Aquinas on Imagination and the Prophet

Continuing our discussion on “art as meditation, the way of the prophets,” Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church, connects imagination to the prophetic role when he writes: “The proper mode of prophets is to speak by way of metaphors and figures.” The prophet Jeremiah declared “I will not be silent” and spoke from “the depth of his feelings and a disturbed heart and mind.” 

“Your tears won’t save the world” Photo by Tash Berbank, Parliament Square, London, 2019. Flickr

Furthermore, “the prophet makes known, announces…. An imaginary vision is also involved [in being a prophet]; and with respect to this Christ did have a likeness to the prophets insofar as he was a wayfarer and was able to form various images with his imagination… Perfection of the imagination is needed for prophecy…God who infuses the gifts of prophecy, can improve the constitution of the organ of the imaginative powers….”  

He points out that “Two things concur in effecting prophetic revelation: the illumination of the mind and the forming of the image in the imaginative power.”

Who is a prophet for Aquinas? Referring us to Ecclesiasticus 49, he comments: “A prophet has been consecrated to overturn, root up, destroy, and again to build and renew.”  He says that prophecy takes place in dreams and in visions and affects the imagination—but he says something similar about the artist who is inspired by the Holy Spirit who “hovers over the mind of the artist at work.”  He adds: “The Holy Spirit is the spirit of prophecy, as Joel says (2:28): ‘I shall pour out my spirit upon all flesh and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.’”  The prophets are artists. 

The prophet is about justice and injustice and carries “two excellent gifts,” namely prophecy and “the gift of justice.”  Indeed, “the object of the prophet’s hate was injustice…Now hatred of a person’s evil is equivalent to love of a person’s good” and therefore is an expression of love. 

Martin Luther King, Jr., delivers the “I Have a Dream” speech, August 28, 1963. Wikipedia

For Aquinas all cultures and all religions have their prophets.  “At no time have there ever been persons lacking the spirit of prophecy, not indeed for the declaration of any new doctrine of faith, but for the direction of human acts.  At all times humanity was divinely instructed about what they were to do….”  

Prophets needs courage and even “boldness so that they will not be afraid to speak the truth because of the opponents of the truth.”  Prophets “announce” which is to say “’Shout!’  Isaiah 58 says: ‘Shout, do not stop.  Raise your voice like a trumpet!’”   

See Matthew Fox, Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality, pp. 448-467.
Banner image: “Homeless Jesus,” replica of “Jesus the Homeless” statue made by Ontario artist Timothy Schmalz, donated to King’s University College at Western University Canada by Christ the King University Parish. Photographer unknown.

“Rise for Climate, San Francisco March, September 8, 2018.” Photo by Bob Dass. Flickr

Queries for Contemplation

Reflect deeply on your experience of art—music, stories, ritual, visual arts, architecture, etc—and how these encounters awaken your sense of justice and resistance to injustice.

How do prophets of our time use music or rhetorical discourse to awaken people to justice and compassion?  Reflect deeply on words of Martin Luther King, jr. or musicians who arouse you to prophetic action.

Recommended Reading

Matthew Fox renders Thomas Aquinas accessible by interviewing him and thus descholasticizing him.  He also translated many of his works such as Biblical commentaries never before in English (or Italian or German of French).  He  gives Aquinas a forum so that he can be heard in our own time. He presents Thomas Aquinas entirely in his own words, but in a form designed to allow late 20th-century minds and hearts to hear him in a fresh way.  The result is exciting!

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4 thoughts on “Aquinas on Imagination and the Prophet”

  1. Avatar

    Hello. It’s great to find you as I bloom anew heading towards my 61st birthday. I do not believe in Fall/ Redemption. I do believe in creation spirituality. I am a CS. I just didn’t know until I found this website 48 hours there was a whole world of all of you that are just like me. This is a great comfort to me, especially today.
    Much love.
    Josephine Ludwig

    1. Gail Ransom

      Dear Josephine, Welcome to the CS tribe! You are now among people who have shared the shock of recognition when experiencing Creation Spirituality for the first time. Yes, there is a clarity and inclusiveness that rings true to our human souls, and to the rest of Creation. We look forward to reflecting on future meditations with you.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the DM Team

  2. Avatar

    These are beautiful meditations, and I love the art you choose to illustrate them. Could you please credit the artists? When I saw the sculpture at the top of today’s meditation, I thought “Oh good, I will be reminded of the name of that sculptor, who I think is brilliant,” but could not find a credit for it. I am a artist myself, and am delighted when my art is meaningful enough to people that they want to reference it, but I do appreciate it when they give me credit. Thank you!

    1. Phila Hoopes

      Hello Janet…and thank you for your kind words. We believe strongly in crediting the artists, also! If you look at the end of the essay, where the sources are listed, you will see the line beginning “Banner Image” with a little information about the work and the name of the artist. Let us know if you have any further questions!
      Phila Hoopes
      Blog Coordinator

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