A Sense of Style: Part 1, The True, the Beautiful and the Good

I want to share a few posts reflecting on the conclusion of David Bentley Hart's essay "A Sense of Style: Beauty and the Christian Moral Life."

The essay is Hart's attempt to fuse the beautiful with the moral. Specifically, in light of Christian metaphysics, the three transcendentals of the true, the beautiful, and the good are not three, separate, distinct goods. They are, rather, reflections or aspects of a single, underlying unity, windows in the nature of God.

And if that's so, our moral life isn't just about the true and the good, it's also about the beautiful. The moral life of the Christian should be artful and beautiful. In short, Christianity should have a "sense of style." And for Hart, this sense of style helps us live beyond dry, rigid ethical systems. We don't have long lists of moral rules and prohibitions dictating our actions in every conceivable situation. What we have is Jesus and his sense of style. Catching and imitating that style gives us creative and innovative space to act both morally and beautifully.

Hart summarizing toward the end of his essay:
I confess, I do not know how to think in terms of “ethics,” at least not if one takes the word as the name of some distinct field of inquiry; and I certainly do not believe in something called “Christian ethics,” either as a dis­crete topic within theology or as a mere invariable canon of precise prescriptions and prohibitions. What I really believe in is, for want of a better term, a sense of style. What I put my trust in as a true guide to practical reason is the cultured ability to recognize, appreciate, imitate, develop, and vary certain forms of liv­ing in this world, certain seductive fashions. The formation of virtue within us, however any particular moral tradition might understand the form that it should take, must be a process of gaining mastery in the exhibition of a very particular personal manner: ideally, a manner that accords as beautifully as possible with all the transcendental ends that call us to themselves within the most primordial motives of the rational will, and so a manner that, in being mastered, naturally instills in us an ever deeper longing to arrive at the transcendent wellspring where all those ends are one; a manner that expresses something of the vast range of moral possibilities those ends provide and yet one whose fluid and lovely equipoise harmonizes them in a thoroughly plausible unity of character. For Christians, obviously, this cultivation of virtue consists in attempting to shape one’s life in conformity with Christ’s, precisely by trying to capture and adopt something of his unique style, and to preserve it as far as possible even in those situations when clear prescriptive clarity proves agonizingly elusive.
To live as Jesus lived is not a course in ethics, but is, rather, acquiring his sense of style, his way of living life in a way that unified the true, the beautiful and the good.

But what does that mean, or look like? Tomorrow we'll explore Hart's example from the gospels.

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