What is real? What is right? What is lovely? Human beings ask these kinds of questions because we long for at least three things: truth, goodness, and beauty.

Prominent philosophers through the centuries have called these three cosmic values transcendentals. A transcendental refers to something that exists beyond the time-space-matter world. It is a universal reality that extends beyond our everyday sensory experiences and is thus considered nonphysical, immaterial, conceptual, or even spiritual. In philosophy, the transcendental relates to and seeks to describe the nature of reality or being. Therefore, one may think of these values as timeless universals and attributes of being.

In this introductory article I'll briefly describe how the three transcendentals of truth, goodness, and beauty were viewed in the classical world. Then I'll show how Christian civilization accommodated them as truths of general revelation and grounded them in the nature of the triune God.

Classical Civilization's View of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty The classical world (or classical antiquity) consisted largely of the Greco-Roman society that was centered around the Mediterranean Sea and existed at its peak for roughly a millennium—from about 500 BC to 500 AD. The great cultures of Greece and Rome flourished and deeply influenced Europe, North Africa, and West Asia. The grand cities of this period included Athens, Rome, and even Jerusalem. Some of the dominant philosophies of this era included Platonism, Aristotelianism, and Stoicism.

For the famous Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle, the world had genuine meaning and purpose. The cosmic values of truth (that which defines reality), goodness (that which fulfills its purpose), and beauty (that which is lovely) were objective in nature and knowable by the noble seeker. Since human beings had the internal capacities of logos (reason), ethos (morality), and pathos (emotion), these internal capacities corresponded to the cosmic values and brought forth human fulfillment:

  • Logos corresponds to truth
  • Ethos corresponds to goodness
  • Pathos corresponds to beauty

Scholar Stephen R. Turley describes the classical view that human capacities match with and are fulfilled by these cosmic values:

Truth, goodness, and beauty are cosmic values that communicate divine meaning to the intellectual, moral, and aesthetic capacities of the human soul, which brings a balance in the soul, which, in turn, harmonizes the human person with divine meaning and purpose of the cosmos, which was considered the prerequisite to human flourishing.1

Christian Civilization's View of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty

By the fifth century AD paganism had been largely converted to Christianity. Thus Christian civilization would dominate the Western world and parts of the East for largely a millennium (about 500 to 1500). Christian philosophers and theologians appropriated the truth of these cosmic values as truths of general revelation but grounded them in the nature of the triune God. God doesn't have truth, goodness, and beauty; rather, God is truth, goodness, and beauty. We can state it this way:

All truth is God’s truth.
All goodness is God’s goodness.
All beauty is God’s beauty.

When God created, he imbued the cosmos with truth, goodness, and beauty. Philosopher Peter Kreeft says: “Everything that exists is in some way true, good, and beautiful.”2And humans via the imago Dei (image of God) are able to know the truth, desire the good, and love the beautiful. The fall of humankind into sin disordered man's natural capacities but through the redemption found in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ humans are brought back into a right relationship with God and with these revealed values.

According to historic Christianity, humans (as creatures) have been made to know and worship the triune God. And our present longing for truth, goodness, and beauty exists because these values reflect the ultimate source, which is the maximally perfect God. When we pursue truth, goodness, and beauty in this life and in this world we are tracking the majesty of the Lord.

In future articles I will write about the theological, philosophical, and apologetics implications of the transcendentals of truth, goodness, and beauty.

Reflections: Your Turn

How have the transcendentals of truth, goodness, and beauty impacted your life? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment with your response.

Resources

Check out more from Reasons to Believe @Reasons.org

Endnotes

  1. I transcribed this quote from Steve Turley's interview with Janet Mefferd: https://cdn2.hubspot.net/hubfs/4001416/Blog%20Photos/steveturley_151020_Sample.mp3.
  2. Peter Kreeft on Goodness, Truth, Beauty, and Boredom: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RH2X-bQdgxQ.

About The Author

Kenneth R. Samples

I believe deeply that "all truth is God’s truth." That historic affirmation means that when we discover and grasp truth in the world and in life we move closer to its divine Author. This approach relies on the Christian idea of God’s two revelatory books - the metaphorical book of nature and the literal book of Scripture. As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. My writings and lectures at RTB focus on showing how the great doctrinal truths of the faith (the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, creation ex nihilo, salvation by grace, etc.) are uniquely compatible with reason. This approach reflects the historic Christian apologetics statement - "faith seeking understanding." I work to help myself and others fulfill Peter's words in 2 Peter 3:18: "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen." As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. • Biography • Resources • Upcoming Events • Promotional Items Kenneth Richard Samples began voraciously studying Christian philosophy and theology when his thirst for purpose found relief in the Bible. He earned his undergraduate degree in philosophy and social science from Concordia University and his MA in theological studies from Talbot School of Theology. For seven years, Kenneth worked as Senior Research Consultant and Correspondence Editor at the Christian Research Institute (CRI) and regularly cohosted the popular call-in radio program, The Bible Answer Man, with Dr. Walter Martin. As a youth, Kenneth wrestled with "unsettling feelings of meaninglessness and boredom," driving him to seek answers to life's big questions. An encounter with Christian philosophy in Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis led Kenneth to examine the New Testament and "finally believe that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God, the Lord and Savior of the world." From then on, he pursued an intellectually satisfying faith. Today, as senior research scholar at Reasons to Believe (RTB), Kenneth uses what he's learned to help others find the answers to life's questions. He encourages believers to develop a logically defensible faith and challenges skeptics to engage Christianity at a philosophical level. He is the author of Without a Doubt and A World of Difference, and has contributed to numerous other books, including: Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men, The Cult of the Virgin, and Prophets of the Apocalypse. He has written articles for Christianity Today and The Christian Research Journal, and regularly participates in RTB's podcasts, including Straight Thinking, a podcast dedicated to encouraging Christians to utilize sound reasoning in their apologetics. He also writes for the ministry's daily blog, Today’s New Reason to Believe. An avid speaker and debater, Kenneth has appeared on numerous radio programs such as Voice America Radio, Newsmakers, The Frank Pastore Show, Stand to Reason, White Horse Inn, Talk New York, and Issues Etc., as well as participated in debates and dialogues on topics relating to Christian doctrine and apologetics. He currently lectures for the Master of Arts program in Christian Apologetics at Biola University. Kenneth also teaches adult classes at Christ Reformed Church in Southern California. Over the years Kenneth has held memberships in the American Philosophical Association, the Evangelical Philosophical Society, the Evangelical Theological Society, and the Evangelical Press Association. The son of a decorated World War II veteran, Kenneth is an enthusiastic student of American history, particularly the Civil War and WWII. His favorite Christian thinkers include Athanasius, Augustine, Pascal, and C. S. Lewis. He greatly enjoys the music of the Beatles and is a die-hard Los Angeles Lakers fan. Kenneth lives in Southern California with his wife, Joan, and their three children.



Email Sign-up

Sign up for the TWR360 Newsletter

Access updates, news, Biblical teaching and inspirational messages from powerful Christian voices.

Thank you for signing up to receive updates from TWR360.

Required information missing