"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Monday, April 9, 2012

Perceiving God through the Spiritual Senses

Pace the title, there is actually much in this book of interest to Eastern Christians; many figures who are so important to Eastern Christian spirituality and theology are examined here, including Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Maximus the Confessor, and Pseudo-Dionysius. The beauty of these figures, of course--and others whom one could list--is that they do not belong exclusively to either East or West, but are rightly claimed by both. One editor is a Western Christian (Coakley--an Anglican cleric and important theologian), and the other an Orthodox theologian and deacon in the OCA whom I met last year at the wonderful ASEC conference at Ohio State. Both have brought together a collection examining the role of the body in general, and the senses in particular, in the Christian life--an effort that puts one in mind of another book, published in 2006 (and reviewed in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies), by the Syriac specialist and Orthodox theologian Susan Ashbrook Harvey: Scenting Salvation: Ancient Christianity and the Olfactory Imagination.

Sarah Coakley and Paul Gavrilyuk, eds., The Spiritual Senses: Perceiving God in Western Christianity (Cambridge UP, 2011), 336pp.

About this book, the publisher tells us:
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.

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