Nichols on Art and Christ » Nichols on Maritain on the Beautiful Published by Cynthia R. Nielsen August 30th, 2007 in Aesthetics, Jacques Maritain, Aidan Nichols
In chapter seven of his book, Redeeming Beauty: Soundings in Sacral Aesthetics, Nichols discusses, among other things, Jacques Maritain’s view of pulchrum (the beautiful). Maritain appeals to St. Thomas’ dictum in which beauty is defined as id quod visum placet. According to Maritain this definition relates to the effect, not the essence, i.e., the beautiful gives joy to the knower. However, as Nichols points out, Maritain is quick to add that the “bestowal of delight in knowing” is a “formal constituent of beauty” (p. 133). Here Maritain and U. Eco part ways, as Eco believes that Maritain is reading more into Thomas than is present in the text. According to Eco, “what Thomas actually says is, ‘people call things beautiful when they give pleasure on sight’. For Eco this is a ‘sociological finding’ with ‘introduces the problem’ rather than solves it” (p. 133). It seems to me the Eco’s point merits further consideration. This brings us to Maritain’s account of the beautiful as found in Art et scolastique. According to Maritain, “[i]f a thing exalts and delights the soul by the very fact of being given to its intuition, it is good to apprehend, it is beautiful” (p. 36). Here beauty is no doubt connected with the intellect, but following Thomas, beauty delights the mind through the senses. “‘Our [human] art’ works over sensuous matter to bring joy to the spirit. It is in a sense a taste of Paradise, the first Paradise, the Paradise of Eden, because ‘it restores for a moment the simultaneous peace and delectation of the mind and the senses’” (Art et scolastique, p. 37). Notes  As cited in Nichols, Redeeming Beauty, p. 134.  As cited in Nichols, Redeeming Beauty, p. 134.