Imagining Aesthetic Theology

In reading accompanying literature to Hans Urs von Balthasar, I came across this suggestion by Richard McCall as a pathway to doing aesthetic theology. One of his observations about Balthasar is that he applies philosophical tools to do theology (Theological Aesthetics). Instead, McCall muses about “hammering out” theology (Aesthetic Theology) prior to reflecting on it philosophically. In doing so, he proposes the following:

If we were to imagine the possibility of an aesthetic theology, it would need to: 1) attempt to include the category of the Beautiful along with the True and the Good, as a criterion for theological discourse; 2) pay particular attention to the manner of doing theology, that is, to the style or way in which form is given to theological meaning. In fact, aesthetic theology would understand that the manner of making theology is as much a part of its final effect as the subject matter. 3) By attending to the manner, aesthetic theology would restore balance to the theologi- cal enterprise that has traditionally attended mostly to the object (the True) and the end (the Good) with some attention given to the method (logic, dialectic, and scientific analysis) of theology. Aesthetic theology completes theological making by utilizing not only a greater number of materials (gesture, music, paint, bodies, space, non-discursive speech, etc.) but by looking at how the way these elements are used affects thefinal meaning or effect of the theology. 4) Aesthetic theology would par- ticularly relate to liturgical theology, as liturgy can only be done by tak- ing into account the enacted rite. The varieties of enactment serve as particularly vivid instances of how the theology of a particular liturgy is affected by the style (the manner) of the enactment. 5) Finally, aesthetic theology would use the process of artistic making not merely to enhance or decorate an already-existing theology; but rather, to make theology in the same way that art is made—with attention to the entire process of making: giving form to some material to accomplish some end using a manner appropriate to that end. Beauty is discovered in the manner in which people are both invited and enabled to give them- selves over to that Truth which is the supreme Good.

Richard D. McCall, “Imagining the Other: Toward an Aesthetic Theology,” Religion & the Arts 8, no. 4 (2004): 479-480.


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