Two kinds of religious imagination

I read an article that invoked a fascinating distinction between two kinds of religious imagination from Mary Catherine Hilkert’s book, Naming Grace: Preaching and the Sacramental Imagination:

The Sacramental Imagination

  • emphasizes the presence of the God who is self-communicating love
  • the creation of human beings in the image of God (restless hearts seeking the divine)
  • the mystery of the incarnation
  • grace as divinizing as well as forgiving
  • the mediating role of the church as sacrament of salvation in the world
  • the “foretaste” of the reign of God that is present in human community wherever God’s reign of justice, peace, and love is fostered.

The Dialectical Imagination

  • stresses the distance between God and humanity
  • the hiddenness and absence of God
  • the sinfulness of human beings
  • the paradox of the cross
  • the need for grace as redemption and reconciliation
  • the limits and necessity for critique of any human project or institution, including the church
  • the not-yet character of the promised reign of God.

The author of the article then singled out great religious poets of the sacramental imagination (John Donne, George Herbert, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Richard Wilbur) and dialectical imagination (William Cowper, R. S. Thomas, Elizabeth Bishop).

SOURCE: Religion & Ethics Newsweekly: David E. Anderson, The Things of This World

Rowan Williams and Philip Pullman

Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury and currently Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge University, and Philip Pullman, author of the fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials and the fictionalized biography The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel of Christ, are unlikely bedfellows: the former is a brilliant theologian of the church while the latter is an accomplished atheist writer. Nevertheless, they respect each other and model civil discourse in an uncivil age, which is fitting for two old-fashioned British gentlemen. In 2004, Williams and Pullman had a conversation at the National Theatre in London. The whole exchange is worth reading, but here are some memorable excerpts.

On the appeal of gnosticism and interpretations of the Fall:

Dr Rowan Williams: I suppose one of the questions I would like to hear more about from Philip is what has happened to Jesus in the church in this world [of His Dark Materials], because one of the interesting things for me in the model of the church in the plays and the books, is it’s a church, as it were, without redemption.

It’s entirely about control. And although I know that’s how a lot of people do see the church, you won’t be surprised to know that that’s not exactly how I see it. Chance would be a fine thing! There is also the other question which I raised last week about the fascinating figure of The Authority in the books and the plays, who is God for all practical purposes in lots of people’s eyes, but yet, of course, is not the Creator. So those are of course the kinds of differences that I am intrigued by here.

Philip Pullman: Well, to answer the question about Jesus first, no, he doesn’t figure in the teaching of the church, as I described the church in the story. I think he’s mentioned once, in the context of this notion of wisdom that works secretly and quietly, not in the great courts and palaces of the earth, but among ordinary people and so on. And there are some teachers who have embodied this quality, but whose teaching has perhaps been perverted or twisted or turned, and been used in a fashion that they themselves didn’t either desire or expect or could see happening.

So there’s a sort of reference to the teaching of Jesus which I may return to in the next book – but I don’t want to anticipate too much because I’ve found that if I tell people what I’m going to write about, I don’t write it, something happens to prevent it, so I’d better not anticipate that too much. But I’m conscious that that is a question that has been sort of hovering over people’s understanding of the story anyway.

The figure of The Authority is rather easier. In the sort of creation myth that underlies His Dark Materials, which is never fully explicit but which I was discovering as I was writing it, the notion is that there never was a Creator, instead there was matter, and this matter gradually became conscious of itself and developed Dust. Dust sort of precedes from matter as a way of understanding itself. The Authority was the first figure that condensed, as it were, in this way and from then on he was the oldest, the most powerful, the most authoritative. And all the other angels at first believed he was the Creator and then some angels decided that he wasn’t, and so we had the temptation and the Fall etc – all that sort of stuff came from that.

And the figure of Authority who dies in the story is well, one of the metaphors I use. In the passage I wrote about his description, he was as light as paper – in other words he has a reality which is only symbolic. It’s not real, and the last expression on his face is that of profound and exhausted relief. That was important for me. That’s not something you can easily show with a puppet to the back of the theatre.

RW: That’s very helpful because I think it reinforces my sense that part of the mythology here was what came from some of those early Jewish and Christian or half Christian versions of the story in which you have a terrific drama of cosmic revolt. Someone is trying to pull the wool over your eyes is the underlying thing, and wisdom is an unmasking. I think, if you have a view of God, which makes God internal to the universe, that’s what happens.

PP: Yeah.

RW: Someone is going to be pulling the wool over your eyes?

PP: I suppose that’s right, yes. The word that covers some of these early creation narratives is gnostic – the Gnostic heresy, as it became once Christianity was sort of defined. The idea that the world we live in, the physical universe is actually a false thing, made by a false God, and the true God, our true home, our true spiritual home is infinitely distant, far off, a long, long way away from that. This sense is something we find a lot of in popular culture, don’t you think? The X-Files, you know – “the truth is out there”. The Matrix.

Everything we see is the false creation of some wicked power that, as you say, is trying to pull the wool over our eyes, and there are many others. Can I just ask you a question for a minute? What do you put this down to? The great salience of gnostic feelings, gnostic sentiments and ways of thinking in our present world? What’s the source of that, do you think?

RW: Well, let me try two thoughts on that. One is that the human sense that things are not in harmony, not on track, can very easily lead you into a kind of dramatic or even melodramatic picture of the universe in which somebody’s got to be blamed for that.

So, “we was robbed”, you know, “we have been deceived”. It should have been different, it could have been different, so salvation, or whatever you want to call it, then becomes very much a matter of getting out from underneath the falsehood, pulling away the masks, and that’s tremendously powerful I think, as a myth of liberation.

It’s what a lot of people feel is owed to them, and I think some of the fascination of the Enlightenment itself, as a moment in cultural history, is the fascination of being able to say we can do without authority because authority is always after us. One 20th-century philosopher said that the attraction of somebody like Freud is charm. It is charming to destroy prejudice, because we have the sense that this is the real story. Now we’ve got it.

The second thing about the popularity of this mythology is that even the most secularised person very often has problems about the meaning of the body, and it is very tempting, very charming again I think, very attractive to say, what really matters is my will. And if the reality is my will and my thoughts. If there is somewhere a condition where I can get the body where it belongs, get it under control, then that’s where I want to be. And, of course, Christians and other religious people do buy into that in ways that are very problematic. It’s very hard sometimes to get the balance right theologically.

PP: Well, this, this brings up the Fall of course, or the notions of sin that are bound up with our physicality supposedly, which is one thing I was trying to get away from in my story. I try to present the idea that the Fall, like any myth, is not something that has happened once in a historical sense but happens again and again in all our lives. The Fall is something that happens to all of us when we move from childhood through adolescence to adulthood and I wanted to find a way of presenting it as something natural and good, and to be welcomed, and, you know – celebrated, rather than deplored.

RW: There’s a real tension, I think, in quite a lot of Christian thinking about just that question. Is the Fall about bodies or not? And you do get some Christian thinkers who would say, yes, even the body is the result of the Fall, and then others who say, well no, it has a metaphorical sense, and there is a level of bodily existence, which is OK, which is willed by God.

Coincidentally I was reading just a few days ago, a letter by David Jones, the Anglo-Welsh poet and painter, and he’s writing about the Fall and about Milton’s perception of it. He notes that in Milton as soon as Adam and Eve are thrown out of Eden, the first thing they do is to have sex, and David Jones says “that is the bloody limit” because he’s writing as a Catholic with a rather strong investment in the idea of saved material life.

There is a right, a godly way, of this existing – it’s not just about experience, sex, the body and so forth, being part of what goes wrong. It’s a mixed bag historically.

PP: One of the most interesting things for me about this notion of the Fall, is that the first thing that happened to Adam and Eve is that they were embarrassed, with consciousness. For me it’s all bound up with consciousness, and the coming of understanding of things – and making the beginning of intellectual inquiry. Which happens typically in one’s adolescence, when one begins to be interested in poetry and art and science and all these other things. With consciousness comes self-consciousness, comes shame, comes embarrassment, comes all these things, which are very difficult to deal with.

RW: That’s right. I think that as a religious person, I would say that’s a neutral phenomenon. That’s just what happens, and one of the fallacies of religion that’s not working is to suppose that somehow you can spin the wheel backwards, and go back to pure unselfconsciousness.

PP: Which is a mis-reading because after all, it says in Genesis, there’s an angel with a fiery sword standing in the way. You can’t go back.

RW: Can’t go back. The only way is forward. Yes, and sorry to quote Anglo-Welsh poets again, but one of R S Thomas’s pieces is about there being no way back to the Garden. The only way is forward to whatever there is. I think I quoted you once before when we were talking about that statement of Von Hügel, the Catholic philosopher at the beginning of the last century, who says the greatest good for an unfallen being would be innocence, but the greatest good for a fallen being is forgiveness and reconciliation, which sort of brings in what I think the version you’re getting at leaves out.

On how to educate people about being religious:

RW: And I want to try and help people to see why, as I say, religious belief can be difficult, why it can be appallingly oppressive, why it can be amazingly liberating at times. To get inside that a bit. That’s why I’ve talked a bit about autobiography as a vehicle for this, looking at what people actually say about how it’s difficult and how they live through it, or don’t. Then I think you’ve begun to see that being religious is a way of being human at a certain depth. I don’t think you’d entirely disagree with that, from what I hear, even if you don’t think it’s about anything solid at the end of the day.

PP: Well, I think that religion is something that all people have done, or people in every society. It’s a universal human impulse, the sense of awe and transcendence. It’s possible to find that in most societies, and in a great deal of art, and this brings me on to what I was going to ask next. How do you see fiction for example?

RW: Being used in…

PP: Would you use fiction? Would you, sort of be instrumental about it. Or is it an end in itself? I rather think fiction’s an end in itself.

RW: I would use it in teaching, but I think one’s got to be very careful about using it, in the sense of saying, well you’ve got to have a message you can squeeze out.

PP: Well, this is what worries me.

RW: What you learn, I think, after absorbing a really serious piece of fiction, is not a message. Your world has expanded, your world has enlarged at the end of it, and the more a writer focuses on message, the less expansion there’ll be. I think that’s why sometimes the most successful, “Christian” fiction is written by people who are not trying hard to be Christian about it. A bit of a paradox, but I’m thinking of Flannery O’Connor, the American writer, my favourite example here. She’s somebody who, quite deliberately, doesn’t set out to make the points that you might expect her to be making, but wants to build a world in which certain things may become plausible, or tangible, palpable, but not to get a message across.

PP: Isn’t this what happens, though, when we read fiction any sort of fiction sympathetically, good fiction, classic fiction? Good art of any sort in fact?

RW: Yes, and I think that’s why. Yes.

PP: We’re looking for an enlargement of imaginative sympathy, aren’t we?

RW: That’s right. We’re looking for a sense that our present definitions of what it is to be human – what it is to live in the world – are not necessarily the last word or the exhaustive version of reality, and that the truth is out there in another sense. It’s out there in a bigger universe.

PP: Well the truth is in the library, perhaps.

RW: Well, yes, that’s true of all serious fiction, all serious drama, all serious poetry. It is about certain kinds of fiction that gives it a religious aura, that poses religious questions, is tougher to answer. I suppose it has to do, perhaps, with some of those characteristically religious themes like absolution (how you live with the past), with the possibilities of forgiveness, and with whatever it is that poses at depth the question of how I relate to my entire environment – not just to what’s immediately around me, but to my entire environment – which, of course, for a religious person has God as the ultimate shape around it.


  • The Guardian: Rowan Williams reveals how it felt to see religion savaged and God killed in the theatrical performance of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. 
  • The Guardian: Rowan Williams reviews Philip Pullman’s The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ. He says the New Testament is far more alive to the dangers of religious authority than Philip Pullman allows.
  • Rowan Williams, Belief, Unbelief and Religious Education. A lectured delivered by the Archbishop of Canterbury at Downing Street.

Art is obedient to the creative gratuity in the world


David Jones, “Crucifixion” (1922-23)

My recent travel gave me an opportunity to finish Rowan Williams’ work on theological aestheticsGrace and Necessity: Reflections on Art and Love. The biggest take-away is that art happens because “things are not only what they are” and “give more than they have”to borrow Jacques Maritain’s language. Put differently, art happens because of creative gratuity (or generative excess) in the material world, which connects the artist with Being (read: God). Two examples will help. In George Herbert’s poem “Easter Wings,” the speaker says: “O let me rise / As larks, harmoniously.” Here, the larks are not only larks but emblems of resurrected living in Christ. In Flannery O’Connor’s short story “Revelation,” the narrator says: “The sun was behind the wood, very red, looking over the paling of trees like a farmer inspecting his own hogs.” Here, the sun is not only a sun but an emblem of the Good Shepherd who sacrifices his life to save the recalcitrant sheep, which functions not only as a biblical allusion but also suggests an analogy of being because, as Jonathan Edwards observed, “the things of the world are ordered [and] designed to shadow forth spiritual things.” Of course, all this brings us towards “the frontiers of theology” (154). An artist’s “awareness of a depth in the observable world beyond what is at any moment observable is close to what seems to be meant by ‘the sacred.'” “The element of gratuitous energy in the world’s life,” Williams says, “corresponds to what we can call the sacred” (155).

Here are salient passages from the fourth lecture, “God and the Artist.”

Art has an ‘ontology’ implicit in it. It is not decorative or arbitrary but grounded in what we ought to call a kind of obedience. The artist struggles to let the logic of what is there display itself in the particular concrete matter being worked with (142).


You have to find what you must obey, artistically; and finding it is finding that which exists in relation to more than your will and purpose—finding the depth of alternative embodiment in the seen landscape, the depth of gratuitous capacity in the imagined character (when what you want to imagine will not come) and so on. Imagination produces not a self-contained mental construct but a vision that escapes control, that brings with it its shadow and its margins, its absences and ellipses, a dimensional existence as we might call it. The degree to which art is ‘obedient’ – not dependent on an artist’s decisions or tastes—is manifest in the degree to which the product has dimension outside of its relation to the producer, the sense of alternative space around the image, of real time and contingency in narrative, of hinterland (147). 


‘The sacred’ is commonly a category of our perception, almost an aesthetic category; it does not capture that sense of energy, action or initiative that arises around the questions we have just been considering. Balthasar speaks of how every finite phenomenon ‘reveals the non-necessity of creaturely existence and thus the Creator’s freedom‘ (Theologik I, p.106). Something in the world of phenomena exceeds what is ‘needed’; there is no final account of how things are that confines itself to function. One of the greatest misunderstandings of popular modernity is the notion that when we have, like good Darwinians, identified the function of various developments in various life-forms, we have thereby demonstrated their necessity; when the truth is that we have not begun to answer the question, ‘Why precisely this?’ or ‘Was this the only possible resolution to an evolutionary conundrum?’ The artist’s commitment to generative excess in the world stands as a challenge to a vulgarised Darwinism: this life could be otherwise; this life could mean more than its adaptation to these particular circumstances suggests. The world ‘makes itself other’, not simply by endless environmental adjustment but by provoking the exploration and ‘re-formation’ of which art is one cardinal element. But when we have said this, have we opened the door to that which is—to paraphrase a great Platonic phrase—’in excess of being’? (155-156).



Thus when God creates the world, God acts out of a full, not an inchoate, identity. And so, what theology might have to say to the artist is not exactly that human creativity imitates divine but almost the opposite of this—that divine creativity is not capable of imitation; it is uniquely itself, a creation from nothing that realises not an immanent potential in the maker but a pure desire for life and joy in what is freely made. But though divine creation cannot be imitated, what it does is to define the nature of a love that is involved in making. It is both the gift of self and the gift of self. It bestows life unreservedly on what is other, but the life it bestows is a real selfhood, a solid reality. It is not the exercise of an arbitrary will. God’s self-identity is timeless, so that there is no sense in which God becomes more fully God in creating; our self-identity is timebound, inextricably involved with a world of interlocking causes. The most profoundly free action human beings can take in relation to their identity is to elect to discover and mould what they are in the process of ‘remaking’ the world in a love that is both immeasurably different from God’s (because it is to do with the self’s self-definition in history and material relationship) and yet endowed with some share in it (because it is always approaching self-dispossession). In the words of a really remarkable new book on theology and aesthetics (The Beauty of the Infinite by David Hart, p.251), ‘Christian talk of an analogy between the being of creatures and the being of God is something like speaking of the irreducible difference between the being of a work of art and the creative being of the artist (which is not, surely, an arbitrary relationship, any more than it is “necessary”.’ The artist’s freedom is deeply connected to God’s; but connected as something no less deeply other to God, since it is the particular way in which finite freedom comes to perfection (164-65). 


Maritain himself asserts that a work is ‘Christian’ simply to the extent that ‘love is alive’ in it . . . . The artist, as we have been reminded many times, does not need to be a saint; the point is rather that without art we should not fully see what sanctity is about. A holiness, a fullness of virtue, that was seen simply as a static mirroring of God’s perfection would in fact not be real holiness; God’s life exercises its own perfection in the imagining of a world into life, so that the artist’s imagination fills out what must be the heart of holy life for human creatures. The artist imagines a world that is both new and secretly inscribed in all that is already seen (‘There is another world but it is the same as this one’, in Rilke’s famous phrase), and in so doing imagines himself, projects an identity that is fully in motion towards its completion. In this bestowing of life on self and world, the artist uncovers the generative love that is at the centre of holiness. There is no ‘godlikeness’ without such bestowal, such ‘imagining’ into life (166-167). 


Is art for the good of itself?


David Jones, “Crucifixion and the Eucharist” (1925-26)

For leisure, I am reading Rowan Williams’ work on theological aestheticsGrace and Necessity: Reflections on Art and Love. Exploring “the relationship between Christian thought and the practice of the arts,” the former Archbishop of Canterbury draws upon the neo-scholastic (or Thomist) philosophy of Jacques Maritain (1882-1973) and two Catholic artists impacted by it: the Welsh poet and painter, David Jones (1895-1974), and the American novelist, Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964). I am mulling over Maritain’s central and controversial argument that “art is not of itself either grounded in or aimed at moral probity” (10).  Here are some other iterations of that argument:

  • “Virtuous making aims not at the good of humanity but at the good of what is made” (11).
  • “In its actual execution, art does not require good dispositions of the will (poisoners write good prose), nor does it aim to produce good dispositions of the will or indeed any particular dispositions of the will. It does not aim at delight or the desire of the good. It seeks the good of this bit of work. And the artist as artist is not called on to love God or the world or humanity, but to love what he or she is doing” (15).
  • Maritain opposes any slippage towards “the magical fallacy of which artists may be victims—that is, the notion that the artist’s proper calling is to change the world according to his or her vision” (16).
  • “The mistake that Maritain is concerned to counter is not a link between art and the good, but a reduction of the former to the latter, so that good art is simply the production of material designed to make us desire the good. Bad men make good things; but good men also make bad things, works that are intrinsically dishonest and empty, because they do not keep their eyes on the good of the work—even when they have a sound conception of what is good for the sort of beings we are. Distinguer pour unir [‘distinguishing so as to unite’] again; we only grasp the way in which art and morality connect when we know exactly why and how they are not the same. And both are damaged when we fail to do this” (40-41).

Williams pulls together “the essentials of Maritain’s aesthetic”:

(i) Art is an action of the intelligence and thus makes claims about how things are.

(ii) As such, it invites contemplation; that is, it sets out to create something that can be absorbed by intelligence, rather than a tool for use in a project larger than itself.

(iii) Thus the canons for understanding art must relate to the integrity of what is being produced, not to goals extrinsic to this process of labour.

(iv) When art engages the will by its own integrity and inner coherence, we speak of its beauty; but beauty cannot be sought as something in itself, independent of what this work demands.

(v) By engaging us in an unforeseen pattern of coherence or integrity, art uncovers relations and resonances in the field of perception that ‘ordinary’ seeing and experiencing obscure or even deny.

(vi) Thus art in one sense ‘dispossesses’ us of our habitual perception and restores to reality a dimension that necessarily escapes our conceptuality and our control. It makes the world strange.

(vii) So, finally, it opens up the dimension in which ‘things are more than they are’, ‘give more than they have’. Maritain is circumspect in spelling out the implication of this, but it is pretty clear that what this means is that art necessarily relates in some way to ‘the sacred’, to energies and activities that are wholly outside the scope of representation and instrumental reason. (36-38)

Question: Is the goal of the artist to make a good work, to produce beauty, or to improve humanity?

Confirmation Sunday: Grace and Grit


I don’t want to fear to be out, I want to love to be in; I don’t want to believe in hell but in heaven. Stating this does me no good. It is a matter of the gift of grace. Help me to give up every earthly thing for this

—Flannery O’Connor

Even though I have worshipped as an Anglican for many years at Holy Trinity Brompton in London, St. Aldate’s Church in Oxford, Church of the Resurrection in Washington, D.C., Church of the Incarnation in Dallas, and now All Saints Church in East Dallas, today I finally received the sacramental rite of confirmation. The domestic creed of Anglicanism, The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion (1571), holds that “there are two Sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel, that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord.” Confirmation belongs to a different order of sacraments:

Those five commonly called Sacraments, that is to say, Confirmation, Penance, Orders, Matrimony, and Extreme Unction, are not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel, being such as have grown partly of the corrupt following of the Apostles, partly are states of life allowed in the Scriptures; but yet have not like nature of Sacraments with Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, for that they have not any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God.

What is confirmation? Simply put, confirmation is a mature renewal of baptismal vows. The 17th century Anglican cleric, Jeremy Taylor, offers a clear definition in A Discourse on Confirmation (1663) by contrasting baptism and confirmation:

The principal thing is this: confirmation is the consummation and perfection, the corroboration and strength of baptism and baptismal grace; for in baptism we undertake to do our duty, but in confirmation we receive strength to do it; in baptism others promise for us, in confirmation we undertake for ourselves, we ease our godfathers and godmothers of their burden, and take it upon our own shoulders, together with the advantage of the prayers of the bishop and all the church made then on our behalf; in baptism we give up our names to Christ, but in confirmation we put our seal to the profession, and God puts His seal to the promise. . . . In baptism we are made innocent, in confirmation we receive the increase of the Spirit of grace; in that we are regenerated unto life, in this we are strengthened unto battle. 

As a candidate for confirmation, I reaffirmed my renunciation of evil, renewed my commitment to Jesus Christ, and committed to supporting and encouraging my local parish. When my bishop, Philip Jones—the Apostolic Vicar of the Anglican Mission in the Americas—laid his hands upon me, he said: “In this new season, Christopher, you’re not alone. The Lord wants to satisfy your hunger.” I needed to hear those words because I am tempted to dine at a table of food that does not nourish my soul. Only the feast of the Eucharist satisfies. Reflecting upon the bishop’s words, this line from the Lord’s Prayer reverberated in my ear: “Give us this day our daily bread.” As the sign of the cross was made on my forehead with holy chrism, the bishop offered this prayer of confirmation from the liturgy:

Defend, O Lord, your servant Christopher with your heavenly grace, that he may continue yours for ever, and daily increase in your Holy Spirit more and more, until he comes to your everlasting kingdom. Amen.

In his sermon, my pastor, Jay Wright, emphasized that this confirmation prayer involves two G words: “grace” and “grit.” The grace language is “heavenly grace” and “Holy Spirit.” The grit language is “continue” and “increase . . . more and more.” Borrowing from Angela Duckworth’s highly popular TED Talk on grit, where she defined it as “the power of perseverance and passion for long-term goals,” Jay said that our long-term goal of union with Christ requires grit but it is only possible through grace. Grace enables grit. And why does the Christian need grit? The liturgy of baptism answers: I am up against “Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God.” I am up against “the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God.” I am up against “all sinful desires that draw [me] from the love of God.” For all these reasons, I need to be defended, as the confirmation prayer says, and the Lord alone can defend me in this vale of tears until I come, at last, wearied but not defeated, into his everlasting kingdom. I will not forget this special rite of confirmation.

The apologetic necessity of holiness and art


Throughout his life, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) has emphasized that the Gospel will be advanced in our post-Christian world through the via pulchritudinis — or “way of beauty.” Here is a famous quotation from him:

The only really effective apologia for Christianity comes down to two arguments, namely, the saints the Church has produced and the art which has grown in her womb. Better witness is borne to the Lord by the splendor of holiness and art which have arisen in the community of believers than by the clever excuses which apologetics has come up with to justify the dark sides, which, sadly, are so frequent in the Church’s human history. If the Church is to continue to transform and humanize the world, how can she dispense with beauty in her liturgies, that beauty which is so closely linked with love and with the radiance of the Resurrection? No, Christians must not be too easily satisfied. They must make their Church into a place in which beauty — and truth — is at home. Without this the world will become the first circle of hell. . . . ‘A theologian who does not love art, poetry, music and nature can be dangerous. Blindness and deafness toward the beautiful are not incidental: they necessarily are reflected in his theology.’

Source: Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Ratzinger Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church, edited by Vittorio Messori (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987).


Rowan Williams on theological aesthetics


David Jones, “The Artist” (1927)

In 2005, Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, delivered the Clark Lectures at Trinity College, Cambridge University. For anyone interested in theological aesthetics, these lectures are worth pondering. They were published in a book entitled, Grace and Necessity: Reflections on Art and Love. 

Grace, Necessity, and Imagination: Catholic Philosophy and the Twentieth Century Artist

  • Lecture 1: Modernism and the Scholastic Revival (PDF)
  • Lecture 2: David Jones (PDF). David Jones (1895-1974) was a Welsh Catholic painter, engraver, and modernist poet. T. S. Eliot called him “one of the most distinguished writers of my generation.” W. H. Auden praised his poem In Parenthesis as “the greatest book [ever] about the Great War” and The Anathemata as one of the “truly great poems in Western Literature.”
  • Lecture 3: Flannery O’Connor (PDF). Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964) was an American Catholic novelist and regarded as one of the greatest writers of short fiction.
  • Lecture 4: God and the Artist (PDF)

Reviews of Grace and Necessity