The object of education is to teach us to love what is beautiful. – Plato
I recently ran across this quote on a new friends website and have been blessed to ponder it for the past few days. I recall having read somewhere in the works of St Thomas, though now I do not remember where, that beauty is the result of the order existing between things. Music, sunsets, and gardens are beautiful on account of the harmony between the voices, the coming together of light and air, clouds and gathering darkness all juxtaposed for precisely the right moment, and the gathering together of the smells, colors, and shapes of flowers. All of these beautiful moments require the a variety of elements to coincide in precisely the right way. Why would Plato, who himself ran a school, was taught by one of the wisest men in history, Socrates, only in turn to teach another of the wisest men of all time, Aristotle, claim that the goal of education was to teach us to love what we experience when things come together in precisely the right way?
The Beauty of others leads to Personal Beauty
We begin to find an answer in the writings of Plato’s student, Aristotle where he says in the Ethics that it is essential from earliest youth to train men to delight in the good if they are to have any hope of developing virtues. Virtues are good actions preformed well. For example a man might throw a baseball all day long and never do it well but the reason we continue to watch Clayton Kershaw pitch game after game is because of the coming together not only of his physical strength and technique gained over years of practice but also because of the strategy and interaction between the pitcher and his catcher to overcome a variety of players. Kershaw did not acquire the virtue of pitching and playing baseball by himself, he required the example of other players and the teaching of coaches. The other players possessed this virtue, this good – of a beautiful pitch – in practice and could be imitated; whereas the coaches possessed it speculatively and could lead Kershaw to it. And yet, neither the example of players nor the teaching of coaches would have brought about the skill of the Dodgers pitcher unless Clayton Kershaw loved the beauty of baseball.
Samuel Anders from Battlestar Galactica perfectly expresses this point when he says, “Look you wanna know the truth? I don’t really care about the
stats or the cup or the trophy or anything like that. In fact even the games aren’t that important to me. What matters to me is the perfect throw, making the perfect catch, the perfect step and block. Perfection. That’s what it’s about. It’s those moments. When you can feel the perfection of creation. The beauty the physics you know the wonder of mathematics. The elations of action and reaction and that is the kind of perfection that I want to be connected to.”
Love of the Beautiful
To love something is to desire what is good for it. To love our wife means to desire the grace of motherhood for her, to love our son is to desire that he become a virtuous man, to love our friend is to desire that he be prosperous and well. What then, does it mean to love the beautiful? What does it mean to desire what is good for the right order between things?
Much might be said to answer this question, indeed I hesitate to begin lest I circumvent the motions of my readers hearts. A professional blogger would say, “post your thoughts below” and indeed please do that, but such a statement kinda ruins the tone of my writing so I’ll continue on.
Order, the right relation between things, exists only as a product of intellect. That the sun glances off the atmosphere to mingle with the oncoming darkness, that the notes of the violin should soar achingly above the orchestra, that the second flush of roses in the season should be brightest and most fragrant, so too that men should grow to athletic, intellectual, and moral perfection are all little proofs, as it were, for the Gods existence. Each of these are ultimately signs of the Divine Wisdom which orders all things sweetly. Thus to love what is beautiful is to love the works of the Creator.
If all that is beautiful is the fruit of Divine Wisdom than God must Himself be just as, and indeed we know infinitely more, beautiful. Those then who love beauty desire that which is good for God Himself. But what good can we offer the author of all that is beautiful and good? Indeed the only good that we can offer is that we participate in , imitate as best we may, that very beauty, the Divine Creator, we have come to love.