Thursday, May 7, 2009

Inclusive yet Discerning

I am now trying to decide what my next "coffee shop" book is, having finished Frank Burch Brown, Inclusive Yet Discerning. It proved to be a probing read, to the end. Though to my taste - or perhaps I should say, for my purposes - it is a chapter too long. Not "one chapter too long," becasue I think Brown has much to say, and he says it well. But "a chapter" because his final chapter does not seem to me to add anything or indeed even to clarify his argument. But then, I'm no philosopher.

And that final chapter is in fact "philosohical," specifically dealing with Plotinus, and him by way of Margaret R. Miles. Plotinus has never been more than an old dead Greek's name to me, and I'm still content with that. How is Plotinus a philosopher to be reckoned with? And why take the time to deal with him with all the modifiers? I feel Brown would have done as well to speak directly, especially after his excellent chapter on Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI.

"In modifying Plotinus in the way proposed above, we are recognizing a potential within earthly artistry and beauty that he hinted at, but in other ways questioned or undercut... (p. 151) OK, so why did Mr. P. got a whole chapter?

The conclusion of the chapter and the book:
From a Christian point of view, at least, that spiritually disciplined way of making music and of partaking bodily in beauty may be an integral part of our participating in the sacred, cosmic dance of a sacramental universe. As John of Damascus wrote in defense of icons, "Perhaps you [iconoclasts] are sublime and able to transcend what is material ... but I, since I am a human being and bear a body, want to deal with holy things and behold them in a bodily manner."* In seeing how the arts can participate in that bodily process of dealing with beautiful things, we likewise see how artistry and worship, while by no means identical, are (or should be) closely allied, and at times inseparable." (p. 151)
* John of Damascus, quoted in Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition,vol. 2:
The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600-1700)
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974), p. 122.
Finally, I have already suggested to someone in another church, that this book might be helpful. But now upon completing it, I might make that recommendation cautiously, or even just suggest specific chapters. A lay reader, or a hyper scrupulous clergy, reading Inclusive Yet Discerning, may throw out an overall good thesis with the Plotinus bathwater.

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