All posts tagged: theological aesthetics

Beauty, Music, and “The Weight of Glory”

Driving home yesterday, I happened to hear a performance of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E-Minor, Op. 64 on Michiana’s 24-hour classical music station 90.7 FM (the greatest gift our local airwaves have to offer). If you’ve never encountered this piece before, do your soul a favor: take half an hour, turn off all notifications on your phone, click below, and simply listen. If you don’t have that kind of time right now, just take eight minutes and listen to the second movement. Even though the entire work is written such that the movements are to be performed without the traditional breaks in between, you can still gain a sense for the beauty of the whole by listening to this one part. For me, this second movement contains some of the most sublimely beautiful music ever written. It’s not about the technical components of the music—its rhythm and meter and chromaticism and instrumentation—something much deeper is at work here. There’s something about the way this piece is constructed: in its moments of tension and release, of sweetness and …

Cruciform Beauty: Icon and Pattern of Self-Giving Love

Of the many images that have found artistic expression in Christianity, the Crucifixion of Jesus is perhaps the most powerful. Representations of the Annunciation, the Nativity, or the Madonna and Child have the capacity to inspire awe-filled contemplation of the Incarnation; however, few images in these categories can utterly arrest the gaze of the viewer in the same manner as the image of Jesus on the Cross. The image of the Crucifixion in all its awful glory invites and even demands the viewer to pause for a moment to consider the weight of human sin and the depths of divine love that fastened the God-man to the Cross. It is the paradox of the Cross—the mystery that the Son of God dies so that we might have life and remains glorious as God even in his horrific death as man—that has inspired artists for centuries, and each artist in his or her own way must grapple with how they will portray this pivotal moment in human history: does one emphasize the unimaginable physical sufferings of …

Holy Fools and Clowns: Artistic Re-imaginings of the Humbled-Exalted Christ

God descended into the world to overcome what it had become by the fall of human beings; by this descent into creation, the Son—all powerful God, all knowing Divine—humbled himself so to be made empty according to the human condition he assumed. The biblical source of early Christian reflection on the kenoticism of Christ, likely in the medium of a creedal hymn, is found in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. The apostle instructs the Christian community at Philippi to imitate Jesus Christ by remaining ever in the very same mind (φρονεῖτε) as that of “Christ Jesus. . . . . . who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that …

Beauty and Theology

Throughout its long history, theology has certainly seemed more comfortable understanding itself through its claim to truth or goodness than to beauty. It is not that the connection between theology and beauty has never been notarized. One simply has to recall the early Augustine, Pseudo-Dionysius, and the Dionysian tradition to realize that this is not true—even if beginning with Tertullian and proceeding through the iconoclasm controversy and on to the Reformation, faith in the Cross made it difficult to think of theology and beauty being anything other than bitter rivals, when it came to allure and existential pledge. Of course, throughout the long histories of Catholic, Orthodox, and even Protestant theologies, there have been internal corrections. The Catholic theologian Matthias Scheeben might  represent a correction within the late nineteenth-century form of Neo-Scholasticism, with its forged alliance between propositionalism and moralism. And, of course, in the Reform tradition no theologian showed a greater openness to beauty than Jonathan Edwards, without succumbing in the slightest to the emerging temptation to elevate beauty while essentially dethroning God. Pace …

The Healing Power of Beauty

A Triptych of Short Fiction, Sacred Art, and Modern Poetry This is an essay about vision and blindness, about seeing and the failure to see, about wholes and fragments, sickness and healing, light and darkness, about nativity and the rebirth to eternal youth, about a mode of beauty that does not and cannot exclude ugliness, the nocturnal, suffering, and death but rather fundamentally transfigures it. It is about forms of art, yes, but also—and far more importantly—about forms of life, and the vivifying, even healing shapes these can and ought take for Christian believers. Early on in T. S. Eliot’s pageant play The Rock, which narrates the rebuilding of a Church, the Chorus laments: “Where is the Life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”[1] Here the depth dimension of genuine wisdom and mystery has been traded for bits of data. Similarly, the modern person has in a certain sense become blind, unreceptive to theological and even philosophical language, …