Human survival today requires the survival of the rich biodiversity of Mother Earth. Both require that we recognize goodness with fresh eyes, grateful eyes just as Julian and her spiritual forbears remind us.
It is significant that Aquinas defines salvation this way (a sentence he repeats frequently): “The first and primary meaning of salvation is this: To preserve things in the good.” Notice how this teaching does not say a word about heaven or hell, punishment or reward. It says we should get to work preserving things in the good. Surely this means persevering the health and beauty of the Earth for future generations. It also presumes that we are attuned to goodness and seeking it out.
Another synonym for goodness is beauty. Aquinas says that beauty and goodness are the same thing—though with a slight twist: Beauty and goodness in a thing are identical fundamentally…and consequently goodness is praised as beauty. But they differ logically, for goodness properly relates to the appetites, while beauty relates to the cognitive faculty: for beautiful things are those that please when seen. Thus beauty consists in due proportion—for the senses delight in due proportion as in what is after their own kind, because even sense is a sort of reason, just as is every cognitive faculty.
Beauty shares in the Creator who makes all things ‘beautiful.’ For the beauty of a creature is nothing other than a likeness of the divine beauty sharing in things. Beauty is another name for the divine, for “God is beauty itself, beautifying all things.” And “all beings are full of every divine harmony” and are “full with a holy beauty.” The supersubstantial Good that is God, is praised by the holy theologians in Sacred Scripture ‘as the beautiful.’ Song of Songs 1: ‘Behold, you are beautiful, my love.’
I propose that when Julian uses and uses again the term goodness in a God context, she is speaking of what today we call the sacred. (In my book on Julian I employ the word “sacred” thirty-five times, but Julian only employs it one time.) I think that in today’s parlance “sacred” comes closest to what Julian means by “good.” For her, that word includes God and good and beauty—which together adds up to sacred. God is part of goodness and goodness part of God for Julian and it is present in all of nature, including human nature. Therefore, all of nature is sacred. The divine is present there.
Isn’t this the meaning of incarnation, that the divine dwells in history and matter and all of creation? And therefore goodness dwells incarnate there? And beauty?
Doesn’t it follow that our first responsibility is as humans dwelling on earth to 1) recognize the goodness? Praise it? Take it in? (This we call the Via Positiva.) 2) And to defend it and preserve it? And to return beauty for beauty, good for good, delight for delight? (This we call the Via Creativa and the Via Transformativa.)
Adapted from Matthew Fox, Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality, pp. 102f. See also: Matthew Fox, The Tao of Thomas Aquinas, chapter 9, “The first and primary meaning of salvation is this: To preserve things in the good,” pp. 45-52. And Matthew Fox, Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic, pp. 20-33.
How do you understand the relationship between beauty and goodness?
Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality
Matthew Fox renders Thomas Aquinas accessible by interviewing him and thus descholasticizing him. He also translated many of his works such as Biblical commentaries never before in English (or Italian or German of French). He gives Aquinas a forum so that he can be heard in our own time. He presents Thomas Aquinas entirely in his own words, but in a form designed to allow late 20th-century minds and hearts to hear him in a fresh way.
“The teaching of Aquinas comes through will a fullness and an insight that has never been present in English before and [with] a vital message for the world today.” ~ Fr. Bede Griffiths (Afterword).
Foreword by Rupert Sheldrake
Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic–and Beyond
Julian of Norwich lived through the dreadful bubonic plague that killed close to 50% of Europeans. Being an anchoress, she ‘sheltered in place’ and developed a deep wisdom that she shared in her book, Showings, which was the first book in English by a woman. A theologian way ahead of her time, Julian develops a feminist understanding of God as mother at the heart of nature’s goodness. Fox shares her teachings in this powerful and timely and inspiring book.
“What an utterly magnificent book. The work of Julian of Norwich, lovingly supported by the genius of Matthew Fox, is a roadmap into the heart of the eco-spiritual truth that all life breathes together.” –Caroline Myss
Now also available as an audiobook HERE.