Freshman Seminar 31n. Beauty and Christianity

Terms: Fall Term

Instructor: Robert Kiely

Wednesdays, 2-4 pm | Location: Sever 101

In Book X of The Confessions Augustine wrote, “I have learned to love you late, Beauty at once so ancient and so new!”  In addressing God as source and model of beauty, Augustine joins theology and aesthetics in one sentiment that has informed and sometimes troubled Christianity throughout its history.  There is no doubt that the life and teachings of Jesus have inspired some of the greatest works of art, literature, and music in Western culture, but it is also true that Christians have not always agreed on the definition and function of beauty.  The seminar will consider certain key Christian aesthetic theories, including those of Augustine, Gregory the Great, Aquinas, and Calvin.  But the focus will be on the analysis of particular works, selections from Dante’s Paradiso, poems of Herbert, Donne, and G.M. Hopkins, The Little Flowers of St. Francis, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter, Melville’s Billy Budd, works of C.S. Lewis, and the short stories of Flannery O’Connor.  Included as well will be paintings (eg Italian Renaissance depictions of Jesus, Mary, Mary Magdalene, John the Baptist, and St. Sebastian) and choral music (eg Bach’s Saint Mathew Passion and selected African-American spirituals).  The abiding question will be:  In what ways does aesthetic form—beauty—enhance, qualify, complicate, or obscure the gospel?

Note: Open to freshman students only.

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