beautiful beauty

The Beauty of the Beloved

9:15:00 AMChase J. Cloutier



Every human heart longs to love and to be loved. We desire to know that we are worth something -- that we are worth a great deal in fact. We yearn for someone to reveal to us our true quality. Women in particular want to know that they are beautiful. They look to men to affirm and declare that they possess a unique and altogether wonderful beauty. For their part, men aspire to win a woman's heart and to be found worthy of her. Deep down they want to behold a woman's beauty in order rejoice in it -- disclosing her beauty to her in the process.

In his excellent book The Nature of Love, Dietrich von Hildebrand explores the foundations of love relationships and the nature of this most dignified personal reality. At the root of von Hildebrand's conception of love is his idea of love as value-response. Love is not arbitrary; it is not blind. It does not move without thinking. First of all, love is a response to the inherent beauty of the beloved. "The beloved person stands before me as beautiful, precious, as objectively worthy of being loved." (1)

Yet in longing to love and to be loved, many only focus on this or that quality of the beloved. This could be the case in the context of romantic relationships. Often the answer to such questions as "why are you dating such and such?" will boil down to a superficial appreciation of the other's physical attractiveness. Love is reduced to physical attraction. "Because she's hot." One thinks: isn't that reason enough?

Strictly speaking, though physical attraction plays an integral part in romantic relationships, true love cannot grow on the basis of physical attraction alone. Granted, the beauty of another's physical features is usually the starting point of love. The other's radiant face and lovely appearance strikes us, and love for the other is engendered in our hearts. Yet one then moves from an appreciation of the exterior alone to a realization of the whole beauty of the other.

But one might ask -- if love is a response to the beauty of the beloved, what makes this beloved any different from another beautiful person? Any positive quality of the beloved has the potential to be a starting point for love. It could be their physical appeal, their purity, their courage, their creativity, or their generosity. The quality which impacts us more than any other acts as a intimation of the whole person. Thus the beauty which is revealed in such splendor is seen as closely connected with the person. "In love the value and its delightfulness must be of such a kind that it is united with the full thematicity of the person as person." (1) The beloved person becomes thematic in her every delightful aspect.

Love is a response to the value of the beloved. But furthermore it is a response to the beloved person herself. While others may exceed the beloved in a given value, none other may surpass the beloved in her own unique personal beauty. Thus one German writer says to his beloved (concerning other women) "perhaps they are better, but you are good." (3) Thus if one remains focused exclusively on the attributes of the beloved, such as her physical attractiveness, love will be superficial. The attributes need to be seen as characteristic of this person's overall beauty, as manifesting her personal value.

Truly every human person has an inherent beauty which no other can duplicate. The overall beauty of each person stands to be discovered and to be affirmed. Though many believe they are worth very little because of wounds from their past, we must strive to open the eyes of all to their intrinsic preciousness and loveliness.

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1. Dietrich von Hildebrand, The Nature of Love trans. John F. Crosby with John Henry Crosby (South Bend: St. Augustine’s Press, 2009) 17.
2. Ibid., 18.

3. Walter von de Vogelweide, quoted by von Hildebrand in The Nature of Love, 65.

Image 1: "Couple in Green Park" by Garry Knight (source)

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