Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The Brillant Ages - from John C. Wright

Lifted from his blog at

The Dark Ages have a bad reputation.

But, in many ways, the feudal system, with one universal Church and many local kings and barons maintaining the folk law, tied to subjects and vassals by personal oaths of loyalty, with neither the slave markets of the ancient world, the theocratic sultanates, ancestor worship, or caste systems of the Near and Far East, nor with the plutocracies, state-syndicates, and socialisms of modern Europe, achieved something unheard-of in the ancient world and forgotten in the modern:

It achieved maturity. It achieved something never achieved before or since: a form of civilization fitted to the human condition, high and low, male and female, spiritual and temporal. It achieved the modern world without the more notorious evils and drawbacks of the modern world.

It took the wreckage of the Roman Empire, while being attacked from the Norse and the Paynims, and managed to throw the Mohammedans out of Spain. Meanwhile, in the East, the Byzantines has a centralized empire more similar to our modern bureaucracy-state, and collapsed before the approach of Islam.

Monarchy is not a perfect system, but it is better than the Imperial form of government where anyone, from the son of the previous emperor to a famous general to a camel driver can be elevated to the purple as the Praetorian Guard elects, and no one else gets a vote.

Meanwhile, from 500 AD to 1500 AD under precisely the type of government at which you sneer, the West abolished slavery, invented science, erected the Common Law (which is the single greatest juridical accomplishment of Man) created perspective in drawing, the Gothic arch and flying buttress in architecture, the horse collar and stirrup, the romance story in art, individualism in psychology, the Magna Charter, the dinner fork, the Julian calendar, the monastic order, parliamentary government, separation of secular and spiritual government, the University system, the code of chivalry, the notion of limited warfare, Christmas carols, the windmill, modern astronomy, the clock, eyeglasses, the bound book, the Copernican model, and the idea that marriages had to be voluntary for both partners. This was while civilization was wrecked and under remorseless attack by more powerful forces from north, south, and east.

And they did this while preserving pagan culture, arts and letters, unlike their neighbors to the south, the Mohammedan, who destroyed what they could lay their hands on of the previous cultures they conquered.

And they did all this without letting the rich and the moneylender run roughshod over the rest of society. The socialist impulse was channeled into constructive use: anyone who wanted to live without property could join a monastery. Any Puritan who wanted to live without luxuries could be a hermit. Anyone eager for productive work could join a guild or move to a chartered city. There were taxes aplenty, but no tax on income.

One might be tempted to think the guild system and the ownership by many small yeoman-farmers of many small shops and farms imposed undue restrictions on the free market. However, the minute regulation of every aspect and element of life, we whose toilet water tanks are regulated, cannot in good conscience mock the sumptuary laws and guild restrictions of the medieval. They were freer than we are. And their gold was gold indeed.

They had more holidays than we have now. People used to sing in public, together. And churchbells pleasing to the ear from high spires pleasing to the eye sent sonorous echoes across the landscape to mark the hours.

No doubt the Progressive reader is aghast at the notion that the Thirteenth Century was more mature than the Twentieth, but I invite the candid reader to use any reasonable metric to measure what is actually suitable for human life.

The Dark Ages society is the only one, ever, that eliminated both forms of superstition, the consultation of oracles and the worship of autocrats as divine, which have afflicted every other human society ever.

Julian the Apostate had a slave girl slaughtered so that her entrails could be read. He was the last (and only) pagan Emperor of Constantinople. But the Romans, the Egyptians, the Chinese, and every other great civilization of the past thought they could divine the future by consulting the stars or the birds. The Socialists thought they could divine the future using the abortive science of Marx economics.

You may not have noticed that the Brahmin claim to spiritual superiority over their servile classes is not unique to India. In fact, it is a universal conceit outside the Christian world: the ancient Egyptians paid divine honors to the Pharoahs, the Japanese and Chinese to their Emperors, as the Romans to theirs. The descendant of Mohammed claim rulership based on the sacred blood in their veins. The corpse of Lenin displayed for the adoration of the public, or the worship of the Glorious Leader in North Vietnam are modern variations on this theme.

Only the Christian kings know that they will be a naked on Judgment Day as the lowest serf, and that our God is no respecter of persons. Royalty and nobility was thought to be a higher rank than common blood in the Middle Ages, but this was not a spiritual superiority. It was not the elitism of a Brahmin or a Leftwing partisan, who thinks he is morally superior to the common ruck whom he despises. It was an elitism of a military hierarchy only: the king, in the earliest days of the Middle Ages, was merely the commander in chief, not the guardian of your conscience. I assume the medieval practice of routine confession of sins prevented the growth of the spiritual elitism of Brahmins or Leftists.

Only in Christendom could a beggar like Francis be honored with sainthood  on an equal footing with King Louis. With the end of the Middle Ages, this great principle was smothered in Protestant nations: both Cromwell and the Puritans in Massachusetts said all their followers were saints, everyone was a saint. Their names are forgotten, and no one erects statues to them. By making everyone a saint, whether he meant to or not, Cromwell made sure no one was.

The Twentieth Century was more violent both physically and spiritually. Maturity is the ability to combine conflicting elements either in a man’s heart or in man’s civilization into a rule and a sense of balance where no one mood, no one passion and no one faction runs away with you.

Maturity in a soul means the reason, the appetites and the passions act in harmony, and the more harmony is achieved, the more the maturity. It is the child who cannot control his appetites and passions, and lets a fierce mood or sudden disappointment throw him into childish rage or erupt into childish tears. Maturity in a community means that the spiritual and temporal powers are balanced, the elite and the commoners agree with mutual recrimination or mutual hatred, that the cities and the country cooperate, men and women are settled into roles fit for human life, and so on.

In the modern day, the elite hates the commons and seeks forever to destroy and enslave them, in the name, ironically enough, of freeing them. The elite and intellectuals in the Middle Ages were clerks in the Church, not vicious and deceptive pundits, newspapermen, and empty headed actors burning with a zeal to subvert and suborn middle class values, and destroy their hated enemies, the Bourgeoisie.

The elite were not a different religion from the commons then, but agreed on the basics of the basic vision of a just life. Not every king was a good king, but there was a basic agreement on what a good king should be. Sneer me no sneers about the divine right of kings placing some men above others: that doctrine dates from the Reformation. The legal theory of the Middle Ages was Roman and hence, in the technical sense of the term, republican.

This legal theory, best explicated by Thomas Aquinas, does not promise civic equality to all men, and so is anathema to the modern age. But then again, the legal theory of the Modern Age started with Machiavelli: both sides of the great conflicts of the Twentieth Century, Democrats or Socialists, justified their politics on the basis of it being a necessary evil, an evil that is done that good might come of it.

The idea of a state whose mission is to encourage the virtue of its citizens comes from the days when the clothing and architecture and music likewise was meant to be both useful and beautiful. Nowadays we dress in drab denim, and live in steel boxes. The society that lives for its own pleasures and powers produces ugliness; the society that lives for God, for something greater than itself, produces pleasure and power.

In the Middle Ages, sacred things were actually set aside from the rough and tumble of common life. Any man or woman could retire from the world and join a nunnery or monetary, and be immune from the class requirements of the surrounding society.

Historians mark the reign of Henry VIII as the end of the Middle Ages. Starting with him, nations began to claim the power to redesign and redefine the contents of the Bible, the nature of the Eucharist, the authority of priests, as well as the doctrines and disciplines of the Church. Separation of the spiritual power from the temporal was lost, and sacred and mundane became intermingled to their mutual detriment.

It was the shipwreck of the world’s most glorious civilization, and a continual loss of personal liberty until, far overdue, some medieval notions of the proper rights and duties of man resurfaced in new guises during ironically-named Enlightenment, the Age of Reason which ushered in the Guillotine and the Gulag.

Once the idea of civil power ruling over sacred things became commonplace, Cromwell became possible, perhaps inevitable: what all such Puritanical movements involved is trying to be holier than Christ, and to force common people to adopt one or more disciplines of the Church: Some foreswear alcohol, some foreswear all worldly pleasures, and some foreswear private ownership of property. The Puritans of Cromwell, the Terror of the French revolution, and the appalling mass murders of the Bolsheviks are, each one in its own way, was attempting to impose the Jesuit life a Jesuit imposed on no one but himself onto the general society in no way suited for such special spiritual discipline.

This confusion of the spiritual and temporal power is the source not of one, but of all the political controversies of the Twentieth Century, and the Twenty-First. That confusion was introduced by the end of the Middle Ages, and introduced a civil war into Christendom which eventually led to its self-destruction at the apex of Europe’s greatest splendor, at World War One. Europe died then, and its dispirited but hollowed eyed corpse has continued from that day to this merely by inertia, waiting from some Christ-hating power, either communism in the East or Islam in the South, to roll over the lifeless Europe, and put a stake through it heart.

If Europe rediscovers Christ, she may be born again from the dead. That is what Christ does for those who have faith in his name.

If not, the churchbells will never be heard again. Instead we shall hear the eerie wailing of the Muslim call to prayer.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Jesu Dulcis Memoria, by Bernard of Clarivaux 1091-1153

It is easy to find the five or six stanzas of this famous medieval hymn, but not easy to find the longer version in one place, so I have placed the 20 stanzas I have found online here for reference. The original complete Latin title is the "Jubilus Rhythmicus de Nomine Jesu." and has 48 stanzas. It is dated 1130 or 1140. Because of the length it is not found in the Church's liturgy in full form, but three parts are broken out into smaller hymns used in the Roman Breviary.

Jesu dulcis memoria,
Dans vera cordis gaudia,
Sed super mel et omnia
Ejus dulcis præsentia:

Nil canitur suavius,
Nil auditur jucundius,
Nil cogitatur dulcius,
Quam Jesus Dei Filius.

Jesu spes pœnitentibus,
Quam pius es petentibus!
Quam bonus te quærentibus!
Sed quid invenientibus!

Nec lingua vale dicere,
Nec littera exprimere,
Expertus potest credere,
Quid sit Jesum diligere.

Sis, Jesu, nostrum gaudium,
Qui es futurus praemium
Sit nostra in te gloria,
Per cuncta semper saecula.

Jesu Rex admirabilis,
Et Triumphator nobilis,
Dulcedo ineffabilis,
Totus desiderabilis;

Mane nobiscum, Domine,
Nos tuo reple munere:
Pulsa noctis caligine
Tua pasce dulcedine.

Quando cor nostrum visitas,
Tunc lucet ei veritas,
Mundi vilescit vanitas,
Et intus fervet caritas.

Jesu, decus angelicum,
In aure dulce canticum,
In ore mel mirificum,
In corde nectar caelicum.

Qui te gustant, esuriunt,
Qui bibunt, adhuc sitiunt;
Desiderare nesciunt,
Nisi Iesum, quem diligunt.

O Jesu mi dulcissime,
Spes suspirantis animae!
Te quaerunt piae lacrimae,
Te clamor mentis intimae.

Mane nobiscum, Domine,
Et nos illustra lumine;
Pulsa mentis caligine,
Mundum reple dulcedine.

Jesu, flos Matris Virginis,
Amor nostrae dulcedinis,
Tibi laus, honor nominis,
Regnum beatitudinis.

Jesu, dulcedo cordium,
Fons vivus, lumen mentium,
Excedens omne gaudium
Et omne desiderium.

Jesum omnes agnoscite,
Amorem eius poscite;
Jesum ardenter quaerite,
Quaerendo inardescite.

Te nostra, Jesu, vox sonet,
Nostri te mores exprimant;
Te corda nostra diligant
Et nunc, et in perpetuum.

Cum Maria diluculo
Jesum quæram in tumulo ;
Cordis clamore querulo
Mente quæram, non oculo.

Jesus ad patrem rediit,
Cœleste regnum subiit :
Cor meum a me transiit,
Post Jesum simul abiit.

Jesum sequamur laudibus,
Votis, hymnis, et precibus,
Ut nos donet cœlestibus
Secum perfrui sedibus.

Dan nobis largus veniam
Amoris this copiam
Da nobis per presentiam
Tuam videre Florian.

Laude tibi nos pangimus,
Dilectus es qui Filius,
Quem Patris atque Spiritus
Splendor revelat inclitus.

Gloria Tibi, Domine,
Qui natus es de Virgine,
Cum Patre et Sancto Spiritu,
In sempirterna sæcula. Amen.

The Gregorian chant for each verse repeats as follows:

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Romance or Revolt by John C. Wright

Re-posted from Romance or Revolt
How could everything anyone ever knew about men and women just end up being lost?

How can a whole generation be raised without the slightest notion of why women act the way they do toward men, or why men act the way they do toward women?

It is a sober question, and a sobering one. I think we all know the answer.

The world has two stories to tell about this great mystery.

The new story is a story of revolt. In this story, there is no mystery to explain. The past is a time of darkness and horror, which consists of rapist men victimizing helpless women. The sexual revolution frees one and all to enter into any form of contract for the exchange of copulation rights as “he or she or xe or it” sees fit.

No one has any sexual roles. Instead, one has a “gender” which consists of a set of preferences as to sexual dress and behavior, which each may decide for oneself as one sees fit. On the other hand, same sex attraction is genetically selected by Darwinian evolution to increase fertility, and cannot be opposed or impeded. The male desire for many female partners, including non-consenting ones like the Sabine Women in Plutarch, on the other hand, has no Darwinian reproductive value.

In this story, only fools believe in true love. The sexual appetite is an appetite to the slaked, and the satisfaction is had when the surface appearances are met, and the genitalia stimulated. Sex is the stimulation, not the sex act itself, so any of the fifty genders may indulge.

In this story, consent is the only sacrosanct rule for determining whether the exchange of sexual gratification takes place. All sex is selfish. Love and childrearing play no part in any calculation.

The other story is old. The other story is a love story, where the men seek love by pursuing, and the women seek love by alluring.

In this story, the man takes charge because bold men take charge, and the woman plays coy and modest because that is what fair maidens do, for only the bold deserve the fair.
She arranges obstacles for him, and dallies and flirts with coy and amorous delay, teasing and tempting. She dare not be over-blunt, nor rash and rushing to wed, for she cannot distinguish the frogs from the princes without seeing some sign of princely valor and devotion.

In this story, sometimes a girl is demure, or plays hard to get, but at other times she may be merely toying with his affection. Likewise sometimes a boy is a cad and a flatterer, but sometimes he is true-hearted.

Each player in the masquerade goes threw the steps of the mating dance trying to discover which is which.

And sometimes a suitor who sees himself a cad when he thought himself true, or a girl realizes she is a flirt when she thought herself coy, because the emotion of infatuation, and the drive of lust, all too often disguises itself as true love.

And, of course, in the love story, the man picks up the check and pays for the show whereas the young lady’s contribution is too adorn herself to look pretty and to be a gay and charming companion.

The exchange is unfair, if by this we mean unequal.

But, by nature, the exchange cannot be equal: she is the one being pursued and persuaded. Her task is to encourage the pursuit by the right sort of guy. His is to pursue and persuade, and to convince himself and her of his devotion, accomplishments, and worth.

The tactics for male and female cannot be the same because the goal for each is different. If he is decent, what he wants is nubile, true and faithful wife. Blame no man if, for him, lust seeks young and fertile girls. By instinct, he seeks markers of youth and health, a curvaceous body able to bear the travail of childrearing.

Likewise, If she is decent, what she wants is a virile, strong and faithful man. Blame no woman if  her lust seeks older, established men, one wealthy enough to bear the cost of childrearing.

Nature demands different things from either parent. Hence, not the same things. Hence they cannot be sought in the same way. Hence the wooer and the wooed cannot won the complementary goals using tactics suited to the other.

When a man holds a woman in his arms on the ballroom floor, both dancers cannot lead. They dance as equals only when separated.

While dating, he picks up the check. After the wedding, she becomes wife and mother and homemaker, and she gives all she has to give in life. If he blenches at picking up a check on a date, how is he going to afford to keep a wife?

At one time, many a boy at least knew the stereotyped expectations of the elliptical and indirect reasoning of female psychology.

He might not understand the reason why girls were so illogical, emotional, strange, fickle, and practical, but he knew to expect that.

Likewise, the girl might not understand why the boy was so pigheaded, unemotional, honor-bound, arrogant, incorrigible, and idealistic, but many a girl knew to brace herself for it.

For the record, female illogic is perfectly logical once the female viewpoint is known, and male logic grows grossly superficial and heartless without a female viewpoint to check it.
In truth, both sexes are not so different in their sins and virtues, but the expressions and manifestation thereof differ wildly.

Many of us used to know that. We knew men were men and women were women.
We used to know the world was round, and East was far from West. Now, in a strange reverse of the old wives’ tale about Columbus, the children think the world is flat.

Someone has taken all the experience and hard-earned lore of the ages, half cynicism and half rose-colored glasses, which used to be carried in jokes, ribaldry, love songs, novels, and plays and heart-to-heart conversations with parents or older peers, telling the young about the thrills and danger, the deceptions and sudden revelations, the whole wild gamble of the heart known as the mating dance, and flushed it all down the memory hole.
I think we know which group in life is the culprit.

Who interprets all specialization of labor or traditional assignment of roles and responsibilities as a sinister conspiracy to bewitch and oppress the weak? Who regards women as ever in the weaker position? Who sees everything in life, including affairs of the heart, through the lens of a heartless Darwinian struggle between oppressor and oppressed?

Who pretends that liberty is found by leveling hedgerows, cutting the brake lines, severing the safety belts, smashing traffic lights and uprooting road signs, and in a word, abandoning common sense and common decency?

What sort of freedom is it to replace self-control with chaos?

Yes, it is now legal to speed down the highway and run red lights in the wrong lane, so all are “free” in that respect. It is the freedom of mere chaos: the freedom of a free for all.

But no one is free to walk away from the resulting wreckage of broken hearts and broken homes unscathed, or to have friends and family untouched by the predicted and predictable horrors of high rates of perversion, infidelity, abortion, abandonment, divorce, child abuse which flow from unchaining all sexual appetites, wholesome or grotesque.

Nor one is free to breathe the clear moral atmosphere of a society that honors virginity, marriage, motherhood, childhood, romance, chivalry, modesty, honesty, fidelity, because no such place exists, not in any land modernism rules.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

What Happens When Denying Darwin

( From Just Thomism blog)
Denying ”darwinian explanations of life” can mean two things.

1.) If you are denying the explanatory power of natural selection in biology and various sciences subordinated to it, the denial is idiotic. Few theories have the explanatory power of natural selection, and any theory that replaces it will not be an outright denial but either (a) an explanation of how various phenomena appear darwinian within some very common constraints but are non-darwinian under abnormal conditions or (b) a theory that includes selection as a large element in a richer interpretive set of explanations.*

2.) If you are denying the explanatory power of natural selection in abiogenesis, the denial is axiomatic. To an outsider like myself abiogenesis looks like a backwater of research with a whole slough of theories defended by mavericks from all sorts of different disciplines, none of whom commands even a plurality of scientific consensus.
Since we have no theory at all, much less a darwinian one, the ‘official position’ on abiogenesis can be explained in several ways.

a.) Life arose by chance. ”Chance” in this context means an event that, while being relevant to the theory, was outside of any of its predictions. This includes times when we have events with no real theory at all, and the most familiar way in which this happens is the “theory” that things form by molecules banging around and forming things. Sure, if molecules just bang around and form X then, by definition, you’ll have an X, but you wouldn’t have an explanation of it. If you see a puddle of water forming underneath your furnace, you explain its presence by, say, condensation or sabotage but not by ‘molecules banging around’. All “banging around” theory amounts to is the claim that something somehow happened, which we know simply by looking. But a theory has to add something to a blank, bovine stare at the events of the world.

Notice that “by chance” and “improbable” are not only different but contrary. Improbable events have a calculable probability and therefore exist in a theory whereas events that occur by chance, even if they are improbable, are not calculated in advance. A royal flush is improbable in a normal game of poker, but this improbability can be strictly calculated. A chance event would be one that, strictly speaking, has no odds of occurring since the theory cannot (or at least did not) account for it in advance. This is where we are with abiogenesis.

b.) Life is a mystery. A mystery in this sense is an wonderful or important cause that is known to be unknown. If calling an event by chance indicates that it is outside of a theory and is neither probable or improbable, calling it a mystery indicates that we are interested in it or that finding it is important to us, though we might view probing into it hubristic or irreverent.

c.) God caused life. God is the ultimate mystery in the above sense, and so to the extent that nature is mysterious it will inevitably suggest an analogue in divinity. This only gives rise to a God in the gaps fallacy if we assume the mysteries of nature are invariant or entirely given in advance while they are in fact continually shifting. Things that were very mysterious at some times and some places are not to us, and vice-versa. Some mysteries vanish and new ones arise.

There are connections not just between God and mystery but also God and chance. There is a long history of seeing God as uniquely at work in the unforseeable. We spontaneously feel something divine in a stroke of good luck, and some divine abandonment or chastisement in a stroke of bad luck.

That said, we also know how to set chance and divinity against one another. Divinity is the guarantee that intelligibility goes all the way down, even if not for us; but chance can be taken as a denial of this sort of intelligibility. The debate seems to be whether what is unknowable to us, but real, must be knowable to another.

*As I understand “Intelligent Design”, this is the option they go for.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

"Punditry" from "Just Thomism"

Below are some bullet points from "Just Thomism" that are thoughtful...

-For devoted Christians looking at their culture, sanity requires remembering it is a Kingdom under the Prince of the World, where most dance down the wide road to perdition.

-You’re not happy that most are damned, you’re just freed from the burden of assuming some recent policy, court decision, historical trend, influential school or philosopher or whatever sent us down the road to perdition. It’s not the decline of civilization, it’s just the world. with cultures – we assume we are responsible for the evil that happened. Both are irrational attempts to gain control of an evil that was mostly decided before we could do anything to add or detract.

-Much engaging social commentary is a fascination with demonic creativity.

-Take heart, the world is just as God described it. To pull the yoke with Christ is easy for anyone who wants to and the overwhelming majority don’t.

-The plan for saving society is what it’s always been: prayer, meditation, fasting, mortification, alms and works of mercy.

-If we were saved for doing more good than bad, almost everyone would be. Relationships don’t work that way, though, but can be destroyed by single acts no matter the antecedent goods. It would be a clueless husband who thought that his giving his wife a house, money, security, etc. meant she couldn’t blame him for a mistress.

-The case against the faith is always convincing and constantly needing to change.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

On The Perception of Beauty

(Rome, Feb 1, 1998, Faculty of Philosophy, Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum)


Anyone who has contemplated a masterpiece of art and felt that you could stay and gaze upon it for hours without tiring, or who has found real joy in a piece of music that seemed to elevate the soul, or found peace in the blazing symphony presented by nature in every sunset, knows that a textbook knowledge of beauty doesn’t seem to fully explain these aesthetic experiences.

What is beauty? How do we really know beauty? What are its characteristics? Is beauty really “in the eye of the beholder”, that is, only a feeling, each person choosing for himself what is beautiful? Or is it strictly objective, with known criteria?

These are some of the questions that moved me to choose this theme for my elaboratum. They pose the philosophical problem to be reflected on in this paper. The beautiful, in abstract, and in its concrete manifestations in the world around us, is intriguing to man and is one of the few things that really make a man stop and ponder a moment about something “higher” than his daily distractions.

In this study I have followed a simple outline, first introducing the beautiful and its definitions commonly stated, and its base in being. Then follows a part on our knowledge of beauty, both transcendental and perceivable, not that I wish to introduce a strict separation, but as a means to treat the theme with order. Perceivable should be understood as including sensible and intellectual beauty. I will cover a little both intuition and cognitive knowledge of beauty. Then follows an explanation of the aesthetic experience and knowledge, and some of the characteristics of a beautiful object. Then I go into a little more depth with respect to one of the means through which we know beauty, i.e., knowledge through connaturality, as mentioned by  Thomas Aquinas.

One of the interesting points that I found in this research was the lack of consensus among authors, not so much in the main doctrines, but in the finer shades of explaining them.  This leaves room for one to explore and think with a sense of personal freedom perhaps a bit wider than in other themes.

My aim, what I hope to achieve, is to put together in one paper the path available to man to know the beauty of reality, transcendental, intellectual, and sensible. Thus although it is not within the scope of this paper to go into extreme depth on these aspects, it is not because the theme does not merit such in depth research, but is due to the extension of this work.


1.1. Perceivable beauty 

Our daily experience gives us ample evidence that there are many beings which strike us as beautiful, and equally so many that lack any sensible beauty. In order to determine what it is that makes certain beings beautiful and others less so, I think we can turn to the common explanation of  Thomas Aquinas that the beautiful is, “id cuius apprehensio placet”[1] or also, “quod visum placet”.[2] The terms apprehensio and visum are to be taken in a broad sense as referring to seeing, perceiving or understanding.

In these definitions we see two aspects which reveal the nature of beauty: apprehension and pleasure. The first, apprehension, shows the relation of an object to the intellectual and cognitive faculties of man. This apprehension consists in a certain intuition of the external and internal senses, always united to the intellect.[3] It is an immediate apprehension of a singular being by contact with the senses. From the sensible species formed, the intellect then abstracts the quiddity and forms the universal concept of the object. In summary this is what is meant by apprehension. It is not only of the exterior form of the object but also of the essence.

The two go together, the pleasure is to be understood as deriving from the knowing, there is an immediateness in it. We saw that this apprehension is accompanied by a certain pleasure in the act of perceiving the object. The apprehension of the object brings with it the joy in the same object. This is the relation of the object to the senses, both external and internal, and ultimately to the will which perceives the goodness of reality. Once the object is removed the pleasure ends and is replaced by desire for the object now absent. We see that the mere idea of the object in the mind is not sufficient to provoke this joy, it must be accompanied by the apprehension of the senses. Thus we can call these the two poles of detecting the beautiful, each one referring to the other: apprehension and pleasure, or ultimately, the object in relation to the intellect and to the will. 

1.2. Transcendental beauty 

The dialectic process of the idea of being reveals a gradual series of discoveries of the transcendental properties of being, from unum to verum to bonum. The oneness of being is found in the indivision of being[4], the truth and the good are both revealed in the relation of the intellect and the will with being[5]. By integrating the concepts of true and good, seeing them united in relation to the intellect, we end the dialectic process of the idea of being in the beautiful. This relation to the intellect and will shows the roots of beauty in being, as one of the transcendental properties of being, convertible with being. In this level beings are beautiful precisely according to their existence, i.e., its act of being is beautiful in relation to the mind which constitutes the relative transcendental property of Beauty. Every being, in as much as it participates in the totality of being, is beautiful, since being as being is true and good and thus beautiful. The beautiful is the perfection and union of the transcendentals[6].


2.1. Intuition of beauty 

We look again to the definition of beautiful by  Thomas Aquinas, “id cuius apprehensio placet”[7]. By referring to the word apprehensio (as seeing, understanding, etc.)  in the definition, the perception of beauty is put in the intellectual order, for no abstraction ends in the senses. But precisely with the word pleasure (including also gaudium of the mind) it is referred to the senses external or internal, as we mentioned before, not simply as the starting point but as a required presence accompanying the intellectual activity. The perception of the beautiful is a union of the spiritual and corporeal faculties. With our reasoning abilities we can see that all things that have being are beautiful, but this is a purely intelligible reasoning. What we actually see in daily life is that some beings are actually ugly to us. For us to see the beauty of all reality would require an intuitive manner of knowing, we would have to be able to perceive intellectually the essence of the object without abstraction - as angels do. But our intellect knows only discursively, by abstraction from the senses. Our intellectual activity is always universal, based on universal concepts of the reality around us. The only manner of intuition that we are capable of as souls united to the body is that of the senses. The senses apprehend by immediate contact with their object, they “know” by intuition, without mediation. Thus by including the word placet in the definition we can say that at least on the sensible level to perceive beauty requires intuition. The mind apprehends, but united to the senses. Therefore when it is stated that the participation of the senses is necessary during the entire time we are perceiving a beautiful object, and that the understand or seeing of the intellect is the bearer of this pleasure, this means that in the perception of beauty we approach intuitive knowledge. 

2.2. Beauty and the cognitive sense 

In the study of our manner of abstraction we see that in between the senses and the intellect are the internal senses. The highest of these is what we call the cognitive sense. Considered in relation to our knowing in general, the cognitive sense is as a bridge. It is a type of “intellect” because with it we decide and choose behavior in concrete circumstances, and it is “sense” because it is the sum of the sensible experience and always remains in the particular[8]. This same faculty belongs to animals and is used by them to evaluate and appraise a given situation. In man the cognitive sense enables us to make the abstract concrete, and the universal particular. Uniting in this way the intellect and the senses, it is likened to the manifestation of being (esse) in action (agire). [9] 

If we return then to what we said about the perception of beauty being the union of knowing by the intellect with the sensible or intellectual pleasure, it is easy to see why it is possible to basically attribute almost all the aesthetic activity of man to the cognitive sense as a specific and originating faculty[10]. It is the place where the apprehensio and the placere co-penetrate each other. 

2.3. The aesthetic experience 

This aesthetic activity has its summit in the so-called aesthetic experience, the manner by which we attain the maximum cognitive harmony between subject and object. It is the experience of oneself and the object as being connatural one with the other, and more than connatural till one seems taken beyond to something higher. The object that provokes this is the beautiful. The intellect perceives the unity, truth, and goodness of an object which is present to it, but it is abstract knowledge. It perceives them by means of reflection on the idea of being and on its relation to reality. To truly “see” it we would need intuition. But in the intellectual apprehension of the beautiful, united to the intuition of the senses, we experience this intuition in as much as it is possible in this life, (although the possibility of intellectual intuition is disputable.) It is the most perfect knowledge possible to us as beings united to the body, for it complements abstraction. The senses and the intellect penetrate together; the senses become “knowing”, and the intellect “senses”[11].  Once we are separated from the body after death all of our knowledge will be intuitive, and in this sense will be aesthetic, but this enters into the area of faith.

But we are not the only participant in creating this experience. The aesthetic experience, this co-penetration of the senses and the intellect, is provoked by the object contemplated. Beauty is not simply “in the eye of the beholder” if this is meant that it is solely determined by the subject. Thus the object must be such that it simultaneously pleases both the intellect and the senses, each one finding that which is connatural with it in the object, and that which is beyond its connaturality. The intellect looks for the order and takes pleasure in the order found in the object, an order of the form of the object, the mind grasping this form. This is the objective side of beauty. But the senses find their pleasure in the diverse external qualities, and this may differ from subject to subject, due to the variation to which the senses are subjected, giving beauty its subjective side.

Thus on the perceivable level the beautiful is found in an object in which the order occurs within the qualities that please the senses[12]. (But also on the transcendental level beauty is not completely unperceivable, for nothing is so contingent that it doesn’t contain something of the absolute.) It is in this way that the beautiful differs from the good, by the addition of the truth of the object, and is thus called splendor veri or verum delectans[13].

Therefore the aesthetic knowledge, or aesthetic experience, whose object is the beautiful, and which is provoked in the subject by the object, reveals the connaturality that exists between the whole mind (intellect and will), and the whole of reality (being). Thus the subject becomes aware of his own unity when he becomes aware of his connaturality with the object[14].

At the same time the subject becomes aware of the truth and intelligibility of reality at a level that is fuller than abstract knowledge alone, since in perceiving the beautiful he “approaches” intuitive knowledge, or in our case as incarnated spirits, quasi intuitive.

It reveals also the goodness of reality because the aesthetic experience takes place in the presence of the object which provokes it, and creates desire for the presence of the object when it is removed or absent[15]. Only in the presence of the beautiful is our connaturality with it revealed or confirmed. In the following numbers I will analyze this order and pleasurable qualities that belong to a beautiful object. 

2.4. Characteristics of beauty 

Thomas Aquinas describes the beautiful object as a fusion of three aspects: integrity or perfection, proportion, and clarity[16]. 

Integrity and perfection mean free from defects and mutilation, that the object has all the parts that normally belong to it, (or that it does not have parts that don’t belong). This integrity by itself does not make the object beautiful, and even in some cases a beautiful object or work of art could be lacking some perfection due to it and still be beautiful, if the lack is such that it doesn’t impede the mind from completing the image by using the imagination[17]. Think of the Venus of Milo and other greek and roman statues, so many of which are missing parts previously in place. They lack integrity but they surely are not for this reason ugly. From this aspect of perfection and integrity belonging to the beautiful we get also the notion of the Ideal. That for which one strives for is the Ideal, conceived as the perfection of its nature, lacking nothing and thus worthy of imitation.

The proportion of the object means the equilibrium of the qualities and is often summed up in various subcategories such as symmetry referring to vision, harmony referring to audition, and rhythm referring to movement. All of these terms are then applied analogously to many objects, including the cosmos as a whole[18].

Lastly clarity is the third aspect. Clarity means a certain relation with light and thus with the sense of sight. What we perceive above all with our sense of sight, when there is proper illumination, is color, and the more light there is the brighter and more vivid the colors seem[19].

But the aspect of clarity refers not only to sight but also to the intellect. We often make the comparison of knowing with “seeing”. All intellection seeks to dispel confusion and make its object clearer, or “enlighten” the thinker. We could even say that the intellect is like an internal light, and indeed if we look to the philosophies of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas we see that there is this aspect of light attributed to the intellect. It is what they called the intellectus agens which illuminates the sensible species and makes possible the passage of an object from the sensible to the intelligible[20]. Therefore an object can also be said to have clarity if it is so ordered as to be easily intelligible.

These three aspects work together and are all interrelated among themselves within the unity of the object. They are also related to the form of the object from which they receive their existence. In this way it is seen that they have their ultimate root in the being of the object, as an essence composed of form and material. The sensible beauty has its base in the ontological beauty[21].

   [1]      ST I-II, 27, 1 ad 3.
   [2]      ST I, 5, 4 ad 1.
   [3]     Cf. A. Lobato,  Ser y belleza, Ed. Herder, Barcelona 1965, p.69.
   [4]     Cf. F. O’Farrell, Metafisica Generale, P.U. Gregoriana, Rome 1971, p.41.
   [5]      Ibid., pp. 56, 65.
   [6]      Ibid., p.93.
   [7]      ST I-II, 27, 1 ad 3.
   [8]     Cf. S. Babolin, L’uomo e il suo volto,  P.U. Gregoriana, Rome 1993, p.215.
   [9]      Ibid,. p.215
   [10]      Ibid,. p. 215-216
   [11]     Cf. F. O’Farrell, Metafisica Generale, p.88-89.
   [12]      Ibid,. p.90.
   [13]     Cf. A. Lobato, Ser y belleza,  Ed. Herder, Barcelona 1965, p.122.
   [14]      Cf. note 15.
   [15]     Cf. F. O’Farrell, Metafisica Generale, p. 91 :O’Farrell calls aesthetic knowledge the means to know the maximum extension of the transcendentales of unity, truth and goodness. The unity due to the connaturality; truth, because intuition is more perfect way of knowing than abstraction; and good, because the desire for a good that is absent is enough to verify its foundation in being. But refering to the beautiful he says that to perceive it by means of the aesthetic experience demands its presence. 
   [16]      ST I, 39, 8.
   [17]     Cf. A. Lobato, Ser y belleza, p.88.
   [18]      Ibid,. p. 93-94.
   [19]      Ibid,. p. 97.
   [20]      Ibid,. p. 98. (One could see Aristotle, De Anima III,5, 430a10 and ST I, 79, 3-5.)

   [21]      Ibid,. p. 103.