Banishing art from the church

Reading an English history book, I was disturbed by the account of Puritans smashing statues in the churches and whitewashing paintings of Bible scenes. The book is by Roy Strong, a Catholic, and so he has his bias, but it sounds to me like a terrible thing to do.

It made me wonder if it is why evangelicalism has traditionally had such a low view of art. It is also makes sense of J.I. Packer – puritan to the bone – and his chapter in Knowing God which claims that any attempts to picture Christ in art is idolatry. (I can’t agree; it seems to misconstrue the nature of language. Are we meant not to picture the stories we read of Christ either?)

In fact, reading English history has made me feel that a lot of bugbears of conservative evangelicalism have historical roots more than anything – another one being the anitpathy toward Catholicism, even when today Catholics don’t resemble the Catholics Calvin reacted against.

One thought on “Banishing art from the church

  1. Those smashed, and sometimes literally “de-faced” statues are devastating to see. Ely Cathedral, near where we used to live in England, was stripped in that way, and I found it daunting. A particular kind of interior “ruin”, even though the building itself was intact.

    I wonder what the relation is between this and other kinds of art, such as writing? As if writing, because seemingly more abstract, less immediately mimetic, were “safer” than visual and plastic arts. Though I have come across the idea, among some evangelicals long ago, that even fiction or novel-writing was somehow idol-making…

    By the way, from memory, Merton recounts in *The Seven Storey Mountain* how art (church art in Europe) influenced him in his move toward faith. (Both his parents were artists too.) This is the aspect I recall most vividly from his autobiography: as if he had reverted to a pre-literate state in the language sense, and was avidly devouring visual representations from medieval churches, which led him toward God.

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