By Brian Nixon, Special to ASSIST News Service
ALBUQUERUQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS – September 13, 2015) — I happen to be reading two books that make a case for beauty, but in two strikingly different ways.
The first is by Norman Geisler, volume two of his massive 4-volume systematic theology work entitled, God and Creation. I happen to be a student of Geisler’s Thomasitic-influenced (Thomas Aquinas) Classical Theology. Why I gravitate toward Classical Theology is both for Biblical and historical reasons, of which I won’t get into. What I can say is that I love the “Triple A” dead guys: Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas.
The second book is by Daniel A. Siedell, entitled, Who’s Afraid of Modern Art: Essay on Modern Art and Theology in Conversation.
Together, the books give insight into the nature of beauty and the arts, albeit from two differing angles.
Geisler reminds us that beauty is a non-moral attribute of God, connected to the larger characteristics of majesty and ineffability (that which is incapable of being expressed).
Geisler connects beauty to the essence of being. Here Geisler states, “Being, insofar as it is knowable, is true. Being, insofar as it is desirable, is good. And Being, insofar as it is pleasurable, is beauty.”
For Geisler, beauty is an essential attribute of God that produces in the beholder “a sense of overwhelming pleasure and delight.” Geisler’s understanding of beauty can be boiled down to God himself. Geisler writes, “God is beautiful; He is, in fact, the ultimate standard of all beauty. Whatever is beautiful is beautiful because it is like Him.”
Of course Geisler is following in the footsteps of Thomas Aquinas who stated, “Beauty and goodness in a thing are identical fundamentally; for they are based upon the same thing, namely, the form; and consequently goodness is praised as beauty.” Put another way, beauty and goodness are essentially identical; and since God is both—in the purest form — God is beauty exemplified.
For both Aquinas and Geisler, there are conditions of beauty. These would include: proportion, harmony, brightness, clarity, integrity, and the like. Concerning this, Aquinas states, “beauty consist in due proportion: for the senses delight in things duly proportioned…beauty properly belongs to the nature of a formal cause” (aka. God).
Yet when you turn to Siedell — his understanding of Modern Art in particular –proportion and the conditions that consist of beauty are not stressed as much as the theology promoted by Martin Luther: a Theology of the Cross (“tentatio,” or “agonizing struggle”). In a Theology of the Cross, art emerges not from proportion but from pain.
For Siedell, “Modern art puts us back in touch with our pain and suffering, which is where art meets us, where God meets us…And east of Eden, it is only through this suffering and fear that we can experience beauty, goodness, and truth.” For Siedell, art and beauty are not necessarily handmaidens of systematic theology, but of crises and culture, part of the tapestry of humanity. And both of these understandings are a product of grace. Siedell states, “Authentic art is nothing less than an aesthetic testimony to the promise of grace, and as such, it deserves our utmost respect and our efforts to preserve it against forces that would distract us, especially those forces that come in the name of decency and moral values.”
Siedell sees art rising from the ruin of humanity. Siedell states, “Great art emerges out of the warp and woof—some might say the muck and mire…[Likewise] lives devoted to Christ emerge out of the warp and woof… this is where and how we must live out our vocations, inside and outside the church… It is a perspective that can distinguish between God and the world, allowing the world to be the world, in all its brokenness.”
As you can see, these are two differing views of the basis of beauty and the arts. One is forged in proportion, the other in pain. And both have a theology to back its particular slant (Aquinas and Luther). Yet, can the two meet?
I think so.
For me, the two theologies of beauty/art are two sides of the same coin. One side promotes beauty’s origin (Aquinas), and the other side previews its operation in a fallen world (Luther). Together—art’s origin and its operation—create a strange beauty, one where we express its ideals and standards, and the other where we experience its idiosyncrasies and struggle. Beauty is forged in God’s character, yet shows humanities failure as a consequence of the fall. Beauty is both a standard and a sliding scale: with grace acting as the means of mending the mess.
We need both Aquinas and Luther, Geisler and Siedell, to remind us that the passionate pursuit of God deals both with essence and experience; our journey towards God’s perfection takes imperfect beings and jugulates them into a unexpected remedy of existence—one that has both the proportion and the pain comingled in uncomfortable –but complimentary — ways.
Photo captions: 1) Dr. Norman Geisler. 2) Thomas Aquinas. 3) Martin Luther. 4) Whose Afraid of Modern Art, Daniel Siedell, 5) Brian Nixon.
About the writer: Brian Nixon is a writer, musician, and minister. He’s a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus (BA) and is a Fellow at Oxford Graduate School (D.Phil.). To learn more, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Nixon or https://twitter.com/BnixNews .
Note: If you would like to help support the ASSIST News Service, please go to www.assistnews.net and click on the DONATE button to make you tax-deductible gift (in the US), which will help us continue to bring you these important stories. If you prefer sending a check made out to ASSIST, and mail it to PO Box 609, Lake Forest, CA 92609, USA. We urgently need your help to invest in this unique service.
** You may republish this and any of our ANS stories with attribution to the ASSIST News Service (www.assistnews.net)