Prof David Brown – ‘The Arts’ Critique of Theology’, delivered at the Ian Ramsey Centre – Humane Philosophy Project 2014-2015 Seminar. Chaired by Ralph Weir and Mikolaj Slawkowski-Rode.
There is a temptation in all academic disciplines to maintain self-sufficiency, and nowhere is the temptation stronger than in theology which claims to speak on behalf of God. Thus the appearance of religious belief in literature or painting is usually interpreted as purely illustrative, with nothing of special worth to teach the theologian. In this lecture Brown will challenge that claim by arguing that, so far from this being so, the arts are an indispensable ally, not least in combatting the apparent negative implications of modern changes in philosophical and cultural perspective. Four arguments will be considered: (1) the collapse of Platonic dualism and the need to find an alternative means of bridging the gap between human materiality and divine immateriality; (2) the recognition of the inadequacy of traditional arguments for God’s existence and the need for some alternative grounding; (3) acceptance of the conditioned character of all human thought and the resultant difficulty in justifying any notion of a transcendent, divine revelation and (4) acceptance of limitations to all human thought, and the resultant difficulty in interpreting some aspects of Christian doctrine. The strategy is not to offer a minimalist interpretation of Christianity but rather to suggest that, by learning from the arts, theological reflection can emerge strengthened and not weakened.
Educated at the universities of Edinburgh, Oxford and Cambridge, DAVID BROWN taught for fourteen years at Oxford and for seventeen at Durham before becoming Professor of Theology, Aesthetics & Culture at the University of St Andrews in 2007. While in his earlier academic career his main interest was in relations between theology and philosophy, in more recent years he has focused on interactions between theology and the arts and indeed culture more generally. This has resulted in a series for five books for Oxford University Press: Tradition and Imagination (1999), Discipleship and Imagination (2000), God and Enchantment of Place (2004), God and Grace of Body (2007) and God and Mystery in Words (2008). He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 2002 and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2012.
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good evening and welcome to this Iain Ramsey Center humane philosophy project seminar this is the last seminar of the Hilary term however you can find all the recordings of the previous talk and also the schedule for next term on the Ian Ramsey Center website and all the and on the humane philosophy project website which I have behind me and which is wwu main philosophy calm and the Ian Ramsey Center website is WWE as a center.com and I'll hand over to my colleague Ralph where to introduce this evening speaker thank you thank you Mick why so this evening speaker is Professor David Brown of the University of st. Andrews professor Brown was educated at Edinburgh Oxford and Cambridge he taught here at Oxford for 14 years at Durham for 17 years before becoming professor of theology aesthetics and culture at the University of st. Andrews I was saying before today's event that most of universities don't have a professorship in theology aesthetics and culture but the world would be a better place if they did of course professor Brown is also a professor all fellow of the st. Andrews Institute for theology the imagination and the arts and I think very much the same comment applies to that institution as well so clearly he's someone with great affinities in his port to the humane philosophy project and today he's going to talk to us about the arts critique of theology so please give him a very warm welcome well many thanks indeed for that welcome can those in the back hear me okay so arts critique of theology although some academics attempt to cross disciplines and do so with real enthusiasm most have a natural and understandable preference for the simpler course of truly mastering the areas they know best indeed in a world of increasing specialization it's common for such boundaries to be set within particular disciplines with historians for example making the familiar response it's not my period or theologians observing the doctrine and not Bible is their own area of competence equally with the increasingly conceptually precise nature of philosophy it often sounds like a terrain excluded even to those who once read the subject so difficult is it to break easily into some sort of understanding of the new more technical kinds of argument indeed so the steer are some special ISM that one is tempted sometimes to speculate whether the student starting out now on a particular subject has a better sense of the overall state of their chosen discipline than do any of the learner teachers who address them however in the case of theology such natural inclinations towards self containment are aided and abetted by a unique feature of the discipline that it claims in some sense to speak on behalf of God as custodians of divine revelation it would seem that nothing could possibly come from outside and stand as a corrective to what has been unveiled or disclosed by God while such a stance might have been expected from conservative theologians in actual fact often even otherwise quite liberal take a similar position insisting that what they say for instance on sexual morality is derived from biblical principles rather than at least in part through influence from the secular culture that way of course the supreme authority of Scripture is maintained but one wonders at what cost in terms of a realistic appreciation of how in fact change has come about but those wider issues are not my concern here rather what I want to do in this lecture is focus on Christians theologies relation to the arts the last couple of decades had seen a real blossoming of literature on the subject especially in relation to poetry visual art and music yet whether the writer be Catholic or Protestant liberal or conservative there has been what seems to me as surprising reluctance to admit that the traffic might go as it were in both directions instead discussion has been dominated by what might be labeled exemplar ISM the use of criteria drawn from theology to pronounce a particular work of art as good of its kind or not his role is thus seen to be at risk to enhance belief not help create it it is that position which I wish to challenge in this lecture by exploring four commonly held assumptions about the world in which we now live all four are widely believed to undermine the reasonableness of religious belief whereas I shall contend that if the illusions were to pay more attention to the arts they would see the arts as their natural allies inevitably not everything can be covered in a single lecture for so for simplicity's sake in what follows I will without further adue assume assume the truth of these four widely held positions and I do so aware that the person presiding this evening would wish to challenge immediately one of them although I speak primarily as a theologian the point is equally applicable to philosophers who write on religion a wider vision that includes the arts could ensure a more balanced assessment of the appropriate impact of contemporary philosophical writing now am I going at the right pace for everyone right so assumption one the collapse of Judaism and the appeal instead to metaphor one major problem that contemporary philosophical reflection poses for any attempt to bridge the gap between God and human beings is the fact that few intellectuals now believe in the conception of ourselves that dominated most of Christian history and which we inherited from Platonism and that is the sense of us already inhabiting two worlds technically known as Judaism it spoke of human beings as consisting of two substances mortal bodies and immortal souls and thus of us inhabited both the visible earth as the home of my matter and an invisible reality that is the home of minds ours and gods instead we have been returned to hirato also is the more common but not universal biblical picture of us as psychosomatic unities mind and body entirely interdependent with us only surviving death if at all thanks to divine action and not because of anything inherent in the way we have been made if such a conclusion excludes any sense of us already linked to heaven the invisible world that is God's the question then of course becomes acute of whether there might be an alternative way of making that connection I would suggest that reflection on the world of the arts provides just such a possibility through appeal to the imagination that is an appeal no longer to the fundamental nature of our minds but rather to how those minds work human beings learn the use of words in application to the sensible world so clearly if the jump to the divine is to be made languages will need to be stretched in analogies images and metaphors what are an effect the common tools of the imagination perhaps the relevance of the point to all the imaginative arts can be expressed most clearly by making explicit the parallel between symbol in action metaphor in writing and image in the visible arts and how the theological notion of sacramentality is based on a similar structure consider first the traditional sacraments each involves an action that by doing one thing intends another the consecration of bread and wine to become the body and blood of Christ the exchange of rings to establish a permanent relation between two individuals the anointing of a dying person's body to prepare for life in another world and so on works of the imagination irrespective of the medium appear very similarly founded the metaphors of the poet are intended to take us from one sphere of discourse to another the images of the artist from one visual image to another or sometimes quite outside the altogether while a medium like Bali is full of symbolic acts under which gestures of the body are intended to imply acts performed quite differently in ordinary life even prior to his conversion to Anglicanism in 1927 TS Eliot had already detected the importance of metaphor in helping to interconnect what otherwise might seem an unintegrated uncreated world thus in a famous essay on the metaphysical poet's he observes equating when a poet's mind is perfectly equipped for its work it is constantly amalgamating disparate experiences the ordinary man's experience is chaotic irregular fragmentary the latter the poet falls in love or reads Spinoza sorry the former the non parrot falls in larval reads Spinoza and these it to experiences have nothing to do with each other or with the noise of the typewriter or the smell of cooking in the mind of the poet however these experiences are always forming new holes in other words then as symbol is to action metaphor is to language an image to art so acts a Cremant is to religion each is trying to move us analogically to take us to a different place and so establish new holes of course in most uses of the imagination that other place remains firmly in our present world nonetheless the imagination has already accepted the principle of a move elsewhere and so may well be asked why not then to a vastly different world and so to the realm of as Jesus's use of parables illustrates or some of the extraordinary imagery and wordplay found in the prophets similes and metaphors when well used can draws from the material world into quite a different order of existence as already noted this is not at all to claim that every exercise of the imagination even implicitly evokes God but it is to observe that the imagination is it deploying precisely the same kind of tools that make talk of God it possible so however hostile to faith individual artists may be they are at least moving humanity onto the same terrain that legitimates talk of God the sacramental can thus be seen to build upon the symbolic and metaphorical in as much as they're the latter not sacramental as such it's not hard to see how the process which they utilize might might extend to the more explicitly sacramental participation of one thing in another where two there's both similarity and difference has in save earthly light taking us to heavenly light or running water to living water as in John 4 and so on indeed that very fact of difference that has opened up in analogical language and action helps to identify another key contribution that the imagination can make towards an encounter with the divine and that is the essentially open-ended character of all imagery and symbol that's to say the interpretation of such devices can be pulled in quite a number of different directions and so the question of alternative religious world can be raised even when such a thought was far removed from the intention of the artist or speaker this is because once we move beyond the literal the multivalent character of possible comparative illusions cannot be strictly controlled and indeed one might argue that it is the mark of a great poet or artist to welcome such elusive richness pointing in more than one direction so the transition to the immaterial can sometimes be imaginative Lee made even where such thoughts were far from the creator's mind and perhaps even from most of his audience or viewers so to give a visual example it seems to me that some of Francis Bacon's paintings although atheist intent in intent actually can help move our minds in the direction of God I can expand on that claim afterwards or to give a literary example think of AE Houseman's poem if in a Syrian garden a non-believer writing with skepticism about the resurrection Christ is still in his get grave that's the first verse the second verse says well even in your even if you're in heaven you're a total waste of time because you're not doing anything and so it ends with the injunction bow hither out of heaven and sea and save his point being that's precisely what Christ doesn't do but what's more moving then as I've often experienced and the liturgy for Holy Saturday singing those verses and entering into the expectation of the change that Easter day brings so a non-believer used to transform a Christians experience now the above to some might seem and suggest a purely subjective viewpoint but while obviously some interpretations might be strained this is Harley to concede that this inevitably happens when there's ever there's deviation from the majority interpretation and perhaps one might be allowed to use a poem on the relation between poetry and religion to Excel itself expressed such an account one by the contemporary Australian poet lares Murray well I think perfectly captures the snake this relation between poetry and religion fool religion is the large poem in loving repetition and God is the poetry caught in any religion court not imprisoned court as in a mirror that is attracted being in the world as poetry is in the poem a law against closure so recent proposals to restore the right hemisphere of the brain to the more central praise that is is by nature as in the neurologists Ian McGilchrist influential book the master in his emissary might suggest something deep about how God has made us with the poetic and the imaginative at the heart of who we are because it makes possible this strong link with divine non material reality despite the fact that we are fundamentally material beings it would endorse also the speculation of child psychologists like Bettelheim and Piaget who make the imagination central to child development and thus also pick up on much eighteenth century philosophy such as in herder and Hartmann for whom poetry quoting Hartmann is then native tongue of the human race in other words we learn first through the imagination through our poetic and sensibilities before we move to reason and there's a point to that so that's the end of my first point the collapse of Judaism and the turn to metaphor secondly the collapse of the alot theistic arguments arguments for God's existence and a turn to religious experience when precisely the need for proofs of God's existence came to dominate philosophical discussion and what were the main impulses for such a way of seeing things it's a matter of some contention among intellectual historians three significant books in this connection are Michael Buckley's of the origin of modern atheism Charles Taylor's a secular age and Michael Gillespie's their theological origins and modernity although they differ greatly over when precisely changed set in their common contention is that the problem begins when religious belief comes to be seen as an inference from something else rather than is self directly experienced as part of the air we breathe as it were Charles Taylor wants to blame the Reformation when there seems to be a common culture but one might equally well go back as far as Aquinas with his five proofs for God's existence and I apologize for this these comments in a Dominican house although modern attempts to disengage Thomas from later neo tome ISM of the kind typifies by original guru-guru Lagrange are largely successful the new influence from Aristotle that Aquinas made possible did after all have considerable impact in generating demands for a rational structure whereby God in effect becomes an inference rather than part of immediate human experience surprisingly such a view even became part of the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church in the nineteenth century yet even most contemporary Christian philosophers would now concede that such contentions were considerably overblown bridging the gap between the empirical world and the divine in this way by strict deductive argument was simply not the right way of going about things inevitably the decline in acceptance of the traditional proofs has brought with it much interest in religious experience with appeal to such experience now itself sometimes structured as a new form of proof and indeed I myself have engaged in such presentations here however I want my focus to be somewhat different although all such discussion has kept well clear of potential overlaps with aesthetic experience and it may seem that this was a wise intuition I would like to suggest otherwise not only because religious experiences their work by unnecessarily be much religious experiences thereby necessary excluded but also because much of the appropriate terminology for religious experience is first learnt in aesthetic context of course the analysis experience would be much simpler if religious experience always occurred in context quite separate from the aesthetic but in actual fact quite frequently their interconnections with initial religious responses for example clarified and deepened by subsequent aesthetic encounters and the kind of language and increased perceptive 'ti that they now make possible so for example one thinks of the increased awareness that painters such as painters such as constable or Friedrich make available in their landscapes constable with his sensitivity to divine imminence in scenes such as those surrounding Dedham church or Salisbury Cathedral or Friedrich with his so-called of rookin for Gordon that invite us to a similar perception to those figures with their backs to us of the divine transcendence implicit in the majestic landscape that they observe in other words my point here is that you start with an inchoate experience of God mediated through landscape these paintings they'll then help you to clarify what your experience and deepen it equally we unconceived the process at work in the opening lines of familiar poems such as jared manley hopkins god's grandeur the world is charged with the grandeur of God it will flame out like shining from Schuch foil it gathers to a greatness like the ooze of oil crushed why do men then now not wreck his rod generations of fraud of fraud of fraud and all was seared with trade bleared smeared with toil Hopkins suggestion is of an immediate experience and as such this is contrasted with the effect of trade under which trees come only to be valued for their timber and not in their own right so nature's view purely instrumentally with some further purpose and mind and not intrinsically just as it is in itself as a divine creation it is that alternative perception to which Hopkins is trying to restore us and it's by reading his poem that we have this stronger sense of God present in nature and which he argues was lost as people grow up influenced by trade but more widely culturally lost when sacramental sacramentality x' connection with Platonism was abandoned with its true primary metaphors of participation and imitation that sensed suggests nature and humanity already in some sense bridging the two domains of earthly and heavenly realities to the objection that all such connections are imposed and not discovered there is of course a long tradition of an alternative explanation of a learnt culture blinding us to the link it is two cultures wider deceptive power that Hopkins is here pointing an insight that he shared with Britain's greatest art critic of the 19th century John Ruskin part of whose counter strategy was to bring nature and art into closer relation in Ruskin's view human art was at his best with imitating nature principally because nature is a divine creation itself brought us closer to the ultimate source of all creativity indeed despite his Calvinist roots Ruskin insists that nature does not merely point to God but can itself provide experience of the divine nature say for example a seascape stretching to infinity is said not just to point to the possible possibility of a similar infinity in God it actually allows for the possibility to experience such infinity as one of the divinities own distinctive attributes in raskins own words creating light receding in the distance is of all visible things the least material the least fine art the farthest withdrawn from the earth the most typical of the nature of God the most suggestive of the glory of his dwelling place so one moves from seeing the light receding to an experience with God while that makes him sound very similar to many of his predecessors writing on the sublime in fact six different types of beauty are distinguished by Ruskin each of which is the capacity suggests to mediate a particular divine attribute infinity or in comprehensibility unity or comprehensive repose or permanence symmetry or justice purity or energy and moderation or restraint we haven't the time to go through all of these but for example repose or permanence he suggests is conjured up in our scriptures description of the everlasting Hills tis often said that such attitudes to nature cannot survive the discoveries of Darwin but even though the strength of ruskin certainty of such an intimate connection between nature and God was severely tested by Darwin's new theories it is note by no means clear why this should have been so strange creatures that had anticipated human beings were already known to the biblical authors in the form of bear moth and Lyle of Ivan and so far from finding them repulsive an author like Jobe can detect God's delight in such variety of forms more recently a poetic writer like annie dillard in her classic meditation of 1976 pilgrim at tinker creek well illustrates how even direct confrontation with nature red in tooth and claw need not undermine such a sense of divine presence within nature while frankly confessing her perplexity at nature at its most brutal brutal and wasteful as with the giant waterbug and praying mantis she insists on refusing such encounters divine decisive sway instead they are held in creative tension with how nature appears elsewhere with its author at once a spendthrift genius and someone who displays extravagance of care in other words argument remains in her view the wrong category in which to view the symbols of creation we can experience God directly in nature even if at times our encounters are quite through and of course it's not only nature that can be experienced sacramentally in this way much of human experience can similarly function as for example when human love acts as a cipher for divine love in such ideas on nature Ruskin was almost certainly influenced by Wordsworth even his favorite term types being one such boring but it's important to note that it was not just a setting experience of nature that he saw as helping to engender religious experience he also makes much the same a point about works of art such as poetry painting and architecture with expressions of infinity in a painting for example capable of occasioning a similar experience of divine infinity at this point objections are likely to come from both sides of the religious divide questioning the possibility of such experience but for quite different reasons thus on the one hand some Catholic philosophers of religion such as Brian Davis and Dennis Turner have queried what it could possibly mean to say that an individual had had an experience of God given the kind of attributes divinity is supposed to possess but weighs on this core seemed to me exaggerated since even in our ordinary human encounters with one another most experiences aspect ival in inferential it's built up gradually that's to say we build up interpretive frames rather than receive them in a single all-encompassing instance so Turner and Davis are just demanding too much even if human experience equally misconstrued as is my view is the objection for the other side that such a large religious experience through the arts are merely questionable inferences drawn from the more basic East that experience not only is such an inferential way of talking not how their rituals religious experiences characteristically described but also even non-believers exploring such experience often find themselves identifying a further layer where a religious interpretation is seen as in some way the more natural reading even though for them it must be resisted a good case in point is the distinguished music critic Wilfred Mellors exploration of the sort of music that he saw as engendering such descriptions in his book called celestial music his view is not that religious believers have confused the aesthetic and the religious rather it is that a distinctive type of experience beyond the aesthetic has been correctly identified but that it is deceptive if it's pool to any sense of an objective encounter with divine reality as accepted that most waters on offer is spiritual uplift say accepts the legitimate sea of this alternative category so my response here is that that we ought to take aesthetic experience and as a way of mediating religious experience much more seriously so now on to number three social conditioning and communication through images with the third area I want to mention it is a claim that is perhaps more prominent than those influenced by Continental than English analytic philosophy that is the whole issue of cultural condition of the way in which even despite ourselves we are caught up in the cultural assumptions of our time among analytic philosophers perhaps best known commenting on this phenomenon are the works of Richard Rorty and Alistair McIntyre but more characteristic perhaps would be contribution of people like the Frankfurt School or French philosophers such as Michel Foucault however that may be the dominant response for claims to such cultural conditioning in any form from many of the 20th century's most important theologians have been strongly hostile to insist on the radical otherness of biblical revelation as on the language of the early part of the Bible being quoting him like a flash of lighting lightning as the dissolution of all relativity it was a position that Bart modified in later life with his talk of secular parables but even then he was cautious as his correspondence with the writer Carl Zeugma in Oh indicates but the problem in any case with any such answer is twofold first it flies in the face of facts we're now all too aware of the wider cultural influence upon ourselves and of a similar pattern holding in Scripture but secondly unless God in his revelation builds on the way human beings are actually situated as conditioned it's hard to see why it's message should have any relevance to socially conditioned beings like ourselves from that concession be all too easy to draw a purely negative inference but we're thereby bound to dot some form of determinism and with it the relativism of all ideas but conditioning emphatically does not mean that human beings cannot take any steps beyond the times in which they live otherwise how would new ideas be possible what it does mean is that adding such overstepping must bear some relation to where the society as a whole has already reached in its reflections even so the most common response from theologians remains one of anxiety that to speak of the Bible in this way as conditioned however qualified is to undermine its claim to contain a divine message that transcends particular times and places equally philosophers have more often than not concluded on the opposite side as with Jurgen Habermas that in his theory of communicative action and later writings that such severe conditioning reduces the possibility of theology making any significant contribution to any wider attempt at enlightenment convergence of ideas it is here that the contribution of the imagination and of its accompaning images can once more come to the rescue for it's important to note that no biblical text stands on its own but is rather part of a continuing tradition of interpretation thus as the existence of duplicate narratives demonstrates evident even from the first three chapters of the Bible new ways of telling foundational stories arise as do fresh treatments of particular metaphors and symbols it is thus quite untrue that present context alone shapes meaning in the Bible instead what we have is a meaning that as prior to present context and subsequent to it then also be at least to a degree transcendent a particular place and time indeed this can also help explain why close attention to earlier strands of tradition can bring his own distinctive spiritual rewards the interest lies not in the fact that those earlier strands somehow are as already transcendent realities escaped conditioning but rather that because of being part of good tradition they can preserve insights that may have been distorted or lost through later handling of the same images or symbols equally such an appeal to a tradition of imaginative symbols can also help us deal with the more limited or Kanata kundur standing of Christ consciousness that has been forced upon us by conclusions in biblical scholarship here again it might look initially as though the new way of seeing things presents a major challenge to the transcendence of Jesus in his message but another way of reading that same evidence is to say that he now becomes more effectively a savior by sharing in precisely the same sort of conditioning that humanity in general ensures moreover although Jesus was born into such a very Pacific culture and time because it was part of a developing tradition a whole host of imaginative ideas were available to him as he was growing up that would not have been present or not present to the same degree in earlier generations and in other parts of the world among them for example the suffering servant the kingdom of God the Passover lamb and so on one theologian who made much of this fact was Austen Farah in his pioneering 1948 work the glass of vision for Farrah such imagery became the primary vehicle of Revelation with Jesus creatively shaping the imagery he has inherited to his own unique sense of mission if that is so to adopt post Vatican two's talk of Christ as sacrament would be to speak of Jesus drawing on the images and metaphors of his time to help bridge the two worlds human and divine in a way that allowed not only his own real creative participation in both worlds but also a similar participation to though for those who came after him as the images continue to acquire new residences resonances and meaning so the total effect of conditioning is is overcome by the fact that the Bible and subsequent history is set in the context of a tradition that is powerful more powerful than any particular moment of time or place then finally limits of human knowledge and complementary image the final modern change of perspective to which I wish to draw attention where the arts might be relevant to theology is on the question of limits to human knowledge Kant provided a famous positive spin on his assertion of such limits by asserting in the critique of Pure Reason that he was abolishing knowledge to make room for faith many theologians who have followed can't have ended up however with what can only be described as a very minimal version of Christianity that's not my intention here not least since Kant standards for knowledge can themselves be questioned what I want to do instead is set by set side by side the continuing theological search for a very tight actual system enshrined in the terminology that is now largely replaced Christian doctrine terms such as dogmatic theology systematic theology or its most recent variant analytic theology said that on one side and how poets and artists have in fact treated the stories and metaphors that they have inherited from the Christian tradition the the intention I must emphasize is not as a way of reducing ontological commitments Christ's divinity for example can in my view pre be proclaimed no less effectively in a powerful metaphor or in the symbolism of a particular painting as in any more straightforward assertion of a fact rather my point is that not all elaborations into system aren't necessarily an advantage implausible premises may be required to keep the whole thing together whereas left at the level of complementary metaphors mutual enrichment may be the net result that is to say put more bluntly sometimes there may well be a category mistake involved in pushing the language of the imagination the metaphors and other images of Revelation too far in the direction of a more narrowly defined concept and that is what may well explain some of the less profitable disputes that have occurred in the history of theology take for example the doctrine of the atonement how we're reconciled to God through Christ conventional histories talk of the dominance of different theories at different periods of history but still on the assumption that one must necessary give one theory must necessarily give place to another well that's how theories operate why should we think of the Christus Victor approach of Luther as necessarily an alternative to Athanasius sacrificial account or even a van some satisfaction theory as requiring to be placed in opposition to Calvin's you emit early in some cases there's a formal logical structure most obviously so in the past in the case of Anselm's cur Deus homo why God became man but there's no shortage of examples for more recent times as well in many a philosopher and theologian but the more interesting question in my view is whether the defensible element in all these theories in inverted commas lies in their formal structure or in the imagery and whether it has been appropriately applied or not if their strength lies in the imagery then it could be the case that the apparently opposing elements of imagery could actually be used to complement one another rather than be brought into conflict after all the key thing about metaphor is they're not or every aspect of it is true and so apparent conflict need not imply actual and that's one way of reading the New Testament where a great range of images are used without any parent sense of opposition these include for example include example penalty ransom rescue sacrifice salvation satisfaction substitution victory indeed that very variety is one reason why this approach was adopted the last time the Church of England's Doctrine Commission was asked to report an atonement in 1995 nor it should be noted as this to say that necessarily we now know less about the atonement that one was once thought in terms of tight formal argument this is no doubt true but so far from the metaphors cancelling each other out one is every reason to believe that an enrichment of understanding with a net result if careful attention is given to the metaphors mutual complementarity thus sacrifice and satisfaction judgment and moral stimulation and so on as a matter of fact no particular version of the atonement was ever officially sanctioned by the church even so the attempt by theologians to advance particular theories did generate major problems for the church as for example with penal substitution so the retreat from formal argument to complimentary image could certainly lead not only to enrichment of vision but also to a more irenic discussion one other example which may help much post-war discussion of the doctrine of the Trinity has been dominated by two rival models for understanding one structured in terms of a society of persons the other is a matter of internal relations within a single person early in my career I rate in favor of a social model but as the years of advanced I've also shown some sympathy for the other model either it was writing on artistic images for the Trinity that has led me to question whether either model could ever offer the complete truth or recently Sarah Coakley has written also on artistic images but it's somewhat greater lens however our two approaches are quite different Coakley comes to the images with certain advanced expectations and measure the images in their light as for instance in our insistence on the images of the Spirit being of comparable size to the other two persons and the father-son relationship being less obviously gendered so as to be more effective in including women in relationship to God my interest was rather in what the artists did with the existing tradition the other way around in others in other words and so the related possibility that they might actually have something useful to teach theologians Mac cochlear artists were often concerned to produce a more adequate image for the spirit but their desire to remain loyal to the existing tradition of representation meant that in general they adopted an alternative solution to the problem of presenting this but equality visually instead the spirit remained as a dove but was now allowed to reside either in the center with the other two persons either side as Ana famed famous painting by Titian or else floating above them both as an another famous painting by Jorah as a result the order of begetting and processing may well have been forgotten but in defense one may observe that a single image is unlikely to be able to say everything about the trinity within a single frame more pertinent here though is how artists have approached the two rival models are mentioned above for what one soon discovers that any accurate matching of one model against one particular form of representation is impossible let's consider first paintings in which the three Trinitarian persons is represented as some kind of society what quickly becomes apparent is that what is actually primarily being expressed is their relations to one another rather than them simply as three so for example in the famous ganaron stool or mercy seat images that were hugely popular over several centuries what we find is the father sitting on the mercy seat of the Old Covenant as he hells the xposed crucified son lovingly in his arms with his spirit as dove hovering between them as the indispensable link between them both while thus failing to correspond completely with the creedal version of the divine relations is nonetheless clearly on relations that the image is primarily focused with the choice of symbols secondary to those relations in other words the point is the divine unity in the decision of the Cross equally in cases where a single identity is stressed in imagery as where you might make comparisons with the repeated affirmations of the same attributes in the Athanasian Creed more often than not what we find is that a single image is actually pulling to a more corporate or societal form certainly this seems the intention we're three identical mysterious human forms are presented but is equally true where there's only one single form human form but with three heads such images are frequently misunderstood and not only in our end day in 15th century Florence st. Antoninus the Bishop of the time led a campaign against them this is a single three heads joined as one he read a campaign against such images on the ground that they were contrary turin country to nature he did not quite succeed in limiting them all have as some have survived to this day even from his own day as in a famous painting by Andrea del Sarto but a greater irony lies in the fact that the advocates of such images so far from being worried by the Contra nature objection would almost certainly have taken the comment as a compliment since that was precisely their primary aim to assert that the Trinity is going beyond anything we can learn from nature perhaps the point can be made clearer by looking at comparable images in the pre-christian pagan world there it is not just God's in human shape to which this reduplicating of form is applied but also those of animal appearance an additional horn for example being provided if you've got a bull the aim was thus I suggest primary intended to indicate intensifying power that is more than animal more than human so similarly then and the Christian context the attempt was meant to imply the more than purely human the inadequacy of any analog at all with a single human mind of course that does not necessarily entail more than one mind but it does call into question any notion that the divine mind and human mind are in any obvious sense comparable so the one one attempt just went to in short it looks as though reflection on artistic images for the Trinity might lead one to question whether there is any absolute opposition between the two types of approach that have dominated discussion since the Second World War rather neither is adequate on its own to the task both analogies will inevitably fare at some point precisely because that's what analogies do but rather than lamenting the fact we should acknowledge some merits in each of the two alternative approaches for the divine mind just doesn't follow either pattern instead whichever analogy we start with it will still need some complementing by its opposite and so to my conclusion what I have sought to argue in considering these four common assumptions in contemporary philosophy is that theology need not be afraid of any alleged consequences provided that is it takes seriously the arts as one of its potential partners and in making that claim I also intend to suggest that philosophers who write about religion also need to be more widely alert to such a potential contribution since God is mediated not just through a revelation that is inherent in Scripture and in formal philosophical reflections but in all the ways our minds work including the imagination and the undoubted contribution that the imagination can bring thank you thank you very much professor Brown for a deeply inspiring an exciting talk we now have time for questions so I I see under Pinsent already raising his hand if you could if you could wait until the microphone gets to you before you start addressing your question and now we'll bring the microphone to you when I when I point you out so andr Pinson first and then we have a question at the back thank you very well thank you very much it was inspiring talk there's one theme I didn't hear that I thought would come in at least three points so the theme of grace grace as nature transformed or transfigured and the reason why I thought it was going to come in is because first of all in art so a thousand years of art in the Western tradition was not just about painting nature and seeing God but painting the concretely given supernatural and seeing God so you got you got the Incarnation you've got the Saints and so on but I get some 19th century the Saints have largely been taken out or you just got landscapes so so it's the grace element missing when you talk about Catholic theology 19th century affirming the proofs of God's existence I'd like to add a nuance because they did affirm the existence of God core nature not quad grace not not quite as Trinity and and again Aquinas is the same you can't prove the Trinity so so there's a distinction there again with the great grace grace would would help and then the final point about that contra not everything beyond nature could automatically be good of course and here again grace is an important issue because you've got two strands in the Western tradition you've got the the supernatural as understood by Cass grace transforming nature we also gotten each Nietzsche's version of the Superman that he got you got the desire for power and and so I think the bishop was right to be cautious about some images of the Trinity thank you well there's rather a lot there so I don't think I can ask answer is Hall I in defense of my critique of sense Antoninus I I think he was too heavily influenced by the Renaissance yeah I mean you're quite right that not all going beyond nature I'm good but I think he becomes so influenced by and the Renee's on painting roundabout that he thought it has to be natural and so that's what's going wrong there on the question of grace I think I ever since I was an undergraduate I think I've been persuaded by Ron or on the subject of grace and if you remember Ron uh said that nature is in Germany RESPA Griff a remainder concept so nature is an artificial construct because God is always there addressing us and in our world and so it's not that you have to bring him in and that's one of the great mistakes that Catholic theology made at one point in his history and strongly separating so in terms of Constable's painting and and Friedrich and so on I'd want to say grace is already there and they're detecting God at work in nature so that that be the position I'd adopt father white um professor thank you for your talk there were a lot of very profound and erudite points and I was very sympathetic to many of the positive proposals you gave regarding art and I think that actually from those within the Catholic tradition they would not be controversial points in many ways and at least many of your positive proposals are things that Catholics would take for granted but I think from that point of view also one would wonder if you post a number of unnecessary opposition's I mean it was interesting to me that you sort of argued against thinking about the immateriality of the soul which by the way Catholics would never call dual substances that's a condemned heresy of the Catholic Church where only one substance even if there's a immortal soul in forming a body but that's not in opposition to thinking artistically about how the spiritual life enriches the perception of material forms or how spiritual life plays out through the human playfulness in in the senses and so you know likewise with your second point the answer to the problem of demonstrations of the existence of God in classical metaphysics is to retreat to art but on the other hand I mean the Catholic tradition traditionally sees these as mutually enriching it might be very difficult for many people to come to a clear sort of set of metaphysical views about the world and especially God but I mean that's why we have art to help us lift up the mind to that direction I mean it seems to me the Catholic tradition has held a better kind of poise about avoiding opposition's between a kind of Swiss kind of austerity of conceptuality against icons versus a kind of an artistic standpoint that I would wonder it doesn't mean a little towards the anti intellectual or the anti conceptual the Catholic Church holds these two things together successfully for so long well I can't we hold that model some kind of both an model of metaphysics and art so my intention was not to attack metaphysics but just say that there are ways in which current metaphysical assumptions are thought to undermine Christian belief but that is not necessarily the case if you think about artistic contributions if you think along those lines so I have no objection to continuing to write about philosophy of religion or whatever so this is not as an alternative to metaphysics is pointing out how it can be enriched I think though on your point about attitudes to the soul I mean you're quite right about what Aquinas says but that is of course Grannis isn't the only person who's written in the history of the Catholic Church so I think you're now dealing with technicalities rather than the way in which people think and then in terms of perhaps there isn't a mr. or mrs. average but in terms of the way which ordinary people think it would be true that most Christians whether Catholic or Protestant if you'd asked in the nineteenth century would have thought of themselves as having a soul that somehow hives off I think that could be proved by reading ordinary literature now that's different well what the official teaching is but I think if we looked at a massive literature you know from in ordinary writing as to Dec from professional theologians that would be the and I'm not making a point particularly against Catholicism rarely because as equally true in the Protestant side so Westminster Confession for example and one of its clauses say says that all human beings have an immortal soul but the point I'm trying to get at for sorry I think we're talking across purposes is that most people think that there isn't anything Ives off but that's an impossible metaphysical believed so I'm saying from the point of view of argument let's assume that that's right where then do we go from there and my point was even if it is the case that there's nothing in us that can hive off then there are still ways of making the connection between our materiality in God's and that's where the arts come in so that was the structure of my argument not to say you're wrong but to say really rich um I'm I've been trying to piece together potential links between maybe different categories that you might have just to try understand you better um there seem to be some links between narrative and sensation and then something else between imagination and what maybe things in themselves to me if I understood you narrative Li narrativity is strongly associated with the aesthetic but is it not also or alternatively associated with the sense that with the sensory and if it is then well maybe that might cast into doubt some of your assertions about maybe that might cast into doubt some of your assertions about some the role of the aesthetic secondly narrative Li narrativity is strongly associated with the imagination but in your view is it not also perhaps mind-independent narrativity is that not also something that is in your picture well I think that the arts addressed themselves to different sorts of things and in the case of poetry one key issue then is metaphor and simile and so on narratives are different kettle of fish and they may have those books you don't miss us with those but they are still ways of relating to something other than ourselves that we often negotiate just as we discover new things through metaphor so a dramatic metaphor enables us to comprehend you might not comprehend so narratives can have that the funk said Jesus parables is an obvious example they tell stories that enable us to see ourselves of different sort of way but I think that's equally true word much more ordinary event so one reason it seems to me for the popularity of soaps in Britain is that are a way of people ordinary people trying to think into circumstances that were finding problematic so I got a gay son what am I to do then this there's a story about that he sandals or something and then you through thinking into narrative that you managed to engage with alternative possibilities so it seems to me that narrative like metaphor can move us into a different world so that's what I was thinking narrative thank you um I just wonder what you think about how we can experience or someone can experience the sacred by looking at some but by looking by being in front of a painting which is completely abstract for example I'm thinking for example Kandinsky or so what is it in there which is completely it's not it's not religious as such it's just colors and what happens there between the picture and the person that the experience can be religious I I think they I seem to be losing my voice I think they can move from one thing to another from a new SETI experience to a religious one so if you think of say the paintings of Rothko and Newman abandoned Newman there are abstract paintings they both thought that they had the power to evoke a sense of the divine as well as give any setting experience so the ex that aesthetic experience might be in terms of the depth of the canvas so with Rothko a single color that nonetheless turns out to be multiple shades and so you have annex an experience of how wonderful a single color can be but then it also brings depth and so seems to pull you to something that says well the painting isn't the end of it that's perhaps clearer in Roth in Barnett Newman's paintings with the Zipp you know the narrow line in his paintings and and that's notion of unexplored possibilities so you're looking at the surface but you also are there's something pulling you deeper and it's certainly true we've returned to European abstract painting with some like Mondrian so Mondrian began his life as a devout Calvinist his son of a man's and painting nature but finding crucifixions and windmills and that kind of thing but then he he is influenced by theosophy to say the world is they have very simple principles on what what God has founded the world and so you simultaneously have the aesthetic experience of the simple structure of color and rectangles there then pulls you he hopes tear realization of the world is fundamentally like this that God has produced an extraordinary ordered but very simple world and then he changed his mind as you may know at the end of his life with New York boogie-woogie where he then says no it's not like this is more like jazz it's far more dynamic I've discovered and gods really sounds almost patronizing Bridget like he's more exciting or something but you can see how it's a different experience from just saying hasn't he spent hours moving all these tiny little bits of paper and sticking them in different places and trying to get the colors match and your aesthetic experiences gosh hasn't he got those colors perfectly balanced or whatever but that your religious experiences are saying that he's saying something wonderful about the world and the back in turn about God thank you for your very inspiring talk in his book faith and wisdom in science tom McLeish quotes George Steiner are saying only arts can go some way towards making accessible towards waking into some measure of communicability the sheer inhuman other nurse of matter and what I found interesting was that although he reaches the same conclusion about the indispensability of art it's not to get us from human materiality to define a materiality but from human a materiality to the material world so my question was can art helpers in both directions from materiality to materiality and the other way around well that's a deep question but I'm not sure if I got an immediate answer can I think about it thank you very much professor Brown for that and so much in there and I too was one of your kind of asides that got me thinking that was the comments about father Gary cooler grouch and I actually think father Gehrig who had a much more sacramental ontology of creation than did somebody like father sure knew who we would associate with very salsa more and but it got me thinking about was metaphor and whether because we can see how how metaphors if you like give us a bound read way into unbound read realities for example the passage of time as a metaphor that gives us a way of empirically modeling temporality I wondered if the category of the sacrament might actually drive a process of reflection within the arts on the relationship between metaphor in city and literality and whether actually we might come to see if we want to have something more like a sacramental ontology paradoxically such as Gary coos that we might actually want to consider metaphor as a kind of properly basic way of linguistically inhabiting the world rather than a kind of literal ostensive definition approach to language well again that's a perfect I'm just getting tired by geta I think that again is it a deep question and paul recurves view was that all languages metaphorical and so I'm not sure if that's true but there's there's certainly a lot more around and I think part of the problem is where I think it would be a richer world if we were more aware of it where it is there so dead metaphors can still actually be allowed more force than and so on and I mean I think there's also true and in the way there's sacraments are taught as well that that people can get used to them just being literal rather than and they see that is a way of defending them when in fact their power is that they have this metaphorical base and and and I think this is a problem that is dogged analytic philosophy that getting to the literal is what really counts whereas in my view I think the metaphorical can actually contain the deeper truth and you actually lose a huge amount by cashing it in as it were it means a very good book by Janet's Oscars in defense of metaphor but I think it's I think this is a quite deep problem that we've got that both unless I mean it's a sort of attitude to a poem that once I've know what it means I can throw it aside so now I've told you that what's meant by the reference to trade in God's grandeur where you say oh well I've got that prayer but it have to read that one again whereas part of the point of the poem is the metaphors are such and the rhythm is such that you're drawn into an experience that you won't be drawn into if you just translated as prose and that be true of something like music I mean that you need to hear pieces again and again and they become richer I remember when I moved to to Durham from Oxford I was still at that stage very much 19th century and onwards lover of music and I then found I had to listen to 16th century church music day after T this they are dreadful have to do this and then you know the longer you did it the more you began to get into it and then you realize no you can't do without it you've gained something but the business this is I think equatorial poetry and all the Arts in this is why people go back again and again to not obviously the Bible if we're Christians but to great works of literature you know why people read warm piece a dozen times or you know the sort of person who reads all six novels of Jane Austen if you hear whatever you are is because new things emerge and they can't be translated so I think you're exactly right I knew there are more questions in the audience but we have run out of time I just wanted to make a comment on the last line there about Jane Austen Gilbert Ryle was once asked if he reads novels at which he replied yes all six every year a humane man and so if you enjoyed this evenings talk you should most certainly come back next term when we're going to have three more talks in this ongoing series organized by the humane philosophy projects in the in Ramsey scent of science and religion you might be particularly interested to come to our final talk which is by Herbert Dreyfuss and he's going to tell us about how dost yeskey teaches us how to how to save the sacred from science so something extremely relevant tonight's topic do please stay and have some more refreshments before you eventually leave this evening but before that please thank once again I'll speak for this evening for an extremely interesting