Medieval Aesthetics and Protestantism: A Reply to Peter Escalante and Cynthia Nielson

What follows continues a discussion from the comment section of the last post. 

Both of you reply with the sober erudition for which you are (IMO) a boon to Christian scholarship.  Nevertheless, I am not convinced that many of the folks on your “list” meet the Medieval standards for an aesthetic vision, cosmic in scope and extending to all of life, such as that set forth by Augustine, Boethius, Pseudo-Denys and C.S. Lewis in The Discarded Image.  I have been somewhat vague about these standards. Part of the problem with my comments here, as with some of the people you mention, is that we are only talking about beauty, whereas the medievals made beauty; theology not as “aesthetics” but as art (ie. the De Consolatione Philosophiae of Boethius and the De Divinis Nominibus of Denys).  To paraphrase Heidegger: We are never sparing enough with such talk about beauty, never active enough in doing beauty.
Peter makes a number of claims to the effect that the relation of beauty to the creative act was understood better through/after Reformation iconoclasm.  I shall certainly have to look at the essay you mention, also for reason of my interest in the theology of language.  On the whole, your claim about iconoclasm and iconology is counter-intuitive.  You suggest that “creation came to be better understood by that act, and the breaking [of the medieval stained-glass window] made for elements of a new picture whose beauty and truth is perhaps even greater than the medieval. The birth of the modern self wasn’t a bad thing: it is only a bad thing when overdetermined.”  I grant that the Reformation released new resources for aesthetic reflection, for a “new picture.”  But my question is, who hath so wrought?  Spenser, Milton and Shakespeare are more medieval than not, and Pope is already sliding toward enlightenment rationalism.  Where in Turretin do we find statements about the “convenientia of beings with one another?”  I would suggest that the collapse of the Medieval world-view spawned a “modern self” (Descartes, Harvey) and modern cosmos (Newton) isolated from each other by a mathematical/mechanistic vision that rendered both as machines inhabited by the ghost of human rationality.  Since there was no longer any natural “belonging together” of man and Nature in a domain of shared rationality, the latter is open to the domination of the former (as in Francis Bacon, not “dominion” as in Milton).

   
As to the “list” of those who may have shared the breadth of the Medieval vision: Coleridge and Ruskin seem to me to display a typical Romantic, idealized and often sentimental devotion to the past, stemming from revulsion toward the cold rationalism of the Enlightenment and the dirty dehumanization of the Industrial Revolution (add to this list Sir Walter Scott).  Perhaps Coleridge transcends this tendency.  My question of Ruskin would be: Notwithstanding his technical attention to Gothic architecture, was he able to read through the facade its metaphysical and theological and cosmic significance?  I think Hamann was mostly picking up the pieces of the Cartesian sundering of the self and world.  He was more concerned with polemics against his contemporaries than with a constructive project, although I can appreciate his almost twentieth-century sense of the constitutive function of language.  You designate Maritain a “contemporary” of Von Balthasar, which seems to me somewhat misleading.  The “neoscholasticism” of Maritain and Gilson was a largely Thomistic response to Modernity in the spirit of Leo XIII’s aeterni patris.  The scholarly consensus seems to be that the attempt to articulate a “Thomism” for the twentieth century was misguided at best.  When Maritain wrote Art and Scholasticism, was he not presupposing that scholasticism could speak to the aesthetic experience of the twentieth century?  More to the point, could it speak as scholasticism, having passed through the fires of Modernity, without being deeply contorted?  It is not a question of whether or not the project of neoscholasticism was feasible, but whether or not it was the best approach for what it sought to accomplish: a revitalized yet traditional Catholic world-view for the twentieth century.  In any event, since the theological/philosophical perspectives of Vatican II and the nouvelle theologie were an explicit critique of neoscholasticism, it is not surprising to find Rahner and Von Balthasar writing with different styles and resources.  If Balthasar seems “fuzzy,” it may be because he recognized that (as Heidegger put it) “truth” does not coincide with “correctness” or beauty with precision.
Cynthia puts forward a number of Protestant candidates.  Kierkegaard is one I would like to ‘second,’ but just how central is the cosmos in K’s predominantly existentialist aesthetics?  I am not sure why you think of Pickstock as a “protestant” scholar, when her aesthetics is predominantly a commentary on Plato, Augustine, Aquinas and the nouvelle theologie.  Perhaps there is some Barth in there somewhere via Von Balthasar, but otherwise how is Pickstock’s reasoning decisively protestant?  Rookmaaker was a “respected jazz critic.”  As you know, “critic” comes from the Greek krinein, which means to “judge”, but it also means to “cut.”  Critics cut up works of art into pieces which can then be displayed in standard essay format with attached commentary.  Granted, a critic could also point out a texture we didn’t notice, after which the “whole” becomes more manifest.  But for the most part, the modern phenomenon of “criticism” seems just the opposite of the metaphysical/cosmic “way” we are seeking.  Rookmaaker, Tillich, Nibuhr, and Barth have written and reflected in some way on beauty.  Indeed, but are their reflections based on supposedly “Biblical principles” derived on their own, or from the philosophical weight of tradition and natural experience (phenomenology)?  Does an aesthetic vision pervade their thinking, as in Denys or Von Balthasar? (Barth? Without the analogia entis?)  Even further, is their thinking beautiful? (taking leave of VB)
 I will conclude by responding to your dislike of Boethius and the charge that I am “reacting to my own tradition overly negatively.”  In the first place, anyone charging Boethius with rationalism will have to come to grips with how his poetry in the Consolatio dances with imagery.  For example, consider the third poem of book two:
 
1 Cum polo Phoebus roseis quadrigis
2 lucem spargere coeperit,
3 pallet albentes hebetata uultus
4 flammis stella prementibus.
5 Cum nemus flatu Zephyri tepentis
6 uernis inrubuit rosis,
7 spiret insanum nebulosus Auster,
8 iam spinis abeat decus.
9 Saepe tranquillo radiat sereno
10 immotis mare fluctibus,
11 saepe feruentes Aquilo procellas
12 uerso concitat aequore.
13 Rara si constat sua forma mundo,
14 si tantas uariat uices,
15 crede fortunis hominum caducis,
16 bonis crede fugacibus!
17 Constat aeterna positumque lege est
18 ut constet genitum nihil.
Here the sun, stars, wind and seas play within the harmony of the cosmos (mundus) which is set forth by law (lex).  Mutual love is in evidence in ln. 2-4, where the sun spreads his rays so as not to burn the stars with his “overwhelming flames.”  I may venture that likewise the fifth ‘makes way’ for the tonic.  Although Boethius may indeed privilege the theoretical when it comes to music as such, within the division of theory and praxis, his imagery sings the music of the seasons, in contrast to the cacophony of Man’s “uncertain fortunes” and “fleeting goods.”  Natural theological aesthetics which demands the theological rationale of redemption to address the disjunction between the harmony of nature and the disharmony of the human condition.  To return to the issue of Protestantism and beauty, let me ask a pointed question: which sentence of Van Til or Turretin or Tillich is capable of making the soul sing or the longing heart upsurge like the following lines, from DCP m8, 28-30:
  

O felix hominum genus,            Oh happy race of men
 si uestros animos amor            If your hearts the love
 quo caelum regitur regat!            by which heaven is ruled rules!

Finally, I fully admit to (over)stressing the negative points of “my own tradition.”  This is partly because of ignorance due to time constraints.  I have wanted for the past several years take a fresh look at Calvin, but have not studied the Institutes substantially since my freshman year at College.  The second reason is that I am unsure of “my own tradition.”  I no longer want to think of myself or by thought of as a “protestant,” but rather as a “reformed catholic.”  Practically, this means I no longer want my philosophical and theological thinking to be characterized primarily by “protesting,” but rather by constructive, ecumenical theology grounded in the ressourcement of the tradition.  This is my problem with the (supposed) continued relevance of Van Til and co.  As I see it, the Neo-Calvinist project—Dooyeweerd, Machen, Van Til, Rushdoony, Bahnsen, A. Plantiga—was driven largely by “protesting”(liberalism, atheism).  It operates by attacking the logical consistency of opposing beliefs through reductio ad absurdum (presuppositionalism) or reckoning the bare rationality of its own belief according to the canons of analytic philosophy (Reformed Epistemology).  Now, Augustine, Anselm and Aquinas could challenge the consistency of others as well as any, but for medieval Christianity, this approach was ancillary to that which opened pathways to draw the viewer into the heart of the Christian ‘cosmos.’
 
“What long way it is between knowing God and loving him!”
—-Pascal, Pensees
 

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3 Responses to Medieval Aesthetics and Protestantism: A Reply to Peter Escalante and Cynthia Nielson

  1. Tim Enloe says:

    [The following comment is by Cynthia Nielsen.]

    Hi Bret,

    Thank you for your substantive reply to my comments, as I appreciate both your thoughts and your taking the time to respond. Given time restraints, I will only comment on selected parts of your post. First, the point of citing Pickstock was to point to a contemporary Protestant thinker who has done extensive work in the area of theological aesthetics, and to highlight someone whose work is itself (in my opinion) beautiful and aesthetically pleasing. Second, you ask a very subjective question when you give the challenge to find passages in Turretin, VT, and other Protestant thinkers (especially those of the Neo-Calvinist flavor) that make the heart sing. One would want to allow each thinker to express his/her work in a way fitting to the historical situation, his/her own self-understanding of his/her respective projects, and the genre in which he/she is working, or else it seems that we might be guilty of a category mistake, or of a failure to appreciate the diversity of gifts given by God to his people for various purposes, notwithstanding the fact that these gifts can be and are misused and abused. The contra bass line in a symphonic piece in and of itself may not be beautiful and it may not grab the heart as does the flute playing the melody line, yet remove the bass part because it doesn’t share the finesse of the flute and the symphony falls apart.

    Perhaps these are not to your liking (as the following are not examples of poetry), but the following passages make my soul sing mainly because of their Christological focus:

    (1) A Neo-Calvinist example. “Here we read not of the Son of man but of God’s only-begotten Son (cf. 1:18), so designated here as the highest gift God could give (cf. Ro. 8:32: ‘who did not spare his own Son’; Gn. 22:16). And we read, ‘gave’ in the sense of what is elsewhere called ‘giving up,’ ‘surrendering’ (e.g., Ro. 4:25; 8:32; Mk. 9:31), namely to death on a cross. All this shows how in the Fourth Gospel, as elsewhere in the New Testament, the God-given sacrifice of Christ is of central significance. This is surely the case also because in that surrender the glory of God manifested itself so clearly ‘in the flesh’ of the man Jesus, but above all because it brought to its highest manifestation the measure of God’s love for the world (cf. 13:1). [...] it is God who makes the all-embracing sacrifice for the world. There is no further analysis of why God loves thus. The text’s exclusive concern is the fact and the magnitude of God’s love. It is love that not only manifests itself over death, the death into which the world (like Israel in the wilderness) would sink: in the death of Christ it also identifies with the world in its lostness and thus imparts the deepest meaning to the great statement in the prologue, ‘and the Word became flesh.’ [...] God in his eternal love returned to the world as to his own, that he loved it in the surrender of his only-begotten Son (cf. 3:35), and that the Father loves the Son because he gave his own life (cf. 10:15) in a love that persisted to the end (cf. 13:1ff.)” [Herman Ridderbos, Commentary on John, pp. 138-39].

    (2) VT. “To be obedient is for us to proclaim Jesus and him crucified, Jesus as risen, Jesus as ascended into heaven, Jesus as soon to return on the clouds to judge all men according to whether they have believed or have not believed in him.

    Modern man is paralyzed by doubt and fear. His wisdom has been made foolishness with God. Taking for granted that he must start his effort to know himself and his world from within himself, he cannot even find himself. He is a whitecap on the wave of a bottomless and shoreless ocean of chance. He differs from the sea only because there chanced to be a wind from the infinite blue above that stirred the surface of the bottomless deep. After a moment he sinks back into identity with that from which he came.

    Such is the vaunted freedom of modern science and philosophy. The message of modern theology is one of death and despair. It is to this world lying in darkness […] that we, who by grace have seen the vision of the sovereign grace of God, may and must bring the message of light, of hope and of gladness.

    We receive this message by grace, not because we are any wiser or better than others. We believe what we believe on the absolute authority of him who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” We believe that all things are his because he has told us this. We believe that truth is what Jesus Christ says it is and that what he has spoken in the Scriptures is true because he has spoken it. We are certain in our faith on the authority of him who knows all things because he made all things, directs all things, and will judge all.

    Let us then run with patience and perseverance the race that is set before us, “looking to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12.l-2).

    Lift up your hearts then, my friends, to that one who sits on the throne with the twenty-four elders and four living creatures as all the church of God sings the song of Moses and the Lamb, saying, “Worthy art thou, our Lord and God, to receive the glory and the honor and the power; for thou didst create all things, and because of thy will they are, and were created” (Rev 4.11)

    Were the whole realm of nature mine,

    That were a present far too small;

    Love so amazing, so divine,

    Demands my soul, my life, my all.

    Amen.” (Taken from VT’s address,“A Cloud of Witnesses to our Faith”).

    (3) Barth. “God’s revelation in its objective reality is the incarnation of His Word […] It becomes the object of our knowledge; it finds a way of becoming the content of our experience and our thought; it gives itself to be apprehended by our contemplation and our categories. But it does that beyond the range of what we regard as possible for our contemplation and perception, beyond the confines of our experience and thought […] It becomes the object of our knowledge by its own power and not by ours […]. We can understand the possibility of [this knowing] solely from the side of its object, i.e., we can regard it not as ours, but as one coming to us, imparted to us, gifted to us. In this bit of knowing we are not the masters but the mastered […] Knowledge in this case means acknowledgement. And the utterance or expression of this knowledge is termed confession” (Church Dogmatics, Bromily and Torrance, eds. [Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark, 1956] 1:2:172-73).

    It is true that Barth rejects the analogy of being, yet this does not move Balthasar to write him off. In fact, as A. Nichols O.P. points out in the introduction to Balthasar’s Mysterium Paschale, “Balthasar insisted that the manner in which theology is to be written is Christological from start to finish […] Balthasar aimed at nothing less than a Christocentric revolution in Catholic theology. It is absolutely certain that the inspiration from this derives […] from the Protestantism of Karl Barth” (pp. 4-5). Moreover, Balthasar “puts Barth’s Christocentricity at the top of the list of the things Catholic theology can learn from the Church Dogmatics (p. 5).

    Lastly, when you write, “I no longer want to think of myself or by thought of as a ‘protestant,’ but rather as a ‘reformed catholic.’ Practically, this means I no longer want my philosophical and theological thinking to be characterized primarily by ‘protesting,’ but rather by constructive, ecumenical theology grounded in the ressourcement of the tradition”—to this I can only say, “Amen and amen.”

    With best wishes,

    Cynthia

    I think that VT would heartily agree with the Pascal quote that you give—see below, particularly the bold emphasis (and it doesn’t sound rationalistic to me ; ).

    “Christ is true prophet, priest, and king. The Westminster shorter catechism asks, ‘How does Christ execute the office of a Prophet?” The answer is: ‘Christ executes the office of a Prophet, in revealing to us by His Word and Spirit, the will of God for our salvation.’ Man set for himself a false ideal of knowledge when he became a sinner, that is, he lost true wisdom. In Christ man was reinstated to true knowledge. In Christ man realizes that he is a creature of God and that he should not seek underived comprehensive knowledge. Christ is our wisdom. He is our wisdom not only in the sense that he tells us how to ‘get to heaven.’ He is our wisdom too in teaching us true knowledge about everything about which we should have knowledge.

    Again the catechism asks: ‘How does Christ execute the office of a Priest?’ The answer is: ‘Christ executea the office of a Priest in his once offering up himself a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice, and reconcile us to God, and making continual intercession for us.’ We need not discuss this point except to indicate that Christ’s work as priest cannot be separated from his work as prophet. Christ could not give us true knowledge of God and of the universe unless he died for us as priest. The question of knowledge is an ethical question. It is indeed possible to have theoretically correct knowledge about God without loving God. The devil illustrates this point. Yet what is meant by knowing God in Scripture is knowing and loving God: this is true knowledge of God; all other knowledge of God is false (emphasis added).

    In the third place the catechism asks: ‘How does Christ execute the office of a King?’ The answer is: ‘Christ executes the office of a King, in subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all of his and our enemies.’ Again we observe that this work of Christ as King must be brought into organic connection with his work as Prophet and Priest. To give us true wisdom or knowledge Christ must subdue us. He died for us to subdue us and thus gave us wisdom. It is only by emphasizing this organic connection of the aspects of the world of Christ that we can avoid all mechanical separation of the intellectual and the moral in the question of knowledge” (Systematic Theology).

  2. Tim Enloe says:

    [The following comment is by Peter Escalante]

    Bret,

    I’ll take your points one by one. But first, some general remarks.

    Although I grant much of what you say, I have some concerns. First, it
    is a principle of perennial cosmology that the coherence of the cosmos
    is found located primarily in human representations of the cosmos-
    cosmology- but rather in the cosmos itself. A sense that the world
    only holds together in a worldview is a very modernistic premise; for
    perennial thought, the cosmos is doing just fine, whether or not we
    apprehend it fully, or whether we express our apprehension of it
    fully. The modern anxiety about saving the appearances has to do with
    a doubt that there is much out there beside appearance: hence the
    foundationalist urge. Partly,this follows from the Galilean split
    between primary and secondary qualities, and partly from the notion of
    the underlying subsistent “ego” who must construct a world of his own
    perceptions. I’m not saying that you are doing this yourself: but
    laments about lost cosmologies are not very medieval: they are rather
    very modern, and in some respects, your original post struck me as
    proceeding in some measure from such a place. But a relative absence
    of cosmology does not mean an absence of cosmos.

    And Eco, the topic of the original post, is problematic in this
    regard. As with many postmodern aesthetes (and I would include some of
    the Radical Orthodox here), he tends to collapse the Good and the True
    into the Beautiful. He assumes the modern subjectivized aesthetic, and
    then, by erasing or eliding the scientistic world of brute mass and
    force which lies outside it in that picture , he can project the scope
    of the subjectivized aesthetic over the whole world; but it remains
    what it was, hence its uselessnes for ethics and science. So Eco seems
    to me simply an instance of postmodern “reenchantment”, and not a
    recuperation of what is perennially true in medieval cosmology.

    Lastly, the Middle Ages was not one thing, nor were its cosmologies,
    though there were certainly common features and common truths; and
    too, the Middle Ages is not coterminous with perennial wisdom; there
    is a historicistic tendency, which shares the assumptions of modernism
    but simply reverses the optimism and pessimism of its more usual
    progressive form, and then essentializes and valorizes the quondam as
    having had “more Being”. And we need to watch out for this.

    That said, let me address your points.

    A) “we are never active enough in doing beauty.” Well, this might be
    an example of the collapse of the Good and the True into the
    Beautiful, of which I just wrote: it might also be a conflation of
    praxis with poiesis. Praxis, as such, leaves no material traces, since
    its artefact is the soul. And with regard to poiesis, things were
    beautifully made until quite recently, and many things still are (film
    comes to mind). The more basic problem isn’t a lack of beauty, but
    rather, a lack of good conditions for right making: as Marx would say,
    we don’t properly own the means of production (though I would mean
    this in a broader sense than Marx did). As Cobbett, Morris, Belloc and
    Gill used to say, without freedom and ownership, nothing made is
    really beautiful, in the end. Hence, when that medieval ordo began to
    exploit real people, and thus became really ugly, the artisans which
    wrought all those pretty medieval things tended to smash them until
    their cry for justice was met (and the functional view which medievals
    had of objects we regard curatorially, explains why Protestants had no
    trouble smashing statues, etc: they didn’t regard those things as
    detachedly beautiful, but rather, as measured by the Good and True).
    So I would want to know more about what you mean by “doing beauty”
    before I could agree with you that the present is seriously deficient
    in that regard.

    B) On the medievalism of Shakespeare, Milton, et alia. You might want
    to be careful about essentializing the “middle ages” and “modernity”
    and then quantifying the degrees of their presence in any given writer
    or thing. The early modern period can be characterized many ways.
    Although there is a good deal of truth to your claims about the modern
    self and the severance from nature (including man’s own) the picture
    of convenientia long survives early modernity, in all sorts of places:
    you are looking for formal cosmological treatises, but you might find
    the human mirroring of cosmic ordo in all sorts of unexpected places,
    some of which were a good deal closer to life than metaphysical
    tracts. Too, the rise of natural investigation, and the development of
    historical inquiry with its attendant disciplines, was a very real
    gain, which amplified perennial wisdom beyond the formal parameters of
    its limited medieval expression. But back to literature: medieval and
    early modern themes survive quite intact in literature and drama even
    now, as the discipline of comparative literature shows: and not only
    do the timeless human elements of medieval and early modern literature
    survive, so too does the Middle Ages itself, as such, survive
    aufgehoben, as Hegel would say, at the very heart of the modern novel:
    for a consideration of this, see Ortega y Gasset’s excellent
    “Meditations on Quixote”, or for that matter, CS Lewis’ “Introduction
    to Paradis Lost”, where he treats of his distinction between primary
    and secondary epic. For Lewis, the birth of the modern self as such is
    not a bad thing: only its overdetermination is. The historical
    consciousness of modernity (itself dependent upon the Reformation), is
    a crucial presupposition of Lewis (which he shares with Barfield and
    Vico): it is precisely this in virtue of which he can judge the
    “Discarded Image” to be an image: that is, what he calls a “model”.
    The strong distinction betwen self and nature which comes with the
    16th and 17th c is a good thing, and wholly agreeable with perennial
    wisdom: only its overdetermination into a severance is a bad thing.
    But you do make some fair points about the severance, and the rise of
    mechanism and domination (but Harvey? A mechanist modern? Harvey, with
    his Neoplatonic sun mysticism and his heart/sun metaphor? He didn’t
    seem like a mechanist to me, at least, back when I had his text in one
    hand, and a trepanned egg in the other, delving the mysteries of
    embryology).

    C) On the Romantics: they were considerably more original, astute, and
    complex than you seem to make out: see Angelika Rauch’s “The
    Hieroglyph of Tradition” on this point. As for Ruskin, to be sure, he
    constructed no formal cosmologies. But in his essayistic way, he
    suggested the outlines of a convenient cosmos, especially in his
    understanding of the relation between vision of nature, the social
    order and art: see his “Unto this Last,” and “Queen of the Air,” for
    starters. For Coleridge, who can be described similarly but who was
    much more intellectually articulated, see Cutsinger (or Barfield, who
    inspired him) on him, and look especially at STC’s mature ideas on the
    constitution of church and state, his metaphysical notes, and his
    close attention to the 17th c English divines, whose cosmology was
    altogether orderly (on this last point, see Canon MacKenzie’s
    masterful “God’s Order and Natural Law). And I could have mentioned
    Blake earlier: the perennial character of his vision (pace Eliot) has
    been amply demonstrated by Kathleen Raine and Kenneth Rexroth.
    Regarding Hamann: he is not simply engaged in damage control: see his
    Aesthetica in Nuce, for a starter. The Romantics have yet to be fully
    appreciated, especially their political and scientific thought (though
    Rauch’s book is a good start, and with regard to their natural
    philosophy, see Richards’ very good book “The Romantic Conception of
    Life”). And the Inklings are almost wholly indebted to the English and
    German Romantics: the project is continuous.

    D) On Maritain and von Balthasar: well, once you begin to say that
    scholasticism has little to say to modernity, you are well into
    modernism, and far from the medieval. But let me say from the outset
    that I have no love whatever for manual neothomism. Maritain though
    was hardly an instance of that: his books were engagingly written and
    very insightful. “Art and Scholasticism” has much to say even now, and
    “Creative Intuition” was itself a very creative application of
    perennial principles to questions of making. And Gilson, too, was
    hardly a manual neothomist. Also, you might want to a look at the
    look at the works of the brilliant Thomist Fr Thomas Gilby, especially
    his “Poetic Knowledge”. Also, another brilliant Thomist, and in no way
    a mere manualist, was Frederick Wilhelmsen, whose application of
    Thomistic semiotics to modern problems of art and media in his “Being
    and Knowing” is dazzling. And in “Man’s Knowledge of Reality,” he lays
    out precisely why the “correct” is rarely equal to the “true”. Would
    that von B had been clear even about that principle. And as for the
    measure of accomplishment, Maritain was very influential in his day,
    even outside Christian circles: his political thought was a direct
    influence on Vatican II and early European Union constitutional
    thinking- and councils and constitutions are as real as sublunar
    matters get. Too, he was on intimate terms with many leading artists
    and composers (and one can claim that via Gill, neothomism affected
    the typographic form of a vast number of books: and that’s quite down
    to earth real success in the arts). None of this is true of the
    epigones of the nouvelles theologie: they constitute a miniscule and
    almost strictly intra-Christian subculture. von B has no real
    influence whatever outside the circles of his theological admirers:
    hence Nichols has to anxiously reassure us that von B’s theological
    grand opera is “no bloodless myth.” This is not to say that they have
    nothing to offer: only that if you are going to measure things by
    success in reaching people, the better Thomists win hands down.

    So to sum up, I have some misgivings about the very way in which
    you’ve framed the questions. And also, you do seem to be in an awful
    hurry: but I would suggest that casting historical periods and persons
    in narratives which borrow their form from drama can be a recipe for
    serious misjudgement, and I would want to advise taking the dramatic
    movement out of the picture, so these periods and persons can sit
    still long enough to be closely looked at.

    That brings me to the end of the section you’ve adddressed to me:and I
    am very much looking forward to your response, and to Cynthia’s
    engagement with what you have addressed to her: she will doubtless
    write more clearly than I have. But I will address your last
    paragraph, and say that the defects you notice in presuppositionalism
    and “Reformed epistemology” are defects I have noticed myself: and you
    are entirely right about them. I don’t think those schools simply
    reduce to their defects, not at all, but they are seriously hampered
    by them. But for more classical Reformed views, see Stephen Grabill’s
    work on natural law and reason in the Reformed tradition, the work of
    Canon Iain MacKenzie, and the essays of Ruben Alvarado.

    Bret, thanks again for sharing your insightful reflections: I am
    enjoying this conversation immensely.

    peace
    Peter

  3. Hi Bret,

    I recently came across an excellent article by Peter Leithart that addresses some of your concerns quite well by drawing from the resources of Jonathan Edwards. If you are interested, I have posted a short summary on my blog: http://percaritatem.blogspot.com/2007/06/jonathan-edwards-trinitarian-ontology.html

    Best wishes,
    Cynthia

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