John Calvin and Reformed Aesthetics

Protestant preacher

I’m currently reading William Dyrness’ Reformed Theology and Visual Culture (Cambridge 2004). So far, it is a fascinating work and quite helpful, especially for those of us who have often pondered exactly how aesthetics function in Reformed (versus Catholic) thought and culture. Dyrness is helpful especially for giving us a vocabulary for expressing this; something that theologians, especially systematicians, are not always equipt to do. I particularly found interesting his discussion of Calvin and how he models the approach of much Reformed aesthetics in subsequent generations. Here’s an excerpt:

“It is true, God’s presence has been removed [in Reformed worship] from particular images and practices. But a better way of putting this is to say God’s presence has been displaced so that it can be glimpsed in a larger sphere of activity. …Previously believers sought out special times and places where God’s power, and even salvation, were to be found. Now believers are not directed to particular images or places, but having their eyes opened by faith they are directed to see the world and their lives as potential material for God’s saving activity. …The controlling conviction [for Calvin] is the belief that God has given us the true image of the divine, insofar as we can apprehend this, in creation and in our neighbor. Any other attempt to ‘picture’ God or his truth is not only unnecessary but positively harmful….” (p. 76)

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