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.
I came acrossthe popular prayer by Bishop Richard of Chichester (1197-1253) and thought to make it my own prayer for today.
Thanks be to thee, 0 Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits which thou hast given us; for all the pains and insults which thou hast borne for us. 0 most merciful redeemer, friend and brother, may we know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly; for thine own sake.
Powerful when contemplated with Isaiah 53:10-11
… it was the LORD’s good plan to crush him
and cause him grief.
Yet when his life is made an offering for sin,
he will have many descendants.
He will enjoy a long life,
and the LORD’s good plan will prosper in his hands.
(11) When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish,
he will be satisfied.
And because of his experience,
my righteous servant will make it possible
for many to be counted righteous,
for he will bear all their sins.
Interesting take on responses to Reza Aslan’s Book, entitled Zealot. Her final sentences are most striking: “When a god begins to require the custodial protection of those who worship him, he is no longer a god. He becomes an idol. May we all find the courage and wisdom to never make ignorance the aim of religion, nor idolatry the replacement for faith.” There remains a careful balance between what Crystal St. Marie Lewis proposes and correcting error. Christians have a commission to proclaim the message of Christ, when this is compromised by others, correction of the message must take place. However, we many times are distracted by side-bar conversations about who retains the authority to write about Christianity. Seen in this way, Ms. Lewis has a point.
Crystal St. Marie Lewis
I’ve been watching the controversy surrounding Reza Aslan’s new bestseller fairly closely. The book is called Zealot and it’s the latest of many titles to argue that Jesus was a revolutionary teacher, a man of prophetic vision, a political rabble-rouser and a devoutly religious Jew whose only real claim to divinity is found in the identity imposed upon him after his death. The author of this book has done what a variety of scholars have attempted to do: Separate for us the historical Jesus (the pre-myth person who lived a natural life in a real time and place) from the Jesus of doctrine—the eternalized celestial figure identified for generations all over the world as the Son of God.
I was first introduced to Dr. Aslan’s book one Friday morning while getting ready for work with the television within earshot. I was distracted by the protest of MSNBC host Joe Scarborough
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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 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…
Sometimes we take for granted the scriptures and the carefully formulated theological expressions of faith, the creeds. Dockery and Mullins offer some caution to those who diminish the value of either.
We can tell ourselves that we can survive without rooting ourselves in the ancient words of Scripture or the sturdy creeds and confessions that flow from God’s Word, but we would be only offering ourselves an empty consolation. As the great Baptist leader E. Y. Mullins once opined: “A creed is like a ladder. On it you may climb up to a lofty outlook, a purer spiritual atmosphere, or you may climb down to the low platform of a barren orthodoxy.”
Dockery, David S. (2012-04-09). Faith and Learning (p. 138). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.