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Order and Surprise: Lionel Yaceczko on Beauty and the Western Tradition

It sounds nice to say, using Dostoevsky’s words, that beauty will save the world. But is this claim true? If so, in what sense is it true? What even is beauty? And what would it mean for it to save the world?

This week, we welcome Dr. Lionel Yaceczko back to HeightsCast to discuss beauty: what it is and what the Western tradition can tell us about it. Today’s episode is rooted in a previous discussion we had with Dr. Yaceczko, in which he spoke with us about Western civilization. In that episode, we considered what Western civilization is and why it is still worth studying today. This week, we look at one reason why the study of the West is a fruitful endeavor: it can help us better appreciate beauty. 

As we hear from Dr. Yaceczko, beauty consists in the marriage of order and surprise. It is the fruit of keeping the commandments and breaking the conventions. As such, seeing part of a beautiful work of art first invites our prediction—there is order and we can discern it—and then astounds our expectation—but that order is not mere slavish repetition.

Whenever we find beauty in this world, we glimpse eternity. Each glimpse spurs us on to find the fullness of that beauty, which is our perfection and which will surpass all predictions: eye has not seen, nor ear heard what has been prepared for those who truly love. And when, God-willing, we find that Beauty—or perhaps, better yet, when He finds us— we will finally be at home. And yet, if our intuition about beauty here is on track, then we will forever be astonished with Whom we find.


  • 2:33 What is the classical style? 
    • 2:53 From the web
    • 2:43 Neoclassical architecture in D.C.
    • 6:33 Balance and classical architecture
  • 8:15 What is beauty? 
    • 11:44 On forms and the form
  • 13:18 Can we have a common conception of beauty? 
    • 14:07 Subjective aspects of beauty
    • 15:00 Beauty as movement toward the final cause
    • 16:10 Use and abuse 
    • 17:28 Personal taste and beauty
  • 19:17 What is nature?
    • 20:18 Ancient philosophers against nature
    • 21:38 Beyond mere accidental arrangement: objective nature
  • 23:08 Beauty: the balance of order and surprise
    • 24:05 Chesterton’s Manalive
  • 27:03 How does beauty relate to happiness?
    • 28:11 The philosopher as teacher of happiness
    • 29:38 The spontaneity of beauty
  • 31:00 Lessons from Classical sculpture: a brief introduction
    • 32:14 Contrapposto and the movement toward perfection
    • 34:23 Verism
    • 35:03 Architecture
  • 38:43 Beauty and the liberal arts

Also on The Forum

A Study for All Seasons: Lionel Yaceczko on the Western Tradition with Dr. Lionel Yaceczko

What Is the Difference between Free Time and Leisure? by Joe Bissex

Five Fruits of a Poetic Education by Nate Gadiano

The Way of Encounter by Joe Breslin

Matter and Form, Substance and Accidents by Michael Moynihan

Additional Resources 

The Making of Europe: An Introduction to the History of European Unity by Christopher Dawson

Beauty: What It Is and Why It Matters by John-Mark L. Miravalle 

The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky 

Manalive by G. K. Chesterton

About the Guest

Lionel Yaceczko

Latin, Greek
Lionel Yaceczko holds a BA from the University of Dallas, where he wrote a thesis on Propertius, and a MA and Ph.D. from The Catholic University of America. His dissertation on education in the Roman Empire led to the publication of his book Ausonius Grammaticus (Gorgias Press, 2021). He is also the author of an introductory Latin textbook, Jerome...
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