Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Art and the Progressive Spirit of Christianity

“As a protestant, I might fear lest in doing so we confound the eternal spirit of Christianity with the mutable forms in which it has deigned so speak to the hearts of men, forms which must of necessity vary with the degree of social civilization, and bear the impress of the feelings and fashions of the age which produce them; but I must also feel that we ought to comprehend, and to hold in due reverence, that which has once been consecrated to holiest aims, which has shown us what a magnificent use has been made of Art, and how it may still be adopted to good and glorious purposes, if, while we respect these time-consecrated images and types, we do not allow them to fetter us, but trust in the progressive spirit of Christianity to furnish us with new impersonations of the good– new combinations of the beautiful.” (emphasis mine)

That's quite a sentence. Written in 1846 by Anna Jameson, its really interesting because she seems to believe that Art and the "progressive spirit of Christianity" will bring us into new understandings of the beautiful. I don't think I've come across anything on the subject of "Christian art history" like this. The context for this sentence comes at the end of her historical survey of the use of imagery in churches and into the museums. Here, she weds together something eternal about Christianity that is always subject to various forms, yet we ought to determine those forms according to tradition. Essentially her claim is that Art once was found in the church but has been exiled to somewhere else. Rather than getting more out of Art by liberating it in the museum, we have narrowed our experience of it as well as narrowed our experience of Christianity.

Postscript: Could it be said that the reformation forced art museums into existence? Like abortion in ghettoes of cyclical poverty? As Jean Cocteau once said: "By breaking statues one risks turning into one oneself." All this to say, Matthew Miliner is on to something with his  "post-iconoclastic calvinism". 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Suggestive Numbers on Global Christianity

In the west, it can sometimes feel like Christians are being ghettoized. But little murmurs from the global south remind us that, while the geographical pole of Christianity may be slipping at ever quickening rates from North America and Europe, it is accumulating in unprecedented levels south of the equator. Without saying anything about the quality of the Christianity being spread, it is remarkable to consider that the percentage of growth has not been seen in two millenia of Christian history (with the possible exception of 41% growth in the first two centuries).

The other component of this report will curb any triumphalism; Martyrdom is statistically on the rise as well.

Check out a summary here. For the full report, click here: International Bulletin of Missionary Research