Monday, December 19, 2011

Radiations of Divine Light

Curt Daniel, The History and Theology of Calvinism, p. 405:

How is it that a totally non-Christian artist can paint a beautiful painting? Why is it that not all art by unbelievers is directly blasphemous? Calvinists such as Hans Rookmaaker have discussed the Calvinist theology of art, or Reformed Aesthetics. They point out that not all workers on the Temple were Israelites. Some were pagans, but they were good artists and architects. How? Because they had been endued by Common Grace with cultural gifts.

Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, p. 97:

I have already, more than once, called your attention to the important significance of the Calvinistic doctrine of "common grace," and of course in this lecture on art I must refer to it again. That which is to be ecclesiastical must bear the stamp of faith, therefore genuine Christian art can only go out from believers. Calvinism, on the contrary, has taught us that all liberal arts are gifts which God imparts promiscuously to believers and unbelievers, yea, that, as history shows, these gifts have flourished even in a larger measure outside the holy circle. "These radiations of Divine Light," [John Calvin] wrote, "shone more brilliantly among unbelieving people than among God's saints." And this of course quite reverses the proposed order of things. If you limit the higher enjoyment of art to regeneration, then this gift is exclusively the portion of believers, and must bear an ecclesiastical character. In that case it is the outcome of particular grace But if, at the hand of experience and history, you become persuaded that the highest art-instincts are natural gifts, and hence belong to those excellent graces which, in spite of sin, by virtue of common grace, have continued to shine in human nature, it plainly follows that art can inspire both believers and unbelievers, and that God remains Sovereign to impart it, in His good pleasure, alike to Heathen and to Christian nations. This applies not only to art, but to all the natural utterances of human life, and is illustrated by the comparison in early times between Israel and the other nations. As far as holy things are concerned, Israel is chosen, and is not only blessed above all nations, but stands among all nations, isolated In the question of Religion, Israel has not only a larger share, but Israel alone has the truth, and all the other nations, even the Greeks and the Romans, are bent beneath the yoke of falsehood. Christ is not partly of Israel and partly of the nations; He is of Israel alone. Salvation is of the Jews. But just in proportion as Israel shines forth from within the domain of Religion, so is it equally backward when you compare the development of its art, science, politics, commerce and trade to that of the surrounding nations. The building of the Temple required the coming of Hiram from a heathen country to Jerusalem; and Solomon, in whom, after all, was found the Wisdom of God, not only knows that Israel stands behind in architecture and needs help from without, but by his action he publicly shows that he, as the king of the Jews, is in no way ashamed of Hiram's coming, which he realizes as a natural ordinance of God.

Hans Rookmaaker, "We and Art" in The Complete Works of Hans R. Rookmaaker, Vol. 4, pp. 350-351:

For now we want to concentrate on the first question, namely, that of whether God has assigned his people a positive task in connection with art. Has he given us the vocation to create art, to make ‘Christian art’ in distinction from ‘worldly art’? For only too often people have said, thinking things through ‘consistently’, that we must claim all fields for Christ and therefore also let our distinctive voices be heard in the realm of art. Yet in this way we may perhaps out of self-willed religiosity saddle ourselves with possibly irresolvable problems and heavy burdens. If we have such zeal for God yet without comprehension – since not according to God’s word and commandment (Romans 10:2 [‘they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge’]) – then the Lord will also reproach us as in Micah 6:3 ‘My people . . . how have I burdened you?’ For already in Micah’s day there were some who thought to justify themselves in such matters by appealing to David’s example, while at the same time forgetting the covenant (Amos 6:5). If we turn now and search the Scriptures to see where and how they speak of art, then we find that that only happens a few times and then almost in passing, nd that the Lord nowhere gives us an explicit commandment, for or against.

We find that for the making of the ark, God himself designates some artisans and fills them with wisdom and understanding so that they know how to make all the work in the service of the sanctuary according to God’s commandments. Yet the matter is one of a very narrowly defined commission extended to a handful of selected people. In 2 Chronicles 2 and 3 we learn of the building and furnishing of God’s Temple by Solomon. And who does he seek out to be responsible for the decorating and furnishing? There is no one in the nation of Israel whom he regards as suited. And so he sends to Hiram, the king of Tyre, to ask for his help. And the king of Tyre sends him Hiram Abi, the son of a worker in precious metals from Tyre. We do not know if this smith was a believer, yes or no, only that his mother was of the tribe of Dan. However that may be, he had learned his art, including the style, in Tyre. He was renowned for his wisdom and his understanding in making works of brass, including works decorated with figures and scenes. Naturally Solomon would have seen to it that the fonts dedicated to God were not decorated with heathen images, but for the rest this art would in principle not have differed in appearance from that of Tyre.

There is little more to be found about these matters in the Scriptures, including the New Testament, so we can conclude that God has not assigned us a special task with respect to them. God does not demand of us that we create a distinctive art or style of our own! On the other hand, it is obvious that if one of the Lord’s people is an artist, one may not just go out and make anything one wants in the way a worldly person might do, in disobedience to God’s commandments. Yet no great difficulties should arise here. For it is obvious that one may not make blasphemous or immoral presentations. The latter might lead people into temptation and incite them to commit unholy acts. And naturally one will also keep one’s distance from art that clearly bears the stamp of an apostate way of life. I have in mind, for example, modern Surrealism, which holds up to us a world that is totally devoid of meaning, without norms, decadent and without hope: but what believer could possibly be won for such ideals? Thus it is not so much the positive task of the Christian artist to create a distinctive style from scratch unconnected with the world; it is much rather the negative task of not producing works in which the theme selected or the thought communicated is contrary to God’s commandments or could lead believers, God’s children, into temptation.

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