When we behold something truly beautiful – whether it is something that we visibly see or something we hear or experience – it is transcendent, touching not only the sense by which we perceive it, but also our minds, hearts, and souls. This is true beauty, for beauty, being ordered to the divine, touches our being on all levels. That is why the beauty that we experience often leaves us hungry for more – hungry for a desire to be consumed by beauty. By this beauty, God touches the human soul and draws us to Himself, as St. Augustine says in his Confessions: “O Lord, our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.”
True beauty transcends language, culture, and time. There are things created by civilizations hundreds or even thousands of years ago that still amaze us today – consider the Pyramids of Giza, Michelangelo’s Pietà, or a Bach violin concerto, to name just a few. Deep within the human heart lies a longing for the attainment of this beauty, since “beauty is the visible form of the good” (from John Paul II’s “Letter to Artists”), and that good – the ultimate good – is God. This beauty not only transcends our perception and senses, but it transcends our entire being, for as we partake in beauty either by sensing and experiencing it or by creating it through art or begetting life, we partake in a mystery greater than ourselves; indeed, we partake in a good greater than ourselves. Through beauty, we more fully and perfectly manifest Him whose image we have been created in; we actualize and realize what we were created for as we partake in God’s own goodness, and in that lies the transcendence of true beauty.
In a society that is very much unable to be moved by logic or rational thinking, beauty remains one of the last means of conversion and evangelization. It is the champion of the natural law, for the natural law is ordered toward beauty, goodness, and truth; it is ordered toward God. Having been created in the image and likeness of God, our essence is fundamentally good. However, by acting in sinful ways that are contrary to that good, we come see the very apparent and real effects of the lack of this goodness in our culture and the havoc that it creates. And yet, despite our human frailty and concupiscence, we still find that our society seeks after the good and the beautiful; it is like a divine fingerprint upon the soul that spurs us on in search of Him who left that mark.
It is therefore only by beauty that we can begin the conversion of our society, since reasoning seems to have lost its ability to convince as our culture continues to lose the ability to reason and think logically. Beauty alone remains as that transcendence that requires no rhetoric, and that is all the more persuasive in drawing all to Himself.