The Beauty of the Cross
The Passion of Christ in Theology and the Arts, from the Catacombs to theEve of the Renaissance by Richard Viladesau
1. The Beauty and the Scandal of the Cross, 3
2. The Cross in the New Testament and the Patristic Paradigm, 19
3. The Monastic Paradigm and the Romanesque Style, 57
4. The Theology of High Scholasticism and Gothic Art, 87
5. Nominalism, Naturalism, and the Intensification of Passion
Appendix: Web Sites for Viewing Artworks, 174
by Richard Viladesau
This volume represents the first part of a study of the concept and the symbol of the cross in Christian theology and imagination. Eachof the chapters will examine the theology of the cross in both its conceptual and aesthetic mediations within a specific historical context, from the early church to the eve of the Renaissance.
The first chapter is methodological. After explaining the notion of aesthetic theology and its relationship to theoretical, conceptual theology, it sets forth the specific problem to be examined here: the Christian perception of “the cross”—that is, the suffering and death of Jesus—as a salvific event. Finally, it deals with the ideas of paradigms, styles, and classics that will guide the progress of the book’sexposition.
The following chapters attempt to correlate theological paradigms of interpretation of the cross—that is, a particular aspect of Christian soteriology—with artistic styles that were more or lesscontemporaneous with the theological ideas of each paradigm, or that illustrate a parallel theological attitude.
Each chapter begins with a representation of the crucifix that in some way exemplifies the focus of the chapter. There follows an examination of themes from representative theological writings on soteriology and a consideration of artistic developments that are to some extent parallel, or that can be seen to embody similar themes and reactions to the cross. The general method, then, is one of correlation between two kinds of interpretation of the Christian tradition and of human experience: between theology as explicit systematic
thought and as affective and communicative images. The justification and general principles of a method that takes the aesthetic realm as a theological locus have been expressed in my previous works, and here willonly be briefly summarized.
Within the aesthetic realm, this volume will emphasize especially visual and poetic art, both liturgical and nonliturgical. Poetry (including especially the texts of hymns) often provides a clear but also imaginative and affective expression of theological ideas. Visual images of the passion can also be correlated to general theological themes; but, as we shall see, their connection to more particular theories of salvation is often ambiguous. The illustrations will allow us to look closely at several classical works that are representative of larger movements in art. Other visual artworks referred to in the text unfortunately
cannot be reproduced here; but in an appendix I refer the reader to various
Web sites where they may be viewed.
This book is intended for a general audience: educated lay people, students, artists who wonder about theology, theologians who have little knowledge of the arts. But I hope it may also to be of use to scholars who wish to pursue the topic further. Hence I have included footnotes not only to indicate my sources and occasionally to suggest further lines of thought but also to provide a number of significant theological quotations in their original language.
Finally, it should be noted that my ultimate project is one of systematic theology. This book is not intended as a text in historical theology, per se, nor, a fortiori, as art history. It is rather an exploration of historical themes, ideas, and images that are the necessary background to a contemporary theology of the cross. I have therefore not pursued in detail many questions of dating, influence, and context that would be important to the historian. On such topics, this book needs the complement of more detailed studies by specialists. On
the other hand, this volume remains within the realm of exposition of historical data, and within a limited period. A projected future volume will extend this study from the Renaissance to the contemporary era, and will undertake the further task of correlation of these historical data with contemporary intepretations of Christian experience.