Beauty and Truth

12 Aug

Since school days I’ve had a deep love for John Keats’ poetry. Its melancholy romanticism appeals, but so too the concise beauty of his work: so rich, so evocative of feeling and passion, with such economy of words. The opening line of ‘Autumn’ comes to mind: ‘Season of mists and mellowed fruitfulness.”

Ode on a Grecian Urn’ is a special favourite. The final lines are:
‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty’—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

Recently I’ve come back to think of it again, as I’ve responded to the insight of Colin Gunton that Christians have for so long been concerned for truth and goodness, but have largely forgotten the third of the ancient virtues, beauty.

Truth, goodness and beauty. We need them all. So often, in religious groups, we find a focus on truth, or on the functional, what works for us. There is a kind of emphasis on goodness, and indeed many good people. But beauty is not a priority. Maybe we are frightened of it. Maybe we find it hard (or is it ‘unworthy’) just to enjoy something for the sheer beauty of the thing, or the person. I think more than anything this betrays a great weakness in our understanding of creation. We do not value beauty because we do not, at heart, love the world God has created. Many people have imbibed an ethic or a spirituality which is suspicious of things. We must not love things. But this is only partly right. We are given a beautiful world, to cherish, to nurture, to enjoy. If we do not learn to love beauty, we end up neglecting or even destroying the world.

It’s a beautiful world. Thank God for that!

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