Is Beauty Real?

I’d like to pass on something that has shaped my understanding of beauty greatly and could answer some possible objections to the past few posts. Here is a description of what Aquinas said about beauty:

“St. Thomas offers us another important insight into the nature of beauty when he informs us of the three elements that constitute it. Beauty, for the Angelic Doctor, includes unityproportion, and clarity. The traditional notion that beauty is “diversity within unity” is an integration of the first two of these three elements. The third, however, claritas, is the most elusive of the triad.

The American Thomistic philosopher Mortimer Adler renders the word claritas as ‘effulgence,’ a flowing out from the beautiful object to the perceiver. It is a kind of ‘radiance’ or ‘splendor’ that cannot be reduced to anything that is scientifically analyzable. Beauty confers delight through its shining clarity, this je ne sais quoi, ‘I know not what,’ that separates the beautiful from the mundane.

John Paul II entitled one of his encyclicals Veritatis Splendor, ‘The Splendor of Truth.’ It is said that truth has a certain splendor because it is a fitting and natural object for human intelligence. Its splendor is recognized in the natural way in which it greets the human intellect. Similarly, beauty has a certain splendor that flows out to the person with such a naturalness that it confers delight. Thus, Maritain can say that ‘the beautiful that is connatural to man is the beautiful that delights the intellect through the senses and through their intuition.'”


Essentially, Catholics do believe that Beauty is real, and it is an objectively existing, transcendental entity. So, no, beauty is not really in the eye of the beholder, but in some things which are beheld.

Now, I will say this: we can certainly acknowledge the objective beauty of something without necessarily liking it much. For instance, I can agree that U2 makes beautiful music (sometimes); however, I just never could really get into them.

Preference does not equal beauty. Beauty is something that is whole and something that moves us, even if certain things move us more than others. There’s a reason the homepage of this blog has a picture my wife took of the sunrise on top of Haleakala in Maui, rather than the picture she later took of the bathroom in the condo we rented for our honeymoon. One is objectively more beautiful, more pleasing, more moving, even though it was a darn fine bathroom.

Beauty is the common thread that runs through many of our experiences. It’s what makes looking at the Rockies something not altogether different from looking in my wife’s eyes. It makes hearing “Ara Batur” kind of like hearing the ocean washing against the shore. It’s what makes smelling my daughter’s hair something similar to smelling a campfire.

These experiences are not the same, but there is something in each of them that touches the same place inside me. And that something is what we call Beauty.

For the next few posts, I am simply going to offer some beautiful things with little or no commentary. Come on back, now.

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2 Responses to Is Beauty Real?

  1. Tyler says:

    I have an inquisitive reflection of this post that I’m sitting here mulling over that I’d like to share:
    Does U2 make beautiful music? Does this question warrant an objective yes or no answer? Let’s assume it does and that the answer is yes, U2 makes beautiful music. This is a non subjective fact. I will further assume that anything that is determined to be objectively beautiful contains or embodies Beauty. In other words, anything objectively beautiful literally contains or embodies “an objectively existing, transcendental entity”. Gathering other parts of the definition of Beauty or beauty in this blog, it is said that perceivers experience and/or perceive a radiance or splendor that flows from the beautiful object. This beauty “flows out to the person with such a naturalness that it confers delight”. Also Beauty/beauty or experiencing Beauty/beauty “moves us”.
    Now it seems that certain perceivers who experience or encounter the music of U2 (a beautiful object) objectively do not perceive, feel or experience this splendor, radiance, and delight. They are objectively not moved.
    If U2 makes beautiful music then it seems to follow that the music of U2 is a beautiful object that literally contains Beauty, an objectively existing, transcendental entity. I’m assuming that without this Beauty, the music of U2 could not be determined as objectively beautiful.
    For me, a question that follows from this is how any perceiver can perceive or experience the music of U2 (which has been determined objectively beautiful) and not experience Beauty, how they cannot be moved, how they cannot experience the splendor, radiance and delight that flows from the beautiful object?
    Another reflection: it seems that there is a difference between what is meant by beauty and what is meant by Beauty. It seems that the meaning of Beauty, as used in this context, is undistinguishable with what is meant by “God”. It seems that some form of the following progression is being utilized: God is an objectively existing, transcendental reality –> God is Beauty –> Beauty is an objectively existing, transcendental reality.

  2. First of all…Ham. Secondly, I think you’re right on for the most part as far as interpreting what I was saying. Perhaps my next post will answer the other part. If it doesn’t let me know. Also, Eggs.

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