Following the Traces of God in Art: Aesthetic Theology as Foundational Theology: An Introduction Davide Zordan and Stefanie Knauss In the last forty or so years, the field of aesthetics has provided a rich source of stimuli for new developments in theological thinking. For far too long, theology has remained focused on the study of texts, theories, and concepts, neglecting the experiential, affective, and sensory dimensions of human life. And even in those respects that underscore the intrinsic relation of the theological to the aesthetic, theology has limited itself to a strictly metaphysical framework, such as with regard to the concept of the beauty of God, which was conceptualized abstractly as an “attribute” of the divine, but an attribute that is sensitively unattainable and thus merely nostalgically evoked. It is certainly Hans Urs von Balthasar's merit to have rediscovered the aesthetic dimension of theology and to have opened up theological reflection to the contributions of aesthetic theory. His theological aesthetics, based on the concepts of “form” and “splendor/glory,” combines a theme of foundational theology, namely the discovery of the figure of God who reveals Godself (i.e., the issue of how God's revelation can be perceived and received by human beings), and a dogmatic theme, the doctrine of participation in the divine life (in the form of ravishment or entrancement in God's beauty). Von Balthasar is revolutionary for his time in that he declares that a theology that takes seriously the challenge of the aesthetic cannot be content with an analogical reflection on concepts like “beauty,” “light,” or “measure,” but has to dare to take new roads looking for new categories. “Aesthetics must surrender itself and go in search of new categories.” As such, von Balthasar has had a decisive influence on the development of theology and in particular aesthetic theology, which also reflects in some of the papers collected here. These articles, however, also point to a second aspect that has motivated and shaped the development of aesthetic theology in recent years, namely the challenge that contemporary culture, the aesthetic sphere itself, issues to theology. Paul Tillich has prepared the ground for this with his thesis of the absolute ground of being that appears in creative activity itself and in its products and artworks, to varying degrees, depending on style and form. However, his method of correlation between the existential questions implied in human existence that emerge in culture or cultural products such as visual arts, and the answers supplied by theology on the basis of revelation (as transmitted in Scripture and tradition) has been criticized later on. Indeed, art itself can provide, if not perfect answers to these questions, at least building stones that can contribute productively to theological reflection, and be a part of the continuous self‐revelation of God in history. In a theological‐aesthetic perspective understood as hermeneutic and epistemological, art is truly a locus theologicus in the classical sense, a space where new theological insight is generated, and where religious experience is possible. More recent theological approaches to the aesthetic therefore appreciate the autonomy of art and aesthetic experiences and take it seriously as an authentic expression of existential human questions, sincere attempts at meaning and sense, and reflections of a (maybe anonymous or unconscious) human desire for the transcendent. If the developments of theological aesthetics have seemed slow and at times even to turn in circles, this is due to the fact that apart from a general, and easy enough recognition of the proximity between the theological and the aesthetical, the further delineation of their relationship and their respective positions has not been easy. On the one hand, it is all too tempting to use art as a simple appendix to, or illustration of, theological concepts, or to limit aesthetic‐theological reflections to an enumeration of religious motifs in artworks. On the other hand, aesthetics and art theory appear hesitant to appreciate a religious dimension of arts, insisting on the separation of cultural and religious spheres. What would be needed to move out of this impasse and define better the relationship between aesthetics and theology? On the part of theology, it would be helpful to appropriate a concept of...

Full Text

Published Version
Open DOI Link

Get access to 115M+ research papers

Discover from 40M+ Open access, 2M+ Pre-prints, 9.5M Topics and 32K+ Journals.

Sign Up Now! It's FREE

Talk to us

Join us for a 30 min session where you can share your feedback and ask us any queries you have

Schedule a call