Fifth Lecture - Calvinism and Art
The page numbering of the Eerdmans printed edition has been retained for the benefit of readers.
IN THIS FIFTH LECTURE, which is the last but one, I speak of Calvinism and Art. 1
It is not the prevailing tendency of the day that induces me to do this. Genuflection before an almost fanatical worship of art, such as our time fosters, should little harmonize with the high seriousness of life, for which Calvinism has pleaded, and which it has sealed, not with the pencil or chisel in the studio, but with its best blood at the stake and in the field of battle. Moreover the love of art which is so broadly on the increase in our times should not blind our eyes, but ought to be soberly and critically examined. It presents the fact, which is in every way explainable, that artistic refinement, thus far restricted to a few favored circles, now tends to gain ground among broader middle classes, occasionally even betraying its inclination to descend to the widest strata of lower society. It is the democratizing, if you like, of a life-utterance which hitherto recommended itself by its aristocratic allurements. And though the really inspired artist may complain that, with the majority, piano-playing is mere strumming, and painting little more than daubing, yet, the exuberant feeling of having a share in the privileges of art is so overwhelming, that the scorn of the artist is preferred to the abandonment of art-training in education. To have laid a production of your own, however poor, upon the altar of art becomes more and more the characteristic of an accomplished civilization. Finally, in all this the desire of enjoyment through ear and eye expresses itself, especially by means of music and of the
stage. And if it cannot be denied that many court these sensual pleasures in ways that are less noble and too often sinful, it is equally certain that in many instances this love of art leads men to seek enjoyment in nobler directions and lessens the appetite for lower sensuality Especially in our great cities, stage-managers are able to provide such first rate entertainments, and the easy means of communication between the nations imparts such an international character to our best singers and players, that the finest artistic enjoyments are now brought for almost no price within the reach of an ever-widening class. Besides, it is but fair to concede that, threatened with atrophy by materialism and rationalism, the human heart naturally seeks an antidote against this withering process, m its artistic instinct Unchecked, the dominating influences of money and of barren intellectualism would reduce the life of the emotions to freezing-point. And, unable to grasp the holier benefits of religion, the mysticism of the heart reacts in an art intoxication. Hence, though I do not forget that the real genius of art seeks the heights of isolation rather than the plains below, and that our age, so poor in the production of real creative art, is deemed to warm itself at the splendid glow of the past; yea, though I admit that the homage of art by the profanum vulgus must necessarily lead to art-corruption, nevertheless, in my estimation, even the most injudicious aesthetical fanaticism stands far higher than the common race for wealth, or an unholy prostration before the shrines of Bacchus and Venus. In this cold, irreligious and practical age the warmth of this devotion to art has kept alive many higher aspirations of our soul, which otherwise might readily have died, as they did in the middle of the last century. Thus you see, I do not under-estimate the present aesthetical movement. But what in the light of History should be discountenanced is the mad endeavor to place it higher than, or even to make it of equal value
with the religious movement of the 16th century; yet this is what I should be doing if I begged for Calvinism the favor of this new artistic movement. And therefore, when I plead the significance of Calvinism in the domain of art, I am not in the least induced to do so by this vulgarization of art, but rather keep my eyes fixed upon the Beautiful and the Sublime in its eternal significance, and upon art as one of the richest gifts of God to mankind.
Here, however, every student of history knows that I founder upon a deeply-rooted prejudice. Calvin, it is said, was personally devoid of the artistic instinct, and Calvinism, which in the Netherlands proved guilty of Iconoclasm, cannot but be incapable either of artistic development or of real, noteworthy art-production. A brief word therefore about this strong prejudice is here in order. Without putting too high an estimate upon his: “Wer nicht liebt Weib, Wein und Gesang, ”it is beyond dispute that Luther was more artistically disposed than Calvin; but what does it prove? Will you deny Hellenism its artistic laurels because, devoid of all sense of the beautiful, Socrates boasted of the beauty of his giant nose because it allowed his breath to pass more freely? Do the writings of John, Peter and Paul, the three pillars of the Christian Church, in a single word betray any special appreciation of artistic life? Yea, be it asked reverently, is there any instance in the Gospels of Christ ever pleading for art as such, or seeking its enjoyment? And when these questions, one by one, must be answered in the negative, have you therefore the right to deny the fact that Christianity as such has been of an almost invaluable significance to the development of art? And if not, why then would you accuse Calvinism on the mere ground that Calvin personally had little feeling for art? And when you speak of the Iconoclasm of the Beggars, should you forget that in the 8th century in the midst of the artistic and beautiful Grecian world the manly spirit of Leo Isaurus instigated a still more violent Iconoclasm, and should therefore the honor be denied to Byzantium of having produced the finest monuments? Do you ask for still further proof to the contrary? Well, more sharply even than Leo Isaurus in the 8th century or the Netherland's Beggars in the 16th century, did Mahomed in his Khoran militate against images of all kinds, but will this justify the charge that the Alhambra in Grenada and the Alcazar at Seville are no wonderfully beautiful products of architectural art?
We must not forget that the artistic instinct is a universal human phenomenon, but that in connection with national types, climates and countries, the development of that artistic instinct is most unequally divided among the nations. Who will look for a development of art in Iceland, and who on the other hand will not scent it, if I may so express myself, amidst the luxury of nature in the Levant? Is it then a matter of surprise that the South of
Europe was more favorable for the development of this artistic instinct than the North? And when History shows that Calvinism was most widely received by the people of the North, does it prove aught against Calvinism, that in nations living in a colder climate and of poorer natural surroundings, it was not able to quicken an artistic life such as flourished among the Southern nations ? Because Calvinism preferred a worship of God in spirit and in truth, to sacerdotal wealth, it has been accused by Rome of being devoid of an appreciation of art, and because it disapproved of a woman debasing herself as an artist's model or casting away her honor in the ballet, its moral seriousness has clashed with the sensualism of those who deemed no sacrifice too sacred for the Goddess of Art. All this, however, concerns only the place which art has to
occupy in the sphere of life, and the boundaries of its domain, but does not touch art itself. To view therefore from a higher platform the significance of Calvinism to art, follow me in the investigation of these three points: 1. why Calvinism was not allowed to develop an art-style of its own; 2. what flows from its principle for the nature of art; and 3. what it has actually done for its advancement.
All would be well, if only Calvinism had developed an architectural style of its own. Just as the Parthenon is boasted of at Athens, the Pantheon at Rome, the Saint Sophia at Byzantium, the Cathedral at Cologne, or the Saint Peter's at the Vatican, so also ought Calvinism to be able to exhibit an impressive structure, embodying all the fulness of its ideal. And that it did not do this is considered sufficient proof of its artistic poverty. Of course Calvinism is understood as having tried to ascend to the same artistic luxury, but is censured as having proved unable to accomplish it; its barren inflexibility being the obstacle that prevented every higher aesthetical development. And when the humanist boasts of the classic art of Old Hellas, the Greek Church of the Byzantine, and Rome of its Gothic Cathedral, then Calvinism is looked upon as standing perplexed by the painful charge of having lessened the fulness of human life. Now in opposition to this thoroughly unfair accusation, I maintain that for the very reason of its higher principle
Calvinism was not allowed to develop such an architectural style of its own. I was bound in this connection to put architecture to the front, because both in classic and in so-called Christian art the absolute and all-embracing production of art was exhibited in architecture, all the other departments of art finally adapting themselves to the temple, church, mosque or pagoda. Scarcely a single art-style can be mentioned which did not arise from the center of divine worship and which did not seek the realization of its ideals in the sumptuous structure for that worship. This was the thriving of an impulse which in itself was noble. Art derived her richest motives from Religion. The religious passion was the gold-mine, which financially rendered her boldest conceptions possible. For the realization of her conceptions in this holy domain she found not only the narrow circle of art-lovers, but also the whole nation at her feet. Divine worship furnished the tie that united the separated arts. And what tells more still, by this connection with the Eternal, art received its inner unity and its ideal consecration. And this explains the fact that whatever the palace and the stage may have done for the development of art, it was always the sanctuary by which it was impressed with the stamp of a special character and to which it was indebted for a creative style. Art-style and the style of worship coincided. Now of course, if this wedding of art inspired worship, with worship-inspired art be no intermediate stage, but the highest end to be obtained, then it must frankly be confessed that Calvinism cannot but plead guilty. If, however, it can be shown that this alliance of religion and art represents a lower stage of religious, and in general of human development, then it is plain that in this very want of a special architectural style, Calvinism finds an even higher recommendation. Being fully convinced that this is the case, I proceed to account for this conviction.
First then the aesthetic development of divine worship carried to those ideal heights of which the Parthenon and the Pantheon, the Saint Sophia and Saint Peter are the stone-embroidered witnesses, is only possible at that lower stage, in which the same form of religion is imposed upon a whole nation, both by prince and priest. In that case every difference of spiritual expression fuses into one mode of symbolical worship, and this union of the masses, under the
leadership of the magistrate and the clergy, furnishes the possibility of defraying the immense expense of such colossal structures
and of ornamenting and decorating them. In the case, however, of a progressive development of the nations, when individual character-traits split the unity of the masses, Religion also rises to that higher plain where it graduates from the symbolical into the clearly-conscious life, and thereby necessitates both the division of worship into many forms, and the emancipation of matured religion from all sacerdotal and political guardianship. In the 16th century Europe was approaching, though slowly, this higher level of Spiritual development, and it was not Lutheranism with its subjection of the whole nation to the religion of the prince, but Calvinism with its profound conception of religious liberty, which initiated the transition. In every country where Calvinism has made its appearance, it has led to a multiformity of life-tendencies, it has broken the power of the State within the domain of religion, and to a great extent has made an end of sacerdotalism. As a result of this, it abandoned the symbolical form of worship, and refused, at the demand of art, to embody its religious spirit in monuments of splendor.
The objection that such a symbolic service had a place in Israel does not weaken my argument, it rather supports it. For does not the New Testament teach us that the ministry of shadows, naturally flourishing under the old dispensation, under the dispensation of fulfilled prophecy is “old and waxeth aged and is nigh unto vanishing away? ”In Israel we find a state-religion, which is one and the same for the entire people. That religion is under sacerdotal leadership. And finally it makes its appearance in symbols, and is consequently embodied in the splendid temple of Solomon. But when this ministry of shadows has served the purposes of the Lord, Christ comes to prophesy the hour when God shall no longer be worshipped in the monumental temple at Jerusalem, but shall rather be worshipped in spirit and in truth. And in keeping with this prophecy you find no trace or shadow of art for worship in all the apostolic literature. Aaron's visible priesthood on earth gives place to the invisible High-priesthood after the order of Melchizedek in Heaven. The purely spiritual breaks through the nebula of the symbolical.
My second proof is that this agrees entirely with the higher relation between Religion and Art. Here I appeal to Hegel and Von
Hartmann who, both standing outside Calvinism, may be relied upon as being disinterested witnesses. Hegel says that art, which, at a lower stage of development, imparts to a still sensual religion its highest expression, finally helps it by these very means to cast off the fetters of sensuality; for though it must be granted that at a lower level it is only the aesthetical worship that liberates the spirit, nevertheless, he concludes, “beautiful art is not its highest emancipation, ”for that is only found in the realm of the invisible and spiritual. And Von Hartmann even more emphatically declares that: Originally Divine worship appeared inseparably united to art, because, at the lower stage, Religion is still inclined to lose itself in the aesthetic form. At that period, all the arts, he says, engage in the service of the cult, not merely music, painting, sculpture and architecture, but also the dance. mimicry and the drama. The more, on the other hand, Religion develops into spiritual maturity, the more it will extricate itself from art's bandages, because art always remains incapable of expressing the very essence of Religion. And
the final result of this historic process of separation, he concludes, must be that Religion, when fully matured, will rather entirely abstain from the stimulant by which aesthetic pseudo-emotion intoxicated it, in order to concentrate itself wholly and exclusively upon the quickening of those emotions which are purely religious.”
And both Hegel and Von Hartmann are correct in this fundamental thought. Religion and Art have each a life-sphere of their own these may at first be scarcely distinguishable from each other and therefore closely intertwined, but, with a richer development, these two spheres necessarily separate. Looking at two babies in a cradle you can scarcely tell which is boy or girl, but when, having reached the years of maturity, they stand before you, as man and woman, you see them both with forms, and traits, and modes of expression peculiarly their own. And so, arrived at their highest development, both Religion and Art demand an independent existence, and the two stems which at first were intertwined and seemed to belong to the same plant, now appear to spring from a root of their own. This is the process from Aaron to Christ, from Bezaleel and Aholiab to the Apostles. And, by virtue of that same process, Calvinism occupies a higher standpoint in the 16th century
than Romanism could reach. Consequently Calvinism was neither able, nor even permitted, to develop an art-style of its own from its religious principle. To have done this would have been to slide back to a lower level of religious life. On the contrary, its nobler effort must be to release religion and divine worship more and more from its sensual form and to encourage its vigorous spirituality. This it was enabled to do because of the powerful pulsebeat by which at that time the religious life coursed through the arteries of mankind. And the fact that in these days our Calvinistic churches are deemed cold and unheimish, and a reintroduction of the symbolical in our places of worship is longed for. we owe to the sad reality that the pulsebeat of the religious life in our times is so much fainter than it was in the days of our martyrs. But so far from borrowing from this the right of re-descending to a lower level of religion, this faintness of the religious life ought to inspire the prayer for a mightier in-working of the Holy Spirit. Second childhood, in your old age, is a painful, retrograde movement. The man who fears God. and whose faculties remain clear and unimpaired, does not on the brink of age return to the playthings of his infancy.
One more objection might maintain itself after this demonstration, and that too I want to face. The question may be asked whether a really independent life-tendency should not create its own art-style, even if it developed itself as absolutely secular. Let the real meaning of the objection be well understood. It does not suggest that Calvinism if truly possessed of an esthetic significance should have given a certain direction to the practice of art, for the fact that Calvinism has truly done this will presently show itself. The point of this objection hits deeper, and puts the question whether in the first place a secular art-style is conceivable; and in the second place, whether the creation of such a purely secular and dominating art-style could have been demanded of Calvinism. The answer I make to the first is: that in the history of art no record of the rise of such an all-embracing art-style independent of Religion, is to be found. Mark you, I do not here speak of a school of a single art, but of an art-style which puts a concentric impress upon all the arts together. To a certain degree it could be asserted of Roman art and of that of the Renaissance that, although devoid
of a leading religious impulse, they nevertheless reached an all-sided revelation in art-forms. Speaking of architecture, the dome in Roman and Byzantine art is not an expression of a religious thought but of political energy. The dome symbolizes world-power, and, though it may be in a different sense, of the Renaissance also it must be confessed that it did not take its rise in religion, but in the circles of civil and social life. Now the Renaissance will be considered more fully in the third part of this lecture, but with respect to the Roman art-style I here answer, first, that a style, which borrowed almost all its motives from Greek art can scarcely boast of an independent character; and secondly, that, in Rome, the State-idea had become so identified with the Religious idea, that when, in the period of the emperors, art reached its height of prosperity while sacrifices were burned to Divus Augustus, it is unhistorical to consider State and Religion any longer as being at that time separate spheres.
But, apart from this historic outcome, it may be questioned, whether such an all-embracing art- style ever could have originated outside of Religion. The rise of such a style demands a central motive in the mental and emotional life of a people, which shall dominate the whole existence from within, and which consequently carries its effect from this spiritual center to its outermost circumference. Not of course as though a national world of art ever could be the product of intellectual thought. Intellectual art is no art, and the effort put forth by Hegel to draw out from thoughts, militated against the very nature of art. Our intellectual, ethical, religious and aesthetic life each commands a sphere of its own. These spheres run parallel and do not allow the derivation of one from the other. It is the central emotion, the central impulse, and the central animation, in the mystical root of our being, which seeks to reveal itself to the outer world in this fourfold ramification. Art also is no side-shoot on a principal branch, but an independent branch that grows from the trunk of our life itself, even though it is far more nearly allied to Religion than to our thinking or to our ethical being. If, however, it be asked how there can arise a unity of conception embracing these four domains, it constantly appears that in the finite this unity is only found at that point where it springs from the fountain of the infinite. There is
no unity in your thinking save by a well-ordered philosophical system, and there is no system of philosophy which does not ascend to the issues of the infinite. In the same way there is no unity in your moral existence save by the union of your inner existence with the moral world-order, and there is no moral world-order conceivable but for the impression of an Infinite power that has ordained order in this moral world. Thus also no unity in the revelation of art is conceivable, except by the art-inspiration of an Eternal Beautiful, which flows from the fountain of the Infinite. Hence no characteristic all-embracing art-style can arise except as a consequence of the peculiar impulse from the Infinite that operates in our inmost being. And since this is the very privilege of Religion, over intellect, morality and art, that she alone effects the communion with the Infinite, in our self-consciousness, the call for a secular, all-embracing art-style, independent of any religious principle, is simply absurd.
Understand that art is no fringe that is attached to the garment, and no amusement that is added to life, but a most serious power in our present existence, and therefore its principal variations must maintain, in their artistic expression, a close relation with the principal variations of our
entire life; and since, without exception, these principal variations of our entire human existence are dominated by our relation to God, would it not be both a degradation and an underestimation of art, if you were to imagine the ramifications, into which the art-trunk divides itself, to be independent of the deepest root which all human life has in God? Consequently no art-style has sprung from the Rationalism of the 18th century, nor from the principle of 1789, and however grievous it may be to our 19th century, all her efforts to create a new art style of her own have ended in perfect failure, and then only do her artistic productions possess a real charm when she allows herself to he inspired by the wonders of the past.
Thus by itself the possibility must be denied that a proper art style can originate independently of religion; but even if this were otherwise, it would still be illogical, and this was my second argument, to demand such a secular tendency of Calvinism. For how can you desire that a life- movement, which found the origin of its power in the arraignment of all men and of all human life
before the face of God, should have sought the impulse, the passion and the inspiration for its life outside of God in so exceedingly important a domain as that of the mighty arts? There remains, therefore, no shadow of a reality in the scornful reproach that the non-creation of an architectural style of its own is a conclusive proof of Calvinism's artistic poverty. Only under the auspices of its religious principle could Calvinism have created a general art style, and just because it had reached a so much higher stage of religious development, its very principle forbade it the symbolical expression of its religion in visible and sensual forms.
Hence the question must be differently stated. And this brings us to our second point. The question is not whether Calvinism produced what, with its higher view-point, it was no longer allowed to create, viz., a general art-style of its own, but what interpretation of the nature of art flows from its principle. In other words, is there in the life- and world-view of Calvinism a place for art, and if so, what place? Is its principle opposed to art, or, if judged by the standards of the Calvinistic principle, would a world without art lose one of its ideal spheres? I do not speak now of the abuse, but simply of the use of art. In every domain, life is bound to respect the dimensions of this domain. Encroachment on the domain of others is always unlawful; and our human life will only then attain its nobler harmony when all its functions cooperate in just proportion to our general development. The logic of the mind may not scorn the feelings of the heart, nor should the love of the beautiful silence the voice of conscience. However holy Religion may be. it must keep within its own bounds, lest, in crossing its lines. it degenerate into superstition, insanity or fanaticism. And, in the same way, the too exuberant passion for art which laughs at the whispering of conscience, must end in an unlovely discord quite different from what the Greeks exalted in their kalokagathos. The fact, for instance, that Calvinism arrayed itself against ail unholy play with woman's honor, and stigmatized every form of immoral artistic enjoyment as a degradation, lies therefore outside our scope. All this properly denounces the abuse, while it carries no weight whatever with the question of the lawful use. And that
the lawful use of art was not opposed, but encouraged and even recommended, by Calvin himself, his own words readily prove. When the Scripture mentions the first appearance of art, in the tents of Jubal, who invented the harp and organ, Calvin emphatically reminds us that this passage treats of “excellent gifts of the Holy Spirit.” He declares that in the artistic instinct God had enriched Jubal and his posterity with rare endowments. And he frankly states that these inventive powers of art prove most evident testimonies of the Divine bounty. More emphatically still, he declares, in his commentaries on Exodus, that 'all the arts come from God and are to be respected as Divine inventions. ”According to Calvin, these precious things of the natural life we owe originally to the Holy Ghost. In ail Liberal Arts, in the most as well as in the least important, the praise and glory of God are to be enhanced. The arts, says he, have been given us for our comfort, in this our depressed estate of life. They react against the corruption of life and nature by the curse. When his colleague, Prof. Cop, at Geneva, took up arms against art, Calvin purposely instituted measures, by which, as he writes, to restore this foolish man to sounder sense and reason. The blind prejudice against Sculpture, on the ground of the Second Commandment, Calvin declares unworthy of refutation. He exults in Music as a marvelous power to move hearts and to ennoble tendencies and morals. Among the excellent favors of God for our recreation and enjoyment, it occupies in his mind the highest rank. And even when art condescends to become the instrument of mere entertainment to the masses, he asserts that this sort of pleasure should not be denied them. In view of all this we may say that Calvin esteemed art, in all its ramifications, as a gift of God, or, more especially. as a gift of the Holy Ghost; that he fully grasped the profound effects worked by art upon the life of the emotions; that he appreciated the end for which art has been given, Vi[sterling]., that by it we might glorify God, and ennoble human life, and drink at the fountain of higher pleasures, yea even of common sport; and finally. that so far from considering art as a mere imitation of nature, he attributed to it the noble vocation of disclosing to man a higher reality than was offered to us by this sinful and corrupted world.
Now if this implied nothing beyond the personal interpretation of Calvin, his testimony would of course have no conclusive value
for Calvinism in general. But when we observe that Calvin himself was not artistically developed, and that therefore he must have derived this brief system of Aesthetics2 from his principles, he may be credited with having expounded the Calvinistic consideration of art as such. To go direct to the heart of the question, we begin with Calvin's last saying, viz., that art reveals to us a higher reality than is offered by this sinful world. You are familiar with the question, already mentioned, whether art should imitate nature or should transcend it. In Greece grapes were painted with such accuracy that birds were deceived by their appearance and tried to eat them. And this imitation of nature seemed the highest ideal to the Socratic school. Herein lies the truth, all too often forgotten by idealists, that the forms and relations exhibited by nature are and ever must remain the fundamental forms and relations of all actual reality, and an art which does not watch the forms and motions of nature nor listen to its sounds, but arbitrarily likes to hover over it, deteriorates into a wild play of fantasy. But on the other hand, all idealistic interpretation of art should be justified in opposition to the purely empirical, as often as the empirical confines its task to mere imitation. For then the same mistake is committed in art so often committed by scientists when they confine their scientific task to the mere observation,
computation and accurate report of facts. For even as science has to ascend from the phenomena to the investigation of their inherent order, to the end that man, enriched by the knowledge of this order, may propagate nobler species of animals, flowers and fruits, than nature, herself, could produce, so also it is the vocation of art, not merely to observe everything visible and audible, to apprehend it, and reproduce it artistically, but much more to discover in those natural forms the order of the beautiful, and, enriched by this higher knowledge, to produce a beautiful world that transcends the beautiful of nature. And this is what Calvin asserted: viz., that the arts exhibit gifts which God has placed at our disposal, now that, as the sad consequence of sin, the real beautiful has fled from us. Your decision here depends entirely upon your interpretation of the world. If you are considering the world as the realization of
the absolute good, then there is none higher, and art can have no other vocation than to copy nature. If, as the pantheist teaches, the world proceeds, by slow processes, from the incomplete to perfection, then art becomes the prophecy of a further phase of life to come. But if you confess that the world once was beautiful, but by the curse has become undone, and by a final catastrophe is to pass to its full state of glory, excelling even the beautiful of paradise, then art has the mystical task of reminding us in its productions of the beautiful that was lost and of anticipating its perfect coming luster. Now this last-mentioned instance is the Calvinistic confession. It realized, more clearly than Rome, the hideous, corrupting influences of sin; this led to a higher estimation of the nature of paradise in the beauty of original righteousness; and guided by this enchanting remembrance, Calvinism prophesied a redemption of outward nature also, to be realized in the reign of celestial glory. From this standpoint, Calvinism honored art as a gift of the Holy Ghost and as a consolation in our present life, enabling us to discover in and behind this sinful life a richer and more glorious background. Standing by the ruins of this once so wonderfully beautiful creation, art points out to the Calvinist both the still visible lines of the original plan, and what is even more, the splendid restoration by which the Supreme Artist and Master-Builder will one day renew and enhance even the beauty of His original creation.
If thus, on this principal point, Calvin's personal interpretation agrees entirely with the Calvinistic confession, the same applies to the next point in question, If the Sovereignty of God is and remains, for Calvinism, its unchangeable point of departure, then art cannot originate from the Evil One; for Satan is destitute of every creative power. All he can do is to abuse the good gifts of God. Neither can art originate with man, for, being a creature himself, man cannot but employ the powers and gifts put by God at his disposal. If God is and remains Sovereign, then art can work no enchantment except in keeping with the ordinances which God ordained for the beautiful, when He, as the Supreme Artist, called this world into existence. And further, if God is and remains Sovereign, then he also imparts these artistic gifts to whom He will, first even to Cain's, and not to Abel's posterity; not as if art
were Cainitic, but in order that he who has sinned away the highest gifts, should at least, as Calvin so beautifully says, in the lesser gifts of art have some testimony of the Divine bounty. That artistic ability, that art-capacity, as such, can have room in human nature, we owe to our creation after the image of God. In the real world, God is Creator of everything; the power of really producing new things is His alone, and therefore He always continues to be the creative
artist. As God, He alone is the original One, we are only the bearers of His Image. Our capacity to create after Him and after what He created, can only consist in the unreal creations of art. So we, in our fashion, may imitate God's handiwork. We create a kind of cosmos, in our Architectural monument; to embellish nature's forms, in Sculpture; to reproduce life, animated by lines and tints, in our Painting; to transfuse the mystical spheres in our Music and in our Poetry. And all this because the beautiful is not the product of our own fantasy, nor of our subjective perception, but has an objective existence, being itself the expression of a Divine perfection. After the Creation, God saw that all things were good. Imagine that every human eye were closed and every human ear stopped up, even then the beautiful remains, and God sees it and hears it, for, not only “His Eternal Power, ”but also His “Divinity, ”from the very creation, has been perceived in His creature, both spiritually and somatically. An artist may notice this in himself. If he realizes how his own art capacity depends upon his having an eye for art, he must necessarily come to the conclusion that the original eye for art is in God Himself, Whose art capacity is all-producing, and after Whose image the artist among men was made. We know this from the creation around us, from the firmament that overarches us, from the abounding luxury of nature, from the wealth of forms in man and animal, from the rushing sound of the stream and from the song of the nightingale; for how could all this beauty exist, except created by One Who preconceived the beautiful in His own Being, and produced it from His own Divine perfection? Thus you see that the Sovereignty of God, and our creation after His Likeness, necessarily lead to that high interpretation of the origin, the nature and the vocation of art, as adopted by Calvin, and still approved by our own artistic instinct. The world of sounds, the world of forms, the world of tints, and the world of poetic
ideas, can have no other source than God; and it is our privilege as bearers of His image, to have a perception of this beautiful world. artistically to reproduce, and humanly to enjoy it.
And thus I come to my third and last point. We found that the want of an art-style of its own, far from being an objection to Calvinism, on the contrary indicates the higher stage of its development. After that, we considered how exalted an interpretation of the nature of art flows from the Calvinistic principle. And now let us see how nobly Calvinism has encouraged the progress of the arts both in principle and in practice.
And here, in the first place, I draw your attention to the important fact that it was Calvinism which, by releasing art from the guardianship of the Church, first recognized its majority. I do not deny that the Renaissance had the same tendency, but, with the Renaissance, this was marred by a too one-sided preference for the Paganistic, and a passion for ideas more Heathen than Christian; while Calvin, on the other hand, kept firmly to the Christian ideas, and more sharply even than any other Reformed opposed every Paganistic influence, To deal justly, however, with the older Christian Church a somewhat fuller explanation is here in place. The Christian Religion made its appearance in the Greek and Roman world, which, though thoroughly demoralized, still recommended itself by its high civilization and its artistic splendor. Therefore, in order to oppose principle to principle, Christianity was bound. at the outset, to react against the then-dominating over-estimation of art, and thereby to break the dangerous influence which Paganism was exercising. in its last convulsion, by the enchantment of its beautiful world. As long, therefore, as the struggle with Paganism remained a struggle for life or death. the relation of Christianity to art
could not but be an hostile one. This first period was followed almost immediately by the influx into the highly civilized Roman Empire of the still almost barbaric Germanic tribes, after whose speedy baptism the center of power gradually removed from Italy to beyond the Northern Alps, thus giving to the Church, as early as the 8th century, an almost exclusive ascendancy over the whole of Europe. Thanks to this constellation,
the Church for several centuries became the guardian of higher human life, and so nobly did she acquit herself of this exalted task that no religious hatred or party prejudice dares question any longer the glorious result she then achieved. In the literal sense of the word, all human development of that period depended entirely upon the Church. No science and no art could prosper unless shielded by ecclesiastical protection. And hence originated that specifically Christian art, which, in its first passion, tried to embody the maximum of spiritual essence in the minimum of form and tint and tone. It was no art copied from nature, but art invoked from out the spheres of heaven, which fettered music in the Gregorian chains, the pencil and chisel of which longed after acosmic creations, and which only in the building of the cathedrals attained the really Sublime and reaped imperishable fame. All educational guardianship, meanwhile, leads to its own dissolution. A right-minded guardian intends to render his guardianship superfluous as soon as possible, and he who tries to prolong his control. even after his ward has reached maturity, creates an unnatural relation and makes his guardianship itself an incentive to resistance. When therefore the first education of Northern Europe was completed. and the church still persisted in swaying her absolute sceptre across the entire domain of life, four great movements were started from as many different sides, viz., the Renaissance in the domain of art, the Republicanism of Italy in politics, Humanism in science, and centrally, in Religion, the Reformation.
No doubt these four movements received their impulse from very different, and in some cases conflicting principles, but they all agreed on this one point, viz., that they tried to escape from ecclesiastical tutelage, and to create a life of their own in accordance with their own principle. Hence it is not at all surprising that, in the 16th century, these four powers repeatedly acted in concert. It was the one human life that, weary of any further guardianship, hastened in every way after a freer development, and therefore, when the old guardian tried by main force to hold back the declaration of maturity it was but natural that those four powers should encourage one another fiercely to resist. nor to desist before freedom was obtained. Without this quadruple alliance not only would the tutelage of the Church have persevered over all Europe
but -the rebellion once crushed -its rule would have become even more grievous and intolerable than beforehand. Thanks to this cooperation, the bold undertaking was crowned with enduring success, and the combatants, by their combined energy, earned the everlasting glory of having brought art and science, as well as politics and religion, to the full enjoyment of maturity.
Will it be fair on this ground to assert that Calvinism has freed Religion, and not Art, and that the honors of the emancipation of art belong exclusively to the Renaissance? I readily grant that the Renaissance has a right to claim its share of the victory, especially in so far as it stimulated art herself to vindicate her liberty by her wonderful productions. Aesthetic genius, if I may so call it,
had been implanted by God Himself m the Greek, and only by hailing again, amid loud rejoicings, the fundamental laws of art, which Greek genius had discovered, could art justify her claim to an independent existence. This by itself, however, could not have achieved the desired liberation. For the church of those days did not in the least oppose classical art as such. On the contrary, she welcomed the Renaissance, and Christian art did not hesitate a moment to enrich herself with the best the Renaissance had to offer. In the so-called Cinquecento, or high- Renaissance, Bramante and Da Vinci, Michael Angelo and Raphael, stored the Romish Cathedrals with treasures of art, quite unique and inimitable, never to be surpassed. Thus the old tie continued to unite Church and Art, and this of itself established a permanent patronage. The real liberation of art required much more patent energies. From principle, the Church was to be forced back to her spiritual realm. Art, having hitherto confined herself to the holy spheres, had now to make her appearance in the social world. And in the Church. Religion had to put aside her symbolical robes, in order that, after having ascended to the higher spiritual level, her life giving breath might animate the whole world. Just as Von Hartmann truly observes: “It is pure spiritual Religion which with one hand deprives the artist of his specifically religious art, but which, with the other, offers him, in exchange, a whole world, to be religiously animated. ”Now Luther certainly desired such a pure, spiritual Religion, but Calvinism was the first to grasp it. First under the stirring impulses of Calvinism. our fathers broke with
the splendor ecclesiae, i.e., with her outward glitter, and so also with her vast possessions, by which art was financially held in bondage. And although Humanism rebelled against this oppressive and unnatural state of things, it could never hope to effect a radical change if left to its own resources. Only think of Erasmus. Triumph in the struggle of that time was not reserved for the man who carried on the strife for Religious liberty by mere criticism, but only for him, who, standing on an higher stage of religious development, overcame the symbolical religion as such. And, therefore, we may boldly assert that it was Calvinism which prompted the spirited impulse by which the victory was won, and, by its indefatigable perseverance, has put an end to the unjustified tutelage of the church over all human life, art included.
Meanwhile I readily grant that this outcome would have been purely accidental, if Calvinism had not, at the same time, led to a deeper interpretation of human life and so of human art. When, under Victor Emmanuel, with the help of Garibaldi,3 Italy was made free, the day of liberty also dawned for the Waldenses, in Middle and Southern Italy, but neither the Re galantuomo, nor Garibaldi, had even thought of the Waldensians. Thus it were possible that in its struggle for human liberty Calvinism also cut the tie that thus far held art a captive, but without having in the least intended to do this, by virtue of its principle. And therefore I must still illustrate the second factor, which alone decides the case. I have already, more than once, called your attention to the important significance of the Calvinistic doctrine of “common grace, ”and of course in this lecture on art I must refer to it again. That which is to he ecclesiastical must bear the stamp of faith, therefore genuine Christian art can only go out from believers. Calvinism, on the contrary, has taught us that all liberal arts are gifts which God imparts promiscuously to believers and to unbelievers, yea, that, as history shows, these gifts have flourished even in a larger measure outside the holy circle. ”These radiations of Divine Light, ”he wrote, “shone more brilliantly among unbelieving people than among God's saints. ”And this of course quite reverses the
proposed order of things. If you limit the higher enjoyment of art to regeneration, then this gift is exclusively the portion of believers,
and must bear an ecclesiastical character. In that case it is the outcome of particular grace But if, at the hand of experience and history, you become persuaded that the highest art-instincts are natural gifts, and hence belong to those excellent graces which, in spite of sin, by virtue of common grace, have continued to shine in human nature, it plainly follows that art can inspire both believers and unbelievers, and that God remains Sovereign to impart it, in His good pleasure, alike to Heathen and to Christian nations. This applies not only to art, but to all the natural utterances of human life, and is illustrated by the comparison in early times between Israel and the other nations. As far as holy things are concerned, Israel is chosen, and is not only blessed above all nations, but stands among all nations, isolated In the question of Religion, Israel has not only a larger share, but Israel alone has the truth, and all the other nations, even the Greeks and the Romans, are bent beneath the yoke of falsehood. Christ is not partly of Israel and partly of the nations; He is of Israel alone. Salvation is of the Jews. But just in proportion as Israel shines forth from within the domain of Religion, so is it equally backward when you compare the development of its art, science, politics, commerce and trade to that of the surrounding nations. The building of the Temple required the coming of Hiram from a heathen country to Jerusalem; and Solomon, in whom, after all, was found the Wisdom of God, not only knows that Israel stands behind in architecture and needs help from without, but by his action he publicly shows that he, as the king of the Jews, is in no way ashamed of Hiram's coming, which he realizes as a natural ordinance of God.
So Calvinism, on the ground both of the Scriptures and of history, has arrived at the confession, that, wherever the Sanctuary discloses itself, all unbelieving nations stand outside, but that nevertheless, in their secular history, they are called by God to a special vocation, and form by their very existence, an indispensable link in the long chain of phenomena. Every utterance of human life requires a special disposition in blood and in descent, and proper adaptations of lot and incident as well as of natural environment and climatic effects are to contribute to its development. In Israel all this was adapted to the holy heritage which it was to receive in the Divine Revelation. But if Israel was chosen for the
sake of Religion, this in no way prevented a parallel election of the Greeks for the domain of philosophy and for the revelations of art, nor of the Romans for the classical development within the domain of Law and of State. The life of art also has both its provisional development, and its later unfoldings, but in order to insure a more vigorous growth, it wanted first of all clear self- consciousness in its centrum that, once for all, the unchangeable foundations of its ideal existence might be brought to light. Such a phenomenon as art arrives at this self-revelation once only, and that revelation, once granted to the Greek, remains classical, tone giving and for ever dominant. And although a further art-development may seek newer forms and richer material, the nature of the original find remains the same. Thus Calvinism was not only able, but bound, to confess that, by the grace of God, the Greeks were the primordial nation of art; that owing to this classical Greek development, art conquered its right of independent existence; and that although it certainly ought to radiate also in the sphere of Religion, it should in no wise be engrafted in a
dependent sense upon the ecclesiastical tree. Therefore, being a return of art to her rediscovered fundamental lines, the Renaissance did not present itself to Calvinism as a sinful effort, but as a divinely ordered movement And as such Calvinism encouraged the Renaissance not by pure accident, but with clear consciousness and definite purpose, in accordance with its deepest principle.
Hence there is no question that, simply as an involuntary result of its opposition to the Hierarchy of Rome, Calvinism should at the same time have encouraged the emancipation of art. On the contrary, it demanded this liberation and was bound to effect it, within its own circle, as a consequence of its world- and life-view. The world after the fall is no lost planet, only destined now to afford the Church a place in which to continue her combats; and humanity is no aimless mass of people which only serves the purpose of giving birth to the elect. On the contrary, the world now, as well as in the beginning, is the theater for the mighty works of God and humanity remains a creation of His hand, which, apart from salvation, completes under this present dispensation, here on earth, a mighty process, and in its historical development is to glorify the name of Almighty God. To this end He has ordained
for this humanity all sorts of life-utterances, and among these, art occupies a quite independent place. Art reveals ordinances of creation which neither science, nor politics, nor religious life, nor even revelation can bring to light. She is a plant that grows and blossoms upon her own root, and without denying that this plant may have required the help of a temporary support, and that in early times the Church lent this prop in a very excellent way, yet the Calvinistic principle demanded that this plant of earth should at length acquire strength to stand alone and vigorously to extend its branches in every direction. And thus Calvinism confessed that, inasmuch as the Greeks had first discovered the laws by which the growth of the art-plant is governed, they therefore remain entitled to bind every further growth and every new impulse of art to their first, their classical development, not for the sake of stopping short with Greece, or of adopting her Paganistic form without criticism. Art, like Science, cannot afford to tarry at her origin, but must ever develop herself more richly, at the same time purging herself of whatsoever had been falsely intermingled with the earlier plant. Only, the law of her growth and life, when once discovered, must remain the fundamental law of art for ever; a law, not imposed upon her from without, but sprung from her own nature. And so, by loosening every unnatural tie, and cleaving to every tie that is natural, art must find the inward strength required for the maintenance of her liberty. Calvin therefore does not estrange art, science, and religion, from one another; on the contrary, what he desires is that all human life shall be permeated by these three vital powers together. There must be a Science which will not rest until it has thought out the entire cosmos; a Religion which cannot sit still until she has permeated every sphere of human life; and so also there must be an Art which, despising no single department of life adopts, into her splendid world, the whole of human life, religion included.
Let this suggestion of the wide extension of the domain of art introduce my last point, viz., that Calvinism has also actually and in a concrete sense advanced the development of the arts. It scarcely needs a reminder that, in the realm of art, Calvinism was not able to play the role of a sorcerer, and could only work with natural data. That the Italian has a more tuneful voice than the Scot,
and that the German is carried away by a more passionate impulse of song than the Netherlander, are simple data with which art had to reckon, under Roman supremacy, as well as under that of Calvinism. An undeniable fact, which explains why it is neither logical nor honest to reproach Calvinism for that which is merely due to the differences of national character. The truth is equally plain that, in the Northern countries of Europe, Calvinism was not able to produce, as by magic, marble, porphyry or free-stone, from the ground, and that therefore the arts of sculpture and architecture, which require rich, natural stone, were more readily developed in those countries where quarries abound, than in a country such as the Netherlands, where the ground consists of clay and mire. Poetry, music, and painting, therefore, can alone be considered here as the three free arts that are most independent of all natural data. This does not imply that the Flemish and Dutch city hall fails to hold a position of honor all its own among the creations of architecture. Louvain and Middleburg, Antwerp and Amsterdam still bear witness to what Dutch art wrought in stone. And he who has seen the statues in Antwerp and at the tomb of William the Silent, carved by Quellinus and by De Keyzers, does not question the ability of our artists of the chisel. But this is subject to the objection that the style of our City Hall was found long before Calvinism made its appearance in the Netherlands, and that, even in its later development, it exhibits no single feature that can remind one of Calvinism. By virtue of its principle Calvinism built no cathedrals, no palaces and no amphitheatres, and was unable to populate the vacant niches of these gigantic buildings with sculptured ornaments.
Indeed, the merits of Calvinism, with respect to art, are to be found elsewhere. Not in the objective, but exclusively in the more subjective arts which, not depending upon the patronage of wealth and not in want of the marble quarry, have their spontaneous rise in the human mind. Of poetry I can make no further mention in this connection. To that purpose I should have to disclose to you the treasures of our own Dutch Literature, for the narrow bounds within which our Netherland language is confined have excluded our poetry from the world at large. This privilege of making their poetry a world phenomenon is only reserved for those larger
nations, whose language, being spoken by millions and millions, becomes a vehicle for international intercourse. But if the province of language for smaller nations is limited, the eye is international, and music heard by the ear is understood in every heart. In order, therefore, that we may trace the influence of Calvinism upon the development and the welfare of art, we must limit ourselves, in the international sense, to the two subjective and independent arts, those of painting and music.
Now of both these arts it is to be stated that, before the days of Calvinism, they soared high above the common life of the Nations, and that only under the Calvinistic influence did they descend to the so much richer life of the people. As regards painting, just recall the productions of Dutch art by brush and etching-needle in the 16th and 17th centuries. Rembrandt's name alone is here sufficient to summon a whole world of art-treasures before your mind's eye. The museums of every country and continent still vie with each other, to the utmost, in their effort to obtain some specimen of his work. Even your brokers have respect for an art-school whose returns represent so vast a capital. And even in our days the masters all over the world are still borrowing their most effectual motives and their best art-tendencies from what, at that time, demanded the world's admiration as an entirely new school of painting. Of course this does not
say that all these painters were personally staunch Calvinists. In the earlier art-school, which flourished under the influence of Rome, the “bon Catholiques ”were also very rare. Such influences do not ope
ing in its independent significance. By the light of common grace it was seen that the non- churchly life was also possessed of high importance and of an all-sided art-motive. Having been overshadowed for many centuries by class-distinctions, the common life of man came out of its hiding-place like a new world, in all its sober reality. It was the broad emancipation of our ordinary earthly life, and the instinct for liberty, which thereby captured the heart of the nations and inspired them with delight in the enjoyment of treasures so long blindly neglected. Even Taine has sounded the praises of the blessing, which went forth from the Calvinistic love of liberty to the realm of art, and Carriere, who himself was equally far from sympathizing with Calvinism, loudly proclaims that Calvinism alone was able to plough the field on which free art could flourish.