The Mission

[O]ne both can and must consider the revelation of the living God, as the Christian understands it, not only from the point of view of its truth and goodness, but also from that of its ineffable beauty.  If everything in the world that is fine and beautiful is epiphaneia, the radiance and splendour which breaks forth in expressive form from a veiled and yet mighty depth of being, then the event of the self-revelation of the hidden, the utterly free and sovereign God in the forms of this world, in word and history, and finally in the human form itself, will itself form an analogy to that world’s beauty however far it outstrips it.[1]

These two sentences from Hans Urs von Balthasar have been important in the framing of this project. The (post-)modern world has lost this sense for beauty. Its attention is devoted to the superficial, to the “beautiful” only as appearance, to the artificial that merely imitates through technology and feeding expediency and impulsive behavior, to the merely sensual that stirs only emotions, to a “scientific image” that is “a mechanistic regime devoid of purpose and composed of purely particulate causes, stirred only by blind, random impulses.”[2]

Our mission with this site is to retrieve a sense of the world in which beauty is sought and found as an unveiling of the depths behind things, or what C.S. Lewis perhaps would call the “deeper magic before the dawn of time.” In contrast to a scientific image, we are open to a world in which “the mind inhabits a real Platonic order of being, where ideal forms express themselves in phenomenal reflections” while the scientific image “is a fantasy, a pale abstraction decocted from the material residues of an immeasurably richer reality.”[3] We seek to engage the various ways academic disciplines come to understand the world and show that it is more than merely a collection of objects to be studied and framed in sterilized analytic terms, more than linguistic menageries set adrift from their authorial origins. Understanding the world involves an intimate interplay between the orderly depths within reality and the active human mind engaged in imagining and understanding them. Taken together, we see that it is only when subject and object of understanding are seen as integrally united that genuine knowledge arises as a reflection of truth in the goodness of the world.

We therefore hold with von Balthasar that to reach towards the “ineffable beauty” is to participate in the Logos as both the revelation of the living God and as the source of the unfolding act of creation. We hold that the journey toward truth is one marked by nurturing reflective understanding and contemplative reasoning. Our aim is to convey the purpose of knowledge as not reductive to base material gains, or so-called economical goods; rather, we seek to articulate a view of knowledge that is holy. A view that nurtures, serves, and uplifts humankind viewed as imago dei aimed towards seeking delight in a communal understanding of creation as reflections of the God’s nature as Creator.

As theists from different disciplines, our lingua franca is articulated primarily from within Christian doctrine and metaphysics, reaching deep within tradition and seriously engaging theological perspectives that range over every era. In particular, we seek to reinstate the central role of the four-fold causal relations in reality and the act of human understanding. As such, we follow Thomas Aquinas in identifying the act of seeing beauty as involving both form and end:

Beauty and goodness in a thing are identical fundamentally; for they are based upon the same thing, namely, the form, and consequently goodness is praised as beauty. But they differ logically, for goodness properly relates to appetite (goodness being what all things desire); and, therefore, has an aspect of an end (an appetite being a kind of movement towards a thing). On the other hand, beauty relates to the cognitive faculty, for beautiful things are those which please when seen. Hence beauty consists in due proportion; for the senses delight in things duly proportioned, as in what is after their own kind — because even sense is a sort of reason, just as is every cognitive faculty. Now since knowledge is by assimilation, and similarity relates to form, beauty properly belongs to the nature of a formal cause.[4]

It is our aim within this venue to explore how beauty comes to unfold in the proper pursuit of an academic discipline in being intrinsically good as part of the goodness of creation. The theologian David Bentley Hart observes that God, in His act of creating, diffuses the goodness of humanity to every person, giving each individual in his or her being the ability or talent to engage in and develop a particular craft. The pursuit, development, and perfection of this craft becomes the good proper to that individual, as well as the desire, to achieve that as an end. Beauty arrives as a better understanding of that craft as it continues to be developed, bringing it to ever greater states of perfection. This activity of developing a craft is a synergy of invention and discovery in that “every genuine act of human creativity is simultaneously an innovation and a discovery, a marriage of poetic craft and contemplative vision that captures traces of eternity’s radiance in fugitive splendors here below by translating our tacit knowledge of the eternal forms into finite objects of reflection, at once strange and strangely familiar.”[5] Recovery of form and formal causes is essential to our approach to bridging reality and human understanding of it. We resist all modes of reductionism, foundationalism, and deconstruction-ism. We hope to find and explore in each academic discipline the “eternal forms” that are being uncovered as “finite objects of reflection.”

We also invite fellow travelers who share our vision to engage with this site and perhaps share your perspectives on how engaging with your academic discipline is understood by and revealed through beauty. It is hoped that from our small start we will build a community of Christian scholars who are willing to articulate their particular disciplines in similar modes of truth, goodness, and, above all, beauty, who are open to seeing that beauty as both originating from and returning to God as “Beauty ever ancient, ever new.” As conversations grow in such a community, we also hope that a vision of creation is developed similar to a vision Jonathan Edwards arrived at:

There is an infinite fullness of all possible good in God, a fullness of every perfection, of all excellency and beauty, and infinite happiness. And as this fullness is capable of communication or emanation … so it seems a thing amiable and valuable in itself that it should be communicated or flow forth, that this infinite fountain of good should send forth abundant streams, that this infinite fountain of light should, diffusing its excellent fullness, pour forth light all around … Thus, it is fit, since there is an infinite fountain of light and knowledge, that this light should shine forth in beams of communicated knowledge and understanding: and as there is an infinite fountain of holiness, moral excellence, and beauty, so it should flow out in communicated holiness. And that as there is an infinite fulness of joy and happiness, so these should have an emanation, and become a fountain flowing out in abundant streams, as beams from the sun.[6]

Finally, we understand Christ Jesus to be the exemplar of beauty, for it is in the being of the second person of the Trinity that the font and image of all truth and goodness in God is found, as Aquinas explains:

Species or beauty has a likeness to the property of the Son. For beauty includes three conditions, “integrity” or “perfection” since those things which are impaired are by the very fact ugly; due “proportion” or “harmony”; and lastly, “brightness” or “clarity,” whence things are called beautiful which have a bright color. The first of these has a likeness to the property of the Son, inasmuch as He as Son has in Himself truly and perfectly the nature of the Father. To insinuate this, Augustine says in his explanation: “Where — that is, in the Son — there is supreme and primal life,” etc. The second agrees with the Son’s property, inasmuch as He is the express Image of the Father. Hence, we see that an image is said to be beautiful, if it perfectly represents even an ugly thing. This is indicated by Augustine when he says, “Where there exists wondrous proportion and primal equality,” etc. The third agrees with the property of the Son, as the Word, which is the light and splendor of the intellect, as Damascene says. Augustine alludes to the same when he says: “As the perfect Word, not wanting in anything, and, so to speak, the art of the omnipotent God,” etc.[7]

In taking our Christian identity as essential, we take Jesus Christ as the source and exemplar in our human journey seeking beauty. For as the Prologue to the Gospel of John portrays Christ:

In the origin there was the Logos, and the Logos was present with God, and the Logos was god; This one was present with God in the origin. All things came to be through him, and without him came to be not a single thing that has come to be. In him was life, and this life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not conquer it … It was the true light, which illuminates everyone, that was coming into the cosmos (John 1:1-5, 9).[8]

Christ, as our ascended Mediator, High Priest, and Lord, is the exemplar of beauty in our roles as stewards and mediators of creation, as we seek wonder in the beauty of creation and glorifying God in Christ as its source. For:

God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they (Hebrews 1:1-4 NKJV).

[1] Hans Urs Von Balthasar, Glory of the Lord, vol. II, p. 11.

[2] David Bentley Hart, “The Illusionist,” New Atlantis Summer/Fall 2017 pp. 109 – 121

[3] Ibid

[4] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica I.5.4 ad 1

[5] David Bentley Hart, “A Perfect Game,” First Things August 2010

[6] Jonathan Edwards, Works 8, 452-453. Cited in Jonathan Edwards on Beauty.

[7]  Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica I.39.8.

[8] David Bentley Hart, The New Testament: A Translation, 168