Beauty from the Fathers :: What is Beauty of Body? How Can We Tell if Someone is Beautiful?


“Attend, and let us learn what corporeal, and what spiritual beauty are. There is soul and body: they are two substances: there is a beauty of body, and there is a beauty of soul. What is beauty of body? An extended eyebrow, a merry glance, a blushing cheek, ruddy lips, a straight neck, long wavy hair, tapering fingers, upright stature, a fair blooming complexion. Does this bodily beauty come from nature, or from choice? Confessedly it comes from nature. Attend that you may learn the conception of philosophers. This beauty whether of the countenance, of the eye, of the hair, of the brow, does it come from nature, or from choice? It is obvious that it comes from nature. For the ungraceful woman, even if she cultivate beauty in countless ways, cannot become graceful in body: for natural conditions are fixed, and confined by limits which they cannot pass over. Therefore the beautiful woman is always beautiful, even if she has no taste for beauty: and the ungraceful cannot make herself graceful, nor the graceful ungraceful. Wherefore? Because these things come from nature. Well! You have seen corporeal beauty. Now let us turn inwards to the soul: let the handmaid approach the mistress! let us turn I say to the soul. Look upon that beauty, or rather listen to it: for you can not see it since it is invisible— Listen to that beauty.

Soul Carried to Heaven By: William Bouguereau
Soul Carried to Heaven By: William Bouguereau

What then is beauty of soul? Temperance, mildness, almsgiving, love, brotherly kindness, tender affection, obedience to God, the fulfilment of the law, righteousness, contrition of heart. These things are the beauty of the soul. These things then are not the results of nature, but of moral disposition. And he who does not possess these things is able to receive them, and he who has them, if he becomes careless, loses them. For as in the case of the body I was saying that she who is ungraceful cannot become graceful; so in the case of the soul I say the contrary that the graceless soul can become full of grace. For what was more graceless than the soul of Paul when he was a blasphemer and insulter: what more full of grace when he said I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith. 2 Timothy 4:7 What was more graceless than the soul of the robber? What more full of grace when he heard the words Verily I say unto you today shall you be with me in paradise? Luke 23:43 What was more graceless than the publican when he practised extortion? But what more full of grace when he declared his resolution. Luke 19:8 Do you see that you can not alter grace of body, for it is the result not of moral disposition, but of nature. But grace of soul is supplied out of our own moral choice. You have now received the definition. Of what kind are they? That the beauty of the soul proceeds from obedience to God. For if the graceless soul obeys God it puts off its ungracefulness, and becomes full of grace. Saul! Saul! it was said, why do you persecute me? and he replied and who are You Lord? I am Jesus. Acts 9:4-5 And he obeyed, and his obedience made the graceless soul full of grace. Again, He says to the publican come follow me Matthew 9:9 and the publican rose up and became an apostle: and the graceless soul became full of grace. Whence? By obedience. Again He says to the fishermen Come ye after me and I will make you to become fishers of men: Matthew 4:19 and by their obedience their minds became full of grace. Let us see then what kind of beauty He is speaking of here. Hearken O daughter and behold, and forget your own people and your father’s house, and the king shall desire your beauty. What kind of beauty will he desire? The spiritual kind. How so? Because she is to forget He says hearken and forget. These are acts of moral choice. Hearken! he said: an ungraceful one hears and her ungracefulness being that of the body is not removed. To the sinful woman He has said Hearken, and if she will obey she sees what manner of beauty is bestowed upon her. Since then the ungracefulness of the bride was not physical, but moral (for she did not obey God but transgressed) therefore he leads her to another remedy. You became ungraceful then, not by nature, but by moral choice: and you became full of grace by obedience. Hearken O daughter and behold and forget your own people, and your father’s house, and the king shall desire your beauty. Then that you may learn that he does not mean anything visible to sense, when you hear the word beauty, think not of eye, or nose, or mouth, or neck, but of piety, faith, love, things which are within— for all the glory of the king’s daughter is from within. Now for all these things let us offer thanks to God, the giver, for to Him alone belongs glory, honour, might, for ever and ever. Amen.”

– St. John Chrysostom

St. John Chrysostom
St. John Chrysostom

Published by Father Corey D. Bruns

I'm a Priest of the Diocese of Owensboro, KY and Parochial Vicar of Saint Joseph Catholic Church in Bowling Green, KY.

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