Category Archives: Philosophy

Connections in Theology and Aesthetics

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.



Filed under Aesthetics, Philosophy, Theology

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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Filed under Aesthetics, Philosophy, Theology

Faith and Philosophy

The multiplication of conceptual distinctions has led to the emergence of the different theological sciences from the total life of the divine in mankind and these sciences have grown strong.… They have lost sight of the universal and have been cut off from the living root.… How many manuals of dogmatic and moral theology could we pick up without finding in them any inkling of religion? How far histories of the Church are from the heavenly flame that should penetrate everything with its light! In our many theologies, we find everything except what their name calls for. They resemble the dead heaps of stones that were left over after the destruction of the holy Temple. The soul which God fills has shut itself off, and those who have the key of knowledge, instead of going into the soul, clutter the entrance to it with all kinds of vain trifles’

René de Chateaubriand. His Génie du Christianisme (1802) I:322–323.

Even at the advent of the enlightenment, scholars and philosophers alike had noticed the widening gap between theology and philosophy as distinct sciences. It was like Chateaubriand knew the inevitable was coming…

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August 2, 2013 · 7:53 am

I like the contrast between education and schooling in this article. I often talk about it in terms of education and knowledge. When I do, I speak of education as training for a career and knowledge as training for life. They are certainly not identical

The Wisdom Initiative

One of my favorite writers in the field of education, Alfie Kohn, asks a very important question in the title of one of his books, What Does It Mean To Be Well-Educated? George Eliot makes a claim that seems to take up this question by stating, “It is an uneasy lot at best, to be what we call highly taught…to be present at this great spectacle of life and never to be liberated from a small, hungry, shivering self” (Middlemarch). 

There is inherent in these two ideas this common thread: being well-educated should liberate persons from their small, hungry, shivering selves. Indeed, the intent of education should be about this very thing, so that the answer to Kohn’s question should be: being well-educated is the liberated self, enlarged by generosity, fed by virtue, and warmed by the well-being of one’s fully formed self.

Though this is what education should be (and…

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Filed under Education, Philosophy, Uncategorized

Culture in the Church

If all the world were Christian, it might not matter if all the world were uneducated. But, as it is, a cultural life will exist outside the Church whether it exists inside or not. To be ignorant and simple now— not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground—would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defense but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered. The cool intellect must work not only against cool intellect on the other side, but against the muddy heathen mysticisms which deny intellect altogether.

C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (1949) 58.

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December 23, 2012 · 8:47 am

‘I-ThouWe’ Relationship

‘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.

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November 24, 2012 · 12:51 pm

What does beauty have to do with goodness and truth?

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.

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Filed under Aesthetics, Ethics, Philosophy