The defining element in Christian art

Let me propose this thesis, drawing on the recent post about what Bruce Springsteen said about Hank Williams:  All distinctly Christian art must be, in some sense, about the agonizing struggle between sin and grace.

Mere moral lessons, while perhaps commendable, are  not enough to be distinctly Christian, since Mormons, Muslims, and ethical humanists could agree with them.  And mere optimistic positive messages are not enough and may even be harmful, since they can create the illusion that we can achieve righteousness by our own efforts.  Works of meaning and beauty have their own value.  But to be explicitly “Christian,” a work needs to be, directly or indirectly, about sin and grace and what Christ has to do with them.

To test the thesis:  Let’s consider classic Christian works of literature.  The Divine Comedy.  check.  Paradise Lost.  check.  The poems of John Donne and George Herbert.  check.  The Chronicles of Narnia.  check.  Flannery O’Connor.  check.  Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory.  check.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://www.quietedwaters.com Josh

    Emphasizing the word “distinctly” in your thesis, I agree. Grace, the unmerited favor and forgiveness of God, is the distinct element of Christianity itself, so it makes sense that art is only distinctly Christian if it focuses on the tension between sin and grace.

    That said, the thesis seems to exclude wide swaths of art that would otherwise be considered Christian, simply because it focuses on elements other than grace. While such art may not be “distinctly” Christian, I hesitate to say that it is not Christian at all.

  • http://www.quietedwaters.com Josh

    Emphasizing the word “distinctly” in your thesis, I agree. Grace, the unmerited favor and forgiveness of God, is the distinct element of Christianity itself, so it makes sense that art is only distinctly Christian if it focuses on the tension between sin and grace.

    That said, the thesis seems to exclude wide swaths of art that would otherwise be considered Christian, simply because it focuses on elements other than grace. While such art may not be “distinctly” Christian, I hesitate to say that it is not Christian at all.

  • Pete

    “Let’s consider classic Christian works of literature.”

    Assuming we’ve read them. The Narnia tales were safely within my attention span but my recollection of Paradise Lost was that of abandoning ship about halfway through – too much of a slog (the fault of Pete, not Milton.)

    I submit (see “Lowered Standards” in the secret service post below) “Gran Torino” by Clint Eastwood and “Together Through Life”, Bob Dylan’s latest album.

  • Pete

    “Let’s consider classic Christian works of literature.”

    Assuming we’ve read them. The Narnia tales were safely within my attention span but my recollection of Paradise Lost was that of abandoning ship about halfway through – too much of a slog (the fault of Pete, not Milton.)

    I submit (see “Lowered Standards” in the secret service post below) “Gran Torino” by Clint Eastwood and “Together Through Life”, Bob Dylan’s latest album.

  • Tom Hering

    But to be explicitly “Christian,” a work needs to be, directly or indirectly, about sin and grace and what Christ has to do with them.

    Let’s turn that around a little bit. To be explicitly “Christian,” a work needs to be, directly or indirectly, about Christ, and what He has to do with sin and grace.

  • Tom Hering

    But to be explicitly “Christian,” a work needs to be, directly or indirectly, about sin and grace and what Christ has to do with them.

    Let’s turn that around a little bit. To be explicitly “Christian,” a work needs to be, directly or indirectly, about Christ, and what He has to do with sin and grace.

  • Dan Kempin

    I’m inclined to agree with Tom’s clarification in #3. It has to have Christ, whether explicitly or implicitly. And I would quibble a little with the phrasing of “struggle between sin and grace,” but I don’t think that is your point.

    I would say that a Christian work must have GOSPEL (in the lutheran sense.) There must be redemption or forgiveness. The struggle itself is of no value if the protagonist does not find peace.

  • Dan Kempin

    I’m inclined to agree with Tom’s clarification in #3. It has to have Christ, whether explicitly or implicitly. And I would quibble a little with the phrasing of “struggle between sin and grace,” but I don’t think that is your point.

    I would say that a Christian work must have GOSPEL (in the lutheran sense.) There must be redemption or forgiveness. The struggle itself is of no value if the protagonist does not find peace.

  • Tom Hering

    Actually, the “agonizing struggle between sin and grace” can be resolved without Christ. At least in this life. By, for example, ascribing the sense of sin to social influences, and understanding grace as good luck or good fortune. But Dr. Veith did say Christ must play a part in the story a work of art tells. So maybe I was making a distinction without a difference @ 3. More coffee, please.

  • Tom Hering

    Actually, the “agonizing struggle between sin and grace” can be resolved without Christ. At least in this life. By, for example, ascribing the sense of sin to social influences, and understanding grace as good luck or good fortune. But Dr. Veith did say Christ must play a part in the story a work of art tells. So maybe I was making a distinction without a difference @ 3. More coffee, please.

  • Fr. Gregory Hogg

    Intriguing that by “art,” you appear to mean “written art”–i.e. books, novels etc. What about the visual arts?

  • Fr. Gregory Hogg

    Intriguing that by “art,” you appear to mean “written art”–i.e. books, novels etc. What about the visual arts?

  • SKPeterson

    I suppose we could further qualify art into explicitly Christian, implicitly Christian, and a Christian-influenced set of categories. Paradise Lost or Dante would be explicit, as would much of John Donne’s poetry. Narnia would be implicit, to which I would add The Lord of the Rings, although it could be classed as Christian-influenced since it does not have the implied Christology of Lewis’s works. Although I have not read them, some of the works by Madeleine L’Engle are Christian-influenced or implicitly Christian. Also, as we have discussed on this forum before, the Harry Potter series.

    As to visual arts per Fr. Hogg’s query – explicitly Christian art ranges all over the canvas, so to speak. As such, it is often quite easy to identify – some of the most sublime works of Christian art are the physical edifices of Christian worship in the churches and cathedrals scattered across Christendom.

  • SKPeterson

    I suppose we could further qualify art into explicitly Christian, implicitly Christian, and a Christian-influenced set of categories. Paradise Lost or Dante would be explicit, as would much of John Donne’s poetry. Narnia would be implicit, to which I would add The Lord of the Rings, although it could be classed as Christian-influenced since it does not have the implied Christology of Lewis’s works. Although I have not read them, some of the works by Madeleine L’Engle are Christian-influenced or implicitly Christian. Also, as we have discussed on this forum before, the Harry Potter series.

    As to visual arts per Fr. Hogg’s query – explicitly Christian art ranges all over the canvas, so to speak. As such, it is often quite easy to identify – some of the most sublime works of Christian art are the physical edifices of Christian worship in the churches and cathedrals scattered across Christendom.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    Agreed, although I would take Dante and Flannery O’Connor with a grain of salt, as their Roman Catholicism seriously skews their understanding of grace.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    Agreed, although I would take Dante and Flannery O’Connor with a grain of salt, as their Roman Catholicism seriously skews their understanding of grace.

  • Dan Kempin

    Now you’ve got me thinking, Dr Veith. So much of great Christian literature is an exploration of the great story arc of the prodigal son–the struggle with sin that resolves in redemption. (And how many actual lives can testify to this same story of salvation played out for them?)

    It occurs to me that there is a competing story arc that is similar, while remaining worlds apart: The somewhat ennobled persona of the lost cause. The perpetual struggle of the character who longs for redemption, but not quite enough to believe it or earnestly seek it. The tragic figure who finds the pennance of perpetual remorse to be just enough to nourish them on their ascetic journey to nowhere.

    Think of all the actual figures who have followed this tragic story and how they are elevated in our culture: Marilyn Monroe, Hank Williams, James Dean, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, John Belushi, Chris Farley, etc. I could spend an hour filling out that list.

    Is it my imagination, or is there a shift away from the story of redemption and toward the story of the lost? They both contain “struggle,” but the resolution couldn’t be more different. Why do we romanticize tragedy and resent redemption?

  • Dan Kempin

    Now you’ve got me thinking, Dr Veith. So much of great Christian literature is an exploration of the great story arc of the prodigal son–the struggle with sin that resolves in redemption. (And how many actual lives can testify to this same story of salvation played out for them?)

    It occurs to me that there is a competing story arc that is similar, while remaining worlds apart: The somewhat ennobled persona of the lost cause. The perpetual struggle of the character who longs for redemption, but not quite enough to believe it or earnestly seek it. The tragic figure who finds the pennance of perpetual remorse to be just enough to nourish them on their ascetic journey to nowhere.

    Think of all the actual figures who have followed this tragic story and how they are elevated in our culture: Marilyn Monroe, Hank Williams, James Dean, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, John Belushi, Chris Farley, etc. I could spend an hour filling out that list.

    Is it my imagination, or is there a shift away from the story of redemption and toward the story of the lost? They both contain “struggle,” but the resolution couldn’t be more different. Why do we romanticize tragedy and resent redemption?

  • SKPeterson

    Dan @ 9 – Because we have the righteous nobility of tragedy ingrained into us from birth and throughout our schooling: we get Sophocles, Aeschylus, Euripides, the Iliad (maybe the Odyssey does have some redemption in it, but it’s definitely a “civic” righteousness in the end), then Shakespeare – Hamlet, MacBeth, Othello, Romeo and Juliette, tragic themes that are part of our cultural subconscious.

  • SKPeterson

    Dan @ 9 – Because we have the righteous nobility of tragedy ingrained into us from birth and throughout our schooling: we get Sophocles, Aeschylus, Euripides, the Iliad (maybe the Odyssey does have some redemption in it, but it’s definitely a “civic” righteousness in the end), then Shakespeare – Hamlet, MacBeth, Othello, Romeo and Juliette, tragic themes that are part of our cultural subconscious.

  • http://gslcnm.com Pastor Spomer

    It must express, in some way, the vicarious atonement.

  • http://gslcnm.com Pastor Spomer

    It must express, in some way, the vicarious atonement.

  • http://gslcnm.com Pastor Spomer

    It must express, in some way, the vicarious atonement.
    P.S. This also applies to any sermon, Bible study, or devotion.

  • http://gslcnm.com Pastor Spomer

    It must express, in some way, the vicarious atonement.
    P.S. This also applies to any sermon, Bible study, or devotion.

  • David M

    I’m curious as to how the Psalms would fare given some of the above definitions. Would we all agree that Psalms should be considered art? If so, it seems like a few of the definitions above may exclude them. If not, then move along…nothing to see here…
    Thoughts?

  • David M

    I’m curious as to how the Psalms would fare given some of the above definitions. Would we all agree that Psalms should be considered art? If so, it seems like a few of the definitions above may exclude them. If not, then move along…nothing to see here…
    Thoughts?

  • Marty

    I like the original, “The agonizing struggle between sin and grace.” A lot of the “good stuff” is really about struggling AGAINST grace, and the happy endings (this would include many iffy psalms) are the realization that only grace can truly answer to the need.

  • Marty

    I like the original, “The agonizing struggle between sin and grace.” A lot of the “good stuff” is really about struggling AGAINST grace, and the happy endings (this would include many iffy psalms) are the realization that only grace can truly answer to the need.

  • rlewer

    If our modern world view denies harsh reality of actual sin (consider Monroe, Joplin, Belushi, etc. listed above), how can it find grace or how would it even know what it is looking for?

    Perhaps it is in literature that the world can begin to see and deal with the reality of sin and grace.

  • rlewer

    If our modern world view denies harsh reality of actual sin (consider Monroe, Joplin, Belushi, etc. listed above), how can it find grace or how would it even know what it is looking for?

    Perhaps it is in literature that the world can begin to see and deal with the reality of sin and grace.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    Pastor @11-12, that’s exactly it. Every work of art has a sense of redemption to it (that’s the tension found in a great many works of literature and film). But the difference comes in whether or not the redemption comes through a “substitution” or through a “works-righteousness” model, and in the case of the world (and unfortunately in some of the literature found by Christian authors) it’s the latter.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    Pastor @11-12, that’s exactly it. Every work of art has a sense of redemption to it (that’s the tension found in a great many works of literature and film). But the difference comes in whether or not the redemption comes through a “substitution” or through a “works-righteousness” model, and in the case of the world (and unfortunately in some of the literature found by Christian authors) it’s the latter.

  • fws

    We need to carefully distinguish between Mercy and Grace.

    Mercy is the opposite of Justice. It is something that is the opposite of what we deserve, which is Justice, which demands our death in various forms. However, Mercy cannot exist without Justice.

    Doesnt this sound exactly like Grace? It does!

    My criticism of Zahl and Mockingbird, by the way, is exactly that they intentionally confuse terms exactly here.

    So you should ask and ponder why it is that Mercy seems identical to Grace?

    Two Kingdoms , properly taught, is the Proper Distinction of Law and Gospel that tells us that God rules everthing in order to make Fatherly Goodness and Mercy happen. He rules in two ways, with the Law in the Earthly Kingdom and with the Gospel in the Heavenly Kingdom:

    Here on earth in the “Earthly Kingdom” God is making everything we can see that is Goodness or Mercy happen. He does this by internally driving Old Adam with the Divine Law that is written in the Reason/Minds of ALL men (rom 2:15). And so, out of the
    “unworthy, those who don’t pray [ie have faith in God], and even from all the wicked” God makes Fatherly Goodness and Mercy happen! That is to say: All that we can know evidentially from what we can see or do that is Good or Merciful is God extorting this out of Old Adam.

    Then , in a Heavenly Kingdom, that is alone, in, with and under the Visible Holy Catholic Church, and in each true believer and so member of the Invisible Communion of Saints, God works the Same Goodness and Mercy by planting new emotions or heart movements into man. This results in the fulfillment of Jeremiah 31 that says the Law will be , once again Written in the Hearts of Men. Then , says the Formula of Concord, in art VI, insofar as believers are regenerate, Goodness and Mercy flow out of him “spontaneously, automatically, like light from sun and as the angels do God’s Will.”!

    In Formula of Concord Art VI we are informed that God’s eternal WIll is for Fatherly Goodness and Mercy to happen among men.

    And we are also told that this Fatherly Goodness and Mercy is the SAME identical fruit when it is produced by either the Law, or is a fruit of the Spirit produced by the Gospel. Consider: this means that there is no fruit of the Spirit that is not also a fruit of the Law. Really consider that. Please.

    So those who imagine that Believers do Good Works that are intrinsically different from thosen of pagans are mistaken. It is not the works that are different. It is that Pagans do Goodness and Mercy out of the Law driving Old Adam just like he does with christians’ Old Adams.

    But christians, alone, know to hide all those Good Works of mercy and goodness in the Works of Another! All men know there is a God. They also know that he is Merciful and Good. What they cannot be certain of is that God is Merciful and Good to them personally. Only in Christ can we know that. And it is that fear, love and trust in the heart that only Christians can have.

    So my submission to this list is Victor Hugo’s magnificent
    “Les Miserables”. There he makes a wonderful illustration of the relationship between Justice and Mercy. This so very mucb looks like the Redemption we have in Christ. But it is not. It is all Law. And it requires no Christ or HS. But it is inspiring and uplifting and the most amazing and wonderful story,.

    But it is not the Gospel. It is the Apology in our Confessions, that are what separated this Law Mercy and Goodness that is Love, from that Goodness and Mercy that are alone of Christ.

    I hope you can see that it is no easy task to keep these two things separate. It is the Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel, especially in its modality called Two Kingdoms that we must use to do this. And only when we understand that all we can see and do in our existence is about the Law, can we retain the doctrine of the Forgiveness of Sins that is ALONE that Mercy that is ALONE about the Works of Another.

    This distinguishing is the lifelong and most difficult task of any christian and is, alone, what makes him a christian.

    May God confirm and preserve us in this holy good work.

    To Summarize: So it is alone that Fatherly Mercy that is alone found in the One Sacrifice that is the Death that only Life Itself could overcome that is the Gospel. Our sacrifice that is the Law working Justice in US that is Mercy for OTHERS is death. There is no Life in that. Death is… death. But God makes mercy happen both by our Old Adam being made to diebysacrificing and then by New Adam dyingbysacrificing that is alone THE One Sacrifice that IS Death, but that alone was overcome by Life Incarnate.

    So Luther says that life is death. But it does not follow that death is Life.

    This is not true even though it is true that God’s Will for Mercy is wrought by means of this death, and is the same Mercy God works, alone , through his Son.

  • fws

    We need to carefully distinguish between Mercy and Grace.

    Mercy is the opposite of Justice. It is something that is the opposite of what we deserve, which is Justice, which demands our death in various forms. However, Mercy cannot exist without Justice.

    Doesnt this sound exactly like Grace? It does!

    My criticism of Zahl and Mockingbird, by the way, is exactly that they intentionally confuse terms exactly here.

    So you should ask and ponder why it is that Mercy seems identical to Grace?

    Two Kingdoms , properly taught, is the Proper Distinction of Law and Gospel that tells us that God rules everthing in order to make Fatherly Goodness and Mercy happen. He rules in two ways, with the Law in the Earthly Kingdom and with the Gospel in the Heavenly Kingdom:

    Here on earth in the “Earthly Kingdom” God is making everything we can see that is Goodness or Mercy happen. He does this by internally driving Old Adam with the Divine Law that is written in the Reason/Minds of ALL men (rom 2:15). And so, out of the
    “unworthy, those who don’t pray [ie have faith in God], and even from all the wicked” God makes Fatherly Goodness and Mercy happen! That is to say: All that we can know evidentially from what we can see or do that is Good or Merciful is God extorting this out of Old Adam.

    Then , in a Heavenly Kingdom, that is alone, in, with and under the Visible Holy Catholic Church, and in each true believer and so member of the Invisible Communion of Saints, God works the Same Goodness and Mercy by planting new emotions or heart movements into man. This results in the fulfillment of Jeremiah 31 that says the Law will be , once again Written in the Hearts of Men. Then , says the Formula of Concord, in art VI, insofar as believers are regenerate, Goodness and Mercy flow out of him “spontaneously, automatically, like light from sun and as the angels do God’s Will.”!

    In Formula of Concord Art VI we are informed that God’s eternal WIll is for Fatherly Goodness and Mercy to happen among men.

    And we are also told that this Fatherly Goodness and Mercy is the SAME identical fruit when it is produced by either the Law, or is a fruit of the Spirit produced by the Gospel. Consider: this means that there is no fruit of the Spirit that is not also a fruit of the Law. Really consider that. Please.

    So those who imagine that Believers do Good Works that are intrinsically different from thosen of pagans are mistaken. It is not the works that are different. It is that Pagans do Goodness and Mercy out of the Law driving Old Adam just like he does with christians’ Old Adams.

    But christians, alone, know to hide all those Good Works of mercy and goodness in the Works of Another! All men know there is a God. They also know that he is Merciful and Good. What they cannot be certain of is that God is Merciful and Good to them personally. Only in Christ can we know that. And it is that fear, love and trust in the heart that only Christians can have.

    So my submission to this list is Victor Hugo’s magnificent
    “Les Miserables”. There he makes a wonderful illustration of the relationship between Justice and Mercy. This so very mucb looks like the Redemption we have in Christ. But it is not. It is all Law. And it requires no Christ or HS. But it is inspiring and uplifting and the most amazing and wonderful story,.

    But it is not the Gospel. It is the Apology in our Confessions, that are what separated this Law Mercy and Goodness that is Love, from that Goodness and Mercy that are alone of Christ.

    I hope you can see that it is no easy task to keep these two things separate. It is the Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel, especially in its modality called Two Kingdoms that we must use to do this. And only when we understand that all we can see and do in our existence is about the Law, can we retain the doctrine of the Forgiveness of Sins that is ALONE that Mercy that is ALONE about the Works of Another.

    This distinguishing is the lifelong and most difficult task of any christian and is, alone, what makes him a christian.

    May God confirm and preserve us in this holy good work.

    To Summarize: So it is alone that Fatherly Mercy that is alone found in the One Sacrifice that is the Death that only Life Itself could overcome that is the Gospel. Our sacrifice that is the Law working Justice in US that is Mercy for OTHERS is death. There is no Life in that. Death is… death. But God makes mercy happen both by our Old Adam being made to diebysacrificing and then by New Adam dyingbysacrificing that is alone THE One Sacrifice that IS Death, but that alone was overcome by Life Incarnate.

    So Luther says that life is death. But it does not follow that death is Life.

    This is not true even though it is true that God’s Will for Mercy is wrought by means of this death, and is the same Mercy God works, alone , through his Son.

  • Joanne

    It has always bothered me that this blog is named after one of the most prominent painters (he painted on everything) of the German Renaissance, yet there is no focus here on the Lutheran visual arts. As Fr. Hogg @5 mentions, why is this conversation going to be about literature? Cranach wrote letters and bills of lading and not doubt prescriptions at his pharmacy/chemistry store, but literature, not Cranach. This blog is something of a fraud by it’s Cranach bait and switch.
    Dr. Veith is a literature professor. Is this a case of, “if you have a hammer, everything is a nail”? My high school literature professor, Theodore von Fange, covered the New England authors with the contant search for sin and retribution in every novel. And, by golly we found it in every novel.
    However, I’ve developed a distast for literature classes as Rhorschack tests that tell us more about the people describing the literary work than the work itself. If Moby Dick has hidden meaning, deeper meaning than just a sad, sad story, I don’t care. Everything we do is a reflexion of who we are and that will show up in any work of fiction. If I tell you a story, it will contain what I know of the world, my experiences, and my beliefs. But, I’m very uncomfortable interprting a work against the author’s person, instead of the work itself.
    Now, should a work of fiction have terrible flaws in it, knowing that the author was schitzophrenic or gay or alcoholoc, or a Shaker, would be interesting in understanding why the work falls apart where it does. But, we really don’t study the unsuccessful works, do we? Maybe we should; maybe the archives of the American publishing houses are filled with the unsucessful works of even our greatest novelests. Surely, a man with so much pain as Poe left an archive of unfinished or badly done work that would be worth studying, for the sake of the author, rather than the sake of the work.
    While still on the literary arts, I was interested in David M. @13 asking if all the psalms are art, literary art? Well, the artiest of Bible literature must be “The Song of Solomon.” The Lutheran composers, especially the early Bach’s have left us unusually beautifull works of musical art based on the Song of Solomon. It’s also the most physically sexual. I had a Lutheran Pastor refuse to allow a Bach work on Solomon during a wedding because it was so sexual. But, I don’t know all the psalms well enough to know if all of them are art. Luther would know; he lived in and loved the psalms. But at least Petersen asks that we stretch the subject to poetry.

    I was happy to see and felt an immetiate kinship to Fr. Hogg’s entry @5 when he wonders why this is not a discussion of visual arts since the blog is named after Cranach, who with his staff, large staff he painted almost every inch of the Enestine Wettiners’ huge castle at Torgau. It struck a chord in me because I want to talk about the visual arts as they developed in the German Renaissance period of the Lutheran Reformation. Cranach’s period. And there were whole families of stone carvers/scuptors who worked on the Renaissance Lutheran appearance to the human eye. I thought we would consider Luther’s statements on how the visual arts would be applied in Lutheran religious spaces.

    For instance, if I were to say that the Lutheran faith required only illustration from painters (and scuptors), would you foam at the mouth in disagreement. Would you tell us why? If Lutheran art must illustrate, would we seek the best illustrators such as Andrew Wyeth and Norman Rockwell? Would my calling these two artists “mere illustrators” also cause you to foam at the mouth?

    There are also the musical arts, but Cranach is not known for being a musician. Cranach’s era has him painting the Wettiner Hartenfels Castle at the same time that Johann Walther is maybe 2 blocks away in Torgau writing the first Lutheran music (other than Luther’s). But, there must be a 1000 websites that cover the Lutheran composers and Lutheran music. A blog named Cranach should discuss the visual arts as they developed ab ovo from the mouth of Luther to the ear and paint brush of Cranach, and the chisels of the Walther family of sculptors working out of Dresden at this same time.
    You do know that there was a city sculptor at Wittenberg? He probably decorated the Cranach altar painting in St. Mary’s with those fancy wooden carvings that would have extended up from the top of the panting.
    There, now, I’ve finally said it. Dr. Veith, get you a visual arts expert to work with you on this blog if you want to continue to call this a Cranach Blog.

  • Joanne

    It has always bothered me that this blog is named after one of the most prominent painters (he painted on everything) of the German Renaissance, yet there is no focus here on the Lutheran visual arts. As Fr. Hogg @5 mentions, why is this conversation going to be about literature? Cranach wrote letters and bills of lading and not doubt prescriptions at his pharmacy/chemistry store, but literature, not Cranach. This blog is something of a fraud by it’s Cranach bait and switch.
    Dr. Veith is a literature professor. Is this a case of, “if you have a hammer, everything is a nail”? My high school literature professor, Theodore von Fange, covered the New England authors with the contant search for sin and retribution in every novel. And, by golly we found it in every novel.
    However, I’ve developed a distast for literature classes as Rhorschack tests that tell us more about the people describing the literary work than the work itself. If Moby Dick has hidden meaning, deeper meaning than just a sad, sad story, I don’t care. Everything we do is a reflexion of who we are and that will show up in any work of fiction. If I tell you a story, it will contain what I know of the world, my experiences, and my beliefs. But, I’m very uncomfortable interprting a work against the author’s person, instead of the work itself.
    Now, should a work of fiction have terrible flaws in it, knowing that the author was schitzophrenic or gay or alcoholoc, or a Shaker, would be interesting in understanding why the work falls apart where it does. But, we really don’t study the unsuccessful works, do we? Maybe we should; maybe the archives of the American publishing houses are filled with the unsucessful works of even our greatest novelests. Surely, a man with so much pain as Poe left an archive of unfinished or badly done work that would be worth studying, for the sake of the author, rather than the sake of the work.
    While still on the literary arts, I was interested in David M. @13 asking if all the psalms are art, literary art? Well, the artiest of Bible literature must be “The Song of Solomon.” The Lutheran composers, especially the early Bach’s have left us unusually beautifull works of musical art based on the Song of Solomon. It’s also the most physically sexual. I had a Lutheran Pastor refuse to allow a Bach work on Solomon during a wedding because it was so sexual. But, I don’t know all the psalms well enough to know if all of them are art. Luther would know; he lived in and loved the psalms. But at least Petersen asks that we stretch the subject to poetry.

    I was happy to see and felt an immetiate kinship to Fr. Hogg’s entry @5 when he wonders why this is not a discussion of visual arts since the blog is named after Cranach, who with his staff, large staff he painted almost every inch of the Enestine Wettiners’ huge castle at Torgau. It struck a chord in me because I want to talk about the visual arts as they developed in the German Renaissance period of the Lutheran Reformation. Cranach’s period. And there were whole families of stone carvers/scuptors who worked on the Renaissance Lutheran appearance to the human eye. I thought we would consider Luther’s statements on how the visual arts would be applied in Lutheran religious spaces.

    For instance, if I were to say that the Lutheran faith required only illustration from painters (and scuptors), would you foam at the mouth in disagreement. Would you tell us why? If Lutheran art must illustrate, would we seek the best illustrators such as Andrew Wyeth and Norman Rockwell? Would my calling these two artists “mere illustrators” also cause you to foam at the mouth?

    There are also the musical arts, but Cranach is not known for being a musician. Cranach’s era has him painting the Wettiner Hartenfels Castle at the same time that Johann Walther is maybe 2 blocks away in Torgau writing the first Lutheran music (other than Luther’s). But, there must be a 1000 websites that cover the Lutheran composers and Lutheran music. A blog named Cranach should discuss the visual arts as they developed ab ovo from the mouth of Luther to the ear and paint brush of Cranach, and the chisels of the Walther family of sculptors working out of Dresden at this same time.
    You do know that there was a city sculptor at Wittenberg? He probably decorated the Cranach altar painting in St. Mary’s with those fancy wooden carvings that would have extended up from the top of the panting.
    There, now, I’ve finally said it. Dr. Veith, get you a visual arts expert to work with you on this blog if you want to continue to call this a Cranach Blog.

  • kerner

    A lot of Christians don’t like art that meets the definitions proposed above. I actually like it. A story or a movie about sin and redemption is often a great story for me. But for a lot of Christians, including some of my best friends, they just don’t want to read about, or watch a movie about, sin. Not even if it is followed by real Christian redemption. This is particularly true of movies. If the movie is full of sin (usually in the form of violence, sex or profanity) they can’t get past that, and they don’t care if real redemption comes later. They watch movies to be entertained, and they just don’t find all that sin entertaining. So a lot of those movies about sin and redemption are never seen by Christians. How ironic is that?

  • kerner

    A lot of Christians don’t like art that meets the definitions proposed above. I actually like it. A story or a movie about sin and redemption is often a great story for me. But for a lot of Christians, including some of my best friends, they just don’t want to read about, or watch a movie about, sin. Not even if it is followed by real Christian redemption. This is particularly true of movies. If the movie is full of sin (usually in the form of violence, sex or profanity) they can’t get past that, and they don’t care if real redemption comes later. They watch movies to be entertained, and they just don’t find all that sin entertaining. So a lot of those movies about sin and redemption are never seen by Christians. How ironic is that?

  • Dan Kempin

    For the record, Joanne, this is not a “Cranach” blog, a blog about Cranach. It is “The Blog Of Veith,” a blog primarily about vocation, with a nifty little explanation as to why the name of Lucas Cranach is invoked.

    But I’m glad to finally meet someone who agrees that Moby Dick was about whaling . . .

  • Dan Kempin

    For the record, Joanne, this is not a “Cranach” blog, a blog about Cranach. It is “The Blog Of Veith,” a blog primarily about vocation, with a nifty little explanation as to why the name of Lucas Cranach is invoked.

    But I’m glad to finally meet someone who agrees that Moby Dick was about whaling . . .

  • fws

    kerner @ 19

    “christian redemtion”. what film have you EVER seen, besides maybe “the passion” , that is about christian redemption.

    Is “redemption” ever christian? is redemption where a film starts out with someone as a sinner and then somehow they redeem themself or someone else does the redeeming? Just how is that christian? sin is overcome? Nope.

  • fws

    kerner @ 19

    “christian redemtion”. what film have you EVER seen, besides maybe “the passion” , that is about christian redemption.

    Is “redemption” ever christian? is redemption where a film starts out with someone as a sinner and then somehow they redeem themself or someone else does the redeeming? Just how is that christian? sin is overcome? Nope.

  • Tom Hering

    … I’ve developed a distast for literature classes as Rhorschack tests that tell us more about the people describing the literary work than the work itself.

    I’m glad to finally meet someone who agrees that Moby Dick was about whaling . . .

    Club membership just skyrocketed to three! I’m not alone anymore.

  • Tom Hering

    … I’ve developed a distast for literature classes as Rhorschack tests that tell us more about the people describing the literary work than the work itself.

    I’m glad to finally meet someone who agrees that Moby Dick was about whaling . . .

    Club membership just skyrocketed to three! I’m not alone anymore.

  • kerner

    fws 21:

    I guess that none of them are perfect. I pretty close attempt is “Black Snake Moan”, in which Christina Ricci is redeemed by Jesus and the blues. But like I said, there are a lot of Christians who won’t want to watch Christina make the journey from point A (which is pretty far gone) to Point B. And there are theological flaws in it, so it isn’t quite Lutheran.

    I suppose that “Luther”, the most recent one, gets pretty close too. But few people here would object to that one very much.

  • kerner

    fws 21:

    I guess that none of them are perfect. I pretty close attempt is “Black Snake Moan”, in which Christina Ricci is redeemed by Jesus and the blues. But like I said, there are a lot of Christians who won’t want to watch Christina make the journey from point A (which is pretty far gone) to Point B. And there are theological flaws in it, so it isn’t quite Lutheran.

    I suppose that “Luther”, the most recent one, gets pretty close too. But few people here would object to that one very much.

  • kerner

    And the DID make movies out of “Les Miserables” you know.

  • kerner

    And the DID make movies out of “Les Miserables” you know.

  • kerner

    And, I kind of like “The Robe”, despite Richard Burton’s over acting.

  • kerner

    And, I kind of like “The Robe”, despite Richard Burton’s over acting.

  • fws

    kerner @ 25

    I think I know what you mean. These are all really morality stories. My concern is that we don’t apply words like “grace”, “redemption” and “forgiveness” in a way that confuses those terms with what alone is found in the Works of Another.

    Good art, to me, shows us what we don’t see, but is right under our nose. We can’t see it because we dont want to, or because of our preconceptions, or for a variety of reasons.

    What we dont see can be good, bad or really ugly. And artists, the good ones, have a sort of 3rd eye that can see what others can’t and then , make us take a look at those things.

    Christians often see some art, especially things like a crucifix in a jar of urine or ants crawling over a crucifix as some sort of polemic or argument or offense against our faith. But the cross is right there where it needs to be is what I would argue. It will offend often by appearing in the most profane places.

    One who realizes that that Crucified Christ has chosen to make his home in the most profane and sinful place, which is in each of us, will not be offended really at that. God’s Word will have it’s way especially where the good and the religious would least expect to find it.

    some more interesting films for me, are those where people think they are good, and sacrificing for some noble cause, only to realize they are no better than, or perhaps worse than those they oppose. The movement from Romans 8 is not from carnal vice to virtue. It is from true virtue to the Works of Another .

  • fws

    kerner @ 25

    I think I know what you mean. These are all really morality stories. My concern is that we don’t apply words like “grace”, “redemption” and “forgiveness” in a way that confuses those terms with what alone is found in the Works of Another.

    Good art, to me, shows us what we don’t see, but is right under our nose. We can’t see it because we dont want to, or because of our preconceptions, or for a variety of reasons.

    What we dont see can be good, bad or really ugly. And artists, the good ones, have a sort of 3rd eye that can see what others can’t and then , make us take a look at those things.

    Christians often see some art, especially things like a crucifix in a jar of urine or ants crawling over a crucifix as some sort of polemic or argument or offense against our faith. But the cross is right there where it needs to be is what I would argue. It will offend often by appearing in the most profane places.

    One who realizes that that Crucified Christ has chosen to make his home in the most profane and sinful place, which is in each of us, will not be offended really at that. God’s Word will have it’s way especially where the good and the religious would least expect to find it.

    some more interesting films for me, are those where people think they are good, and sacrificing for some noble cause, only to realize they are no better than, or perhaps worse than those they oppose. The movement from Romans 8 is not from carnal vice to virtue. It is from true virtue to the Works of Another .

  • fws

    kerner @ 24

    There are many excellent treatments of Les Miserables. What is interesting is that many, such as the Mockingbird site, point to it as an illustration of Grace and Redemption . It is awesomely that.

    But then they dont contrast it to the Grace and Redemption that is alone the Work of Another. For a site that claims to be doing Law and Gospel Distinction, that is not a good thing. But it is very very common to find. Even in our LCMS. Moral betterment, redemption, forgiveness, grace, love = christianity. Not.

  • fws

    kerner @ 24

    There are many excellent treatments of Les Miserables. What is interesting is that many, such as the Mockingbird site, point to it as an illustration of Grace and Redemption . It is awesomely that.

    But then they dont contrast it to the Grace and Redemption that is alone the Work of Another. For a site that claims to be doing Law and Gospel Distinction, that is not a good thing. But it is very very common to find. Even in our LCMS. Moral betterment, redemption, forgiveness, grace, love = christianity. Not.

  • kerner

    fws:

    Even though the characters in Black Snake Moan seem to have a better grip on their lives at the end, I still think it’s more about Grace and Redemption than morality. They are holding onto something (or Someone) outside themselves for salvation. They still have the same problems and they are still themselves. The Christians in the movie are not Lutheran, so American Protestant legalism creeps into it sometimes. But redemption does not come to Christina Ricci’s character because she resolves to be a good person. Nor does it come to Samuel L. Jackson’s character because he resolves to be a good person. They are saved from the outside, from “another” if you will. It is Christians who trigger this for them. They both start out filled with hatred, having been victimized, and Ricci’s character at least is filled with self loathing. When those things dissapate, it is because they are loved by Christians (and if I choose to imply that they are loved by Christ as well, it isn’t that much of a stretch). Again, the theology isn’t perfect, but it was closer than I have seen Hollywood get in a very long time.

    The Robe isn’t about morality at all. It is about a fairly well respected guy (more or less keeping the letter of the law as his fellow pagans have discerned it through their reason) who finds out who he really is when he encounters Christ Himself. He is, literally, one of the Romans who gambled for Christ’s robe, and won. In the end, he isn’t called upon to be a moral person, but to have faith and accept forgiveness.

    Luther was about Luther being Luther; discovering the distinction between Law and Gospel after trying to earn salvation through good works. No morality play there.

  • kerner

    fws:

    Even though the characters in Black Snake Moan seem to have a better grip on their lives at the end, I still think it’s more about Grace and Redemption than morality. They are holding onto something (or Someone) outside themselves for salvation. They still have the same problems and they are still themselves. The Christians in the movie are not Lutheran, so American Protestant legalism creeps into it sometimes. But redemption does not come to Christina Ricci’s character because she resolves to be a good person. Nor does it come to Samuel L. Jackson’s character because he resolves to be a good person. They are saved from the outside, from “another” if you will. It is Christians who trigger this for them. They both start out filled with hatred, having been victimized, and Ricci’s character at least is filled with self loathing. When those things dissapate, it is because they are loved by Christians (and if I choose to imply that they are loved by Christ as well, it isn’t that much of a stretch). Again, the theology isn’t perfect, but it was closer than I have seen Hollywood get in a very long time.

    The Robe isn’t about morality at all. It is about a fairly well respected guy (more or less keeping the letter of the law as his fellow pagans have discerned it through their reason) who finds out who he really is when he encounters Christ Himself. He is, literally, one of the Romans who gambled for Christ’s robe, and won. In the end, he isn’t called upon to be a moral person, but to have faith and accept forgiveness.

    Luther was about Luther being Luther; discovering the distinction between Law and Gospel after trying to earn salvation through good works. No morality play there.

  • kerner

    P.S. The Robe was a better book than a movie. Both Richard Burton and Victor Mature overacted shamelessly. But even so, the theme of Christ’s death, and our responsibility for that, as the defining factor in our salvation came through pretty clearly I thought, even in the movie.

  • kerner

    P.S. The Robe was a better book than a movie. Both Richard Burton and Victor Mature overacted shamelessly. But even so, the theme of Christ’s death, and our responsibility for that, as the defining factor in our salvation came through pretty clearly I thought, even in the movie.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Kerner said (@19):

    But for a lot of Christians, including some of my best friends, they just don’t want to read about, or watch a movie about, sin. … If the movie is full of sin (usually in the form of violence, sex or profanity) they can’t get past that …

    What a strangely legalistic thing that is, though! Because any movie or book that has people in it is “full of sin”.

    I wonder, do these people really not see sin in the “family” movies they go to? Or, if they do, do they perhaps not take that sin as seriously as the Big Bad Sins you mentioned (violence, sex, profanity)? You know, the sins that Bad (non-Christian) people do.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Kerner said (@19):

    But for a lot of Christians, including some of my best friends, they just don’t want to read about, or watch a movie about, sin. … If the movie is full of sin (usually in the form of violence, sex or profanity) they can’t get past that …

    What a strangely legalistic thing that is, though! Because any movie or book that has people in it is “full of sin”.

    I wonder, do these people really not see sin in the “family” movies they go to? Or, if they do, do they perhaps not take that sin as seriously as the Big Bad Sins you mentioned (violence, sex, profanity)? You know, the sins that Bad (non-Christian) people do.

  • SKPeterson

    One movie that does have a very striking look at the abject nature of sinfulness, the cry for redemption and finding it in Jesus (maybe) is the extraordinarily violent movie Bad Lieutenant with Harvey Keitel.

  • SKPeterson

    One movie that does have a very striking look at the abject nature of sinfulness, the cry for redemption and finding it in Jesus (maybe) is the extraordinarily violent movie Bad Lieutenant with Harvey Keitel.

  • David M

    Here’s a twist: Disney’s “Hercules”, in which the god-man saves the evil woman from an eternity in the underworld by sacrificing his life out of love for her–even though she doesn’t love him. At least that’s how I remember it from long ago. Throw in voice acting by James Woods and Danny DeVito and you’ve got a winner. Not quite Heman Melville, but it works. I guess the gospel can pop up anywhere, even in Diseny. Who knew?

    I’m curious: have any of you read Robert Ferrar Capon’s “Between Noon and Three”. If so, how do you think it fares?

  • David M

    Here’s a twist: Disney’s “Hercules”, in which the god-man saves the evil woman from an eternity in the underworld by sacrificing his life out of love for her–even though she doesn’t love him. At least that’s how I remember it from long ago. Throw in voice acting by James Woods and Danny DeVito and you’ve got a winner. Not quite Heman Melville, but it works. I guess the gospel can pop up anywhere, even in Diseny. Who knew?

    I’m curious: have any of you read Robert Ferrar Capon’s “Between Noon and Three”. If so, how do you think it fares?

  • David M

    Er…”fare”. Thank you, “smart”phone

  • David M

    Er…”fare”. Thank you, “smart”phone

  • kerner

    SKPeterson:

    Well, I’ll get ahold of Bad Lieutenant and watch it. I can’t get Sacramone to watch Black Snake Moan, because he despises Christina Ricci as an actress. Having seen a couple of her clinkers, I can’t really fault him for that. But anyone who harbors no such prejudices, and can take looking at some abject sinfulness in a movie, should check it out.

    tODD @ 30:

    I see your point. But sometimes I think my friends are just trying to follow Phillipians 4:8.

  • kerner

    SKPeterson:

    Well, I’ll get ahold of Bad Lieutenant and watch it. I can’t get Sacramone to watch Black Snake Moan, because he despises Christina Ricci as an actress. Having seen a couple of her clinkers, I can’t really fault him for that. But anyone who harbors no such prejudices, and can take looking at some abject sinfulness in a movie, should check it out.

    tODD @ 30:

    I see your point. But sometimes I think my friends are just trying to follow Phillipians 4:8.

  • kerner

    David M.:

    If we’re going that route, in The Omega Man, Charlton Heston saves the world by dying and making medicine from his blood. I’ll bet there are a lot of movies with messianic characters like that.

  • kerner

    David M.:

    If we’re going that route, in The Omega Man, Charlton Heston saves the world by dying and making medicine from his blood. I’ll bet there are a lot of movies with messianic characters like that.

  • Dan Kempin

    kerner, #19, and tODD, #30,

    I’m surprised that you are troubled/annoyed about a Christian aversion to the explicit depiction of sin in a movie. I grant you that the depth of sin may be an important part in the story of salvation, but I don’t personally see any value in the graphic portrayal of depravity, however it is contextualized in the story. I mean, the story of the prodigal son was portrayed very vividly without going into lurid detail about his sin. I only speak for myself of course, but I can say with certainty that I do not avoid such depictions because of legalism. It is because viewing such material causes me to stumble. I’m old/wise/weak enough to finally realize that I just don’t want to go there.

  • Dan Kempin

    kerner, #19, and tODD, #30,

    I’m surprised that you are troubled/annoyed about a Christian aversion to the explicit depiction of sin in a movie. I grant you that the depth of sin may be an important part in the story of salvation, but I don’t personally see any value in the graphic portrayal of depravity, however it is contextualized in the story. I mean, the story of the prodigal son was portrayed very vividly without going into lurid detail about his sin. I only speak for myself of course, but I can say with certainty that I do not avoid such depictions because of legalism. It is because viewing such material causes me to stumble. I’m old/wise/weak enough to finally realize that I just don’t want to go there.

  • Dan Kempin

    kerner, #34,

    I crossed your post. Looks like I misread the tone in your earlier comment.

  • Dan Kempin

    kerner, #34,

    I crossed your post. Looks like I misread the tone in your earlier comment.

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  • Win

    If you want an interesting redemption story have a look at the 1940 Strange Cargo with Clark Gable and Joan Crawford. Made just after Gone With The Wind, it chronicles several attempted escapes from Devil’s Island. It is a finely made parable with a strange Christ-like figure, Ian Hunter, guiding a group of wicked criminals in their escape from the penal colony. Interesting on various levels.

  • Win

    If you want an interesting redemption story have a look at the 1940 Strange Cargo with Clark Gable and Joan Crawford. Made just after Gone With The Wind, it chronicles several attempted escapes from Devil’s Island. It is a finely made parable with a strange Christ-like figure, Ian Hunter, guiding a group of wicked criminals in their escape from the penal colony. Interesting on various levels.

  • Joanne

    Actually, I think I would use tiny OLEDs to cover the walls and surfaces of the church interior, then using art software, I’d have the illustrative art match the Bible stories for the season. The early Lutheran altarpieces would cover the whole story in carved wood, marble and alabaster, and paintings and sculpture all on one very tall altar. Today we are lucky to get any Bible message from our church interiors. With that OLED setup, you could really overdo Christmas. I’m not talking about screens, I mean every inch of surface space. It might be tacky as hell, but imagine watching the Ascention depicted on the sanctuary wall as Christ rises above the disciples and the angels appear. Add sound, have we got carnival yet? Can be somber during Lent. Imagine buying an image set from Concordia for each season with appropriate Bible verses spoken or shown as words in the OLED display. Then you would really have the church of what’s happening now (in the liturgical year).

  • Joanne

    Actually, I think I would use tiny OLEDs to cover the walls and surfaces of the church interior, then using art software, I’d have the illustrative art match the Bible stories for the season. The early Lutheran altarpieces would cover the whole story in carved wood, marble and alabaster, and paintings and sculpture all on one very tall altar. Today we are lucky to get any Bible message from our church interiors. With that OLED setup, you could really overdo Christmas. I’m not talking about screens, I mean every inch of surface space. It might be tacky as hell, but imagine watching the Ascention depicted on the sanctuary wall as Christ rises above the disciples and the angels appear. Add sound, have we got carnival yet? Can be somber during Lent. Imagine buying an image set from Concordia for each season with appropriate Bible verses spoken or shown as words in the OLED display. Then you would really have the church of what’s happening now (in the liturgical year).


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