Thomas Aquinas on prophets and the importance of imagining the future

Matthew Fox, Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality, pp. 448-467.

The prophet Jeremiah declared “I will not be silent” and spoke from “the depth of his feelings and a disturbed heart and mind.”

Thomas Aquinas said “the prophet makes known, announces…. An imaginary vision is also involved [in being a prophet]; and with respect to this Christ did have a likeness to the prophets insofar as he was a wayfarer and was able to form various images with his imagination… Perfection of the imagination is needed for prophecy…God who infuses the gifts of prophecy, can improve the constitution of the organ of the imaginative powers….”

He points out that “Two things concur in effecting prophetic revelation: the illumination of the mind and the forming of the image in the imaginative power.”

Who is a prophet for Aquinas? Referring us to Ecclesiasticus 49, he comments: “A prophet has been consecrated to overturn, root up, destroy, and again to build and renew.”  He says that prophecy takes place in dreams and in visions and affects the imagination—but he says something similar about the artist who is inspired by the Holy Spirit who “hovers over the mind of the artist at work.”  He adds: “The Holy Spirit is the spirit of prophecy, as Joel says (2:28): ‘I shall pour out my spirit upon all flesh and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.’”  The prophets are artists.

The prophet is about justice and injustice and carries “two excellent gifts,” namely prophecy and “the gift of justice.”  Indeed, “the object of the prophet’s hate was injustice…Now hatred of a person’s evil is equivalent to love of a person’s good” and therefore is an expression of love.

Martin Luther King, Jr., delivers the “I Have a Dream” speech, August 28, 1963. Wikipedia

For Aquinas all cultures and all religions have their prophets.  “At no time have there ever been persons lacking the spirit of prophecy, not indeed for the declaration of any new doctrine of faith, but for the direction of human acts.  At all times humanity was divinely instructed about what they were to do….”

Prophets needs courage and even “boldness so that they will not be afraid to speak the truth because of the opponents of the truth.”  Prophets “announce” which is to say “’Shout!’  Isaiah 58 says: ‘Shout, do not stop.  Raise your voice like a trumpet!’”

 

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