Truth needs beauty
In Aquinas’ extensive treatment on depression [in the Summa Theologica], he at one point suggests a number of remedies. One of them is simply the contemplation of truth, since that is “the greatest of all pleasures.”
. . . Knowing the truth is delightful. It’s beautiful. Why? Because we were made for truth, but also because the truth about things is really good. God has made a good world with a good story that will have a good ending. “And therefore in the midst of tribulations men rejoice in the contemplation of divine things and of future happiness [Aquinas].”
In other words, we can put transcendentals together by saying, “Truth is beautiful because being is good.” Because reality is so good, it’s delightful to think about and to know.
Tragically, the secular world increasingly looks for delight by trying to forget about truth, trying to disconnect the mind from reality. Just think of all the energy that has gone into the legalization of recreational marijuana and getting it into the mainstream. The whole marijuana movement – and ultimately all recreational drug use – makes sense only if reality isn’t delightful. Those who don’t see that reality is delightful seek to stimulate their passions independently of truth . . . they manipulate themselves.
So, it is of vital moral importance to highlight the beauty of reality – or, in other words, the delightfulness of truth.
First of all, to convince people that truth is the truth. People may not have any well-defined theory of the transcendentals, but they do have an instinctive, though usually unconscious, recognition that beauty and truth go together. Fr. Thomas Dubay wrote an influential book called The Evidential Power of Beauty, whose point is to show that beauty has the power to convince people of the truth. . . .
At the beginning of Evelyn Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited, two college friends are talking about Catholicism. At one point in the exchange, we read this very fine bit of dialogue:
“I suppose they try and make you believe an awful lot of nonsense.”
“Is it nonsense? I wish it were. It sometimes sounds terribly sensible to me.”
“But my dear Sebastian, you can’t seriously believe it all.”
“I mean about Christmas and the star and the three kings and the ox and the ass.”
“Oh yes, I believe that. It’s a lovely idea.”
“But you can’t believe these things because they’re a lovely idea.”
“But I do. That’s how I believe.”
Showing the beauty of truth not only draws people to the truth; it makes believers happy. It causes the faithful, who accept the truth . . . to rejoice in the truth again and thank God for their Faith.
Excerpt by John-Mark L. Miravalle, from Beauty: What It Is and Why It Matters (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2019), from Chapter 4 “Truth and Beauty,” pp. 44-46. www.SophiaInstitute.com
JOHN-MARK L. MIRAVALLE is a professor of systematic and moral theology at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Maryland. He received his doctorate in sacred theology from the Regina Apostolorum in Rome.