Ode to a Grecian Priesthood: Beauty is truth and truth is beauty

John Keat’s poem “Ode to a Grecian Urn” is familiar to many an English speaker, especially the last lines: ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’

I came across the same sentiment in Henri Bremond’s “Histoire littéraire du sentiment religieux en france” (Literary history of religious sentiment in France). Here is the relevant section. Bremont is waxing – I’ve already revealed my bias – lyrical about the priesthood. My English translation is followed by the French original:


Religious History of Religious Sentiment in France


From the End of the Religious Wars until Today


de l’Académie française.

By Henri Bremond of the French Academy


Volume 3, p.160

The first sentence is long. The Keatsian look-a-like is in the second (the last) sentence.

“The clergy eminently carries the inscriptions of the authority of God, the holiness of God, the light of God: three beautiful jewels in the priestly crown, joined together by the counsel of God and placed on His anointed, His priests and his Church, as were the first priests, saints and doctors of the Church; God preserving the same order, authority, holiness and teaching, and uniting these three perfections in the priestly orders, in honour of the imitation of the Holy Trinity wherein we adore the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, divinely united in one essence. You shouldn’t only say this is beautiful, but also that it is true; and it is true because it is beautiful.

[ Lors] le clergé portait hautement gravées en soi-même l’autorité de Dieu, la sainteté de Dieu, la lumière de Dieu : trois beaux fleurons de la couronne sacerdotale, joints ensemble par le conseil de Dieu sur ses oints, sur ses prêtres et sur son Eglise, tellement que les premiers prêtres étaient et les saints et les docteurs de l’Eglise; Dieu conservant en un même ordre, autorité, sainteté et doctrine, et unissant ces trois perfections en l’ordre sacerdotal, en l’honneur et imitation de la Sainte Trinité où nous adorons l’autorité du Père, la lumière du Fils et la sainteté du Saint-Esprit, divinement liés en unité d’essence. Il ne faut pas dire seulement que cela est beau, mais aussi que cela est vrai et vrai parce qu’il est beau.

Here is another excerpt from the middle of “Ode to a Grecian Urn,” which I have linked to the ending of the poem: Keat’s famous line.

Who are these coming to the sacrifice? To what green altar, O mysterious priest,  Lead’st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,  And all her silken flanks with garlands drest? ….’Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’

Contrary to Bremond’s flowery (fleuron) prose, what does the Bible say about the truth and the beauty of “priesthood.”

” Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ (1 Peter, 2:5).

Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone,” and, “A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the message–which is also what they were destined for. But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:7-9).

ἱεράτευμα hierateuma (priesthood)

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