Theological Reflections on Imagination, Wonder, and Beauty

“To think God through a creature is to be elevated by thinking of a creature to thinking of God as if through an intermediary stairway.”

Bonaventure, Commentary on the Sentences

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love” (1 Co. 13:13). St. Paul famously ends his praise of love with a reference to what have come to be known as the theological virtues: faith, hope, and love. These are the lasting dispositions of the creature, the parts of us we can expect to carry into eternity. I think that there may well be a triad of human faculties that correspond to the virtues: imagination, wonder, and beauty.

Imagination is the faculty that considers the unreal as the possibly real. It’s realm is the entire range of the possible, and so it forges far ahead of reason, seizing on pathways that reason could never reach, but offering back the proof that these paths are walkable. Thus it makes straight the way for reason. In this way it is like faith; or rather, is the primary organ of faith.

Wonder is the response we have in the moment of the recognition of great disparity. It is an intellectual gasp in the face of a world that continues to display itself to us as more than what we would have expected. It is the ground of hope, which ever looks beyond the known and the expected. But hope is more than just wishful thinking: it is a confident resting in the promises of God, and so there is a certainty to it. Wonder is the response we have to this truth, is the part of us by which we yearn and stretch forward to lay hold of what has been offered.

Beauty is the experience of being reminded of God by created things. It is a recognition of an image of the thing we desire most, and it sets us on fire with love. Beauty awakens love, and love beautifies the thing we love. In this way, love and beauty walk hand-in-hand. This is why another word for beauty is “loveliness.”

In this special collation for the feast of St. Bonaventure (my favorite theologian), I will expand on these faculties and virtues as important aspects of the mind’s journey to God. You will get a sneak peak at my work on theologies of the imagination and wonder, and some highlights from my work on a theology of beauty.

Thusday, July 15, 2021, 12:00 pm Central time

Free, registration required (recording available to all registrants)

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