August / September 2015 - Vol. 81

Michael O'Brien art work
 Truth, Goodness, and Beauty
- the Three Transcendentals

by Peter Kreeft
The following excerpt is from Peter Kreeft’s essay, “Lewis’s Philosophy of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty,” published by IVP Academic; Print on Demand Edition, June 15, 2008.

                          Trinity iconThere are three things that will never die: truth, goodness, and beauty. These are the three things we all need, and need absolutely, and know we need, and know we need absolutely. Our minds want not only some truth and some falsehood, but all truth, without limit. Our wills want not only some good and some evil, but all good, without limit. Our desires, imaginations, feelings or hearts want not just some beauty and some ugliness, but all beauty, without limit.

Three Attributes of God
For these are the only three things that we never got bored with, and never will, for all eternity, because they are three attributes of God, and therefore all God’s creation: three transcendental or absolutely universal properties of all reality. All that exists is true, the proper object of the mind. All that exists is good, the proper object of the will. All that exists is beautiful, the proper object of the heart, or feelings, or desires, or sensibilities, or imagination. (This third area is more difficult to define than the first two.) ...

We are head, hands, and heart. We respond to truth, goodness and beauty. We are this because we are images of God. Each of us is one person with three distinct powers.

Wedding at Cana by
                            Michael O'Brien

Image of the Holy Trinity
God is one God, but in three distinct persons. The Son, the Logos, is the mind of the Father and performs his good will in redeeming the world. The Spirit is the poet, who composes and choreographs the operatic love between the Father and the Son in both creating and redeeming, and so is the Sanctifier, the saint-maker – and the saint is the most beautiful thing on Earth.

As the Spirit proceeds from Father and Son, children proceed from husband and wife, the holy family on Earth manifesting the holy Trinitarian family of heaven, though very imperfectly and obscurely, through a glass darkly. As the Son, though equal to the Father in all things, willingly and lovingly submits to the Father’s good will, the loving wife lovingly submits to the loving husband’s loving good will, though she is equal to him in all things. For this is not politics, but music; not equality, by harmony; not justice, but love…

three paintings by
                          Michael O'Brien

Beauty derived from truth and goodness
According to Aquinas, beauty is “that which, being seen, pleases.” Though beauty is derived from truth and goodness, it has the greatest power over our souls. This is why most addictions come from something that appears beautiful, whether Gollum’s ring, a false “precious” (The Lord of the Rings trilogy), or a drug or alcohol high, which is a false mystical experience, or a false love that apes married love but lacks its truth. And therefore the only effective cure for addiction must come from something that appears even more beautiful than the addiction. As Aquinas says, the only thing strong enough to overcome evil passion is a more powerful good passion.

The beauty of a sober saint, to which the alcoholic aspires, is a powerful cure for alcoholism. The beauty of the bloody love of Christ can overcome the beauty of the forbidden love of a beautiful body.

Augustine in his Soliloquies imagines God asking him, “What do you want to know?” And Augustine replies, “Only two things: Yourself and myself.” That is not narrow; that is broad. For a self, or person, involves all three of the things we need and want infinitely: truth, goodness and beauty. So there really are six things we want to know in knowing these two, but the six are really three, since our three are reflections of God’s three.

Peter Kreeft, Ph.D., is a professor of philosophy at Boston College and also at the King's College (Empire State Building), in New York City. He is a regular contributor to several Christian publications, is in wide demand as a speaker at conferences, and is the author of over 55 books including: Back to Virtue; The God Who Loves You; Heaven, The Heart's Deepest Longing; Everything You wanted to Know About Heaven; Your Questions - God's Answers; How To Win The Culture War. See more of his work at his online website.

*paintings from Biblical themes by Michael O'Brien: top trio paintings depict Holy Family at Nazareth, Crucifixion, and Jesus with Women of Jerusalem; middle painting depicts the Wedding Feast at Cana with Jesus and Mary; bottom trio paintings depict Joseph's coat of colors, Angel directing Joseph in a dream to flee with Mary and the Christ Child to Egypt, and a Birthday Celebration for the Boy Jesus at Nazareth.
**icon of the Three Angels who appeared to Abraham symbolize for the Orthodox the Holy Trinity
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