Aquinas on the Marriage of Imagination & Our Prophetic Vocation

In recent daily meditations, we have been considering the immense role that the Via Creativa plays in Thomas Aquinas’s theology.  Being an “image of God” is not about preening ourselves in front of the mirror after all–it is about giving birth. 

In “THE CREATION OF MAN/Birth Undisturbed“, producer Natalie Lennard depicts Mary in the powerful primal moment of bringing Christ Earthside.

What do we choose to give birth to in these times of rupture and brokenness of humanity in “all our relations”?  New visions are calling to us.   Aquinas cites from the prophet Joel: “I will pour out my spirit over all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy.”  We are all called to be both mystics (lovers) and prophets (warriors). 

All this is the work of the Spirit, who, Aquinas reminds us, “is in the feminine gender” in Hebrew.  “Mary conceived,’ that is, the Spirit made her to conceive.  For that which ‘has been born in her is from the Holy Spirit.’”  Furthermore, “the Holy Spirit is the spirit of prophecy” and, citing the prophet Jeremiah, “a prophet has been consecrated to overturn, root up, destroy, and again to build and renew.” 

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963. RARE FACTS

Aquinas was very aware of the relationship between the Via Creativa and the Via Transformativa, of art as meditation and the prophetic vocation we all are called to.  “The supernatural reception proper to prophecy is to the vison of imagination.”

In his Commentary on the Psalms, Aquinas says that for the prophet, a way of speech is opened up that proceeds by way of metaphors and figures, which is the proper mode of prophets.  Numbers 12 says: ‘If someone shall have been a prophet of the Lord among you, I will appear to them in a vision, and through dreams I will speak to them.’  

Indeed, “the supernatural reception proper to prophecy is to the vison of imagination.” 

Climate prophet Greta Thunberg furiously berates world leaders at the United Nations for not doing more to tackle climate change: “How dare you?”

Prophets birth compassion.  The prophet Jeremiah shows his compassion when he says, ‘I have pain in my belly,’ meaning that his feelings are afflicted; and ‘the sense of my heart,’ meaning his mind is perturbed.  “I will not be silent,’—he will even lament outwardly, as Lamentations 2 says: ‘my eyes are spent with weeping, my stomach has been disturbed.’

The Via Negativa leads to the Via Transformativa and the Via Creativa.   Imagination plays an outsize role in the justice and healing we offer self and others.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality, pp. 462, 465, 467. See pp. 446-475.

See also, Fox, The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom for Hard Times, pp. 109-136.

Banner Image: The Shekhinah, Holy Spirit, or “Cosmic Rose.” engraving pictured in the book Amphitheatrum sapientiae aeternae by Heinrich Khunrath, c. 1595. The triangle near the top contains a tetractys of the Tetragrammaton (Hebrew name of God). The five large Hebrew letters near the red jagged outline form the Pentagrammaton (allegorical form of the Hebrew name of Jesus). Wikimedia Commons

Queries for Contemplation

Do you recognize how “metaphors and figures” are “the proper modes of the prophets”?  Give some examples.  Does that apply to your own prophetic vocation as well?

Recommended Reading

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

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

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6 thoughts on “Aquinas on the Marriage of Imagination & Our Prophetic Vocation”

  1. Avatar

    Putting ‘metaphors and figures’ aside for the moment, would St. Thomas Aquinas not implore that we take, hold onto and enact the simple messages and instructions given to us by Lord Jesus the Christ? Is that not the role and duty of the Prophet first and foremost? — BB.

  2. Avatar
    Jeanette Metler

    For myself, metaphors, figures, shapes, forms and colors are a Sacred Pathway of seeing, hearing and intuitively knowing the deeper and often hidden truths within the mysteries of life and death. It’s the language of the Divine Spirit communicating with humanity within the creation of the all and the everything, offering revelations and insights into diverse expressions of the reality of all that is; both in visible and invisible realms. The gifts of intuition, imagination and creativity are given all, to assist us in learning to understand this sacred language.

    Mystics, prophets, artists are one’s whom have awakened consciously to these gifts given and in doing so have understood the Divine Spirit’s sacred ways of communicating with humanity; that offer not only comfort, consolation and wise counsel; but also truth-telling that penetrates deeply the heart, mind and soul, which often causes humanity to consciously awaken to the mystery and reality of our interconnectedness, interrelationships, and interdependencies with the all and the everything, both in the natural world and the spiritual realms.

    Through this sacred language we learn how to lift the veils of the illusion of separation, and we begin to awaken to the mystery and reality of our Oneness with. As humanity begins to converge with this Sacred Truth, we learn how to be and live in a greater measure of balance and harmony, using our co-creative gifts given for the beauty and goodness of the whole.

  3. Avatar

    Today’s message about Thomas Aquinas and metaphors reminded me of a book I read long ago: Mind Your Metaphors: A Critique of Language in the Bishops’ Pastoral Letters on the Role of Women by Maureen Aggeler, RSCJ, 1991. In it she references Bernard Lonergan’s book Insight: A Study of Human Understanding. He says “The image, drawn from the level of human sense experience, provides the data that, through the questioning spirit, gives rise to the insight. This is the pivotal moment of the dynamic movement to understanding. Focusing on metaphor is a way of acknowledging the centrality of image in insight. The image as symbol constitutes a heuristic technique. It anticipates what is unfolding toward a new understanding.”

    Personally, I have had a voice dream that used the metaphor ‘Iris’, which led me to further research which led to greater insight.

  4. Avatar

    The two enclosed videos in today’s DM of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Greta Thunberg beautifully capture the Passion for Justice of two of our contemporary prophets! They inspire us!
    The Spirit of Love, Truth, Peace & Justice are truly Alive and Present within All of Us in our own unique hearts/lives/Souls with one another. There have been many Spiritual Warriors who have martyred their lives, including Jesus, in human history whose Spirits are still Alive in the spiritual realms, and who still march/evolve with Us on Our Eternal Spiritual Journeys towards GOD’S Queendom~Kingdom of LOVING ETERNAL DIVERSE ONENESS in All Spiritual realms of Our CO-CREATING~EVOLVING COSMOS….

  5. Avatar
    Martina Nicholson

    I have been reading a book about “Good death”, about 20 years old, now. The whole medical ethics of doctors’ and hospitals’ care started with Karen Quinlan, and Nancy Cruz. The NCCB really helped make it more clear, the autonomy of the patient, the choices for treatment, and the right to refuse extraordinary care. The concept of a healthcare proxy, and an advanced directive arose from their work. We owe a lot to the Catholic tradition of ethical decision-making, and some of the basics of that is from St. Thomas Aquinas. His constant reiteration that life is a gift, life is a good; that blessing is what God does, as, in God “we live and move and have our being”. We have had time to recognize that it is crazy to leave the family out of the decision-making, and some court effort to show that a person’s family knows what they would have wanted much better than a stranger, for the most part. When Lazarus was still in the tomb, Jesus said his “guts were wrenched.” Gut-wrenching is more visceral than “upset stomach”. Heart-wrenching and gut-wrenching both are signs of compassion. We are learning to become more emotionally whole, and more able to describe what we feel. This is truly a help! Thank you!

  6. Avatar

    Intuition speaks in Mystical Revelation, imagery, bursts of insight, nudges, dreams, yearnings, and so much more

    Every mystic is intuitively attuned to diving into metaphors, “tasting” and sometimes deeply affirming and living in and through them. That’s what Jesus and prophets call us to do with “Living in Christ”.

    Each Mystically-centered religion has its own nuanced insights encoded in their traditional metaphors. That’s why it’s often best for a mystic to unfold and walk first and primarily in their own religion, to get the deepest, lifetime-embedded insights and to incorporate them fully into their spiritual lives, their mystical Path.

    The Bible has layers upon layers of metaphors, including a core “high theology” (non-dualistic monotheism) of Mystical Truths, but it’s hinted at in code words. The Mystical Revelation and Path have been hidden from outsiders behind veiled hints and poetic/artistic metaphors.
    Mystical metaphors can be amazingly insightful, but when they’re TOO subtle, too guarded by insider “priest-mystics” such as in the Bible, that ambiguity can, and often has, led to non-mystics such as Martin Luther blithely, fatally missing them, misinterpreting the texts and erasing mysticism and its insights from an entire branch of Christianity.

    the gilded mystical metaphor.

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