In clarifying the notion of doing theology (particularly in relation to aesthetics) Hans Urs von Balthasar suggests,
…no theological perception is possible outside the lux tuae claritatis and outside the grace that allows us to see, a grace which already belongs objectively to rapture and which subjectively may be said at least to initiate man’s transport to God. In theology, there are no ‘bare facts’ which, in the name of an alleged objectivity of detachment, disinterestedness and impartiality, one could establish like any other worldly facts, without oneself being (both objectively and subjectively) gripped so as to participate in the divine nature (participatio divinae naturae). For the object with which we are concerned is man’s participation in God which, from God’s perspective, is actualized as ‘revelation’ (culminating in Christ’s God manhood) and which, from man’s perspective, is actualized as ‘faith’ (culminating in participation in Christ’s God manhood). This double and reciprocal ekstasis—God’s ‘venturing forth’ to man and man’s to God—constitutes the very content of dogmatics, which may thus rightly be presented as a theory of rapture: the admirabile commercium et conubium between God and man in Christ as Head and Body.
If this is true, Balthasar asserts that there is a remaining intrinsic connection between fundamental theology and dogmatic theology. Fundamental theology is not left behind, but
the facts of revelation are perceived initially in the light of grace, and faith grows in such a way that it allows the self-evidence of these factsto continue to unfold according to its own laws and principles. In this manner, through the growth of the mysteries of faith, for which I can provide no evidence of my own, the image in which God initially appeared and illumined me deepens and acquires traits that reveal new and even deeper aspects of its rightness.
Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics I: Seeing the Form (trans. Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis; San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2009), 122.
Zordan and Knauss provide an intriguing solution to what they describe as an impasse between theology and aesthetics because, “On the one hand, it is all too tempting to use art as a simple appendix to, or illustration of, theological concepts, or to limit aesthetic-theological reflections to an enumeration of religious motifs in artworks. On the other hand, aesthetics and art theory appear hesitant to appreciate a religious dimension of arts, insisting on the separation of cultural and religious spheres.”
What would be needed to move out of this impasse and define better the relationship between aesthetics and theology? On the part of theology, it would be helpful to appropriate a concept of truth that is neither purely objective nor subjective: An idea of truth as practice that emerges from the human experience of faith. On the part of aesthetics, an equal atten- tion for the experiential aspect would be required that contributes to the development of a theory of feeling. It is fundamental therefore to shift from an idea of art as an object, a “work” that can be taken and studied or theorized objectively and independently of context, perspective or situation, and instead to focus on the relationship between artist, work, and recipient as an ongoing process of creation and co-creation in reception, in interaction with their respective contexts and situations. Thus, in order to respond appropriately to the challenge of art understood as such an experiential, situated process, theology has to become a foundational theology that is not looking for “proofs” of God’s existence in art or culture, but rather that is open to discover the “traces” of a God who has always already passed, traces that can be found in all spheres of human existence and experience.
To make this happen, the authors suggest that, “aesthetics will have to redefine its own specificities: for one, as a theory of aisthesis, of sensory perception, so as not to fall back into a mere philosophy of art; also as a reflection of the dimension of practice, in the sense of production and reception; and finally, as a new evaluation of the pure materiality of the work.”
Zordan, Davide, and Stefanie Knauss. “Following the Traces of God in Art: Aesthetic Theology as Foundational Theology Following the Traces of God in Art: Aesthetic Theology as Foundational Theology : An Introduction.” Cross Currents: The Journal of the Association for Religion and Intellectual Life 63, no. 1 (2013): 4-8.
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.
The arts lift up our eyes, our hearts, and our minds to help us move beyond our mundane world and to see that there is something beyond the ordinary. It gives us a glimpse of the world that exists beyond the material universe. It totally distinguishes humans from all other species on the planet. Art grants us a special wonder at the universe that transcends the minutiae of materialistic empiricism.
Fant Jr, Gene C. (2012-05-07). The Liberal Arts: A Student’s Guide (Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition) (p. 83). Good News Publishers. Kindle Edition.
I just read Jackson Cuidon’s less than stellar review of the animated movie Turbo. His review follows others that expected more from Dreamworks Studios in their battle with Pixar for animated movie superiority. However Cuidon’s review remains isolated from the general entertainment pontifications in that he reviews TV and movies for Christianity Today. One would expect (or at least I did) an attempt to connect Christianity to culture (isn’t that what the title of the website/magazine implies?). Generally his review of the movie comforted parents about the content, while raising the perceived problem “that Turbo never earns anything he achieves.” He is referring the fact that the nitrous oxide ingested by Turbo, enabled him to “achieve” a victory he did not earn. This critique is fair from a western capitalist perspective, but weak from a gospel perspective. Cuidon completely missed a gospel inculturated opportunity. Instead of asserting that Turbo never earns anything he achieves, might we ask how can a snail do the impossible? Something outside of him and not part of him enabled him to do great things. Isn’t this a gospel moment? We are in many ways like Turbo. Apart from the enabling work of the gospel, we cannot attain anything. We can’t even get to the racetrack much less compete in the race. The gospel enlivens us and enables us to not only compete, but win. The work of the gospel through the power of the Holy Spirit, enables us accomplish things thought not possible. Paul says, “Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure” (Phil 2:12b-13, The Message). This perspective of Turbo refreshes me even if it does not present the best plot line or contain the latest digital wow. It reminds me, even in the simple pleasures we enjoy with our children, that God enables us to achieve what we did not earn.
‘I-ThouWe’ relationship has itself absolute, divine value: in the triune being of love. It is not possible to divorce the Christian love of neighbor from this theological presupposition, but one sees what Christianity is only by participating in the divine movement from the ‘vertical’ to the ‘horizontal’. This is shown once again in the synthesis that Jesus effects—as the profoundest self-expression of his existence and his mission—between the chief commandment of the love of God and the commandment of the love of neighbor which is ‘equal to it’ (Mt 22.39). Although both of its presuppositions already existed, this synthesis is absolutely creative; it is identical with the unique Christological synthesis itself, as this is given expression by Chalcedon. This uniqueness prevents the dissolution of the vertical dimension into the horizontal through the dissolution of the love of God into the love of neighbor, which would be the formation of a ‘Christian atheism’.
Balthasar, Hans Urs von, and John Kenneth Riches. Theology: The New Covenant. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989, 441.
It is generally thought that Plato introduced the world to transcendentals of goodness, beauty, and truth. His Symposium provides a peek into how Plato understood their order. He says, “The true order of going is to use the beauties of the earth as steps along which to mount upwards for the sake of that other beauty [beauty]: from fair forms to fair practices, and from fair practices to fair notions [goodness] until he arrives at the idea of absolute beauty [truth]”. Generally people understand the importance of goodness and truth to society, but many do not regard beauty as carrying the same significance as the former two. I’m sure there are many reasons for this, but the marginalization of beauty’s role in the world becomes even more apparent in religious conversations. In the Christian faith, goodness and truth reign supreme. However, is that a proper way to order the three transcendentals? The Christian faith seems to order them reverse of Plato’s order and therefore suggest truth, goodness, and beauty. Now they might not overtly claim this to be true, but their orthopraxy produces a picture of what they value most. In suggesting truth and goodness over beauty, they may actually undercut the two they value most. For without a recognition and valuing of beauty, goodness and truth can be lost. Beauty is an attribute of God that we see through his revelation to us. Hans Urs von Balthasar suggests the significance of losing beauty as he states,
“In a world without beauty – even if people cannot dispense with the word and constantly have it on the tips of their tongues in order to abuse it – in a world which is perhaps not wholly without beauty, but which can no longer see it or reckon with it: in such a world the good also loses its attractiveness, a self evidence of why it must be carried out” [Glory of the Lord, I:19].
Goodness and truth demand the presence of beauty. C.S. proposed in Surprised by Joy that beauty is the finger that points us to goodness and truth. When good flourishes so does beauty.