Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Beauty Quintet

As beauty does its work of reinvigorating theology - and it's doing a fine job of it - a sort of Dionysian hierarchy of books seems to have emerged, a cascading waterfall of aesthetic reflection. Gushing its riches from the top is Balthasar's five-volume The Glory of the Lord. Down one step, but nearly as ambitious, is David B. Hart's The Beauty of the Infinite, which admits to being "extended marginalium on some page of Balthasar's work," and which furthers that project by taking on Deleuze, Lyotard, Derrida, etc. Next in difficulty might be Francesca Murphy, whose God is Not a Story and Christ the Form of Beauty sparkle in their own fashion, imparting a similar vision in a way somewhat more hospitable to initiates. Down a step further (not in quality, mind you, but accessibility) there is Aidan Nichol's Redeeming Beauty, which mercifully provides some intellectually serious cartography to the theological aesthetic turf. Contrary to theoblogger bluff protocol, I should confess that though I've made a good dent in all of these books, I haven't finished reading any of them. For those of us who aren't full time theologians, there is still need, it seems, for a wider entry point to this critical discourse of theological aesthetics, which is far too important to be left to specialists.

Fortunately for we mortals, there is Stratford Caldecott's Beauty for Truth's Sake, which places these more vaulting projects in immediate reach. In addition, it's far more wide-ranging. Caldecott aims to not only redeem theology with beauty, but quite literally everything with beauty - hence his book will appeal to those outside professional theological circles in ways that the aforementioned books probably (and most unfortunately) won't. My review of Caldecott's book was put up at Public Discourse yesterday. I urge you to read it simply because I think it's a very important book. Better yet, skip my review and just buy the thing.

It was initially disconcerting for me to realize that the beauty quintet of Balthasar, Hart, Murphy, Nichols and Caldecott (there are many more), are all interested in, if not thoroughly committed to, the analogy of being. I did not seek these authors out for that reason, but it just so happened that the theologians I find most helpful in the task of engaging non-theological disciplines, all - in one way or another - frankly confessed the importance of the analogy to their respective projects. (I'm happy to provide the exact quotations should anyone desire, but I'm wary of becoming obnoxious on what has become a perennial millinerd agenda, so I'll hold off on listing such "endorsements" for now.) Suffice it to say that if the theologians most committed to beauty as a reinvigoration of theological discourse and influence are equally attached to the analogia entis, it's probably not a coincidence.