional availability that comes from its being external, present (‘prae-sens’), standing before the senses” (Scarry, 103, 108, 109).
“Of the three transcendentals, Truth, Goodness, and Beauty; Beauty is the most embodied, the most incarnate; the one that is virtually inseparable from matter—from the created, temporal, mutable realm. It is precisely because the Logos has been embodied and is incarnate that beauty provides the most direct access to the revelation of that incarnation. Something is beautiful not because it is loved, no; it is loved because it is beautiful. And that is absolutely crucial” (Balthasar).
Beauty has the ability to remove our self-centeredness—the root of injustice.
Scarry reinforces the link between beauty and justice by pointing out the ability of the beautiful to remove our self-centeredness. “At the moment we see something beautiful, we undergo a radical decentering. Beauty, according to Weil, requires us ‘to give up our imaginary position as the center…A transformation then takes place at the very roots of our [beings]’…When we come across beautiful things…they act like small tears in the surface of the world that pull us through to some vaster space. We find we are standing in a different relation to the world than we were a moment before. We cease to stand even at the center of our own world. We willingly cede our ground to the thing that stands before us” (Scarry, 112).
Scarry connects this radical decentering we undergo in the presence of the beautiful with an observation by Iris Murdoch that “anything which alters consciousness in the direction of unselfishness…is to be connected with virtue.” Murdoch then specifies the single best or most “obvious thing in our surroundings which is an occasion for ‘unselfing’ and that is what is popularly called beauty.” For those of us who are believers, our vision of the beauty of the Lord produces an even more radical decentering than that of our perception of the beauty of the creation.
In the presence of the beautiful, Murdoch says that we feel “adjacent, or lateral (or even subordinate)” whereas before we had postured ourselves, usually unconsciously, at the center of our world. However, instead of producing resentment, our sense of being decentered or “lateral” is actually connected with a state of acute pleasure. Much to our surprise, “our own adjacency….is pleasure-bearing.” Which of course reminds us of the words of Jesus “that he who loses his life shall find it.”
She continues, “This seems to be a gift in its own right, and a gift as a prelude to, or precondition of, enjoying fair relations with others. It is clear that an ethical fairness which requires ‘a symmetry of everyone’s relation’ will be greatly assisted…by a state of delight in [our] own lateralness.”
Murdoch goes on to say that the interior “space” formally “in the service of protecting, guarding, advancing the self (or its ‘prestige’) is now free to be in the service of something else” (Scarry, 113).
Beauty is distributed throughout the natural world—reminding us that its companion, justice, should be also.
In Scarry’s judgement, the fact that beauty is equally distributed throughout the natural world (perhaps we should say extravagantly distributed)—except where man has raped and polluted the earth, and left it scarred and ugly—is yet another pointer to the fact that beautiful social structures (justice, human rights and dignity, equal distribution, etc.) should also be equally distributed.
Again it is not hard to find parallels in the teaching of Jesus where he speaks of the sun rising on both the evil and the good (and what is more beautiful than light?) and sends the rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous—and in the arid lands of the Middle East rain is beautiful indeed. The equal distribution of beauty in the natural world is intended to be reflected in social structures that provide equal distribution (justice) in the human world.
Beauty and justice both share the quality of symmetry.
The aspect of the beautiful that has been most steadily singled out over the centuries, according to Scarry, is that of “symmetry.” There are other aspects, of course, but symmetry seems to be one central feature to the dimension of beauty in all cultures. Scarry describes it as “The single most enduringly recognized attribute.” And when we move from the sphere of aesthetics to the sphere of justice, “Symmetry remains key, particularly in accounts of distributive justice and fairness as ‘as a symmetry of everyone’s relation to one another.’ It was this shared feature of beauty and justice that Aristotle saluted in the figure of the cube, equidistant in all directions.”
“The connection between beauty as ‘fairness’ and justice as ‘fairness,’ using the widely accepted definition by John Rawls of fairness as a ‘symmetry of everyone’s relations to each other’” further underscores the way the two are interwoven (Scarry, 93). “Beautiful things give rise to the notion of distribution…to fairness, not just in the sense of loveliness of aspect but in the sense of ‘symmetry of everyone’s relation to one another’” (Scarry, 95).
As mentioned above, Aristotle said that justice is a perfect cube because it has equality in all directions. The history of redemption (in itself a beautiful thing, climaxing with the glory of the cross) begins and ends with a cube. The first manifestation is the most holy place in the Tabernacle, constructed in the shape of a cube, where the priest would see the beauty of the Shekinah above the Ark of the Covenant. The last manifestation is the New Jerusalem, shaped like a cube, and radiating with the glory, or beauty, of God and representing the redeemed creation. Both were beautiful, and both, with their “equality in all directions,” speak of the conjunction of beauty and justice achieved by God’s redemptive action within history.
From ancient times there has been a conviction that “equality is the heart of beauty, that equality is pleasure-bearing, and that…equality is the morally highest and best feature of the world…. Equality has been identified with beauty” simply because “beautiful things please by proportion…in visible forms” (Scarry, 97).
“It is the very symmetry of beauty which leads us to…[discover] the symmetry that eventually comes into place in the realm of justice. Beautiful things…hold steadily visible the manifest good of equality and balance,” motivating us to extend such equality into all areas of human life, and thus to be a constant signpost towards justice (Scarry, 97). Beauty “calls out for its missing fellow; it presses on us to bring its counterpart into existence, [and] acts as a lever in the direction of justice” (Scarry, 100). “Beauty is a call;” it admonishes us to establish its counterpart—justice (Scarry, 109).
Beauty and justice both bestow on us the gift of peace.
The artist Matisse “never hoped to save lives. But he repeatedly said that he wanted to make paintings so serenely beautiful that when one came upon them, suddenly all problems would subside” (Scarry, 33). Beauty is a gift of grace simply because it has this capacity to set the heart at peace. The splendor of a sunset over the ocean, or the flight of geese overhead in perfect formation, has the unique capacity to still the mind and quiet the heart. Conversely, the absence of beauty—ugliness, pollution, abuse, and hatred—agitate the mind and provoke us to fight against them. Injustice and all its bedfellows are an aberration that threaten the beauty and proportionality of the world, and instinctively provoke us to overcome them.
“Beauty is pacific: its reciprocal salute to continued existence, its pact, is indistinguishable from the word for peace. And justice stands opposed to injury; ‘injustice’ and ‘injury’ are the same word” (Scarry, 107).
Scarry affirms that “something beautiful confers on the perceiver the gift of life.” It vivifies us and raises us to a new appreciation of the wonder of existence. “In addition the perception of the beautiful in a person or object confers on the object [we behold] the gift of life. The pacific quality of beauty comes in part from [this] reciprocal, life-granting pact.” The beautiful confers a richer perception of life on the beholder, and in turn the beholder confers on the object value, protection, and “the gift of life” (Scarry, 69). “Each ‘welcomes’ the other; each—to return to the word’s original meaning—‘comes in accordance with [the] other’s will” (Scarry, 90). And, of course, the gift of life is that which justice is designed to protect.
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