Body Positive: The Role of the Imaginatio in the Theology of Thomas Aquinas

The concept of imaginatio in Aquinas’ philosophy plays an important role in constructing what might be understood as an embodied theology, a body-positive account of the indispensability of human corporeality in the act of knowing and, thereby, the reception of revelation. Taken from this perspective, the body should be understood as the requisite receptor of revelation from both the material world and the divine essence. As such, Aquinas’ imaginatio might best be regarded as a move toward a re-incarnated theology, one which highlights not only the value of the human body, but also the condescension of the divine essence. I develop my argument by first situating Aquinas’ understanding of imaginatio within the broader context of the development of imagination in the history of thought. Second, I provide an extended exposition of the role and function of the imaginatio in Aquinas’ theory of knowledge as proposed in the Summa Theologiae.6 Third, I argue that the imaginatio in Aquinas’ thought highlights a theology that 1) stresses the significance of the body while at the same time 2) emphasizing the role of grace on the part of the divine essence as not only indispensable to human knowing but also an act of divine condescension in its willingness to accommodate human embodiment. I will conclude by drawing attention to the creative merit of Aquinas’ conception of the imaginatio and its significance for theology today.

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