The Invisible God: The Earliest Christians on Art / Edition 1

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This study challenges a popular shibboleth, namely that Christianity came into the world as an essentially iconophobic form of religiosity, one that was opposed on principle to the use of visual images in religious contexts. It is argued here that this view misrepresents the evidence as we have it (consisting of both literary and archaeological fragments) - furthermore this misrepresentation is conscious and deliberate, designed to serve the interests of modern (and not so modern) confessional points of view. The picture presented here is of a religious minority, pre-Constantinian Christians, wrestling at the moment of their birth with questions of self-identity and seeking to submit themselves and their beliefs to open and public scrutiny. Only gradually over the course of the second century did Christians manage to formulate a definition of themselves as a distinct and separate religious culture. They began to draw visible boundaries and commenced the complicated process of endowing their communities with the marks of ethnic and cultural distinction. One of the key elements in this long and rather drawn-out process was the community control and acquisition of real property. This gave the new religionists a mechanism for separating themselves from their non-Christian friends and enemies. It also provided Christians an opportunity to experiment with their own self-definition as a materially defined religious culture. The earliest of their forays into material self-definition seem to have come around A.D. 200 in the form of painting and perhaps pottery - relief sculpture came later at the mid-third century, and Christian buildings first began to take shape under the Tetrarchy. As argued here, the well-known and much-discussed absence of Christian art before A.D. 200 is not to be explained as the consequence of anti-image ideology, but instead should be viewed as the necessary correlate of a religious minority which had not yet attained the status of a materially
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This book is the fruit of many years of work by a scholar who is equally at home in the history and literature of the Early Church and in the art and archeology of the surviving monuments. Finney asks basic and searching questions concerning the process whereby Christian art came into being and explores them in depth."—Ernst Kitzinger

"Strong erudition and detailed illustration of his thesis bolster Finney's impressive work."—The Bible Today

"Finney's work rightly shatters some paradigms and offers significant new insights into the nature and function of early Christian art. Because Finney is so well versed in both early Christian literature and art history he is the right person to do both. This is a ground-breaking work whose thesis should supplant all earlier scholarship on the matter of Christian attitudes toward the visual arts. As a dedicated student of Christian iconography, I feel as if someone has cleared a lot of old dead wood off the land, and made it ready to receive the seeds of new, fresh speculations."—Christian Spirituality Bulletin

"Impressive and meticulous....The work is a model of clarity and precision and deserves to be read and argued about by everyone interested in the Late Antique and rhetoric."—Archaeological News

"The Invisible God is an important book, a fresh and long-needed reexamination of a range of issues in early Christian art and a a number of prevailing assumptions in the field. It deserves the attention of classicists, students of art, historians of late antiquity, and patristic scholars. It should be a staple of any college or university library."—New England Classical Newsletter and Journal

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195113815
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 9/28/1997
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

University of Missouri, St. Louis
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Table of Contents

1 The History of Interpretation 3
2 The Apologists' Attack on Greek Art: History and Literature 15
3 The Content of the Attack on Greek Art 39
4 The Emperor's Image 69
5 Christianity Before 200: Invisibility and Adaptation 99
6 The Earliest Christian Art 146
7 Invisible Divinity and Visible Religion 275
Selected Bibliography 299
Illustration Credits 309
Index 313
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