Illuminating Words, Transforming Beauty

Word Became FleshNear the beginning of his breathtaking work in theological aesthetics, Hans Urs von Balthasar warns, “In a world that no longer has enough confidence in itself to affirm the beautiful, the proofs of the truth have lost their cogency.”

In order to bolster such confidence, Spring Arbor University will be hosting a Heritage Edition of the Saint John’s Bible during the 2015-2016 academic year. Inspired by this beautiful book, the Midwest Conference on Christianity and Literature invites presentations that explore the challenges and opportunities that beauty offers to our culture. At a time when the world, and especially the Church, lacks confidence in beauty, the illuminated Saint John’s Bible stands as a remarkable, counter-cultural affirmation of what Pope Saint John Paul II describes as art’s “unique capacity to take one or other facet of the [Gospel] message and translate it into colours, shapes and sounds which nourish the intuition of those who look or listen.” In reviving a tradition of scriptural illumination that has been nearly absent for five hundred years, the Saint John’s Bible seeks “to be a prophetic witness to the glory of the Word of God” as well as to “ignite the spiritual imagination of believers throughout the world.” What makes the Saint John’s Bible a work of art, according to the Pope’s definition, is its ability to translate or, quite literally, transform the biblical message “without emptying the message itself of its transcendent value and its aura of mystery.”

In addition to literary scholars, we hope to draw artists and biblical scholars to contribute to our understanding of the way in which the Gospel is illuminated as it is mediated through particular forms. We welcome proposals for individual panel presentations, full panels, roundtable discussions, and poster sessions that address issues related to this theme. In addition to scholarly papers, we are also looking for artistic or creative presentations that reflect on the role of beauty in illuminating the Sacred Scriptures and Sacred Doctrine. Submissions by undergraduates are welcome. Presentations might address one of the following topics:

  • How textual illuminations influence our reading of Biblical stories
  • The way ekphrastic art reveals new facets of meaning
  • How artists, writers, or musicians imaginatively engage Biblical texts
  • How Biblical texts portray art, artists, and artisans
  • How a theme shifts when portrayed in different art forms
  • How different literary forms—poetry, short stories, novels, essays—convey meaning differently
  • The relationship between authors and illustrators or the work of author/illustrators (like William Blake)
  • The relation between literacies: oral, textual, visual
  • The changing nature of the book or the epistemology implicit in different textual forms
  • Film or drama adaptations
  • Considerations of David Bentley Hart’s contention in The Beauty of the Infinite that beauty’s mode of persuasion is fundamentally peaceful


A draft of the conference schedule is available here.

Image Credit: Word Made Flesh, Donald Jackson, Copyright 2002, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota USA. Used by permission. All rights reserved.