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Imitation reconsidered (2: the Mean)

Mimesis meant imitating a heavenly ideal so excellently that the ideal is expressed as a work of art visible for all to see. This was the first thread in the Greco-Roman view of how imitation produced beauty.

Keep this in mind when reading what Paul said to his readers: "Imitate (mimesis) me."

The second thread in mimesis producing beauty in that worldview is "the Mean."

It bothered the Greeks that nothing in nature stayed the same. You are young; then you are old. An abundant harvest is followed by drought.
What stays the same? What can be depended upon to anchor the uncertainties of life to?

The Greeks hit upon number. Beyond the flux of nature, there is an unchanging realm of number and proportion. This is the basis of their idea of the Mean. Here is Plato:

All things require to be compared, not only with one another, but with the Mean, without which there would be no beauty and no art ...

So an artist was not only to imitate a master for the ideal; he must also strive to imitate the Mean.

When the Mean was beautifully expressed, the Greeks called it symmetria. This did not mean the right and left sides of something being the same (bi-lateral symmetry).

No. Symmetria meant when everything was in balance in accord with the Mean. When Paul was discoursing on Mars Hill, he could look up to the Acropolis and see the Parthenon, which expressed symmetria. He could see the Caryatids of the Erechtheion; for the Greeks, a Caryatid also expressed symmetria (see above).

Now, the miracles of Jesus all possess the symmetria sought after by the Greeks. The miracles are glimpses of nature in true balance, under the dominion of Adam as it was meant to be.

When Jesus stilled the wind and the rain on the Sea of Galilee, the excesses of nature were brought into symmetria. When He fed the 5000, it was distribution without lack, but with symmetria.

And in Jesus' case, the miracles, as beautiful works of art, were not dead statues or buildings, but actual life in its unfallen beauty, perfectly balanced because Christ is the measure (Mean) of all things.

So when Paul asked his readers to imitate him as he imitated Christ, it was not only so that their lives can express the beauty of Christ as ideal, now tabernacling with us, it was also so that their lives can be beautifully balanced in all things.


1 Corinthians 4.16 Therefore I urge you to imitate me.

1 Thessalonians 2.14 You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.

Colossians 1.15-17 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in
heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Ephesians 4.7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift.

The citation from Plato can be found in Statesman 283-285

For more on symmetria, see J.J. Pollit, Art and Experience in Ancient Greece (Cambridge University Press, 1972), Chapter 3: "The World Under Control."


Daniel Leslie Peterson September 6, 2009 at 7:25 AM  

Perhaps a precursor to this Greco-Roman thought was the Ancient Near Eastern perspective that the gods brought order to chaos. In revealing himself, Yahweh accommodated this understanding, and Genesis 1 (and subsequently other Old Testament passages) illustrate God bringing symmetria to what was formless and empty.

Indeed, the New Covenant mean "tips the scales" in a profound way for now "God gives the Spirit without measure" (John 3:34).

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