What are Beauty and Peace? The Ancient Philosophers Had Simple, Objective Definitions

blog11-10Every now and then we all run across a description or definition of something that captures its truth, yet at the same time respects its mystery. For indeed mere words can ever really be, or take the place of, the thing or person they describe. The reality is always richer than the descriptions we attempt with the grunts and scrawls we call “words.”

Such were my thoughts when I was rummaging through some old philosophy notes and came across two classic definitions that are moving in their simplicity, yet mysteriously accurate. Here they are:

  1. Beauty is the splendor of order. Yes, order is magnificent. Sometimes we speak of symmetry (Greek for “same measure”). Sometimes we speak of proportion (from a Latin word meaning that something is properly divided or shared). Musically, we speak of harmony (from the Greek harmonia, meaning agreement of sound) or of “concerts” (from the Latin concertare, meaning “to bring into agreement”). Yes, order is a beautiful thing that points beyond itself to purpose and design. Things in creation are not just here on earth haphazardly. They are not chaotically strewn about. Rather, things are intricately interrelated in multiple ways and at every level: atomically, molecularly, organically, ecologically, and cosmically. Such order, such beauty! Beauty is truly the splendor of order.
  2. Peace is the rest of order. This definition is even more mysterious. We all know that order brings peace, but why? When our lives are in order we sleep well. When chaos wounds order we are in distress and seek to restore order. The perception of order bestows a kind of satisfaction and fulfillment. For a moment we can stop and say, “It is well; things are as they should be.” This sense of well-being ushers in peace and serenity. Yes, peace is the rest of order.

These are just two brief thoughts to savor.

To those who understand the “order” of a Bach fugue, there is nothing more splendid. In this video the organist announces the theme with her right hand. Her left hand eventually echoes the theme, then her feet. And all the while the theme is also divided mathematically. Yes, math set to music. Enjoy the splendor of order (beauty) in this fugue.

11 Replies to “What are Beauty and Peace? The Ancient Philosophers Had Simple, Objective Definitions”

  1. When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
    When sorrows like sea billows roll;
    Whatever my lot, THOU hast taught me to know,
    It is well, it is well, with my soul.

    It is well,
    With my soul,
    It is well, it is well, with my soul.

    Peace is the rest of order. In spite of what transpire in this world, of chaos and disorder and noise not only in the physical but mostly of mind and spirit, we can in the silence of our spirit in prayer we have inner peace. We can bask in and savor The Presence of Our SAVIOR Who took it all for us. GOD Bless you, Monsignor for this post.

    1. In response to Greg’s post and to those with children:

      I wouldn’t want to speak for Msgr. Pope, but I think the keynote of this piece was the gaining of interior peace by recalling the divine context of our lives; recalling that this life of ours has a final end! It means that when your daughter isn’t doing her homework and is instead compelled to chase her little brother around the house yelling “bushka bushka bushka,” it somehow has some kind of a purpose. Because what’s the other option? It’s without any purpose? It’s sometimes with purpose and sometimes without purpose? A less probable set of propositions, yeah?

      We are quick to tell others that they have a purpose in life, but we forget to note that our life too has purpose. There is peace in purpose. As Msgr. notes:

      “Things in creation are not just here on earth haphazardly. They are not chaotically strewn about. Rather, things are intricately interrelated in multiple ways and at every level: atomically, molecularly, organically, ecologically, and cosmically.”

      This speaks to things on a physical level, but the principle is likewise to be applied to the metaphysical (meta- “beyond”) events & people God has mixed into our lives. Interior peace is achievable amidst many restless children. I know this intimately from experience. It just took time for me to be disposed to that.

      Also, I think we’d be setting ourselves up for certain despair if we define “peace” as synonymous with a quiet and uneventful life! Basically, a life which accords with our jurisdiction and our command. Because that life doesn’t exist here on earth. That’s like trying to live in a world where there are no bad drivers, no rainy days, and no mistakes! Instant un-peace.

      One of the universal graces of children is that they have this innate and unrehearsed instinct to go against how we try to define what life is. In reality, we gotta remember that we are creations amidst the Creator’s life. This life is a gift and we must adhere to the truth which is outside of our wants, desires, conveniences, etc.

      There is peace in entering the “chaos” of our children’s lives and energy. Trust me, friend! There is peace in trying your all to show them the way to sanctity. That’s our purpose as parents anyways! Because what are the other options in light of God?

    2. Not exactly. You are reproducing a pattern of family that countless generations of your forbears participated in. THAT is something of beauty!!! And though rest and peace may be in short supply, when you get them, you can savor them in a way that those who live for themselves only never can.

    3. I would say that a certain kind of superficial peace and order is out the window (I have 7 children age 10 and under). However, having young children reveals just how un-peaceful and disordered my soul is, which, in the end, is the only kind of peace and order which matters. That disorder was there before, but since I could run my own life, I wasn’t aware of it. Having kids holds a mirror up to me so that I can recognize my selfishness and ask God to remove it and learn to rely more and more on His grace and mercy.

  2. I have also heard beauty defined as the splendor of truth. A thing s beautiful if it has unity (simplicity), harmony (balance), and intelligibility.

    I am a physics teacher, and I try to instill in my students that one of the most important reasons for studying physics is the experience of beauty. Granted, they can’t get too far, but they can learn just enough to get a taste of the elegance of physics.

    Thanks for this post!

  3. Thank you, Father! Enlightening, instructive and inspiring as always! I don’t know how much trouble it would be, but I like to be able to details for a performance like this: performer’s name, which organ it is being played on, etc. I know it lists the piece as BWV 532, but is there a way find this other info? It really is a masterful performance!
    God Bless,

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