Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
(Philippians 4:8 ESV)
The Medievals, or rather- the premoderns, thought of beauty, goodness and truth to be inescapably tied to each other. By definition, if something was beautiful, it must necessarily be also true and good. If something is to be called good, it must be both beautiful and true, and lastly, if something is true, it is therefore both good and beautiful. Today, however, we say, “Well, the truth can be ugly,” as well as holding both beauty and goodness to be subjective properties- subject to how each person “feels” about it. Yet centuries of Saints (that is, our brothers and sisters in Christ) counter this thought. They hold that our human vision of what is beautiful and what is ugly is distorted due to our inability to see as God sees.
In his treatise on Music, De Musica, Augustine says this,
“ God made sinful man ugly; but it was not an ugly act to make him so. Man became ugly by his own wish. He lost the whole, which, in obedience to God’s laws, he once possessed, and was given his place in part of it, since he was unwilling to practice the law, and therefore is governed by the law instead. Lawful acts are just, and just acts are not essentially ugly. (That is, it was just of God to curse sinful man- to make him ugly. Yet justice is true and good, and therefore beautiful- though to our human eyes it is ugly.) Even in our bad deeds there are good works of God. Man, as man, is good. Adultery is bad. But from adultery, a bad act of man, is born a man, a good act of God.”
The reformer Martin Luther speaks of the “hidden” acts of God. The most hideous and beautiful act in all of human history are one- the crucifixion of Christ, God in human flesh. Humanity, in the pinnacle of depravity, took the creator of the cosmos and killed Him. In this same moment, God, the definer and essence of all that is good, beautiful and true- became Man, and gave Himself up to be killed in order that His fallen creation could be reconciled to Him. Here is the epitome of beauty hidden within the epitome of ugliness.
What does this have to do with music or worship (the supposed topic of this blog)? Everything. We think of music as something completely sensuous- that is something that appeals to our senses. We get to decide what is beautiful and what is ugly based on our personal opinion. But what if we do not perceive reality correctly? What if we don’t truly know what makes something ugly or beautiful? Are beauty, truth and goodness subjective or objective? How can we worship in spirit and in truth if we do not know what truth is?