Genesis and Exodus in a Theology of Art

by Sister Hilda Kleiman, OSB

On the first of several days in the course Theology of Art at Mount Angel Seminary that are dedicated to the Scriptures, we start with Genesis and Exodus.  Using a meditation process similar to lectio divina, we reflect on and discuss how a given passage contributes to a theology of art.

For most of our class time, we focused on Genesis 1:1-5:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.
And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.  God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.  And there was evening and there was morning, one day.
 For part of our meditation, we referred to several passages from the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture,  including this passage from Basil the Great:
Here below arts are subsequent to matter – introduced into life by the indispensable need of them.  Wool existed before weaving made it supply one of nature’s imperfections.  Wood existed before carpentering took possession of it and transformed it each day to supply new wants and made us see all the advantages derived from it, giving the oar to the sailor, the winnowing fan to the laborer, the lance to the soldier.  But God, before all those things existed, after casting about in his mind and determining to bring into being time which had no being, imagined the world such as it ought to be and created matter in harmony with the form that he wished to give it.  He assigned to the heavens the nature adapted for the heavens and gave to the earth an essence in accordance with its form.  He formed, as he wished, fire, air and water, and gave to each the essence that the object of its existence required.  Finally he welded all the diverse parts of the universe by links of indissoluble attachment and established between them so perfect a fellowship and harmony that the most distant, in spite of their distance, appeared united in one universal sympathy.  Let those men therefore renounce their fabulous imaginations, who, in spite of weakness of their argument, pretend to measure a power as incomprehensible to man’s reason as it is unutterable by man’s voice.  God created the heavens and the earth, but not only by half – he created all the heavens and all the earth, creating the essence with the form.
Toward the end of class, we also touched on Exodus 35:30-35:
And Moses said to the people of Israel, “See the Lord has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold and silver and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, for work in every skilled craft.  And he has inspired him to teach both him and Oholiab the son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan.  He has filled them with the ability to do every sort of work done by a craftsman or by a designer or by an embroiderer in blue and purple and scarlet stuff and fine twined linen, or by a weaver – by any sort of workman or skilled designer.