Wednesday 20 August 2014

Beauty as an index of Godliness (and goodness)


Wells Cathedral, Somerset

Since Beauty is as aspect of The Good, then it is an index of Godliness - no less than virtue.

And the creation of Beauty is something very special.

By and large, modern Man sometimes inhabits beauty:

[Merton College, Oxford - from The Meadows]

But cannot match the beauty of the past.

Well, so be it. Modern Man is not as Good as men of the past were Good - nor is he as intelligent, nor as creative; so he cannot match such Beauty.


But what modern Man does is revealing of the state of his soul.

Modern man, sometimes from spite, but sometimes from ingrained active evil (from having come to believe that ugliness is beauty, and beauty is kitsch) does not even try to create beauty. Rather he sabotages Beauty by juxtaposing ugliness, and destroys Beauty where he dares; and makes ugliness by which he reveals the true state of his soul.

The soul-crushing vileness, the nihilism of the modern built environment - its architecture, the planning, its aspirations - is an index of the true state of modern man.

The proliferation of concrete and glass office block in drab colours, with no windows and open-plan design is a precise image of the souls of the managers, the bureaucrats, the politicians, the planners and architects who designed and built it - just as the Cathedrals and Colleges of medieval England are an exact image of the souls of those who wanted and made them.


Modern Beauty is not so rich, deep, intense or satisfying as ancient Beauty - how could it be? - there is at best in our work a lightness, a sunny-coolness, a child-like naivete...  yet a society lives in the creation of Beauty and there is a perennial freshness in any genuine and heart-felt attempt to Make Beautiful Things whether they are pictures, movies, poems, stories, pieces of music, of buildings.

[Civic Centre, Newcastle upon Tyne]

I find it nauseating that the anti-Good inhabitants, the thieving, monopolizing colonists of ancient and religious Beauty, appropriate and exploit it for their ugly, lying and wicked programmes. 

When the secular Leftist occupiers of the English Cathedrals and Colleges, built in the past and on devout Christianity, advertise their destructive agendas using the prestige and awesomeness of Christian creativity; they boast of that which they despise in order the better to subvert traditional values and true religion. 

They do not own Beauty, they are not even trying to make Beauty - they are a bunch of pirates, looters, carpetbaggers; who regard Beauty as - at best - a resource to be mined; and at worst and increasingly as a backdrop to gleeful vandalism. 


The Social Pathologist said...

Beauty is a good but it is not Caritas

Adam g. said...

How could anyone possessing those beautiful old buildings think they needed to be "relevant"?

Bruce Charlton said...

@SP. And your point is...?

Joel E. said...

Buildings can only be beautiful if they possess emergent order. There must be an internal complexity at a microscopic level that is allowed to inform the greater whole.

Even ugly buildings can be "good." A wrinkled old man is ugly, but he is not the evil sort of ugly, like he might achieve with plastic surgery to fight the natural decay.

Similarly, buildings can be ugly through the fault of poverty or age, but the real sort of evil ugliness in a building can only be designed. And generally it's an ugliness where natural orders have been suppressed in the service of some, mostly empty, overall design.

Modern buildings mostly seem to say that "big is beautiful" and "scale is everything." And the only part of the design that they pay attention to is the largest. Of course, that is a fundamental misunderstanding of beauty that has its obvious consequences.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JE - Hmmm. It is not necessary, or possible, to produce a definition of Beauty. And I don't think ugly buildings are 'good' in the sense I mean - because ugliness is not aesthetic, nor is it a positive quality - but more like anti-Beauty - or the defacement, marring or destruction of Beauty.

The Social Pathologist said...


My point is that the like between Beauty and Godliness is not always there.

Evil too, can cloak itself in beauty.

Alex Matan said...

@SP. Beauty, Truth, and Goodness always go together. Caritas (Goodness) is always true and it is always beautiful. It can embody joy or sorrow, be it a mother holding a newborn or Mary holding her crucified Son (e.g. Michaelangelo's Pieta).

Roger Scruton's documentary, Why Beauty Matters, captures a lot of the problems of modern art.

As for defining beauty, architect Christopher Alexander has done quite a bit of work in this area with his The Nature of Order.

Bruce Charlton said...

@SP - I think this is actually an example of making a mistake about Beauty - or perhaps of over generalizing from superficial features of Beauty.

A relevant comparison would be to assume a man is virtuous because he leads a devout Christian life and does many good works.

His heart may be rotten, his motivations wicked; he may be performing good works and faking devoutness for self-gain, or simply because he lives in a society or subgroup where these are encouraged and he is a weak and passive individual.

So we can err in attributing Beauty - but Beauty is always Good.

However Beauty is not the whole of Good - and neither is virtue nor truth.