Sensing God? Retrieving Patristic Theories of ‘Spiritual Sensation’ for Contemporary Theology and Ethics

December 5, 2019
5:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.
Location: Rafik B. Hariri Building Lohrfink Auditorium Map

The 6th annual Costan Lecture was delivered by Sarah Coakley, Norris-Hulse Professor of Divinity emerita at the University of Cambridge. This lecture explored important questions such as, if the purification of the sensual life to an attunement with Christ represents a core theme of graced Christian discipline and observance, then how might this insight transform our approach to resistant cultural aporiai such as systemic racism, unacknowledged sexism, and the corroding and addictive effects of pornography? Does it require a deeper theological analysis of these topics to understand not only how they are intrinsically connected, but also how they are all marked by a distorting incapacity to “see”/ “sense” the “other” as beloved-of-Christ?

This lecture recalled, first, the history of the re-discovery of the patristic doctrine of the “spiritual senses” in the twentieth century, a history in which reforming members of the Society of Jesus (de Lubac, Rahner, von Balthasar, and Daniélou) played the crucial role – for reasons which are arguably intrinsic to the Ignatian tradition of spirituality itself. The lecture then turned to reconsider the importance of Gregory of Nyssa’s distinctive teaching on “spiritual sense.” The lecture concluded by considering a bold new application of Gregory’s teaching to urgent contemporary issues for theology and ethics. 

This event was co-sponsored by Georgetown University's Department of Theology and Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs.

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