Dogmatic Aesthetics: A theology of beauty in dialogue with Robert W. Jenson

Stephen Wright

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis proposes a dogmatic approach to theological aesthetics. Interdisciplinary engagement between theology and the arts is increasing, and amid the wealth of material emerging from this interdisciplinary venture there is a need for deeper reflection on beauty itself. The great model for any theological
exploration of beauty is Hans Urs von Balthasar, whose monumental fifteen-volume “trilogy” on the transcendentals – beauty, goodness, and truth – is unmatched in its scope, rigour, and genius. To develop his account of beauty, von Balthasar employed the analogia entis or “analogy of being”. This
metaphysical doctrine takes various forms, and von Balthasar’s
own conception of the analogia entis changed as he wrote. The
earliest form of analogy used by von Balthasar was adopted
from Erich Przywara, who taught that created being is inherently
“open upwards” to God. It was this doctrine of analogy that Karl
Barth condemned as “the invention of antichrist” – and it is
sobering to reflect that von Balthasar used this, one of the most
controversial ideas of modern theology, as the basis for his
theology of beauty.

I am sympathetic to Barth’s critique of this version of the
analogia entis, and in this thesis I will argue for a “dogmatic”
aesthetics that derives its concepts and structure from the
doctrines of the church. I will develop this approach through an
engagement with the work of the American Lutheran
theologian, Robert W. Jenson. Jenson weaves aesthetic insights
throughout his entire theology. He follows the classical Western
tradition and treats beauty as a transcendental. However, he
makes dogmatic choices that revise the conception of beauty. To begin with, he argues that one should not treat “being” in
isolation from the doctrine of the Trinity. Therefore, to say that
beauty is a transcendental is to say that it is a transcendental of
the particular being that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are
together. The chapters of this thesis will follow Jenson’s
reflections through a series of doctrinal loci, and will argue that
Christian doctrine supplies the architecture for a theology of
beauty. My aim in this thesis is not only to comment on
Jenson’s explicit discussions of beauty, but to argue that the
whole shape of Jenson’s thought opens into a rich theological
vision of the beauty of God and the beauty of God’s creatures.
Throughout the thesis I will thus employ Christian
doctrines as resources for aesthetic thinking, and will try to
demonstrate that doctrine can inform a rich and complex
aesthetic vocabulary. From start to finish, the thesis aims to test
one of Jenson’s deepest and most distinctive theological
convictions as a premise for aesthetic discourse: namely, that the
analogue between God and creation is not “being”, but Jesus Christ.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
  • Myers, Benjamin, Principal Supervisor
Award date01 Feb 2014
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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