The Form

"Since this world of ours is beautiful and its Creator partakes of the Form of Goodness, then clearly the Creator has selected the primordial Form Beauty as the blueprint for the world."

Plato, Timeaus

    In his dialogue Symposium, Plato used the Form Beauty to teach us how to gain an understanding of all Forms.

"The true procedure of spiritual advance is to envision beautiful things of this world as steps along which one mounts upwards to that Higher Beauty."

"The initial step for the initiate in this mystical procedure is "to turn to beautiful forms."

First he should "love one such form only." From his focusing on one such beautiful form only, "he should create fair thoughts."

"Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed,
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course untrimmed:
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st,
Nor shall death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st,
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee."

Shakespeare, Sonnet XIX

     "Soon he would himself perceive that the beauty of one form is truly related to the beauty of another."

     "And then if beauty in general is his pursuit, how foolish would he be not to recognize that the beauty in every form is one and the same! . . And he will become a lover of all beautiful forms."
     "This will lead him on to consider that the beauty of the mind is more honorable than the beauty of the outward appearance."

Frontpiece to the Encyclopedia
"Then he will contemplate and see the beauty of institutions and laws, and understand that all is of one kindred, and . . . on to the sciences, . . . and drawing towards the sea of beauty, and creating and beholding many fair and noble thoughts and notions in boundless love of wisdom."

     "Until at length he grows and waxes strong, and at last the vision is revealed to him of a single science, which is the science of wondrous beauty everywhere."

"In that communion only, beholding beauty with the eye of the mind, he will be enabled to bring forth, not images of beauty, but realities; for he has hold not of an image but of a reality, and bringing forth and educating true virtue to become the friend of God and be immortal, if mortal man may."

    In his Principium Sapietiae, F. M. Cornford summarizes this entire process:
"In the ascent there are four stages. The love which is fixed upon the beauty of a single person must first be detached from its object and from physical beauty. The individual object is lost to sight in the perception that all physical beauty is one.

"Next the soul learns to value, above bodily beauty, beauty of the mind, and to perceive the unity and kinship of all that is morally lovely, honourable, and of good report--a sense which the Greek word for beautiful never lost.

"In the third stage we pass to intellectual beauty, such as pervades the whole structure of mathematical knowledge--that unearthly beauty of ordered truth and divine necessity, which a living mathematician [Bertrand Russell] has called supreme--'a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show'.

"At last by the strength gathered in these regions of contemplation, the soul becomes capable of a revelation that comes, if it comes at all, 'suddenly'. Plato here borrows from the Eleusinian mysteries the language of the Sacred Marriage and of the final revelation, when the ancient symbols of divinity were disclosed to the purified initiate in a sudden blaze of light. The soul is united with the divine Beauty, and itself becomes immortal and divine."

"A true philosopher recognizes the being of Supreme Beauty and is able to distinguish the Form Beauty from the objects which participate in the Form, neither putting the objects in the place of the Form nor the Form in the place of the objects."

Plato, Commonwealth V

The Many Faces of Beauty

    As we learned from the quotation at the beginning of this essay, Plato saw the "primordial Form Beauty as the blueprint for the world." Beauty for Plato is much more than comeliness or pulchritude, it is a characteristic not only of form, but of thought, activity, and creativity. We can produce beautiful ideas and beautiful deeds.

"But of beauty, I repeat again that we saw her there shining in company with the celestial forms; and coming to earth we find her here too, shining in clearness through the clearest aperture of sense. For sight is the most piercing of our bodily senses; though not by that is wisdom seen; her loveliness would have been transporting if there had been a visible image of her, and the other Forms, if they had visible counterparts, would be equally lovely. But this is the privilege of beauty, that being the loveliest she is also the most palpable to sight."

Plato, Phaedrus

Hildegard of Bingens (1098-1179) understood that "Music is the echo of the glory and beauty of heaven. And in echoing that glory and beauty, it carries human praise back to heaven,"

"According to all art, all nature, all coherent human thought, we know that order, proportion, form, are essential elements of beauty. Now order, proportion, and form, are palpable to the touch. But beauty and rhythm are deeper than sense. They are like love and faith. They spring out of a spiritual process only slightly dependent upon sensations. Order, proportion, form, cannot generate in the mind the abstract idea of beauty, unless there is already a soul intelligence to breathe life into the elements.

"Many persons, having perfect eyes, are blind in their perceptions. Many persons, having perfect ears, are emotionally deaf. Yet these are the very ones who dare to set limits to the vision of those who, lacking a sense or two, have will, soul, passion, imagination. Faith is a mockery if it teaches us not that we may construct a world unspeakably more complete and beautiful than the material world. And I, too, may construct my better world, for I am a child of God, an inheritor of a fragment of the Mind that created all worlds."

Helen Keller

  "Those who see the many beautiful, and who yet neither see absolute beauty, nor can follow any guide who points the way thither; who see only the many, and not absolute justice, and the like, such persons may be said to have opinion but not knowledge."
Plato, Commonwealth V, 479e

"I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections.
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling.
Or just after."

Wallace Stevens, Thirteen Ways of Looking At a Blackbird

"Visible things are images of invisible things; phenomenal beauties become images of invisible beauty." Dionysius the Areopagite

"The appreciation of beauty, in the sense of a surrender to its influence rather than a critical analysis, is another example both of what I mean and of a simple spiritual contact. Beauty is a great and quiet teacher. But what I am asking here is that in your response to beauty you notice the difference between the out-going expanded feel of you, and the in-drawn close-huddled concentration of ordinary affairs." Betty and Stewart Edward White, The Betty Book

          "A thing of beauty is a joy for ever
          Its loveliness increases; it will never
          Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
          A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
          Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing."

John Keats, "Introduction to Endymion"

"But what if man had eyes to see true beauty--divine beauty, I mean, pure and dear and unalloyed, not clogged with the pollutions of mortality and all the colors and vanities of human life--thither looking, and holding converse with true beauty simple and divine? Remember how in that communion only, beholding beauty with the eye of the soul, he will be enabled to bring forth, not images of beauty, but realities (for he has hold not of an image but of a reality), and bringing forth and nourishing true virtue to become the friend of God and be immortal, if mortal man may." Plato, Symposium

"It was while reading Plato that I had my first experience of being lost in the beauty of the ideal realm." J. Rufus Moseley, Manifest Victory

"All souls have the faculty of knowing, but it is only by reflection and self knowledge, and intellectual discipline, that the soul can be raised to the vision of eternal truth, goodness, and beauty--that is, to the vision of God." B. F. Cocker, Christianity and Greek Philosophy, 1870

"The purpose of education is to teach us to love Beauty." Plato

"The purging of the passions is thus an initiation into the mysteries of love, whereby the heart is gradually weaned from the obsession of earthly beauty and its progeny to desire of the sweeter loveliness of the virtues, and so to ever higher spheres, until we attain to knowledge of the divine beauty in its utter purity, clear and unalloyed, and not clogged with the pollutions and vanities of earth. Then, if it may be, mortal man becomes the friend of God, himself immortal, capable of bringing forth like God, not the ephemeral children of fashion, but undying realities."

Paul Elmer More. Christian Mysticism

In Plato's understanding, kalos, the word for beautiful, includes the meaning of "adaptation to higher purpose." Persons are beautiful not only in regard to physical comeliness but in relation to their moral and intellectual capabilities and characteristics.

"It is the best part of the work, which is done something like beautiful tapestry, stitch by stitch from the wrong side. The worker employed on it sees only the stitch he is making, and the needle with which he makes it, while all the stitches combined form magnificent figures which do not show until, every part being complete, the right side is turned outwards. All the beauty and perfection of the work remain in obscurity during its progress. It is the same with the soul that has abandoned itself to God; it has eyes only for Him and for its duty. The performance of this duty is, at each moment, but an imperceptible stitch added to the work, and yet with these stitches God performs wonders of which He sometimes allows a glimpse to be seen, but which will not be visible in their entirety till revealed on the great day of eternity. How full of goodness and wisdom is the guidance of God! He has so entirely kept for His own grace, and His own action, all that is admirable, great, exalted and sublime; and so completely left to our souls, with the aid of grace, all that is little, light and easy, that there is no one in the world who cannot easily reach a most eminent degree of perfection in accomplishing lovingly the most ordinary and obscure duties." Jean-Pierre de Caussade (1675-1751), Abandonment to Divine Providence

"The Creator produces the universe through bringing order out of chaos, because a realm of order allows for harmony, understanding, and wisdom . . .

"The Creator wants this whole universe of becoming to be as much like Himself as possible . . . He reasons that it is best that entities in the terrestrial realm possess intelligence . . . and to possess intelligence they must be endowed with a soul . . . The Creator forms the universe as a self-sufficient Living Unity containing all existent entities within its World Soul . . .

"Humans can attain immortality by becoming like the Creator and learning to create in precisely the manner He creates. The Creator plants the seed of immortality in humans which can be brought to fruition by human acts of self-transformation and self-control. He provides Guides to assist in human transformation."

Plato, Commonwealth

"The parts which do not look beautiful have a deeper beauty in the work they do, while the parts which look beautiful may not be at all essential to life! But God has harmonised the whole body by giving importance of function to the parts which lack apparent importance, that the body should work together as a whole with all the members in sympathetic relationship with one another. So it happens that if one member suffers all the other members suffer with it, and if one member is honoured all the members share a common joy." 1 Corinthians 12, J. B. Phillips' interpretation/translation

"The fundamental datum in understanding Platonic beauty is that Plato sees no opposition between the pleasures that beauty brings and the goals of philosophy.

"After falling into bodily existence a soul responds to beauty more easily than to any of the other qualities for which there are Forms. Accordingly it happens that a beautiful sight, like that of a lovely human form, inspires the turn toward philosophical contemplation as a just law or a self-controlled act do not. And in this arousal one grows attached to the beloved not as a unique particular but to the Form of beauty instantiated in the loved one." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

"Another very widespread error, not moralist this time but relativist and subjectivist, suggests that beauty is no more than a mere question of taste and that the canons of aesthetic perfection vary according to the country and the period; or to put it the other way, that the variations which in fact occur prove the arbitrary and subjective character of beauty, or of that which has come to be called beauty. In reality beauty is essentially an objective factor which we may or may not see or may or may not understand but which like all objective reality or like truth possesses its own intrinsic quality; thus it exists before man and independently of him. It is not man who creates the Platonic archetypes, it is they that determine man and his understanding; the beautiful has its ontological roots far beyond all that is within the comprehension of sciences restricted to phenomena." Frithjof Schuon, Truths and Errors Concerning Beauty,

"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,--that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."

John Keats, Ode On a Grecian Urn