Whatcha reading? 8

2185888The Community of the Beautiful, by Alejandro Garcia-Rivera (teaches at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley), is a wonderful and thoughtfully composed thesis. He takes the transcendentals (the True, the Good, and the Beautiful), explicates the dynamic relationship between them in terms of von Balthasar (the Beautiful), Josiah Roice (the Good), and Charles Sanders Pierce (the True) and gives us a fresh and innovative theological aesthetics. Who would imagine putting these three thinkers into dialogue with Hispanic experience? It’s a wide-ranging book, pulling from the sciences, poetics, liberation theology, sociology, Pseudo-Dionysius, Christian mystics, ethics, pragmatism and much more to define what moves the human heart.

Here’s a sampling:

The role of mystery, however, reveals the inadequacy of describing apophatic Beauty and the kataphatic beautiful solely in terms of the “quarrel” between the senses and the intellect. If we were to follow analogy of the quarrel to its logical conclusion, then like the senses and the intellect, beauty and the beautiful, the apophatic and the kataphatic would find themselves opposed to one another. Mystery opposes such opposition. The apophatic and the kataphatic are not opposites in the context of mystery but complement one another. The inadequacy of the argument between the senses and the intellect to address mystery reveals a boundary, a place-between that neither senses nor the intellect wish to claim, yet a place where both find their unity. This place-between has been known in the philosophical tradition as the imagination. Universally seen as “mediator” between the senses and the intellect, its various descriptions bear a striking resemblance to aesthetic theory. As “imitator” of sensual reality, crafting an image for the abstractive intellect to “appreciate,” this view of the imagination resembles the objective pole of aesthetics. As inventive “expressor” of images from within the human spirit, the imagination resembles the subjective pole of aesthetic. There exists, however, another view.

Lawrence Sullivan discovered anew the religious nature of the imagination through his study of the various indigenous societies living in the Amazon river basis. Sullivan in his ground-breaking work Icanchu’s Drum defined the religious dimension of the imagination through his empirical study of myth:

“Myth does not simply denote a species of narrative; literary or oral genres are only symptoms of myth. Myth is not a form of lore but a quality of imaginal existence. Myth is the imagination beholding its own reality and plumbing the sources of its own creativity as it relates to creativity in every form (plant and planetary life, animal fertility, intelligence, art). Myth reveals the sacred foundations and religious character of the imagination. Myths are…significations that reveal the nature of significance, they make effective metastatements about imaginal existence (emphases mine).”

Sullivan’s key sense of the religious as “significations that reveal the nature of significance” is hard to grasp but it expresses Sullivan’s conclusion that for the religious imagination “understanding a reality requires that it has a beginning.” What Sullivan is proposing is that the imagination concerns the perceptibility of the different structures of reality as coming from an origin of differences. In other words, the imagination ministers to that place where differences begin and end.

As such, the imagination has its proper role not as artist to the senses or the intellect but as artist to Original Mystery. Imagination’s artistry makes mystery manifest both to the senses and the intellect. This affirmation, however, is not philosophical but theological. The understanding of imagination proposed here is not an epistemology but a theological aesthetics. Imagination is not so much a servant of knowledge as it is an aesthetics of mystery. This has an important corollary. If the imagination allows mystery to be made manifest to our senses and our intellect, then imagination also allows our senses and intellect to respond to mystery. In other words, the imagination is the prime mover and movement of the human heart. It allows Beauty to be appropriated by the human heart, and, as well, allows the human heart to respond to Beauty…The imagination allows apophatic Beauty and the kataphatic beautiful to have an organic connection within the human heart.


2 comments on “Whatcha reading? 8

  1. Kristin says:

    I’m touched to see your lovely review of Prof. Garcia-Rivera’s book! We lost Alex to an illness a few years ago and very much miss his lively mind, careful mentorship, and unique perspectives on theology, aesthetics, culture, and science. Thank you for helping others to find his work!


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