Ravished by Beauty, by Belden Lane (Review Essay)

Belden Lane’s Ravished by Beauty: The Surprising Legacy of Reformed Spirituality (Oxford 2011) is a lovely book. It is a book that uncovers beautiful dimensions to the Reformed tradition. It is accessible, winsome, personal and inviting. Lane does a particularly good job of summarizing some often overlooked and valuable aspects of the Reformed tradition. He dispels many stereotypes about this tradition, especially in its Puritan manifestations. This is a book that I might well use in class to introduce students to the discipline of theological aesthetics in a Reformed context.  

If I were to use it in class, however, I would have to point out that this is also a fundamentally incoherent book. Lane is trying simultaneously to embrace and to reject the Reformed tradition, which creates problems for him throughout. He freely admits to being “at best, a reluctant Calvinist” [p.57] who is “repulsed” by doctrines of divine wrath and predestination [p.207]. This does not invalidate the book, but it does mean that readers need to be attentive.

What is Thinking Beautifully?

What does it mean to think beautifully? Perhaps it means that our thoughts are elegantly expressed. Perhaps it means that our thoughts are focused on the nature of beauty. And perhaps it means that beauty can be a lens for all thinking about whatever is true and whatever is good.

We hope to express things beautifully on this website, and we will certainly be thinking a great deal about the nature of beauty. But the reason for the site’s name is centered on the last possibility: that beauty can be a lens for all thinking about whatever is true and whatever is good, and because it can function as such a lens for all real knowledge it can also be a meeting place for multi-disciplinary conversation among Christian scholars. Engineers and theologians, mathematicians and poets, historians and chemists may not share much in the way of language or method, but all those disciplines and many more take beauty into account.

Form, Beauty, and Euclid’s Elements (part 1)

I want to begin exploring, or perhaps recovering, a way of understanding the discipline of mathematics as one that integrally involves a perspective of beauty, not a “beauty cold and austere, like that of a sculpture,” (Bertrand Russell) but a beauty that irradiates from the form of anything that can be understood as having being. This view that I will articulate will be one which sees the development of any subject-matter as a dynamic interplay of human understanding and the rendering and communication of knowledge. I will focus, as my case study, on what is considered the earliest of paradigmatic works of mathematics: Euclid’s Elements. As we will see, I consider this as an exemplary work for demonstrating how form and beauty underlie mathematical reasoning.