With the arrogance of youth, I determined to do no less than to transform the world with Beauty. If I have succeeded in some small way, if only in one small corner of the world, amongst the men and women I love, then I shall count myself blessed, and blessed, and blessed, and the work goes on. -- William Morris

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Contemplation on the Beauty of Ugliness

The relationship which unites the three transcendentals as one (goodness, truth, and beauty) is fairly well known to one who has studied philosophy or theology in any depth. It is also true that beauty is the least understood and discussed transcendental. There are obvious reasons for this, and yet, its relationship with the goodness and truth should give us an ability to discuss aspects of beauty without touching the particular issues and questions which come out of aesthetics.

As an example, we know that falsehood and evil, at their root, use and employ truth and goodness as a means to convince people to follow their ways. Heresy, it is said, is just a slice of truth taken out of context and used to subjugate and ignore many other elements of truth. We desire to do some evil, it is said, out of an inordinate desire for some limited aspect of the good, as St. Augustine beautifully demonstrated in his On Free Choice of the Will. In other words, we do not desire the evil, but some good we see in that evil, however limited that good is, which we want. The evil is in taking the good out of its proper context and setting and trying to subvert the natural order to get it. This is not to say we might not understand there is evil involved in our actions; often, we know there is. But we think the good is worth the price, and there we see consequentialism is involved in our sin.

But this then leads us to the beautiful. Can we say something similar to what we have said about truth and goodness as about the beautiful? Is ugliness merely some distorted and misappropriated beauty? Yes. Oscar Wilde was on to a great truth with Dorian Gray. As he showed us, and as this reveals to us, that which is ugly can also be beautiful. Satan did not lose his beauty -- he was beautiful, and he still is beautiful. But now, in his fallen modality, that beauty is distorted when compared to what it should be. When he is seen in that light, his ugliness is quite apparent. However, for those whose vision is impaired, Satan can still appear in the glory he had at creation, a beauty which makes him appear as an angel of light.

Understanding how even what is ugly can also beautiful should help us understand even more the allure of sin. For the sinner, they see its beauty, and that is why they fall for its charms again and again. The more the muck of sin lies upon us, the more it appears to be the norm, and so the more our vision will be impaired and incapable of seeing the ugliness of sin. No wonder the habit of sin is difficult to overcome.

Labels: , ,


  • At 2/14/2010 10:17 AM, Blogger Brendan Sammon said…

    Love the prodigal post!

  • At 2/14/2010 11:13 AM, Blogger Henry Karlson said…

    Well, I have said, when I have a thought which I think works best for here, I plan to put it here. And the "Stop Lying" post this morning led me to contemplate ugliness, and to see how it must always emerge from beauty in the same way as evil comes from the good and falsehood from truth.

    Beyond that, my contemplative thinking has been rather poor of late. My CFS and other things really have got the best of me. Headaches every day, eyes which water in pain several days a week, and worse and worse brain fog -- just makes it difficult for the spiritual heights needed for what I feel is needed to be a post on here. I want to keep it of a certain quality and spiritual level here.


Post a Comment

<< Home