The Beauty of the Cross: The Passion of Christ in Theology and the Art - From the Catacombs to the Eve of the Renaissance

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From the earliest period of its existence, Christianity has been recognized as the "religion of the cross." Some of the great monuments of Western art are representations of the brutal torture and execution of Christ. Despite the horror of crucifixion, we often find such images beautiful. The beauty of the cross expresses the central paradox of Christian faith: the cross of Christ's execution is the symbol of God's victory over death and sin. The cross as an aesthetic object and as a means of devotion corresponds to the mystery of God's wisdom and power manifest in suffering and apparent failure. In this volume, Richard Viladesau seeks to understand the beauty of the cross as it developed in both theology and art from their beginnings until the eve of the renaissance. He argues that art and symbolism functioned as an alternative strand of theological expression — sometimes parallel to, sometimes interwoven with, and sometimes in tension with formal theological reflection on the meaning of the Crucifixion and its role in salvation history. Using specific works of art to epitomize particular artistic and theological paradigms, Viladesau then explores the contours of each paradigm through the works of representative theologians as well as liturgical, poetic, artistic, and musical sources. The beauty of the cross is examined from Patristic theology and the earliest representations of the Logos on the cross, to the monastic theology of victory and the Romanesque crucified "majesty," to the Anselmian "revolution" that centered theological and artistic attention on the suffering humanity of Jesus, and finally to the breakdown of the high scholastic theology of the redemption in empirically concentrated nominalism and the beginnings of naturalism in art. By examining the relationship between aesthetic and conceptual theology, Viladesau deepens our understanding of the foremost symbol of Christianity. This volume makes an important contribution to an emerging field, breaking new ground in theological aesthetics. The Beauty of the Cross is a valuable resource for scholars, students, and anyone interested in the passion of Christ and its representation.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"It is clear that the author has masterly covered a very long period of time in both arts and theology, but does this with authority. [Viladesau] succeeds in portraying to his reasers a large picture and in identifying trends and movements in this time span. It is very difficult not to agree with Viladesau's conclusions. His discernment is convincing and is proof of a solid scholarly basis." —Society of Biblical Literature

"Richard Viladesau's The Beauty of the Cross is an exemplary cross-disciplinary study of how Christians represented, imagined, and understood the cross and the crucifixion prior to the Renaissance/Reformation. I can think of no book on this crucial topic that is at once so multi-faceted in method and yet so lucid and perceptive in interpretation. This unpretentious but finely perceptive work will be an invaluable resource for students and scholars alike, and not only in the sphere of theology per se but also in the history of culture and the arts."—Frank Burch Brown, author of Good Taste, Bad Taste, and Christian Taste: Aesthetics in Religious Life

"The importance of non systematic forms of theological expression has been increasingly recognised and Richard Viladesau's magisterial work, which correlates dogmatic, artistic and poetic reflection on the significance of the cross up to the point of the Renaissance, will be of immense value both to students of theology and to anyone interested in one of the key images of Western culture."—Tim Gorringe, Professor of Theological Studies, University of Exeter

"Richard Viladesau's provocative volume highlights the critical ways in which an aesthetic/symbolic type of theology has interacted with the more well-known verbal/conceptual type to shape the faith and practice of Christianity. His analysis of the history of the visual portrayal of crucifixion of Christ from the earliest period of Christianity to the eve of the reformations of the sixteenth century is the most thorough and insightful account availableViladesau's volume is a vastly important contribution to the history of Christianity and Western culture more generally. I know of no other book that describes the interaction of imagistic and conceptual theology so convincingly. By doing so, Viladesau helps fill the gap between the older history of doctrine and the newer history of popular religious culture, showing how the two are dialectically related." — Lee Barrett, Stager Professor of Theology, Lancaster Theological Seminary

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195188110
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 12/1/2005
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 9.30 (w) x 6.30 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard Viladesau is Professor of Theology at Fordham University. He is the author of Theological Aesthetics (OUP 1999).

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Table of Contents

1 The beauty and the scandal of the cross 3
2 The cross in the New Testament and the patristic paradigm 19
3 The monastic paradigm and the Romanesque style 57
4 The theology of high scholasticism and Gothic art 87
5 Nominalism, naturalism, and the intensification of passion piety 137
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