Tag Archives: art

On how, and why, whole sectors of modern work were birthed from the heart and mind of the Christian church

Been very busy over the past few years, and a bad blogger – not posting much at all.

Among other pieces I’ve posted elsewhere but forgotten to link here at the Grateful To the Dead blog is this one, featured at The Public Discourse blog – run by the Witherspoon Institute at Princeton. The piece is a fairly brief meditation on what the Incarnation has meant in Western culture. It contains some ideas that I first published in the Medieval Wisdom book, and that I’m looking forward to extending in my next book. That book will most likely explore how entire sectors of human work that foster and support the material and social dimensions of human flourishing emerged ex corde ecclesia – from the heart of the church (and informed by the mind of the church!):

Christianity is so much more solid, and real, and human, than the “spiritual, but not religious” imitations of today. Christian faith touches every aspect of our lives—material, social, cultural. It does so because our God was born as a human baby in a stable and nurtured by a teenaged girl named Mary.

. . .

Out of a desire to imitate Christ’s compassion for those suffering from bodily illness, they poured the work of their hearts into a new institution called the hospital, succored (especially) the poor sick, and so birthed not only modern medicine but also our whole non-profit sector.

Out of fidelity to Christ’s command to “love God with their minds,” they poured the work of their minds into a new institution called the university, and so laid the foundation for the scientific revolution.

And out of aching devotion to the beauty of God’s holiness, imaged forth in Christ, they poured their imaginations and craft and labor into the glorious, soaring beauty of the Gothic cathedrals, and so nurtured and fostered artists in all media from then to now.

Healthcare. Education. Culture. To us, who labor in every kind and corner of modern human work, medieval incarnational faith speaks a “word in season.” It tells us:

Our bodies matter.

Our minds matter.

Our relationships matter.

Our work matters.

Dorothy Sayers on “the contemplative vocation of the artist”

Shout out to my all-time favorite female apologist (that is, a person who is female and a Christian apologist)–Dorothy L. Sayers. A neat article today by a smart young fellow I once met at the Marion Wade Center at Wheaton, named Cole Matson. Cole presents one of Sayers’s most powerful ideas: the spiritual as well as intellectual integrity of the artist/writer/dramatist:

For Sayers, the artist is a person who is called to a contemplative vocation, and who delights in sharing the fruits of that contemplation with others through the creation of artworks. Artistic creation is a necessary part of the vocation; a contemplative who is not also a craftsman is not an artist. But contrary to Lewis’ focus on an artwork’s potential value for edification, Sayers focuses on the artist’s inner delight in making as the raison d’être of artistic creation. ‘The only rule I can find,’ Sayers writes, ‘is to write what you feel impelled to write, and let God do what He likes with the stuff’[7].

[SAYERS:] Do you think that love of creation is sufficient reason to justify making art? Or do you think an artist must also consider whether or not his art will edify? If you are an artist, how do you keep yourself open to hear the words or images you may be given?

You can read the whole article here.

Glimpses of what Creation meant to medieval Christians, from Emile Male’s The Gothic Image

The First day of Creation: ivory panel from the cathedral of Salerno, ca. 1084

Oh, how the medievals loved Creation. C S Lewis once observed, “Marcus Aurelius wished that men would love the universe as a man can love his own city. I believe that something like this was really possible in the [Middle Ages].”

No one saw more clearly the medieval love affair with Creation than the early twentieth-century French medievalist Emile Male.

Way back in the mid-90s, when I was at Gordon-Conwell (and a library rat), I was browsing through a stack of books given to the community by the widow of a professor who had passed away, and I came across Emile Male’s The Gothic Image: Religious Art in France of the Thirteenth Century, tr. Dora Nussey (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1958; orig. pub. 1913). Flipping through it on that day, I gathered that it promised a key to the rich symbolic system standing behind every piece of medieval art.

Yesterday, while working on my course Medieval Wisdom for Modern Ministry (and the related book), I found myself wanting some secondary source that would explain some of the medievals’ high regard for, indeed love for and even veneration of, Creation. So out came Male–finally I’d get to read it!

What follows are a few notes from Male’s book that deal with Creation and related themes–themes readers of C S Lewis’s The Discarded Image will be familiar with: the medieval passion for sorting and ordering information; the absolute subjection to the authority of tradition, especially written tradition; the importance of scripture in forming the medieval imagination. All of these, say Male, deeply influenced medieval artists.

On the theme of what I think can fairly be called medievals’ “Creation spirituality,” Male portrays medieval artists and art as saturated in that sense of the sacramentality of all created things that Gregory the Great bequeathed to the Middle Ages—the understanding that God is continually communicating to us in everything he makes. Male takes this to be an extension of the principle of allegorical interpretation: that under the literal sense of scripture hide deeper spiritual meanings. So: “The artist, as the doctors might have put it, must imitate God who under the letter of Scripture hid profound meaning, and who willed that nature too should hold lessons for man.”

Finally, taking a tip from Michael Ward, we may find in Male’s delightful exploration of the “symbolic code” that operates in medieval art something like the sort of “secret code” that Ward believes C S Lewis used when he implanted into each book of the Narnia Chronicles the atmosphere and values of one of the mythical/Ptolemaic planets. See Ward’s Planet Narnia for that—especially the early chapter on “secrecy” as both a Lewisian and a medieval quality. However, we should remember that for medieval artists and likely the majority of their audience, the symbol system wasn’t secret. It was really sort of matter-of-fact.

So here is Male: Continue reading

Potpourri of the day: Civil War evangelists, Pool of Siloam and ancient monks’ cells discovered, the sublime Angelico, Christianity & European culture, and “the abbot and the pendulum”

Here’s another one of those “candy bowls” containing brief news items on Christian-historical topics. I compiled this one for issue 88 (on C. S. Lewis) of Christian History & Biography:

Living History
Compiled by Chris Armstrong

The War for Souls

With its own national association (www.cwreenactors.com) and magazine (www.campchase.com) serving an estimated 50,000 re–enactors in the U.S., Civil War re–enactment thrives today. However, until a few years ago, the re–enactors who worked so painstakingly to replicate each detail accurately often overlooked an entire group of participants. On the battlefields and in the camps, these men fought a different war—the war for souls—and some paid the ultimate price. They were the roughly 1,200 to 1,400 Confederate chaplains, 3,000 Union chaplains, and 5,000 Christian Commission volunteers.

Alan Farley won’t let reenactors forget the chaplains or the faith that animated them. Farley, an evangelist who began attending these events as a child in 1984, now portrays General Lee’s chaplain—and presents the gospel—at Virginia reenactments. Continue reading