One of the key dimensions of beauty that theologians and philosophers consistently refer to is beauty’s disinterestedness. The very nature of beauty is that it escapes our attempts to turn it into an instrument for the benefit of the group or tribe to which we belong. There’s something both gratuitous, elusive, and yet attractive about beauty. That paradox is essential as a kind of leavening or balancing force in a world where there are always people with axes to grind, cases to make, and interests to promote. The theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar says that in a fallen world questions of truth and goodness will always be heavily debated, and people will always invest these debates with their interestedness, their parties, and their political leanings. He argues that beauty has the capacity to sail right under the radar of those interested parties. So, while truth and goodness are also “transcendentals,” beauty has the possibility of coming at us with a purer ray from the beatific vision itself.
(Image of Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, 1483, depicting the classical personification of beauty, via Wikimedia Commons)