Visual History of the World

(CONTENTS)
 

 


HISTORY OF CIVILIZATION & CULTURE

From Prehistoric to Romanesque  Art
Gothic Art
Renaissance  Art
Baroque and Rococo Art
The Art of Asia
Neoclassicism, Romanticism  Art
Art Styles in 19th century
Art of the 20th century
Artists that Changed the World
Design and Posters
Photography
Classical Music
Literature and Philosophy

Visual History of the World
Prehistory
First Empires
The Ancient World
The Middle Ages
The Early Modern Period
The Modern Era
The World Wars and Interwar Period
The Contemporary World

Dictionary of Art and Artists

 




Christianity


 


Annunciation by Fabrizio Boschi


 


see also:


THE BIBLE

*

The Bible illustrations by



Julius von Carolsfeld "Das Buch der Bucher in Bildeb"


Gustave Dore


William Blak
e "The Book of Job"

 

 

 
 

 



Annunciation

 


Pedro Berruguete

 


Benedetto Bonfigli

 


Francesco di Giorgio Martini

 


Antoniazzo Romano

 


Domenico Ghirlandaio

 


Carlo Crivelli

 


Michelangelo Buonarroti

 

 


The history of Christianity

Encyclopaedia Britannica

Part IX
 

 

The church and its history » God the Father
On the basis of their religious experiences, the mystics of Christianity of all eras have concurred in the belief that one can make no assertions about God, because God is beyond all concepts and images. Inasmuch as human beings are gifted with reason, however, the religious experience of transcendence demands historical clarification. Thus, in Christian theology two tendencies stand in constant tension with each other. On the one hand, there is the tendency to systematize the idea of God as far as possible. On the other, there is the tendency to eliminate the accumulated collection of current conceptions of God and to return to the understanding of his utter transcendence. Theologians, by and large, have had to acknowledge the limits of human reason and language to address the “character” of God, who is beyond normal human experience but who impinges on it. But because of the divine–human contact, it became necessary and possible for them to make some assertions about the experience, the disclosure, and the character of God.

All great epochs of the history of Christianity are defined by new forms of the experience of God and of Christ. Rudolf Otto, a 20th-century German theologian, attempted to describe to some extent the basic ways of experiencing the transcendence of the “holy.” He called these the experience of the “numinous” (the spiritual dimension), the utterly ineffable, the holy, and the overwhelming. The “holy” is manifested in a double form: as the mysterium tremendum (“mystery that repels”), in which the dreadful, fearful, and overwhelming aspect of the numinous appears, and as the mysterium fascinosum (“mystery that attracts”), by which humans are irresistibly drawn to the glory, beauty, adorable quality, and the blessing, redeeming, and salvation-bringing power of transcendence. All of these features are present in the Christian concepts of God as explicated in the ever new experiences of the charismatic leaders.


The church and its history » God the Father » Characteristic features of the Christian concept of God
Within the Christian perception and experience of God, characteristic features stand out: (1) the personality of God, (2) God as the Creator, (3) God as the Lord of history, and (4) God as Judge. (1) God, as person, is the “I am who I am” designated in Exodus 3:14. The personal consciousness of human beings awakens in the encounter with God understood as a person: “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:11). (2) God is also viewed as the Creator of heaven and Earth. The believer thus maintains, on the one hand, acknowledgement of divine omnipotence as the creative power of God, which also operates in the preservation of the world, and, on the other hand, trusts in the world, which—despite all its contradictions—is understood as one world created by God according to definite laws and principles and according to an inner plan. The decisive aspect of creation, however, is that God fashioned humans according to the divine image and made the creation subject to them. This special position of humans in the creation, which makes them coworkers of God in the preservation and consummation of the creation, brings a decisively new characteristic into the understanding of God. (3) This new characteristic is God as the Lord of history, which is the main feature of the Old Testament understanding of God: God selects a special people and contracts a special covenant with them. Through the Law the divine agent binds this “people of God” in a special way. God sets before them a definite goal of salvation—the establishment of a divine dominion—and through the prophets admonishes the people by proclamations of salvation and calamity whenever they are unfaithful to the covenant and promise. (4) This God of history also is the God of judgment. The Israelite belief that the disclosure of God comes through the history of divinely-led people leads, with an inner logic, to the proclamation of God as the Lord of world history and as the Judge of the world.


The church and its history » God the Father » The specific concept of God as Father
What is decisively new in the Christian, New Testament faith in God lies in the fact that this faith is so closely bound up with the person, teaching, and work of Jesus Christ that it is difficult to draw boundaries between theology (doctrines of God) and Christology (doctrines of Christ). The special relationship of Jesus to God is expressed through his designation of God as Father. In prayers Jesus used the Aramaic word abba (“father”) for God, which is otherwise unusual in religious discourse in Judaism; it was usually employed by children for their earthly father. This father–son relationship became a prototype for the relationship of Christians to God. Appeal to the sonship of God played a crucial role in the development of Jesus’ messianic self-understanding. According to the account of Jesus’ baptism, Jesus understood his sonship when a voice from heaven said: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” In The Gospel According to John, this sonship constitutes the basis for the self-consciousness of Jesus: “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).


The church and its history » God the Father » The belief in the oneness of the Father and the Son
Faith in the Son also brought about a oneness with the Father. The Son became the mediator of the glory of the Father to those who believe in him. In Jesus’ high priestly prayer (in John, chapter 17) he says: “The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one.” In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus taught his disciples to address God as “our Father.”

The Father-God of Jesus after Jesus’ death and Resurrection becomes—for his disciples—the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (e.g., 2 Corinthians 1:3), who revealed his love through the sacrifice of his Son who was sent into the world. Faithful Christians can thus become the children of God, as noted in Revelation 21:7: “I will be his God and he shall be my son.” For Christians, therefore, faith in God is not a doctrine to be detached from the person of Jesus Christ.

Medieval theologians often spoke of a “Beatific Vision,” a blessed vision of God. In the history of Christian mysticism, this visionary experience of the transpersonal “Godhead” behind the personal “God” (as in the works of the medieval mystic Meister Eckhart)—also called an experience of the “trans-deity,” the “divine ground,” “groundlessness,” the “abyss,” and the divine “nothingness”—constantly breaks through and is renewed. Occasionally, this experience of transpersonal divine transcendence has directed itself against the development of a piety that has banalized the personal idea of God so much so that the glory and holiness of God has been trivialized. The attempt of the 20th-century theologian Paul Tillich to reduce the Christian idea of God to the impersonal concept of “the Ground of Being,” or “Being Itself,” pointed toward an understanding of the pre-personal depths of the transcendence of Godhood.

Nevertheless, in the Christian understanding of Christ as being one with the Father, there is a possibility that faith in God will be absorbed in a “monochristism”—i.e., that the figure of the Son in the life of faith will overshadow the figure of the Father and thus cause it to disappear and that the figure of the Creator and Sustainer of the world will recede behind the figure of the Redeemer. Thus, the primacy of Christology and of the doctrine of justification in Reformation theology led to a depreciation of the creation doctrine and a Christian cosmology. This depreciation accelerated the estrangement between theology and the sciences during the period of the Enlightenment. This was subsequently distorted into a form of materialism. On the other hand, some 20th-century dialectical theologians, among them Karl Barth, in opposing materialism and humanism sometimes evoked a monochristic character that strongly accented the centrality of Christ at the expense of some cultural ties.


The church and its history » God the Father » The view that God is not solitary
The leaders of an 18th-century movement called Deism saw God as impersonal and unempathic—a principle of order and agent of responsibility not personal or addressable as the Christian God had been. Deism contributed to some intellectualizations of the idea of God, approaches that had sometimes appeared in the more sterile forms of medieval Scholasticism. God appeared to have been withdrawn from creation, which was pictured as a world machine; this God, at best, observed its running but never interfered.

According to the original Christian understanding of God of the early church, the Middle Ages, and the Reformation, God neither is solitary nor wishes to be alone. Instead, God is encircled with a boundless realm of angels, created in the divine image. They surround God in freely expressed love and devotion. They appear in a graduated, individuated hierarchy. These ranks of angels offer God their praise, and they appear active in the universe as messengers and executors of the divine will. From the beginning God appears as the ruler and centre in this divinely fashioned realm, and the first created of this realm are the angels. The church of the angels is the upper church; the earthly church joins with them in the “cherubic hymn,” the Trisagion (“Holy, Holy, Holy”), at the epiphany of the Lord and with the angelic choirs surrounding him in the Eucharist. The earthly church is thus viewed as a participant—co-liturgist—in the angelic liturgy. Because the angels are created as free spiritual beings in accordance with the image of God, the first fall takes place in their midst—the first misuse of freedom was in the rebellion of the highest prince of the angels, Lucifer (“Light-bearer”), against God.

According to the view of Christian thinkers from the early Fathers to the reformers of the 16th century, humans are only the second-created. The creation of human beings serves to refill the Kingdom of God with new spiritual creatures who are capable of offering to God the free love that the rebellious angels have refused to continue. In the realm of the first-created creatures, there already commences the problem of evil, which appears immediately in freedom or the misuse of freedom.


The church and its history » God the Father » Modern views of God
If 18th- and 19th-century rationalism and scientific attacks on the idea of God were often called “the first Enlightenment” or “the first illumination,” in the 20th century a set of trends appeared that represented, to a broader public, a “second illumination.” This included a rescue of the idea of God, even if it was not always compatible with previous Christian interpretations. Some notable scientists of the 20th century, such as Albert Einstein, Max Planck, Max Born, and others, allowed—on occasion, and against the testimony of the majority of their colleagues—for an idea of God or religion in their concepts of life, the universe, and human beings.

When the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche prophesied what he called “the death of God,” many Christian thinkers agreed that a certain set of culturally conditioned and dogmatic concepts of God were inaccessible, implausible, and dying out. Some of these apologists argued that such a “death of God” was salutary, because it made room for a “God beyond the gods” of argument, or a “greater God.” The French Jesuit thinker Pierre Teilhard de Chardin for a time attracted a large following as he set out to graft the theory of evolution onto “greater God” proclamations.


The church and its history » God the Father » Satan and the origin of evil
In the Bible, especially the New Testament, Satan (the devil) comes to appear as the representative of evil. Enlightenment thinkers endeavoured to push the figure of the devil out of Christian consciousness as being a product of the fantasy of the Middle Ages. It is precisely in this figure, however, that some aspects of the ways God deals with evil are especially evident. The devil first appears as an independent figure alongside God in the Hebrew Scriptures. There evil is still brought into a direct relationship with God; even evil, insofar as it has power and life, is effected by God: “I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe, I am the Lord, who do all these things” (Isaiah 45:7).

In the Book of Job, Satan appears as the partner of God, who on behalf of God puts the righteous one to the test. Only in postbiblical Judaism does the devil become the adversary of God, the prince of angels, who, created by God and placed at the head of the angelic hosts, entices some of the angels into revolt against God. In punishment for his rebellion he is cast from heaven together with his mutinous entourage, which were transformed into demons. As ruler over the fallen angels he continues the struggle against the Kingdom of God by seeking to seduce humans into sin, by trying to disrupt God’s plan for salvation, and by appearing before God as a slanderer and accuser of saints, so as to reduce the number of those chosen for the Kingdom of God.

Thus, Satan is a creature of God, who has his being and essence from God; he is the partner of God in the drama of the history of salvation; and he is the rival of God, who fights against God’s plan of salvation. Through the influence of the dualistic thinking of Zoroastrian religion during the Babylonian Exile (586–538 bc) in Persia, Satan took on features of a countergod in late Judaism. In the writings of the Qumran sects (who preserved the Dead Sea Scrolls), Belial, the “angel of darkness” and the “spirit of wickedness,” appears as the adversary of the “prince of luminaries” and the “spirit of truth.” The conclusion of the history of salvation is the eschatological battle of the prince of luminaries against Belial, which ends with judgment upon him, his angels, and people subject to him and ushers in the cessation of “worry, groaning, and wickedness” and the beginning of the rule of “truth.”

In the New Testament the features of an anti-godly power are clearly prominent in the figures of the devil, Satan, Belial, and Beelzebub—the “enemy.” He is the accuser, the evil one, the tempter, the old snake, the great dragon, the prince of this world, and the god of this world, who seeks to hinder the establishment of God’s dominion through the life and suffering of Jesus Christ. Satan offers to give to Christ the riches of this world if Christ will acknowledge him as supreme lord. Thus, he is the real antagonist of the Messiah–Son of man, Christ, who is sent by God into the world to destroy the works of Satan.

He is lacking, however, the possibility of incarnation: he is left to rob others in order to procure for himself the appearance of personality and corporeality. As opposed to philanthrōpia, the love of man of Christ, who presents himself as an expiatory sacrifice for the sins of humankind out of love for it, Satan appears among early church teachers, such as Basil of Caesarea in the 4th century, as the misanthrōpos, the hater of humanity; vis-à-vis the bringer of heavenly beauty, he is the hater of beauty, the misokalos. With Gnosticism (a loose collection of sects or movements that postulated a transcendent god and a lesser, creator god), dualistic features also penetrated the Christian sphere of intuitive vision. In the Letter of Barnabas (early 2nd century), Satan appeared as “the Black One”; according to the 2nd-century apologist Athenagoras, he is “the one entrusted with the administration of matter and its forms of appearance,” “the spirit hovering above matter.” Under the influence of Gnosticism and Manichaeism (a syncretistic religion founded by Mani, a 3rd-century Persian prophet), there also followed—based on their dualistic aspects—the demonization of the entire realm of the sexual. This appears as the special temptational sphere of the devil; in sexual activity, the role of the instrument of diabolic enticement devolves upon woman. Dualistic tendencies remained a permanent undercurrent in the church and determined, to a great extent, the understanding of sin and redemption. Satan remained the prototype of sin as the rebel who does not come to terms with fulfilling his godlikeness in love to his original image and Creator but instead desires equality with God and places love of self over love of God.

Among the early Church Fathers, the idea of Satan as the antagonist of Christ led to a mythical interpretation of the incarnation and disguise in the “form of a servant.” Through this disguise the Son of God makes his heavenly origin unrecognizable to Satan. In some medieval depictions Christ appears as the “bait” cast before Satan, after which Satan grasps because he believes Christ to be an ordinary human being subject to his power. In the Middle Ages a further feature was added: the understanding of the devil as the “ape of God,” who attempts to imitate God through spurious, malicious creations that he interpolates for, or opposes to, the divine creations.

In the Christian historical consciousness the figure of Satan plays an important role, not least of all through the influence of the Revelation to John. The history of salvation is understood as the history of the struggle between God and the demonic antagonist, who with constantly new means tries to thwart God’s plan of salvation. The idea of the “stratagems of Satan,” as developed by a 16th-century fortress engineer, Giacomo Aconcio, had its roots here. This altercation constitutes the religious background of the drama of world history. Characteristic here is the impetus of acceleration already indicated in Revelation: blow and counterblow in the struggle taking place between God and Satan follow in ever shorter intervals; for the devil “knows that his time is short” (Revelation 12:12), and his power in heaven has already been laid low. On Earth the possibility of his efficacy is likewise limited by the return of the Lord. Hence, his attacks upon the elect of the Kingdom so increase in the last times that God is moved to curtail the days of the final affliction, for “if those days had not been shortened, no human being would be saved” (Matthew 24:22). Many of these features were retained in the philosophy of religion of German idealism as well as in Russian philosophy of religion. According to the 20th-century Russian philosopher Nikolay Berdyayev, like the Germans Friedrich Schelling and Franz von Baader before him, the devil has no true personality and no genuine reality and, instead, is filled with an insatiable “hunger for reality,” which he can attain by stealing reality from the people of whom he takes possession.

Since the Enlightenment, Christian theologians who found the mythical pictures of Satan to be irrelevant, distorting, or confusing in Christian thought and experience have set out to demythologize this figure. Apologists such as the British literary figure C.S. Lewis and the Russian philosopher Vladimir Solovyov, however, have written cautionary words against this trend. They conceive that it would represent the devil’s most cunning attempt at self-camouflage to be demythologized and that camouflage would be a certain new proof of his existence.
 

 

 

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