I love opinionated non-PC people. This blog is to vent my opinions on life, the universe and everything. Which is 42 which in gematria is "My Heart" (LBY) according to Rabbi Abulafia. The Divine Heart is the centre of everything.

Monday, November 07, 2016

Iconology and Idolatry: "Taste of the Fullness" or "Expression of Totality"

Some of the Fathers of the Church saw that the pagan philosophy and mythology held imperfect seeds of the Gospel and some like St Basil the Great felt they could be used prudently in the education of Christians. Gradually the Church discerned that the hidden wisdom found within the Greek and Roman pagan literature could be used in the service of the Faith and for deepening our understanding. The Church did this by turning idolatry into iconology.  This process had begun early in Christian history with the artistic traditions representing Apollo as the Sun God being used in images of Christ. This was closely followed by the insights of the Greek philosophical thoughts and intellectual concepts found in Plato. St Augustine was to use the insights of Platonic thought in the service of Christian theology. Later Thomas of Aquinas was to do the same with Aristotle.
Eventually the mythologies of Egypt, Greece, Rome, Celts, Norse etc, in the light of Christ's transforming and resurrection power, were restored to an iconology of the mystical from the pagan idolatry and worship of the literal and purely materialistic. Iconology of the mystical is primordial,
incarnational and eschatological.

Reflecting on the philosophy of Levinas in the light of this encounter with Jerusalem and Athens I came to perceive that iconology is a "taste of the fullness" as opposed to the idolatrous "expression of the totality". Iconology is thus a glimpse or taste of the hidden fullness, idolatry is the materialistic expression of the total. Idolatry is a limiting of the totality to the five physical senses. However one can transcend the physical to the symbolic/emotional senses, the moral/ethical senses and the mystical senses. Beyond or within the mystical senses is the level of "sensing but not sensing". This is connected to Levinas concept of "the trace", which is called reshimu in the Kabbalistic traditions of Judaism.

Artistic representations of the Nude is a glimpse or taste of the hidden divine/beauty or a lifting of the veil that draws from the interior, pornography is a naked abuse of or exploitation that limits to the exterior and is utilitarian. One could for example look at the very same piece of art such as Michelangelo's "David" and see merely a naked man to lust over and others perceive it as a glimpse of the hidden and higher beauty that is a person made in the image of the Creator. For the first one (the corrupt) it may become a door to hell and for the second one (the forgiven sinner) it becomes a window to the heavens and the higher realities. 

The revival of Greek and Roman learning in the Renaissance led some to the idolatry of the material, power and fame and to a secularist humanism and rampant individualism. For others it led to a truly Christian humanism leading to the iconic cultural, artistic, musical and aesthetic flowering we call the Baroque. Today we need a new iconic flowering of wisdom drawing from the best of the ancient sources of Jerusalem and Athens, Rome and Moscow but integrated with other cultural sources from Africa and the Far East and the many aboriginal cultures around the world.

I believe the writings of Levinas is a blessing to the development of both philosophy and theology taking into account the cruel horrors of  the Shoah. I owe a debt of gratitude to Glenn Morrison of Notre Dame University in Fremantle (Western Australia) for introducing me to Levinas. Today I learnt of another professor at an Australian Tertiary Institute - the Catholic Institute of Sydney called Matthew Del Nevo who has written a very insightful article about Levinas titled "The Kabbalistic Heart of Levinas" that I think is important for understanding the mind and work of Levinas.

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