The Tensional Hierarchical Order of Word /Reality and Sign/Image in Christian Traditions


Han, Chae-Dong

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This article deals with the problematics of visuality as a dominant cultural feature in our contemporary society, in terms of the traditionally acknowledged theological positions. The issue is significant not merely for solving practical matters, but also for understanding the Christian theological identity. Many sectors of contemporary Christianity, primarily motivated by missional purposes, willingly or unwillingly adapt to the prevailing visual culture. However, the issues related to the church cannot be solved by a mere pragmatic approach. The ecclesiological matters are fundamentally theological. And theology is an accumulated wisdom of the traditions of the church. Based on this assumption, the article is to understand the medieval western church’s and eastern church’s views on invisibility as a divine reality and visibility as the reality’s images. The church, making efforts to be faithful to the biblical tradition, understood the matter in terms of the relationship between word and sign. She never overlooked the somewhat inevitable necessity of visibility (visuality), but also never the dangerous pitfall of it. The church’s wise position was to keep the balance between invisibility and visibility, word/reality and sign/image, by means of giving a hierarchical ordering to their relation. The article especially focuses on Thomas Aquinas’ view as the summit of the western scholastic theologies, on the one hand, and the eastern iconography as the sum of the Orthodox apophatic and kataphatic theologies, on the other.


I. Significance of the Subject Matter
 II. Medieval Western Tradition’s View
  1. The Relation of the Reformation to the Medieval Western Position
  2. Medieval View on Word and Sign
 III. Eastern Tradition’s View
 IV. Conclusion


  • Han, Chae-Dong Professor of Korea Nazarene University


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