Category Archives: Transcendentals

The Form of the Good

The Form of the Good is the greatest thing to learn about, and that it is by their relation to it that just things and [other virtuous things] become useful and beneficial. (Republic, 505a) Plato suggests that justice, truth, equality, beauty, and many others ultimately derive from the Form of the Good.

Republic is firstly an argument about the ideal structure of a city. Notoriously, Plato installs philosopher-kings as a benevolent council. If the rulers of the city are to make themselves, their citizens, and their city good, they must first know Goodness itself. This form is the one that allows a philosopher-in-training to advance to a philosopher-king. It cannot be clearly seen or explained, but once it is recognized, it is the form that allows one to realize all the other forms.  Stephen Hawking famously quipped that we should ask not only what the equations governing the universe are, but also “what breathes fire into the equations?” For Plato, both the equations and the fire are the Form of the Good.

Plato’s was the first major metaphysical system in the West, and it dominated Western thought through the middle of the second millennium. Consider the subject of mathematics and geometry. What is a point? It is a location in space with no dimension. In other words, it is not a real object. Points are ideal entities, not space-time particulars. They take up no space. Likewise, lines have length but no breadth. Mathematics is about ideal entities, and some mathematicians today are still “Platonists” about numbers: they hold the view that numbers or other mathematical objects are immaterial things. And they have to be in order for us to be able to know eternal truths about them.

If we live in a rationally ordered cosmos, this helps underwrite a social order that is rigidly hierarchical. It is no surprise then that through the Middle ages humans organize themselves into strict hierarchies. We find a hierarchical church and a stratified social structure, with serfs serving the king and the king serving God.

Consider Plato’s influence on theology: The Form of the Good is the ground of all being, an immaterial object that exists more perfectly than anything else, a thing responsible for the goodness and rationality in the world. This is something like an interpretation of the Christian view of God developed in the Middle Ages, founded in Platonic and Neo-Platonic metaphysics.

Perhaps most importantly, Plato’s arguments in Republic make possible scientific inquiry. Science is only possible if the natural world is intelligible to our rational faculties. Many people credit Plato’s student Aristotle with the initiation of the scientific project of humanity, and many in turn credit the scientific method as the West’s most profound contribution to humanity.

Aristotle along with other scholars sees the Form of the Good as synonymous with the idea of One. Plato claims that Good is the highest Form, and that all objects aspire to be good. Since Plato does not define good things, interpreting Plato’s Form of the Good through the idea of One allows scholars to explain how Plato’s Form of the Good relates to the physical world. According to this philosophy, in order for an object to belong to the Form of the Good, it must be One and have the proper harmony, uniformity, and order to be in its proper form.

Love & truth,
Matthew

Beauty, Truth, Goodness, Love: The Dialogue of St Catherine of Siena

Transcendentals

The transcendentals (Latin: transcendentalia) are the properties of being that correspond to three aspects of the human field of interest and are their ideals; science (truth), the arts (beauty) and religion (goodness). Philosophical disciplines that study them are logic, aesthetics and ethics…

…In the Middle Ages, Catholic philosophers elaborated the thought that there exist transcendentals (transcendentalia) and that they transcended each of the ten Aristotelian categories. A doctrine of the transcendentality of the good was formulated by Albert the Great. His pupil, Saint Thomas Aquinas, posited five transcendentals: res, unum, aliquid, bonum, verum; or “thing”, “one”, “something”, “good”, and “true”. Saint Thomas derives the five explicitly as transcendentals, though in some cases he follows the typical list of the transcendentals consisting of the One, the Good, and the True. The transcendentals are ontologically one and thus they are convertible: e.g., where there is truth, there is beauty and goodness, also.

In Christian theology the transcendentals are treated in relation to theology proper, the doctrine of God. The transcendentals, according to Christian doctrine, can be described as the ultimate desires of man. Man ultimately strives for perfection, which takes form through the desire for perfect attainment of the transcendentals. The Catholic Church teaches that God is Himself truth, goodness, and beauty, as indicated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Each transcends the limitations of place and time, and is rooted in being. The transcendentals are not contingent upon cultural diversity, religious doctrine, or personal ideologies, but are the objective properties of all that exists.
-https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transcendentals

“…(Catherine is a) permanent source of refreshment to the human spirit. She intuitively perceived life under the highest possible forms, the forms of Beauty and Love. Truth and Goodness were, she thought, means for the achievement of those two supreme ends. The sheer beauty of the soul “in a state of Grace” is a point on which she constantly dwells, hanging it as a bait before those whom she would induce to turn from evil. Similarly the ugliness of sin, as much as its wickedness, should warn us of its true nature. Love, that love of (hu)man for (hu)man which, in deepest truth, is, in the words of the writer of the First Epistle of St. John, God Himself, is, at once, the highest achievement of man and his supreme and satisfying beatitude. The Symbols of Catholic theology were to her the necessary and fitting means of transit, so to speak. …the fine allegory of the Bridge of the Sacred Humanity, of the soul in viâ on its dusty pilgrimage toward those gleaming heights of vision. “Truth” was to her the handmaid of the spiritualized imagination, not, as too often in these days of the twilight of the soul, its tyrant and its gaoler. Many of those who pass lives of unremitting preoccupation with the problems of truth and goodness are wearied and cumbered with much serving. We honor them, and rightly; but if they have nothing but this to offer us, our hearts do not run to meet them, as they fly to the embrace of those rare souls who inhabit a serener, more pellucid atmosphere. Among these spirits of the air, St. Catherine has taken a permanent and foremost place. She is among the few guides of humanity who have the perfect manner, the irresistible attractiveness, of that positive purity of heart, which not only sees God, but diffuses Him, as by some natural law of refraction, over the hearts of men. The Divine nuptials, about which the mystics tell us so much, have been accomplished in her, Nature and Grace have lain down together, and the mysteries of her religion seem but the natural expression of a perfectly balanced character, an unquenchable love and a deathless will.
-St. Catherine of Siena (2013-07-31T23:58:59). The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena (with Supplemental Reading: Catholic Prayers) [Illustrated] (Kindle Locations 438-454). TAN Books. Kindle Edition.

Love, Beauty, Goodness, Truth,
Matthew

The Transcendentals – Unum, Bonum, Verum

transcendence

The transcendentals are properties of being.  “The Transcendentals” would also be another great name for a band, imho.  While we’re on it, “(The) Truth, (The) Beauty, (The) Goodness” would not be bad, either, but I digress.  Truth is being as known, Goodness is being as rightly desired, and Beauty is being as rightly admired.  Truth is being’s imprint on the mind, Goodness is beings imprint on the will, and Beauty is beings imprint on the emotions. So Truth, Goodness, and Beauty are all different modes of Being as apprehended by the Mind, the Will, and the Emotions.

timtroutman

-by Tim A. Troutman, who believes in the Bible. He just couldn’t figure out how we got the one we call “the canon”. Like so many 20-somethings, Tim traveled the road of the spiritual nomad: questions, doubt, fear, and finally hope. Through this journey, he connected with 10 or so other former Reformed Christians who now tell their story and talk about the Catholic faith at the extremely popular blog site www.calledtocommunion.com.

“According to St. Thomas, integrity (or perfection) is one of the three marks of beauty. The other two are harmony (or proportion) and radiance (or brightness). 1 The term ‘integrity’ is closely related to and directly implies unity; for without unity, integrity is impossible. We derive the word ‘integrate’ from the word integrity, and integration is nothing but the acquisition of one thing into unity with another.

Moreover, Aquinas follows Boethius in arguing that “unity belongs to the idea of goodness” because “a thing exists so far as it is one” and as St. Thomas explains, both goodness and unity are convertible with being. 2 Thus, along with goodness and truth, unity is one of the ‘transcendentals’ because it is convertible with being. These transcendentals are simply being apprehended under different modes. This complements St. Augustine’s teaching that evil is not its own being but the corruption of being. All things, in so far as they exist, that is, in so far as they have being, are good and they exist in truth and unity.

Harmony or proportion is also closely related to unity. For harmony is a bringing together of two or more things into a unity while maintaining some aspect of their distinctive identity. Proportion is the perfect representation of another thing or conformity to some good. St. Thomas gives the example of the Son as the perfect image of the Father and thus said to be in perfect proportion. 3 Elsewhere he states that God is beautiful as being “the cause of the harmony and clarity of the universe.” 4 He also states that love, which is the most beautiful virtue, is “a certain harmony of the appetite with that which is apprehended as suitable.” 5

Unity and harmony, as qualities of beauty, can be understood when we consider the attractiveness of a complex piece of music (or any artwork) over something simple. All other things equal, the complexity makes the piece more beautiful. This is because the act of harmoniously incorporating additional forms and components into a greater unity approximates truth, beauty, and goodness. The unity of the Trinity is the perfect archetype of harmony and pure oneness (out of something like a plurality). A family is beautiful because of its unity; and a well ordered society is for the same reason. That is all to say that unity and harmony point to not just any truth, but to truth itself, God, as do all things beautiful.

The dissolution of a thing arises from a defect therein. Disunity is an evil because its end is the dissolution of a being in the same way that the end of sin is the dissolution of some good. The ugliness of disunity is evidenced by the pain that accompanies it. St. Thomas quotes St. Augustine saying, “what else is pain but a feeling of impatience of division or corruption?” 6 and goes on to say, “the good of each thing consists in a certain unity” in defense of his proposition that the desire for unity is a cause of sorrow.7

With all of these ideas considered, we followers of Christ ought to sorrow at the disunity of Christians and earnestly pray for the re-unification, the integration, of all Christians into one body: the Church. Unity is beautiful because it is good and Christ intended unity for His Church8 because it is His own body. Our theological differences notwithstanding, I hope that Christians of all backgrounds will join together during this week of prayer for Christian unity to petition the Holy Spirit to move on the hearts of men that we may be unified not only in spirit, but in body, that is, in Church.”

“Life is not just a succession of events or experiences. It is a search for the true, the good & the beautiful.”-Pope Benedict XVI

Love,
Matthew

  1. Summa Theologica, 1.39.8
  2. Ibid., 1.6.4; 2.36.3
  3. Ibid., 1.39.8
  4. Ibid., 2b.145.2. Aquinas is quoting Pseudo-Dionysius
  5. Ibid., 2.29.1
  6. De Lib. Arb. iii, 23
  7. Summa Theologica 2.36.3
  8. cf. John 17