The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Jonathan Edwards And Aquinas on Beauty

Awesome book. I’ll be providing a few quotes. Here’s the first:

The highest consent or agreement between beings is love. In love, being consents to being the highest possible way. Thus to experience love is to experience beauty; to be loving is to beautify; to be filled with love is to be beautiful. On the corporate or societal level the beauty of love is manifested in union. Edwards writes: "Union is one of the most amiable things, that pertains to human society; yea, tis one of the most beautiful and happy things on earth, which indeed makes earth most like heaven.

Another important distinction in Edwards definition of true virtue is that between the love of benevolence and love of complacence. Love which is of complacence “presupposes beauty, for it is no other than delight in beauty; or complacence in the person or being beloved for his beauty”. Love of complacence is a love of beauty, the object of such a love is loved on account of, or for the sake of, it’s beauty. Love of benevolence, on the other hand, is a more general goodwill. It is an “affection or propensity of the heart to any being” Love of benevolence does not necessarily presuppose beauty in it’s object. Love to being in general allows for a more universal proportion and thus is a higher beauty than is love to particular beings: "True virtue most essentially consists in benevolence to Being in general. Or perhaps to speak more accurately, it is that consent, propensity and union of heart to Being in general, that is immediately exercised in a general good will. ~~ page 9

For Edwards, God’s Holy Spirit is beauty. For Edwards, beauty is not so much a thing or an idea as it is a divine person in relation. Beauty has a personal identity. All other beauties of proportion, consent, or love find their source in God’s beauty. All beauties are derived from and point to God, who, in very being, specifically in the person of the Holy Spirit, is proportion, consent, love, and beauty. ~~ p. 12


This study offers an account of Saint Thomas Aquinas’s conception of beauty, the transcendental property associated with objects that, Thomas wrote, ‘please when seen.’ Though he did not neglect the subjective side in aesthetic perception, Thomas insisted that beauty was never merely in the eye of the beholder. Sevier begins with an examination of the psychological factors involved in aesthetic experience, which entails an appreciation of the complex interplay between desire and pleasure within the human subject. In the central chapter, the author analyzes the objective features in the beautiful object—those essential ‘constituents’ (proportion, integrity, and clarity) that make particular beings so appealing to perceivers. In addition to tracing the source of these distinctions to the philosophical work of Plato and Pseudo-Dionysius, Sevier addresses the issue of whether Thomas considered beauty a separate transcendental property in relation to being, truth, and goodness. The author suggests that the answer to this textual question, whatever it is, does not affect Thomas’s final judgment that ‘everything that exists is de facto also beautiful.’ Like its subject matter, this work is a model of proportion, integrity, and clarity. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. ( CHOICE )

My first reading of Aquinas on beauty was in a book by Umberto Eco. But Eco believed that the aesthetics of Aquinas is of little value in our age. Sevier argues otherwise and does so with clarity. ( Catholic Medical Quarterly )

Sevier is to be commended for his pursuit of questions, themes, and texts that are frequently ignored by Aquinas scholarship. Sevier expresses the hope that his volume ‘will advance the discussion a little further, that it will expand appreciation for Aquinas’s little acknowledged contribution to the great aesthetic tradition, and that it provides evidence for the all-too-neglected Platonic impulses that punctuate his thought.’ On all three counts, Aquinas on Beauty succeeds very well. ( Speculum )