The emerging field of theological aesthetics can be tracked as far back as Augustine in his Confessions
: 'All the affections of our soul, by their own diversity, have their proper measures in voice and song, and are stimulated by I know not what secret correspondence.' Of course, Augustine didn't work out a theology of aesthetics, per se. Historically, theological aesthetics has been practiced and understood in terms of the liturgy (symbolic acts, gestures, language) and preaching (rhetoric). Because of this, centuries of religious art trace the paradigm shifts of whole periods of theology and spiritual development. Richard Viladesau, a professor of theology at Fordham University, has undertaken a theological and aesthetical study of the cross as an aesthetic object and central paradox of the Christian faith, following it from the Patristic period through the beginning of the Reformation and Renaissance. He begins each chapter with a representation of a specific crucifix that correlates with the theological paradigm of its time, illustrating both the theological and artistic development of the cross as image and mystery. Differentiating between crucifixion as murder (physically ugly) and martyrdom (spiritually beautiful), Viladesau explores a concept of beauty deeper than image, encompassing what the poet Rilke called 'the beginning of terror' as well as what Bernard of Clairvaux termed 'the carnal love of Christ' by which Christ's humanity allows us to participate in his divinity. 214 pp.
An Eighth Day View:
From the earliest period of its existence, Christianity has been recognized as the "religion of the cross." Some of the great monuments of Western art are representations of the brutal torture and execution of Christ. Despite the horror of crucifixion, we often find such images beautiful. The beauty of the cross expresses the central paradox of Christian faith: the cross of Christ's execution is the symbol of God's victory over death and sin. The cross as an aesthetic object and as a means of devotion corresponds to the mystery of God's wisdom and power manifest in suffering and apparent failure. In this volume, Richard Viladesau seeks to understand the beauty of the cross as it developed in both theology and art from their beginnings until the eve of the renaissance. He argues that art and symbolism functioned as an alternative strand of theological expression -- sometimes parallel to, sometimes interwoven with, and sometimes in tension with formal theological reflection on the meaning of the Crucifixion and its role insalvation history. Using specific works of art to epitomize particular artistic and theological paradigms, Viladesau then explores the contours of each paradigm through the works of representative theologians as well as liturgical, poetic, artistic, and musical sources. The beauty of the cross is examined from Patristic theology and the earliest representations of the Logos on the cross, to the monastic theology of victory and the Romanesque crucified "majesty," to the Anselmian "revolution" that centered theological and artistic attention on the suffering humanity of Jesus, and finally to the breakdown of the high scholastic theology of the redemption in empirically concentrated nominalism and the beginnings of naturalism in art. By examining the relationship between aesthetic and conceptual theology, Viladesau deepens our understanding of the foremost symbol of Christianity. This volume makes an important contribution to an emerging field, breaking new ground in theological aesthetics. The Beauty of the Cross is a valuable resource for scholars, students, and anyone interested in the passion of Christ and its representation.