Graduate Theological Society

October 20, 2006

Response to Ables on Tarkovsky, Augustine, and Bonaventure

Filed under: Ables, Proceedings, Theology and the Arts — graduatetheology @ 2:44 pm

Please post your comments to Travis Ables’ paper, or Nate Kerr’s response, here.

September 20, 2006

Response to Gibson on Bergman and Christology

Filed under: Proceedings, Theology and the Arts — graduatetheology @ 7:47 am

Post your comments to Michael Gibson’s paper, or Travis Ables’ response, here.

June 23, 2006

A response to the Seeing the Form, intro

Filed under: Von Balthasar — graduatetheology @ 2:47 pm

            In taking up the question of theology and aesthetics we face a question that – no matter what the current fashion or exigencies of academic theology – remains an “untimely” one, as von Balthasar rightly says (untimely, perhaps, precisely insofar as it stands as au courant in contemporary speech), and will remain so as long as we discourse in the traditions of now matter how post a modernity. Those Christian centuries which “masterfully knew how to read the natural world’s language of forms” were those who possessed a theology of creation that granted the possibility of “seeing the form.” Such, at least, is one implication of von Balthasar’s pages before us today: insofar as the book of nature has gone out of print, we shall be hard pressed to undertake a theology of contemplation and imagination oriented toward the pulchritude of Being.

                  For it is being, the being of God folded into the world, the mystery of the supernatural in the kosmos, that we have to do with here. And as such our discourse is automatically, insofar as we are going to be von Balthasar’s followers, a question – a subversive question – not of any aesthetic theology, the question of the work of art, but instead the splendor of the forms, of all forms inasmuch as they participate in the triune God and are ennobled in the transfiguration of the incarnation: rather therefore it is a theological aesthetics, a theory of vision and imagination determined by its object. It is a question not of poiesis (and I daresay, not of repetition), but of pathos – of undergoing, of being given, of a transfiguration. As someone somewhere once said, a question of a God that transforms, not a God that dazzles. 

            In reading Seeing the Form  – in already echoing the rhetorical folds of this work before us, in inscribing my own palimpsest on von Balthasar’s page – we have perhaps our task already delivered to us: adumbrated at least, broached, glimpsed. For if von Balthasar’s witness is to be attested to, we have at least this fact: if Augustine’s genius was to think seriously and profoundly caritas, the love of God that is God Godself (if therefore, not incidentally, he was first a theologian of the Holy Spirit), von Balthasar’s is to think pulchrum, the beauty of God that is God Godself. We do well, then, to ask ourselves accordingly how this inquiry will be conducted in the upcoming year. The following represents one attempt to understand the task of our collective discourse in theological aesthetics, in a series of propositions offered in the hope that we may find some clarity of vision in these months for the stumbling steps of Christian theology.


§ 1. If with the Fathers we regard beauty as a transcendental and do theology accordingly, if then theology is marked by the congruence of subject-matter and method, the category of the aesthetic becomes an ineluctable component of theology’s task.

            § 2. Being by nature participates in God’s form and its form is beauty; the theological question of ontology is therefore one of “working from the whole to the parts” (theology as queen of the sciences).

            § 3. “The beautiful brings with it a self-evidence that en-lightens without mediation.” Theology’s task then brings with it its own beginning and demonstration insofar as it is adequate to its object.

            § 4. God’s beauty is revealed in the Christ event and salvation history, the Incarnation representing the perfection of being. Theology is therefore a theory of rapture, a discourse of God’s ekstasis whereby God’s glory is inscribed in being and humanity is elevated to God.


§ 5. If theology’s object is the beautiful, then theology is first vision, a certain kind of seeing that with spiritual eyes beholds the form. It is necessarily then askesis, participating already in God and the site of the Spirit’s poiesis.

            § 6. Theology is the discourse of the ascent to God in contemplation: the eschatological vision that already participates in God’s life and future. The aesthetic raises therefore the question of the moment.

            § 7. If the form of divine revelation is salvation-history, then theology is anamnetic and therefore the discourse of faith in Christ borne by the Spirit. It accordingly participates in the sophiological retrospective in which the life of Jesus is transfigured in the eucharistic memory.

            § 8. Theology is the speech of eros whereby humanity’s venturing forth to God is configured as a theory of vision: it becomes a habitus inasmuch as human discourse is folded into God’s revelation and only thereby made proportionate to its object.


§ 9. A theological aesthetics as proportionate to its object and participatory in it is finally a pneumatology. The site of theology’s talk is the happy exchange between God and humanity in the incarnation whereby the Spirit is given for the transformation of vision and the coming to speech of the beauty of the form.

            § 10. Theological aesthetics poses the question of the natural and the supernatural: inasmuch as beauty participates already and analogically in God’s splendor, the supernatural is at home in the natural and inhabits it. Creation itself is made the bride of Christ in grace’s inhabitation, which is to say, in the outpouring of the Spirit.

            § 11. The ennobling of creation according to the archetype of Christ by the Creator Spirit whereby beauty in the world is both presence and sign, whereby form reveals the truth and goodness of being, determines theology’s “secularity.”

            § 12. A theological aesthetics as the poiesis of the Spirit configures the union of the subjective and objective ekstases of God and humanity: it is therefore a theory of rapture: the habitus of transformed vision and deified imagination.



May 16, 2006

Response to Nate Kerr’s paper

Filed under: Church and Politics, Kerr on Lacoste — graduatetheology @ 6:30 pm

Add your comments to Nate Kerr's paper "The Politics of Praise" or Aaron Simmons' response here.

April 10, 2006


Filed under: Proceedings — graduatetheology @ 11:57 am

If someone could provide us an account of the proceedings and major highlights (particularly with respect to the representatives of the GTS) of the SCPT and NEXUS conferences, that would be great. Ideally, these would be presented in two separate posts by two separate persons.

March 27, 2006

Response to Eberhart on “Just Care for the Sick”

Filed under: Eberhart on TennCare, Proceedings — graduatetheology @ 3:29 pm

Add your comments to Tim Eberhart’s paper here.

March 19, 2006

Church and Empire in the Book of Revelation

Filed under: Church and Politics — graduatetheology @ 6:57 pm

“But after three and a half days the breath of God’s life penetrated them, and they were resurrected, and those who saw them were terrified.  Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Come up!”  And they were caught up into heaven in a cloud while their enemies watched them.  At that moment there was a great earthquake, and one-tenth of the city fell; seven thousand people were killed, and all the rest were frightened and gave glory to God in heaven.” (Revelation 11:11-13).

It is striking, no doubt, the way in which John the Seer describes the pervasiveness of empire in The Apocalypse.  Almost everything he sees and observes – including, even, Christ’s final triumph – appears as draped across the backdrop of this political phenomenon.  The totality, the universality, of empire here can hardly be exaggerated.  Empire is not simply an external form of earthly rule, but one pervasive of world-history itself, one which undermines the integrity of all competing powers, rendering them impotent, in its arrogation of all authority to itself.  Here, in Empire, the Antichrist has taken a social form of life that wrests humankind’s ultimate allegiance from Christ.  In history, and on earth, there is no escape-route, no way out the back door.  Not even in the church, it seems, are we given a form of stable, earthly social life that qualifies this judgment.

So this, then, is the question:  Why is the church, as an alternatively catholic, universal social order on earth, so conspicuously absent from John’s elucidation of the logic of empire?

There is nothing obstinate about my putting the question this way.  I am not looking to deny what is patently clear:  John’s revelation has to do precisely with Christ’s Lordship over history, and it is no doubt by his church in history that Christ’s Lordship must appear.  But this fact forces us all the more to grapple with this most fundamental of observations:  For John the Seer, there is no place for a genuine church catholic on earth.  True, nowhere else in the New Testament is the eschatological triumph of the church so boldly proclaimed as a social and political triumph.  We are here permitted finally to glimpse and to anticipate that conquest by which the power politics of Empire may be countered at last by the alternative politics of doxa.  And yet, only as we lift our eyes to heaven, to what is descending from beyond history, are we given to see the reality of this worshipping community:  in the gathering of the Jewish and Gentile faithful in chapter 7 and in the first fruits of the elect in chapter 14.  But if here indeed we have the establishment of a true city, there is equally as little solidity given to the vision of the Christian community in its present form on earth.  The faithful Christian appears in history as a solitary individual (“the conqueror” of 6:2) or as a pair of martyrs (the “two witnesses” of 11:3).  And tellingly, the only times John uses the word “church” in his book are in reference to the seven local communities he is addressing at the outset of the letter, communities that themselves turn out to be ambiguously faithful, communities that are all in some way or another being put into question:  by persecution, by temptation.  These “churches” are fractured and broken bodies, bodies cut to the core by the sins of the world, bodies so embroiled in the logic of world-empire that Christ must not only continually judge them, but is even prepared to destroy them if necessary (2:5).

From all evidence, then, the church stands in an adjunctive relationship to the dominant moral and socio-political order.  The history of the church on earth is revealed to be more than ever bound up with the universal history of fallen humankind.  The church’s appearance as an alternative city, an alternative socio-political order on earth, has been greatly attenuated – one might even say that it has, as such, disappeared.  This is the curious thing about the “two cities” in revelation:  not their stark distinction in the final days on earth, but rather their striking identification.  That “Holy City” Jerusalem that is given over to the gentile peoples to be trampled for forty-two months (11:2) is in fact that “Great City” named (prophetically) Sodom and Egypt (11:8), that city in which the Lord was crucified (Jerusalem), which has, at last, been handed over to Babylon (18:21).

A single point must here be stressed:  If Christ is indeed the One Lord of history, if he sits alone on a single throne from which he judges the one world created by God, then there can only ever be one distinct human community, one true polis.  This then, finally, is why John the Seer refuses to map the Christ/Antichrist distinction onto the earthly church/world distinction.  Because the church in history is not apart from and over-against the world (empire) as Christ alone is apart from and over-against Antichrist.  The church on earth cannot claim for itself its own “proper” space apart from the world, over against which alone its socio-political logic is sovereign.  For in a world where empire has arrogated all sovereignty to itself, we have only one hope:  the claim of Lordship that has been given by the Father to the ascended Christ.  The church, then, is rather within the world as its hidden sanctuary; it is, in the dark night of empire, the soul of the world which prays, which bears the wound of history and cries out:  “How long, sovereign Lord, before you come to judge and avenge our blood on earth?”  It is not for nothing that in response to the cries of the pair of martyrs the seventh trumpet is blown, and it is heard from heaven that “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and his Christ” (11:15).  It is for precisely this reason that John the Seer will not allow the church to be visible as a universal, catholic sovereignty vis-à-vis the world on earth:  for it is in response to the cries of its martyred witnesses alone that Christ appears, to claim back the Great City, earthly Jerusalem-become-whore of Babylon, for the one true Holy City, Heavenly Jerusalem.

If we can begin to think what it means that precisely here – in the cries of this martyred pair, in the aftermath of whose death the inhabitants of Sodom and Egypt are found celebrating the church’s disappearance – Christ in fact appears as the Lord of his Church and as sovereign over the whole of earthly reality, then we shall perhaps be in a position to begin to think the church’s visibility otherwise, as the outline of a new communal existence that is not the product of history, but rather brought about and created anew by the judgment of God upon history.  In the face of the church’s martyrial disappearance, while the inhabitants of empire laugh, the true church shall be seen – ascending to heaven, where alone the true city exists, and from whence alone the true city descends.

Posted by:  Nate Kerr

February 22, 2006

Comments on David Dunn’s letter to Jimmy Byrd

Filed under: Uncategorized — graduatetheology @ 12:39 pm

Graduate Theological Society
Vanderbilt University
Josh Davis
David Dault
David J. Dunn
blah blah
blah blah blah
The following proposal, offered at the invitation of Professor Byrd, is an attempt to offer
a solution to a problem often noted and variously expressed among Vanderbilt’s PhD
students, a problem that will be exacerbated by the loss of carol space at the library.
Even the careless observer will note the lack of a space designated for use by PhD
students in the GDR. We congregate in the refectory until the lunch rush hits. Teaching
fellows meet hold office hours with their students in empty classrooms. While the lounge
is intended to be a place where students can study and hold meetings, it cannot
accommodate both. Students end up competing over whether to use it for meetings or
quiet study. It is certainly not a place where students go to relax (the room is too
While none of us is glad to see Dan and the bookstore go, we recognize that his departure
presents the GDR with an opportunity to expand the current GDR lounge. While the
details of such an expansion will need to be worked out in further meetings, we envision
a space that first of all can give GDR students a place to congregate and relax. This
would certainly require some of the décor to be cleaned up and updated, perhaps
including some hardy plants, small fridge for lunches, and a microwave. Second, many
GDR’s studying for exams or working on dissertations find the carol space at the library
to be indispensable. Since the renovation will include the removal of those carols, the
GDR could install private carol space in what is currently the bookstore. These need not
all be carols with doors that close, but may also include office cubicles. Finally, we
would be interested in seeing if any remaining space could be used for a shared TF office,
a place where teaching fellows could meet privately with their students on a rotating
schedule. Such a place would be more recognizable to our students, give us more
credibility, and help maintain the confidentiality of our students more than the open tables
at the crowded refectory.

February 16, 2006

Response to Dunn on “Fasting as Economic Resistance”

Filed under: Dunn on Fasting, Proceedings — graduatetheology @ 5:31 pm

Write your responses to David Dunn’s paper, or Chad Maxson’s response, in this thread.

January 16, 2006

Response to Ables on Badiou and Simmons on Levinas

Filed under: Ables on Badiou, Proceedings — graduatetheology @ 11:54 pm

Please post your comments on Travis E. Ables’s paper in this forum.

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