Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

Frank William Boreham 1871-1959
A photo F W Boreham took of himself in 1911

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Boreham and His Theology of Beauty

F W Boreham’s conviction that books, art and theatre are the major avenues through which people might connect with the richness of life resonates with J R R Tolkien’ assertion that fairy-stories (and other imaginative literature) satisfy “certain primordial human desires” including the desire to “survey the depths of space and time” and the desire “to hold communion with other living things”.[1]

His contention that the arts provide a “broadening of life’s horizon”[2] is akin to the thoughts of contemporary Roman Catholic theologian Tony Kelly who, in extolling the re-creative role of art says, “It refreshes human experience, helping us to make and see things in their originality. The creativity of the artist works to clean the windows of perception, lest the vision be blurred by interior drabness, triteness, familiarity and possessiveness.”[3] Expressions of adventure and imagination were for Boreham manifestations of a divine urge and a participation in divine creativity.

Boreham’s early hesitation about attending plays and movies in the 1920s reflected not only “the neglect of beauty”[4] by the church but the more disastrous condition expressed in the damning words of the Welsh poet R S Thomas: “Protestantism—the adroit castrator of art; the bitter negation of song and dance and the heart’s innocent joy”.[5] While recognizing the danger pursuing aesthetics without reference to God, Boreham affirmed the artist’s role “to increase the world’s stock of beauty”. He sought to restore within the church and in society the essential relationship between a love of God and a love of beauty. Boreham’s thinking is captured well by Richard Harries when writing, “There is a resemblance, a relationship, between the beauty we experience in nature, in the arts, in a genuinely good person and in God; and that which tantalizes, beckons and calls us in beauty has its origin in God himself”.[6]

Geoff Pound

Image: “to increase the world’s stock of beauty”.

[1] J R R Tolkien, Tree and leaf. London: Unwin, 1964), 18. This thought is amplified by Tony Kelly, in ‘Faith seeking fantasy: Tolkien on fairy-stories’. Pacifica 15 (2002): 190-208.
[2] Boreham, Mercury, 4 November 1950.
[3] Kelly, ‘Faith seeking fantasy: Tolkien on fairy-stories’, 201.
[4] Richard Harries, Art and the beauty of God (London: Mowbray, 1993), 1.
[5] R S Thomas, ‘The minister’, Collected poems 1945-1990 (London: Phoenix, 1993), 54.
[6] Harries, Art and the beauty of God, 6.