The theological aesthetics of icons and their ecumenical significance

  1. Lemma
  2. Die theologische Ästhetik der Ikonen und ihre ökumenische Bedeutung
  3. German
  4. Koutalis, Vangelis
  5. Integration - Orthodox Anthropology - Concepts of knowledge and modes of reasoning > Orthodox gnosiology - Culture and national identities - Ecumenism and dialogue
  6. 26-02-2017
  7. Theodorou, Evangelos [Author]. The theological aesthetics of icons and their ecumenical significance
  8. Θεολογία
  9. gnoseology - ontology - cosmology - anthropology - Christology - Icons - aesthetics
    1. <p>Theodorou, E. D. (1993). Die theologische Ästhetik der Ikonen und ihre ökumenische Bedeutung. <em>Θεολογία</em>, <em>64</em>, 7-29.</p>
    1. In order to properly assess the aesthetic significance of the religious icons, as products of Christian painters, active members themselves of the Church, depicting symbolically or realistically events and persons involved in the unfolding of the redeeming work of Christ, the author adopts, as his standpoint, a philosophical version of aesthetics which is interested not only in the external form of the works of art, but also in their content. Instead of examining the theological relevance of the ecclesiastical painting separately from its aesthetic value, he treats the aesthetic element as an expressive medium of the religious experience bridging the distance between the sensual and the spiritual. Icons, apart from exciting the human senses, are also meaningful in themselves: they do make sense, as expressions of a content which has a gnoseological, ontological, cosmological, anthropological and Christological grounding.

      From a strictly gnoseological perspective, in the eastern and Augustinian Patristic tradition, icons do not convey sensory pieces of information that must be collected and interpreted a posteriori through the activity of reason. They are considered, instead, as reflections of the uncreated energies through which the reality of God can be revealed inside the purified human soul. Christian ontology and cosmology, however, which challenged, from its earlier formulations, Gnosticism, Manichaism, as well as the Platonic and Neoplatonic dualism, does not reject sensible natural reality. On the contrary, by insisting in the relation between God and the created universe, it evaluates the material universe, the ecological environment and the technological culture, in a positive way. The Created is tied to its Uncreated Creator. Referring at this point to John of Damascus and the fathers of the 7th Ecumenical Council, the author points out that, from an anthropological and christological angle, the justification for the religious icons is provided by the fact that the Son and Word of God is the icon, the image of the invisible God and human beings are also created in the likeness of God. The Christological doctrine of the hypostatical union of the divine and the human nature is the most weighing argument in favour of the icons and their spiritual function.

      Situated in this context, the aesthetic significance of icons can be better grasped. In their imagery, beauty is an indicator of the spiritual lived experience and not of the optical and corporeal one. Icons are not books for the illiterate, but matter full of godly energy and this is why the reality depicted in them is that of the spiritual experience of forming a relation of union with the heavenly prototype. The liturgical character of Christian painting is, thus, strongly linked with their didactical function. From an ecumenical Christian point of view, the positive contribution of Protestantism is the criticism that icons should not be misused and taken to be an end in themselves acquiring magical qualities. The doctrinal and historically accumulated differences notwithstanding, the question of the significance of icons can supplement the ecumenism of the theological concepts, opening up a space of ecumenical debate beyond the existing confessional borderlines.