The Monuments Men and the Idea of the Beautiful in Christianity

monumentsmenThe Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel is yet another fine addition to the growing body of literature, really a genre unto itself, about the “Greatest Generation.” These are the men who did nothing short of save the world in World War II.

But this book has a bit of a twist: the greatest generation verses Nazi thieves who were stealing Europe’s greatest monuments and works of art. A group of American and British “middle-aged family men, [who] walked away from successful careers into the epicenter of the war, risking and some losing their lives.”

They left it all to join the Army’s special unit called, The Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives section (MFAA). This unit was made up of “museum directors, curators, art scholars and educators artists, architects, and archivists” (page 2). These men risked their lives under the orders of Roosevelt and Eisenhower who ordered them to retrieve what was taken for the Führer’s booty.

But one might ask: why spend lives and time and money for art? This book is important because it is a reminder that in Western Civilization, Rembrandt and Di Vinci, Van Gogh and Degas mean something to us. These are artifacts of our humanity, reflections of our time on this earth, and images that seek to imitate the works of God. The idea behind this, behind forming such a unit as the MFAA, is nothing short of an example of the spiritual capital of generations that have gone before.

In Western Civilization, the valuing of art, of valuing the beautiful, is just so because of a Biblical and Reformed worldview. This is a worldview which holds that there is goodness in creativity, because God is the Creator. It means that we value beauty such as art and music and architecture because God is a God of transcendent beauty, of personal order.

The Monuments Men reads like a mystery and tells a story that needed to be told. It reminds us again that this generation fought for something greater than themselves. That power that made them risk their lives to recover stolen art is nothing less than the glorious theological vision of the glory of God in our midst.

Copyright ©2009 Michael A. Milton

About Michael A. Milton, Ph.D.

Michael A. Milton, Ph.D., MPA (University of Wales; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), is an American Presbyterian pastor, theologian, and author.
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