Winter 2006. Art and Image
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In his Letter to Artists, John Paul II speaks of “the pathos with which God at the dawn of creation looked upon the work of his hands. . . . In perceiving that all he had created was good, God saw that it was beautiful as well.” At the summit of creation is the human person, created in the image and likeness of God. The imago Dei is both a gift and a task: man is called to participate in God’s generosity by receiving the world as a gift, by cultivating and giving form to creation. In this sense, the vocation of the artist is a concentrated expression of the original human vocation. If sin represents a refusal to receive one’s self and the whole of creation as a gift from God, our redemption in Christ, the “image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15), has renewed our capacity to image God’s artistry.
"In earlier times it was said that man was created in the image of God, but it was not a manifest truth; for the Word according to whose image man was created was invisible, and so the likeness was easily lost. When, however, the Word of God became flesh, he confirmed both these: he demonstrated the truth of the image by becoming what was his image; and he restored the likeness by assimilating man to the invisible Father through the mediation of the now visible Word."
(Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. V, 16, 2)
The Winter, 2006 issue gathers six articles under the heading Art and Image. In “Truth and the Christian Imagination: The Reformation of Causality and the Iconoclasm of the Spirit,” D. C. Schindler addresses “the drama of a starved imagination” (Claudel) at its roots: the transformation of the notion of causality that preceded and characterized the Scientific Revolution. For Plato, causality is essentially the communication of form, which means that all things that come to be have the character of image: “Being an image is what makes a thing real.” At the dawn of the Scientific Revolution, Galileo reinterpreted causality in terms of an extrinsic relation of temporal succession. For Galileo, an “effect is not an image; it does not reveal the nature of its cause.” Galileo’s mechanistic understanding of causality unlocked the door to a kind of predictability that has allowed mastery over nature but at the expense of draining sense experience and the physical world of any real meaning. Schindler argues that the key to “re-imagining the natural world” lies in a recovery of the ontological and causal significance of goodness and beauty.
At the intersection of image and art is the body as the place of communion between God and man and man and woman. In “Toward a Theology of the Suffering Body,” José Granados reflects on the meaning of suffering in light of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. “In the original plan of God, [divine] love was to have been mediated to all mankind by the human love of Adam and Eve in the form of parenthood.” This radiation of fatherhood, Granados argues, “belonged in a special way to the body, even in its physical structure.” As a consequence of sin, “[t]he love between the parents is now incapable of mediating fully to the child the presence of God, the original giver.” Beginning with Abraham, a new radiation of fatherhood becomes possible: “Abraham suffers for Isaac and all his children, he suffers for them because of his obedience towards the Lord; through this trial he learns to find a mysterious connection between his compassion towards Isaac and the presence of God in his life.” In Christ, the suffering body becomes “both the point of communion of mankind and the place of the manifestation of the mystery of man, which finds its fulfillment only in God the Father.”
In “Christian Beauty,” Kevin Hart argues that there is a perfection and completeness to the good that paradoxically calls for an addition: “when there is an encounter between the human and God in creation, beauty becomes a means of apprehending the deity, a means that is realized concretely in the act of praise.” While Christian beauty draws from pagan notions, “it drops the notion of God being a part, the highest part, of the whole. . . . On this account, Christian beauty is the unconditioned shining of the divine in creation, a beauty that does not reveal itself by way of contrast with creation but only by way of contrast with sin.”
The next three articles unfold the meaning of Christian beauty in the areas of music, sacred art, and literature. The first of these is Communio’s contribution in honor of the 250th anniversary of the birth of Mozart (1756–1791). In “Mirth and Freedom in The Magic Flute,” Jonah Lynch suggests that the figure of Papageno “reminds the listener of the infinite complexity and endless fascination that life itself holds.” “As a Catholic, with the prior gratitude necessary to be truly creative, [Mozart] could see the world from the point of view of the redemption: full of variety and color, suffering and joy, but ultimately comic, not tragic.”
In his “Reflections on Tillich’s ‘Protestant Principle’ in Sacred Art,” Denis McNamara identifies a tension inherent in Paul Tillich’s understanding of art: his experience of the beauty of a Botticelli painting had taught him the revelatory power of art, yet his Protestant worldview denied the sacramental understanding of nature that undergirds the capacity of art to mediate the divine.
In “On Fairy Stories, Family, and Love: Living ‘Psychologically Within the Rhythm of Christ’s Relations With the Church,’” Donald Graham brings to light resources in J. R. R. Tolkien’s thought for a recovery of childlike wonder and a renewed understanding of marriage: “In the covenantal love of Beren and Lúthien, Aragorn and Arwen, Samwise and Rosie . . . [Tolkien presents] heroes who open our minds to a love in which the erotic is neither neglected nor destroyed but purified, elevated, and fulfilled in agapic service.”
“There is not a single poet,” observes Paul Claudel, “who does not need to inspire before he respires; who does not receive from elsewhere that mysterious breath which the ancients called the Muse.” The question posed by Javier Prades, “Is Gratuitousness Possible Today? A Look at Grace,” has a particular bearing on the renewal of Christian imagination. In the face of two fundamental objections to gratuity — the unprecedented evil of the twentieth century that has generated an intense fear, and the view that nothing is really gratuitous because everything is owed to us — Prades points to the positivity of reality as the ground of gratuity. “The person who is aware of his creatureliness,” Prades suggests, “can perceive that love implies as much the necessity of being loved gratuitously as that of loving.” An “astonishing elevation of human love to the point of attaining a perfection so great that it manifests the very love of God can be found only in the person of Jesus Christ, according to his divine and human nature. His life, his deeds, and his words allow us to recognize in action this synthesis of love that communicates gratuitously what it has received gratis (cf. Mt 10:8), because there is more happiness in giving than in receiving (cf. Acts 20:35).”
The next article of this issue returns to the point of departure: the reduced view of causality that has characterized modern science. In “The Return of Purpose,” Glenn W. Olsen traces some of the consequences that followed in the wake of a rejection of the Aristotelian notions of formal and especially final causality. Demonstrating the abiding significance of Aristotle, Olsen argues that “purpose is not to be viewed as simply something extrinsic to individual living things, but as also something intrinsic to them, a description of their capacity for self-maintenance as wholes.”
Notes and Comments closes the issue with a previously untranslated homily by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger on “The Sign of Cana,” delivered in Fatima in 1996. For Ratzinger, the transformation of water into wine “remains, above all, a work of incomprehensible generosity. The generosity, the excess is the sign of God in his creation. . . . [it is] the expression of a love that does not limit itself, that does not calculate, but without thinking of itself, simply gives itself.”
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