The Witness of Beauty – An Introduction (Part 2 of 3)




2. The Beauty of God

We have seen that beauty, as a transcendental, is a property of not just some beings but all beings. From this a significant implication follows:

The point here is the very notion of a “transcendental”: the word indicates that which transcends, or goes beyond, any particular restriction or determinate limitation. Some properties belong to certain kinds of being insofar as they are that kind of being—for example, extension in time and space belongs to being only insofar as it is physical, and so does not apply to immaterial being such as numbers, mind, abstract universals, and so forth. The transcendentals, by contrast, are precisely unbounded. They are so “unbounded,” in fact, that they transcend even the borders of creation itself; they describe not only the being of all creation, but also the being of God.[1]

In other words, as a transcendental, beauty can be ascribed not only to all created beings but to God himself.[2] Both Scripture and the Christian theological tradition attest to this.[3] To cite just two verses of Scripture where beauty is ascribed to God, Psalm 27:4 reads, “One thing have I desired of the LORD, which I will require; even that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the fair beauty of the LORD, and to visit his temple,” and in Psalm 96:9 we are told, “O worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.”[4]

It might be objected that the witness of Scripture is mixed on this point, with the messianic prophecy of Isaiah 53 being cited as a prooftext against the idea that God can rightly be called beautiful. Maurer states the objection thus: “Christ could hardly be called good-looking, for He was tortured and crucified. Does not Isaiah say of Him, ‘There was in Him no stately bearing to make us look at Him, nor appearance that would attract us to Him’?”[5]

However, Christ is not devoid of beauty in the crucifixion, although “Jesus’s suffering, considered as suffering, is not beautiful. What is beautiful are the divine properties that are revealed through his suffering and pain: humility, self-giving, love.”[6] So it is right to say God is beautiful even when he appeared most ugly. Yet it still remains to say what exactly it means to predicate beauty of God, as opposed to creation.

2.1 The Analogia Entis and Divine Participation

One can properly grasp the nature of both God’s beauty and created beauty if one understands the analogia entis (analogy of being).[7] According to this doctrine, there is some correspondence between God and created being because God “has chosen to bring about a world of created beings that, on the one hand, are inadequate to express the fullness of his perfection and yet, on the other hand, as his effects, cannot help but derive all their perfection and goodness from him.”[8] Consequently, our language about God should be understood analogically, which is to say it is “neither exactly the same as [i.e., univocal] nor entirely different [i.e., equivocal] from the way in which it applies to creatures.”[9]

God’s beauty is therefore “similar or analogous – and thus not identical” to the beauty of created beings.[10] Furthermore, while God’s beauty bears some resemblance to that of created beings, there is also an infinite difference between God’s beauty and that of creation, even as “the infinite unlikeness between God and creatures never cancels out likeness”[11]:

The doctrine of analogy does not just argue for similarity but also insists on the infinite difference between Creator and creature. In fact, dissimilarity is the main point of the doctrine of analogy. Although there is a certain similarity between the way God is good and the way creation is good, nonetheless, an infinite difference remains – and never decreases, not even slightly – between the goodness of God and the goodness of creation. Therefore, the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) insisted that “between the Creator and the creature so great a likeness cannot be noted without the necessity of noting a greater dissimilarity between them.”[12]

Indeed, God’s beauty is so above our own that he is “the plenitude of…the Beautiful.”[13] To put it another way, God is “Beauty Itself.”[14] The fittingness of referring to God as Beauty itself comes from the fact that a synonym for the term “transcendentals” is “divine names.” A divine name “is conceived as a communication of God’s very self into the created order; it is a divine perfection that enters into the formal constitution of created entities.”[15] To identify Beauty as a divine name, then, is another way of denoting its transcendental nature.[16]

Hence, created beings are beautiful because the one who created them, God, is Beauty.[17] Jack Kilcrease nicely summarizes the relevant points:

In creating the world God has expressed the transcendental attributes of his own essence (goodness, wisdom, etc.). Insofar as God possesses these attributes, he possesses them absolutely and simply. That is to say, God is neither derived, nor compounded, of qualities, entities, or causal forces that preexist him (ST 1a.3.7). Indeed, in this sense, God does not possess qualities at all; rather, his attributes are him. For example, God does not have the quality of wisdom, but is wisdom itself. Logically then, creatures who are dependent on God’s creative activity can only possess such transcendental qualities derivatively and analogically. There is an analogical similitude between God and his creatures that exists within an even greater dissimilitude (ST 1a.13.6).[18]

That created beings derive their beauty from God implies that God is “not simply a being among beings.”[19] More colloquially, God is not “merely a bigger version of ourselves.”[20] God alone is “Being Itself,” Beauty itself.[21] As such, the beauty of created beings is a reflection of God’s beauty and does not come from themselves.[22] That is, created beings participate in God’s beauty.[23] To say that created beings participate in some quality or attribute means that they “have partially that which another [i.e., God] is without restriction.”[24] As Hans Boersma explains,

The doctrine of (transcendental) participation maintains that while created beings really do share in the perfections of God – particularly in the transcendentals of truth, goodness, and beauty – these perfections are present in God in an infinitely dissimilar fashion. Participation and analogy are like two different angles from which to approach the relationship between heaven and earth.[25]

All this might strike the reader as a lot of unnecessarily arcane metaphysical talk, but the point is to underscore one simple truth—because God communicates his beauty to creation, created beauty in turn points back to God:

The beauty of the material world expresses transcendental beauty, acting as a “sign” from eternity: the light of God’s Being…. To experience transcendental beauty is to perceive an intimation of God’s splendor. This is the majesty of the Creator, the absolute Being, from which all things derive their being. The light of creation testifies to the glory of its Creator.[26]

This truth is explicitly affirmed in the collect titled, “For Joy in God’s Creation,” found in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer:

O HEAVENLY Father, who hast filled the world with beauty; Open, we beseech thee, our eyes to behold thy gracious hand in all thy works; that rejoicing in thy whole creation, we may learn to serve thee with gladness; for the sake of him by whom all things were made, thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.[27]

Because the God who is Beauty has “filled the world with beauty,” we can recognize him in that created beauty.

2.2 Objections to the Analogia Entis and Divine Participation

Having said all this, the analogia entis and divine participation are not entirely uncontroversial—many Protestants, including some who are interested in articulating a contemporary theology of beauty, are averse to these doctrines, which has led to some Protestant accounts of beauty that could charitably be described as innovative. For example, Stephen John Wright offers “a theological construction of beauty derived from the theology of Robert Jenson,” in which he contends that the analogia entis detracts from the uniqueness and primacy of God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ.[28] Instead, “Christ is the sole analog between God and creation. The point of connection between divine and human beauty, therefore, is found in the revelation of God in Christ rather than in an antecedent metaphysical principle such as the analogia entis.”[29]

This is explicitly an echo of Karl Barth and his disciples, who maintain that the analogia entis is antithetical to Christianity because it fails to uphold “a fundamental discontinuity between God and the world and [an] attendant commitment to theology as a discipline informed and governed not by general human experience of the fallen created order but by God’s free revelatory activity in the person of Jesus Christ.”[30] Such an attitude is perhaps most popularly exemplified in Barth’s infamous declaration that the analogia entis is “the invention of Antichrist.”[31]

Similarly, Mark C. Mattes attempts to construct a theology of beauty based on the writings of Martin Luther, and the result differs in many respects from the catholic tradition. (I will leave aside the question of whether Mattes’s reading of Luther is the most accurate one.) On Mattes’s account, Luther holds that there are two kinds of beauty, creation beauty and gospel beauty.[32] Creation beauty can be discerned (albeit imperfectly) by all people according to the traditional criteria of integrity, proportion, and clarity, but these criteria are “inappropriate when acknowledging the beauty of Christ. His beauty is instead compassion, mercy, and forgiveness.”[33] Moreover, the beauty of creation tells us nothing about what God is like “apart from the gospel,”[34] for “the project of metaphysics fails as a road that grants access into God’s being independently of God’s self-giving in Jesus Christ…. Christ alone bridges God’s utter transcendence, which is insurmountable by either human thinking or doing.”[35]

Hence, Mattes rules out understanding beauty via the analogia entis on the basis that this doctrine constitutes a “theology of glory,” an attempt by sinners to “accrue merit before God through offering something of their own to God, something analogous to God.”[36]

Likewise, Mattes holds that the doctrine of divine participation is unsound because the Platonism from which it originates is “problematic as a tool for conveying the gospel,” as it leads to “sinners presuming that they can raise themselves to God.”[37] Here Mattes exemplifies the suspicion many Christians have toward Christian Platonism, understood by its opponents to be an unbiblical syncretism in which essential tenets of Christianity are diluted or abandoned in favor of Greek (specifically Platonic) philosophy. These concerns over the influence of Greek philosophy often stem from the so-called “hellenization hypothesis,” which Cooper summarizes as follows:

The prominent liberal theologian Adolf von Harnack argued in his monumental Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte (History of Dogma) that in the first three centuries of the church, the gospel was gradually dominated by Greek thinking that is foreign to the New Testament text. In the Reformation, Harnack argues, the original gospel message was recovered, but it was soon once again buried under various Greek philosophical ideas in the Protestant scholastic tradition. For Harnack, therefore, the Protestant theologian must look for the message of Christ in the Gospels apart from the theological categories which distorted Christ’s teaching in later church history.[38]

The transcendental nature of beauty—referred to by Mattes as “pancalism,” the belief that “all things (pan-) to one degree or another are beautiful (kalos in Greek)[39]—is denied on the same basis, as humans cannot claim to be beautiful and thereby “claim righteousness in the presence of God”[40]: “For any human to claim any divine trait, name, or attribute for oneself, such as goodness, beauty, or freedom, is to take away from God what properly belongs to God.”[41] According to Protestants like Wright and Mattes, then, the catholic theology of beauty is illegitimate because it wrongly ascribes merit to people where there is none.

However, to conclude that the doctrines of the analogia entis and divine participation entail that people have merit before God apart from Christ is a false inference. When we say that all people are to some degree beautiful—which, as we have seen, is substantively the same as saying they are to some degree good—the sense in which we are calling them good or beautiful makes all the difference for whether or not we are ascribing merit to them. More concretely, to say that all people are to some degree good does not mean that those without faith in Christ are able to perform good works pleasing to God. As Article XIII of the Thirty-Nine Articles teaches,

WORKS done before the grace of Christ, and the Inspiration of his Spirit, are not pleasant to God, forasmuch as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ; neither do they make men meet to receive grace, or (as the School-authors say) deserve grace of congruity: yea rather, for that they are not done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not but they have the nature of sin.[42]

The beauty and goodness of all people lies not in virtue of what they do, but in who they are, namely, creatures of God who bear his image. From John Calvin’s commentary on Psalm 8:

I have, indeed, no doubt but [the Psalmist] intends…the distinguished endowments which clearly manifest that men were formed after the image of God, and created to the hope of a blessed and immortal life. The reason with which they are endued, and by which they can distinguish between good and evil; the principle of religion which is planted in them; their intercourse with each other, which is preserved from being broken up by certain sacred bonds; the regard to what is becoming, and the sense of shame which guilt awakens in them, as well as their continuing to be governed by laws; all these things are clear indications of pre-eminent and celestial wisdom.[43]

Calvin’s references to guilt and distinguishing between good and evil clearly indicate that he has fallen humanity in view here, and the idea that he, of all people, would try to make room for human merit before God apart from Christ beggars belief. It is therefore safe to attribute at least some goodness and beauty to all people, even the unsaved, given their participation in God through which they bear his image.[44] Again, this attribution does not ascribe merit to fallen humanity, for as Davison observes, contra Mattes,

God does not creatively love a previously worthless creature into worth; God creatively loves the creature into existence, with worth, from its very beginning. The creature’s worth is not like some secondary projection of colour onto an otherwise uncoloured surface: it is created coloured; it is created good. We need not fear, with [Anders] Nygren, that creatures would then offer independent, ‘extrinsic grounds’, for God’s love. Nygren was right to say that ‘the only ground for it [God’s love] is to be found in God Himself’, but to this we should add that this love has then truly created, and truly grounds, the good in creatures that God loves.[45]

As for the idea that the analogia entis is impious for suggesting that we can know God apart from Christ’s incarnation, in reality it is the claim that we can only know God in the Incarnation that is impious, as J. Gresham Machen ably explains:

Some liberal preachers would say that we become acquainted with God only through Jesus. That assertion has an appearance of loyalty to our Lord, but in reality it is highly derogatory to Him. For Jesus Himself plainly recognized the validity of other ways of knowing God, and to reject those other ways is to reject the things that lay at the very center of Jesus’ life. Jesus plainly found God’s hand in nature; the lilies of the field revealed to Him the weaving of God. He found God also in the moral law; the law written in the hearts of men was God’s law, which revealed His righteousness…. To say that such revelation of God was invalid, or is useless to us today, is to do despite to things that lay closest to Jesus’ mind and heart. But, as a matter of fact, when men say that we know God only as He is revealed in Jesus, they are denying all real knowledge of God whatever. For unless there be some idea of God independent of Jesus, the ascription of deity to Jesus has no meaning. To say, “Jesus is God,” is meaningless unless the word “God” has an antecedent meaning attached to it. And the attaching of a meaning to the word “God” is accomplished by the means which have just been mentioned.[46]

As we will see in the next section, catholic Christianity has long attested to the reality of natural knowledge of God. For now it will suffice to say that while critics may argue the analogia entis is antithetical to Protestantism, it would be more accurate to say it is antithetical to Barth’s idiosyncratic conception of Protestantism: “Barth’s exposition of nature, grace, and analogy is not a necessary outworking of Protestant soteriological commitments. On this point he is not so much being Protestant as he is being, well, Barthian.”[47]

Historically, the analogia entis has been perfectly at home within Protestantism, as most of the Reformed orthodox “tended toward a more or less Thomistic understanding of being as analogical.”[48] Likewise, Kilcrease notes that “theologians of what Robert Preus refers to as the ‘Silver Age’ of Lutheran scholasticism (that is, the period immediately following the Thirty Years War)” accepted “a modified version of Thomistic analogy.”[49] Many contemporary Protestants also “embrace the analogy of being.”[50] Steven J. Duby even says, “Affirming a Creator-creature analogy established by God’s act of creation can and should be a point of common ground for Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox believers.”[51]

By the same token, the idea that appropriating the insights of Platonism—such as the concept of divine participation—ineluctably leads to some kind of unbiblical syncretism is not borne out by the actual history of Christian thought. Those with such concerns tend to speak as though the early Christians were far less discerning in their engagement with Platonism than they really were. On this point, Boersma is worth quoting at length:

There’s a fairly common story going around among evangelicals that blames most of the history of Christianity for uncritically accepting Platonism. Sometimes one almost gets the impression that it’s only recently that some evangelicals have managed to recover the importance of the human body, and thus have finally overcome the evils of the Platonic tradition. That story says a great deal more about contemporary evangelicalism than it does about the history of Christian thought…. By and large, Christians did reject the excesses of Platonism. They were keen to assert divine freedom, as shown particularly in the Creation and in the Incarnation. They largely agreed on the goodness of the material order and thus celebrated their belief in the resurrection of the body and in an eschatological future of a new heaven and a new earth. And, most important, they were eager to affirm the Trinitarian character of God.[52]

The discerning acceptance of Platonist ideas is not limited to pre-Reformation Christians, either. Concerning divine participation, Davison says, “The sense of a broadly shared participatory framework is profound, for instance…in some cases with greater ambiguities and departures – in Lancelot Andrewes, Richard Hooker, the Wesleys, Jonathan Edwards, C. S. Lewis, and many others.”[53] Eric Parker similarly writes,

The Platonism of the Reformed scholastics shows that Protestants need not borrow from any other source than the one that the Reformers themselves used, namely, the Platonic-Christian synthesis that they received from the fathers. We can see this in Bucer, Vermigli, Zanchi, and others, all of whom articulate a participatory ontology that is in accordance with the Thomistic tradition.[54]

Hence it seems Robert Louis Wilken is correct to say, “The notion that the development of early Christian thought represented a hellenization of Christianity has outlived its usefulness. The time has come to bid a fond farewell to the ideas of Adolf von Harnack.”[55] Rather than an unbiblical syncretism, Christian Platonism is better understood as “a synthesis of the best of rational Greek philosophy and biblical revelation.”[56] Although I will not make an extended case for the Bible’s consonance with both the analogia entis and divine participation, Duby does observe, “The scriptural teaching on God’s communicative purposes…gives us hope that our words may be applied to God with intellectual and spiritual benefit,” and “whatever perfection or goodness creatures do have can come from God alone (Rom 11:36; 1 Cor 8:6).”[57]

Returning to the main discussion, we saw before that created beauty points to God. Another way of putting this is that through created beauty we attain natural knowledge of God.

3. Beauty as Natural Knowledge of God

Natural knowledge of God is “the knowledge of God the Creator given by the Creator himself in the marks of his wisdom and power in the grandeur and order of creation.”[58] A term sometimes used interchangeably with “natural knowledge” is natural theology, which is classically defined as follows:

‘By nature’, that is, just by being human beings, men and women have a certain degree of knowledge of God and awareness of him, or at least a capacity for such an awareness; and this knowledge or awareness exists anterior to the special revelation of God made through Jesus Christ, through the Church, through the Bible.[59]

A few points need to be established about this traditional understanding of natural theology. First, “Natural knowledge of God…is not something that humanity obtains of its own initiative or by following a pathway never opened or authorized by God. Instead, it is made available by God’s own purposeful self-revelation.”[60] Furthermore, to affirm natural knowledge of God does not infringe upon or usurp Christ’s preeminence as the revelation of God, for Christ himself, “the Logos through whom the world was made is the source of humanity’s natural knowledge of God in the order and majesty of the universe (though that knowledge is corrupted by sin).”[61]

Emphasizing that natural knowledge of God is revealed by God himself through Christ—for which reason we can also speak of natural revelation[62]—serves to nullify objections against classical natural theology from the likes of Barth and his followers, who misunderstand natural theology as a means “by which knowledge of God could be obtained through analysis of creation rather than on the self-disclosure or self-revelation of God.”[63] On this Barthian perspective, natural theology is ruled out entirely as illegitimate.[64]

This leads to the second point, which is that notwithstanding “the influence of twentieth-century authors like Karl Barth and Cornelius Van Til,”[65] natural theology has historically been affirmed by the Protestant tradition: “Some of the most well-known and influential Reformers and most of the important documents which were created by the theologians of the first two hundred years of the Reformation clearly affirm that all humans can attain to some knowledge of the true God who reveals Himself in nature.”[66]

The analogia entis—which affirms some likeness between God and creation, however partial and dwarfed by infinite unlikeness—is what makes natural knowledge of God possible. Barth understood that they stand or fall together, which is why he condemned both. Therefore, if it is right to critique Barth’s rejection of the analogia entis as being out of step with the catholic tradition, then his dismissal of natural theology is equally aberrant and need not be treated as normative by Protestants today. Duby notes,

Though he has become a remarkably influential figure in Protestant discussion of natural theology, Barth is but one voice in the discussion, one who knew he had taken up a minority position. Indeed, he called the church’s pre- and post-Reformation doctrine of a natural knowledge of God a “hydra” that kept returning. Barth should have allowed the church’s consensus (a word he himself uses) with its biblical moorings to chasten his rejection of the natural knowledge of God.[67]

Third, the classical understanding of natural theology must be carefully distinguished from a revisionist understanding that has arisen in recent years. According to this revisionist definition, “A Christian natural theology is grounded in and informed by a characteristic Christian theological foundation.”[68] In other words, natural knowledge of God is available primarily (or only) to those who are already Christians, and natural theology is “developed…retrospectively.”[69] This is at odds with the emphasis of classical natural theology that natural knowledge of God is available to all people, including non-Christians.

The revisionist understanding of natural theology complements the Barthian renunciation of classical natural theology, as James Barr points out:

People who were very much in the Barthian line of thought began to talk as if some kind of natural theology, or something a little like it, might after all be acceptable and even necessary—but all this without dismantling the earlier basic structures of Barthian theology which had, beyond all doubt, taken the absolute denial of natural theology as a central and nonnegotiable position. There was no talk of a revision, still less of an abandonment, of the violent earlier attacks on natural theology. The new position, one might say, was that only through the death of all sorts of the older natural theology could one come to the resurrection of a new natural theology.[70]

Proponents of this “new natural theology” include T. F. Torrance and, more recently, Alister McGrath.[71] The revisionist understanding of natural theology has insinuated itself into contemporary Christian discourse to the point that Gayle Doornbos has erroneously claimed that “the reflection of restored right reason on natural revelation in relation to and in light of special revelation” is “the classical understanding” of natural theology.[72]

In this vein, McGrath suggests that an understanding of natural theology as informed or governed by Christian presuppositions has a greater claim to being “normative,” on the basis that Raymond de Sebonde, a late medieval Spanish theologian, promoted something akin to McGrath’s “Christian” natural theology two or three centuries before what I have called the classical understanding became prominent during the Enlightenment.[73] Yet on this basis it would seem that Aquinas, who predates Sebonde by another couple of centuries and whose thought considerably influenced the classical understanding, has an even greater claim to having taught what should be considered the normative understanding of natural theology.[74]

This digression on the contested meaning of “natural theology” has been necessary in part to make clear that when I say we can attain natural knowledge of God through beauty, this is the case for all people, in accordance with classical natural theology rightly understood, not the revisionist understanding wherein natural knowledge is primarily or solely the purview of Christians. As Johnson puts it, “The experience of the beautiful indeed belongs to general revelation, which is the witness that God has left of God’s majesty, glory, and faithfulness in every corner of creation.”[75]

One example of what a theology of beauty looks like if one assumes something akin to the revisionist understanding of natural theology can be seen in the case of Jonathan Edwards. According to Edwards there are two kinds of beauty, primary beauty and secondary beauty. Primary beauty, which Edwards also refers to as “spiritual beauty” and “true virtue,” consists in what Edwards calls “benevolence to being in general.”[76] This general benevolence, in turn, “chiefly [consists] in love to God; the Being of beings, infinitely the greatest and best.”[77] Primary beauty manifests in “this love of being, and the qualities and acts which arise from it.”[78] Furthermore, the primary beauty of human beings is “but the reflection of the diffused beams of that Being who hath an infinite fulness of brightness and glory.”[79] God himself, then, is “infinitely the most beautiful and excellent,”[80] and “the beauty of the divine nature does primarily consist in God’s holiness.”[81]

On the other hand, secondary beauty or “natural beauty” is an “inferior” beauty “which consists in a mutual consent and agreement of different things, in form, manner, quantity, and visible end or design; called by the various names of regularity, order, uniformity, symmetry, proportion, harmony, etc.”[82] It is thus more or less characterized by the traditional criteria for beauty discussed previously. Secondary beauty is to be found in all manner of things both physical and immaterial, such as “the beautiful proportion of the various parts of a human body or countenance,” or “the sweet mutual consent and agreement of the various notes of a melodious tune.”[83]

The relevant point for our discussion is that on Edwards’s account, primary beauty—that “true beauty of moral agents, or spiritual beings”[84]—can only be discerned and appreciated by those who are themselves characterized by this love for God and being in general, i.e., by those who are Christian:

It is impossible that any one should truly relish this beauty, consisting in general benevolence, who has not that temper himself. I have observed, that if any being is possessed of such a temper, he will unavoidably be pleased with the same temper in another. And it may in like manner be demonstrated, that it is such a spirit, and nothing else, which will relish such a spirit.[85]

Meanwhile, although secondary beauty does contain within it “some image of the true, spiritual, original beauty which has been spoken of,” nevertheless, “It is not any reflection upon, or perception of, such a resemblance, that is the reason why such a form or state of objects appear beautiful to men.”[86] Rather, non-Christians discern and appreciate in secondary beauty only the “uniformity and proportion” that properly characterize it.[87] Furthermore, “The disposition which consists in a determination of mind to approve and be pleased with this beauty, considered simply, and by itself, has nothing of the nature of true virtue, and is entirely a different thing from a truly virtuous taste.”[88]

In short, Edwards sharply separates primary beauty from secondary beauty in such a way that secondary beauty—the only beauty non-Christians can discern and appreciate—reveals nothing of God. Pleasurable it may be, but secondary beauty is a spiritual dead end, whereas primary beauty, that “superior”[89] beauty which is truly divine and a “reflection” of God, is to be enjoyed by Christians alone, not unbelievers. Incidentally, this understanding of beauty—wherein non-Christians can appreciate “inferior,” earthly beauty, but not the “superior,” true beauty of God—strongly resembles the account of beauty Mattes ascribes to Luther.

Joseph D. Wooddell positively cites Edwards in an attempt to support his own argument that “the unbeliever might be drawn by God via beauty to a place where he is positioned to receive and accept the gospel.”[90] The basis for Wooddell’s claim of affinity with Edwards on this point is that Edwards affirms both 1) that non-Christians can appreciate secondary beauty, and 2) that secondary beauty contains within itself an “image” or reflection of primary beauty.

However, Wooddell does not seem to recognize that Edwards also says that, just as only Christians can appreciate primary beauty, so too it is only Christians who can discern the “image” of primary beauty within secondary beauty. As Edwards puts it,

God has so constituted nature, that the presenting of this inferior beauty, especially in those kinds of it which have the greatest resemblance of the primary beauty, as the harmony of sounds and the beauties of nature, have a tendency to assist those whose hearts are under the influence of a truly virtuous temper to dispose them to the exercises of divine love, and enliven in them a sense of spiritual beauty.[91]

Recall that “true virtue” is characterized by benevolence toward being in general and “love to God” in particular. Thus, when Edwards refers to those who are “under the influence of a truly virtuous temper” he is speaking of Christians, not unbelievers.

I agree with Wooddell that “if people can recognize beauty and are attracted to it, then apologists should find creative ways to present beauty…to nonbelievers.”[92] But I am not convinced that Edwards can plausibly be cited in support of this endeavor. As Michael J. McClymond and Gerald R. McDermott observe, “A key point for Edwards was that spiritual beauty was not apparent to all. Only a mind reborn and renewed through the Holy Spirit could appreciate the spiritual beauties exhibited in God himself, the truths of the gospel, the virtues of the saint, and the community of faith.”[93] Moreover, as we have seen, on Edwards’s account there is no bridge between secondary beauty and primary beauty that allows the unbeliever to discern God via the former.

In contrast, multiple classical Protestant figures specifically affirm created beauty as a species of the natural knowledge of God available to all people. To give some examples, Calvin says of the knowledge of God in creation, “Wherever you turn your eyes, there is no portion of the world, however minute, that does not exhibit at least some sparks of beauty; while it is impossible to contemplate the vast and beautiful fabric as it extends around, without being overwhelmed by the immense weight of glory.”[94] Peter Martyr Vermigli writes, “By the very workmanship of this world, they [humans] knew God to be most mighty. Further, they knew by the beauty, show, and a distinction of all things, that so great a power was administered by a most high providence and wisdom.”[95] Francis Turretin holds that “the beauty and order of the universe…show that God’s existence can be discerned from nature.”[96] And from Johann Gerhard, “God, through the beauty of the works of His own hands, desires to call me to Himself and to incite me to love Him alone.”[97]

Now while it is true that the natural knowledge of God renders non-Christians “without excuse” for their sin, as Romans 1:20 says,[98] it is crucial to realize this is not the only function of natural knowledge—another purpose of the natural knowledge of God is, in the words of Johann Alsted, “to prepare [mankind] for the school of grace.”[99] That is to say, natural knowledge “prepares humanity for the supernatural revelation that culminates in the incarnation” of Christ.[100] Duby helpfully explains the relationship between natural and supernatural theology this way:

Within the plan of God nature and natural theology are organically connected to grace and supernatural theology. Pace rationalism, nature and natural theology are not sufficient in themselves to lead humanity to its end (everlasting fellowship with the triune God and the people of God). Pace fideism, faith in Christ and supernatural theology do not arise ex nihilo or detached from human experience and knowledge about the external world. In other words, nature anticipates grace, and grace perfects nature.[101]

Thus, by virtue of being a kind of natural knowledge of God, beauty can prepare non-Christians for the supernatural grace of Christ that is found in the gospel. Granted, the same could be said for other kinds of natural knowledge, but I believe beauty is particularly suited to our age as a means of witness.

4. Beauty’s Potential for Witness

As mentioned previously, it is generally accepted even among natural law proponents that natural law arguments usually do not persuade non-Christians in the realm of public policy. Beyond the sphere of conventional politics, though, there is a growing recognition that reason and arguments have little persuasive force to commend them as a means of witness today. Balthasar recognized this as early as 1961:

The proofs of the truth have lost their cogency. In other words, syllogisms may still dutifully clatter away like rotary presses or computers which infallibly spew out an exact number of answers by the minute. But the logic of those answers is itself a mechanism which no longer captivates anyone. The very conclusions are no longer conclusive.[102]

Even earlier, C. S. Lewis had “grown skeptical of the power of reasoned arguments to impact a generation that had ceased to believe in reason.” Indeed, he “lost faith in the ability of rational arguments to penetrate the defenses modern society had erected against reason itself.”[103]

The situation is no better today, as some have realized. A rational-argumentative approach to witness remains popular—buoyed by the assumption that “it is a highly effective approach and should work even if it doesn’t[104]—but as Michael Ward writes, “In a postmodern world, systematic or abstract or propositional apologetic strategies may often be of limited appeal because of suspicions about the supposed neutrality or utility of ‘reason’.”[105] Even the turn toward atheism or religious indifference is in many cases not born of reason:

It seems less a choice [to apostatize] and more a default, as if reason and debate have given way to inertia. Students these days are not usually won over to secularity by argument, as sometimes happened a generation or two ago when they read the likes of Nietzsche, Darwin, Marx, Freud, and Russell…. They don’t reject faith, as if won over to unbelief through reasoned argument. They simply and slowly drift away.[106]

In making this point, I am not claiming we should give up on reason. As Anselm of Canterbury indicates in his famous phrase Credo ut intelligam—“I believe in order that I may understand”—by the light of our faith we see that everything Christianity teaches is in accord with reason rather than standing apart from or against reason. It would therefore be not only unwise but un-Christian (not to mention undoable) to set aside our reason.

Even so, rational argumentation might not be our best means of witness today. We should not dispense with arguments entirely, given that they will reach some,[107] but we would also do well to recognize that such people are perhaps more the exception than the norm.

At the same time, there is a growing recognition that beauty might be able to reach people and help lead them to God where rational argumentation has failed to do so. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn suggested as much in his 1970 Nobel Lecture:

One day Dostoevsky threw out the enigmatic remark: “Beauty will save the world”. What sort of a statement is that? For a long time I considered it mere words. How could that be possible? When in bloodthirsty history did beauty ever save anyone from anything? Ennobled, uplifted, yes – but whom has it saved?

Perhaps that ancient trinity of Truth, Goodness and Beauty is not simply an empty, faded formula as we thought in the days of our self-confident, materialistic youth? If the tops of these three trees converge, as the scholars maintained, but the too blatant, too direct stems of Truth and Goodness are crushed, cut down, not allowed through – then perhaps the fantastic, unpredictable, unexpected stems of Beauty will push through and soar TO THAT VERY SAME PLACE, and in so doing will fulfil the work of all three?[108]

In speaking of beauty’s power to reach people, two caveats should be made: first, to best perceive beauty one must have attained a certain level of personal maturity or cultivation. Dubay particularly underscores this:

A person needs to reach a certain level of psychological and personal maturity to appreciate a Rembrandt masterpiece or a Beethoven symphony. A child or adult whose literary tastes and accomplishments do not transcend the Sunday comics is not likely to cherish Shakespeare, but it does not follow that something is lacking in the Bard. Nor does it suggest that his plays are not objectively superb literature. Not everyone equally perceives elegance, proportion, and the radiance of forms, whether they be natural or supernatural.[109]

Second, and perhaps more significantly, sin hinders our appreciation of beauty: “Moral depravity explains why men cast aside ‘perfectly plain’ evidences. They reject these eloquent testimonies to the divine Artist because by their ‘impiety and depravity’ they ‘keep truth imprisoned in their wickedness’. They are therefore ‘without excuse’ (Rom 1:18-20).”[110]

Moreover, persistence in sin leads to what Dubay calls “jadedness”: “Unremitting and unrepented sin begets satiety, surfeit, and personal burnout—all of which add up to the personal disaster of jadedness, which radically dulls a lively response to the beautiful.”[111] Miravalle makes the same point:

Sin and selfishness spoil beauty. Vice kills appreciation. Asceticism is a prerequisite to aestheticism. Only the innocence born of self-control keeps the world fresh and glimmering. And even if you’re not indulging in something directly sinful, too much sensory stimulation can blind you to the deeper realities latent in sensible realities.[112]

If even Christians’ perception of beauty can be clouded by sin, what hope do we have of reaching the unsaved in this way? Yet while sin seriously impedes a fallen person’s appreciation of beauty, it does not preclude him or her from perceiving it entirely:

Even an age that can’t think or love, can still be touched by beauty. A sunrise still speaks to the most hardened hearts and arouses feelings of inarticulate gratitude. And gratitude is full of grace, arousing the desire to say “thank you” to someone. Such gratitude is the birth of humility in proud hearts, the birth-pangs of which will break the heart itself.[113]

Beauty is a lighthouse whose flame can never be snuffed out, even if it burns dimly in our befogged vision, and in this we can take great comfort: “Beauty represents a remarkable source of hope: it is, so to speak, a transcendent call that can be heard by the most flesh-bound ears. For the same reason, it has a universal scope: there is no human being that is not capable of being moved in some respect by beauty.”[114]

It could be objected that if beauty will often not reach people, then it is no better an approach to witness than argumentation. This would be an embarrassing conclusion to reach, given that I began this essay by criticizing the efficacy of natural law arguments. However, while I grant that beauty is no more guaranteed to reach than natural law arguments, I still believe it has an edge. As discussed previously, the experience of beauty bypasses discursive reasoning, whereas natural law arguments hinge on such reasoning. This difference is key in our “age of rational illiteracy, in which deconstructed man has turned his back contemptuously on truth.”[115] Where reason cannot reach, beauty steps in with an intellectual immediacy that discursive argumentation lacks:

The discursive process of abstraction, which may gradually lead us by deduction to some knowledge of God, though particularly proportioned to the human reason, is far more mediated and far less adequate than this encounter with God in Beauty. We see him under the mode of Beauty. Our sensible perception of beauty in a beautiful object is not so much a mediation as a manifestation of a divine reality; this accounts for its intensity, which the most lucid demonstration cannot rival.[116]

Beauty, then, always has the potential to be recognized as an encounter with God, even as that same beauty can be dismissed by those who would not see.[117] So how can we deliberately manifest beauty to the world around us?

[continued in Part 3]


  1. Schindler, Love and the Postmodern, 18–19, italics original.
  2. See Maritain, Art and Scholasticism, 30; Owens, Elementary Christian Metaphysics, 355; Maurer, About Beauty, 65, 117; Hart, Beauty of the Infinite, 177; Bavinck, “Beauty and Aesthetics,” 255; Wooddell, Beauty of the Faith, 87–90; and Johnson, Father of Lights, 2.
  3. See Maurer, About Beauty, 108; Viladesau, Theological Aesthetics, 105–117; Bender, Dawn of the Invisible; Sammon, God Who Is Beauty; Sammon, Called to Attraction; and King, Beauty of the Lord, 30–39.
  4. Protestant Episcopal Church, The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church According to the Use of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America: Together with The Psalter or Psalms of David (New York: Oxford University Press, 1928), 371–72, 460.
  5. Maurer, About Beauty, 119. See also Carol Harrison, Beauty and Revelation in the Thought of Saint Augustine (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 234; Ratzinger, “Contemplation of Beauty,”; and O’Collins, Beauty of Jesus, 99–100.
  6. Johnson, Father of Lights, 168, italics original. See also Johnson, Father of Lights, 158–60, 167–69; Maurer, About Beauty, 119–20; Harrison, Beauty and Revelation, 233–38; Dubay, Evidential Power, 310–13; Ratzinger, “Contemplation of Beauty,”; Richard Viladesau, The Beauty of the Cross: The Passion of Christ in Theology and the Arts from the Catacombs to the Eve of the Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 7–12; Wooddell, Beauty of the Faith, 93–94; Carnes, Beauty, 87, 161–62, 251–52; Sammon, Called to Attraction, 38; O’Collins, Beauty of Jesus, 99–118; and Myers, Poetics of Orthodoxy, 46. Given that Christ’s beauty in the crucifixion is spiritual rather than physical, Mark C. Mattes claims that the crucifixion “overturns the medieval criteria for beauty,” i.e., integrity, proportion, and clarity (Martin Luther’s Theology of Beauty: A Reappraisal [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017], 70). But this is not so, considering that the traditional criteria for beauty can be understood spiritually as well as physically, as discussed previously.
  7. Johnson, Father of Lights, 72.
  8. Steven J. Duby, God in Himself: Scripture, Metaphysics, and the Task of Christian Theology (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2019), 233, italics original. Compare Davison, Participation in God, “Whatever we find in an effect must in some sense have been present first in its cause” (86).
  9. Duby, God in Himself, 242. See also Gregg R. Allison, Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 74; Alister McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 6th ed. (Hoboken, NJ; Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2017), 449; Sammon, Called to Attraction, 147–48; Carter, Interpreting Scripture, 49–50; Cooper, Prolegomena, 165–70; and Dodds, One Creator God, 87–92.
  10. Boersma, Heavenly Participation, 70. See also Davison, Participation in God, 105, 151.
  11. Johnson, Father of Lights, 81.
  12. Boersma, Heavenly Participation, 71, italics original. See also Sammon, Called to Attraction, 145; Davison, Participation in God, 147, 173; and Johnson, Father of Lights, 82.
  13. Balthasar, My Work, 115. See also Hall, Being and Attributes, 198; Maritain, Art and Scholasticism, 30–31; Maurer, About Beauty, 65, 117; Hart, Beauty of the Infinite, 177; Gregory P. Rocca, Speaking the Incomprehensible God (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2004), 318; Bavinck, “Beauty and Aesthetics,” 255; Oden, Classic Christianity, 98; Sammon, Called to Attraction, 14, 17; and Myers, Poetics of Orthodoxy, 4, 65.
  14. Wilson, Vision of the Soul, 194, 203, 226. See also Wilson, Vision of the Soul, 101, 220; Maritain, Art and Scholasticism, 31; Maurer, About Beauty, 1, 65, 67, 113, 121; Viladesau, Theological Aesthetics, 138, 149; Hart, Beauty of the Infinite, 177; Wooddell, Beauty of the Faith, 54, 87; Sammon, God Who Is Beauty, 1; Carnes, Beauty, 185; Sammon, Called to Attraction, 14, 16–17, 77, 152; Davison, Participation in God, 304; and Myers, Poetics of Orthodoxy, 2, 67.
  15. Sammon, God Who Is Beauty, 7. See also Rocca, Incomprehensible God, 291–333; Sammon, Called to Attraction, 3, 60; Wilson, Vision of the Soul, 194; Schindler, Love and the Postmodern, 19n20; Scott R. Swain, “On Divine Naming,” in Aquinas Among the Protestants, Manfred Svensson and David VanDrunen, eds. (Hoboken, NJ; Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2018), 207–228; and Dodds, One Creator God, 84–87.
  16. See Maritain, Art and Scholasticism, 30; Maurer, About Beauty, 1, 117; Viladesau, Theological Aesthetics, 150; Sammon, God Who Is Beauty; Carnes, Beauty, xi, xiii, 44–45, 117, 249; Sammon, Called to Attraction, 2, 49–68; Wilson, Vision of the Soul, 19, 194, 203, 206; King, Beauty of the Lord, 39; and Johnson, Father of Lights, 3.
  17. See Maurer, About Beauty, 75; Sammon, Called to Attraction, 15; Wilson, Vision of the Soul, 86; and Myers, Poetics of Orthodoxy, 2, 65, 71.
  18. Jack Kilcrease, “Johann Gerhard’s Reception of Thomas Aquinas’s Analogia Entis,” in Aquinas Among the Protestants, 117. See also King, Beauty of the Lord, 5, 20. For a discussion of divine simplicity—the doctrine that God is not composed of parts (physical or immaterial), with the implication that, properly speaking, God is his attributes rather than merely having attributes—see Steven J. Duby, Divine Simplicity: A Dogmatic Account (New York: T&T Clark, 2016); Joseph Minich and Onsi A. Kamel, eds., The Lord is One: Reclaiming Divine Simplicity (Davenant Press, 2019); Matthew Barrett, None Greater: The Undomesticated Attributes of God (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2019), 71–88; and Dodds, One Creator God, 61–66.
  19. Kilcrease, “Gerhard’s Reception,” 117. See also Davison, Participation in God, 2, 20, 65.
  20. Barrett, None Greater, 44. See also Barrett, None Greater, 41–54.
  21. Wilson, Vision of the Soul, 206.
  22. See Hall, Being and Attributes, 307; Maurer, About Beauty, 86; Oden, Classic Christianity, 98; and Davison, Participation in God, 70, 75.
  23. See Hall, Being and Attributes, 196–98; Maurer, About Beauty, 116; Balthasar, My Work, 115; Wilson, Vision of the Soul, 206, 220; Schindler, Love and the Postmodern, 18–19; Davison, Participation in God, 329; Johnson, Father of Lights, 2; and Viladesau, “Art and Meaning,” 418.
  24. Bernard Montagnes, The Doctrine of the Analogy of Being according to Thomas Aquinas, ed. Andrew Tallon, trans. E. M. Macierowski (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 2004), 34. See also Rudi A. te Velde, “Participation: Aquinas and His Neoplatonic Sources,” in Hampton and Kenney, Christian Platonism, 122, 136. For an extended treatment of the doctrine of divine participation, see Davison, Participation in God.
  25. Boersma, Heavenly Participation, 186. See also Dubay, Evidential Power, 46, and Kilcrease, “Gerhard’s Reception,” 117.
  26. Coutras, Tolkien’s Theology, 18. See also Coutras, Tolkien’s Theology, 21; Hall, Being and Attributes, 306; Maurer, About Beauty, 100; Bavinck, “Beauty and Aesthetics,” 250; Wilson, Vision of the Soul, 206; and Myers, Poetics of Orthodoxy, 4, 15, 63, 65–67, 117.
  27. Book of Common Prayer, 596, italics original.
  28. Wright, Dogmatic Aesthetics, 13–15.
  29. Wright, Dogmatic Aesthetics, 29.
  30. Duby, God in Himself, 265. See also J. V. Fesko, Reforming Apologetics: Retrieving the Classic Reformed Approach to Defending the Faith (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2019), 51.
  31. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I/1, G. W. Bromiley and Thomas F. Torrance, eds., trans. G. W. Bromiley (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1975), xiii. See also Keith L. Johnson, Karl Barth and the Analogia Entis (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 119–21; Archie J. Spencer, The Analogy of Faith: The Quest for God’s Speakability (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015), 191–92; and Paul T. Nimmo, Barth: A Guide for the Perplexed (New York: T&T Clark, 2017), 6–7, 53. For a dialogue on Barth’s claim, see Thomas Joseph White, ed., The Analogy of Being: Invention of the Antichrist or the Wisdom of God? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011).
  32. Mattes, Luther’s Theology of Beauty, 12, 188.
  33. Mattes, Luther’s Theology of Beauty, 111. See also Mattes, Luther’s Theology of Beauty, 7, 79, 91–112.
  34. Mattes, Luther’s Theology of Beauty, 151.
  35. Mattes, Luther’s Theology of Beauty, 104. See also Mattes, Luther’s Theology of Beauty, 11–12, 32–33, 55–56, 61, 67, 71–72, 78, 80, 84, 100, 103, 105, 111–12, 160. For a markedly different reading of Luther’s attitude toward philosophy and metaphysics, see Cooper, Prolegomena, 90–104.
  36. Mattes, Luther’s Theology of Beauty, 158. See also Mattes, Luther’s Theology of Beauty, 10–12, 14, 24–25, 42, 66, 71–72, 85, 89, 92, 161, 175–76.
  37. Mattes, Luther’s Theology of Beauty, 172–73.
  38. Cooper, Prolegomena, 69. See also Michael J. Dodds, The Unchanging God of Love: Thomas Aquinas and Contemporary Theology on Divine Immutability, 2nd ed. (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2011), 113; Tyson, Returning to Reality, 39; Fesko, Reforming Apologetics, 187–89; Dodds, One Creator God, 14; Alexander J. B. Hampton and John Peter Kenney, “Christianity and Platonism,” in Hampton and Kenney, Christian Platonism, 5; and Kevin Corrigan, “Creation, Begetting, Desire, and Re-Creation,” in Hampton and Kenney, Christian Platonism, 79.
  39. Mattes, Luther’s Theology of Beauty, 11, italics original.
  40. Mattes, Luther’s Theology of Beauty, 111.
  41. Mattes, Luther’s Theology of Beauty, 93.
  42. Book of Common Prayer, 605. Despite Article XIII’s general reference to “the School-authors” as affirming grace of congruity, Edward Harold Browne writes concerning the Council of Trent, “The Franciscans, as being followers of [Duns] Scotus, spoke much for the absolute freedom of the will, and in favour of the doctrine of grace de congruo. The Dominicans, after St. Thomas Aquinas, repudiated the idea of congruous merit, and maintained the inability of man to turn to good of his own will, since the fall of Adam” (An Exposition of the Thirty-Nine Articles: Historical and Doctrinal, ed. J. Williams [New York: E. P. Dutton, 1874], 267, italics original). Nevertheless, this is at present an irreducible point of conflict between Roman catholicity and reformed catholicity, as Canon 7 from the sixth session of Trent makes clear: “If anyone says that all works done before justification, in whatever manner they may be done, are truly sins, or merit the hatred of God; that the more earnestly one strives to dispose himself for grace, the more grievously he sins, let him be anathema.” Council of Trent, Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent: Original Text with English Translation, trans. H. J. Schroeder (St. Louis: B. Herder Book Co., 1941, repr. 1960), 43.
  43. John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, vol. 1, trans. James Anderson (Grand Rapids: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 1999), 90,
  44. See also Davison, Participation in God, 101–105, and Fesko, Reforming Apologetics, 48, 98–100, 120, 211.
  45. Davison, Participation in God, 333.
  46. J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1923), 55–56.
  47. Duby, God in Himself, 275.
  48. Richard A. Muller, “Not Scotist: understandings of being, univocity, and analogy in early-modern Reformed thought,” Reformation & Renaissance Review 14, no. 2 (2012), 130, See also Kilcrease, “Gerhard’s Reception,” 120, and Peter Escalante, “The Unintended Concession: Carl Trueman’s Response to The Unintended Reformation,” The Calvinist International, 5 April 2012,
  49. Kilcrease, “Gerhard’s Reception,” 120. See also Cooper, Prolegomena, 160–71.
  50. Allison, Roman Catholic Theology, 77.
  51. Duby, God in Himself, 275n121. For a contemporary Protestant defense of the analogia entis, see Norman L. Geisler, Thomas Aquinas: An Evangelical Appraisal (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1991), 137–49, and Duby, God in Himself, 232–91. See also Johnson, Father of Lights, 80–81.
  52. Boersma, Heavenly Participation, 35, italics original. See also Boersma, Heavenly Participation, 33–39; Tyson, Returning to Reality, 39, 90–124; Carter, Interpreting Scripture, xiv–xv, 67–76, 84; Davison, Participation in God, 91–92; Cooper, Prolegomena, 120–28, 173; Dodds, One Creator God, 15; te Velde, “Participation,” 122–38; and John Peter Kenney, “Platonism and Christianity in Late Antiquity,” in Hampton and Kenney, Christian Platonism, 162–81.
  53. Davison, Participation in God, 8. See also Julie Canlis, Calvin’s Ladder: A Spiritual Theology of Ascent and Ascension (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010); Eric Parker, “The Platonism of Martin Luther,” The Calvinist International, 20 May 2013,; W. J. Torrance Kirby, Richard Hooker, Reformer and Platonist (New York: Routledge, 2017); Paul Anthony Dominiak, Richard Hooker: The Architecture of Participation (New York: T&T Clark, 2020); and Cooper, Prolegomena, 139–41, 173–80, 192. On the Christian Platonism of C. S. Lewis, see Alister McGrath, C. S. Lewis: A Life (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2013), 300–302, and Grace Tiffany, “C. S. Lewis: The Anti-Platonic Platonist,” Christianity and Literature 63, no. 3 (Spring 2014), 357–71,
  54. Eric M. Parker, “How the Reformation Preserved the Sacramental Worldview,” The North American Anglican, 17 March 2020,
  55. Robert Louis Wilken, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), xvi, quoted in Boersma, Heavenly Participation, 38. See also Paul Gavrilyuk, The Suffering of the Impassible God: The Dialectics of Patristic Thought (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 46; Fesko, Reforming Apologetics, 164, 175, 189; and Dodds, One Creator God, 14–15.
  56. Carter, Interpreting Scripture, 84.
  57. Duby, God in Himself, 241–42. See also Duby, God in Himself, 233–42; Carter, Interpreting Scripture, 14; and Johnson, Father of Lights, 80.
  58. Duby, God in Himself, 71.
  59. James Barr, Biblical Faith and Natural Theology (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 1. See also Rodney Holder, The Heavens Declare: Natural Theology and the Legacy of Karl Barth (West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Press, 2012), 3; David Haines, “Natural Theology in Reformed Orthodoxy,” in Philosophy and the Christian, 252–53; Nathan Greeley, “Early Modern Protestant Philosophy,” in Philosophy and the Christian, 295; Dew and Gould, Philosophy, 73–74; and Duby, God in Himself, 71.
  60. Duby, God in Himself, 67. See also Duby, God in Himself, 70, 97, 126–27; Robert D. Preus, The Theology of Post-Reformation Lutheranism, vol. 1, A Study of Theological Prolegomena (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1970), 174; R. C. Sproul, John Gerstner, and Arthur Lindsley, Classical Apologetics: A Rational Defense of the Christian Faith and a Critique of Presuppositional Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 25–26; Geisler, Aquinas, 37; Muller, Reformed Dogmatics, 283; and Fesko, Reforming Apologetics, 2, 214.
  61. Duby, God in Himself, 167–68. See also Duby, God in Himself, 166–76, and Fesko, Reforming Apologetics, 207.
  62. See Fesko, Reforming Apologetics, 2.
  63. David Guretzki, An Explorer’s Guide to Karl Barth (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2016), 55. See also Duby, God in Himself, 110.
  64. See Barr, Biblical Faith, 6–14; Christoph Schwöbel, “Theology,” in The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth, ed. John Webster (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 32; Holder, Heavens Declare, 15–54; Guretzki, Guide to Karl Barth, 55, 130–36; Nimmo, Barth, 7–8, 27–28; and Fesko, Reforming Apologetics, 3, 47, 51.
  65. Duby, God in Himself, 95. See also Fesko, Reforming Apologetics, 24, 52. For a critique of Cornelius Van Til’s rejection of natural theology, see Sproul, Gerstner, and Lindsley, Classical Apologetics; Fesko, Reforming Apologetics; and David Haines, ed., Without Excuse: Scripture, Reason, and Presuppositional Apologetics (Davenant Press, 2020).
  66. Haines, “Natural Theology,” 290. See also Haines, “Natural Theology,” 250–91; Michael Sudduth, The Reformed Objection to Natural Theology (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing, 2009), 9–40; Greeley, “Protestant Philosophy,” 314–25; Fesko, Reforming Apologetics, 1–69; and Duby, God in Himself, 95–103.
  67. Duby, God in Himself, 123. Not incidentally, contemporary Protestant advocates of natural law also criticize Barth’s repudiation of natural theology precisely because natural law is a species of natural theology. See Grabill, Rediscovering the Natural Law, 21–53; J. Daryl Charles, Retrieving the Natural Law: A Return to Moral First Things (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 128–32; and VanDrunen, Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms, 316–47.
  68. Alister E. McGrath, The Open Secret: A New Vision for Natural Theology (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2008), 4.
  69. Alister E. McGrath, Re-Imagining Nature: The Promise of a Christian Natural Theology (Malden, MA; Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2017), 176, italics original.
  70. Barr, Biblical Faith, 13–14.
  71. See McGrath, Open Secret; Holder, Heavens Declare, 139–232; Rodney D. Holder, “Natural Theology in the Twentieth Century,” in Oxford Handbook of Natural Theology, 131; and McGrath, Re-Imagining Nature. Holder notes that “there is often an ambivalence in McGrath” where, despite his affirmation of a revisionist natural theology, he seems to frequently default to a more classical understanding of natural theology, in which there is “some, albeit primitive knowledge of God as given in the creation and commonly available” (Holder, Heavens Declare, 242).
  72. Gayle Doornbos, “Modern Reformed Philosophies,” in Philosophy and the Christian, 342–43, italics mine. See also Doornbos, “Modern Reformed Philosophies,” 334.
  73. McGrath, Re-Imagining Nature, 16.
  74. See Duby, God in Himself, 75–88.
  75. Johnson, Father of Lights, 59.
  76. Jonathan Edwards, The Nature of True Virtue (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1960), 3, 11, 27, italics original.
  77. Edwards, Nature of True Virtue, 14, italics original.
  78. Edwards, Nature of True Virtue, 11.
  79. Edwards, Nature of True Virtue, 14–15.
  80. Edwards, Nature of True Virtue, 14.
  81. Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections, ed. John E. Smith (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959), 258. See also Edwards, Religious Affections, 253–58.
  82. Edwards, Nature of True Virtue, 27–28, 31–32.
  83. Edwards, Nature of True Virtue, 28, 34–35.
  84. Edwards, Nature of True Virtue, 27.
  85. Edwards, Nature of True Virtue, 12.
  86. Edwards, Nature of True Virtue, 30, 33. See also Edwards, Nature of True Virtue, 40–41.
  87. Edwards, Nature of True Virtue, 40.
  88. Edwards, Nature of True Virtue, 40. See also Edwards, Nature of True Virtue, 41.
  89. Edwards, Nature of True Virtue, 38.
  90. Wooddell, Beauty of the Faith, 85.
  91. Edwards, Nature of True Virtue, 31, italics mine.
  92. Wooddell, Beauty of the Faith, 87.
  93. Michael J. McClymond and Gerald R. McDermott, The Theology of Jonathan Edwards (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 99. See also Edwards, Religious Affections, 29–30, 258–63, and Kin Yip Louie, The Beauty of the Triune God: The Theological Aesthetics of Jonathan Edwards (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2013), 216.
  94. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 1.5.1, trans. Henry Beveridge (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008, repr. 2019). See also VanDrunen, Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms, 99.
  95. Peter Martyr Vermigli, Common Places, trans. Anthonie Marten (1574), 10–11, quoted in Haines, “Natural Theology,” 285.
  96. Grabill, Rediscovering the Natural Law, 161. See also Greeley, “Protestant Philosophy,” 315.
  97. Johann Gerhard, Sacred Meditations, trans. C. W. Heisler (Ithaca, NY: Just and Sinner Publishing House, 2020), 34. See also Cooper, Prolegomena, 180, 233.
  98. See Muller, Reformed Dogmatics, 280, 286, 304; Grabill, Rediscovering the Natural Law, 83, 158–59; Haines, “Natural Theology,” 288–89; Fesko, Reforming Apologetics, 2, 12, 20–21, 26, 35–36, 39, 64–65, 68; and Duby, God in Himself, 68, 71, 101, 130.
  99. Johann Alsted, Theologia naturalis (Frankfurt, 1615), 1.1 (3), quoted in Duby, God in Himself, 101.
  100. Duby, God in Himself, 72. See also Duby, God in Himself, 101, 124, 129; Preus, Post-Reformation Lutheranism, 174; Muller, Reformed Dogmatics, 280, 304; Grabill, Rediscovering the Natural Law, 159; Holder, Heavens Declare, 46, 245; Haines, “Natural Theology,” 291; and Fesko, Reforming Apologetics, 21–22, 26, 78, 78n29.
  101. Duby, God in Himself, 129n220, italics original.
  102. Balthasar, Glory of the Lord, vol. I, 19.
  103. Justin Buckley Dyer and Micah J. Watson, C. S. Lewis on Politics and the Natural Law (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 55, 59. See also Alister E. McGrath, The Intellectual World of C. S. Lewis (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2014), 73.
  104. James W. Sire, Apologetics Beyond Reason: Why Seeing Really Is Believing (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014), 17, italics original.
  105. Ward, “The Good Serves,” 60. See also Wooddell, Beauty of the Faith, vii, xiii, xv; Sire, Apologetics Beyond Reason, 16, 19; Gene Edward Veith Jr. and Matthew P. Ristuccia, Imagination Redeemed: Glorifying God with a Neglected Part of Your Mind (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 144; and Justin Ariel Bailey, Reimagining Apologetics: The Beauty of Faith in a Secular Age (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2020), 165.
  106. Gerald L. Sittser, Resilient Faith: How the Early Christian “Third Way” Changed the World (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2019), 13.
  107. See Wooddell, Beauty of the Faith, xiii; Sire, Apologetics Beyond Reason, 21–22; Holly Ordway, Apologetics and the Christian Imagination: An Integrated Approach to Defending the Faith (Steubenville, OH: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2017), 149; Wilson, Vision of the Soul, 230–31; and Bailey, Reimagining Apologetics, 7.
  108. Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, “Nobel Lecture,” in Nobel Lectures, Literature 1968–1980, Tore Frängsmyr and Sture Allén, eds. (Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Co., 1993), See also Edward T. Oakes, Pattern of Redemption: The Theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar (New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 1994), 151; Viladesau, Theological Aesthetics, 104; Dubay, Evidential Power, 11, 14; Oakes, “Apologetics of Beauty,” 212–13; Coutras, Tolkien’s Theology, 19; Miravalle, Beauty, 13, 111; and Davison, Participation in God, 345.
  109. Dubay, Evidential Power, 64. See also Dubay, Evidential Power, 47, 299, 321. Compare Viladesau, Theological Aesthetics, 36.
  110. Dubay, Evidential Power, 69.
  111. Dubay, Evidential Power, 72.
  112. Miravalle, Beauty, 15. See also Miravalle, Beauty, 14, 94.
  113. Joseph Pearce, Beauteous Truth: Faith, Reason, Literature and Culture (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2014), 5. See also Pearce, Beauteous Truth, xii, and Gould, Cultural Apologetics, 117.
  114. Schindler, Love and the Postmodern, 40. See also Hall, Being and Attributes, 196; Bavinck, “Beauty and Aesthetics,” 258; Oden, Classic Christianity, 97; and Wooddell, Beauty of the Faith, 3, 11, 56.
  115. Pearce, Beauteous Truth, 5.
  116. Wilson, Vision of the Soul, 203–204, italics original.
  117. See Sammon, Called to Attraction, 34; Wilson, Vision of the Soul, 99 Johnson, Father of Lights, 20, 30, 187; and Myers, Poetics of Orthodoxy, 66, 68. For an account of how experiences of beauty differ between those who acknowledge the presence of God therein and those who deny it, see Johnson, Father of Lights, 57–62.


James Clark

James Clark is the Book Review Editor at The North American Anglican. His writing has appeared in Cranmer Theological Journal, Journal of Classical Theology, and American Reformer, as well as other publications.

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