"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, February 19, 2014

The God Who Is Beauty

It is of course a topos of Eastern Christianity that "beauty is God's middle name" as I've heard one priest put it--that beauty, in the almost hackneyed phrasing of Dostoevsky, will save the world. A recent book by Brenda Thomas Sammon explores the role of beauty in depth in two pivotal philosopher-theologians of East and West: The God Who Is Beauty: Beauty as a Divine Name in Thomas Aquinas and Dionysius the Areopagite (Princeton, 2013), 402pp.

About this book we are told:
When in the sixth century Dionysius the Areopagite declared beauty to be a name for God, he gave birth to something that had long been gestating in the womb of philosophical and theological thought. In doing so, Dionysius makes one of his most pivotal contributions to Christian theological discourse. It is a contribution that is enthusiastically received by the schoolmen of the Middle Ages, and it comes to permeate the thought of scholasticism in a multitude of ways. But perhaps nowhere is the Dionysian influence more pronounced than in the thought of Thomas Aquinas.

This book examines both the historical development of beauty's appropriation as a name for God in Dionysius and Thomas, and the various contours of what it means. The argument that emerges from this study is that given the impact that the divine name theological tradition has within the development of Christian theological discourse, beauty as a divine name indicates the way in which beauty is most fundamentally conceived in the Christian theological tradition as a theological theme. As a phenomenon of inquiry, beauty proves itself to be enigmatic and elusive to even the sharpest intellects in the Greek philosophical tradition. When it is absorbed within the Christian theological synthesis, however, its enigmatic content proves to be a powerful resource for theological reasoning.

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