Installation in Gloucester cathedral of Portrait of a Young Man Standing

I’ve subtitled this blog “musings of a Christian humanist”, aware that when I’ve used that phrase in the past I’ve confused some people. Quite commonly today, “humanists” seem to be what atheists call themselves when they want to be seen as holding a positive philosophy, despite the original humanism of the Renaissance being deeply Christian. So the last of my introductory posts is a defence and explanation of my subtitle.

I did play around with other more descriptive (and perhaps less provocative) subtitles, essentially variations on “faith, scripture, culture and photography”. In the end, though, I think my main title is better complemented by this strap line I’ve used elsewhere. For some people, Christian humanism is an oxymoron: a contradiction in terms. For me, it’s the essence of how I think of my faith.

Towards the end of the second century, the early Christian theologian Irenaeus, who was bishop of Lyons, wrote this: “The glory of God is a living human being; and humanity finds life in the vision of God” (Against Heresies, IV.20.7 – my paraphrase). Any understanding we have of God is also – at least implicitly – an understanding of what it is to be human. One longstanding way Christians have had of thinking about the life of faith is as a journey into becoming more fully human, as reflected in this blog’s name. It’s for that reason that I choose to stress my approach as Christian humanism.

With other humanisms, the one I’m imagining shares a commitment to truth, to beauty and to the good. (It therefore embraces and values the sciences, the arts and the practices of ethical living.) Unlike many other forms of humanism, it sees that non-exclusive but traditional triad of Platonic values as ultimately derived from, underwritten by, and perfected in, the One who is fully goodness, truth and beauty. Our apprehension of those values in this life is limited, but Christian humanism holds that they exist in reality; they are neither illusory nor solely constructed by our human cultures.

Finally, I return to those scholars of the Renaissance to whom the word “humanist” was first applied. A key part of their work was to go back to the sources, especially the sources of classical Greece and Rome. This also led to a renewed appreciation of the Christian scriptures in their original languages of Hebrew (with some Aramaic) and Greek, and to the writings of the early Christian centuries. While I make no claims to scholarship or ability with languages, I too intend in this blog regularly to return to these sources, and read them as wisdom for today.

(As yesterday, today’s featured image is from the 2010 Crucible exhibition in Gloucester Cathedral. It is an installation of Leonard McComb’s Portrait of a Young Man Standing in front of a window depicting aspects of the incarnation.)

By Doug

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