Blog 2

In the book, Theological Aesthetics: God in Imagination, Beauty, and Art, Richard Viladesau brings up three problem to be contemplated. The first problem is whether God can be imagined. Can we fully imagine God in His fullness? Do we have the appropriate words, thoughts, and ideas to talk and think about God? It is hard to imagine God as He truly is. Nor would we have the words to describe Him. Often times, we imagine God in relation to things that we know in the physical world. Thomas Aquinas explains it perfectly when he wrote that we are able to grasp “not what God is, but what He is not, and the relations of other things to Him”. (1)

The second problem brought about the question of the type of relationship that we have with God. Are we capable of resolving our needs with the fullness of God, or His wholeness? We use imagery to try to portray God as he truly is or, at least, how we try to imagine Him. We tend to depict God as a fatherly figure, but those images do not represent God’s transcendence. When we use imagery to help us imagine God, do we begin to worship the image instead of God? Are we in danger of falling into idolatry? True worship keeps its focus on God with imagery only being used to assist our imagination.

The final issue is how we relate God with art and beauty. Does our imagery of God show the beauty of God and His greatness? Are we successful in showing God and God’s revelation in our imagery? Artists are capable of portraying only what we can imagine or are familiar with. Despite our best efforts, I believe we fail in truly portraying God’s transcendence and God’s Revelation.

These questions relate to theological aesthetics, particularly the questions regarding the first two issues or problems. They relate to how we see God and Faith through our senses and feelings. It looks at how we can use our imaginations as part of our worship of God and all that God has revealed to us. The final issue looks more at the aesthetics itself. Whether artists can portray imagery of Faith in such a way that is truly beautiful. All of the questions from these issues are things that we should take into consideration as we reflect on sacred images and art.

  1. Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Contra Gentiles, 74

4 thoughts on “Blog 2

  1. Our understanding of God is not God. God is always greater than what we understand. You noted that Aquinas’ teaching that we cannot grasp what God is, only what He is not. Viladesau writes that we can know God by “Using ‘word’ or language to embody, formulate, interpret, and communicate the knowledge of God and of historical revelation.” (pg. 70) Viladesau approach does not “grasp” God; rather it observes an image of God while realizing that this image is not God. Idolatry occurs when we mistake an image of God for God.

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  2. Thank you for identifying these questions from Viladesau. Concerning the first problem, perhaps the abstract nature of totality of God is understood more concretely as Christ enters the divine narrative of revelation. But of course , the Trinity can still be contextualized as a separate concept which then lends itself to our aesthetic imagination. Concerning the second problem, it seems how we view our relationship with God depends on our viewing point . How much are we contained within God, and how does that relate to the free expression of our will? I agree with you that true worship creates a focus which then leads to the emerging of an imagination, but again is it coming through us or are we self-generating it. I think portraying God in imagery is always both culturally and generationally sensitive. Like all artistic imagery, the viewer will have to connect some sort of personal meaning to the form. I think measuring the success of showing the inherent beauty of the divine narrative of God’s revelation Is contingent upon how much the artist maintained the spiritual dignity of the moment. Aesthetic expression within a context of faith will present itself differently than one without.

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  3. In this post, Stephanie, you nicely point out the challenges that we face in the field of theological aesthetics. In your second paragraph, you mention the limitations of depicting God as a “father figure,” which can, indeed, be overly reductive of who God is. I think we face this danger whenever we overemphasize one “aspect” (though He is eternal) of God to the diminishment of others. That said, discussions about the essence of God’s fatherhood as the act of “eternally begetting” have been helpful for me in this regard.
    I was also struck by your comment that “we fail in truly portraying God’s transcendence and God’s Revelation.” Part of my disagreement may arise from terminology, because I don’t think that we try to portray His “transcendence” per se. To go further, though, if all of our efforts fail, then why bother with sacred art at all? In your first post, you make the claim that you have encountered God through beauty, but how can this be so if every artistic rendering ultimately fails?

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  4. I enjoyed reading your understanding of the problems Viladesau presents for us to reflect upon. Toward the end of your blog you wrote, “Despite our best efforts, I believe we fail in truly portraying God’s transcendence and God’s Revelation.” I think there’s some serious truth to this difficulty of trying to communicate a transcendent God with our own limited understanding of who He is whether we attempt to write, paint, sculpt, or compose any sort of art regarding Him. But then again, I think this points to the beauty of the Incarnation all the more. A limitless God becomes finite and enters into our world of understanding and perception. There’s obviously still an essence of mystery when it comes to the Person of Jesus Christ since he is still God; however, I think it’s a great illustration of how the Lord humbles himself down to meet us where we’re at in our limited perceptions of who He is.

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