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Theological Aesthetics

Vincent van Gogh on Windows to the Soul

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I prefer painting people’s eyes to cathedrals, for there is something in the eyes that is not in the cathedral, however solemn and imposing the latter may be — a human soul, be it that of a poor beggar or of a street walker, is more interesting to me.

Vincent van Gogh on the Bible

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The work of the French naturalists — Zola, Flaubert, Guy de Maupassant, de Congourt — is magnificent. Is the Bible enough for us: In these days, I believe Jesus himself would say to those who sit down in a state of melancholy, “It is not here, get up and go forth. Why do you seek the living among the dead?” If the spoken or written word is to remain the light of the world, then it is our right and our duty to acknowledge that we are living in a period when it should be spoken and written in such a way that, in order to find something equally great, and equally good, and equally original, and equally powerful to revolutionize the whole of society, we may compare it with a clear conscience to the old revolution of the Christians. I myself am always glad that I have read the Bible more thoroughly than many people nowadays, because it eases my mind somewhat to know that there were once such lofty ideas.

Edmund Burke on Appreciating Creation

Go The variety of the passions is great, and worthy, in every branch of that variety, of the most diligent investigation. The more accurately we search into the human mind, the stronger traces we everywhere find of His wisdom who made it. If a discourse on the use of the parts of the body may be considered as a hymn to the Creator, the use of the passions, which are the organs of the mind, cannot be barren of praise to Him, nor unproductive to ourselves of that noble and uncommon union of science and admiration, which a contemplation of the works of Infinite Wisdom alone can afford to a rational mind; whilst referring to Him whatever we find of right, or good, or fair, in ourselves, discovering his strength and wisdom even in our own weakness and imperfection, honoring them where we discover them clearly, and adoring their profundity where we are lost in our search, we may be inquisitive without impertinence, and elevated without pride; we may be admitted, if I may dare to say so, into the counsels of the Almighty, by a consideration of his works. This elevation of the mind ought to be the principal end of all our studies, which, if they do not in some measure effect, they are of very little service to us.

David Hume on Art and Taste

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It is a great mortification to the vanity of man, that his utmost art and industry can never equal the meanest of nature’s productions, either for beauty or value. Art is only the under-workman, and is employed to give a few strokes of embellishment to those pieces, which come from the hand of the master. … Art may make a suit of clothes; but nature must produce a man. … All sentiment is right; because sentiment has a reference to nothing beyond itself, and is always real, wherever a man is conscious of it. But all determinations of the understanding are not right; because they have a reference to something beyond themselves, to wit, real matter of fact; and are not always conformable to that standard. … Beauty is no quality in things themselves: It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty. One person may even perceive deformity, where another is sensible of beauty; and every individual ought to acquiesce in his own sentiment, without pretending to regulate those of others.