the fourth transcendent virtue
Reflection on Truth, Beauty and Goodness – the three transcendent virtues – is vital to anyone seeking to lead a good life. To ponder the question, “What is a full and flourishing life?” seemingly takes us to consider these three virtues. The three transcendent virtues are not unique to Western (Hellenistic) thought they appear in various forms within Eastern thought as well.
Have you ever noticed that the Serpent tempted Eve with all three?
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing [truth] good and evil.”
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good [goodness] for food and pleasing to the eye [beauty], and also desirable for gaining wisdom [truth], she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. (Genesis 3:1-7, NIV – emphasis added)
Jesus added a trump-virtue to the classic three. Jesus Christ brings love. Love is the relational move giving meaning to truth, making goodness good and making beauty visible.
Without love the virtues become vices – as they did in the Garden of Eden. Without love the virtues become clanging gongs and crashing cymbals. Love moves toward the other in humility and service. Love acts in faith for the other and hopes in Christ for the other. Love is the ethic that translates truth into beauty and goodness. Love is the ethic that transforms beauty into goodness and truth. Love is the ethic incarnating goodness as truth which sets free and beauty instead of ashes.
Go back and read the temptation again. What the serpent presents as a temptation is the very goal of Christian discipleship, “that you will be like God.” Didn’t Christ invite his followers to be holy as he is holy. To be like God, to be like Christ is the hope of glory.
This temptation the serpent brought is the virtues without love. To have truth without love, beauty without love, goodness without love is to reject relational oneness the Father extends to us through Christ in the Holy Spirit. But God (I love those two words together), but God pursues, God reconciles, God redeems.
Truth without love puffs up and is evil. Beauty without love is seductive and empty. Goodness without love is moralism and a façade. O, but with love, they are fullness of live.
PS – For a wonderful treatment on God’s love extended through God’s people, pick up Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical letter, God is Love: Deus Caritas Est.