The Spiritual Senses: Perceiving God in Western Christianity (CUP, 2011)

Edited by: Paul L. Gavrilyuk, University of St Thomas, Minnesota & Sarah Coakley,University of Cambridge

December 2011,  $99.00 (C)

Is it possible to see, hear, touch, smell and taste God? How do we understand the biblical promise that the ‘pure in heart’ will ‘see God’? Christian thinkers as diverse as Origen of Alexandria, Bonaventure, Jonathan Edwards and Hans Urs von Balthasar have all approached these questions in distinctive ways by appealing to the concept of the ‘spiritual senses’. In focusing on the Christian tradition of the ‘spiritual senses’, this book discusses how these senses relate to the physical senses and the body, and analyzes their relationship to mind, heart, emotions, will, desire and judgement. The contributors illuminate the different ways in which classic Christian authors have treated this topic, and indicate the epistemological and spiritual import of these understandings. The concept of the ‘spiritual senses’ is thereby importantly recovered for contemporary theological anthropology and philosophy of religion.

Table of Contents

Introduction Paul Gavrilyuk and Sarah Coakley
1. Origen of Alexandria Mark J. McInroy
2. Gregory of Nyssa Sarah Coakley
3. Augustine Matthew R. Lootens
4. Gregory the Great George Demacopoulos
5. Pseudo-Dionysis the Areopagite Paul L. Gavrilyuk
6. Maximus the Confessor Frederick D. Aquino
7. Alexander of Hales Boyd Taylor Coolman
8. Thomas Gallus Boyd Taylor Coolman
9. Bonaventure Gregory F. LaNave
10. Thomas Aquinas Richard Cross
11. Late medieval mystics Bernard McGinn
12. Nicholas of Cusa Garth Green
13. Jonathan Edwards and his Puritan predecessors William J. Wainwright
14. John Wesley Mark T. Mealey
15. Hars Urs von Balthasar and Karl Rahner Mark J. McInroy
16. Analytic philosophers of religion William J. Abraham

“Eckhart’s Body” Jeffrey Cooper

Eckhart’s Body: Tracing the evolution of a chiasmic spirituality
by Cooper, Jeffrey, Ph.D., Graduate Theological Union, 2011, 246 pages; AAT 3459527

Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation depends on two basic contentions concerning the spirituality of the late medieval Dominican Meister Eckhart. First, his spirituality is rooted in incarnatio continua ; incarnation as an on-going and participatory event for all humankind. Second, Eckhart’s spiritual vision is insistently non-dualistic, as he complicates binary conceptual systems. These two contentions form the foundation for my interpretation of the role Eckhart provides for the physical body in the realm of spiritual experience. Given these contentions then my primary premise is as follows: In order to understand any given spirituality one must first come to terms with how the physical body is understood in that system. For Eckhart that body is conceived as fluid rather than fixed.

Chapter one of this study introduces the Eckhartian image of the “disfigured body” and lays out the theoretical framework of the project. Chapter two utilizes the socio-historical thought of R.I. Moore, concerning the persecuting society, as well as the anthropological insights of René Girard, especially Mimetic Theory and persecuting texts, as a means to construct a concept of the medieval body as primarily deceptive and dualistic. Chapter three then applies such phenomenological terms as “Chiasm” (Maurice Merleau-Ponty), “embodiment paradigm” (Thomas Csordas), and the “dys-appearing body” (Drew Leder) as a means for providing a lens through which to read the body in Eckhart’s texts as a dynamic “Lived Body.” Chapter four seeks to examine how this understanding of embodiment was significantly influenced by the cloistered nuns and beguines with whom Eckhart engaged in ministry. Chapter five further develops this influence by examining the role of the suffering, humble body as the “disfigured body” in Eckhart. Finally, chapter six offers a definition of Chiasmic Spirituality and a contemporary sermon to demonstrate this spirituality at work.

Overall this dissertation seeks to make two contributions: (1) It demonstrates Eckhartian Chiasm as a new hermeneutical key for reading his texts, and (2) It seeks to redeem a positive role for the physical body in spiritual experience and spirituality scholarship.

“Beauty and/as theology” David S. Liptay

Beauty and/as theology: The theological aesthetics of Hans Urs von Balthasar
by Liptay, David S., Ph.D., Syracuse University, 2010, 235 pages; AAT 3459357
Abstract (Summary)

In this dissertation I explore the idea of a ‘theology of beauty’ in the work of the Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, and highlight how Balthasar has tried to recover an aesthetic dimension in theology which he maintains has been eclipsed–particularly in the (post-)modern era. Balthasar elaborates this through a discussion of several figures, and I look at his treatment of the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins in an effort to show how Hopkins’ poetry (on Balthasar’s reading) can be considered at once aesthetical and theological: i.e., a ‘theological aesthetic’. In light of this, I provide a critical evaluation of Balthasar’s project, and consider its implications for, and potential contributions to, theological discourse.

“Senses of Beauty” by Natalie Michelle Carnes

“Senses of Beauty” by Natalie Michelle Carnes, Ph.D., Duke University, 2011, 350 pages; AAT 3452963; Proquest document ID: 2387223001;

Abstract (Summary)

Against the dominant contemporary options of usefulness and disinterestedness, this dissertation attempts to display that beauty is better–more fully, richly, generatively–described with the categories of fittingness and gratuity. By working through texts by Gregory of Nyssa, this dissertation fills out what fittingness and gratuity entail–what, that is, they do for beauty-seekers and beauty-talkers. After the historical set-up of the first chapter, chapter 2 considers fittingness and gratuity through Gregory’s doctrine of God because Beauty, for Gregory, is a name for God. That God is radically transcendent transforms (radicalizes) fittingness and gratuity away from a strictly Platonic vision of how they might function. Chapter 3 extends such radicalization by considering beauty in light of Christology and particularly in light of the Christological claims to invisibility, poverty, and suffering. In a time when beauty is wending its way back from an academic exile enforced by its associations with the ‘bourgeois,’ such considerations re-present beauty as deeply intertwined with ugliness and horror. Chapter 4 asks how it is a person might perceive such beauty, which calls for pneumatological and anthropological reflections on Gregory’s doctrine of the spiritual senses. The person who sees beauty rightly, for Gregory, is the person who is wounded by love.

***At the request of the author, this graduate work is not available for purchase.***