Saints and Scholars Newsletter February 3, 2023

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Words from our Principal

Dear families and friends of Lumen,

About a week ago, I finally finished a book I began over Christmas break: James Matthew Wilson’s The Vision of the Soul: Truth, Goodness, and Beauty in the Western Tradition(You may remember James Matthew Wilson as he visited us in December as a student DGL!) Wilson’s wide-ranging survey focuses on the role of beauty as revealing truth and being and makes many fascinating and thoughtful claims, but the one I wanted to share with you today is his recovery of proportion as a key feature of beauty. “We recognize something as beautiful,” he writes, when “it seems justly proportioned and fitting, both in itself and in relation to those things that meaningfully surround and interact with it” (217).

The concept of “fittingness” is one Aristotle discussed both in his metaphysics and natural philosophy (defining a thing is about determining what attributes are “fitting” or “appropriate” for it to have) and his ethical philosophy (virtue is defined by the types of attitudes and actions – the “habits” – that are “fitting” or “appropriate” to the full dignity of a human person). Aquinas takes up this concept too in his Summa. This insight moves us past modernity’s and post-modernity’s hyper-rational questioning about basic definitions (“If we define a cat as a four-legged creature, but we see a cat that only has three legs, is it still a cat?”) to what is really a reasonable response: “Of course it’s a cat – it’s not necessary that a cat have four legs, but it is fitting that it should.”

Wilson argues that our perception of beauty is an intellectual recognition of the “fittingness” of a thing – whether it be a work of art, a person’s character, a moral action, a fictional narrative, or a mathematical proof. For a thing to be fitting or well-proportioned in the fullest sense, it must “fit” in – that is, be appropriate for – its relationships with its creator (the intellectual mind that produced it), with itself and its own ends, with the world around it, and with the intellects of those who view and perceive it. (One has only to tour a beautiful cathedral or basilica or the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, as we did on our field trip last Friday, to experience what such fittingness looks like in incarnated form.)

A person’s life can also be beautiful, in this sense of being well-ordered, well-proportioned, and “fitting” in its relationships with its creator (God), itself, and others. And we create a beautiful life by using our time in a beautiful, fitting, and well-proportioned way. A lovely expression of how to beautifully structure our time and our days comes, I think, from John Henry Newman’s eminently practical “Short Road to Perfection.” If we wish to be perfect, he says, we have “nothing more to do than to perform the ordinary duties of the day well.” He goes on to list some very practicable suggestions:

  • Do not lie in bed beyond the due time of rising;
  • Give your first thoughts to God;
  • Make a good visit to the Blessed Sacrament;
  • Say the Angelus devoutly;
  • Eat and drink to God’s glory;
  • Say the Rosary well;
  • Be recollected;
  • Keep out bad thoughts;
  • Make your evening meditation well;
  • Examine yourself daily;
  • Go to bed in good time.

Newman describes a well-proportioned, well-ordered day, oriented towards keeping God first and foremost in our minds and hearts, taking care of our physical needs for food and sleep appropriately, keeping our thoughts and actions pure, and fulfilling our obligations according to our present state in life. Sounds to me like an excellent formula for a beautiful life.

Wishing you all a truly beautiful day!

Pax et bonum,

Karen Celano

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