Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Deal W. Hudson

1/22/2014 (1 year ago)

Catholic Online (

Very religious people often have a skepticism toward the consideration of beauty as a way to God.

What did Fyodor Dostoevsky mean in The Idiot when one of his characters asserts, "Beauty will save the world?" Taken at face value, it's a claim that beauty plays a role in the salvation of us all. It also contains the implication that the culture surrounding us, as the platform where much of the world's beauty is displayed, fits into the plan of our salvation.Our unending delight is found in the beauty of God, in His presence to our souls. Yet beauty is also part of the journey, not just the destination.


By Deal W. Hudson

Catholic Online (

1/22/2014 (1 year ago)

Published in U.S.

Keywords: happiness, virtue, beatitude, moral life, passion, beauty, culture, existential, search, Deal W Hudson

WASHINGTON,DC (Catholic Online) - What did Fyodor Dostoevsky mean in The Idiot when one of his characters asserts, "Beauty will save the world?" Taken at face value, it's a claim that beauty plays a role in the salvation of us all. It also contains the implication that the culture surrounding us, as the platform where much of the world's beauty is displayed, fits into the plan of our salvation.

There are quite a few Christians, of all denominations, who would respond to both claims with skepticism, if not outright denial. Beauty, they would say, is more like the road to ruin than the path to God. With beauty comes attraction to what may be destructive, especially to the lower appetites, as they used to be called.

I call these skeptics the "religious despisers" of beauty. I'm reversing the approach of the well known book On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers (1799) by Friedrich Schleiermacher. Those cultured despisers of religion still exist, of course, but it's the despisers of beauty, motivated by religious earnestness, that I want to address. They, I believe, are not only missing the deepest significance of our desire for beauty, but they are also putting unnecessary limits on their witness to faith in Jesus Christ.

May we begin the argument by acknowledging that beauty is part of everything we do, not just our enjoyment of the arts. We are creatures wrapped in constant aisthesis or sensation, from which the term aesthetics is derived. Sensation makes our awareness of beauty possible, from the everyday appreciation of the world around us, to the moments of overwhelming beauty that caused a reorientation of our lives. Who can deny that beauty can elicit in us such a sense of aspiration that we resolve to live in a different, and better, way?

Such moments come to many of us from works of art as well: a film, a novel, a poem, a play, a painting or sculpture, a ballet or musical, a building, or - as it did for me - an architecturally arranged place like the Piazza del Campo in Sienna, where it is said the Mother of God laid down her cloak to mark its boundaries.

Remember that aspiration you feel as you are lifted up and out of yourself, when you experience the ecstasy of beauty. You aspire to live in accord with something you glimpse at that moment - something you sense is real and within your grasp. The chorus at the end of Beethoven's 9th Symphony, the "Ode to Joy" can serve as a common reference point.  Few pieces of music inspire as much aspiration towards lasting friendship among persons and nations.

The 9th Symphony is one of those great works of art that have been transforming those who hear it for centuries. The Russian novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn argues that works of art have an advantage over unadorned concepts in changing lives. He has in mind the kinds of ideas and concepts used in philosophy, theology, and politics.  For example, Aristotle taught me a theory of virtue and vice, but it was Shakespeare who taught me about human nature (and I wish I had paid more attention)!

Solzhenitsyn writes, "Concepts which are manufactured out of whole cloth or overstrained will not stand up to being tested in images, will somehow fall apart and turn out to be sickly and pallid and convincing to no one." Works of art, he argues, that are "steeped in truth" and are "vividly alive will take hold of us, will attract us to themselves with great power - and no one, ever, even in a later age, will presume to negate them."

What is the source of this power? according to Solzhenitsyn, it's "that old trinity of Truth and Good and Beauty," the basic transcendental properties of all being and beings. In other words, everything that exists has truth, goodness, and beauty, and they are unified in every being. This is what makes possible, from a metaphysical point of view, for beauty to become an agent of salvation.

Catholic philosophers consider this oneness a demonstrable fact of metaphysics, unaided by faith. Theology, however, provided the ultimate cause for the unity: the doctrine of creation. When God creates, He shares His being, His existence - an existence that is perfectly true, good, and beautiful. It's their status as properties across all beings that make them "controvertible," meaning wherever you meet one you encounter the other.

Those "religious despisers" of beauty would welcome someone they meet who is searching for the good or the true. So why not also welcome those who search for the beautiful? The despisers do not understand that underlying the hunger for beauty is the search for God.

It is God's beauty that will be seen in the Beatific Vision, the state of eternal happiness where our infinite desire meets the only infinite object: God. As Dante says, at the end of the Paradiso, it is impossible to turn away:

And as I gaz'd, I kindled at the sight;
No Mortal from the glorious view could turn,
. (Canto XXXIII)

Our unending delight is found in the beauty of God, in His presence to our souls. Yet beauty is also part of the journey, not just the destination.

If a friend weeps at what is beautiful, don't tell them they are wasting their tears. If you deny a person beauty, in the name of God, that person may reject Him, He who is beauty itself. If you say beauty belongs to the Evil One, you are aiding in Satan's most devious ploy.

Instead, Christians should tell these pilgrims that their desire for beauty is as natural to the creature as the hunger for goodness and truth. Tell them that beauty can be the way, and then tell them about the beauty of Christ and His cross.

Even better, Christians should show them the cultural artifacts that Christians have produced to glorify Him - works so great and lasting that it is gazed upon every day by millions who don't even share the faith that inspired it. This is not meant as a dispensable addendum to faith or to the evangelical witness; the fullness of our Christian witness demands it.


 1. Very religious people often have a skepticism toward the consideration of beauty as a way to God.

2. Human beings are constantly in a state of sensation -- aisthesis  -- as the world presents itself to the mind through the senses.

3. Beauty as a way to God is metaphysically grounded in its status as a transcendental property of being in union with truth and the good.

© Deal W. Hudson, Ph.D

Deal W. Hudson is president of the Morley Institute of Church and Culture, Senior Editor at Catholic Online, and former publisher and editor of Crisis Magazine.This column and subsequent contributions are an excerpt from a forthcoming book. Dr. Hudson's new radio show, Church and Culture, will begin broadcasting in February on the Ave Maria Radio Network.


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'

Copywriter 2015 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for October 2015
That human trafficking, the modern form of slavery, may be eradicated.
Evangelization: That with a missionary spirit the Christian communities of Asia may announce the Gospel to those who are still awaiting it.


More U.S.

'Domestic terrorism': 5 People shot during Black Lives Matter protest in Minneapolis Watch

Image of Despite a shooting at a Minneapolis Black Lives Matter protest, the group plans to return to the precinct to continue their protests.


Protesters were standing outside the 4th Precinct in Minneapolis for Black Lives Matter in the case of 24-year-old Jamar Clark when gunshots rang out. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) -Five protesters were shot outside the police station Tuesday afternoon as one ... continue reading

Planned Parenthood sues the State of Texas: Find out why NOW Watch

Image of The complainants maintain that planned intervention of the government is a violation of the federal statute and the 14th Amendment, which ensures equal protection.


Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit this week against the State of Texas for blocking its Medicaid funding. Planned Parenthood says that the decision was motivated by politics - and not because of health care concerns. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The ... continue reading

Terror threats spark shocking WORLD WIDE TRAVEL ALERTS Watch

Image of In either case, travelers can expect beefed-up security at airports in the coming weeks - and longer lines.


It is the start of the holiday season in the United States - and with the world still thoroughly rattled after the attacks in Paris this past November 13, travel alerts are in high effect. Even worse, those who decide to stay home through Thanksgiving and ... continue reading

Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter, Catholics nurtured in the Anglican tradition, receives its First Bishop Watch

Image of Fr Randy Sly, a Catholic priest of the Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter.

By Deacon Keith Fournier

The Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter is equivalent to a diocese for Roman Catholics who were nurtured in the Anglican tradition. The Ordinariate was created by the Vatican on Jan. 1, 2012.On November 24, 2015. Pope Francis announced the appointment of ... continue reading

EVIL AGAINST EVIL: Mafia boss says his group will protect New York City against Islamist State Watch

Image of Now pursuing a screenwriting career, Giovanni Gambino says that following the terror attacks in Paris on November 13, protection is more important than ever.


It is highly ironic, an example of the kettle calling the pot black as it were . Son of New York mob boss Giovanni Gambino is warning the Islamic State that if they decide to take New York City on, they will have the mafia to contend with.  LOS ANGELES, CA ... continue reading

Suicide bomber and K-9 units in New York subway station - but it's not what you think (WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGES) Watch

Image of NYC emergency responders held a 3-hour drill at the Bowery subway station in Manhattan days before the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade.


Following the Paris terror attacks, New York City teamed up with the Department of Homeland Security on Sunday to stage a three-hour active-shooter and suicide bomber drill. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Only days before the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade, emergency ... continue reading

Will national World War II shame over Japanese internment camps return with Muslim refugees? PHOTOS... Watch

Image of The internment of U.S. citizens of Japanese descent following the bombing of Pearl Harbor during World War II remains a very dark page in our national history.


Longtime mayor of Roanoke, Virginia, Mayor David Bowers has since apologized for his comments that compared Syrian refugee assistance and Japanese internment camps. While controversial, his comments have hit a raw, national nerve . and many people are wondering ... continue reading

What Time is it? The Feast of Christ the King and our Approach to Marking Time Watch

Image of Christ the King: This final Sunday of the church Year, the Feast of Christ the King, is the day when we are invited to commemorate His sovereignty over all men, women and children. Jesus Christ has come. Jesus Christ is coming. Jesus Christ will come again. Jesus Christ is Lord of All.

By Deacon Keith Fournier

Our choice to actually live the Christian liturgical year, in a compelling, evangelistic and inviting way, can become a profoundly important form of missionary activity in an age deluded by the barrenness of secularism. A robust, evangelically alive and ... continue reading

Remembering Gettysburg: America Needs to be Moral to be Free Watch

Image of The Lincoln memorial in Washington, DC

By Mat Staver & Keith Fournier

Our age has been seduced by a counterfeit notion of liberty as the right to do whatever we want, rather than the right to choose to do what is right. This is not what the founding fathers thought. The birth certificate of this nation was called a Declaration of ... continue reading

NEW TERROR THREAT: ISIS releases video saying they will destroy the White House - next Watch

Image of Using his index finger to point to the sky, referring to Allah, the man says,


With the attacks on Paris still foremost in international consciousness, the Islamic State has released a new, threatening video - saying that the United States is next. "We started with [Paris] and we shall finish with the false White House... We shall render ... continue reading

All U.S. News


Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

the FEED
by Catholic Online

  • Prayer For Courage HD
  • Daily Readings for Wednesday, November 25, 2015
  • 5 unbelievable times children taught us to be better human beings
  • St. Catherine of Alexandria: Saint of the Day for Wednesday, November ...
  • Couple heartbroken after doctor performs abortion without mother's ...
  • 'Domestic terrorism': 5 People shot during Black Lives Matter protest ...
  • Advent Wreath Prayer HD

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Daniel 2:31-45
31 'You have had a vision, Your Majesty; this is what you saw: a statue, ... Read More

Psalm, Daniel 3:57, 58, 59, 60, 61
57 Bless the Lord, all the Lord's creation: praise and glorify him for ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 21:5-11
5 When some were talking about the Temple, remarking how it was adorned ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for November 24th, 2015 Image

St. Andrew Dung Lac
November 24: Through the missionary efforts of various ... Read More