Matthew James Roberts
MA Theology at Abilene Christian University
George MacDonald and the Theological Imagination
In this essay I offer a constructive definition of the imagination for George MacDonald: The imagination is a faculty that perceives and appropriates transcendent beauty in sensible form. This definition of MacDonald’s imagination sees ascetic obedience and aesthetic appreciation as mutually edifying. With this expanded definition, I seek to capture MacDonald’s palpable contribution to theological aesthetics that edifies the Romantic pursuit of beauty with the obedience of the Desert Fathers. First I will discuss how I arrive at my definition of the imagination: I make some constructive moves in my definition that do justice to MacDonald but must be teased from his essays on the imagination, chiefly “The Imagination: its Functions and its Culture,” and “The Fantastic Imagination.” In particular I expand on my shift from epistemology to aesthetics in my definition, from thoughts to beauty, arguing that when MacDonald often references “thoughts” he means aesthetic awakenings. Though this may seem to downplay the duty and obedience that also characterizes MacDonald, I understand these themes as underlying the cultivation and discipline of the imagination, which is to be nurtured and exercised within the larger context of discerning and seeking transcendent beauty through sensible forms. The rousing, working, and seeking human imagination then works in concert with our human duty of putting on Christ and forming closer to the image of Christ, the image of God.
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