Volume 17, Issue 2, Autumn 2012
The Beauty of Christian Art
This paper deals with beauty as we encounter it in Christian works of art. Three main points are argued: (i) beauty, as it appears in the Christian work of art, is an invitation to delight and gratitude; (ii) beauty, as we encounter it in the Christian work of art, asks of us both the deepening of discernment and the cultivation of desire; (iii) beauty, as it is manifested in the Christian work of art, is not created by the artist but is bestowed as a gift of God. Firstly, beauty must be recognised as giving delight. In defending this claim, the paper argues against theories which identify beauty with pleasure, and which devalue or dismiss beauty based on this false identification. Further, beauty does not only give, but also—as a gift—makes a claim upon us. Gratitude is the appropriate response to beauty’s gift. Secondly, beauty as manifested in beautiful particulars embedded in the material and cultural world requires discernment. Moreover, we must embody a real receptiveness to beauty—by becoming beautiful ourselves—through the cultivation of desire. A full response to beauty entails the reorientation of our vision as well as our volition towards the infinite beauty of God. Thirdly, though beauty is manifestly present in made-made objects, it is so as a gift of God. This understanding is supported by emphasising the Trinitarian nature of beauty. It is proposed that beauty is best identified not with the Son but with the Holy Spirit.