Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Book Review: The Ecumenism of Beauty

The Ecumenism of Beauty. Edited by Timothy Verdon (Paraclete Press / Mount Tabor Books / ISBN 978-1-61261-924-8 / 128 pages/ full-color illustrations / Hardcover / $28.99) [Published May 1, 2017]

Paraclete Press, Mount Tabor Books: Brewster, MA, and Barga, Italy
"The last fifty years have seen a rediscovery of the role of the visual arts in the lives of all Christians. In tune with this ecumenical age, this book shares the belief that beauty and art can bridge differences." (from the publisher's description)
At the risk of just doing a cut-and-paste book review, I want to share the vision behind this book:
Other contributors to this book include Orthodox, Anglican, and Protestant artists, scholars, and clergy who will participate in a two-part symposium, The Arts and Ecumenism—What Theology Risks in Artistic Creation. Part one will take place in May of 2017 in Paris, Strasbourg and Florence. Presentations will discuss Catholic and Protestant approaches to art through history, theology and liturgical contexts...The US portion of the symposium will take place in October, 2017, in New Haven, CT, at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music on the topic of Sacred Arts in North American Context, and in Orleans, MA with academic presentations, musical performance and an art exhibit on the theme: The Word in Color, Action, Music and Form.
It sounds like some big and important things are going on this year! The Ecumenism of Beauty is a sort of preview of what will be shared at these events, including photographs of the works of art that will be discussed. After reading the book of Clyde Kilby's essays earlier this year, I was really looking forward to reading how some of those ideas might be playing out in the meeting point between today's church and today's art.

Unfortunately, I can't give this book all the stars I would have liked to. If I have to nail down one reason, it's my probably unfair position as a Protestant trying to pass judgment on a book written by and published by Roman Catholics, in an area (visual art, particularly liturgical art) that is not something I am very knowledgeable about. As an under-educated but interested observer, the discussion didn't seem all that...ecumenical...to me. I've been part of a variety of churches, some more liturgical than others; so I'm not very opinionated on highly-decorated or less-decorated worship spaces. However, I found the overall tone of the essays somewhat dismissive of those who prefer to worship without what they see as visual distractions. Perhaps the authors felt those Christians would not have much to say on the subject of liturgical art, particularly in churches--which is, for the most part, the "beauty" referred to in the title.

I may come back to this book when I'm feeling less distracted myself. I did enjoy looking at the included art, though again some of it just puzzled me.

If liturgical and contemplative Christian art is something that excites you, you will probably want to get a copy of this book and also stay tuned in as the European and U.S. symposia take place.

Statement of disclosure: I was sent a free e-copy of this book by the publisher for purposes of review. Opinions given here are my own.

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