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37-Beauty in ed[My recent book, Beauty in the Word, a sequel to Beauty for Truth’s Sake, is quite dense and complicated, so I thought it would be helpful to readers if I produced a “study guide”. So, in a series of posts, I look at some of the key themes and ideas in the book.]

II. The Transcendentals

I find the triad of the Trivium (Memory, Thought, Speech, or if you prefer Grammar, Dialectic, Rhetoric) echoed in many others, from the Trinity of divine persons on down through the various levels of creation. The Trivium is therefore intimately bound up with the divine image in Man, which is a Trinitarian image. God himself is the source of Memory, Thought, and Speech (Being/Father, Logos/Son, and Breath/Spirit). One of those triads is composed of the so-called “transcendental properties of being”, meaning properties that are so “general” that they can be found in varying degrees in everything that exists. The three I mean are Goodness, Truth, and Beauty–although one might also look at the threesome of Unity, Truth, and Goodness. As I explain (Beauty in the Word, p. 157), such triads are impossible to align definitively with particular members of the Trinity, because they can be looked at under different aspects. In fact each is one of the Names of God, and applies to all three divine persons. The human being who searches for any of them is on the road to God, on whom these three roads converge. The Transcendentals are vitally important if we are to understand the world as a cosmos and build a civilization worthy of our humanity.

I want to propose an idea that came to me after writing Beauty in the Word, that might serve as an interesting footnote, or open up another avenue to explore. It is this. Human civilization seems to have three pillars: Law, Language, and Religion. It is these that make us into a community or nation. And in each case the aim or goal is one of the Transcendentals, even if they cannot reach that goal without divine assistance. The aim of the Law is goodness, the aim of Language is Truth, and the aim of Religion is (spiritual) Beauty—that is, holiness. Culture is the result of all three; of Law, Language, and Religion acting in concert (body, soul, and spirit, as it were).

But how does this relate to the Trivium? Law it seems to me aims to recall us to our true nature, or encourages us to rise to our highest nature. In that sense it corresponds to Memory or Grammar. (The moral or natural law, as Pope Benedict has written in his little book On Conscience, may be equated with Platonic “reminiscence”, which is in Christian terms an awakening to our true nature in God’s intention.) Language then corresponds to Thought, meaning the human quest for truth in all things. (For in order to understand reality we must discern the Son, the Logos of all things.) Thirdly, Religion in the sense of a tradition or path of holiness is what gives the spirit that animates the community. It is this that makes us aware of our intimate relationship to each other, able to speak “heart to heart”. This is an extension of an idea I put forward in the book, that before we reform our schools we need to understand more deeply the goal of education, which is a truer humanity and a civilization of love.

Books related to the topic of this article may be found in The Imaginative Conservative BookstorePublished here by the gracious permission of the author, this post originally appeared in Beauty in Education.

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4 replies to this post
  1. Can you expound upon the triad of the human person? You mention body, soul, and spirit.
    According to Aristotelian anthropology, man is body/soul in unison; further, the soul is a triad of itself (though a hierarchial one) of a rational part, an appetative part, and a vegetative part.

    If there is a distinction between "soul" and "spirit", is "soul" considered "mind" in this case, so that the triad is made up of body, mind, spirit? Could we not just say that "mind" and "spirit" are "soul"?

  2. I do indeed mention in passing this ancient distinction between body, soul, and spirit. The long history of "tripartite anthropology" is described by Henri de Lubac in the book "Theology in History" and cannot be summarized here. It goes back to St Paul (e.g. 1 Thess. 5:23). It is specified in St Teresa of Avila and others, who make it clear that the 'spirit' is not something separate from the soul but is, as it were, the 'soul of the soul', or a kind of interior dimension. Certainly it is sometimes called 'mind' (or 'nous'), but usage varies between authors. This is a huge subject. I am working more on it for a future book, but in the meantime you may be interested in some things written by my colleague and friend David Clayton over on his site at http://thewayofbeauty.org/2012/08/st-ephrem-the-syrian-on-the-nature-of-man-body-soul-and-spirit/

  3. Ah, thanks. I'll look into that.

    I was also wondering if you consider at all the triadic systems developed by pragmatist and semiotician Charles Sanders Peirce, especially in regards to language? The novelist Walker Percy adopted this theory in his "Lost in the Cosmos," as well as some of his essays.

  4. Just finished your “Beauty for Truth’s Sake”! I was thoroughly impressed and encouraged. Looking forward to reading more and continuing to weed out the recalcitrant roots of post-modernity in my worldview. I’m preparing to get into Classical Christian Education and your book came highly recommended from my circle. And I didn’t even realize you also wrote for TiC! Thanks again.

    – a Reformed Baptist reader. 🙂

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