Faith as imagination: The contribution of William F. Lynch, S.J.

Gerald Joseph Bednar, Fordham University


William F. Lynch, S.J., a Jesuit priest who lived from 1908 to 1987, proposed a theology whose central insights drew from a profound understanding of the positive and necessary role played by the imagination in the act of faith. Lynch's thought offers a paradigm shift in our thinking on faith. To highlight that shift, this dissertation begins within the context of the discussion on faith that occupied the attention of the Catholic Church at the dawn of the 20th century. The rise of 19th century Scholasticism is treated in its historical context especially as it was challenged by Maurice Blondel and the Catholic Modernists. By 1950, with the issuance of Pius XII's encyclical, Humani Generis, it was clear that the Scholastics had firmly established the paradigm used for the concept of faith. The act of faith was considered as belief in the testimony of another. By 1954, Lynch proposed that theologians needed to attend to the operation of the "analogical imagination" in matters of religion. In Lynch's terms, the imagination simply describes the ability of a person to produce images. Those images carry something of the person's encounter with reality. The imagination functions well when it is an "analogical" imagination that can display the ability to recognize that each expression of any reality is new, and, therefore, deserves to be listened to so we may adjust our images accordingly. Its opposite, the univocal imagination imposes images on reality regardless of whatever new information we might have gleaned from the entity in question had we let it speak for itself. Lynch sees faith as the healthy operation of the analogical imagination. As such, faith composes reality in such a way that it allows reality to emerge on its own terms. This happens in the Catholic faith in terms of the ironic Christic imagination. Such an imagination allows one to perceive such ironies as strength coming through weakness, exaltation through humility, and life through death. An excursus on Paul Ricoeur's thought on faith and imagination is offered to show how another approach can yield further helpful insights in this field.

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Recommended Citation

Bednar, Gerald Joseph, "Faith as imagination: The contribution of William F. Lynch, S.J." (1990). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9025012.