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674book reviews Ancient The Invisible God: The Earliest Christians on Art. By Paul Corby Finney. (New York: Oxford University Press. 1994. Pp. xxvüi, 319. $45.00.) Paul Corby Finney is a professor of Roman imperial and early church history Ln the University of Missouri at St. Louis. From gymnasium studies in Germany in the late 1950's and a doctoral program at Harvard in the early 1970's up through a university career in the mid 1990's, he has had an intense interest in the earUest Uterary attitudes toward and the oldest material remains of early Christian art. This tome is a detaUed statement of his findings and a chaUenge to the traditional interpretive framework on early third century lamp decorations and catacomb paintings. Dr. Finney starts by reviewing how eighth-century Byzantine iconoclasts, sixteenth-century Protestant reformers, and modern German scholars from Adolf von Harnack to Theodor Klauser have buUt up an interpretation of "primitive Christianity" as "a religion simultaneously hostile to pictures in theory (iconophobic ) and opposed to their use in practice (aniconic)" (p. 10). He points out how this interpretation seemed to be buttressed on the one hand by the Uterary attacks of second- and third-century Christian apologists on pagan art, and on the other hand by the lack of a distinctive Christian art before the year 200. This traditional interpretation presented the appearance of catacomb paintings thereafter as a faU from primitive spirituaUsm to crass materiaUsm forced on the educated clergy by the uneducated laity. The author spends the rest of his book analyzing early Christian apologetic attacks on pagan art and early Christian motifs on Roman lamps and in catacomb paintings to chaUenge this scenario. Finney's analysis of the Christian literary attack on pagan art attempts to prove that the apologists were not opposed to art per se, but were using this genre of Uterature as "a clever ploy" (p. 47) to win over the phUosophicaUy inclined poUtical eUte ofthe Roman world to sympathy for the Christian cause. By attacking the excesses ofpagan art, the apologists were showing that it was not the Christians, but the crass devotees of the pagan gods who were reaUy guUty of atiieism, superstition, and sexual misconduct. The author posits that "the reasons for the nonappearance of Christian art before 200 have nothing to do with principled aversion to art, with otherworldUness or with antimateriaUsm. The truth is simple and mundane: Christians lacked land and capital. Art required both. As soon as they acquired land and capital, Christians began to experiment with their own distinctive forms of art" (p. 108). Although admitting that Christians had inherited throughJudaism and a strand of HeUenism the beUef that God was invisible, Dr. Finney shows that the early Christians were not averse to portraying the human agents or the typological works of their Deity in art. As soon as they had the material resources for doing this,they began to make their presence felt through a process BOOK REVIEWS675 of "selective adaptation" within traditional forms of Greco-Roman art (pp. 109ff). The author follows this process through the adaptation of terra-cotta lamps to Christian purposes, showing how Christian demand created a market for lamps decorated with "good shepherd" motifs in the Annius and other central Italian workshops from the late second century forward. In even more deta ü, he relates how Roman Christians obtained possession of the CalUstus catacomb south of Rome Ln the early third century, and then coaxed the officina managers and workers who decorated these funerary chambers with ceUing and waU paintings to use "symbol-specific images" appropriate to Christian tastes (pp. 197ff). As these were chthonic places commemorating death, the images employed were usuaUy of a"salvational or soteriological"nature, such as Isaac spared from the knife,Jonah saved from the fish, Lazarus raised from the dead, and the good shepherd saving his lost sheep, Ui order to give hope of the Christian God's saving power to the relatives of the interred Christian dead. In short, "the waU and ceiling images are semeia, signs or tokens of divine intervention . They served as reminders of God's saving action on behatf of certain representative figures within...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-0708
Print ISSN
0008-8080
Pages
pp. 674-675
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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