“The function which I attribute . . . to scientific passion is that of distinguishing between demonstrable facts which are of scientific interest, and those which are not. Only a tiny fraction of all knowable facts are of interest to scientists, and scientific passion serves also as a guide in the assessment of what is relatively slight. I want to show that this appreciation depends ultimately on a sense of intellectual beauty; that it is an emotional response which can never be dispassionately defined, any more than we dispassionately define the beauty of a work of art or the excellence of a noble action.”
Polanyi, Personal Knowledge, 135.
“Before the dawn of the technical age it was easier to create genuine culture from genuine recollection. Life was more peaceful, man’s surrounding expressed eternal values more directly. . . . How immediately can a landscape absent of men unite us to God, for example high mountains, a large forest, or a freely flowing river! . . . In the cities, however, only man’s handwriting is everywhere visible. . . . Concrete and glass do not speak of God; they only point to man who is practically glorified in them. The cities do not transcend man; hence they do not guide to transcendence. Quickly and greedily they devour the surrounding countries and turn it into a dirty, defiled forecourt of cities. For some years now the Roman Campagna has ceased to exist, the Swiss landscape likewise. The Rhine has long ‘had it.’ Overnight, ‘nature’ will be turned into a reservation, a ‘national park’ within the civilized world; and besides, in national parks–mostly crowded–it is not very easy to pray either.”
Hans Urs von Balthasar, The God Question and Modern Man, trans. Hild Greaf (New York: Seabury Press, 1967), 57.
In a world without beauty—even if people cannot dispense with the word and constantly have it on the tip of their tongues in order to abuse it—in a world which is perhaps not wholly without beauty, but which can no longer see it or reckon with it: in such a world the good also loses its attractiveness, the self-evidence of why it must be carried out. Man stands before the good and asks himself why it must be done and not rather its alternative, evil. For this, too, is a possibility, and even the more exciting one: Why not investigate Satan’s depths? In a world that no longer has enough confidence in itself to affirm the beautiful, the proofs of the truth have lost their cogency. In other words, syllogisms may still dutifully clatter away like rotary presses or computers which infallibly spew out an exact number of answers by the minute. But the logic of these answers is itself a mechanism which no longer captivates anyone. The very conclusions are no longer conclusive. And if this is how the transcendentals fare because on of them has been banished, what will happen with Being itself? Thomas described Being (das Sein) as a ‘sure light’ for that which exists (das Seiende). Will this light not necessarily die out where the very language of light has been forgotten and the mystery of Being is no longer allowed to express itself? What remains is then a mere lump of existence which, even if it claims for itself the freedom proper to spirits, nevertheless remains totally dark and incomprehensible even to itself. The witness borne by Being becomes untrustworthy for the person who can no longer read the language of beauty.
Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord: Seeing the Form
What more, you may ask, do we want? […] We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want some thing else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into our selves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.
C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory”