This is totally random fit of inspiration I had today at lectures. We were considering the Trinity and the lecturer showed us some works of art which have tried to depict the Trinity through the centuries. – It was a great lecture delivered by Fr Richard Conrad OP, part of an even more splendid series organised by Fr Andrew Davison and Mrs Lucy Gardner.
I got myself thinking about iconography, theology and what they respectively try to say to the world. However, it is very difficult to make a proper distinction between the two. How? Very simply indeed. If theology can be expressed in words and ink (in the materiality of words and in the ink-iness of ink) it should also be possible to express theology through paintings and other works of art (including music, cinema, dance etc...). On one hand it is easy to see why the nouveau puritaines of the postmodern age would want to ignore religious (and non) iconography; if arts do not point beyond themselves they risk to become idolatrous or redundant. On the other hand, this risk is shared by words and ink also. Words and theology can become stale, inward-looking and self-justified; when this happens they too become ‘idolatrous’ and empty. To steal the words of a fellow theologian: “Sometimes the theology can really get in the way of the beauty of the gospel" (J Penduck 3rd Dec 2009).
If our arts, our theologies and indeed the whole of our lives are disconnected from God; if we don’t point beyond ourselves then we fail to do justice to our Christian vocation – God knows I failed many, many times in this sense! – As Jesus says “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). There is no point in stigmatising paintings and in order to exalt paper and ink...
“the end of the matter, all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments.” (Eccl. 12:13)