‘For with You is the fountain of life, and in Your Light, we shall see light.’
Many readers of this blog will be familiar, I’m sure, with the idea that there is a theology that is used to explain the stylistic elements of the iconographic liturgical art. However, I am not aware of a metaphysics or philosophical anthropology that has been or could be used to articulate a philosophy of icons.
That is, until recently.
A couple of years ago, on the recommendation of a Dominican friar here in Berkeley, I read two works of the late Jesuit philosopher, Fr Norris Clarke. These were Person and Being, and The One and the Many – A Contemporary Thomistic Metaphysics. You can see an interview with him shortly before his death in 2008, here, on YouTube in which he talks about his ‘personalist’ Thomism.
More recently, I sat in on a series of excellent lectures on the thought of Fr Clarke as part of a class on the philosophy of nature and philosophical anthropology, taught by Dr. Michel Accad for Pontifex University’s Master of Sacred Arts program. Dr. Accad had invited me to attend so that I might participate by discussing with him why an understanding of philosophy is important for artists today.
There are, incidentally, a number of general reasons why such a class would be included in a sacred arts program – for example, the simple fact that an understanding of the human person and nature is always important for an artist who is seeking to reveal both invisible and visible truths about both through art. However, it occurred to me as I listened and reflected on the subject that Fr Clarke’s Thomistic philosophy, in particular, might be the basis for a philosophy of icons. I offer my thoughts on this as some personal speculation for your interest.
We will start with a brief account of some of the ways in which theology has been used to explain the style of icons.
Take a look at this icon of the Transfiguration,
…we see Christ shining with light. This is understood to be a glimpse given to the Apostles of his heavenly glory. That glory, which is the radiance of his being, is the radiating of an uncreated ‘light of being’, the divine light of the burning bush, that shone without consuming the bush itself. Saints, who through baptism and lives of purity (Read More)