As Kindled Wood


Silent Light (Stellet Licht, 2007).

I am participating in the Early Career Conference in Catholic Theology and Catholic Studies, an event organised by the Centre for Catholic Studies at Durham University, with support from The Newman Association, The Catholic Record Society, and The Tablet on 12 June. My paper is called “As Kindled Wood: Imagery in the Thomistic Account of the Theological Virtues” and it is part of my dissertation for the MA (Res) in Theology at Durham. Here is the abstract:

In the Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquinas uses the image of wood on fire to discuss the theological virtues and the difference between the nature of human beings and that of God. He says that the nature of things can be defined in two ways: essentially and by participation. In essence, God and human beings have distinct natures and so the theological virtues whose object is God and divine nature transcends human creatures and their nature. But Thomas also argues that this sharp distinction is somehow blurred in the definition by participation that stresses how humans can take part in divine life. He writes: “as kindled wood partakes of the nature of fire […], after a fashion, man becomes a partaker of the Divine Nature, […] so that these virtues are proportionate to man in respect of the Nature of which he is made a partaker.”

This paper aims at meditating on the uses of this image in Thomas’s commentaries on the theological virtues. Kindled wood is used in an analogical sense (as) as well as a purposive sense (so that). This discussion relates to my research on the theological virtues in contemporary cinema and to the way in which the imagery of some films interrogate and deepen our understanding of these virtues. These cinematic examples, which I shall briefly explore, have similar functions to the image of kindled wood, but are more dense and complex. They are not analogical, but depictive, representational. Yet still (and this is a most important theological point, I think), a depiction of theological virtues or divine gifts is always analogical, in the sense that it resembles what it tries to describe or to render yet it’s still invariably different (such divine things cannot be fully described or rendered in detail) — as different as God and creature. They allow us to develop insights about these divine gifts through human portraits.