The True, the Good, the Beautiful | Science, Religion, Art
I want to begin today with a scripture verse from Philippians 4:18 that reads as follows: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things and the God of peace will be with you.” Isn’t that a powerful scriptural quote?
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One of my degrees is in biology, human anatomy and physiology. I also have a degree in philosophy and a degree in theology; I love them all dearly. The reason I’m mentioning this here is because today is going to be a bit more philosophical. I’m going to take your mind, your presence, and your heart into a deeper dimension where we can consider the good, the true, the beautiful.
The good, the true, and the beautiful are transcendentals; they are properties that respond to three gifts God has given us. We would say science is the truth, art is the beauty, and religion is the goodness. These philosophical disciplines are studied under what most colleges and universities today refer to as logic, aesthetics, and ethics. We can call this moral theology.
I love teaching moral theology and discussing how to know the good, the true, and the beautiful, and how to make distinctions that are essential in life. These questions surround us in moral medical issues, political issues, and personal issues. We are surrounded by these questions, and we need to know the basis of them. If that is true, you might ask if this is a more common or a more current discipline. It goes back, as many good things do, to the ancient Greeks, even before the time of Christ.
We are made in the image and likeness of God. Radiating Him in our actions, which derive from our minds and hearts, is just a more visible expression. Christ lives in us if we so desire, and as a result, we have a deeper dimension than the rest of creation—a dimension that brings with it an intellect, a reasoning ability, and a free will. The ability to make our decisions, like it or not, means we are responsible for our decisions.
Think of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and many before: they were so correct about so much without divine revelation. How did they do it? Because God lives inside us all. We are bent towards heaven, towards the good, the true, the beautiful, even if we have never heard about them from someone else. Our whole spirit, ultimately our soul, yearns for the good, the true, the beautiful.
Fast forward to the time of two great Dominican doctors, St. Albert the Great and St. Thomas Aquinas. I highlight the Dominican since I am a Dominican, but there are many more. These two in particular took from the ancient Greeks and modified it into a then-contemporary type of reasoning and thinking. This type of reason and thought was so strong that we still study it today. We make an analogy to some problems today. We find the brilliance in the works of St. Thomas Aquinas, from the Summa Theologica and other Summas he wrote, to the other contra Gentiles and beyond.
A contemporary theologian that has brought this into the forefront of theology is a Swiss theologian named Hans Urs von Balthasar. Both Pope Emeritus Benedict and Pope Francis have called him the most important theologian in the 20th century. Von Balthasar was commissioned to the International Theological Commission. He also was a personal friend of Joseph Ratzinger, Henri de Lubac, and Karl Lehmann. These three together formed what still exists and is practiced today— the Communio. It is an excellent and intelligent theological cutting-edge publication.
Von Balthasar came up with quotes about the transcendental attributes of being, of life, and of us. Without them, would we really know the transcendental being who is God Himself? If we didn’t experience goodness, how dull would our life be? Would we make so many mistakes? Would we sit deeper into misery and have no peace not knowing that we have a choice in our actions? Would we ultimately be able to do what we consider the best of the good actions? Consider that. How powerful is free will? How powerful are the decisions we make? It’s important to work for the good, the true, and the beautiful in ourselves as well as others.
We mentioned the good. What about the true? If my life is not based on truth, where am I? I am an endless wanderer on planet Earth; it doesn’t matter whether I even get out of bed because there’s really nothing that matters, is there? That is life with no truth. Your truth and my truth. There’s no real truth.
I know there is a truth; though I might not be fully aware of what the truth is, it’s still my obligation to go find truth. We should go find the truth, read, ask intelligent people, follow wisdom, pray, get on our knees and beg God to let us know the truth because we will be bound by it. You don’t want to go through life on a low amount of fuel when truth raises us up, inspires us, makes us, gives us the strength, and the energy, and the courage to do the good, the true.
And where does it bring us? It brings us to a beautiful sense of what I call holy awe in the face of beauty, where we don’t need words. Sometimes it is as silent as your own heartbeat. That God is inside, ticking that clock, giving you that heartbeat. We wouldn’t exist without it. Why do we have it? What do we do? How many times do we thank Him for that? How do we thank Him for there being air everywhere I go? For air that I can actually breathe? It might not be the purest air, but it’s air to breathe. I have the free will to go where I need to for the good, the true, the beautiful. I’m responsible for my actions, the places I put myself, and the decisions that I make.
Now, what about the beautiful? There is a quote that says, “The artist has a special relationship to beauty. In a very true sense, it can be said that beauty is the vocation bestowed on him by the creator in the gift of artistic talent which ought to be made to bear fruit in keeping with the gospel parable of the talents.” You will remember in Matthew, Chapter 25, the talents parable where, if we’re given a gift, we automatically realize there’s a responsibility with that gift. We don’t take it and bury it and say, “It’s mine. Nobody will ever see it. Nobody will ever know. I will not touch it again. It’s mine.” How empty is that? It is truly buried, and it’s gone.
So let’s become people of the good, the true, the beautiful. You will never meet a stranger in your life if you come to them seeing Christ within them. If you meet someone and think they’re going on a path that’s not true and not beautiful, look deeper. If that is true about that individual, that individual needs you to help them turn around. Pray for the wisdom to impart that deep desire for the good, the true, the beautiful onto everyone that you meet. Make sure every day that you can say to yourself, “I believe in you because God made you, and he made you good and true and beautiful. And inside that, I see God himself.” Thank you so very much. God bless us.
Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz, OP is a Foundress and Vocations Director for the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. Her podcast “And The Truth Shall Set You Free” can be downloaded every Friday at 1:00 p.m. EST from iTunes. The podcast can be seen on YouTube at GoLEDigital.
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