Dr. Schramm's earlier post, suggesting the importance of beauty in the elevated stature and performance of the Stradivarius, reminds me of a recent address by Pope Benedict XVI on the purpose and effect of beauty in religious architecture - specifically, the medieval cathedrals.
Cathedrals function, fundamentally, as educational tools - "Bibles of Stone" - which, through their earthly examples of beauty and majesty, naturally lift and direct the soul toward God, the perfection of beauty. "The force of the Romanesque style and the splendor of the Gothic cathedrals remind us that the via pulchritudinis, the way of beauty, is a privileged and fascinating way to approach the Mystery of God." Cathedrals "showed a synthesis of faith and art expressed harmoniously through the universal and fascinating language of beauty."
Such contemplations should be read alongside Plato's synonymous treatment of the form of beauty in The Symposium. But perhaps St. Augustine, as is often the case, said it best:
Ask the beauty of the earth, ask the beauty of the sea, ask the beauty of the ample and diffused air. Ask the beauty of heaven, ask the order of the stars, ask the sun, which with its splendor brightens the day; ask the moon, which with its clarity moderates the darkness of night. Ask the beasts that move in the water, that walk on the earth, that fly in the air: souls that hide, bodies that show themselves; the visible that lets itself be guided, the invisible that guides. Ask them! All will answer you: Look at us, we are beautiful! Their beauty makes them known. This mutable beauty, who has created it if not Immutable Beauty?