“The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”
–Alfred North Whitehead

Divine Imagination

I’ve been having a very stimulating discussion with a Christian theologian named Jason Michael McCann. He has held up a mirror to my ideas and allowed me to see them in a new light. His criticisms are fair and I hope we will each benefit from continued exposure to what may turn out to be radically different readings of the Christian tradition, as well as differing ways of expressing the Christ-impulse at our particular moment in history. I think it is already evident that JMM and I share similar perspectives, but for better or worse, my spiritual speculations and interpretations are unmoored from the venerable doctrines of any particular Creed or Council. I am not very systematic, either, and so to call any of what I do here on this blog “theology” is perhaps misleading. There may be some philosophy here, but I know for a fact there are many analytically-trained philosophers who would dismiss the expressions of my love of wisdom as poetic nonsense. I’m less interested in theo-logic, or any attempt to rationalize or justify a transcendent God, than I am in expressing what Raimon Panikkar has called the “cosmotheandric principle.”

In short, the cosmotheandric principle suggests that no account of reality can be complete unless it recognizes the interdependence of the universe, the divine, and the human. Christianity speaks to me not as a theology, but as an anthropology. This is not because, like Feuerbach, I think God is merely a human projection or ideal. Rather, Christianity is the natural culmination of anthropology, a lotus still sprouting from the murky soil of human civilization. And humanity is similarly the product of a cosmic longing for what Teilhard de Chardin called “personalization.” To continue the Teilhardian terminology: Cosmogenesis is anthropogenesis, and anthropogenesis is Christogenesis. (Incidently, Paul writes in Galatians 6:14 that the world itself was crucified upon the cross, implying that Christ’s Resurrection is also the creation of a new cosmos.)

Perhaps the primary difference thus far uncovered between JMM and I concerns the role of imagination, which is not, for me, unrelated to the nature of the divine-human relationship. I dwell on the spiritual significance of imagination in what follows.

“My imagination is a monastery, and I am its monk,” writes John Keats in a letter to Shelly. Blake went so far as to call imagination “the Divine Body of lord Jesus, blessed for ever.” Blake saw clearly that the old quarrel between Plato and Homer was alive and well: the abstract philosophy of “Newton’s single vision” was in his day “warring in enmity against Imagination.”

Why is imagination so important? Because it constantly challenges the intellect’s attempts to systematize experience. A deadened imagination lead the Pharisees to place the letter of the law before the Spirit (Mark 2:3-28). Not even stone tablets can survive the fiery caldron of imagination that lights the hearts of the faithful. “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6), which is not to say that scripture should not be read and respected. It is just a reminder that the Spirit’s revelations are ongoing, and that the doctrines codified by learned councils must be balanced by the poetic prayers and visions of mystics.

I believe the incarnation of the Word is an ongoing historical event that is re-making the world from the inside out. Human beings are participants in this divine-cosmic drama, and there is no higher form of worship than divine imitation (humble imitation!). Our task is to imaginatively body-forth an earth whose economy runs on love instead of envy and hate. Not closer adherence to law, but a transformation of the human heart-mind is required.



5 responses to “Divine Imagination”

  1. homophilosophicus Avatar

    Now we are talking! This post, be assured, has elicited a wide smile over here in Ireland where the constant driving rain gives little reason for such displays of emotion. You have my complete and full agreement on the lion’s share of what you have written here. Your understanding that “Cosmo-genesis is anthropo-genesis, and anthropo-genesis is Christo-genesis,” demonstrates a keen understanding of Christianity. Whilst not being a great supporter of Evangelicalism, you will forgive me this once for quoting scripture? In the mythological chapters of Genesis this idea is expressed beautifully in the act of Creation (Gen. 1-2). Man, qua humanity, is the culmination and crown of the universal creation. The message of the Gospel is that Christ (the Logos) is made perfect man, that man might become [like] God (St. Athanasius).

    One tiny problem is your reading of Mark 2. Your conclusion is valid, but not from the text. The “death of the author” buys no credit here. The author of Mark understood the “Spirit” to be the particular Spirit of God as distinct from the Spirit of People. As did St. Paul. The ‘letter’ is not a reference to the Gospel but the Torah (Mosaic Law), and therefore the context into which you have shifted this does not fit. This is not to say that I do not wholly agree with your thoughts on this matter – I do. Human imagination is one of those interior faculties which drive human intellect beyond the ‘natural’ to the ‘super-natural.’ Thus I can fully accept your thesis that Imagination is vital in transcending the physical reality and experience of material life.

    “I believe the Incarnation of the Word is an ongoing historical event that is re-making the world from the inside out.” Yes. This is a perfect articulation of my own credal faith (re. Athanasius, Aquinas and Rahner). Yet I would not hold that we have to imagine a world of love into being. Rather I would hold that such exists; imagination, faith and natural reason act as pointers to that transcendent reality.

    Thank you very much for this one Matthew.

  2. John Anngeister Avatar

    Matthew, I would have loved to see mention of Coleridge here with Blake and Shelley and Keats. I know he is important to you, as he is to me.

    I think Coleridge was inspired by a realization similar to one I had after reading Kant – that the German had made reference to a key constructive role for imagination (Einbildungskraft) in the economy of human consciousness, but had been tantalizingly obscure in his critical analysis of what he called ‘the synthesis of imagination’

    See especially Sec. 3 of the Transcendental Deduction in the 1st ed, where Kant seems to define the ‘understanding’ (Verstand) as “The unity of apperception in relation to the synthesis of imagination”

    Anyone caring for Coleridge must know that the poet-philosopher toiled much over these concepts.

    Thanks for putting this up, and glad you and Jason have met. Hope I may contribute. You have a whole pan of fish to fry already, but ultimately the subject will have to address the insights of Kant – if not Coleridge (with all due respect to Aquinas, Rahner, Panikkar and Teilhard).

  3. thomasmatus Avatar

    Matt, I’ve enjoyed your recent entries, even if I haven’t sent a comment. It is good that you are connecting with the thought of Raimon Panikkar, who just passed away. I knew him well, and saw him last in 2006. He was also close to Bede Griffiths. Your reading is converging with Bede’s: Owen Barfield, the English Romantic poets, etc., to which Bede added the medieval mystics and ultimately the vedic tradition (Upanishads etc.), as did of course Panikkar. Try examining the Christian underpinning of Panikkar and Griffiths, as a peaceful alternative to all kinds of fundamentalism.

  4. bjm Avatar

    Gives my heart great pleasure. Thank you for your view Matthew, and thank your guests for equally compelling remarks.


  5. […] from:  October 22, 2010 by Matthew David […]

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