Thursday, March 30, 2017

Fr. Benedict Ashley on the Purpose of the Fine Arts

[272] Some esthetes [sic] have gone so far as to say that a work of fine art is of value without any reference to human needs. This would be the theory of "art for art's sake" in its most extreme form. These argue that just as the works of God, sun, moon, plants, animals, and men were created just to be themselves, so man makes works of art just to exist as perfect works. This argument is insufficient. God does indeed produce creatures each of which has its own value, but the things less than man have been made for man's benefit, while man has been created (as the Catechism tells us) "to know, love, and serve God." Irrational creatures are ennobled by serving man and being used by him. Man is ennobled by serving his God. If this is true of God's works, which are substances able to exist in their own right, how much more true is it of human works, which are only modifications of the things which God has made?

Characteristics of Fine Art

Works of Fine Art Need Not Be Useful

[...] [273] [...] Thus some works of art are only useful (a trash can, a paper clip); others are both useful and fine (a beautiful teacup, a handsome automobile); others are only fine (a painting, a piece of music).

We should notice, however, that when a thing is both useful and beautiful there ought to be some relation between these two kinds of value. In the Victorian age there was a common notion that beauty and utility are opposites. Consequently when they wanted to make a useful object beautiful, they tried to disguise its use. They concealed umbrella stands inside statues, they made stoves look like little iron cathedrals, and they made grocery stores look like Greek temples. This we can call the error of ornamentalism. That it is an error we can see from looking at the works of God. The beauty of a horse is not merely due to its mane or its color; it is found in its lean, clean, swift look. But this appearance is based on the fact that its skeleton and muscles are perfectly fashioned for the use or function for which they are intended.

Much of the beauty of nature is found, upon careful study, to be a result of the usefulness of natural objects. Modern artists have begun to realize this, and they have put forward the theory of functionalism. According to this theory, if we make a building or an automobile or any other object truly useful, it will automatically be beautiful. Functionalism is an exaggerated reaction against ornamentalism. The true view is that the beauty of an object ought to grow out of its usefulness, but that beauty is something above and beyond the useful, not merely a result of it.

[274] A Work of Fine Art Need Not Direct Our Active Life

Since a work of fine art is not necessarily useful, it must have its value in helping us live well. Because this is so, one of the commonest views of fine art has been that its purpose is to teach us morals and to persuade us by its charm to do what is right. This indeed would be a very high value in a work of art, and without a doubt some works of fine art are most effective in this way. For example, our Lord's parables are beautifully told short-stories, and they deeply affect us and lead us to a better life. The great novelist, Tolstoy, argued that all fine art must lead us to love God and our fellowmen, and that this is its real purpose. Similarly, most poets have defended their work by saying that it had great moral value. "Let me make the songs of the nation," one said, "and I care not who makes its laws" [NB: Andrew Fletcher (1655 - 1716)].

Action and Contemplation

But moral teaching and persuasion is not the only value a work of fine art might have in helping us live well. Man has two kinds of activity which belong to him as a spiritual being. One is action in the ordinary sense (working, talking, making, leading, governing, loving, playing) by which he seeks his physical and social needs. We call this the active life, and it is lived by the business man, the man in government and communications. The other kind of activity (which seems to many not to be activity at all, but which is really the most godlike) is the activity of knowing. The scientist, the philosopher, the theologian, the mystic, all live this life which is most like the life which God himself lives. God lives a life of pure knowledge and love, and he has created and governs the world without in any way turning from that life of pure contemplation. It is this life which the saints in heaven share with him, and which we hope will be ours to share forever.

This contemplative activity is the highest kind of activity, but it is also a wonderful kind of rest or repose, a vacation of enjoyment, in which our activity is simply to enjoy ourselves. It is the highest kind of activity, because the active life of business and government exists only as a means to this end.

[275] The Fine Arts and Contemplation

It is possible, therefore, that the value of the fine arts lies not in directing our active life but our contemplative life. Which is it? The answer seems clear enough. In speaking of the fine arts we always emphasize their beauty. But beauty is that which pleases when seen (see page 339): We delight simply to look at it; we do not use it, nor does it lead us to do something, other than simply to look and enjoy. Thus the work of fine art is characterized by the fact that we enjoy looking at it, we take pleasure simply in knowing it—and this is just what we have said is the mark of contemplation. Although a work of fine art may improve us morally, this it shares in common with many other things, and what is more characteristic of it is that it is of contemplative value.

Does this mean that works of fine art as such have no moral significance? This again is one of the ideas of the "art for art's sake" school, and is an exaggeration. The contemplative activity of man is the goal of his life, but it must be moral. This means that we can take a true pleasure in contemplation only if what we contemplate is true—that is, God, or something which God has made as he intended it to be, or something which we have made which is in accordance with God's wisdom and law. If we were to take pleasure in looking at things that are sinful or monstrous or false, we would be going against our own nature which was made to know and love God. To be sure, a work of fine art may contain a representation of something sinful or evil as one of its parts, just as in speaking we may sometimes quote words which are false or blasphemous, but the work as a whole must be true.

Furthermore, not only must the work be true and good in itself, but it must be suitable for a particular audience. Things that are good or true in themselves may still be an occasion of sin for those who are weak.

The Moral Influence of the Fine Arts

These are negative requirements, but there are also positive ones. The things which we contemplate and enjoy influence us. We tend to become like those we live with and love, and we tend to become [276] like the things we contemplate and enjoy. This is not an immediate effect, but only a remote one, since we are not made evil simply by an occasional meeting with someone or something evil. But when this association is repeated, then the disposition to evil is produced in us. Hence the works of fine art which we contemplate have a remote moral effect on us, even when they do not actually tempt us to sin, or persuade us to do right.

Because of this fact, a work of fine art ought to make us delight in what is true, noble, courageous, hopeful, pure, charitable, so that we may become like these things. It ought not to make us habitually ambiguous, petty, fearful, sensual, gossipy. Finally, since human life is short, works of art which are not positively bad but which are trivial are a waste of time. We might be rather enjoying those which have a strong and true moral effect, even if this is a remote one. As we have seen, however, this moral effect is not the proper and specific character of the fine arts.

A Work of Fine Art Leads to Contemplation by Its Beauty

We have still not found a way to distinguish a work of fine art from many other types of human works. The things which are worth contemplating are so because they are true and beautiful. If they were not true, then, as we have said, it would be wrong to take delight in them. On the other hand, if they are not beautiful they are not delightful.

Of course everything which is beautiful must first be true, since we would not delight in knowing what is false—the false is not satisfying to minds like ours made to know the true. When people do seem to delight in what is false, this delight is perverse and unhealthy. On the other hand, everything which is true must also be beautiful, since a right-minded person cannot help but delight in the truth. It would seem, then, that the words of Keats, "Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty, that is all you know or need to know," are correct.

This is inaccurate, however. The beautiful adds something to the true, namely, a fittingness or appropriateness to the mind of the one who knows. Truth appears beautiful to us only when it is vivid, clear, perfectly achieved by our power of knowing. Thus all truth is beautiful to a perfect knower, but to human beings who have only [277] a weak power of knowing, much that is true has only a hidden beauty. To God and the angels this world appears marvelously beautiful, even though they see clearly the sin and disorder that fill it, because these evils appear only as the dark shadows which increase the splendor of its order as a whole. We stand so close to the world that we cannot see its whole design. We are like men standing at the foot of a skyscraper unable to see its beauty.

For us human beings the things that are greatest, most true, and most worth knowing are not always the most beautiful, while the things that appear most beautiful to us are not always the things most worth knowing. Works of art excel in beauty, but they need not always excel in the importance of the truth which they contain. But since time is short in this world, we should not waste too much of it on beautiful trivialities when it is possible to find works of art which are at once very beautiful and concerned with great truths.

A Work of Fine Art Leads to Contemplation by Catharsis

The Significant Form

A work of fine art, therefore, is above all something beautiful; yet this is not enough to define it, since many beautiful things are not works of art. On another page (248 f.) we have seen that beauty for us is found principally in mathematical patterns of color or sound. What is peculiar to the beauty of a work of fine art? It is not to be found merely in the fact that the work of fine art has a beautiful mathematical design.

We have seen in the last chapter (page 251) that such beauty is not fully satisfying to us because we naturally desire to know more than surface beauty. Unless the form is significant of some underlying nature, it seems trivial to us. If human art had only the beauty of mathematical design it would be inferior to natural things, whose forms are significant of the nature of the things. That is why the modern architect admires the functional beauty of natural forms, and despises the merely ornamental beauty of surface designs.

Hence the form of a work of art must be significant of the underlying nature, and we have already seen how this is achieved through imitation or representation (pages 256 f.). A work of art is superior to nature itself in this respect, since the imitation tells us [278] more than the original about the interior nature; an actor shows the character of the man he imitates more clearly than the man would reveal himself in real life. The artist by intelligent selection and emphasis of the significant details or properties of a thing helps us to see what is essential and unique in it (see page 252). It would seem, then, that imitation is the specific difference of a work of fine art, and it is by imitation that the artist leads us to contemplation, which would thus be the final cause of the work.

The Imitation of Art

This is indeed true, but it is still not sufficiently precise. Not every sort of imitation achieves the effect on us found in a work of art. It might be possible to draw a clever diagram of a plant, for example, which would be highly instructive as to its inner nature and function, without that diagram seeming to be a work of fine art. We expect the work of art to appeal to our emotions, to arouse our sympathy.

We can well understand why this is necessary if we consider that contemplation is hindered, not only by an unclear, confused, or obscure object, but also by dryness, distraction, weariness on the part of our feelings. If the artist is to help us contemplate, he must not only show us an object by a clear imitation, but he must also dispose us to gaze at it by arousing our interests and winning our sympathy. Works of fine art usually have some element of surprise, of the puzzling, of the dazzling, or of the fascinating, that wins our attention. We might say, therefore, that the work of fine art is an imitation arousing emotional sympathy, or something of that sort.

But again this does not seem sufficiently precise. What we have just described sounds like an advertisement or a piece of propaganda which is persuasive just because it arouses our interest, appeals to our feelings, and then conveys its message. A work of fine art is, indeed, very close to advertising, and yet it is utterly different. The difference is that the advertisement wins our attention and conveys its message in order to get us to do something, to buy the product. A work of fine art, on the other hand, wins our attention in order that we might repose in contemplating its beauty, desiring for the time to do nothing else.

[279] Imitation and Catharsis

This is indicated by the classical term catharsis, or purifying of the emotions. The advertisement channels our emotions to action, but it cannot be said to purify them. The work of fine art, after arousing the emotions of interest and sympathy, goes on to bring them to a repose in the beautiful object so that our vision becomes crystal clear. The emotions are said to be "purified" because they now aid us to contemplate, rather than hinder us.

When our divine Lord said, "Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God" (Matt. 5:8), he was telling us that contemplation requires the purity and harmony of the appetites (the heart) as its indispensable condition. If our appetites are disorderly, they will never permit the mind to rest in the vision of beauty and truth. Permanent purity of heart can be achieved only by the virtues which are acquired by grace and patient effort, but the work of fine art gives to us a transient experience of this purity of heart. The sinful man hearing a great poem experiences, for the moment, something of the wonderful calm and clarity of soul which is the permanent possession of the saint.

Thus the work of fine art has imitation as its formal cause; yet this imitation must be such as to produce a catharsis of the emotions, ending in the contemplation of what is imitated. This is possible because the chief object of imitation in art is human action, and with human action we feel a natural sympathy. In watching a play, we witness the story (imitation) of the life of a man like ourself [sic]. This bond of similarity arouses our emotions. As the story by its significance begins to show us the order and beauty in human life, our aroused emotions are harmonized and begin to come to repose in the delight which we feel, and as they come to repose they are purified, so that our mind is free to delight in the beauty of the object without distraction.

This Contemplation is Recreative

At this point we seem to have discovered the specific difference which distinguishes the work of fine art both from things of natural beauty and from other works that have a merely persuasive value. But a problem remains. If it is true that the end of fine art is contemplative, [280] and that this requires a purification of the emotions, and that permanent purity of the emotions is achieved only by virtue, then it seems that a work of fine art is only a cheap substitute for being a saint or a man of wisdom. While we are being charmed by a work of art, we can look at life with vision and delight in it—but only for a few moments, and then the spell passes. The wise man and saint, however, have this vision and joy in life as their permanent possession.

In answering this objection we must first admit that works of fine art do often serve such secondary purposes:

1. They have an educational value for the young person. Such a person does not have the virtue or wisdom or power of concentration to be able of himself to enjoy a contemplative view of the world. When reading a fine novel, a great play, or listening to beautiful music, he is awakened, perhaps for the first time, to the wonder of contemplation. It is for him a foretaste or pledge of what he may achieve by a life of effort to find wisdom. That is why Plato so wisely told us that philosophy or the pursuit of wisdom begins when the soul is awakened by the beauty of poetry and art. Without this foretaste of the joy of contemplation we would never make the effort to attain it. This value of fine art is very great; but if it were the only value, then once wisdom were attained works of fine art would become unnecessary; they would be only for beginners.

2. They also have therapeutic (healing) value for the person who is emotionally ill. Aristotle's term "catharsis" is a medical term, and many have emphasized the fact that art has a calming effect on the emotionally disturbed. By reading a novel or watching a play, or particularly by listening to music, these morbid emotions are released and calmed, and balance is restored within the soul. There is no doubt that works of fine art have this healing power and that occasionally—in times of intense sorrow, of illness, or simply of moodiness—the enjoyment of art is an effective cure. However, this again is only a substitutional value, since it makes art useful only to a few and in exceptional situations.

[281] But there is a primary value in the fine arts even for the wise and healthy man. We have already said (page 277) that for us human beings beauty and truth are not always proportional. Some rather unimportant or merely probable truths are very beautiful, while some very great truths are so far above us that we achieve them only with great effort. We must rise, so to speak, above the human level to the divine. This is true of the deepest truths of philosophy, but it is even truer of the supernatural truths which we find so difficult to consider in prayer without distractions. Hence even for the wise man contemplation is an effort in this life. In the next it will be a bright vision and perfect repose; here it is a dark and hard way.

Consequently, even the wise man grows weary of the effort, and requires rest and recreation. Yet because he loves the truth which he seeks to contemplate, he does not wish utterly to put it aside. It is here that the work of fine art is so great a gift. The work of fine art recreates us contemplatively. It recreates us because it gives the pleasure of looking at something beautiful in a way that is effortless—or at least relatively easy compared with contemplation—and yet it is itself a continuation of contemplation. Such recreation is inspirational, since it both rests us and elevates our soul.

We may therefore conclude that the purpose of a work of fine art is primarily to give us a recreative form of contemplation, although secondarily it serves educational and therapeutic purposes.


Source: Fr. Benedict M. Ashley, The Arts of Learning and Communication: A Handbook of the Liberal Arts (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2009), 272–281.

Friedrich Nietzsche on Art for Art's Sake

20. Nothing is beautiful, except man alone: all aesthetics rests upon this naïveté, which is its first truth. Let us immediately add the second: nothing is ugly except the degenerating man — and with this the realm of aesthetic judgment is circumscribed. Physiologically, everything ugly weakens and saddens man. It reminds him of decay, danger, impotence; it actually deprives him of strength. One can measure the effect of the ugly with a dynamometer. Wherever man is depressed at all, he senses the proximity of something "ugly." His feeling of power, his will to power, his courage, his pride — all fall with the ugly and rise with the beautiful. In both cases we draw an inference: the premises for it are piled up in the greatest abundance in instinct. The ugly is understood as a sign and symptom of degeneration: whatever reminds us in the least of degeneration causes in us the judgment of "ugly." Every suggestion of exhaustion, of heaviness, of age, of weariness; every kind of lack of freedom, such as cramps, such as paralysis; and above all, the smell, the color, the form of dissolution, of decomposition — even in the ultimate attenuation into a symbol — all evoke the same reaction, the value judgment, "ugly." A hatred is aroused — but whom does man hate then? There is no doubt: the decline of his type. Here he hates out of the deepest instinct of the species; in this hatred there is a shudder, caution, depth, farsightedness — it is the deepest hatred there is. It is because of this that art is deep.


24. L'art pour l'art. — The fight against purpose in art is always a fight against the moralizing tendency in art, against its subordination to morality. L'art pour l'art means, "The devil take morality!" But even this hostility still betrays the overpowering force of the prejudice. When the purpose of moral preaching and of improving man has been excluded from art, it still does not follow by any means that art is altogether purposeless, aimless, senseless — in short, l'art pour l'art, a worm chewing its own tail. "Rather no purpose at all than a moral purpose!" — that is the talk of mere passion. A psychologist, on the other hand, asks: what does all art do? does it not praise? glorify? choose? prefer? With all this it strengthens or weakens certain valuations. Is this merely a "moreover"? an accident? something in which the artist's instinct had no share? Or is it not the very presupposition of the artist's ability? Does his basic instinct aim at art, or rather at the sense of art, at life? at a desirability of life? Art is the great stimulus to life: how could one understand it as purposeless, as aimless, as l'art pour l'art? One question remains: art also makes apparent much that is ugly, hard, and questionable in life; does it not thereby spoil life for us? And indeed there have been philosophers who attributed this sense to it: "liberation from the will" was what Schopenhauer taught as the overall end of art; and with admiration he found the great utility of tragedy in its "evoking resignation." But this, as I have already suggested, is the pessimist's perspective and "evil eye." We must appeal to the artists themselves. What does the tragic artist communicate of himself? Is it not precisely the state without fear in the face of the fearful and questionable that he is showing? This state itself is a great desideratum, whoever knows it, honors it with the greatest honors. He communicates it — must communicate it, provided he is an artist, a genius of communication. Courage and freedom of feeling before a powerful enemy, before a sublime calamity, before a problem that arouses dread — this triumphant state is what the tragic artist chooses, what he glorifies. Before tragedy, what is warlike in our soul celebrates its Saturnalia; whoever is used to suffering, whoever seeks out suffering, the heroic man praises his own being through tragedy — to him alone the tragedian presents this drink of sweetest cruelty.


Source: Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, trans. Walter Kaufmann and R.J. Hollingdale, accessed March 20, 2017,

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Clifford's Principle and Clifford's Other Principle

Clifford’s Principle:
To sum up: it is wrong always, everywhere, and for any one, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.


Source: William Kingdon Clifford, "The Ethics of Belief," The Contemporary Review 29 (January 1877): 295.

Clifford’s Other Principle:
It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone to ignore evidence that is relevant to his beliefs, or to dismiss relevant evidence in a facile way.”


Source: Peter Van Inwagen, “It is Wrong, Everywhere, Always, and for Anyone, to Believe Anything upon Insufficient Evidence,” in Faith, Freedom and Rationality, ed. J. Jordan and D. Howard-Snyder (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1996), 145.

W.K. Clifford on Belief as a Public Matter

And no man's belief is in any case a private matter which concerns himself alone. Our lives are guided by that general conception of the course of things which has been created by society for social purposes. Our words, our phrases, our forms and processes and modes of thought, are common property, fashioned and perfected from age to age; an heirloom, which every succeeding generation inherits as a precious deposit and a sacred trust, to be handed on to the next one, not unchanged, but enlarged and purified, with some clear marks of its proper handiwork. Into this, for good or ill, is woven every belief of every man who has speech of his fellows. An awful privilege, and an awful responsibility, that we should help to create the world in which posterity will live.


Source: William Kingdon Clifford, "The Ethics of Belief," The Contemporary Review 29 (January 1877): 292

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Fr. Jordan Aumann, "Beauty and the Esthetic Response"

[489] Proceeding from metaphysical principles and the data of psychology, we shall attempt to respond to some of the questions and problems proposed in the area of esthetics. Is beauty an objective or purely subjective quality of being? Does the definition of the beautiful necessarily imply a relationship between the beautiful object and the percipient of beauty? Is beauty a transcendental quality of being? Which human faculties are involved in the experience of the beautiful? What is the primary element in the esthetic response to beauty? We shall attempt to answer these questions by applying the principles of St. Thomas Aquinas, whose basic teaching has been variously interpreted by different authors, although in recent times there has been a greater effort to reach a consensus.

It is generally admitted today that the role of esthetics is to determine the nature and laws of the beautiful, wherever it is found, and to specify the human faculties involved in the creation and appreciation of the beautiful. Accordingly, there are three parts or aspects to esthetic investigation: metaphysics of the beautiful, psychology of the beautiful, and philosophy of art. Our investigation will be limited to the metaphysical and the psychological aspects, and to avoid the errors of subjectivism, we shall begin with a definition of beauty and a description of its essential properties.


A sampling of the descriptive definitions of the beautiful offered by classical and modern authors will illustrate the divergence of opinion concerning this quality of being. It will also give some indication of the precision and distinctions required in order to formulate an acceptable definition. Thus, beauty is "the splendor of truth" (Plotinus); "resplendent order" (Horace); a species of the good, with the distinctive qualities of "clarity and proportion" (pseudo-Dionysius); "the splendor of order" (St. Augustine); "splendor of form shining through proportioned parts of matter" (St. Albert the Great); "the aggregation of all the sensed qualities of an object" (Scotus); "multiple equality" (St. Bonaventure); "unity amid variety" (Mendelssohn and Cousin); "finality without an end" (Kant); "expression of an idea by a form" (Hegel); "the infinite presented as finite" (Schelling); "the goodness of an object so far as it delights the mind when known" (Kleutgen).

The best known definition offered by St. Thomas Aquinas is that "the beautiful is that which pleases when seen" (Pulchra enim dicuntur, quae visa placent).[1] However this is a descriptive definition of the effect (per effectum) of the beautiful; it is a psychological rather than an ontological definition. Fortunately, there are numerous other references to beauty in the works of Aquinas, and they provide an ontological basis for formulating a real definition of the beautiful:
Three things are required for beauty: first, integrity or perfection; ... and proper proportion or consonance; and finally clarity.[2] 
Beauty and goodness are identical objectively because they have the same basis in reality, namely, the form of a thing, and in this respect the good is esteemed as beautiful. But they differ logically, because goodness (being what all things desire) relates to the appetite, and therefore has the aspect of an end (since appetite is a kind of movement toward a [491] thing). Beauty, on the other hand, has a relation to the cognitive faculty, because things are said to be beautiful when the mere sight of them gives pleasure. Therefore beauty consists in proper proportion, because the senses delight in rightly proportioned things as similar to themselves... Now, since knowledge proceeds by way of assimilation and the likeness has to do with the form, beauty properly pertains to the notion of the formal cause.[3] 
The beautiful and the good are identical; they differ only logically. Since the good is that which all things desire, it is of th essence of goodness that the appetite be satisfied in it. But it is of the essence of the beautiful that the appetite is satisfied in the mere knowledge or vision of it. ... Beauty therefore adds to goodness a relation to the cognitive faculties, and hence that is said to be good which simply satisfies the appetite, while that is said to be beautiful, the mere vision of which pleases.[4]
St. Thomas thus perfects the teaching of pseudo-Dionysius, who had simply identified beauty and goodness. For the Angelic Doctor, however, beauty and goodness are objectively identical, so far as they inhere in the same being, but there is a logical distinction between the two so far as they relate to different faculties or powers (per respectum ad aliquid). To appreciate the Thomistic distinction it will be helpful to review the metaphysical principles of the good.

The essence of the good consists in the fact that it is something desirable, and a thing is desirable so far as it is perfect.[5] Therefore, concludes St. Thomas, goodness bespeaks perfection, and hence anything that has ultimate perfection is said to be good simpliciter.[6] Perfection is therefore the root and basis of goodness, and since a thing is perfect (and hence good and desirable) so far as it exists,[7] it follows that perfection and goodness are identical with the reality of actual [492] being. Nevertheless, in accordance with the statement of Boethius, "I perceive that in nature the fact that things are good is one thing; that they are is another," St. Thomas affirms that if a thing be considered in its primal actuality, it simply exists or has being; but if considered in its complete actuality, it is good simpliciter.[8] Hence it is clear that goodness, perfection, and being are objectively identical, but perfection bespeaks a given degree of actuality, and goodness refers to the aspect of desirability. Ontologically we would have the following priority: first, the form whereby the existing thing is a being; secondly, the effective power whereby the existing thing has perfection; thirdly, the aspect of goodness or desirability that follows upon the perfection of the existing being.[9]

But beauty is likewise identified objectively with being, perfection, and goodness; therefore beauty cannot be distinguished from goodness ex parte subjecti, but must be distinguished extrinsically. That is why St. Thomas states: "Pulchrum et bonum in subjecto quidem sunt idem, quia super eamdem rem fundantur, scilicet super formam, et propter hoc, bonum laudatur ut pulchrum. Sed ratione differunt."[10] To be more precise, beauty and goodness are distinguished from one another "per respectum ad aliquid,"[11] so that the concepts of goodness and of beauty necessarily imply some sort of relationship. As regards the good, St. Thomas clearly states that the precise relationship that constitutes goodness is a relationship to the appetite:
The essence of goodness consists in this, that it is in some way desirable.[12] 
Goodness properly relates to the appetite (goodness being what all things desire).[13]
For everything is good so far as it is desirable and is a term of the movement of the appetite.[14]
Beauty, however, does not relate simpliciter to the appetite or desire, but to the cognoscitive [sic] faculty, and it is precisely on the basis of this relationship that beauty is distinguished from goodness.
But beauty relates to the cognoscitive power, since things are said to be beautiful when the mere sight of them gives pleasure.[15] 
Beauty adds to goodness a relationship to the cognoscitive faculty.[16] 
Beauty therefore adds to goodness a relation to the cognoscitive faculties, and hence that is said to be good which simply satisfies the appetite, while that is said to be beautiful, the mere vision of which pleases.[17] 
The object that arouses the appetite is the good as apprehended, but if in the very apprehension it is seen as beautiful, it is received as both delightful and good. And so Dionysius says: "The beautiful and good object is beloved by all."[18]
Although beauty is distinguished from goodness by reason of the fact that beauty relates to the cognitive faculty while goodness relates to the appetite, this should not lead one to think that beauty is a quasi-truth, since truth also relates to the cognoscitive powers. In the expression, id cujus apprehensio placet (or the similar expression, pulchra enim dicuntur quae visa placent), St. Thomas is saying that while the beautiful does satisfy the appetite, it does not do so simpliciter and immediately but by means of the vision or apprehension of the beautiful. "Ad rationem pulchri pertinet quod IN EJUS ASPECTU SEU COGNITIONE quietetur appetitus.... Et sic patet quod pulchrum addit supra bonum quemdam ordinem ad vim cognoscitivam."[19] Thus, Maritain has stated that to delight by [494] means of apprehension is not only a property of the beautiful but it is the formal constitutive of beauty.[20]

We have already seen that beauty and goodness are objectively identical and ta the basis of the good, namely perfection, is likewise the basis of the beautiful. But the beautiful is directly and immediately ordained to the cognitive power, while the good is ordained to the appetitive power; therefore we now investigate the particular properties or characteristics of the beautiful which make it possible for the mere apprehension of beauty to provide delight.

As an entitative habit in the species of quality, beauty follows upon the form of an object, according to the Scholastic axiom: "Quantitas sequitur materiam et qualitas formam" [Trans. Quantity follows upon matter, and quality follows upon form.] It is therefore rooted in the substantial form of a being as in its subject, although in beings composed of matter and form it will be manifested chiefly in the accidental forms of that being. For this reason St. Thomas frequently speaks of the relationship of beauty to the formal cause and likewise of proportion and splendor or clarity as the properties which immediately relate to the cognitive power.

We thus arrive at the three properties or characteristics of objective beauty: perfection, wherein the beautiful is identical with the good; proportion and splendor, whereby the beautiful relates to the cognitive power. And since it is of the essence of the beautiful tat it delights the percipient through mere apprehension, it follows that two notions must be included in the definition of beauty: apprehension and delight. Yet, the apprehension of the beautiful must be seen as something distinct from the apprehension of truth; and the delight in the beautiful must be distinguished from the complacency of the appetite in the good. We may therefore define beauty as the perfection of being, shining through its proportioned parts and giving delight in the mere apprehension of it.



St. Thmas states that anything is perfect so far as it is in act and imperfect so far as it is in potency.[21] In his commentary on Aristotle's Metaphysics, he says that there are different ways of using the term "perfection": when a thing lacks none of its due parts; when there is neither excess nor defect in its powers of operation; and when it has attained its proper end or goal.[22] He further clarifies this division when in the Summa Theologiae he states that perfection is threefold: when a thing is constituted in its proper being (perfectio in esse); when it also possesses the faculties necessary for its perfect operation (perfectio in operatione); and when it attains to something else as its end (perfectio in assecutione finis).[23] Again, in the Summa, he speaks of perfection in slightly different terminology, specifying as first perfection (perfectio prima) that according to which a being is substantially perfect by reason of its form, and as second perfection (perfectio secunda) the attainment of the end, which may be either an operation as such (as the perfection of the harpist is to play the harp) or something distinct that is effected by an operation (as the end of the builder is to construct a house). But the first perfection is the cause of the second, because the form of a thing is the principle of its operation.[24] Finally, we note that in the treatise De Perfectione Vitae Spiritualis, St. Thomas divides perfection into perfectio simpliciter and perfectio secundum quid.[25] The first pertains to substantial perfection, as when an animal possesses all that is due to it as a member of its species, while the second pertains to the accidental aspects of the animal such as color, size, weight, etc.

The perfection of a being is the basis of its goodness[26] and since the good and the beautiful are identical in object [496] (secundum rem), both goodness and beauty can be attributed to a being in any of the grades of perfection; perfectio in esse, perfectio in operatione, perfectio in assecutione finis, perfectio simpliciter and perfectio secundum quid. Nevertheless, a being is good simpliciter only when it is fully actualized by reaching its ultimate perfection; prior to that, it is good in some respect (quodammodo bonum); and the same would be true of the beautiful[27]. Consequently, a being that possesses only perfectio prima is said to be beautiful in some respect or relatively; a being that possesses perfectio secunda is said to be beautiful simpliciter. And since beauty and goodness differ logically, it should be noted that the perfection of a being plays a different role in each case. As the basis of goodness, the perfection of a being attracts the appetite or desire to attain the goal or end, which is the good; as the basis of the beautiful, the perfection of a being stimulates the cognoscitive power to a contemplation of the perfection of the being, without any note of teleology or utility.


Having seen how beauty and goodness are immediately based on the perfection of a being, we shall now investigate proportion as an element of beauty, and in so doing we shall see that proportion is related to the unity of a being and is in a special way related to truth.[28] Note also that the element of proportion is also connected to the good, as St. Thomas asserts: "Although beauty and goodness are identical in the subject, because both clarity and consonance are contained in [497] the notion of the good, they nevertheless differ logically."[29] As regards proportion itself, Aquinas has this to say:
There is a twofold consonance in things. The first is in the ordination of created things to God, and [pseudo-Dionysius] touches this when he says that God is the cause of consonance so far as he ordains all things to himself as their end. ... For this reason the Greek word for beauty is kallos, which is taken from the word to call or to summon. Secondly there is consonance in things according to their relationship to each other.[30] 
Proportion is twofold. In one sense it means a certain relation of one quantity to another, according as double, treble, and equal are species of proportion. In another sense every relation of one thing to another is called proportion. And in this sense there can be a proportion of the creature to God, inasmuch as it is related to him as the effect to its cause, and as potentiality to its act; and in this way the created intellect can be proportioned to know God.[31]
Proportion therefore has to do with the relation of the parts of a being to one another, the parts to the totality, or the relation of the being to something else (ad aliud). In the first two senses St. Thomas speaks of the beauty of a body that is properly proportioned as regards its members[32], but since beauty consists essentially in a relation to something else (per respectum ad aliquid), the intrinsic proportion of a being constitutes its beauty only materially and predicamentally. Moreover, insofar as
beauty adds to goodness an ordination to the cognitive power, so it also adds to unity the ordination or extrinsic proportion of something else. Among the ancients the element of proportion was usually taken to refer to the objective, intrinsic proportion of being; St. Thomas, however, has added a new perspective by insisting that the proportion of the beautiful is to be understood in a psychological sense [498] as the relation of the beautiful object to something else, namely, the cognitive power. Hence, as the perfection of a being is the root of its goodness and beauty, and therefore of its desirability, so the intrinsic proportion of a being is an element that is common to both beauty and unity and is the root of the cognoscibility of a being.[33]

As a property of being, unity presents the being as undivided in itself, but the intrinsic proportion adds something to the note of unity, namely, the totality of the being and the proper disposition of its parts. For this reason there have been some who preferred to see "unity amid variety" as the essential characteristic of beauty. But this intrinsic proportion is more of a material and dispositive element of the beautiful, because the role of intrinsic proportion is to allow the splendor of unity to shine through the proportioned parts.[34]

As we have said, St. Thomas introduced the distinction between intrinsic or ontological proportion and extrinsic or psychological proportion.[35] The latter, existing between the beautiful object and the percipient, is objectively rooted in the object as such, but effectively it is in the percipient of the object, who perceives the totality of the being which is proportioned to the cognoscitive power. Evidently this extrinsic proportion presupposes the intrinsic proportion, which bespeaks a relation to the artist or the divine creator as efficient and exemplar cause; but the extrinsic proportion is teleological so far as it bespeaks a relation to the intellect of the percipient.

But the note of proportion, like that of perfection, is a relative and analogical concept, and hence St. Thomas speaks of "due proportion" (debita proportio), i.e., the intrinsic proportion that is due according to time and condition.[36] Nor can it be said that the extrinsic or psychological proportion [499] necessarily requires an actual relationship to a cognitive power in order that an object fulfill the requirements for the beautiful. This would lead to pure subjectivism, enunciated in the axiom: "A thing is beautiful because it pleases." In objects that are intrinsically proportioned there is at least the potentiality of giving delight on being seen, and this suffices for the proportion needed to classify the object as beautiful. Thus, St. Thomas says: "Beauty relates to the cognitive faculty, for beautiful things are those which please when seen. Hence beauty consists in due proportion, for the senses delight in things duly proportioned, as in what is after their own kind; because even sense is a sort of reason, just as is every cognitive faculty."[37]

Proportion is therefore an essential element of beauty; first, because all beings somehow express the unity that flows from intrinsic proportion of a thing, and secondly, because all duly proportioned things, as such, bespeak a relationship to the cognitive power, which delights in duly proportioned beings. Thus, extrinsic proportion leads to the delight of the cognitive power, while intrinsic proportion is the disposition of a thing's parts that enables the splendor of the form to shine forth.


The third element of beauty, which is splendor or clarity, is the formal or principal element of the beautiful. It is indeed the end or goal of all artistic production and creation.

Perfection and proportion, though they have an objective value as the manifestation of the goodness and unity of a being, are the dispositions for the clarity or splendor of a being. It should be noted that practically all the authors have mentioned clarity or splendor as an element of the beautiful: Plotinus: "splendor of truth"; St. Augustine: "splendor of order"; St. Thomas: "clarity is of the essence of the beautiful." Again, St. Thomas says: "Hence bodily beauty consists in this, that a [500] man has well-proportioned bodily members with a certain clarity of proper coloring. And similarly, spiritual beauty consists in this, that a man's conversations and actions are well proportioned in accordance with the spiritual splendor of the intellect."[38]

Splendor, like perfection and proportion, can be considered as a property of being in an objective or ontological sense or as an attribute of being that relates to something else (per respectum ad aliquid). Taken in the first sense it can apply to the substantial form of a being or to the accidental forms, whether entitative (color, size, etc.) or operative (human acts reflecting the light of reason). Radically, of course, splendor pertains to the substantial form, which is the source of all the accidents in a being,[39] but this ontological splendor does not necessarily imply a conceptual clarity on the part of the percipient, since many beautiful objects are not readily perceived by all.[40] It should also be noted that the degree of splendor in a being will depend to a great extent on the aspects of time and the condition of a being, as is the case with the elements of perfection and proportion. Hence the statement of St. Thomas regarding perfection likewise applies here: "Nothing prevents a thing that is not perfect simpliciter from being perfect in regard to time; thus, a boy is said to be perfect, not simpliciter, but with regard to the condition of time."[41]

The splendor that applies to the accidental qualities of a being is closely related to its perfection (perfectio secunda) and its intrinsic proportion, and all of these attributes can be considered as dispositions for the splendor of the substantial form to shine through the accidents. On the other hand, since the substantial form a being is known through the mediation of the internal and external senses of the percipient, a certain degree of perfection, proportion and splendor is required in the accidental characteristics through which the percipient apprehends [501] the beautiful being in its totality.[42] The splendor of a being does not refer exclusively to the substantial form nor does it apply only to the accidents, as some moderns would assert, placing the esthetic form of a being in the accidental qualities. Pertaining as it does to all the aspects of a being, the quality of splendor is an analogical concept and hence applies to a being in different degrees.

There are also correlations with the other elements of the beautiful when we consider the splendor of a being as related to something else (per rsepectum ad aliud). Perfection, as the manifestation of the goodness of a being, relates to the appetitive powers; proportion, as the manifestation of the unity of a being, relates to the cognitive powers; and splendor or clarity, which is an attribute of truth, likewise relates to the cognitive powers. Thus, perfection is the common basis for goodness and beauty; proportion links beauty with unity; and clarity joins the beautiful to the true, with the result that beauty is truly the manifestation of the plenitude of being. And it is precisely because beauty embraces the totality of a being that it is so difficult to distinguish it from the other transcendental qualities of being.

The importance of splendor as an element of the beautiful can be seen from the fact that while the perfection of a being bespeaks a relation to the percipient, this relation is to the appetitive powers, so that considered simply in its perfection, a being is in the species of the good. But the beautiful adds something to the good: the relation to a cognitive power.[43] Consequently, splendor or clarity is the point of distinction between the good and the beautiful, for the splendor of a being is a manifestation of its intelligibility and it also provides that special esthetic type of cognition that pertains to the apprehension of the beautiful (pulchrum autem dicatur, id cujus apprehensio placet).[44]


Beauty as a Transcendental

Some philosophers, especially among the moderns, place beauty among the transcendental properties of being, distinct from the other transcendentals. Others wish to list beauty as a quasi-bonum or at most a quasi-transcendental that flows from the good and the true. For Thomists there is a special problem because St. Thomas nowhere lists beauty as a transcendental property, nor does he expressly exclude it.[45]

Basically there are three ways in which beauty can be seen as having a transcendental quality, without positing it as a distinct transcendental property of being: 1) as a transcendental relationship between being and the cognitive powers; 2) as an actual and necessary relationship between all created being and the intellect and will of God; 3) as the relationship or adequation of beauty with the divine exemplar in which beauty exists formally and eminently. There is no difficulty whatever in asserting the transcendental aspect of beauty in the second two senses, for St. Augustine has stated that everything created by God has beauty.[46]

Our question, however, is whether beauty can be classified as a distinct transcendental property of being, that is, as a modality that immediately follows from every being, whether considered in itself or in relation to something else. In his [503] early writings, i.e., in his Commentary on the Book of Sentences, his treatise On Truth, and his Exposition on the Divine Names, St. Thomas faithfully follows the esthetic teaching of St. Albert the Great,[47] identifying the beautiful with the good to the extend [sic] that he stated: "Hence, whoever desired the good, by that very fact likewise desires the beautiful."[48]

However, later, in the Summa Theologiae, Aquinas distinguishes the beautiful from the good by reason of its ordination to the cognitive power, while good is related to the appetitive power.[49] In the sense that the good and the beautiful are identical objectively, in the subject of inhesion, it is true to say that "whoever desires the good, by that very fact desires the beautiful"; but so far as the good and the beautiful are distinguished logically, by reason of their being ordained to different faculties or powers in the percipient (the good to the appetite and the beautiful to the cognitive power), it will have to be in that respect of a relation to the cognitive power that beauty would classify as a distinct transcendental. The reason for this is that all the transcendental qualities of being are identical in the subject of inhesion; they are distinguished by something that they add to the concept of being. Thus, being, considered as good, relates to the appetite simpliciter and the modality of being under this aspect is called a tendential mode; being, under the aspect of truth, relates to the intellect simpliciter and the modality of being under this aspect is called intentional mode; but being, considered as beautiful, relates to both the cognitive power simpliciter and to the appetite secundum quid and consequenter and the modality of being under this aspect would be called the esthetic mode.[50].


By way of summation, let us consider again the relationship and the difference between the good, the true, and the beautiful. The good and the beautiful are identical in the subject of inhesion but they differ logically, so that the beautiful adds to the good a relation to the cognitive power. The good pertains to the final cause, while beauty pertains to the formal cause. But the beautiful is necessarily contained in the notion of the good, because "the perfection and end of every other power is contained in the object of the appetitive power, as the proper is contained in the common... Hence the perfection and end of each power, insofar as it is a good, belongs to the appetitive power. Wherefore the appetitive power moves the other powers to their ends, and itself realizes the end, when each of them reaches the end."[51] But in seeking the good, the appetite seeks possession of the good, while it is satisfied with the mere apprehension of the beautiful.

As regards truth and beauty, it should be noted that truth is defined as the adequation between the intellect and its object, so that the truth of a being consists essentially in a relation to other (per respectum ad aliud). Yet the relation is such that there is a threefold terminus to the actual adequation between the object known and the intellect knowing: the act of intellection, the formal concept in the intellect, and the object as known (esse cognitum) in the intellect.[52] Hence, the intellect becomes or is intentionally identified with the object known.[53] And the delight of knowledge consist [sic] in the very operation of the intellect and not in the object as such, as is the case of the delight in the good. Now beauty relates to the cognitive faculty, for which reason it is defined as that which pleases on being seen; but unless we want to identify beauty and truth, we shall have to verify a distinction between them and precisely in the adequation or relationship to the cognitive power. The following citations from the Summa Theologiae provide an excellent basis for the necessary distinction between [505] truth and beauty as related to the cognitive power:
Just as the good signifies that to which the appetite tends, so the true signifies that to which the intellect tends. However, there is this difference..., knowledge means that the object is in the knower, whereas desire means that the one who desires goes out to the thing itself which he desires. Thus the end or term of the desire, which is the good, is in the thing desired; whereas the end or term of knowledge, which is truth, is in the mind. Now just as good is in the thing in its relation to desire (so that the notion of goodness passes over from the desirable thing to the desire, in that the desire is called good when it is desire for good), so also since truth is in the mind as conformed to the thing understood, the notion of truth must pass over from the mind to the thing understood, so that the latter is also said to be true in that it has a relation to the mind. ... We conclude that truth is primarily in the intellect and secondarily in things, by virtue of a relation to the intellect as to their origin.[54]
The act of knowing is not an action going forth to something external, but remains in the agent as its actuation and completion.[55]
It is not the substance of the thing known that is the completion of the knower, but its likeness, by which it is in the intellect as the latter's form and completion.[56]
Although truth in our mind is caused by the thing, it does not follow that the notion of truth is to be found primarily in the thing... It is not the thing's truth but its being that produces truth in the intellect.[57]
The sensible actualized is the sense in activity, and the intelligible actualized is the intellect in activity. We have actual sensation or actual knowledge because our intellect or our senses are informed by the species or likeness of the sensible or intelligible object.[58] As good adds to being the notion of desirability, the true adds to being a relation to the intellect.[59]

We conclude from the foregoing that since goodness and beauty are identical in the object and only notionally distinct by reason of their relation to desire and to cognition respectively, the distinction between truth and beauty lies in the fact that beauty is in the object whereas truth is in the mind of the knower. Secondly, as regards the delight in the truth and in the beautiful, the delight in knowing is in the very act of cognition, whereas the delight in the beautiful is radically a delight in the perfection and goodness of the object and formally a delight in the natural appetite of the cognitive power. And this leads us to a consideration of the nature of the esthetic response to the beautiful.

Psychology of the Esthetic Experience

Having considered beauty in its ontological aspect, we shall now study the esthetic experience, which is to investigate the beautiful psychologically. Pulchra sunt quae visa placent,[60] but what are the cognitive faculties that apprehend the beautiful and what is the pleasure that follows upon this knowledge? It would seem that even if one admits that all things are objectively beautiful in some respect or other, either as a whole or in part, it does not follow that everything is capable of producing an esthetic response. This in itself poses no great problem, however, for it is also true that although all beings are good and in some respect desirable, not all beings are actually desired; and even among those things actually desired, some may stimulate a minimal and others a maximum degree of orexis [NB: The affective and conative character of mental activity as contrasted with its cognitive aspect; the appetitive aspect of an act; desire, appetite. (source:].

It would seem, therefore, that the esthetic experience requires a certain degree of perfection, proportion, and splendor in the beautiful object and that it also presupposes certain dispositions [507] on the part of the percipient; e.g., proper functioning of the psycho-physical faculties that apprehend and delight in the beautiful, and the cultivation of esthetic taste, especially as regards the fine arts. Moreover, it would seem that the proper object of the esthetic experience is the beauty of objects perceptible to the external and internal senses, not only because the creation of the fine arts (which are of the sensible order) are directly ordained to an esthetic reaction, but also because the so-called esthetic faculty comprises all the cognitive powers. Thus, the intellect has the formal and principal role in the esthetic experience; the internal and external senses are instrumental and secondary; the volitional appetite functions as an effect of the apprehension of the beautiful; the sensitive appetite is stimulated by way of overflow or redundance. Each of these propositions needs a brief explanation.

Esthetic Knowledge

According to the Thomistic axiom, "Pulchra sunt quae visa placent," the esthetic experience involves two elements: vision (knowledge) and pleasure (appetitive delight). As regards knowledge or vision, St. Thomas states: "Two things are required for both sensible and intellectual vision, namely, the power of sight, and union of the thing seen with the sight. For vision is made actual only when the thing seen is in a certain way in the percipient."[61] Now, all naturally acquired knowledge begins with the actuation of one or another of the external senses, since nihil est in intellectu quod prius non fuerit in sensu.[62] But not all the external senses concur equally in the perception of the beautiful; only sight and hearing can directly and immediately perceive sensible beauty because these [508] two senses are especially related to intellectual cognition.[63] Of the four internal senses (imagination, memory, common sense, and cogitative power), the common sense (sensus communis), the cogitative power (vis cogitativa) and the imagination play a special role in the perception of the beautiful because the common sense is the focal point of all sensible cognition, and the cogitative power is the link between sense knowledge and intellectual apprehension, and the imagination receives the phantasm of the singular being.[64]

It should be noted, however, that esthetic knowledge differs greatly from purely speculative or abstract knowledge, which produces, by abstraction of exclusion, the form of the being known. Esthetic knowledge would seem to be the result of abstraction by inclusion, similar to that used in attaining the concept of ens ut ens in metaphysics. The reason for this is that esthetic knowledge does not regard simply the quiddity or form of a being, but the plenitude of the being and precisely in its individuality. The beautiful object is known both in its totality and in its singularity, so that the union between the beautiful object and the cognitive power is the assimilation of the object by way of an informing union (unio per informationem). But here a difficulty airses, because St. Thomas teaches that the human intellect cannot know the singular primarily and [509] directly;[65] the object of the intellect is to know the form existing in matter, but not precisely as in that particular matter.[66] The intellect therefore always knows the quiddity of material things as immaterial and universal, yet esthetic knowledge consists precisely in the apprehension of the beautiful object in its totality and in its individuality.

We have already given an indication of a solution to this problem when we stated that there is a difference between speculative knowledge and esthetic knowledge, just as there is a difference between speculative knowledge and the practical knowledge required for the exercise of art and prudence. Recalling what we have said about the function of the external and internal senses in the apprehension of beauty, it follows that these senses suffice for a knowledge of the singular, as St. Thomas asserts in various places.[67] But how does the intellect know the singular as such? St. Thomas explains as follows:
The proper object of the human intellect, which is united to a body, is a quiddity or nature existing in corporeal matter; and through such natures of visible things it rises to a certain knowledge of things invisible. Now it belongs to such a nature to exist in an individual, and this cannot be apart from corporeal matter. For instance, it belongs to the nature of a stone to be in an individual stone, and to the nature of a horse to be in an individual horse, and so forth. Wherefore the nature of a stone or any material thing cannot be known completely and truly except when it is known as existing in an individual. Now we apprehend the individual through the senses and the imagination. Therefore, for the intellect actually to understand its proper object, it must necessarily revert to the phantasms in order to perceive the universal nature in the individual.[68]

John of St. Thomas[69] further explains the knowledge of singulars by distinguishing the two types of intellectual reflexion: in the strict sense, when the intellect reflects on its own operation, and in a wider sense when the intellect reflects on the singular object represented in the imagination. Hence, in the knowledge of the beautiful, the intellect has as its term the phantasm, and through the phantasm it knows the singular. Thus the esthetic knowledge differs from the speculative knowledge, wich [sic] has as its term the universal concept and is a discursive type of knowledge; it also differs from practical knowledge, which sees being as operable, under the aspect of morality or utility (prudence and art). Esthetic knowledge is therefore experimental, reflexive, and intuitive.[70]

To complete our consideration of esthetic knowledge, it is necessary to say a word about intuitive knowledge, characteristic of the apprehension of the beautiful. Hugon points out[71] that not any kind of knowledge suffices for apprehension of the beautiful, but it requires a vision or intuition by which the beautiful object is, as it were, comprehended. Now intuitive vision or knowledge can be considered under two aspects: as regards the comprehension of the vision and as regards the presence or union of the object with the cognitive power. St. Thomas affirms that the human intellect is capable of an intuitive comprehension when it grasps a truth without investigation or discursus, and this is possible in regard to both speculative and practical truth.[72] On the other hand, knowledge is intuitive [511] by reason of presence when the object known is united with the cognitive power by informing the faculty (per informationem), as happens in the case of the external senses.[73]

Applying these distinction [sic] to esthetic knowledge, we may say that esthetic apprehension is intuitive by reason of its comprehension because it contemplates the singular object in all its totality. It is likewise intuitive by reason of presence or union when the beautiful object is of the sensible order, because the external senses receive the sense impressions directly and immediately and also because the phantasm is immediately presented to the intellect.[74] Indeed, it is largely because of the intuitive character of esthetic knowledge that the beautiful is able to afford such delight, for we experience delight in any operation that is done with facility and in regard to an object that is properly proportioned to the percipient, as in the beautiful.

Esthetic Delight

Pleasure or delight in the beautiful is an integral part of the esthetic experience, and since delight is an operation of the appetitive faculty, we shall first consider thee [sic] division of the appetites and then the species of delight.

In general, an appetite may be described as the inclination to a desired good, although in a wider sense appetite can be attributed to all things, to all the faculties of the soul and to all the organs of the body, insofar as everything has an inclination to that which is proper to it according to its nature.[75] Thus, St. Thomas states that as natural things have existence by their form, everything has an aptitude towards its natural form, so that when it doesn't have it, it tends towards [512] it, and when it has it, it is at rest therein.[76] Therefore, the natural form of at hing is followed by a natural inclination which is called the natural appetite.[77] Accordingly, the division of appetites will be based on the types of inclination found in created things:
There is an appetite arising from an apprehension existing, not in the subject of the appetite, but in some other, and this is called the natural appetite. Because natural things seek what is suitable to them according to their nature, by reason of an apprehension which is not in them, but in the Author of their nature, as stated in the First Part (q. 6, a. 1 ad 2; q. 103, a. 1 ad 1 and 3). And there is nother [sic] appetite arising from the apprehension in the subject of the appetite, but from necessity and not from free will. Such is, in irrational animals, the sensitive appetite, which, however, in man, has a certain share of liberty, insofar as it obeys reason. Again, there is another appetite following freely from an apprehension in the subject of the appetite, and this is the rational or intellectual appetite, which is called the will.[78]
What is of interest as regards the delight in the beautiful are the sensitive appetite (passions or emotions) and the intellectual appetite (the will) and precisely so far as they follow upon the apprehension of the beautiful. Concerning the sensitive appetite, the following statement of St. Thomas is of primary importance for understanding the role of the emotions in the esthetic experience and, indeed, in human life:
Although some of the sensitive powers are common to us and to brute animals, in us they have a certain excellence through being united to reason; thus we surpass animals in the sensitive part by possessing the cogitative power and reminiscence, as stated in the First Part (q. 78, a. 4). In the same way our sensitive appetite surpasses that of the brute animals by reason of a certain excellence which consists in its natural aptitude to obey reason, and in this respect it can be the [513] principle of a voluntary action, and consequently the subject of sin.[79]
In order to understand in what manner the act of the sensitive appetite is subject to the command of reason, we must consider in what way it is in our power. Now it should be noted that the sensitive appetite differs from the intellectual appetite, which is called the will, in the fact that the sensitive appetite is a power of a corporeal organ, whereas the will is not. Moreover, every act of a power that uses a corporeal organ depends not only on a power of the soul but also on the disposition of the corporeal organ... Consequently, the act of the sensitive appetite depends not only on the appetitive power but also on the disposition of the body.
Now, whatever part the power of the soul takes in the act, follows apprehension, and the apprehension of the imagination, being a particular apprehension, is regulated by the apprehension of reason, which is universal... Therefore, in this respect the act of the sensitive appetite is subject to the command of reason. On the other hand, the condition or disposition of the body is not subject to the command of reason, and consequently in this respect the movement of the sensitive appetite is hindered from being wholly subject to the command of reason.
It also happens sometimes that the movement of the sensitive appetite is aroused suddenly in consequence of an apprehension of the imagination. Such movement occurs without the command of reason, although reason could have prevented it, had it foreseen.[80]
The sensitive appetite is also subject to the will: in execution, which is accomplished by the motive power. For in other animals movement follows at once the concupiscible and irascible appetites... On the contrary, man is not moved at once by the concupiscible and irascible appetites, but he awaits the command of the will, which is the superior appetite. For wherever there is an order among a number of motive powers, the second only moves by virtue of the first; hence the lower appetite is not sufficient to cause movement unless the higher appetite consents.[81]
 In man, therefore, the sensitive appetite is meant by its nature to be subject to the rule of reason and the command [514] of the will. As regards the particular passions of the sensitive appetite, it would seem that not all of them pertain to the esthetic experience, although we hasten to admit that in the fine arts it does frequently happen that the artist may arouse passions such as anger, hatred, sadness, etc., thus causing a catharsis or pathetic experience in the percipient. This raises the question of whether the scope of the fine arts is wider than that of the beautiful, but this question lies outside the field of our present investigation.

The beautiful as such, since it is identical with the good in the object but adds the notes of proportion and splendor, does not relate to the irascible passions,which pertain to the arduous good or evil, nor does it relate to the concupiscible passions of hatred, aversion, and sadness, for these latter are stimulated by the apprehension of evil. There remain the following passions as specifically esthetic passions: love, desire, and delight. How these three passions relate to each other is explained by St. Thomas:
The order of the concupiscible passions can be considered either in the order of intention or in the order of execution. In the order of execution, the first place belongs to that which takes place first in the thing that tends to the end. Now it is evident that whatever tends to an end has, in the first place, an aptitude or proportion to that end...; secondly, it is moved to that end; thirdly, it rests in the end after attaining it. And this very aptitude or proportion of the appetite to good is love, which is complacency in good; while movement towards the good is desire or concupiscence; and rest in good is joy or pleasure. Accordingly, in this order, love precedes desire, and desire precedes pleasure. But in the order of intention, it is the reverse, because the pleasure intended causes desire and love.
For pleasure is the enjoyment of the good, and this enjoyment is, in a certain respect, the end, just as is the good itself.[81]

Having seen that man is endowed with three types of appetite, (natural, sensitive, and intellectual), and realizing that for each appetite that attains its good there is a concomitant pleasure, it remains for us now to consider what constitutes the esthetic delight in the apprehension of the beautiful. Two things are required for pleasure or delight: the attainment of the proportionate good and an awareness of this attainment. And the second element is so necessary that St. Thomas asserts that "beings that lack knowledge cannot be said to enjoy pleasure or feel sadness."[83] This does not rule out the natural pleasure that follows upon the "connatural and unimpeded operation,"[84] of a faculty, for the knowledge referred to is simply an awareness of the pleasurable experience and not an antecedent knowledge. However, while the pleasure of the natural appetites regards the operation or activity as such, the pleasure of the sensitive and intellectual appetites regards the attainment of the good or end and requires a knowledge of this attainment.[85]

The pleasure of the sensitive appetite follows upon the attainment of the desired good as perceived by the senses and it is always accompanied by some transmutation in the body.[86] But the senses afford pleasure either by reason of knowledge or by reason of usefulness, and of all the senses, that of sight affords the greatest pleasure by reason of knowledge, while that of touch gives the greatest pleasure by reason of usefulness.[87] We have already seen that the beautiful is not related to utility but to the pleasure attained by reason of knowledge or apprehension. And since beauty must be apprehended to be enjoyed, the two senses that delight most in the beautiful are sight and hearing, since they are more closely related to reason and are therefore capable of providing a pleasure that [516] is more proper to the human being than the pleasure of touch, which, though more vehement, is common to all animals.[88] Thus, the pleasure experienced by brute animals is usually utilitarian, i.e., regarding the necessities of life, while man derives pleasure not only in these things but also by reason of the fact that the senses serve man's intellectual powers. So St. Thomas states:
The senses are given to man not only for the purpose of procuring the necessities of life, for which they are bestowed on other animals, but also for the purpose of knowledge. Hence, whereas the other animals take delight in the objects of the senses only as ordered to food and sex, man alone takes pleasure in the beauty of sensible objects for its own sake.[89]
But the pleasure that is most proper to man is spiritual pleasure, which accompanies or is consequent upon the operation of the intellect and will. Unlike the pleasure of the sensitive appetite, spiritual delight is not necessarily accompanied by a change in the body, though this may occur if the spiritual delight is sufficiently intense.[90] St. Thomas teaches that the pleasures of the intellect and the will are much greater than those of the sense order and the sensitive appetite, although the latter may be more vehement.[91]

To specify in particular the essential elements of esthetic pleasure, we think it is helpful to recall the teaching of St. Thomas on contemplation, because the esthetic experience, as we have seen, is a quasi-intuitive contemplation of the beautiful object, a visio delectabilis.[92] Moreover, we have seen that man is endowed with a threefold appetite: the natural, the sensitive, and the intellectual; therefore, we would expect the esthetic experience to embrace all the pleasures of those appetites [517], either as concomitant to the operation of the appetites or as consequent to the operation. So far as the esthetic experience results from a quasi-intuitive contemplation, the distinction made by St. Thomas concerning the delight of contemplation would seem to apply here:
There may be delight in any contemplation in two ways. First by reason of the operation itself, because each individual delights in the operation which befits him according to his own nature or habit... Secondly, contemplation may be delightful on the part of its object, insofar as one contemplates that which one loves, even as bodily vision gives pleasure, not only because to see is pleasurable in itself, but because one sees a person whom one loves.[93]
Hence, as regards the operation itself—esthetic knowledge—it is a quasi-intuitive vision or contemplation, the delight of which constitutes the formal esthetic delight. The reason for this is that the beautiful is that which pleases on being seen, and hence the beautiful is made present to the percipient by an act of cognition, and then the appetites experience the pleasure attendant upon the vision.[94] Thus, St. Thomas states: "De ratione boni est quod in eo quietetur appetitus; sed ad rationem pulchri pertinet quod in ejus aspectu seu cognitione quietetur appetitus."[95]

If the esthetic delight consists formally in the cognitive operation or the apprehension of the beautiful, it would seem necessary to conclude that the delight of the intellectual appetite, or the will, is something consequent upon the delight of the cognitive operation; that is, indirecto et consequenter. The proper object of the will is the good as such, and when the good is known, the will tends towards is [sic] as to an end and seeks to possess it or be united with it. But the beautiful is [518] apprehended by man's cognitive powers and the very act of apprehension affords the delight of the natural appetite of cognition. Therefore, the will does not tend to the beautiful as to its proper object, but it enjoys fruition and complacency in the beautiful as the good and the perfection of the intellect.[96]

As regards the sensitive powers, both cognitive and appetitive, they would also have a role to play in the esthetic experience, since all man's powers have a natural appetite or an inclination to that which is proportionate to their nature. And since delight follows upon the unimpeded and facile operation of any faculty, the natural pleasure of the smooth functioning of the sensitive powers, both cognitive and appetitive, contributes to the enjoyment of the beautiful. We would say, however, that the external and internal senses (i.e., vision, hearing, imagination, cogitative power, etc.) function instrumentally and that their delight is secondary, though concomitant, to the apprehension of the beautiful. It should be noted, moreover, that one may enjoy an esthetic experience when the beautiful object is not actually present but is recalled by the memory and contemplated in the phantasm of the imagination; and this is a reason why the operations of the sensitive powers do not pertain to the very formality of the esthetic experience. Nor can we deny the possibility of an esthetic experience when the beauty contemplated is entirely spiritual, in which case the operations of all the sensitive powers would not be involved.

Finally, the operation of the sensitive appetite (the emotions) is normally a redundance or consequence of the delight in the very apprehension of the beautiful, since we have already stated that the formality of the esthetic experience is found in the apprehension or vision of the beautiful, with the accompanying delight of the natural appetite of the cognitive faculties in [519] question. Therefore we would not, as do some moderns, restrict the esthetic delight to the stimulation of the pleasurable emotions. It is true, nevertheless, that in the creation of the fine arts, the artist frequently attempts to speak to the emotions and feelings of the percipient; it is likewise true that quoad nos the pleasures of the emotions are normally more vehement than purely spiritual delight.[97]

The esthetic experience, therefore, embraces the totality of the singular being in all its plenitude and the resultant delight enganges [sic] (or can engage) all the cognitive and appetitive powers of man, each one according to its nature and function. All of man's powers are thus united in their variety by means of the esthetic experience, which apprehends and delights in the perfection, proportion, and splendor that constitutes the beautiful.

Jordan Aumann, O.P.
Univ. a Sancto Thoma - Roma


1. Summa Theol., 1a.5.4 ad 1.
2. STh., 1a.39.8; cf. 2a2ae.145.2.
3. STh., 1a.5.4 ad 1.
4. STh., 1a2ae.27.1 ad 3.
5. STh., 1a.5.1.
6. STh., 1a.5.1 ad 1.
7. STh., 1a.5.1.
8. STh., 1a.5.1 ad 1.
9. STh., 1a.5.4.
10. STh., 1a.5.4 ad 1; cf. In de Divinis Nominibus, cap. IV, lect. 5.
11. In Psalmis, 44:2: "Pulchritudo, sanitas et hujusmodi dicuntur quodammodo per respectum ad aliquid."
12. STh., 1a.5.1.
13. STh., 1a.5.4 ad 1.
14. STh., 1a.5.6.
15. STh., 1a.5.4 ad 1.
16. In de Divinis Nominibus, loc. cit.
17. STh., 1a2ae.27.1 ad 3.
18. STh., 2a2ae.145.2 ad 1.
19. STh., 1a2ae.27.1 ad 3.
20. J. Maritain, Art and Scholasticism, New York, Scribner's, 1933, p. 128, note 1.
21. STh., 1a2ae.3.2.
22. Cf. In Meta, lib. V, cap. 18.
23. STh., 1a.6.3.
24. STh., 1a.73.1
25. Cf. also STh., 2a2ae.184.1 ad 2.
26. STh., 1a.5.1; 1a.6.3.
27. STh., 1a.5.1: "That which has ultimate perfection is said to be simply (simpliciter) good, but that which has not the ultimate perfection it ought to have (although insofar as it is at all actual, it has some perfection), is not said to be perfect simply nor good simply, but only relatively."
28. Cf. J. Maritain, Art and Scholasticism, p. 20.
29. In de Divinis Nominibus, cap. IV, lect. 5.
30. Cf. In de Divinis Nominibus, loc. cit.
31. STh., 1a.12.1 ad 4.
32. Cf. In de Divinis Nominibus, loc. cit.; STh., 2a2ae.54.4; 2a2ae.145.2. In this respect the beauty of material things has been described as the splendor of a being, shining through the proportioned parts of matter (intrinsic proportion).
33. Cf. J. Callahan, A Theory of Esthetic, Washington, D.C., Catholic University Press, 1947, p. 61; De Bruyne, Etudes d'Esthétique Médiévale, tom. III, p. 303.
34. Cf. Paredes, "Ideas estéticas de Santo Tomás," La Ciencia Tomista, 1911.
35. Cf. De Bruyne, op. cit., tom. III, p. 302.
36. Cf. J. Maritain, op. cit., p. 22.
37. STh., 1a.5.4 ad 1.
38. STh., 2a2ae.145.2.
39. Cf. De Wulf, Art et Beauté, p. 213; Paredes, art. cit.; De Bruyne, op. cit., tom. III, p. 307.
40. Cf. Maritain, op. cit., p. 23.
41. STh., 1a2ae.9.2 ad 1.
42. Cf. De Bruyne, op. cit., tom. III, p. 307.
43. Cf. STh., 1a.5.4 ad 1.
44. STh., 1a2ae.27.1 ad 3.
45. According to Maquart, beauty cannot be listed as a transcendental property of being in a strict sense because it does not follow immediately from the concept of being, but indirectly through the good and the true. But beauty is a transcendental so far as it relates to the intellect and will, which have all being as their object. Cf. Maquart, Elementa Philosophiae, Paris, Blot, 1938, tom. III, pp. 104; 126 ss.

Gredt classifies beauty as a quasi-bonum and not as a distinct transcendental (Elementa Philosophiae, tom. II, p. 29), but the following authors classify beauty as a transcendental: Maritain, Garrigou-Lagrange, Paredes, Grabmann, Krug, Sertillanges, Febrer, Moliner and Cory. Cf. also Kowalski, "De artis transcendentalitate secundum quosdam textus divi Thomae," Angelicum, 1937, tom. XIV, pp. 348-349.

46. St. Augustine: "Omnis corporea creatura ... bonum est infimum, et in genere suo pulchrum, quoniam forma et specie continetur" (PL XXXIV, 138); "nihil est enim ordinatum, quod non sit pulchrum, et sicut ait Apostolus, omnis ordo a Deo est (Rom. 13:1)" (PL XXXIV, 156).
47. Cf. De Bruyne, op. cit., tom. III, pp. 278 ss.
48. De Veritate, q. 22, a. 1, ad 12; cf. Maritain, op. cit., pp. 129 ss. St. Thomas also states in the passage from De Veritate: "Unde et eodem appetitu appetitur bonum, pulchrum et pax". For the enumeration of the transcendentals, cf. De Veritate, q. 1, a. 1.
49. STh., 1a.5.4 ad 1.
50. Cf. G. Phelan, "Beauty in Nature and Art," Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association, Washington, D.C., 1935, p. 175.
51. STh., 1a2ae.11.1 ad 2.
52. Cf. Gredt, Elementa Philosophiae, tom. II, pp. 45-46.
53. Cf. Maquard, op. cit., tom. III, pp. 250-251.
54. STh., 1a.16.1.
55. STh., 1a.14.4.
56. STh., 1a.14.5 ad 2.
57. STh., 1a.16.1 ad 3.
58. STh., 1a.14.2.
59. STh., 1a.16.3.
60. Cf. STh., 1a.5.4 ad 1; 1a2ae.27.1 ad 3.
61. STh., 1a.12.2.
62. STh., 1a.84.6.
63. Cf. STh., 1a2ae.27.1 ad 3; St. Augustine, De vera religione, cap. 30; De lib. arbitr., lib. II, cap. 16; Confessiones, lib. X, cap. 27; Vallgornera, Theologia mystica D. Thomae, q. 1, a. 1.
64. "In homine vero cogitativa operatur cum collatione et discursu quodam propter suam conjunctionem cum ratione. Et ideo dicitur ratio particularis... Adverte tamen ad quid praecipue inserviat hoc munus collativum cogitativae: a) sive ad invicem coadunat aliquam imaginem communem, quae comitatur cognitionem intellectualem universalem cum aliqua imagine singulari, et sic praeparat, una cum intellectu, judicium practicum: unde ad actionem praeparat; b) sive ad invicem coadunat plures imagines communes quarum synthesis, sic efformata, praeparat intellectionem universalem. In his diversis actibus syntehticis, cogitativa imagines, sive singulares sive communes coadunat, utendo quadam associationem sibi propria, secundum leges similitudinis et dissimilitudinis" (Maquart, op. cit., tom. II, pp. 228 ss.).
65. STh., 1a.86.1.
66. STh., 1a.85.1.
67. Cf. STh., 1a.86.1; De Veritate, q. 2, aa. 5, 6; q. 10, a. 5; In II Sent., dist. 3, q. 3, a. 4 ad 1; Contra Gentiles, lib. I, a. 65.
68. STh., 1a.84.7; cf. Contra Gentiles, lib. II, q. 73, a. 1; In II Sent., dist. 20, q. 2, a. 2; In III Sent., dist. 31, q. 2, a. 4; De Veritate, q. 2, a. 6; q. 10, a. 6.
69. John of St. Thomas, Cursus Philosophicus, tom. III, p. 331; cf. also tom. I, p. 701.
70. Marín-Sola describes experimental knowledge as distinct from speculative knowledge: "Scientia experimentalis autem est per connaturalitatem, per modum inclinationis, cognitio affectiva, nolitia experimentalis, per affinitatem, per modum naturae, per viam voluntatis, per contactum, per unionem, per amorem, ex intimo sui, per deiformem contemplationem, ad modum primorum principiorum, sine discursu, ex instinctu, cognitio absoluta et simplex" (La Evolución Homogénea del Dogma Católico, cap. V, sect. 5).
71. Cf. Hugon, Cursus Philosophiae Thomistae, tom. V, p. 139.
72. Cf. De Veritate, q. 16, a. 1.
73. Cf. STh., 1a.12.2.
74. Cf. De Veritate, q. 8, a. 9.
75. Cf. STh., 1a2ae.26.1 ad 3.
76. Cf. STh., 1a.19.1.
77. Cf. STh., 1a.80.1.
78. STh., 1a2ae.26.1.
79. STh., 1a2ae.74.3 ad 1.
80. STh., 1a2ae.17.7.
81. STh., 1a.81.3.
82. STh., 1a2ae.25.2.
83. STh., 1a2ae.41.3.
84. STh., 1a2ae.31.1 ad 1.
85. STh., 1a2ae.32.1.
86. STh., 1a2ae.31.4.
87. STh., 1a2ae.31.6.
88. Cf. STh., 1a2ae. loc. cit.
89. STh., 1a.91.3 ad 3.
90. STh., 1a2ae.31.4.
91. STh., 1a2ae.31.5.
92. Cf. Maritain, op. cit., p. 127.
93. STh., 2a2ae.180.7.
94. Cf. STh., 1a2ae.3.4; 4.1, where St. Thomas treats of the operation of the intellect as constituting the essence of happiness, and the role of delight in happiness.
95. STh., 1a2ae.27.1 ad 3.
96. "The intellect attains the vision of the beautiful as the executive power, but the will as the motive power, moving the intellect and enjoying the end attained." Cf. STh., 1a2ae.11.1 ad 1. "The perfection and end of each power, so far as it is a good, belongs to the appetitive power" (ibid., ad 2).
97. Cf. STh., 1a2ae.31.5.


Source: Jordan Aumann, "Beauty and the Esthetic Response," Angelicum 54 (1977): 489–519.

Notes: I omitted footnote one, which merely cited a number of early-to-mid 20th century Neo-Thomistic authors who have commented on the nature of beauty. I also reformatted references to the Summa Theologiae from the more traditional (Ia IIae, q. 31, a. 1, ad 1) to a more contemporary form (1a2ae.31.1 ad 1). Italics are original to the essay.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Fr. Antonio Royo Marín on the Theology of the Apostolate

[800] Article 4
The Apostolate

664. The apostolate, in whatever its form, carried out with a true supernatural spirit, can and ought to provide to the Christian a true source of sanctification. We are going to examine the concept of the apostolate, its degrees, obligation, forms, and relations to Christian perfection.

665. I. Concept. We are going to detail its nominal meaning and its real content.

a) NOMINALLY, the word “apostle” comes from the Greek term ἀπόστολος, derived from the verb ἀποστέλλω (“to send”), and signifies an envoy, messenger, or ambassador.

In the New Testament this word is sometimes used to designate the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ, to which there is added the names of Matthias, Paul, and Barnabas, [801] who are apostles by antonomasia (par excellence); but at other times the name of “apostle” is also given to every kind of preacher of the Gospel, including those not belonging to the church hierarchy. Thus St. Paul writes in his Letter to the Romans: “Salute Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and fellow prisoners: who are of note among the apostles” (Rom. 16:7).

It should be noted that the words “mission” and “apostolate,” as well as “missionary” and “apostle,” are etymologically equivalent. “Mission” and “missionary” come from the Latin verb mitto, which means “to send”; this is exactly the same as the words “apostle” and “apostolate,” which as we have said before come from the Greek verb ἀποστέλλω, which also means “to send.”

b) REAL MEANING. The nominal or etymological significance of the word apostle has set us on the path to its true meaning or real content. For in the understanding of the Church which interests us here, an apostle is, in the end, nothing but an envoy of God sent to preach the Gospel to men. St. Paul expressly says so (Rom. 1:1), and it is the common doctrine of the entire tradition of the Church. The expression apostolate has no meaning other than the work and activity proper to the apostle.

666. 2. Degrees. However, the word apostle is undoubtedly analogous and is applied in many different ways to different subjects of attribution. Accordingly, we can distinguish without effort, based on the data of Sacred Scripture and of tradition, up to six degrees or distinct categories of apostolate:

1. The apostolate in its most eminent grade, as the supreme analogate in its analogical scale, corresponds by right to Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is sent by the Father in order to bring to the world the good news and message of redemption (Jn. 3:17, 8:16, 17:3, 8, 18, 21, etc.). From Him all other apostles receive the mandate and apostolic mission (Jn. 20:21).

2. In the second place, the apostolate corresponds to those apostles par excellence, in other words, the twelve apostles chosen by Christ, to which is added the names of Matthias, Paul, and Barnabas, and those sent by Him to preach the Gospel to every creature (Mk. 16:15).

3. Occupying the third place is the Roman Pontiff, the successor of St. Peter, and the bishops, the successors of the remaining apostles and heirs of the ordinary mission that Jesus Christ has committed to them although not of the extraordinary mission as founders of the Church nor of the personal charisms if we make exception for the Roman Pontiff in referring to the privilege of infallibility.

4. Fourthly, simple priests sent by the Pope and the bishops with any jurisdictional mission that participates directly in the authority of the Church.

5. The laity involved in any apostolic organization, among which Catholic Action stands out, which, without participating in any manner in properly ecclesiastical or jurisdictional authority, nevertheless partakes in the official activities of that authority under the direction of the hierarchy and as their instruments. [802]

6. In the broadest sense, finally, the name of apostle can be applied to any person who performs some action of the apostolate (catechesis, giving good council, etc.) although it would be through his own initiative and not with any official mission.

667. 3. Obligation. Having explained the notion of the apostle, the apostolate, and the different degrees in which one can participate in the latter, it will be of interest to demonstrate before all the obligation of the apostolate on all the members of Christ without exception. No one may be excused from this sacred obligation although it affects Christians in many, diverse ways according to the higher or lower position in which they have been placed by Divine Providence on the scale of analogous degrees that we finished enumerating above.

Here are the principle reasons or theological foundations of the universal obligation of the apostolate:

1. It is a requirement of charity in relation to God, to our neighbors, and to ourselves.

a) RELATING TO GOD. The love that is selfish and sensual is exclusive: it does not want anyone to participate in its joy; it wants to savor it by itself. It is very easily understood because of the limitation and smallness of the creature upon which this love has fallen. But the love of God, which rests on an infinite and inexhaustible object, far from diminishing, grows and becomes truly massive even when in the depths of one’s being one does not feel the blazing of the fire of the apostolate. A love of God that remained indifferent to apostolic concerns would be completely false and illusory. “There is only one thing I desire,” said St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus: “to make God loved.” It is the fundamental and primary desire of all souls who are authentically in love with God. We will come back to this when discussing the relationship between perfection and the apostolate.

b) RELATING TO NEIGHBOR. The charity relating to our neighbor obliges us to desire and procure every kind of good for him, principally those in the spiritual order that are ordained to his eternal beatitude. It is impossible, therefore, to love one’s neighbor with a true love of charity without the affective and effective practice of the apostolate, at least to the measurement and degree compatible with our state in life and with the means and methods within our reach.

c) RELATING TO OURSELVES. It has rightly been said that material charity benefits more the one who gives than the one who receives because, in exchange for something material and temporal, one acquires a right to a spiritual and eternal reward. This same principle should apply, for greater reason, [803] to the great spiritual charity of the apostolate. It is certain that the recipient also benefits in the order of the spiritual and transcendent, but without any prejudice, even before this, comes a great benefit to the benefactor. By submitting ourselves to apostolic labors for the good of our brothers, we accrue on a grand scale our capital of merit before God. Hence in this manner the apostolate is not only an obligation but simultaneously an excellent practice of the love of God, our neighbor, and ourselves.

2. It is a consequence of the dogma of the Mystical Body of Christ.

God used the apostle St. Paul to give to His Church the doctrinal treasure of the theology of the Mystical Body of Christ. It is an infinite treasure of inexhaustible fecundity for the Christian life. Much has been written on it, and we have the fortune of possessing a wonderful synthesis in the enlightening encyclical of Pope Pius XII.1 Perhaps in no other aspect of this doctrine are offered possibilities as magnificent for the theologian as those relating to the universal duty of the apostolate that flow from it naturally and without effort. In fact it is inconceivable that the members of one and the same supernatural organism should remain indifferent to the health and well-being of the others.

a) BAPTISM, by which we are incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ, has linked us in such a way to our Divine Head and each one of us to the other that no one can “wash one’s hands of” the other without committing an attack, a true crime against the members of that same Mystical Body, which has inevitable repercussions even to its Divine Head. The “you did it to Me” of the final judgment will have its perfect application both in the line of the good and the bad (Mt. 25:40, 45).

b) CONFIRMATION. The demands of Baptism are invigorated and reinforced with the sacrament of Confirmation, which makes us soldiers of Christ and gives us the necessary strength to wage the battles of the Lord. The mission of the soldier is to defend the common good. A selfish soldier is a contradiction. For this reason he must be confirmed an apostle by an intrinsic demand stemming from his own fallen condition.2

668. 4. Forms. However, even here there is room for distinct modes and grades. Not all Christians are obliged to practice the apostolate in the same degree and, above all, in the same form. It is possible to characterize the apostolate as a state, as a life, and as a practice.

a) AS A STATE, the apostolate corresponds properly to the Roman Pontiff and the bishops, the legitimate successors of the apostles, to whom [804] Christ has entrusted the august mission of perpetuating the apostolic functions and ministries even to the consummation of the ages (Mk. 16:15).

b) AS A LIFE, it corresponds to any priest who has legitimately received the apostolic mission to announce the Gospel to the people. Within this fierce phalanx of the apostles of Jesus Christ, priests occupy an outstanding place because of the transcendent importance of their apostolate, these missionaries in a land of infidels and charged with expanding the dominion of the Christian faith until it has invaded the entire world.

c) AS A PRACTICE, it is the exercise of any apostolic activity whether with a canonical mission or not. This latter is that which extends also to the lay faithful, who must exercise the apostolate—in virtue of those demands that we noted above—at least in their particular environment with all the means at their disposal.

669. 5. Relations between the Apostolate and Christian Perfection. Having examined the concept of the apostolate, even if only with the extreme brevity that the extension and nature of our work obliges us, let us now see what its intimate relations with Christian perfection are.

a) THE APOSTOLATE, A FORMAL PART OR EFFECT OF PERFECTION. St. Thomas beautifully proves that apostolic zeal is an effect of charity.3 Above all, when charity attains to a great intensity, it tends to overflow into the exterior. It is impossible to love God “with thy whole heart, with thy whole soul, and with all thy strength”—the first commandment of the Law, in the perfect practice of which Christian perfection consists—without the soul feeling a devouring zeal for the glory of God and an insatiable craving for the apostolate. In this way the apostolate is inevitably a formal effect of Christian perfection. There is not nor can there be any form of Christian perfection that can prescind from or not want to have anything to do with this apostolic giving of one’s self towards others. In the Church of Christ all is united and collective. Egotistic isolation is a sin, and the sanctity that cares not for the good of others is an illusion. None, not even cloistered nuns or contemplative religious, can renounce being an apostle without committing a crime against the Mystical Body of Christ and without destroying the very contemplative life in its integrity. The nun of the cloister and the contemplative too have a most elevated apostolic mission that, at the same time that it is an indispensable duty, constitutes for them one of their most precious peals of glory. They are not to be apostles through the exercise of the word or exterior activities diametrically opposed to the spirit of their contemplative vocation, but they are to be, in an eminent [805] degree, apostles through their prayer, through their sacrifices, through their example and witness before the pagan society of our day.

Our immortal Donoso Cortés wrote the following phrase: “I believe that those who pray do more for this world than those who fight and that if the world goes from bad to worse, this consists in that there are more battles than there are prayers.”4 As a missionary bishop once affirmed, ten Carmelite nuns praying could help him more than twenty missionaries preaching.

There can be no doubt. The love of God when legitimate and true enkindles within our souls a love of neighbor. The apostle St. John arrives at the saying that he lies who says that he loves God but does not also love his neighbor (1 Jn. 4:20), and among the acts of love, not one is more authentic than the apostolic zeal and ardor for procuring our neighbor’s spiritual good.

b) INTIMATE UNION, NECESSARY FOR PERFECTION TO BE AUTHENTIC AND THE APOSTOLATE FRUITFUL. Between perfection and the apostolate there must be—necessarily so when authentic—a most strict relationship and a reciprocal and continual influence. It is a classic formula that the interior life is the soul of the whole apostolate and the guarantee of its efficacy. This affirmation is supported by very firm principles of Catholic theology.

As it is known, in establishing the comparison between the active life and the contemplative, the Angelic Doctor concludes that the latter is more perfect and meritorious than the active since, among other reasons that he explains there, the direct exercise of the love of God, which is the object of the contemplative life, is more perfect and meritorious than the love of neighbor, which is the immediate object of exterior activities.5 But a little afterwards he adds that the mixed life is more perfect than either of the others considered in isolation because it unites the best aspects of both and more closely imitates the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, the supreme model of perfection.6

The difficulty is in specifying the true concept of the mixed life, for there is no state of active life that does not claim for it some directing principle or source influence from the contemplative life. Hence if one does not proceed with much caution and theological rigor, one will come to the danger of concluding that the properly active life does not exist and that all apostolic activity—whatever may be its origin, end, and manner of fulfilling—enters fully into the concept of the mixed life and is, therefore, superior to the merely contemplative life. This would be a [806] most grave error that would affect not only the serene realm of theoretical principles but would also have enormous and pernicious repercussions in practice.

No! Not all apostolic activity is beneficial when it is cut off from the further excellencies of the mixed life and as if it worked in an ex opere operato manner. This excellence, according to the Angelic Doctor and the universal theological tradition, is what proceeds from the fullness of contemplation.7 It is an overflowing of one’s own supernatural life. It has two absolutely inseparable aspects: to contemplate and to communicate to others what has been contemplated: contemplari et contemplata aliis tradere.8 Neither of the two aspects can be neglected without damaging in a radical manner the concept of the mixed life. Without the contemplative element, we would have pure exterior activity: the active life. Without the apostolic giving of one’s self in exterior activity, we would have pure contemplation: the contemplative life. And in neither of these two cases would we have achieved the concept of the mixed life. The mixed life is, therefore, only that in which apostolic activities would be an effect and a redounding of one’s own contemplation. From which it must be concluded that when these apostolic activities, however numerous and intense they may be, do not emanate from an authentically contemplative soul that is ablaze with the love of God, they cannot claim to be part of the dignity and excellence of the mixed life: they are mere exterior activity, the active life pure and simple, greatly inferior in itself to the contemplative life and—a fortiori—to the authentic mixed life as well. That is why the Angelic Doctor carefully insists that when a contemplative is called to apostolic activities, this ought not to be done in a manner of subtraction, subtracting and reducing anything from the contemplative life, but in a manner of addition, adding in a manner that further enkindles one’s own life of union with God: hoc non fit per modum substractionis, sed per modum additionis (“this is done by way not of subtraction but of addition”).9

Is this to say that an apostle who does not live a profound and exuberant interior life is unforgivably condemned to sterility and failure? Applied to the priest in the totality of his ministry, it seems to us not to be the case. It would do no good here to invoke the argument that “one cannot give what one does not have.” The reason is that a good part of the ministerial activities of the priest has an intrinsic efficacy—ex opere operatothat functions independently of the personal worthiness of the one who administers the sacraments. In this sense, the priest does not give of his own but only what is of God, that is, that which God puts into his hands, however unworthy and sinful those hands may be. This is true. But one cannot entertain the slightest doubt that in all those other activities the efficacy of which depend in a good part on the proper dispositions of the instrument—ex opere operantis—(and these are all those activities of the priest except those we referred to in the valid administration of the sacraments), the supernatural efficacy of his apostolate will be in direct and immediate proportion to the degree of sanctity and perfection of the minister of God, and a poor curate in Ars, ignorant and scorned but aflame with divine love, will convert [807] more sinners and bring more souls to God than all the professors of the Sorbonne in Paris combined.

Hence, an intimate and deep union between the contemplative life and the active is indispensable in order to come to the authentic notion of the mixed life and to assure the authenticity of Christian perfection and the fruitfulness of the apostolate. Therefore it is necessary to avoid with all caution the errors and dangerous deviations of both extremes.

c) ERRORS AND DANGEROUS DEVIATIONS OF BOTH EXTREMES. Without any doubt, in the field of the apostolate there are greater errors and dangers that arise from an exaggerated overestimation of the active life than from an unhealthy exaltation of the contemplative life: the activism or Americanism, which was called by the most recent Popes the heresy of action, is a much deadlier error than quietism. In any case, every error is pernicious, and we ought carefully to avoid both vicious extremes in order to come to the just and balanced middle in which virtue consists.

a) The excess of uncontrolled activity almost always leads to the heresy of action and the personal failure of the man who lives in such a way. Well known are the words of a man as apostolic as Cardinal Lavigerie: “For an apostle there is no middle ground between complete sanctity—at least desired and pursued with fidelity and tenacity—and absolute perversion.” Unfortunately, experience daily confirms the somber perspective of this phrase. The man, devoured by the fever of action, submits himself more and more to exterior activities: paperwork, statistics, organizations, the press, radio, cinema, the devouring fever of movement…

Does he live a life of profound piety, of continual and intense prayer? Does he recite the breviary digne, attente, ac devote (“worthily, attentively, and devoutly”)? Does he make a long preparation in order to celebrate the Holy Mass and deepen and prolong his thanksgiving afterwards? Does he do spiritual reading, meditation, and acts of personal piety? “There is no time for this!” he says. “The times are very bad; the forces of evil have organized themselves to oversee everything more and more; it is necessary to oppose them by the barricade of our resistance, from organization to organization, activity to activity. If only we could attend to everything! We would love very much to live the life of prayer, to keep in constant contact with our Lord in the tabernacle… What a pity! We do not have the time for this.” Such is how these poor souls run astray. The result of this insensible reasoning tends to be the loss of the spirit of faith, lukewarmness and boredom in the prayer life, and, all too often, a noisy and belligerent defection and the scandal of final apostasy.

b) Quietism. In diametrical opposition to this great error, another great aberration disguised as supernatural prudence tries to take refuge in darkness and sloth. It is quietism, a ridiculous caricature of recollection and the contemplative life, which coincides in reality with the most repugnant selfishness when it does not fall into the abyss of sensuality as history has so often testified. The quietist “does not want to meddle in anything.” Under the pretext of concentration and prayer, he fortifies himself into a castle of isolation and idleness without thinking of anyone outside of himself or preoccupying himself with anything other than his own interests. He has not heard—or does not want to hear—the anguished cry [808] of the Divine Redeemer: “I am come to cast fire on the earth; and what will I, but that it be kindled?” (Lk. 12:49).

He is very comfortable not “meddling in anything” or to abandon for a single instant his sweet idleness—il dolce far niente—, but it is not acceptable, when he has such a contemptible attitude, to call himself a disciple of that divine Master Who precisely for meddling in every affair was put to death on the height of the cross.

d) THE JUST AND BALANCED SOLUTION. It is precisely to avoid carefully and equally both vicious extremes. The just and balanced solution was given to us by the Angelic Doctor in that gem of an expression which we have already mentioned above: Contemplari et contemplata aliis tradere: To contemplate the divine realities through prayer and study and then to communicate to others the clean and crystalline waters that spill over from the fullness of our own supernatural life.



1 We have collected an extensive summary of this encyclical in another place in this work (cf. n. 78).
2 Cf. III,72,2.
3 I-II,28,4.
4 Donoso Cortés, Obras completas t.2 p.227 (BAC, Madrid 1956).
5 Cf. II-II,182,1,2.
6 Cf. II-II,188,6.
7 «Ex plenitudine contemplationis derivatur» (II-II,188,6). “Proceeds from the fullness of contemplation.”
8 «Et hoc praefertur simplici contemplationi. Sicut enim maius est illuminare quam lucere solum, ita maius est contemplata aliis tradere quam solum contemplari» (ibid.). “And this work is more excellent than simple contemplation. For even as it is better to enlighten than merely to shine, so is it better to give to others the fruits of one's contemplation than merely to contemplate.”
9 Cf. II-II,182,1 ad 3.


Source: Fr. Antonio Royo Marín, OP, The Theology of Christian Perfection, trans. by Richard Grablin (Madrid: Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos, 2015), 800–808.