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Melvil Decimal System: Works under MDS Arts are seen as leading not in the sense of going ahead of theology and showing the way, but rather in the sense of preparing the ground. In the first place, almost from the very beginnings of Christianity, it has been recognized that images and music, for example, are especially efficacious with those unable to read, or lacking in education, and that music and visual art and poetry can all serve as pleasing and powerful aids to memory.
But the assumption is that the more mature one is, in mind and faith, the less dependent one will be on art, which tends to rely on senses and emotion and pleasurable forms. There, he interprets the phenomenon of music, and especially its ways of existing and creating in time, as theologically suggestive. Second, as Christian thinkers have long agreed, it is a good thing, up to a point, that things that are artistic can touch the heart. That means arts can move the will in ways formal theology and even preaching cannot always do.
Martin Luther, John Calvin, Charles and John Wesley, and the makers of modern gospel music all concur that musical art in particular, by moving the emotions, can affect the will, attune the soul, and open one up to the movements of the Holy Spirit. Here art is allied with rhetoric, the power of persuasion. Today, students of material culture and lived religion often pay attention to visual culture for some of those very reasons, which cross over distinctions between elite and popular, for instance.
Or does it? And Ricoeur did not mean to suggest, as thinkers such as Hegel might, that, once art delivers its goods to the more philosophical kind of theology, its work is done.
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For Ricoeur, symbol and metaphor are not exhaustible in that way. Yet it seems to me one could easily exaggerate the role of art as a delivery system of truth or insight for theology, as something either to encounter as event and proclamation or to accept as manifestation. There are literally countless ways in which experience, both raw and intense, or perhaps subtle and deep, can enter into language and more abstract thought.
And the more artistic forms of that we might as well admit are not exactly pervasive and well accounted for in the works of folks we call theologians. Thomas Aquinas lived in the great age of cathedrals and Gothic art, but included scarcely a reference to that artistry in all his voluminous works.
While Thomas does formulate a theory of beauty, he does not offer it as a theory of art. And that is true for most of the thinkers now being cited and retrieved in many discussions of theological aesthetics. Beauty does not equal art in ancient, medieval, and early modern philosophy and theology. Nor should it necessarily in ours, though much art is beautiful.
For all his massive and profound works in theological aesthetics and in theo-drama, Hans Urs von Balthasar has relatively little to say about the arts themselves. As for the Eastern forms of Catholicism, theological defenses of icons are likewise selective, at least as originally formulated. Traditionally, icons as windows onto eternity and as quasi-sacramental in character neither exemplify art in the usual sense nor stand for what other kinds of art can aspire to.
Nor does it deny legitimacy to the theology of the Roman Catholic theologian Aidan Nichols, whose very theology of art unites icon and Incarnation in ways not sanctioned formally in Eastern Orthodoxy. Edwards pays scant attention to human art.
Instead, Tracy says that the combination of religion and art at the level of the classic is rather rare, given the different aims of art. I mean to explain why Orpheus may need to be re-visited in a new way. It would be embarrassing and awkward, and in fact impossible, to try to list all those involved in this shift, because I would inevitably commit many sins of omission.
Art is indeed honored as adding to human flourishing and as part of divine blessing and a cause for thanksgiving, as Nick Wolterstorff and Jeremy Begbie have been emphasizing, along with others indebted to modern Calvinist theology. Brown argues that artists, styles, and aesthetic works can contribute to an ongoing process of continually revised and revisable Christian tradition. Some kinds and themes of art deepen and transform the Christian sense of the very meaning of Incarnation, for example. Brown openly argues that it is simply not true that the Bible always knows best.
Or that the church does either, at any given time. And while works of art must be approached with critical awareness, and not idealized and Romanticized, they can and do participate in an ongoing process of revelation. It is not that art and artists are just their own norm, their own law.
Brown does not advocate complete autonomy for the arts.