Friday, July 06, 2007

The Glory of the Lord

Six of the brothers took a couple of days away in order to flee the mayhem of Independence Day in Bridgeport. Whenever I travel, I take the opportunity to read something I wouldn't otherwise. As many of you know, I have been reading (and even lecturing) a good deal of late in the sociology of religion and ritual. Mostly my work has been based on the analysis of Mary Douglas and Peter Brown (i.e. The Body and Society). However, I decided to go back a bit more to the source and read, for the first time straight through, Emile Durkheim's classic Elementary Forms of the Religious Life.

In Book One, I came across this toss away sentence:
"The idea of majesty is essentially religious."

What struck me is that he wrote this in 1912. It wasn't until 1961 that von Balthasar published the first volume of his "Theological Aesthetics," The Glory of the Lord, in which he sought to recover beauty as a live concept in theology. He recognized that it was the transcendental that had been laid aside, precisely because it is "the last thing which the thinking intellect dares to approach." If I may gloss on this, theologians had been so interested in controlling their enterprise with Thomistic expatiations on Truth and Goodness, that they forgot to worship God in awe.

On the other hand, anthropologists have been able to see the importance of the aesthetic for far longer than theologians. I would like to suggest that it is still the case. This is why I personally find a certain nourishment in reading Dame Douglas, Victor Turner, Mircea Eliade and recent Biblical criticism, especially the type that focuses on mythology. The best representative of this school for me is Jon D. Levenson. (Is there a coincidence that two of these four just named used to teach at my alma mater?)

When I refer to 'the aesthetic', I should make clear that I mean to cover a whole range of startling manifestations of God's beauty and awesomeness. Aside from these two nouns, we could add to the constellation of meaning the following: majesty, glory, holiness, sacredness, fear, trembling, fascination, delight, mystery, infinity, power, terror. The young man who comes face to face with the most beautiful woman he has ever seen is stunned into speechlessness. Are we ever stunned by the beauty of God? If not, are we not missing something 'essentially religious?'

No comments:


This blog is published with ecclesiastical approval.

If I, who seem to be your right hand and am called Presbyter and seem to
preach the Word of God, If I do something against the discipline of the Church
and the Rule of the Gospel so that I become a scandal to you, The Church, then
may the whole Church, in unanimous resolve, cut me, its right hand, off, and
throw me away.

Origen of Alexandria
Locations of visitors to this page