Aquinas on Spirit as Feminine, Creativity, & God as ‘Artist of Artists’

We continue our meditation on the proto-feminism of Thomas Aquinas. His emphasis on art and creativity as a spiritual path is part of his appreciation of the Feminine side of Divinity. 

In “Inspiration,” the man appears to be listening to an unseen presence hovering over him, as he begins his art. Image by Jean-Honoré Fragonard. Wikimedia Commons.

His teachings on the Via Creativa are without parallel and inspired Meister Eckhart, Mechtild of Magdeburg, Julian of Norwich (the first woman to write a book in English) as well as Dante himself. One of Dante’s favorite teachers actually studied with Aquinas at the University of Paris.

Spirit in Hebrew is feminine (ruah)—a point that Aquinas makes on several occasions. He also says, “the same Spirit who hovered over the waters at the beginning of creation, hovers over the mind of the artist at work.” Where the Spirit is at work, creativity is at work. 

Jung said that creativity comes from “the realm of the mothers.”  Whether one is female or male, the birthing archetype applies to us all.

How do you KNOW God wants you to be an artist? Great question! Video by Matt Tommey Mentoring. 

Aquinas recognizes God as Artist—and by extension we, born in God’s image and likeness—are all artists. He declares that “God is an artist and the universe is God’s work of art.” And again, “all natural things are produced by divine art and can rightly be called God’s work of art.” Indeed, God is “the Artist of artists.”

Aquinas draws the following conclusion from the idea that nature is God’s work of art: “All artists love what they give birth to—parents love their children; poets love their poems; craftspeople love their handiwork. How then could God hate a single thing since God is the artist of everything?”   

An artist depicts God’s art at Oak Creek, Sedona AZ. Photo by Thomas Dwyer on Flickr.

God takes delight in us just as the artist takes delight in his or her paintings, poetry, writing, dance, pottery, filmmaking, and playwriting. For Aquinas, as for Hildegard who taught that God and creation are related as lovers, there is a love relationship between God and nature. Aquinas says: “God’s spirit is said to move over the waters as the will of the artist moves over the material to be shaped by their art, [and] the love of artists moves over the materials of their art, in order that out of them artists might form their work.”

He exegetes the biblical phrase “God saw that it [the universe] was good” to signify that God is pleased with creation, “just as all artists take satisfaction in their art.” 

Adapted from Matthew Fox, The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom for Hard Times, pp.52-55.

See also: Fox, Creativity: Where the Divine and the Human Meet.

And Fox, Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality, pp, 248, 65f., 245-382.

And Fox, Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic…and Beyond.

To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner Image: The Banksy Tunnel in the UK showcases the work of urban street artists. Photo by Chris Kelly on Flickr.

Queries for Contemplation

How does it feel to be called “God’s work of art”? Compare it, for example, to being called a “sinner,” a “wretch,” a “worm,” or an object of judgment and wrath by a punitive father God in the sky. Do you consider yourself—and those you meet—”God’s work of art”?

Recommended Reading

The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom for Hard Times

A stunning spiritual handbook drawn from the substantive teachings of Aquinas’ mystical/prophetic genius, offering a sublime roadmap for spirituality and action.
Foreword by Ilia Delio.
“What a wonderful book!  Only Matt Fox could bring to life the wisdom and brilliance of Aquinas with so much creativity. The Tao of Thomas Aquinas is a masterpiece.”
–Caroline Myss, author of Anatomy of the Spirit

Creativity: Where the Divine and Human Meet

Because creativity is the key to both our genius and beauty as a species but also to our capacity for evil, we need to teach creativity and to teach ways of steering this God-like power in directions that promote love of life (biophilia) and not love of death (necrophilia). Pushing well beyond the bounds of conventional Christian doctrine, Fox’s focus on creativity attempts nothing less than to shape a new ethic.
“Matt Fox is a pilgrim who seeks a path into the church of tomorrow.  Countless numbers will be happy to follow his lead.” –Bishop John Shelby Spong, author, Rescuing the Bible from FundamentalismLiving in Sin

Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality

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 teaching of Aquinas comes through will a fullness and an insight that has never been present in English before and [with] a vital message for the world today.” ~ Fr. Bede Griffiths (Afterword).
Foreword by Rupert Sheldrake

Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic–and Beyond

Julian of Norwich lived through the dreadful bubonic plague that killed close to 50% of Europeans. Being an anchoress, she ‘sheltered in place’ and developed a deep wisdom that she shared in her book, Showings, which was the first book in English by a woman. A theologian way ahead of her time, Julian develops a feminist understanding of God as mother at the heart of nature’s goodness. Fox shares her teachings in this powerful and timely and inspiring book.
“What an utterly magnificent book. The work of Julian of Norwich, lovingly supported by the genius of Matthew Fox, is a roadmap into the heart of the eco-spiritual truth that all life breathes together.”  –Caroline Myss
Now also available as an audiobook HERE.

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5 thoughts on “Aquinas on Spirit as Feminine, Creativity, & God as ‘Artist of Artists’”

  1. Avatar

    There have been many Saints, Sages and Realized Yogi’s in the present and past that discuss our being ‘born in the image and likeness of God’ and St. Aquinas is but one in that group. Until we fully realized and see that ‘truth’ in ourselves, we will then be able then to see it in others. It is hard to recognize the image and likeness of God in ourselves, since we do not ‘act it out’ in everyday life in faith as if we hold and exercise that power in all humility. Most others do not as well and we then only give them the superficial value that they ‘put on display’ for the world and visa versa. Until we see the ‘image of God’ within ourselves and others, we need to constantly remind ourselves that we are all worthy of each others love and all belong. — BB.

  2. Avatar
    Jeanette Metler

    Thank you so much Mathew and the DM team, for today’s message, which was profoundly synchronistic and relative to me on a very personal level; validating and confirming the Holy Spirit’s movement in my life right now.

    I have begun what’s called Art Journaling, which is a combination of mixed media, collage, writing and meditation; to help me navigate, process and also assist my Mother going through the transitional journey of life, death and rebirth. Through this artistic process, I have personally experienced and encountered the comfort, consolation and wisdom counsel of the Divine Mother; intuited in imaginative and creative new ways.

    She is teaching me to intuitively understand the language of color, shapes, forms, imagery and metaphore, combining my love of art, writing and reflective contemplation, as well as how to internally process all the feelings, thoughts and memories that are arising to the surface; in creative and imaginative new ways.

    This has become deep soul work in which I find myself releasing and letting go of many things, that have lay hidden within my unconscious part of self; which are now being revealed, in order to be healed. I also find myself reclaiming lost parts of myself; actually growing within the situation of learning to befriend Lady Death, in ways I have not experienced before.

  3. Avatar

    YES!!! We’re All Unique Beautiful Sacred Works of Art of Our LOVING SOURCE~CREATOR~ARTIST created to Love, Serve, & Create Joyfully in Our Own Unique Way
    with-in GOD’S FLOWING SPIRIT of DIVINE LOVE in Loving Diverse ONENESS with All Spiritual Beings in Our Sacred Co-Creating~Evolving multidimensional-multiverse COSMOS, especially in our Beautiful Sacred Mother Earth and all Her creatures and graceful abundance, in the Sacred Process of the ETERNAL PRESENT MOMENT….

  4. Avatar

    Women are used to being considered “works of art,” since they’re relentlessly judged in the unsparing court of male assessment.
    A man may claim his Soul-glory as a work of “God’s Art” and feel comfortable in that assurance, but a woman is CONSTANTLY told she is inherently LESS and must be therefore feel guilty of deficiency, body and soul, down to her deepest level of self-esteem.
    She’s told she must constantly try to be beautiful ENOUGH for a man, and always be properly admiring, subservient, saintly-humble, and generously all-giving to all her male masters, never truly owning her ideas/music/artistic-creations/equal pay/recognition in her own name. Her art and voice may be both patronizingly belittled and condescendingly “owned” (stolen) by men. THEY decide her body/mind/soul’s value. And they own it.

    For a woman to truly allow herself to “feel like a work of God’ s art” in our society, she has to access and claim an inner strength and deep confidence that men say she doesn’t, and shouldn’t, have.

    Mystical Revelation dramatically unveils women’s inherent Soul-beauty and equality.
    But a woman walking in her “Beauty of God’s-Art” is not allowed.

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