"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Searching for the Beauty of Holiness in Western Culture

A quarter-century ago now (!), I had what was easily one of the most intellectually engaging courses of my freshman and indeed entire undergraduate career: The Bible in English Literature, taught by a man then-unknown to me, but whom I later came to know as one of the great scholars of our time, viz., David Lyle Jeffrey. A giant of a man--he is in fact very tall--in every sense, he has been a prolific scholar. In 1992 when I took that course from him, he had just put the finishing touches on a monumental project, the Dictionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature

Since then, he has published a large number of studies, especially in the area of English literature and Christian tradition, as you may see here.

Not long after I took that course from him, Jeffrey was lured down to Baylor University, and thus some of his more recent works reflect that perspective of chief academic officer in the contemporary academy. Thus, e.g., The Bible and the University.

Five years ago I heard him on NPR discussing his fascinating study, The King James Bible and the World It Made.

I had dinner with him in early 2015 when I was invited to be a lecturer at the Robert Louis Wilken colloquium hosted by Baylor. It was great to see him and he flattered me by saying he remembered me in that class from 1992. I don't know if I could say that of students I had taught two decades earlier!

And now he has a new study coming out from Eerdmans in September of this year that looks to be of great and timely interest: In the Beauty of Holiness: Art and the Bible in Western Culture.

About this book the publisher tells us:
Beauty is a highly significant subject in the Bible. So is holiness. In this study of Christian fine art David Lyle Jeffrey explores the relationship between beauty and holiness as he integrates aesthetic perspectives from the ancient Hebrew Scriptures through Augustine, Aquinas, and Kant down to contemporary philosophers of art.
Incorporating sample artworks ranging from the Roman catacombs to Marc Chagall, Jeffrey demonstrates that the Bible has consistently been the most profound and productive resource for the visual arts in the West. He contextualizes Western European art from the second century through the twenty-first in relation not only to the biblical narrative but also to liturgy and historical theology.
Lavishly illustrated with more than one hundred masterworks, In the Beauty of Holiness is ideally suited to students of Christian fine art and to general readers wanting to better understand the story of Christian art through the centuries.

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