Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Three Platonic Ideals: Beauty — Martin

In November, I introduced the three Platonic ideals of Goodness, Beauty and Truth. These three ideals have slipped in and out of fashionable thought, and yet their centrality remains. As I mentioned in my blog on Goodness (November 14th) the one of these three virtues most neglected by the church, in recent years, has been beauty. This has not always been so.

During the Renaissance and the Reformation, the church (first the Catholic and later the Protestant churches) had great influence over painting, sculpture and music. Consider Biblical themes in the paintings of such masters as Giotto, Raphael, Michelangelo, El Greco, and Rembrandt. Consider the spirituality behind the music of such composers as Handel and Bach.

Today, we are beginning to again acknowledge the importance of celebrating all of God’s creation, and that the beauty of that creation tells us much about the creator. Similarly, we are learning that we are called on to imitate God — not merely in his Goodness and Truth, but also in his creation of Beauty. Eugene Peterson (author of The Message) in reflecting on Psalm 29 in his sermon "The Beauty of Holiness" said, "Beauty is our sensory access to holiness" (Image #29). He went on to say, "Beauty is the term we apply to these hints of transcendence, these perceptions that there is more going on here than we can account for."

My reflection on Beauty, from my poetry collection Poiema, follows:

Let Beauty Come

Psalm 90:17

Let beauty rest on us like a shaft of light
penetrating to the dimness of our forest floor
our eager green turns toward it

Let beauty come like rain for Hopkins’ roots
splattering exuberantly on our disappointments
making right what we could never foresee

Awaken our hibernating senses so we find
what was hiding & what was on its way
The affirmation of blessing

Let beauty grow in the work of our hands
not our own but truest beauty
growing in the work of our hands

As Peterson has said, "We are in a world at play to the glory of God, in the beauty of holiness."

D.S. Martin is Music Critic for Christian Week; his new poetry book, Poiema (Wipf & Stock), and his chapbook So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed are available at

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