Schoenberg and the Ungraspable God-Idea

I happened to come across an instance of musical theology – in the sense of music being used to convey a text with a theological thesis – that I quite liked.[1]  The theological thesis, then, first, is that every conception of God in history, even the most abstract, is a constructed image.  This is close to Paul Tillich’s acknowledgement that all forms of discussion and representation of God are in danger of becoming idolatrous.

The work, then, is Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, in which the concept of image-making is much explored.  Aaron, of course, allows images to be made of God, which infuriates Moses, who later conceded that he, himself, has made his own image of God which is contradicted by these images made by the people.

Schoenberg’s resolution is not to condemn the image-making, but the misuse of such images, in Moses denouncing Aaron’s using the God-idea instead of serving it.[2]  As Viladesau notes, for Schoenberg the divine being is ungraspable and unimaginable, and yet imagination evokes an idea of it, allowing in this way a mediation of union with God.

So, the divine remains inconceivable, though through the idea of the divine, we have some notion of God.  We must, therefore, be wary of all constructed images of the divine which can only ever be human constructions.


[1] Viladesau, Richard Theological Aesthetics: God in Imagination, Beauty, and Art (New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999) 39-51

[2] Ibid. 48

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