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St. Augustine's Aesthetics
Transcript of St. Augustine's Aesthetics
The Power of Aesthetic Experience
Augustine borrowed the Plotinian idea that there is a certain continuity to beauty, from the lowest to the greatest (since everything came from God or "the One"). However, as things 'move up' in the scale of beauty, the more real they are (because they have a more perfect form!). Thus, Augustine was able to say that the beautiful, insofar a it possesses a sort of perfected form, is able to lead one to
(knowledge of the perfect form). According to Augustine, the beauty of the things of this world reveals to us what is truly real, bringing us closer to the Divine (Beardsley, 95).
Augustine will say that even though art and nature have their place in the ascension to the Divine, they must not prevent our minds from contemplating eternal truths. Thus, the less arts partake in the sensible, the better. This is why Augustine considers the art of music above the art of painting. Augustine agrees that, as long as art mirrors the truths of faith, harmonizing with God's creation, art is good (Kuhns, 172).
Augustine's Imagination in his Theology
Philosophy of Beauty
We love the beautiful because in it we see a reflection/infusion of the ultimate beauty of God (Kuhns 191). Beauty is that which a whole possesses. When something good is arranged in a well-ordered manner, it is beautiful (Beardsley 93). Augustine's key terms to approach the beautiful are: unity, number, equality, proportion, and order (Beardsley 93).
- Unity: Things exist as some sort of unified wholes if they are to exist at all. The degree to which they are whole will measure how beautiful they are. (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy).
- Number: Means several things: 1) mathematical proportion, 2) rhythmic organization, 3) fleetingness of parts, 4) the Divine. Fundamental quality for the creation of the world. It springs from unity and gives rise to rhythm (Kuhns, 172).
- Equality/Likeness: Individual things may be replicated. Thus, they would be judged as being more or less "like" the original (Kuhns, 194).
Beardsley, Monroe C. "St Augustine." Aesthetics from Classical Greece to the Present: A Short History. Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama, 1975. 92-98. Print.
Hofstadter, Albert, and Richard Kuhns. Philosophies of Art and Beauty: Selected Readings in Aesthetics from Plato to Heidegger. Chicago: U of Chicago, 1976. Print.
O'Connell, Robert J. Soundings in St. Augustine's Imagination. New York: Fordham UP, 1994. Print.
Spicher, Michael. "Medieval Theories of Aesthetics." Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. N.p., n.d. Web.
Augustine, and Henry Chadwick. Confessions. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1991. Print.
Augustine had three basic 'image clusters':
: a hierarchical 'picture' of all things: from God, to angels, to humans and the world (O'Connell, 22). This image allows for Augustine's idea of the hierarchy of beauty in the world.
Peregrinatio Animae (wayfaring of soul)
: at the depths of the created universe, the human soul attempts to move towards God (O'Connell, 3).
: image of God's feminine maternal 'care', which returns us to our original heights once again (O'Connell, 2).
Because of our fallen state, we are at the bottom of Omnia. However, God's love (fovere) has the power to turn us into "cosmic travelers" (peregrinatio animae) on our way back to Him. These images play a crucial role in his theology.
MªCarmen Ferre Martí
Dr. Gregory Kerr
PL 390 – Seminar in Creativity and Beauty
- Augustine's Influences
- Point 1: Augustine's Aesthetics: "Philosophy of Beauty"
- Point 2: How to properly judge beauty according to St. Augustine
- Point 3: The aesthetic experience can lead to religious wisdom.
- Point 4: Augustine's Imagination in his Theology
Augustine was heavily influenced by Platonist and Neo-Platonist ideas, especially those of Plotinus, and he included such ideas in his Christian worldview.
- Thus, for Augustine, God was "the One", who is also free and personal (Lecture). Augustine distinguished between God's creation (ex nihilo, out of nothing) and the the artists' creation (ex materia) (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy).
- Augustine thought that things were beautiful in accord with the perfection of their form. Thus, God is beauty itself, as He possesses perfect form, and the world is but a shadow of His beauty. In God's act of creation, His beauty is infused in things, even though they would never be as beautiful as their source (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy).
- Augustine thought that Scripture properly interpreted was the best way to get to God (the perfect form, Beauty Himself).
Augustine thought that beauty is not subjective, but objective. In order to think of something as beautiful, one must have a preconceived idea of the perfect order and unity. Augustine will say that such idea is revealed to the mind by a "divine illumination," through which we are allowed into the mind of God, where the perfect forms reside (Beardsley, 96).
Augustine also believes that apprehending the beautiful must involve one's rationality. Why? Because we must be able to perceive a certain order/pattern if we are to enjoy the pleasures it offers. He says that this sort of pleasure is limited to the "ocular and auricular" senses, thus excluding taste and smell, since these cannot perceive order (Beardsley, 95).
There is, according to Augustine, a hierarchy of beautiful things, in accord with the perfection of their form. God is the most beautiful of all things, and everything else has beauty only because of His beauty, and thus in a lesser degree (IEP).
Argument Against Thesis
"Art is an active conformation (
) of the mind (
) of the artist" (Kuhns 189).
"Do we love anything but the beautiful? What then is the beautiful? And what is beauty? What is it that allures and unites us to the things we love; for unless there were a grace and beauty in them, they could not possibly attract us to them?" And I reflected on this and saw that in the objects themselves there is a kind of beauty which comes from their forming a whole and another kind of beauty that comes from mutual fitness -- as the harmony of one part of the body with its whole, or a shoe with a foot, and so on" (Augustine, Book 4, 20)
Beauty is objective, and the beautiful draws us closer to God. Insofar as it does that, the beautiful reflects God and is very good. However, Augustine states that art can be dangerous, but it can be good if it reflects God's eternal and perfect qualities, even if it does so in an imperfect way.
Proportion: Equality gives rise to proportion, which is the arrangement of parts in a particular balance (Kuhns, 200). The symmetrical gives pleasure, insofar as it preserves unity (IEP).
Order: The orderly must have its equal and unequal parts arranged into a whole oriented to a particular end (Beardsley, 94). It is when things are in their proper place that they are most beautiful (IEP).
Augustine defines "ugliness" as that which has no form, since things are beautiful in accord with the perfection of their form (Beardsley, 95).
Is St. Augustine right when he says that beauty is something objective, rather than subjective?
Augustine is right when he states that beauty is objective. One cannot differentiate what is beautiful from what is ugly if one does not have a pre-existing idea in mind (a standard) of the certain attributes that the beautiful possesses that the ugly lacks. This standard in our minds must speak to something greater than us, an ideal to which we are appealing. Otherwise, we are not saying something is beautiful, but simply that it is pleasing (Beardsley, 96).
The idea of the perfect form of beauty must be revealed to our minds by God/the Good, whose "form" alone is perfect (thus being the perfect standard). Only then can we come to see what is truly beautiful and what is not (Beardsley, 96).
Augustine is not right in saying that beauty is objective, it is in fact subjective. This is because what I might think is beautiful, may seem extremely displeasing to someone else, and vice versa. This would prove that there are many standards by which one can judge what is beautiful, and no one can surely state just one standard for everyone (Beardsley, 96).
- This position confuses beauty with that which is merely pleasurable. Augustine, on the other hand, wants to say that the beautiful and the Good are intrinsically linked. The beautiful may afford us pleasure, but it does not necessarily have to. One must be trained, in light of the Good, to recognize the beautiful.
- If it were true that beauty is subjective, then why does everyone have a certain standard of beauty, even if they are different? Why not just say that beauty is arbitrary or random, thus some people see it, while others do not?
- If beauty can not objectively be pointed out, then there is no such thing as the beautiful, because what I may call beautiful someone else may call ugly, and ultimately we both would be speaking of ourselves (of the pleasure we experience), and not the object itself.
All information taken from (Beardsley, 96).