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Master's of Sacred Arts, Individual Courses

A History and Practical Theology of Images - The Way of Beauty

David Clayton

A History and Practical Theology of Images

The Way of Beauty



Welcome to this course, A History and Practical Theology of Images - The Way of Beauty. I hope this will be a stimulating and enjoyable course for you and will help you, in turn, to be a better teacher!  

In addition to being available for credit towards a degree, this course is also available for audit or for Continuing Education Units. 


If you are interested in auditing this course, please email


For those seeking Continuing Education Units, all readings, video lectures, and quizzes are required. The discussion questions should be completed, but not submitted for grading. The CEU student does not take the midterm or final. Upon completion of the course, the student will have earned 135 hours and is eligible to receive a Certificate of Achievement awarding said hours. Please contact to enroll for CEUs.


I anticipate people will get different things from the course. Some of you, I anticipate, will see this as an art theory course, albeit an unusual one, that explains how a traditional understanding of beauty, informed deeply by the Faith of the Catholic Church, has formed some of the greatest works of art ever produced. It explains also, how the wider culture changed when very different ideas of beauty began to take hold with the onset of the ideas of the Enlightenment from the 18th century onwards. To know such information is a great reason to take the course and if that is your reason then that is terrific!

However, the objects of our study - the art, the music and the architecture that are consistent with a Catholic worldview - were not created by those who made them simply to be seen as objects of academic study. Rather, they were intended as signposts that directed towards a particular end. The very name of the course, A History and Practical Theology of Images - The Way of Beauty, evokes this idea. It has been created not just as subject to be taught and studied, but also for those who are moved by it, to show us a path a 'way' that we can travel on. This path is the Way of Beauty referred to by Pope Benedict (in Latin) as via pulchritudinis and it has God as its final goal. In 2005 Pope Benedict wrote of not one, but two ways of beauty: the beauty of creation; the beauty of the arts and the culture of man; each is a sign that draw us in and then beyond itself onto the source of all beauty, the Beauty of God manifested in Christ. He wrote: 'Beginning with the simple experience of the marvel-arousing meeting with beauty, the via pulchritudinis can open the pathway for the search for God, and disposes heart and spirit to meet Christ, who is the Beauty of Holiness Incarnate, offered by God to men for their salvation. It invites contemporary Augustines, unquenchable seekers of love, truth and beauty to see through the perceptible beauty to eternal Beauty, and with fervour discover Holy God, the author of all beauty.'

As you will learn in this course, all Christian education -regardless of the subject actually taught - is ordered to this end and we cannot truly hope to pass that on unless we too are travelling on that path. Consequently, I hope that you 'contemporary Augustines' will be inspired go beyond just learning about the subjects discussed and want also to follow where they lead; and by treading that joyful and life-changing path of beauty, truth and goodness may be examples who in turn attract those you teach to follow that path too.


May God bless you, 

David Clayton

1 Benedict XVI, Concluding Document of the Plenary Session of the Pontifical Council of Culture, April 2005; II, 1



Here is the class outline:

1. Introduction

An intro to this course.

2. Episode 1:

What is wrong with today’s art.

3. Episode 2:

How art can present a Catholic worldview even if it isn’t religious, or even painted by Catholics.

4. Episode 3:

Why beauty has the answers for today.

5. Episode 4:

An introduction to the mathematical description of beauty. This will be explored in much greater depth in the Class – Sacred Number, Sacred Geometry, Harmony and Proportion.

6. Episode 5:

Wow the beauty of the environment and recognition of the worship of God as our highest activity in this life helps us in education.

7. Episode 6:

An introduction to the theology of form of icons.

8. Episode 7:

An explanation of some of the basic methods of icon painting, which connects the creation of icons to their purpose.

9. Episode 8:

How the style of gothic art reflects a Catholic worldview.

10. Episode 9:

How a change in the perception the ultimate ideal in art created the High Renaissance, which led, in time, to a new authentic liturgical tradition, the baroque.

11. Episode 10:

How the art style that began as art for the liturgy influenced non religious art forms, such as portrait and landscape.

12. Episode 11:

How the form of some modern art reflects an non-Christian worldview.

13. Episode 12:

How the style of art of traditional non-Christian cultures, for example, Islamic, Hindu and Buddhist, reflects their worldview too, and how Christians should approach such art.

14. Episode 13:

How we might draw on our understanding of the Christian sacred art traditions and their purpose to create art for today.

15. Watch: The Privileged Planet

Privileged Planet

16. Watch: Watchmen of the Night

In this you will see the monks praying the Divine Office and the Mass and as they talk about it the importance of the cosmic symbolism in their worship becomes clear.

17. Watch: Art of the Western World

18 half hour videos in which Western art history is presented chronologically beginning with the ancient Greeks. This will enable you to place all other discussions into a historical context.

18. Watch: Why Beauty Matters

A personal view presented by the English philosopher, Roger Scruton. Scruton in a Christian, but not Catholic (High Anglican). He tends to argue as a philosopher rather than a theologian, beginning with his observations of common human experience.

19. Midterm Exam

Midterm Exam for this course.

20. Lesson 1

What Do Catholics Believe About the Use of Images?

21. Lesson 2

Introduction to the Transcendentals.

22. Lesson 3

Christian Anthropology, the Theology of the Body and Art.

23. Lesson 4

Choice of Materials, Colors, Frames, Glazes and Reproductions for Sacred Art.

24. Lesson 5

The New Evangelization and Prayer with Sacred Images.

25. Lesson 6

The Traditional Symbolism in Christian Art.

26. Lesson 7

Case study. Baroque mundane art. Court dwarf by Velazquez.

27. Lesson 8

Modern art by Mark Rothko Case study.

28. Lesson 9

How Chinese Art and Western Art Combine.

29. Lesson 10

30. Lesson 11

31. Final Exam

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