Byzantine holy images and the issue of transcendence and immanence : The theological background of the Late Byzantine Palaiologan iconography and aesthetics of the Chora church, Istanbul

University dissertation from Stockholm : Konstvetenskapliga institutionen

Abstract: On the basis of theological ideas in the Christian Orthodox tradition in general, and the Cappadocian Fathers in specific, this dissertation examines how the ontology of the transcendent triune God and the human and divine in Christ is implied or manifest in the Late Byzantine Palaiologan mosaics and murals of the Chora church.The study is divided into four chapters. The first chapter focuses on conceptual prerequisites in the tradition of Christian Orthodoxy and the three Cappadocian Fathers, for representation and indication of ‘the right belief’, and of beauty in a Christian sense. In addition to a brief historical background of holy images, it also explores how the Cappadocian concept of eikôn theou, during the iconoclastic era, was used as argument for holy images and how a semantic change of this concept paved the way for extensive use of images.The second chapter is an analysis of how, in the iconography and aesthetics of the Chora church in particular, but also in some Early and Middle Byzantine contexts, light, color, form and matter, abstraction and concretion are used to imply or represent the idea of a communion between the transcendent uncreated and uncircumscribed triune Christian God and the immanent divine and human presence in the world of Jesus Christ.The third chapter is an exploration of how abstraction is in communion with narration in the holy images of the Chora church and that this is a result of religious ideas on the theology, God’s constitution, and the economy, God’s actions. The study of these ideas shows that a paramount religious factor for Byzantine iconography and aesthetics is that the evangelical event, which pertains to the Gospel narrative, also has implications beyond the created in time and space; i.e. divine history differs from human history. To emphasize the divine disposition balance and unbalance, as well as kinetics and statics contrast the idea of eternal divine balance to that of the ‘unnatural’ unbalanced state of evil.The last chapter is a study of how patristic authority and significance of dogmatic tools such as apophatic and cataphatic theology are essential for analysis of the theological impact of holy images. A holy image is a divine darkness that enables the believer to have encounters with the divine.

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