The Transcendentals

Plato was the first to speak of goodness, truth, and beauty together as essential aspects of being that stand above—or transcend—mere physical existence. And over time, much more has been said of these transcendentals. Expanding on this classical understanding, Medieval Christian thinkers gave goodness, truth, and beauty particular importance, even to contend that God is epitomized by perfect goodness, perfect truth, and perfect beauty. Among the properties of the transcendentals: (1) they are rooted in the essence of being, transcending the material realm; (2) they are objective qualities, not subject to variations in culture, ideology or doctrine; (3) they are qualities not only related but even intertwined in one another; and (4) they speak to the hearts of men in some transcendent way.

Contemporary thinkers still consider these three transcendentals. James Bryan Smith, in his book The Magnificent Story, writes, “Beauty, goodness, and truth…are real, perhaps more real than the physical realm. They are invincible and unbreakable, too powerful to be changed.” His point: Goodness, beauty, and truth magnify the story of God, and our stories as well.

Makoto Fujimura, in his book Culture Care, shares, “Experience shows that either a lack of truth or goodness (whether in quality of workmanship or in the moral sense) detracts from the beauty of a given artifact. Similarly, a lack of attention to beauty in presenting a truth hampers its appeal and adoption. And…a culture that downplays the pursuit of beauty also loses its appetite for truth and goodness.”

And in Thomas Dubay’s book, The Evidential Power of Beauty, he writes, “Truth, beauty and goodness have their being together, by truth we are put in touch with reality which we find is good for us and beautiful to behold. In our knowing, loving and delighting, the gift of reality appears to us as something infinitely and in-exhaustively valuable and fascinating.”

Interestingly, both Smith and Fujimura quote Dr. Dallas Willard, who contended that “beauty is goodness made manifest to the senses.”

All of this begs the question: As artists of faith, how are we expressing truth, goodness, and beauty? Is truth, goodness, and beauty evident in our artwork—our songs and paintings and books and performances? Is truth, goodness, and beauty evident in the way we run our art businesses, our music schools, our galleries, our craft booths? Does truth, goodness, and beauty pervade our churches and ministries and callings? And perhaps most important, are we living our lives in such a way that truth, goodness, and beauty are naturally manifest in them?

This is not a trivial endeavor. Truth, goodness, and beauty are understood to be necessary aspects of being—and I would contend, of being a follower of Jesus and in living fully in His Kingdom. Truth, goodness, and beauty should be the broad lens upon which we see our song lyrics, our canvases, our dance floors, our films, our poetry, our stages. And as artists of faith, we need to excel at expressing these transcendentals with great excellence, extravagant generosity, and deep humility.

Here’s some more essential reading on truth, beauty, and goodness. In my blog post, “The Artist As Prophet,” I discuss the role of artist as truth teller. My blog post, “O Beauty Ancient,” is a treatise on the nature and importance of beauty, and it’s essential role in nurturing our souls. Finally, in my blog post, “An Aesthetic of Grace,” I share some words of wisdom from my senior pastor, Mike Lueken, on the importance of grace and goodness. I would love to dialogue more with you on this, so please leave a comment.

[Photo by Kyler Boone on Unsplash.]

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