Divine Beauty

For all those undertaking theological study this year (whether as a student at a College, as the theologian gifted to a christian community, or just for the love of God)…

Karl Barth has a wonderful discussion of the attributes of God (his ‘perfections’) in the second volume of the Church Dogmatics. The final of these studies is his examination of the concept of God’s glory. An element of God’s glory, according to Barth, is the truth that the form of his works is beautiful. Scripture consistently witnesses to the idea that all God’s works call out our joy (he relies upon an argument that joy is the response called forth by beauty). God’s glory is not only his goodness, which could be solemn and severe, but his beauty. His works awaken righteous desire, rejoicing. And he draws the delicious (and proper) conclusion that therefore the task of theology should be joyful, not boring, beautiful.

At this point we may refer to the fact that if its task is correctly seen and grasped, theology as a whole, in its parts and in their interconnexion, in its content and method, is, apart from anything else, a peculiarly beautiful science. Indeed, we can confidently say that it is the most beautiful of all the sciences. To find the sciences distasteful is the mark of the Philistine. It is an extreme form of Philistinism to find, or to be able to find, theology distasteful. The theologian who has no joy in his work is not a theologian at all. Sulky faces, morose thoughts and boring ways of speaking are intolerable in this science. May God deliver us from what the Catholic Church reckons one of the seven sins of the monk—taedium [tedium] —in respect of the great spiritual truths with which theology has to do. But we must know, of course, that it is only God who can keep us from it.

(Karl Barth, “The Eternity and Glory of God”, Church Dogmatics, § 31 “The Perfections of the Divine Freedom.” Volume II,1, 656).

Don’t you find this compelling? If our thought is properly theological it should call forth joy, not exasperation, in both ourselves and our hearers. The theologian should be the most joyful of people, because he or she is called to the contemplation of the ultimately Exquisite. The first commandment of theology is: Love the LORD your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. And the beauty of God is such that, giving himself freely to be loved, drawing lovers to himself, those who love him and come to know him through that love, are filled with an unshakeable and inexpressible joy. His beauty calls forth beauty. His glory, our rejoicing.

Seriously, that’s theology done in the mode of the Book of Psalms, right?

I have asked one thing from the LORD; it is what I desire: to dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, gazing on the beauty of the LORD and seeking Him in His temple. (Psalms 27:4 HCSB)


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