The Power of Beauty

by Marjorie Wisor, OSF

The ninth in a series on active nonviolence from the Sisters of St. Francis, Clinton, Iowa (


For a long time I have wondered about the quote “Beauty will save the world.” It originally came from the Russian novel THE IDIOT by Fyodor Dostoevsky. The character who uttered this unforgettable line was an epileptic Russian nobleman, whose vision of beauty was intensified by his own disability.

On a morning shortly after the attacks in Paris, I heard the report of a piano being brought to the center of the Paris Gare du Nord (Northern train station), and anyone who wished was invited to come and play it.

It seems that the people of Paris, the beautiful City of Light, intuitively knew that through the beauty of music, they could find healing and the strength to reclaim their souls, freeing them from hatred and the desire for revenge. Would that our own national leaders could experience this power to remove them from their prison of fear and desire for revenge!

Pope Benedict XVI, quoting again from Dostoevsky, emphasizes how we must put beauty at the center of our desire to affect our world.

“Man can live without science, he can live without bread, but without beauty he could not longer live, because there would no longer be anything to do to the world. The whole secret is here; the whole of history is here.”

We note that Pope Benedict says “there would no longer be anything to do TO the world.” It must be that the world really is able to be changed through this means. All that we would like to be transformed: violence, hatred, revenge, injustice, refusal to share God’s gifts equally—all this can be rectified when our sights are fixed on the transcendent vestige of God so evident to us: the beauty we see in creation, the harmony we hear in human music and that of the cosmos, and the beauty we glimpse in the goodness of people around us.

In fact, the words of Pope John Paul II in “The Saving Power of Beauty” taken from his Letter to Artists, seem to be addressed to us now, in the immediacy of the Paris tragedy and the San Bernardino shooting.

“People of today and tomorrow need this enthusiasm (of wonder) if they are to meet and master the crucial challenges which stand before us. Thanks to this enthusiasm, humanity, every time it loses its way, will be able to lift itself up and set out again on the right path. In this sense it has been said with profound insight that “beauty will save the world.”

Marjorie Wisor, OSF

Published in: on December 22, 2015 at 12:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

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