The Beauty of the Infinite

Andrew Wilson discusses an important contribution to philsophical theology, David Bentley Hart’s book The Beauty of the Infinite. According to Wilson, Hart offers:

“…[A] defence of the idea that the beauty and peace which sit at the heart of Christianity are theologically and philosophically plausible, and that they in fact present the only alternative to the (otherwise inescapable) nihilism that is the logical outcome of modernist and postmodernist thought.”

The book itself is a dense read. As Douglas Wilson notes, “David Bentley Hart is, by my rough estimate, about three times smarter than I am. The difficulty is that he writes as though he is five times smarter, and I find this off-putting.” It brings to mind the experience of reading John Milbank’s Theology and Social Theory which was–at least for me–as infuriating as it was enlightening.

Like Milbank, Hart’s sees two ontological alternatives: violence and peace. [Allow me to acknowledge here that I am not a very sophisticated interpreter of either writer.] The former Christian the latter pagan as Andrew Wilson notes:

There are two schools of thought when it comes to the infinite. One is that the infinite “belongs to an ontology of original and ultimate peace,” and the other is that it should be seen “in terms of a primordial and inevitable violence.” …. The former sees the infinite as beautiful, peaceful, rooted in Trinitarian love, goodness and affirming of the other; the latter sees it as sublime, violent, Dionysian and chaotic.

Hart is, incidentally, no friend of reformed theology argues that the Christian doctrine of God reconciles these alternatives. In the words of Andrew Wilson again:

In other words, the Christian doctrine of God – particularly of the Trinity, but also of Creation, Salvation and Eschaton – brings together apparently irreconcilable elements of the two columns above. Pagans could never think or talk like this, and neither can their modern successors, but for the Christian, God-in-himself is both One and Other, both Beauty and Infinite, both Truth and Peace, both Gift and Giver. And because Nietzsche was right, and the Truth is found in rhetoric (telling the story of Christian truth aesthetically) rather than dialectic (demonstrating why it follows propositionally)….

Take a look at the article, put your mind to work, and wrestle with Hart’s thesis–you’ll be glad you did.

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