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Acts 19:11 & 12 And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons from his body were brought unto the sick, and the diseases departed from them and the evil spirits went out of them.”

I have a question about art as a secondary cause.

etc . . .

Let me preface my comments by saying this: A lot of Americans are more likely to be skeptical of anything miraculous — whether by an image or otherwise — than many other parts of the world. Whenever something of a miracle is cited in the media, I'm always amused at how the experts they interview (often people from the sciences) are trying to pin it down and explain it. But isn't the defintion of a miracle something which defies natural laws?

A friend of mine from Cali, Columbia once pointed out how much easier it was to say something in English than his native spanish, because (American) English gets right to the point. It isn't so flowery. That is to say that we have very practical roots in the U.S. And this doesn't always mix with the miraculous (any lack of faith not withstanding). And the whole "pull yourself up by your own bootstraps" mentality may factor in as well.

Does anyone see the chance of this sort of thing happening in any of the churches that are attempting to re-integrate art back into the church?

Strangely, my first reaction is that of concern. I don't want people to begin idolizing or worshipping anything other than God Himself. This may be in my mind for two reasons. 1) I'm still reading through the first section of CrimsonLine's paper, which has mainly dealt with idolotry and images. 2) I experienced a moment of disconnect this morning when the alarm went off, and the local Christian radio station's DJ said the words "American Idol." Didn't sit well with me . . .

My second reaction is one of a more personal nature. I grew up in non-denominational churches, and wasn't around icons. At all. My ignorance of icon and church history is embarrasing even today, although I guess one can't know it all;)

I won't say it can't happen. But from my pew (or moveable, stackable chair as it were) that's a long long-shot. Personally, I don't see a thorough reintegration of the visual arts back into the Church in America for another 25 years? at least, let alone such miracles in the American Church. Some congregations will obviously make it there sooner, but others don't even have the concept yet.

Then again, this could be the all-too-practical American in my speaking. But it's not too big for God to pull off if it's in His Kingdom plans.

Are we too afraid of the power of images? The power of God?

I don't know how to answer this. I've never thought of it before. In no way will I deny the power of images; and of course not the limitless power of God. It's worth pondering, but I don't have an answer because the idea of being afraid of an image has not entered my mind.

Would you, as an artist, approach painting differently if you knew that your work could possibly become such a channel for God’s power?

I hope not.

I hope that I already strive to do the best that I can in my work: intellectually and in my craft. In fact, I would be worried that the knowledge of this possibility would cause me to use what I create in a manipulative way (I don't think this isn't really in my character, but I am human).

I already believe that my work is a channel for God's power, bearing witness of Creation, Christ, etc. I know that isn't exactly what you're proposing; I'm not saying that I believe my work is a channel for the miraculous in particular. And if ever such a miracle were to occur in conjuction with one of my sculptures, I think I would credit God and downplay the entire thing (The other option would be to milk it for all the publicity it's worth! Which would be the corrupt and earthly option.).

Edited by Chashab

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Strangely, my first reaction is that of concern. I don't want people to begin idolizing or worshipping anything other than God Himself.

I think you have a good concern and I don't think it is yours alone. One of the babies that got thrown out with the bath water during the reformation is the whole idea of secondary causes. A secondary cause is something other than God that he uses to make his will done in the world. Of course God can make things happen without secondary causes such as parting the red sea, etc. but even then he has Moses holding up his staff the whole time. Why have Moses hold up his staff? Why not just part the sea. Or the Brass Serpant is an even closer type as here we have a graven image that God uses to heal people bitten by snakes. It is intersting to note that the secondary cause, the brass serpant, used rightly in the desert becomes an idol later on and it is destroyed.

The principle at work is that God alone is powerful but works through things. When the thing itself, independent of God, is viewed as a repository of power it becomes an idol.

When we look at modern art-most artists value their freedom and independence above everything. The art produced in it's independence and objectivity, it's denial of sacrementality, comes close to making it an idol.

Edited by Jim Janknegt

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The principle at work is that God alone is powerful but works through things. When the thing itself, independent of God, is viewed as a repository of power it becomes an idol.

This is undeniable, per the Scripture you already cited. I would add that He also works through people, humans, without the aid of images or staffs.

The three-dimensional nature of humanity seems to be lost in this digital age

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This is undeniable, per the Scripture you already cited. I would add that He also works through people, humans, without the aid of images or staffs.

You are absolutely right. I did not mean to imply that humans could not be a secondary cause. In fact, the miracle of our salvation, our inner transformation almost always comes about due to secondary causes. Could we hear the sermon without the preacher, read the book without the writer, see Jesus' kindness unless He uses some human's hands and lips? Jesus is the sole mediator between man and God; He alone is the saviour of the world but his grace almost always comes to us through something material whether it be human beings or books or art.

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Thanks for the suggestions!

A great place to get started with the role of art in the Middle Ages: The Cloisters (the Metropolitan Museum of Art's medieval "branch").

I have been to New York several times and I have never made it to the Cloisters. I did find a beautiful book in the library recently about the Cloisters. A friend of mine whom I work with just went there and brought me a book on the unicorn tapestries for taking care of his cat.

There was also a fair deal of secular art made prior to the Renaissance and Reformation as well - it's important to not underestimate this, in weighing issues re. art with religious imagery and its pervasiveness. Public buildings: churches, guild halls, civic buildings (if applicable) had art in them. Again, that might seem like a simplistic thing to say, but there's lots of "secular" imagery and art in churches and cathedrals. I don't think anyone but the most austere monastic orders were against decoration.

When did the idea of secular and sacred emerge in general culture? I looked up secular in the OED and all of the references are after 1290. I'm pretty familiar with religious imagery from the middle ages, gothic and early renaissance. What subject matter was used in civic buildings and guild halls? The Unicorn tapestries aren't religious but definitely had spiritual content.

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I think you have a good concern and I don't think it is yours alone. One of the babies that got thrown out with the bath water during the reformation is the whole idea of secondary causes. A secondary cause is something other than God that he uses to make his will done in the world. Of course God can make things happen without secondary causes such as parting the red sea, etc. but even then he has Moses holding up his staff the whole time. Why have Moses hold up his staff? Why not just part the sea. Or the Brass Serpant is an even closer type as here we have a graven image that God uses to heal people bitten by snakes. It is intersting to note that the secondary cause, the brass serpant, used rightly in the desert becomes an idol later on and it is destroyed.

How probable do you think this is in America, images becoming idols?

I believe other things or interests have taken the place of God in people's lives; I used to refer to the football field in college as "The Altar" when I'd walk by. I like the game myself, but it had become more than a hobby and passion for some people, it seemed. Materialism, power, and so on can be the same. This isn't exactly what we're talking or what the commandment refers to . . .

I have thought of how eastern religions have become popular in the west, to some degree, in which there are literally tens of thousands of idols. Maybe isn't such a stretch for the west to adopt such a practice too?

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Perhaps it might be better to see visual art - like the other arts - as a channel for God's grace rather than as a "conduit" of "power"

People tended to look at relics - or at certain statues, paintings or icons - as something particularly or unsually blessed or sacred, maybe, but how much of that is also superstition and/or a holdover from pre-Christian beliefs? (In Europe, too - all that stuff is there, in various cultures.) I'm not so sure that this has been the primary role of art in the Western church - more like a teaching medium, among other things.

But do we moderns really see art as a channel for God's grace?

My original point was to contrast how we moderns view art with the early Christian and Medieval view of art. We tend to see art as an object, made by an artist obviously, but an object independent, disconnected with anything spiritual, not a means of grace or as I said a conduit of power. My question, as Christians and artist, what are we trying to recover for the church? If we just buy into the same attitudes about art that the rest of the modern world has, that art is merely for contemplation that art doesn't really "do" anything as far as communicate graces or release the power of God is it really worth doing?

We are so used to seeing religious art taken out of it's original setting and put in a museum where it functions just like an impressionist painting, something pretty to look at. What was the original "work" that those religious paintings did? I agree that many of them were for teaching but many of them were for more than that. They were an aid to devotion and worship. And like I said before many were a conduit of the real power of God. You might say that much of this was superstition but I think much of it was real faith that combined with the icon released God's power. In many parts of the world this still happens. Take Lourdes for example, people still flock there to seek healing.

My intention is to suggest that there might be a bigger, more powerful role for art in the contemporary church than just making beautiful pictures with which to decorate the walls of the church.

As an example, we are a part of the Schoenstatt movement. We believe that the original shrine in Germany is a special place of grace mediated through the Blessed Virgin Mary. In the shrine is a painting of Mary and Jesus. We are encouraged to place in our homes a duplicate of the painting of the Blessed Mother and that if we make a covenant with her the same graces available at the shrine will be available in our home. Here the painting, even a reproduction, is a vehicle for graces. The particular graces are the grace of a home, inner transformation and apostalic zeal. So here a painting is not merely instructional though it is that too. It is a particular conduit of grace.

Can modern artist paint such pictures? From what I have seen of contemporary Christian art this is not even catagorically a possiblity.

I don't know how this would happen but if it is not even considered it won't even be a possibility.

By the way I love the Merode Altarpiece though I only know it through reproduction.

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The particular graces are the grace of a home, inner transformation and apostalic zeal. So here a painting is not merely instructional though it is that too. It is a particular conduit of grace.

You're coming from a place I've never been. So I'm going to ask some questions:

1) Does it work, in your experience, these graces associated with the print you mentioned?

2) Does it work for people who don't have any faith in God?

3) Why is the power not just in the original work?

Can modern artist paint such pictures? From what I have seen of contemporary Christian art this is not even catagorically a possiblity.

I don't know how this would happen but if it is not even considered it won't even be a possibility.

4) What do you mean by "such pictures?" Pictures which are so blessed, or pictures of this style? I'm assuming the former, but I can't quite separate the two in my mind at this point.

5) And could a Makoto Fujimura painting painting

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You're coming from a place I've never been. So I'm going to ask some questions:

1) Does it work, in your experience, these graces associated with the print you mentioned?

2) Does it work for people who don't have any faith in God?

3) Why is the power not just in the original work?

1. Although we have a home shrine we have yet to make the official covenant so while we are experiencing some of the graces I expect there is more to be had.

2. No, this is as all of Christianity is, about relationship. If you do not believe in God or Mary then you cannot have a relationship with them or depend upon them for help.

3. I guess you could think of the graces coming from the original shrine kind of like an internet file server. While the original server is in one location the files can be accessed anywhere there is a computer with the right software. So the original shrine is like the file server and the copy is like a computer and the faith and relationship is like the software.

Can modern artist paint such pictures? From what I have seen of contemporary Christian art this is not even catagorically a possiblity.

I don't know how this would happen but if it is not even considered it won't even be a possibility.

4) What do you mean by "such pictures?" Pictures which are so blessed, or pictures of this style? I'm assuming the former, but I can't quite separate the two in my mind at this point.

5) And could a Makoto Fujimura painting painting

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Jim, I honestly do see the arts - like other endeavors - as something through which people can indeed experience God's grace. I'm not sure that putting paintings or sculptures in museums negates that by any means. Nor that anything about God - or his grace - have ever changed. People might not always choose to use that word when they describe things today, because so many do not know it, or what it means. But can they experience God's grace through watching a sunrise, reading a novel, looking at a painting, listening to music (etc.)? I'm willing to bet that we can agree that the answer is "yes." (For those who are beleivers and - equally - for those who aren't. We only know the lingo because we *are* believers, after all - if God sends rain on the just and the unjest alike, doesn't he also show his mercy and compassion to all people, regardless of whether they know or acknowledge that that's what is happening?)

I agree that we all experience this general kind of grace whether we acknowledge God or not and it comes through most things; every act of creativity affirms the goodness of God. I am not trying to discount secular art of any kind. I used this anaology before: that the sunlight exists everywhere and we all expereince it. But if you take a magnifying glass and focus the energy of the sunlight you can start a fire. God seems to choose to focus himself through things, to bring his spiritual energy to bear in a concentrated way to produce results of healing and sanctification and to bring forth worship and devotion. The water of baptism, the oil of chrism, the bread and wine of the Eucharist are all examples.

I do think the context makes a difference. A crucifixion hanging in a museum is quite different than one hanging over an altar in a church. A crucifix in a museum will probably produce an aesthetic experience that is satisfying where one in a church has greater potential to cause one to identify with the sufferings of Jesus and unite one's own sufferings with Him. That's not to say that couldn't happen in a museum but it would be awkward to kneel in tears before a crucifix in a museum.

Also, since i'm Protestant, I don't see the arts as "channels" for "God's power." At least, not in the way that I'm understanding what you've said previously - though maybe I'm misinterpreting? Please do let me know, if that's the case!

No, I don't think you are misinterpeting me. Earlier in a post you seemed to dimiss the sort of powerful images medieval people encountered on pilgimage as superstition. I think this was a reality that has largely been lost catagorically due to what we expect art to be and do or not be and do. I think this is due in part to the whole idea of secondary causes being rejected at the time of the reformation. The whole "Jesus is the sole mediator between God and Man" issue. There was a rejection of art as a mediator of graces. So I suppose this is a Catholic/Protestant issue at heart.

I am not attempting to say that Catholics are right and Protestants are wrong. It is my sense that many evangelicals are sincerely attempting to recover art for the church. I say hoorah!! But I'm afraid the rejection of the whole idea of art being a secondary cause will doom art in the church to be mere decoration or didactic tracts. Of course I could be wrong : )

Edited by Jim Janknegt

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Wow. Late to the party, lots to respond to here. I like the questions you ask, Jim.

Acts 19:11 & 12 And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons from his body were brought unto the sick, and the diseases departed from them and the evil spirits went out of them.

Edited by MLeary

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Jim, I don't mean to undermine anything that your saying - or to try to undermine it. But I do believe there's a big, big difference between devotion and superstition, and that we fallen men and women fall all too easily into seeking things from God, rather than seeking him - and his kingdom and righteousness - first. It sounds to me like you, personally, are talking about devotion, but not everyone who is doing what you do is in the same ballpark.

(etc etc . . . )

Well said, something I was feeling but could not have put into words so well.

I agree that there is a big difference between superstition and devotion, but can it also be said that there at times when it's difficult to draw the line between the two? I know this seems to be saying the opposite of "there is a big difference," but it was the first thought to come to my mind.

And you're also correct in noting the syncretistic nature of many cultures, using aspects of Christianity as a "facade"

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I don't think because some people, somewhere are superstitios or syncrenistic Christians in the West should stop attempting to recover a deeper purpose for art in the church and the world. Don't we all agree that we have lost something and feel impoverished when it comes to art and the church?

We are bombarded on every side by visual images that do nothing but induce us to be greedy, to want more and the newest, best thing. We have become an image based culture.

Religious imagery has not only been absent from the public square but also from most of the worship places in America. I think it is worth the risk that someone might be superstitious although I don't think the risk would be very large. I think the bigger challange is to get people to see art as something that can increase their ability to worship God and be devoted to Him, to experience art as a mediator of graces.

There is a difference between seeking things instead of God and seeking God through things, or people.

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I don't think because some people, somewhere are superstitios or syncrenistic Christians in the West should stop attempting to recover a deeper purpose for art in the church and the world. Don't we all agree that we have lost something and feel impoverished when it comes to art and the church?

We are bombarded on every side by visual images that do nothing but induce us to be greedy, to want more and the newest, best thing. We have become an image based culture.

Religious imagery has not only been absent from the public square but also from most of the worship places in America. I think it is worth the risk that someone might be superstitious although I don't think the risk would be very large. I think the bigger challange is to get people to see art as something that can increase their ability to worship God and be devoted to Him, to experience art as a mediator of graces.

There is a difference between seeking things instead of God and seeking God through things, or people.

I very much agree.

I think nardis' comments in part elaborated on my first concern of idolatry.

But the church is lacking in the visual arts. There is less public art, based on my limited knowledge of history. And I most certainly feel "impoverished" when it comes to art and the church.

Maybe, based on your last post, I wasn't quite understanding what you're getting at in the original post. As I've said above, I'm not from an iconographic tradition, and really don't know what that means.

As much as I can, I'm trying to bring the visual arts back into the realm of the body of Christ. Right now, that's mainly on a personal level, although I'd very much love to take a step towards greater involvement. (Frankly, it's hard enough for me to keep up on a personal level in our present circumstances

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The OED comes through yet again. Cultural historians (and art historians for that matter) typically date the split between sacred and secular to the post-Reformation/Enlightenment ere. The split was part of that whole complex of events spanning the period between the Reformation and the French revolution. I think a helpful place to pin it is on Descartes, who just gives us a handy starting point for tracing the ripples of this distinction through science and culture.

Speaking of Descartes: There is a good article on the Image Journal website by William Dryness, Contemplation for Protestants:

Where the Reformed Tradition Went Wrong.

Here is a quote about mediation and art: "If any external mediation is unnecessary, and the Spirit only works within, there is really no need of what the church had come to know as sacraments. (Incidentally, as nearly as I can tell it was around this time that people began to close their eyes during corporate prayer.) As a result, though Calvin probably did not intend this, little by little, people, especially in the pietist stream of this tradition, would come to find the ground cut out from finding any substantial theological meaning in objects or acts. Descartes was key here, and I believe one can argue that he was working in the shadow of this Calvinist heritage when he said in 1642:

Edited by Jim Janknegt

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And I *really* second what MLeary is saying about narrative - right to the point that the church has, at various times, actually "legistlated" on how images should be used, and even how certain people should be represented, right down to approppriate clothing, poses and even the color of garments. (The Council of Trent is one of the major breakpoints here, as the Catholic Church wanted to use art to combat the ideas of the Reformation and said so in no uncertain terms.) I introduce the word "propaganda" here with some fear and trembling - not wanting to offend anyone - but that was very much a part of what they wanted it to do. The teaching/narrative parts of things go together, even now (and not just for Catholics).

You don't happen to know the name of the document this is set forth in do you? I would very much like to see exactly what this legislation consisted of. I have never been very fond of counter reformation art. It seems rather hysterical. Give me Duccio, Fra Angelico and Piero dela Francesca any day!!

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Don't know if you saw the edit in my last post re. your work, but - since you're clearly dealing with narrative in some of your work - I wanted to reflect that back to you. (Would like to see your work in person, or, failing that, a really good set of slides.)

I've always been drawn to narrative work. I was in college in the early seventies and about 98% of the faculty was 3rd and 4th generation abstract expressionist. I really felt like a fish out of water and butted heads with most of my teachers. I am pretty stubborn and gained most of their respect. As you know, most artists until recent centuries portrayed biblical narratives with people dressed in contemporary garb in the locale of their city. I don't think it was until the obsession with the search for the "historical" Jesus in the 19th century that some artists started painting biblical narratives placed in the orient with togas and such. Pretty God awful if you ask me. I am merely trying to paint in the tradition of the great biblical artist setting the narratives in my own place and time. After all we are not having a relationship with the "historical Jesus" but the "Risen Jesus".

In "The Forbidden Image : an Intellectual History of Iconoclasm" Alain Besancon makes a pretty convincing case that 20th century abstraction is the latest outbreak of iconoclasm. That is a topic for another thread.

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quick little side-bar re: secular and usefulness of art - larry shiner's the invention of art: a cultural history has some really good things to say. as does mary ann staniszewski in believing is seeing: creating the culture of art - her contention is that the modern idea of 'art' didn't really take root until the 20th century. interesting stuff, a la berger...

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(please bear with me...some very scattered thoughts to follow)

i have no idea where to start but i will begin with the generating question, and i quote:

Edited by techne

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