There is an art series being produced by an artist at my school. It is called the Glory of God Collection. The collection contains some beautiful paintings. The artist of the collection is an excellent artist. Eventually, the artist plans to add commentary on the paintings to tell viewers what they mean. The idea of adding commentary to the paintings puzzles me. Why does the artist think he needs to interpret the paintings for the people? Recently, I heard a musician explain her lyrics on NPR. The host asked her what was her intended meaning for one of her songs? She was reluctant to tell the host because she thought that different people would interpret her music differently. A third example of our topic is how some Christians want to interpret everything in the Bible literally. This essay will try to engage these experiences by interacting with this week’s readings.
The first reading came from William Lynch’s Christ and Apollo. The first characteristic of the imagination is its connection to the particular. Lynch asserts, “No matter what form the vision takes, however, or what its final goal--whether that be beauty, or insight, or peace, or tranquility, or God--the heart, substance, and center of the human imagination, as of human life, must lie in the particular and limited image or thing” (Lynch, 11). You must start below to get to the above. This is an example of the descent and the ascent. The path to the truth for the imagination is through images. Lynch tells of some wrong ways to get to the universal through the particular. Two of these ways are barely touching it to “produce the mystical vision” (16). Another is to touch lightly the particular to get to the self; to create particular feelings in the self. Lynch’s own position “pictures the imagination as following a narrow, direct path through the finite” (21). This is a description of the descent of the imagination which “also shoots up into insight” (21). Lynch asks how the literal and transcendent can be brought into harmony. His answer is that the reader should “discover symbols . . . [that] can make the imagination rise indeed, and keep all the tang and density of that actuality into which the imagination descends” (30). A good example of this would be Augustine’s principles of interpretation. He believed that Scripture had both literal and figurative meanings.
The second reading was “Formalist and Archetypal Criticism” by Leland Ryken. He states that formalist theory “seeks to define the distinctive knowledge that literature and the arts express” (Ryken, 3). Is it scientific, historical, or some other truth? We might call it poetic truth. Formalist critics argue that literature “does not primarily convey ideas or scientific facts but instead embodies the very quality of human experience. Literature does not tell us about reality but recreated by various techniques of concretion” (4). Literature shows us through particular images. This is similar to what Anthony Esolen describes in his interview with Ken Myers. Esolen described how ironies time, power, and love characterizes the Christian faith and the Bible. First, time is not neutral. The particularity of time intersects with divine providence. The author of time can work in all kinds of turns and surprises. Another irony of Scripture is the irony of power. The incarnate Son of God comes as a servant and he suffers crucifixion at the hands of men, but it is through the life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension that people are redeemed. The incarnation of the Son of God is a particular example of the intersection of the temporal and the eternal. Lynch notes, “St. Paul seems to attribute the ascension of Christ into heaven causally to His descent into the earth, and generally we ourselves will be stressing the great fact of Christology, that Christ moved down into all the realities of man to get to His father” (23). Christ comes down to redeem creation and rises for their justification. In addition, the incarnation shows both temporal man and eternal God existing in the same being. Third, is the irony of love. The continual witness of Scriptures is that God is love. He comes to earth not as a ruler, but as an innocent baby. God is unlike the Greek gods and Allah because He love his creation and He wants them to love Him in return.
Each of these readings provides possible ways to engage our three examples. First, is the example of the artist who adds commentary to his paintings. Is this a good thing or is this a bad thing? Ryken states that the “Christian tradition has long held that truth comes to us in the image as well as the concept” (13). We could say that the image is the painting and the commentary is the concept. It seems we have two expressions here. One is the painting and the other is the commentary. It seems best to keep these expressions separate. Second, the musician’s words seem to answer our first example too. She says that people come away with different interpretations from her music. It seems adding commentary to the painting is forcing its view on the viewer. The last example is the experience of Christian believers forcing a literal interpretation on all parts of the Bible. Augustine instructs us not to interpret the literal figuratively and not to interpret the figurative literally. In addition, he seems to argue that the same passage can have both a literal and figurative meaning. It would be good to remember that Ryken stated that the Bible communicates through images and concepts. We must not confuse the two.