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§ 102. Religion and Art.


Man is a being intellectual, or thinking and knowing, moral, or willing and acting, and aesthetic, or feeling and enjoying. To these three cardinal faculties corresponds the old trilogy of the true, the good, and the beautiful, and the three provinces of science, or knowledge of the truth, virtue, or practice of the good, and art, or the representation of the beautiful, the harmony of the ideal and the real. These three elements are of equally divine origin and destiny.

Religion is not so much a separate province besides these three, as the elevation and sanctification of all to the glory of God. It represents the idea of holiness, or of union with God, who is the original of all that is true, good, and beautiful. Christianity, as perfect religion, is also perfect humanity. It hates only sin; and this belongs not originally to human nature, but has invaded it from without. It is a leaven which pervades the whole lump. It aims at a harmonious unfolding of all the gifts and powers of the soul. It would redeem and regenerate the whole man, and bring him into blessed fellowship with God. It enlightens the understanding, sanctifies the will, gives peace to the heart, and consecrates even the body a temple of the Holy Ghost. The ancient word: “Homo sum, nihil humani a me alienum puto,” is fully true only of the Christian. “All things are yours,” says the Apostle. All things are of God, and for God. Of these truths we must never lose sight, notwithstanding the manifold abuses or imperfect and premature applications of them.

Hence there is a Christian art, as well as a Christian science, a spiritual eloquence, a Christian virtue. Feeling and imagination are as much in need of redemption, and capable of sanctification, as reason and will.

The proper and highest mission of art lies in the worship of God. We are to worship God “in the beauty of holiness.” All science culminates in theology and theosophy, all art becomes perfect in cultus. Holy Scripture gives it this position, and brings it into the closest connection with religion, from the first chapter of Genesis to the last chapter of the Revelation, from the paradise of innocence to the new glorified earth. This is especially true of the two most spiritual and noble arts, of poetry and music, which proclaim the praise of God—in all the great epochs of the history of his kingdom from the beginning to the consummation. A considerable part of the Bible: the Psalms, the book of Job, the song of Solomon, the parables, the Revelation, and many portions of the historical, prophetical, and didactic books, are poetical, and that in the purest and highest sense of the word. Christianity was introduced into the world with the song of the heavenly host, and the consummation of the church will be also the consummation of poetry and song in the service of the heavenly sanctuary.

Art has always, and in all civilized nations, stood in intimate connection with worship. Among the heathen it ministered to idolatry. Hence the aversion or suspicion of the early Christians towards it. But the same is true of the philosophy of the Greeks, and the law of the Romans; yet philosophy and law are not in themselves objectionable. All depends on the spirit which animates these gifts, and the purpose which they are made to serve.

The great revolution in the outward condition of the church under Constantine dissipated the prejudices against art and the hindrances to its employment in the service of the church. There now arose a Christian art which has beautified and enriched the worship of God, and created immortal monuments of architecture, painting, poetry, and melody, for the edification of all ages; although, as the cultus of the early church in general perpetuated many elements of Judaism and heathenism, so the history of Christian art exhibits many impurities and superstitions which provoke and justify protest. Artists have corrupted art, as theologians theology, and priests the church. But the remedy for these imperfections is not the abolition of art and the banishment of it from the church, but the renovation and ever purer shaping of it by the spirit and in the service of Christianity, which is the religion of truth, of beauty, and of holiness.

From this time, therefore, church history also must bring the various arts, in their relation to Christian worship, into the field of its review. Henceforth there is a history of Christian architecture, sculpture, painting, and above all of Christian poetry and music.


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