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!”