, , , , , , ,

Recently, I presented for discussion the paper “Truth and the Christian Imagination”, by DC Schindler, for a gathering of Fordham University graduate and doctoral students as part of a “Communio” discussion group.  This paper can be found at the Communio website here.  In my presentation, I took the occasion to note that the “Imagination” is represented by Schindler, at least in my reading of it, as a distinct, third faculty apart from the scholastic bi-partite division of intellect and will.  I had for some time held the Augustinian idea that as the Trinity stands as the ground of Being, and as there is a triune unity of transcendentals which are co-extensive with Being, that humans as made in image and likeness should exhibit this triune structure with respect to their faculties which are receptors and interpreters of “being”.  Certainly Plato held this indirectly when he granted a third, “spirited” faculty to man, and Augustine labeled this third faculty “memory”, and placed a distinct emphasis on the relation of memory to the theological virtue of hope (more on this later).  In my trinitarian thinking, it made sense that if goodness corresponded to the will and truth to the intellect, and their respective perfections were charity and faith, there had to be a third faculty which was distinct from intellect and will which corresponded to the transcendental beauty and what I saw as its perfection in hope.  It also made sense that the lack of a corresponding faculty in the scholastic tradition was largely indicative of the short shrift given to beauty, which was simply seen as a special manifestation of the good but essentially identical.  I never found such a view convincing, especially after reading the early Church Fathers like Maximus, Dionysius, the Gregories of Nyssa and Nazienzen, Augustine, etc.  The beautiful always seemed to me quite distinct from intellect and will and yet simultaneously the bridge between the two, since it seemed to correspond with both without collapsing into an absolute identity with either.

However, for me, Augustine’s term “memory” didn’t seem quite right, though its relation to hope remained crucial, and yet what this faculty might be named more distinctly was hard to say, at least until I read Schindler’s essay and the term “imagination” as he used it seemed to fit the bill.  I also recalled this was a term employed by Peter Kreeft in a different context in which he described the imagination as the ground for our perception of reality and the space within which we do our thinking and our choosing (in agreement with Schindler’s account).  I couldn’t agree more.  And yet, the question remains how the “imagination” is decidedly distinct from the intellect, since they seem to represent a mental operation.

It seems to me that the “imagination” deserves recognition as a third distinct faculty for three reasons: it is notionally distinct from yet operative in both the intellect and will, it has aspects of both desire (will) and reason (intellect), and it proposes as “image” to the intellect and will the fulfillment of both.  The imagination as the faculty for Beauty is precisely what allows us to hope.  One could argue that goodness does as well, but I think when we hope for “the good” we are doing so qua beautiful, or goodness under the aspect of beauty, since they are a unity and co-extensive with being.  So, since we recognize beauty as a sort of “partial seeing”, meaning it is mysterious (inexhaustible epiphany), you might say that beauty corresponds to the virtue of hope (longing for things partially seen but not fully realized), and is what allows the will to be perfected in charity and the intellect in faith, and furthermore it is the ground for their perfections while being operative in both.

In a bit of common sense analysis, a further assertion could be made that the locus of the imaginative faculty is the human heart, a point I’ve long held and which is mentioned explicitly in Schindler’s article.  Certainly if the will corresponds to the “appetitive” (the stomach) and the intellect to the “rational” (the head), the “imaginative” point between the two and which unites the two is precisely the “heart”.  It is no coincidence that the poet remarks that hope springs eternal from the heart.

There remains a reductionist danger, as is often the case, of collapsing beauty into an identity with either goodness (what attracts) or truth (what is intelligible), but that is precisely the difficulty with maintaining distinctions between what is an essential unity, and the fact that Beauty serves as bridge between the intellect and will.  It is the same problem faced in speaking of the Trinity, and yet any reduction of the trinity or the persons united therein is recognized as heretical thinking.  Beauty cannot be reduced into into either of the other transcendentals any more than hope can be reduced into faith or charity despite their theological unity.  Hence, one could understand my objection to many ill-conceived reductions of Beauty.

In the end, these points can be summarily expressed in a trinity of trinities from faculty to transcendental object to theological perfection.  I think if we recognize three distinct theological virtues, it makes perfect sense that there are three faculties of man which correspond to them, and thus to the transcendentals which they correlate to.  Will (faculty) = Goodness (object) = Charity (perfection); Intellect = Truth = Faith; Imagination = Beauty = Hope.

All of this is not so much an apologetic as an intuition which I believe, under the right mind, could be fleshed out into an apologetic.

Insights, thoughts or comments?