In the chapters that follow this one I shall examine the sacramentality of 'place' in a more obvious sense of the term, in places such as the natural world, sites of pilgrimage and specific buildings, 'secular' no less than 'sacred'. Here, however, I want to focus on what kind of mediation the material offers in that encounter between God and ourselves. To presuppose a point of contact is far from entailing that 'the place of encounter' will necessarily always be understood in the same way. Certainly, two worlds interconnect, but is the force of the interconnection to give us some sense of another, divine reality that draws us beyond our own, or is the experience rather one of the divine invading the material order and transforming it? One way of highlighting such a contrast is to talk of transcendence on the one hand and of immanence on the other. In the final analysis both words are only metaphors: God is neither quite 'beyond' the world nor 'in' it. More is really being said about how God is consequently perceived, and what that means for our relationship with him. It is my conviction that both perspectives are in fact essential for any adequate theology. But before explaining why, I want to pursue in some detail the contrast and its potential implications, particularly if either way of thinking is left to itself. It will enable us to examine various tensions in how our experience is read, and thus the need to weigh such aspects against other elements if a balanced overall assessment is to be produced of what experience as a whole communicates. A useful way of pursuing such questions will be to contrast the most common form of theology applied to icons and the quite different way in which Renaissance art has been defended.
Orthodox theologians are often dismissive of Western art, particularly as it has developed since the Renaissance. The 'compliment' was returned by the Renaissance. Nowadays, however, in so far as Western theologians discuss the issue at all, they tend to treat