Sacred Texts  Classics  Index  Previous  Next 

Section 33

33. When therefore we name beauty, all such shape must be dismissed; nothing visible is to be conceived, or at once we descend from beauty to what but bears the name in virtue of some faint participation. This formless Form is beautiful as Form, beautiful in proportion as we strip away all shape even that given in thought to mark difference, as for instance the difference between Justice and Sophrosyne, beautiful in their difference.

The Intellectual-Principle is the less for seeing things as distinct even in its act of grasping in unity the multiple content of its Intellectual realm; in its knowing of the particular it possesses itself of one Intellectual shape; but, even thus, in this dealing with variety as unity, it leaves us still with the question how we are to envisage that which stands beyond this all-lovely, beyond this principle at once multiple and above multiplicity, the Supreme for which the soul hungers though unable to tell why such a being should stir its longing-reason, however, urging that This at last is the Authentic Term because the Nature best and most to be loved may be found there only where there is no least touch of Form. Bring something under Form and present it so before the mind; immediately we ask what Beyond imposed that shape; reason answers that while there exists the giver having shape to give- a giver that is shape, idea, an entirely measured thing- yet this is not alone, is not adequate in itself, is not beautiful in its own right but is a mingled thing. Shape and idea and measure will always be beautiful, but the Authentic Beauty and the Beyond-Beauty cannot be under measure and therefore cannot have admitted shape or be Idea: the primal existent, The First, must be without Form; the beauty in it must be, simply, the Nature of the Intellectual Good.

Take an example from love: so long as the attention is upon the visible form, love has not entered: when from that outward form the lover elaborates within himself, in his own partless soul, an immaterial image, then it is that love is born, then the lover longs for the sight of the beloved to make that fading image live again. If he could but learn to look elsewhere, to the more nearly formless, his longing would be for that: his first experience was loving a great luminary by way of some thin gleam from it.

Shape is an impress from the unshaped; it is the unshaped that produces shape, not shape the unshaped; and Matter is needed for the producing; Matter, in the nature of things, is the furthest away, since of itself it has not even the lowest degree of shape. Thus lovableness does not belong to Matter but to that which draws upon Form: the Form upon Matter comes by way of soul; soul is more nearly Form and therefore more lovable; Intellectual-Principle, nearer still, is even more to be loved: by these steps we are led to know that the First Principle, principle of Beauty, must be formless.

Next: Section 34