In The Wounded Angel—whose cover showcases the eponymous 1903 Hugo Simberg painting—Paul Lakeland sets out to do no less than reclaim the imagination. His book takes off from his conviction that “[t]he incapacity to grasp any sense of transcendence is simply a failure of imagination, one that has all but emptied the churches and that goes a long way toward explaining the anomie of our world.” The implication is clear: heal the angel—a symbol of the mediation between the human and the divine—and the world will regain meaning, the church will be revivified, and belief will be reinstalled as our guiding hermeneutical principle.
The central argument put forward in The Wounded Angel rests on a recognition familiar to those who love literature—namely, that paraphrase or analysis can never encompass what a poem or novel (or any other work of art) does to us when we engage it. This surplus of meaning, Lakeland believes, constitutes a form of transcendence. From this assertion he will have us understand that the act of reading (or interpreting any serious work of art) offers a parallel to the act of faith.
To convince us of this claim, Lakeland must first define faith and reading as in a basic way parallel, then mark their intersection through imaginative power. This and other tasks taken on in The Wounded Angel involve some heavy lifting. Not only does Lakeland lay out the intellectual and historical structures for a definition of faith, he also takes a stance on what constitutes reading. Finally he defines the kind of imagination that can take one beyond aesthetic pleasure into the experience of the divine.
As a Catholic theologian he turns to familiar resources: Aquinas, Occam, and a group of modern French thinkers Lakeland sees as resisting a stale neo-Thomistic approach to faith. I cannot easily summarize the links he establishes (he is eclectic in his range of reference), but his conclusion is clear: “We describe the structure of the act of faith as the encounter with a person [Jesus Christ] in the space between the believer and the text.” Holy Writ is a text we read and engage with fully. In an imaginative appropriation of the text of Scripture, and through the workings of grace, we somehow understand beyond articulation; indeed, we encounter the person of Christ.
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