With the arrogance of youth, I determined to do no less than to transform the world with Beauty. If I have succeeded in some small way, if only in one small corner of the world, amongst the men and women I love, then I shall count myself blessed, and blessed, and blessed, and the work goes on. -- William Morris

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Art Is Prophecy

The artist – a prophet, whether true or false,
Is taken up to heights unknown.
His heart beats, a quick pulse,
In ecstasy, his spirit flown.

The experience ends, on earth again,
The artist records what he has seen.
“Follow me, let us begin,”
He cries out, “to the light, a distant beam”

Shall we follow, or do we wallow
In the mire of everyday boredom?
Is he a man of God, so hallow
Or living in the Luciferean kingdom?

Beauty leads to the divine, doubt it not!
All art, prophecy, yet where is the source?
Is it delusion, or the illumination sought?
Beware of sirens, stay on course.

Yet even that which is false, suggests the truth.
Stolen art is yet art indeed – even Satan sees the need
For beauty, the source of eternal youth;
Yet if a sham, despair not, it is full of good seed.



  • At 9/10/2006 1:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

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  • At 9/11/2006 10:48 AM, Blogger Brendan Sammon said…

    True dat, yo!

  • At 9/11/2006 10:48 AM, Blogger Brendan Sammon said…

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  • At 9/11/2006 5:23 PM, Blogger Henry Karlson said…


    I hope the poem explains more of my thoughts on the question of "Satanic Beauty" and I think it is fitting to take what I have written here and combine it with the other post, and write a few more things on the topic.

    I agree with you that beauty as beauty itself is good and leads to the divine. But I do think there needs to be nuances here and understand beauty as beauty is good, but how we often encounter that beauty is mixed - not purified.

    Perhaps a Buddhist analogy might be helpful to explain what I am trying to get at. It is like finding a pure golden statue of the Buddha encased in mud. The statue is still good and pure, even if its covering is not and might obscure the beauty within. Of course you could say even in the mud, the beauty is there. True enough, but others might get diverted and not see it, or they might even somehow think the mud is a part of what it means to be gold.

    Then there is the question of idolatry -- what are we to make of idols? Sometimes (all the time? perhaps) they are works of great beauty -- yet their use is perverted. That again must somehow connect to the question of "Satanic Beauty." Yet one can rightfully point out that the idol, once its abuse has been transcended, can be used to lead to the divine and I would agree -- that it is still based upon truth and beauty. The notions of "gods," as Nicholas of Cusa points out, in their plurality indicates there is a root, a ONE behind them. In the same way, the beauty in the statue indicates BEAUTY and that BEAUTY leads to BEATIFICATION with the BEATIFIC VISION. All of this is connected and therefore one can say that the full vision is hinted by idols!

    Finally, on the nature of Christ sanctifying the darkness. Again I agree but I think we must be nuanced here. Yes, they dark parts of life are indeed parts of creation and all creation is raised up in Christ. More importantly. your point makes itself clear in Buddhist iconography and meditation: we must come face to face with the darkness within and transform it to be a vehicle for light. Agreeing with this, I also agree with Bulgakov ... that while art, even the "demonic" can be transformed into a vehicle of light, does not mean it is currently doing that and-- the danger of wrestling with demons is that we can be the one who is beaten. Art can be used as a vehicle for a perverse will, but in the end I think we will be shown by God how he can take our perverted art and use it to make something greater. Tolkien I think is the greatest prophet of this truth in his Silmarillion -- Melkor, his Satan, tries to create discord in God's creation and finds out no matter what discord he creates, God just uses it to create a deeper, greater harmony...

  • At 9/12/2006 5:57 PM, Blogger Brendan Sammon said…


    As you know, there is very little disagreement between us.
    All of what you said I would confirm.
    My thoughts are really intended to open the discussion to new territories.
    For instance, you bring up the notion of the idol, and you rightly point out how it can be a perversion of beauty.
    But I would want to ask how beauty, even in this situation, harbors a recalcitrance to final perversion.

    After all, even one's desire for an idol is a recognition of a transcendent other, which keeps the religious impulse alive.
    As you rightly point out, this could very easily lead one down a path into darkness, where the idol, being merely a reflection of the self's own will to rule, finally reveals itself as such.

    But I take comfort here in Gregory of Nyssa, who insists that evil as such can never be infinite. The soul that moves in that direction eventually reaches a point of exhuastion, seeing that the 'god' it was following is really incapable of satisfying its true desire. It then turns around and begins anew.

    I think this would provide for a great discussion relative to beauty.

    I suppose this it is merely in emphasis where we differ (at least relative to certain posts).
    At times you emphasize the identity between the transcendentals. And I can only and always agree.
    But...I am still quite interested in their differences, and the nature of difference as such.

  • At 9/12/2006 7:00 PM, Blogger Henry Karlson said…

    Certainly we share the same general vision -- that much is clear, and it is only nuances in how we seek to understand it that causes interesting points of discussion.

    It's why I tried to raise up the question of idols. Its one I raise up more to myself than to anyone else. Since I deal with Buddhism more than any other religious tradition, and find myself drawn to their religious images, the question I have for myself: do I ever cross the line? Where exactly is the line? It's not a question I just ask of myself, it's a question many people have asked me, because they think I have already crossed it. I also don't think any understanding of the faith as we hold it, for ourselves, will allow us to ever cross it.

    Yet there are people who have. And it is why I keep posing the same question to myself over and over -- what is it that is wrong about idols (and, imo, I think each of the three transcendentals can end up creating an idol). Yet perhaps that is the wrong question, when we look at everything through the light of Christ and we should ask instead, what is right in "idols"? Certainly, to exist as they are, to attract, something has to be right, and it is in that nature, when brought out, that the idol can be transformed from idol to vehicle back to the divine. Or, as you stated quite rightfully, that there is a point where evil will be exhausted, and then the good which remains, the beauty which remains, the truth which remains, is then capable of drawing us back to the divine. The ending of the poem certainly affirms this and I think it is in an ultimate sense the fundamental truth.

    But yet... I am curious, what do you consider as the ultimate "error" of idols, and why do idols always end up being linked to demonic activity?

  • At 9/21/2006 12:14 PM, Blogger Brendan Sammon said…


    to your question (which has taken me a while to respond, I know...):

    But yet... I am curious, what do you consider as the ultimate "error" of idols, and why do idols always end up being linked to demonic activity?

    my approach to the "ultimate error of idols" would in many ways echo what Marion explains. To simplify his argument, though, I would say that the idol's evil is manifest in the way it brings ceasure to our always growing relationship to the divine. Marion claims that an idol is such that it 'holds up a mirror' as we gaze upon divine infinity. Thus, rather than actually beholding the infinite goodness, truth and beauty of God, we see our own measure of it.
    All idolatry is reducible to this - it is always a "god" constructed by our own conceptions.

    As to the demonic aspect...well, that seems to be a quesiton that requires us to develop a more fundamental question, namely, what role angelic substances and demonic forces play in our participation in being (esse). I know you are pursuing this in your dissertation. Hans Urs Von B has a great depiction in his Theo-Drama III (you've read it already, I'm sure).

    One interesting corollary from this I think is the way idolatry as such is a point of unity between the "theist" and the "atheist": the point of unity, in a word, is the 'concept'.

    All atheism, as such, can always and only reject the conceptual grasp of divinity. Thus, often such a rejection is actually true - there are, after all, many conceptualizations of the divine that should indeed be rejected. But the atheist suffers from idolatry in the same way as the theist: the atheist, having rejected ONE concept, believes that he has rejected all concepts. Like the theist who is worshiping an idol, the atheist fails to look beyond his or her own conceptualization of the divine. For the atheist too, then, the idol holds up a mirror to his own gaze at the infinite abyss. Where the theist embraces his gaze, the atheist rejects it. In this, the atheist seems further along. But where the theist acquiesces to his own resting gaze, so too does the atheist. And in this regard, the theist is at least left with something to work with. The atheist has nothing.

    Interesting, don't you think?

    I'll have to do a post on this topic.

  • At 9/21/2006 12:14 PM, Blogger Brendan Sammon said…

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  • At 9/21/2006 4:43 PM, Blogger Henry Karlson said…


    Not surprisingly, I agree. I actually tend to be very positive to all images of the divine in most world traditions, though I see them as incomplete and imperfect. I might even be said to be more positive than you are on their use, but knowing my general inclination to have a positive assesment of them, I also keep asking myself if I somehow go beyond, accidently, the Christian message.

    Both Nicholas of Cusa and Bulgaov see truth involved with idols, and the problem tended to be more with Israel and God's attempt to keep them pure for the incarnation, than the idols themself. Certainly the idols were a problem, but a problem of incompleteness.

    Nicholas suggests once non-Christians accept the Christian message, their use of idols will be purified, and they will be shown as accepting some angelic intervention in their original "idolatry." The gods could, in theory, be angels and all have YHWH/GOD as their base.

    Bulgakov thought the idols hinted at theosis but until the incarnation, that intuition was always base and ended up being unholistic.

  • At 9/24/2006 11:43 PM, Blogger Brendan Sammon said…

    Nicely put Henry,
    maybe the redemption of idolatry is somehow bound up with theophany...
    Where the idol once stood as a mirror of our own possessive gaze, redeemed, it becomes a monument to our epektasistic journey....
    (or some such thing).


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