Sunday, September 25, 2005

Die horse, die!

Considering my past remarks (surely you've read them), this may sound like the beating of a dead horse - but oh how I wish it were dead. The horse being the strange idea that creativity, hymnody, imagination and liturgical panache are behind one door, and dry dull dogmatic "orthodoxy" is behind another - and you only get to open one.

Take the words in the foreword to an otherwise excellent collection of excerpts from the works of John and Charles Wesley:
"I am convinced that, should I be sentient at death's door, the last words on my lips will not be words of scripture or creedal formulation but the half-remembered words of some hymn deeply engraved upon my heart... If it is somewhat heretical for a preacher to concede that hymnody is more important than theology in the shaping of belief and experience, I confess that I was a church musician before I was a minister" (xi).
I'm sure the remark was merely rhetorical, but it illustrates a thoroughly Kantian division of form and content that I just can't swallow. I'm too, yes, here he goes again, get ready, wait for it... postmodern for that.

As a rebuttal to this strange dichotomy between dogma and art, a dichotomy which by the way can only make sense of approximately (to be generous) 0.02% of art in the history of human civilization, allow me to call to mind a couple of tunes myself. Paul, in encouraging the church in Phillipi and Collasae (both times surely to avoid being considered a theological bore) quotes hymns. And both of the hymns are (like Charles Wesley's!) impregnated with theological claims, dripping with orthodox affirmations of, dare I say, doctrine.

In fact, one might suggest that it is the very beauty and wonder-inspiring quality of the theologically orthodox claims that inspired such worthwhile hymns. Good beliefs then make for good art. (Yes I know that such is not always the case, but my point I think still stands.)

By the way, because both Phillipians and Colossians can be dated from the mid to late 50s, and because in both cases the quoted hymns were quite likely in circulation well before the letters were produced - we have testimony to a very high Christology (e.g. "in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell" Col. 1:19), very early on (less than twenty years after the crucifixion).

No word yet on what that does to Dan Brown's thesis that the divinity of Christ was invented by Constantine in 325AD.