The Prophets in a Theology of Art

by Sister Hilda Kleiman, OSB

In my elective course Theology of Art at Mount Angel Seminary, we spent our third day of reading and discussion focusing on the Prophets, particularly the passage Jeremiah 18:1-11 with its image of the potter and the clay:
The word came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.”  So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel.  And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good for the potter to do.
Then the word of the Lord came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? says the Lord.  Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.  If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from evil, I will repent of the evil that I intended to do it.  And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will repent of the god which I had intended to do to it.  Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the Lord, Behold, I am shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you.  Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.
Our reflection on Jeremiah brought out an emphasis on process rather than a finished product, as well as a need for a piece of art, including ourselves, to be broken before it may be brought to completion.

 We also spent time on a passage from the short book of Haggai:
“Thus says the Lord of hosts: This people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.”  Then the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet, “Is it a time for you yourselves to live in paneled house, while this house lies in ruins?  Now therefore says the Lord of hosts: Consider how you have fared.  You have sown much, and harvested little; you eat, but you never have enough; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and he who earns wages earns wages to put them into a bag with holes.
“Thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider how you have fared.  Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may appear in my glory, says the Lord.  You have looked for much, and lo, it came to little; and when you brought it home, I blew it away.  Why? says the Lord of hosts.  Because of my house that lies in ruins, while you busy yourselves each with his own house.  Therefore the heavens above you had withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce.  And I have called for a drought upon the land and the hills, upon the grain, the new wine, the oil, upon what the ground brings forth, upon men and cattle, and upon all their labors.”
Those who are familiar with the iconographic tradition may be of help to those parishes and communities who are considering new images for their churches and chapels after many images were removed or reconsidered after the Second Vatican Council.