"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).

Monday, September 17, 2018

The Presence and Absence of Images

I am regularly asked to give presentations on the history and theology of images, especially to Roman Catholic crowds desirous of learning more about this much-neglected part of the tradition. Usually these are very general introductions in which I point out, inter alia, that the permission given by Nicaea II for the use of icons is a very conservative one. As Bulgakov asked, where is an actual theology of images in the council? He concluded that there isn't one, and it remains to be developed. Some recent studies previously noted on here have gone some way to aid that development.

Now a new book looks like it will raise some deep and fascinating questions in grappling with a theology of images and all that it entails: Natalie Carnes, Image and Presence: a Christological Reflection on Iconoclasm and Iconophilia (Stanford UP, 2018), 256pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
Images increasingly saturate our world, making present to us what is distant or obscure. Yet the power of images also arises from what they do not make present—from a type of absence they do not dispel. Joining a growing multidisciplinary conversation that rejects an understanding of images as lifeless objects, this book offers a theological meditation on the ways images convey presence into our world. Just as Christ negates himself in order to manifest the invisible God, images, Natalie Carnes contends, negate themselves to give more than they literally or materially are. Her Christological reflections bring iconoclasm and iconophilia into productive relation, suggesting that they need not oppose one another. Investigating such images as the biblical golden calf and paintings of the Virgin Mary, Carnes explores how to distinguish between iconoclasms that maintain fidelity to their theological intentions and those that lead to visual temptation. Offering ecumenical reflections on issues that have long divided Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox traditions, Image and Presence provokes a fundamental reconsideration of images and of the global image crises of our time.

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