Monumental Theology

Monumental Theology a term of late employed to designate the scientific presentation of the notions and doctrines of theology as they are found in and taught by monuments. It aims to interpret the life and thought of the Christian Church as these are unconsciously recorded in monumental remains. It goes out of the ordinary course of historic investigation, and searches for the isolated and fragmentary. Indeed, wherever Christian peoples have left a monumental trace of their life this discipline directs its inquiries.

Relation to other Departments. — Since these monumental remains are mostly of the nature of art-works, monumental theology is very intimately connected with Art Criticism, Art History, Archaeology, Epigraphics, and Numismatics. What have usually been regarded as only auxiliaries to Historical Theology have been recently elevated to an independent science.

Art and written language differ entirely, both in their scope and in their modes of expression. Art appeals to the whole race; not, indeed, through the faculty of the understanding, but through the higher faculty of the intuition, to which physical sight is only a medium or instrument. The difference is this: while in thought the subject under consideration is resolved into its constituent elements by the discursive faculty, and, therefore, such knowledge is connected with a series of elements that are apprehended successively, an art-work, as an object in space, may be understood at once in the totality of its elements, without division and without succession. In this respect the theology of art differs from dogmatics, for example, since the former would have to do chiefly with intuitive truth, the latter with results of the exercise of the discursive faculty.

But since the Christian Church was founded in the midst of two great opposing systems of religion and philosophy — viz. Heathenism and Judaism — these so-called Christian monuments will often appear of a mixed character. Likewise, in the course of the history of the Church she has been subjected to various attacks of error from within and without. Heresies within the Church, the hostile spirit of philosophy, and the persecuting spirit of the temporal powers, have been potent moulding influences. Hence the complete discussion of "Monumental Theology" would demand a careful estimate of the reciprocal influence of these opposing elements. It would therefore include the examination of those heathen monuments that testify, by their monotheistic character, either of lingering traces of an original divine revelation, or of an expectation of an approaching deliverance, as well as that class of monuments that clearly show the presence and influence of heretical systems in the Church itself.

Chronological Limits. — The principles of Christianity, from its institution to the present time, have evidently exerted a most powerful influence on human thought and life. Art has likewise been affected. While at different periods (e.g. in the Western Church during the invasion of the Northern tribes, and in the iconoclastic struggle of the East) art has suffered terrible catastrophes, it has, nevertheless, ever had a more or less intimate connection with the Christian Church. Hence it is with no sufficient reason that a class of writers (Bingham, Rheinwald, Bohmer, Guericke, and Neander) have limited ecclesiastical monuments and Christian archanology to the chronological bounds of Patristics, i.e., to the first six centuries. More scientific is the view of another class of writers (Baumgarten, Augusti, etc.), who regard the Reformation of the 16th century as a modern boundary; since by the revival of classical studies, and the introduction of new elements of life, Art was liberated from its servitude to the Church, and found its subjects and inspiration more in nature and the affairs of common life. Nevertheless the highest art must ever find its truest inspiration in the Christian religion, and therefore art monuments must continue to embody much of the Christian thought and spirit of an age. Hence the more recent writers on Theological Encyclopedia (Hagenbach, Rosenkranz, etc.) extend the study of Christian monuments to the present time.

Synoptical View of the Science. — Piper, the chief defender of monumental theology as an independent discipline, presents the following scheme in his Einleitung in die Monumentale Theologie: Since inscriptions and art monuments are the chief subjects examined by monumental theology, these demand a twofold treatment: (a.) An ontological; (b.) a historical. In other words, the subject must be discussed partly according to its essence, as it is a product of intellectual activity exerted on a given material; and partly according to its historical development. And since Christianity is recognised as the chief inspiring motive of these Christian art monuments, another closely related division is necessary, viz. the systematic arrangement and representation of the ideas that have found expression in Christian monuments. Expanded, there would result the following outline:

A.Of the essential nature of Christian art.

1. Of the art faculty.

a. The relation of the Church to art per se. Rise of a Christian art. b. Relation of Christian art to the art of classical antiquity. c. Emancipation of art from the Church at the end of the Middle Ages. Relation of Protestantism to art.

2. The artist.

a. Relation of the artist to the Church office:

(1) In Christian antiquity (2) in the Middle Ages; (3) since the close of the Middle Ages.

b. The training of the artist:

(1) His relation to the antique; (2) his relation to nature; (3) schools and guilds.

c. The individuality of the artist.

3. Art works.

a. The synthetical division (1) The material and its treatment; (2) the idea and its embodiment. aa. The language of art. Symbolism. bb. Art composition.

b. The analytical division: (1) Antoptics; (2) criticism and hermeueutics of art-works

B. History of Christian art and art-works

1. Chronology and geography of art. 2. The various species of art.

a. History of architecture. b. History of the graphic arts.

3. Art monuments.

a. Civil monuments with Christian characters (1) Coins; (2) consular diptychs

b. Private monuments: (1) Monuments of domestic life-gems, rings, etc.; (2) sepulchral monuments

c. Ecclesiastical monuments:

(1) Architecture, cemeteries, churches, cloisters; (2) vessels of the churches; (3) ornameutation of churches-mosaics, paintings, etc.

d. Monuments of ideal or free creative art

C. Christian art ideas.

1. In architecture: symbolism of architecture. 2. In the graphic arts.

a. The development of the scope and range of Christian representation. b. The content of Christian representation:

(1) Monumental exegesis; (2) monumental history of the kingdom of God; (3) monumental dogmatics and ethics.

c. Practical utility of Christian representations. Explanation and Justification of the foregoing Synopsis. — (I.) In the first branch, 1. If we discuss the harmony of art with the Christian Church, and its realization therein, the first thing to be examined is the essential nature of that art itself, both generally as a necessary subject of the activity of the human mind, as well as specially how it accords with the genius of Christianity itself. However, the problem here is not the same as in the art archaeology of classical antiquity, since early Christianity holds an entirely different relation to art. It is similar to its relation to philosophy. Neither art nor philosophy was originated by the Church, but both had already passed through all stages of a great development. The Church found art already occupying human thought, and its rise and history are presupposed. By this art the early Christians were as much attracted as repelled. This conditions the dependence of the earliest Christian art on the antiquemost especially in technical treatment, but also to some extent in spirit and motive; so that this comes to be a constitutive element in the discussion, just as in the earliest history of doctrines we must carefully note the influence of the Greek (specially the Platonic) philosophy. On the other hand, the independence of Christian art is shown even in the presence of the antique. Specially those peoples who subsequently appeared upon the stage of history, and received contemporaneously their culture with Christianity, have developed from the first a characteristically Christian art; since the final grounds of art antiquity are found in the nature of man itself, and to these we must at last return. This art activity likewise takes direction among a people to that extent that the period of the perfection of Christian art may be delayed by means of its connection with a development so influenced by the models of antiquity. At the same time another sphere of art life of universal interest will be liberated, and attain to an independent value. According to this view, the subjects that pertain to the essence of Christian art, as springing from a general art susceptibility, demand a preliminary discussion.

2. The essential nature of art from its objective side discussed, it is necessary to pass to the subjective element, the interest in which part will depend upon the personality — specially the gifts and endowments — of him who devotes himself to the service of art and the Church. In this connection, the first question that meets us is the personal and official relation of the artist to the Church. At the beginning we find the strange contrasts that heathen artists became interested in Christian works of art, while also Christian artists became martyrs. After a period of untrammelled art development had elapsed, at length, during the Middle Ages, both science and art fell under the exclusive superintendence of monks and priests, until the transference of art to the laity introduced the new aera. In this connection must also be discussed the question of the culture of artists, and the diffusion of those important guilds, partly industrial, partly ecclesiastical, by whose means the flourishing period of art in the later mediaeval period was ushered in. Here, as elsewhere, progress is connected with the individual and his work, and the measure of this progress is determined by investigation of the condition of the individual. In the study of the development of doctrines and the organization of the early Church an acquaintance with the Christian fathers is of fundamental importance. In monumental theology, the history of artists corresponds to patristics in the history of doctrines and ecclesiastical polity; yet in an inverse chronological order, since the most noted names of the Christian fathers are found at or near the organization of the Church, while the names of the most renowned masters of art are associated with the conclusion of the Middle Ages and the dawning of the modern epoch., With the exception of a few noted architects, the names of artists hardly appear at all in Christian antiquity. So completely was art merged in the general interest of the Church that individual service is almost forgotten. In the later Middle Ages the guilds effected a like result, so that the names of the architects of those most wonderful works that stand at the very acme of perfection are entirely wanting. Subsequently to the 13th and 14th centuries, however, in the departments of sculpture and painting, the individuality of the artist again asserted itself, and art pursued its high mission in a most noteworthy union of free endowment and the observance of organic aesthetic laws.

3. The third division has reference to art-creation. An art-work presupposes a material as well as an idea. Each is to be examined by itself, as well as in its combination in the production of a work of art. On the one side is such a moulding of the material as to breathe into it a living soul, and create in it a spiritual presence. This leads to the discussion of the laws of Technics. On the other hand, there is the projection of the idea into form-its embodiment in the material. This gives rise to questions of art composition. This latter involves the laws of the grouping in space of art representations. The first question pertains to the conception of the idea in space, to the successive stages of the transition from spiritual life to corporeity; or, according to the language of art, through what means, and by what law, art expresses thought and feeling. If we examine painting and sculpture, we find this occurs in part directly through historic composition; in part, indirectly through symbolic composition. In symbolic representation, the entire visible world is laid under contribution to aid in this transition to the unseen. When this method is practiced, as in delineations within the sphere of the Church, such means are perfectly legitimate. Hence arise the doctrines of Christian art symbolism, that occupies so wide a field, and, theologically considered, is of such vast significance.

Here is also naturally connected a department to which no certain and well- defined position has hitherto been assigned (since notice has only been taken of it in connection with the art archaeology of classical antiquity); we refer to Christian archaeological criticism and hermeneutics. This is the very reverse of art composition: the latter treating of the transition from the thought and the person of the artist to the execution of his work; the former leading from the art-work back to the thought, purpose, and character of the artist, and to the discovery of the circumstances under which the work was produced.

(II.) The second chief division of the subject — the history of art — treats of the different kinds of art. It remains an open question whether the subject of monuments should be connected directly with this division of the subject or receive an independent treatment. Authorities are divided. To both, however, must there be a preliminary section that shall describe art as a whole in its chronological development. With this also is naturally connected an account of the geographical distribution of monuments. This would include a description of those in situ, as well as of those that have been artificially distributed or gathered into art collections, both public and private.

(III.) The third division, that treats of art ideas, corresponds in some extent to that which is embraced in the archaeology of classical art, under the head "Subjects of Formative Arts." For theological purposes this is the chief difficulty, and to illustrate this all the other portions are preliminary and subordinate. Architecture, from its very nature, furnishes to this department but a meagre contribution, since here symbolism has not a wide range or application. Much more copious in materials are painting and sculpture, inasmuch as since the 16th century the history of images has been a subject of theological literature.

For a methodical treatment of this subject we must carefully observe the distinction between the historical course that the representation of images has generally taken (in which connection would be discussed the questions what, by what means, and in what spirit such representation has taken place), and the content of such representation (in which latter case the whole range of image representation is to be canvassed and carefully estimated). This subject, being Christian in its nature, has reference partly to the sacred history in its entire extension with Church history, and partly to the supersensuous subjects of faith, as well as the phenomena and motives of moral life. Hence would arise two further divisions, viz. 1, the monumental history of the kingdom of God; 2, monumental dogmatics and ethics. For the illustration of these two departments the whole wealth of monuments that have been preserved would be useful, and their connection as well with the course of history as of dogma would be shown.

At this point would arise yet two other themes of discussion:

(1.) The return from this range of Biblical representations to the text of the Holy Scriptures themselves. Since the subjects of the Bible, in whole or in part,, are found in numerous works of art in all periods of the history of the Church. we are thereby furnished a kind of translation and commentary of the same. This pictorial representation frequently proves more impressive than an oral or written exegesis, since the speaker or writer can pass by what is difficult in the Scriptures or let it remain undetermined, while the artist cannot, but must bring whatever topic he treats distinctly before the perception of himself and others. As, therefore, the artist has to practice a most searching exegetical avocation, monuments of art are exceedingly rich original sources of information for the interpretation of the Word of God, and also for the related questions of Biblical introduction, viz. the doctrines of the canon and of linguistic usage. Here rests the claim of "Monumental Exegesis."

(2.) The other theme has reference to practical theology. Through the contemplation of a sacred subject present to the beholder, and through the interpenetrating genius of a gifted artist, there is doubtless in Christian art representations a grand power to enkindle and exalt devotional feeling. An art-work, equally with the fleeting word, has its language of eloquence, and is able to convince and to inspire. Hence there is in monuments a practical power that has been used by the Church in all ages for purposes of moral and religious training. The "Lay-Bible," for example, illuminated as it was most copiously, became a most efficient means of the moral education of the masses, who were unable to read the text of the Scripture; and even the cultured have derived almost equal pleasure and profit from these sources, Practical theology, however, does not receive such helpful and constant illustration from monuments as the other chief divisions of theology.

The foregoing are among the chief reasons urged by Piper in justification of the term "Monumental Theology," and for regarding it as an independent discipline equally with "Patristics," " the History of Doctrines," etc. This claim to independence of treatment has been controverted by many eminent modern encyclopaedists, and the question must be regarded as still unsettled.

Literature. — Since "Monumental Theology" includes under it archaeology, art history, epigraphics, and numismatics, its literature would include the literature of these subjects. Specially, see Piper, Einleitung in die Monumentale Theologie (Gotha, 1867, 8vo), who gives the literature from the earliest time; also his article in Herzog's Real-Encyklopadie, 15:752 sq., which is a copious summary. See also Bennett, in the Methodist Quarterly Review (January 1871), page 5 sq., for a brief estimate of some of the most important works on this subject. One of the most interesting fields of monumental theology is found in the early Christian catacombs of Rome, and the results of explorations have been succinctly presented by Withrow, The Catacombs of Rome, and their Testimony relative to primitive Christianity (N.Y. 1874, 12mo). See also Lond Academy, October 1, 1873, page 370; Brit. and For. Ev. Rev.

January 1874, art. 6; Bibliotheca Sacra, volume 94; Meth. Qu. Rev. October 1874, art. 4. (C.W.B.)

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