Skip to main content

Full text of "A Plea for Beauty in Religion"

See other formats


Early Journal Content on JSTOR, Free to Anyone in the World 

This article is one of nearly 500,000 scholarly works digitized and made freely available to everyone in 
the world by JSTOR. 

Known as the Early Journal Content, this set of works include research articles, news, letters, and other 
writings published in more than 200 of the oldest leading academic journals. The works date from the 
mid-seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries. 

We encourage people to read and share the Early Journal Content openly and to tell others that this 
resource exists. People may post this content online or redistribute in any way for non-commercial 

Read more about Early Journal Content at 
journal-content . 

JSTOR is a digital library of academic journals, books, and primary source objects. JSTOR helps people 
discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content through a powerful research and teaching 
platform, and preserves this content for future generations. JSTOR is part of ITHAKA, a not-for-profit 
organization that also includes Ithaka S+R and Portico. For more information about JSTOR, please 


ism, Taoism, Shintoism, and Islam. In both instances the method is 
essentially the same: the analysis of the religious inheritance, the dis- 
covery of basic ideas, and the relating of these, as far as possible, with 
universal religious needs and aspirations of mankind and the fundamental 
spirit and teaching of Christianity. This study involves, in the case of 
the oriental religions, consideration of the literatures of India, China, 
and Islam, the philosophical, ethical, and religious implications of the 
same, together with some appreciation of the personalities of their 
founders. Here our author shows fine discrimination, not alone in his 
analysis and criticism of these great faiths of the Orient and the contrast 
they present, but also in his appreciation of the points of contact which 
they offer to Christianity. 

In his outline of the history of missions, Catholic and Protestant, 
Dr. Richter has compassed a difficult task in the most satisfying manner 
conceivable in 250 pages packed full of information. The author passes 
rapidly from the causes of the dearth of missionary interest in the Refor- 
mation period to the beginnings of modern Protestant missions as seen 
in Pietism, Moravianism, and the movement inaugurated by William 
Carey, ushering in the nineteenth century with its complex of missionary 
agencies, and the mobilizing of the forces of the church in Europe and 
America for the conquest of the world. In kaleidoscopic fashion there 
pass in review before the reader the various political units of Africa, 
Asia, Australia, Oceania, and America, wherever Christian missions have 
made impact with the non-Christian world. Account is taken of the 
land and its people, its languages and religions, its peculiar problems, the 
history of the Christian movement both Catholic and Protestant, 
together with the most recent available statistics. The volume is well 
supplied with footnotes introducing the reader to a comprehensive 
missionary bibliography, including available literature in various modern 
tongues. Unfortunately as a result, no doubt, of unavoidable circum- 
stances existing in Germany just now, this very valuable volume is 
printed on atrociously poor paper. 

Henry H. Walker 
Chicago Theological Seminary 


In these confused times, when searching questions are being raised 
regarding both art and religion, it may be that at least a part of these 
inquiries will be answered, not by a study of either subject separately, 
but by an analysis of their mutual relations. We find points of remark- 

' Art and Religion. By Von Ogden Vogt. New Haven: Yale University Press, 
1921. ix+257 pages. $5.00. 


able similarity in their characteristics and in the type of experiences 
which they awaken in us. In their historical development they have 
been intimately associated. Consequently a separation of these two 
necessities of human existence means serious loss to the potency of each. 

Von Ogden Vogt in his book Art and Religion presents a discriminat- 
ing consideration of art as a primary and necessary factor in the religious 
reconstruction of the new age. " In a general way, " he says, " the great 
lack of Protestantism is not intellectual nor moral but artistic, not 
ethical but cultural." He points out that a wide range of art has become 
dissevered from the institutions of religion. "The ugliness of many 
present-day religious forms repels those to whom beauty is a genuinely 
spiritual satisfaction." Therefore "religion cannot complete her 
reformation until she has squared her experience not only with Scientist 
and Moralist but also with the Artist .... so that every trained leader 
in religion will be more aware of the universal hunger for beauty, and 
more capable of utilizing this almost unlimited asset for the religious 
ends of his task." 

The writer uses his analysis of the mutual needs of art and religion 
as a basis for definitely constructive suggestions regarding ways in which 
the arts may contribute to religion. Some of these are the following; 
Art can aid in the presentation of symbols and sacraments so as to help 
us in seeing that these are more than they seem to be. Religious educa- 
tion may include as one of its essentials a training in observation of the 
beauty of nature and of the arts. "To help young lives to see and enjoy 
beauty is to help them to apprehend God." Rituals of worship become 
vitalized by conforming to aesthetic demands. Hundreds of churches 

are " devoid of the artistry of worship and of devotional life Many 

an outsider would like to come in if he could find a place where his whole 
nature could be satisfied." We wish that in discussing the topic of 
religious education the author had given more detailed suggestions 
regarding the improvement of the pictorial illustrations which are gener- 
ally used. Pictures provide the minds of children with images some- 
times distinguished and sometimes sadly commonplace, which have a 
powerful influence over the ideas which they are intended to illustrate. 

By pointing out that as a factor in church unity the arts are impor- 
tant, the writer emphasizes a point too often overlooked. Fellowship 
in common moral effort and a reduction to a minimum of creedal agree- 
ment are prominent factors, but " the unities of feeling are more profound 
than those of thought and more stirring than those of work. Thought 
often divides, feeling unites. If people can be led to share a common 
emotional experience they have already been touched by the welding 
fire. One of the resources for the creation of such experience is art. 


.... Part of the pressure toward church unity, therefore, and one of 
the great aids toward its coming, is not economic or practical, but 

In the discussion of church architecture an especially significant con- 
sideration is that regarding structural tone, the general atmosphere 
produced by the architecture and furnishings. The tone may be that 
of too great austerity or on the other hand of the merely physical peace 
of comfortableness. In the attempt to beautify there is also the constant 
danger of introducing a merely superficial stimulation of the senses. 
There must be a degree of austerity and restraint, a suggestion of the 
supremacy of spirit over flesh. 

The closing chapter deals with the future church which will "set 
forth the oneness of life, not only theologically and ethically, but also 
aesthetically" and "will heal the breach between religion and the ancient 
categories of truth, goodness, and beauty." 

The main conclusions of the author are suggested by the following 

"Religion would not long attract people in an advancing civilization if it 
should cut away the rhythmic forms of hymns and songs, the artistic excellence 
of diction and rhetoric, and the stately dignity of noble buildings. Many 
people turn to art instead of to religion for rest and refuge, for recreation 
after the moral struggle of practical life. A work of noble art is in itself, by its 
composure and perfection, a peace giver, a restorative, a sanctuary for the 
moment inviolable. How much more would men turn to religion if the great 
composing faiths could be set forth so triumphantly in noble and sensible 
forms as to restore the joy of salvation." 

"It is the attempt of every work of art to approach perfection in its own 
medium. Its effect is to shame carelessness and imperfection. The assistance 
of various arts can be brought to bear upon the worshiper in church in such a 
way as to help him to be reverent and to display to him the larger cause of 
religion over against which his own life may be seen to be unsatisfactory." 

The message of this book to churchmen is important and greatly 
needed. It will promote a recognition of the fact that the arts of the 
painter, decorator, architect, musician, and liturgist are languages which 
speak with particular potency to many. In the large number who are 
affected by them they awaken strong preferences for or aversions to 
places and occasions. They re-enforce or nullify the spoken words. 
The book, moreover, makes an appeal broader than its announced 
intention. Its sound philosophy makes it a distinct contribution to the 
literature of aesthetics. 

Walter Sargent 
University of Chicago