Why is there always another poem or song waiting to be written, another story or novel ready to be composed, or another masterpiece of music or art expected to be created?
Why can a person deplete his income or savings and be emptied of money, but never exhaust his capacity for love, friendship, or goodness? The well can run dry, the pocket book can be penniless, and a car can stop running because a limit of resources, wealth, or durability has been reached.
All material goods are perishable and subject to time, change, and fortune.
An Inexhaustible Source
But spiritual realities do not possess these limitations and do not age, wither, or decay because of use or wear. If a person offers friendship to one, two, or three people, it does not diminish his fund of friendship for ten or twenty additional persons. If someone shows charity to a few persons of his acquaintance, it does not reduce the availability of more charity for others.
If parents give all their love to the current children in their family, it does not lessen the love they have for another baby. Spiritual realities have inexhaustible resources.
Some things in life have no limits, boundaries, or maximum capacities. What philosophers call the One, the True, the Good, and the Beautiful identifies the spiritual realities not bound by the constraints of amount, number, or limit.
The Transcendentals—attributes of God—possess an eternal, infinite, divine dimension that elevates them to the highest objects of human thought and contemplation.
The Transcendentals are inexhaustible mysteries that surpass the capacity of man’s thought to comprehend them in their fullness. There is no limit to the depths of truth, the riches of goodness, or the endless forms of beauty.
One can no more look directly into the bright sun with human eyes than fathom the breadth and depth of these mysteries with the range of human understanding. The One, the True, the Good, and the Beautiful evoke a sense of wonder that moves the heart as it lifts the mind—the effect of all great works of art that intimate these supernatural realities.
One can always hear again and again Gregorian chant and great classical music like Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos without ever exhausting their beauty or power to reach the soul. A great book like Shakespeare’s King Lear or Dante’s Divine Comedy offers fresh insights after each new reading.
All great classical masterpieces of literature, music, art, and architecture never lose this sense of awe and majesty that nourish the spirit and inspire the heart. To be in touch with the Transcendentals awakens in the mind the purest form of thought known as contemplation, the quiet gazing, listening, appreciating, and thinking that reaches the depths of a person and leads to a deep interior peace akin to “the peace that passes all understanding.”
In many ways, an encounter with the True, Good, and Beautiful compares to the experience of falling in love and becoming “love’s contemplative.”
In the Song of Solomon, the lover cannot stop marveling at the beloved and admiring all the perfections he beholds in the miraculous beauty of the bride:
“Behold, you are beautiful, my love, behold you are beautiful! Your eyes are like doves behind your veil….Your hair is like a flock of goats….Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes….Your lips are like a scarlet thread, and your mouth is lovely.”
Always the experience of the True, Good, and Beautiful provides a sense of overflow, abundance, and richness—so much to see, admire, and enjoy! “My cup overflows.”
Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “Pied Beauty” depicts an encounter with the transcendental aspect of beauty that teems with radiance and color in God’s creation, a cornucopia of combinations of colors and a multiplicity of intricate designs that abound everywhere in the sky, earth, and water that he describes as “dappled things”—an infinite variety of things large and small painted with glorious streaks of color that all reveal God’s art.
“The skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow” illustrate a divine Artist that adorns the heavens with a blend of blue sky and white clouds and also decorates the earth in the mixture of black tones and white patches on cows.
The beauty above mirrors the beauty below, and the beauty of water reflected in the rainbow colors of “rose moles all in stipple upon trout that swim” resembles the variegated splendor of sky and earth. There is so much beauty! So much color! In everything! Everywhere! It is without end and beyond all limit: “Glory be to God for dappled things.”
Gods in Rags
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story “The Miraculous Pitcher” from A Wonder Book offers a glimpse into the transcendental aspect of goodness, the wells of love in the human heart. Throughout their entire life, Baucis and Philemon, an elderly couple, have offered warm, kind hospitality with unstinting generosity to all travelers who pass through their village.
While the people of the town welcome only the affluent and handsomely dressed with the anticipation of reward, Baucis and Philemon’s unconditional hospitality never distinguishes between rich and poor.
In the story, two Greek gods dressed in rags venture through the village, only to be greeted by sneers of the townsmen who have already prejudged them by their plain attire. The townsmen unleash snarling dogs and encourage children to throw rocks at the strangers. True to the sacred laws of the gods that enjoin hospitality, Baucis and Philemon welcome the travelers with their best fare of cheese, bread, honey, grapes, and milk—a meal the gods compare to a heavenly feast of nectar and ambrosia.
In gratitude, the gods bestow upon the couple the gift of the miraculous pitcher that never runs short, an inexhaustible fountain of milk that immediately fills after the last drop empties. The image of the miraculous pitcher corresponds to the bountiful hearts of the kind couple. There is no limit to the milk in the pitcher, no limit to the hospitality of Baucis and Philemon, no limit to the heart’s capacity to love.
What God Has Prepared
The One, the True, the Good, and the Beautiful fill Heaven in Dante’s Paradise. When Dante the pilgrim ascends into Paradise, he encounters the resplendent, luminous light of truth that is constantly reflected and mirrored everywhere—in eyes, in water, in the stars.
He experiences the spontaneous giving and receiving of love between all the souls in heaven that compares to bees entering and leaving flowers: “as a drove of bees enflower themselves again, again, returning where their labor is made sweet, / Into the many-petalled flower come down, and from its leaves they rise again and go where their Love dwells in day evermore.”
Just as Dante knows absolute truth and feels absolute goodness, he beholds absolute beauty when he sees the living stars, the smile of Beatrice, the pure light (“a thousand splendors all aglow”).
The glimpses into the True, the Good, and the Beautiful that the great art and beauty of the human world capture hint of an even greater, boundless fullness that God promises in a Paradise with heights, depths, lengths, and widths beyond comprehension—“What,” in St. Paul’s words, “eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.”
© James Thew / Dollar Photo Club