Feeding and Forming: John Calvin, Materiality, and the Flourishing of the Liturgical Arts
In this dissertation I examine Calvin's trinitarian theology as it intersects his theology of materiality in order to argue for a positive theological account of the liturgical arts. I do so believing that Calvin's theology of materiality not only offers itself as a rich resource for thinking about the nature of Christian worship, it also opens up a trinitarian grammar by which we might understand the theological purposes of the arts in public worship.
Using Calvin's commentary on musical instruments as a case study, generally representative of his thinking on all the liturgical arts, I identify four emphases: that the church's worship should be (i) devoid of the "figures and shadows" which marked Israel's praise and that it emphasize instead a (ii) "spiritual," (iii) "simple," and (iv) "articulate" worship suitable to a new covenantal era. A common feature of these emphases is an anxiety over the capacity of materiality to occlude or distort the public worship of God and to mislead the worship of the faithful in idolatrous or superstitious ways. While a more narrowly patrological argument dominates Calvin's thinking on the arts in worship, I contend that it is in his thinking on creation, the resurrected body of Christ, the material symbols of worship, and the material elements of the Lord's Supper, that a distinctly trinitarian pattern of thought becomes conspicuous. Here materiality discovers its telos in the economy of God by way of its participation in the dynamic activities of Christ and the Spirit.
Taking the first three emphases in turn, while setting aside his concern for "articulate" worship as an issue more directly related to the question of metaphor rather than materiality, I argue, sometimes against Calvin, sometimes with and beyond Calvin, for a more integral role for materiality in public worship, even if this means following the logic of Calvin's theology to conclusions which he himself did not imagine. I contend that just as the triune God appropriates these distinctive material things to form and feed the church, so he takes the liturgical arts, as material artifacts, to form and feed the church in their own way, even if not on their own terms.