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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Beauty

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BEAUTY.—This term is applied alike to the physical grace of men and animals, to external nature and works of art, and to moral character and action. In every relationship it is a quality capable of imparting exquisite pleasure, and a power that commands and captivates. The appreciation of beauty for its own intrinsic charm was a special characteristic of the Greeks, to whom the world was a wonder of order and adaptation, and who found an element of worship in the beauty that was a prerogative of the gods. With the Israelites, and in the East generally, beauty was esteemed rather as a sign of dignity and noble birth (Judges 8:18), and beautiful things were valued as the accessories of official decoration. Much in the Gospels that we feel to be beautiful and describe by that name, is there specialized by such terms as ‘grace,’ ‘glory,’ ‘excellency,’ as indicating in each particular case the arresting feature of charm, sublimity, or pre-eminence that makes it beautiful. Thus in the appeal, ‘If God so clothe the grass of the field’ (Luke 12:28), and in the declaration concerning the lilies of the field, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of them (Luke 12:27), the beauty was due to external investiture rather than to any inherent fact of symmetry and proportion. So when the merchantman is described as seeking goodly pearls (Matthew 13:45), and the righteousness of Christ’s disciples is expected to exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 5:20), the quality of beauty arises from the surprising rarity and recognized pre-eminence of the things referred to.

1. Personal appearance of Christ.—Much has been written about the face of Christ. Tradition, gathering its data from the apocryphal ‘Letter of Lentulus,’ the portrait which Jesus is said to have sent to king Abgar of Edessa, the story of Veronica’s veil, the pictures and eikons of the early and mediaeval Church, and accumulated literary traditions, has given to Art its typical presentation of Christ’s countenance. The subject, however, is one about which there is no certain information. On the mount of Transfiguration the three disciples had a brief glimpse of the heavenly beauty that then shone out from the face of Christ. But those who were then eye-witnesses of His majesty (2 Peter 1:16) tell us that the glorious vision surpassed all description. It remained with them as a restful and inspiring memory, like the ‘unspeakable words’ of St. Paul’s ecstatic experience (2 Corinthians 12:4).

2. Beauty in external nature.—It is profoundly suggestive of the reality of the Incarnation that He by whom the worlds were made spoke so little about them. When He called Himself and His disciples ‘the light of the world’ (John 8:12, Matthew 5:14), the allusion to light was not in the spirit of Milton’s sublime apostrophe (Par. Lost, iii. 1 ff.), but with reference to its conflict with darkness. When He pointed to the redness of the evening sky (Matthew 16:2), it was not to speak of a Presence immanent in the light of setting suns, but to express the feeling of wonder that those who could draw a practical lesson from something so remote could not hear the footsteps of moral destiny so close behind themselves. And so in the instances of the frail, beautiful grass and the lilies of the field (Matthew 6:28 ff.), the allusion served as an argument for God’s still greater care of things more precious.

3. Ethical beauty.—The life of Christ witnessed in every detail to His inspiring and impressive personality. It is surely a torso presentation of that life that would make ‘sweet reasonableness’ its prevailing characteristic. Rather it is marked by the absence of that philosophic detachment that would live and let live. In His mind truth took precedence even of the heavenly hope, and He assured His disciples that if that hope were a sweet but baseless imagination, He would have told them (John 14:2). He had come as light into the world, and questionings not only of the defiant darkness (John 1:5), but of the bewildering twilight (John 16:17 ff.), sprang up around His path. In His presence men were greater and less than they had been before. Even in the days of His flesh those who were Christ’s were impelled to put on Christ, and were afterwards recognized as having been with Him (Acts 4:13). He exemplified in His own life the principle by which His disciples were to live and extend His kingdom. His outward power was the measure of His inward submission. He came not to do His own will (John 6:38). It was when He was lifted up that He would draw all men unto Himself (John 12:32). Even so the life of the Christian has its condition of complete and continuous surrender, and in the service of the gospel it is found that men do not yield to the messenger, but to what they see that he yields to.

In the course of Christ’s life on earth, along with the general impression of His teaching and ministry there were various incidents that showed in a special manner with what tender sympathy He took upon Him our nature and bore our infirmities. Among these may be mentioned the conversation with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well (John 4), the blessing of the little children that were almost sent away (Matthew 19:13 ff.), the touching of the leper in the act of healing (Matthew 8:3), and the words of hope concerning Nineveh (Matthew 12:41) and Tyre (Luke 10:13 f.), and those who should come into the Kingdom from the distant East and West (Matthew 8:11). On the cross we have the prayer for His persecutors (Luke 23:34), His comradeship with the penitent thief (Luke 23:42 f.), and the commending of His mother to the care of the disciple John (John 19:26 f.).

Also in the lives of others, chiefly of women, He met with intuitions and actions which through His affinity of soul were noticed and commended by Him as bearing the stamp of moral and spiritual beauty. Such were the return of the Samaritan leper to give glory to God (Luke 17:16 ff.); the humble insistency of the Syro-Phœnician woman (Mark 7:26 ff.); the courage and consecration of the widow who gave her mites to the Lord (Mark 12:42 ff.); the act of the sinful woman who bathed His feet with her tears (Luke 7:44), and of her also who unsealed, as for His burial, the alabaster vase of precious ointment (John 12:7).

With regard to things physically and morally loathsome, on the other hand, the disease of leprosy (Matthew 8:2, Luke 7:22; Luke 17:12) and the affliction of demoniac possession (Matthew 9:32, Mark 7:26, Luke 8:39 etc.) could always claim His healing power; there was discriminating pity towards those who had sinned in ignorance (Luke 23:34), or who had been overcome by some swift and overmastering temptation (Matthew 26:41, Luke 7:47, John 4:16; John 21:15), or by the difficulties of outward circumstance (Mark 10:21 f., Luke 13:8); while in sharp contrast with the above, there was His denunciation by descriptive parable and stern rebuke of the hopeless offensiveness of the Pharisaic type (Matthew 21:19; Matthew 21:23, Luke 20:19 etc.).

Literature.—Under (1) Hauck-Herzog, PRE [Note: RE Real-Encyklopädie fur protest. Theologic und Kirche.] , art. ‘Christusbilder’; Schaff-Herzog, Encyc. of Relig. Knowledge, art. ‘Christ, Pictures of’; Farrar, Christ in Art, pp. 67–95. Under (2) Wendt, Teaching of Jesus, i. 151 ff.; Expositor, 3rd ser. ii. [1885] 224 ff. Under (3) Liddon, Bampton Lectures8 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] , p. 192ff.; Channing, Complete Works [1884], pp. 237–243.

G. M. Mackie.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Beauty'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/b/beauty.html. 1906-1918.

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Wednesday, February 19th, 2020
the Sixth Week after Epiphany
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