8 Comments

  1. Mark Powell

    Dear Benedict,

    Thank you for your essay. The first section especially though has been troubling me, because it could be argued (and it has been) that the impulse to create is something of the image of God in human beings, and not an outcome of our fallen nature. This does not mean that human beings always create the good, as the Lord God did in the beginning, but that humans creating is something God-given, an aspect that makes us distinct from the rest of Creation, both before and after the Fall. What we create, on the other hand, is not always uniformly good, as a result of the fall.

    It also seems that your essay implies that Adam and Eve did not live from or interact with the material world that God made for them, somehow subsisting from purely spiritual food; I suspect you may not have intended a sort of dualism to be part of your argument.

    Finally, on the last topic, it is difficult to judge what makes one musical idiom “closer to that of the angels” than another. Principally we hold to traditions passed on to us, and for modern Orthodox, that can mean a host of alternatives. For one person a certain kind of sacred music might be the highest expression of the angels and for another, the basest perversion.

    Mark Powell

  2. Benedict Sheehan

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Mark! I appreciate a careful reader. Let me respond to your three points in order.

    1.) I accept your criticism regarding this point — I was unclear in my presentation of man’s creativity. The point I am driving at is that the first instance of man as maker mentioned in Scripture is an immediate result of the Fall. However, you must be right that the underlying impulse to create is God-given and connected to the divine image within man. I am not trying to say that creativity itself is necessarily fallen, but I do think the fact that Genesis presents human creativity in such close connection with the Fall — and not once, but numerous times, as the generations from Cain devolve — should give us pause. Creativity is much vaunted nowadays as being universally good, and so I want us to check this against Scripture, and realize that creativity, when it is not connected to a life in God, leads man to destructive ends. I was (and still am) planning to touch on this subject — i.e., how creativity can be sanctified — quite a bit more in Part Three, but forgive me for not being clearer here.

    2.) If I understand you, I think you are correct in saying that a spirit/matter dualism was not intended to be part of the argument. However, I’m not totally sure where you think I’m creating such a dualism. Perhaps it is the line, “seeking their life instead from the material creation”? If so, I meant this to imply the material creation alone, apart from God, as I said in the previous paragraph. However, maybe this wasn’t clear.

    3.) As for your last point, this is very difficult to answer. On the one hand, I agree that, since the singing of the angels is above human experience and therefore impossible to precisely convey in human song, there are necessarily many modes of translating it, as it were. On the other hand, I do not agree that this makes it purely relative and open to opposing interpretations. I think Scripture and Orthodox tradition make a strong case for believing that the singing of the angels is something concrete, empirical, and accessible (by God’s will) to human perception.

    Take for example the story of the origin of the Trisagion Hymn [http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2008/10/origin-of-trisagion-hymn.html], or the story of the origin of Axion Estin [http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2010/06/revelation-of-hymn-axion-estin-by.html].

    It is clear from both of these examples — and many others besides –that the singing of the angels is something that humans can learn, albeit imperfectly, and can transmit in musical tradition. Now this is not to say that an actual melody must necessarily be enshrined in the tradition as the only angelic way of singing a hymn (though in Byzantine chant, this sometimes actually happens). Rather, I am saying that in Orthodox tradition, where actual experience of the heavenly realms is an ongoing reality in the lives of holy people, there exists a sort of mysterious criterion by which melodies may be judged — over time and with the cooperation of the Holy Spirit — whether they are in accordance with this experience. (Read Andrew Gould’s essay on the synthesis of the liturgical arts.) Am I making sense? The point is that human sensibilities are not the standard by which angelic song is discerned to be present or not in a given musical idiom, but rather it is the saints’ genuine experience of heaven, and this experience preserved in Orthodox artistic tradition, that constitutes the standard. Though certain details of execution and style may differ from culture to culture and from epoch to epoch, I think there exists at the core of the Orthodox musical tradition a living and concrete connection to the singing of the angels.

    Forgive me — I am struggling to express something that I may not ever fully understand, so I hope you will bear with me!

    1. Dear Benedict

      I think I understood your point of humans as creators. On the one hand for fallen humans, creativity is indeed a God-given gift to help man cope in this fallen world. But as all gifts, it can be directed to greater and closer association with God or it can lead to arrogance and human pride leading away from God.

      On the foundational level creativity in this fallen world, is a compensation or a pale substitute for creativity within the Creativity of God that Man was supposed to be part of. Saints, who DO participate in the Creativity of God via their life in Christ, end up not needing the gadgets fallen man creates, as he is able to move through time and space, heal, provide food, heat, knowledge and other human needs through the gifts and creativity of God. In other words, our physical limitations that we try to overcome through our creations could easily be overcome through sanctity.

      1. Benedict Sheehan

        Beautifully said, Tanya! I agree completely.

  3. Dear Benedict.

    What a wonderful article. I am very attuned to what you are saying and am wondered a bit. I am in fact working on my next article for the OAJ on the subject of the Fall, the garments on skins and human activity as a reaction to the death. I was intending to use the very same image you have used from Palermo! The subject of the Garments of Skins is a less known aspect of patristic writing but in my opinion is very key to understanding the contemporary world. Panayiotis Nellas has written a wonderful book on the subject called “Deification in Christ” (published in English by SVS) that I highly recommend to anybody interested in the arts or human activity in general and their role in the deification of man. I can understand the criticism you have received, because it is a bit disturbing at first to see the role of the Fall in human creativity, but the key can be found in our our most known Paschal song… “Christ had risen from the dead, trampling down death by death”, that is deification occurs when death is turned against itself, flipped over and transformed into light. And so we should not fear to find death at the origin of human creativity. In the mystery of God’s plan, just as the thorns that resulted from the Fall were placed as a crown on Christ’s head, so our garments of skin will be changed into glory through the grace of our Lord.

  4. Benedict Sheehan

    Thank for your eloquent comment, Jonathan. I expected that you, of all people would really grasp the significance of what I’m trying to say here. I read your article, The Recovery of the Arts, and realized that we were both exploring similar territory. I am quite familiar with Nellas’ book and admire it very much — but thank you for reminding me of its applicability in this case. I will have another look at it. As for your point about the Christ’s overcoming of death being the key to the redemption of human creativity, I am totally in line with your thinking. This is to be, in part, the subject of my next article. I look forward to reading your future posts!

  5. Eugene Fitzpatrick

    This is a very gripping article. I have heard before from priests that mankind’s creative engery is not always used as it may have been in Eden. Arrestingly, when one considers the continual and virtually limitless creative ways in which man invents ways of doing evil, our wholesale lauding of creativitiy seems patently unbalanced. Thank you for this series.

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