Beethoven > Mozart

We need more theologians who love Beethoven. (We need more theologians who love Led Zeppelin!)

I love Mozart. Truly. He had access to the Forms. However…

We have many theologians who love Mozart. Balthasar and Barth connected (in part) on their shared love of Mozart as the greatest composer in history. Ratzinger, as is well known, is a devotee of Mozart. All good.

But, but, but.

No, Mozart is not the greatest. Mozart is not the greatest, because for all his attempts to move beyond, all his pathos, he remains the classical composer par excellence. Mozart is the Parthenon. Mozart represents art understood as submission to, and fulfillment of, form.

No. This is not the full truth of art. The full truth of art must have as its primary impulse the expression of human subjectivity (an expression of subjectivity which only through its embrace of itself can then point to universality), even as it incorporates, uses, and in its fullness, transcends, aesthetic rules. And here we are talking about Beethoven. Mozart expressed the fullness of humanity within the classical rules. Beethoven expressed the fullness of humanity by transcending (through incorporating) the classical rules.

Beethoven is not afraid of being off-balance. Mozart raises the mind to contemplation, Beethoven grabs you by the throat. Mozart is Aquinas, wonderful Aquinas, building angelic cathedrals. Beethoven is Paul, frustratingly unsystematic, cajoling, browbeating, repudiating, pleading, ordering, crying on the page.

Balthasar said we had too much “sitting theology” and we need more “kneeling theology.” Too right. But we need more living theology, more working theology, in the Genesis sense, in the apostolic sense. The Orthodox are also right to point out that the Fathers were bishops, who did not spend their days either writing treatises or in contemplative prayer, but looking at bank ledgers, counseling souls, cajoling political leaders, dealing with oversized egos and petty disputes, “presiding in love” with all the heartache that implies.

We need, in other words, Appasionnata theology, we need Hymn to Joy theology, we need 5th and 6th symphony theology.


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