Carla Mae Streeter, OP
Aquinas Institute of Theology

From the Interdisciplinary Conference
Collective Memory in St. Louis:
Recollection, Forgetting and the Common Good,

“Memory and the Religious Imagination”
Fontbonne University and the St. Louis History Museum
October 21-23, 2010

Shaping an Adequate Human Anthropology

What is imagination? If we are to answer this question, it will be helpful to provide an adequate human anthropology as a context for our answer. The popular trilogy is body, mind, and spirit. But is this adequate? Where are the emotions in such a triad? Are they included in body, or perhaps they a part of what we call mind. More, where would we locate the imagination in this familiar trilogy? Is the imagination part of what we call body, or is it better located in what we refer to as mind. And precisely what do we mean by the human spirit? Is it a natural part of the human being or some kind of ghost in a machine? The lack of clarity as to what we mean by the words we use, I suggest, comes from a lack of clarity of what we understand by the words we use. The ambiguity of the terms body, mind, and spirit present a real block to understanding the dynamic roles of human emotion and the imagination in the full creative function of the human being as we struggle today to develop full human potential for the progress of human culture.

Do we have an alternative? Is there a way of clarifying both what we say and what we understand what we say to mean? I suggest there is. First, we will clarify the words we use. I suggest the terms organism, psyche, and spirit might be clearer and more inclusive. [1]

By organism we will mean all the physical systems that belong to our embodiment: circulatory, digestive, auditory, visual, neurological, respiratory, etc. By psyche we will include our capacity to image, whether in dreams, fantasy, or in the complex linking of images we call imagination, and the human emotions. Aristotle and Aquinas differentiate what we will call the spontaneous emotions (love, hate, desire, aversion, joy, sorrow) and the considered emotions (courage, fear, hope, despair, and anger). Spontaneous emotions are much more rooted in feelings and bodily sensations. Considered emotions are influenced more by thought. Finally, by the human spirit we will specify those operations that distinguish the human from the animal realm. We experience wonder and awe. We question for understanding and meaning. We judge the correctness or lack of truth in the factual data given us. And finally, we evaluate, choose, decide, and act. These functions are performed by an attentive consciousness that can be aware of itself doing each of these operations.[2]

With this new anthropological framework we have a possible new way of thinking about the soul. Operationally the soul would be our psychic energy and our human spiritual functions. Body would then be psychic energy and the organism with its systems. This enables us to locate both imagination and emotion. Both are part of our psychic reality. They are differentiations of psychic energy in a distinctive human soul, and both play key roles in cognition and decision. Imagination and emotion are the stuff of therapy, for the psyche can become as wounded as our organism can become ill because of disease. A strategic question for our purposes is what relationship imagination and emotion might have to the spiritual operations of attentiveness to experience, intelligent inquiry, reasonable judgment of fact, and responsible decision making.

The Religiously Differentiated Consciousness

What is consciousness? Perhaps the simplest reply is human awareness. It is psychic energy become aware of itself. When we are conscious we are aware that we are aware. We can be conscious that we are questioning. We can be aware that we have reached a judgment of fact, true or false. We can be conscious of making a deliberate choice and carrying it out. This is intentionality. We can intend these operations or not intend them.

We are conscious to some extent even when we dream. It is only in dreamless sleep that consciousness rests. When we attend to ourselves experiencing, questioning, judging, and deciding, we are fully conscious. When we attend to the Holy, we experience awe. Contemplative wonder is evidence of the spiritual nature of the human being.

The consciousness is religiously differentiated when it experiences the Holy. It might question that experience. It might reach the judgment that “God has moved in my life!” It might prompt a change in behavior or life direction. This experience will be stored in the psyche, imprinted on its feeling memory, and either lapse into forgetfulness or become the motivation for my new choices and behavior. Religious experience thus changes the psyche; it opens consciousness to what is beyond the human, beyond matter, to that which is transcendent; it expands what experiences or images the psyche holds. What is stored in the psychic memory can be called up later or repressed. What is stored can influence how we do self-reflexion, or refuse to do it. The experience of the Holy, stored in the imagination of the psychic memory can greatly influence the levels of operations of the human spirit: what we admit into attentive awareness, what we allow to be questioned, whether our judgment is reasonable, and whether our decisions are responsible.

Where does intentionality come from? What is its source? I suggest that it is the very life force of the soul. It is released from the human love energy of the parents in conception, and this love energy is powered by the very Personified Love we call God, whether acknowledged by the parents or not. Life comes from the One Who Is. Materially we are made from star dust. Spiritually we are spun out of Love.

This origin of the life force flows from the very ground of the soul, the center, core, apex,[3] name it as you will. When the human becomes aware that it has been grasped by the Holy (Rom. 5:5) the relationship that is grace begins. The person is religiously in-love. The person is different.

The Place and Role of Imagination

Our capacity to image and imagine is thus different. The Holy and our relationship to this Holy One is now in our conscious horizon. The religiously differentiated consciousness is a seedbed for images no longer limited by material boundaries. The new limit is the Transcendent. The imagination has become the fertile ground of possibility no longer held captive to empirical measurement. Its measurement is what is appropriate to a new relationship of love. The law, be it of physics, the body politic, or social mores, is respected but can no longer limit possibility. Like some transparent membrane, the imagination is free to draw images from the past, from present natural and human science, from poetry, art and literature, from history and economics, and from the richness of revelation and faith to spin future possibility. Like a drunk on a binge, the soul dances with the intoxication of one who is in love and this “condition” will deal with the human woundedness and blockage that stunts cognition.

But, you will say, what about our biases, our propensity to ruin everything? This is where we need to honestly face the particular bias that cripples the imagination and thus severely limits attentiveness and intelligent questioning. This bias we will call dramatic because it infects us in the drama of life as we encounter crisis, hurt, and pain.[4]

Therapists know the scene well. A client cannot entertain certain images because they are like asking the consciousness to touch a hot stove. The images are buried, repressed in the psyche, and so “shoot from the bushes” unbidden and without permission. The result is a form of emotional crippling, the avoidance of images that bring memories of violation, hurt, or pain. The term scotosis refers to a blockage, a covering over, or we might say a psychic callous.[5] To touch it is simply too painful. A bit of reflection brings home the clear understanding that images that are too painful to entertain will never become fertile images for new ideas. The cognition is thus crippled at its earliest stage, the forming of the image or phantasm needed for fresh thought. In the area of the pain, the thinker is effectively shut down. This bias needs to be dissolved.

Dramatic bias dissolves under the skillful care of the therapist who will bring up the image from the recesses of the psyche and empty it of its toxicity. The result will often be tears of release. Being grasped by religious love can also dissolve this psychic blockage in the intimacy of contemplative prayer. The result again will often be tears of release.

Few if any philosophical or theological thinkers address this issue. It is clear that left unaddressed, dramatic bias can abort clear and creative thinking related to the topic that has caused the bias in the first place. The subconscious memory then becomes the tomb of the imagination, binding it in the depths of repression and making it sterile in the initiation of creative thought. It is the imagination, free from bondage, that offers the fertile possibility for creating a new understanding and a new future. It is the unbiased imagination, unrepressed, that can draw from memory’s storehouse the stuff to dream possibility. As the feeder of our cognition, the imagination is the creative architect of our human future.


Crowe, Frederick E. “The Role of a Catholic University in the Modern World”-An Update. Communicanting a Dangerous Memory, Soundings in Political Theology. Fred Lawrence, ed. Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press, 1987: 1-16.

Doran, Robert M. “Psychic Conversion,” The Thomist, 1977: 200-236.

—– “Soul Making and the Opposites,” Psychic Conversion and Theological Foundations. Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1981: 137-154 (especially 148 ff.).

—– Subject and Psyche. Milwaukee, Marquette University Press, 1994 (Second Edition): 197-228.

Lonergan, Bernard J. F.  Insight: A Study of Human Understanding. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, Frederick E. Crowe and Robert M. Doran, eds., 1992: 210-219.

—– Method in Theology. London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1971.

—– Collection. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, Frederick E. Crowe and Robert M. Doran, eds., 1988.

—– A Second Collection: Papers by Bernard J. F. Lonergan, S.J., William F. J. Ryan, S.J. and Bernard J. Tyrrell, S.J., eds. London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1974.

Schepers, Maurice. “Discovery of Mind and Psyche in the Development of the Theologian: The Conjunction of Intellectual and Affective Conversions,” African Christian Studies 7:3 (September 1991): 36-45.

[1] This triad was suggested to me by the Jungian and Lonergan scholar Robert M. Doran, S.J. of Marquette University.

[2] The differentiation of consciousness into distinct levels of operation that can be empirically verified by self-observation is the unique contribution of economist, philosopher, theologian Bernard Lonergan, S.J. Insight provides an introduction to only the first three levels dealing with cognition. The fourth level of evaluative judgment and decision appears in Method, chapter one, and the impact of religious love can be found in chapter four.

[3] This term is used by Lonergan in chapter four of Method (107) and his explanation of it is “the peak of the soul.”

[4] Lonergan treats dramatic bias with more length in Insight than the other three biases (individual egoism, group egoism, and general or theoretical bias). Establishing its capacity to shut down inquiry, he then drops it. It took Doran to approach him on this, only to be told, “You do it; I was interested in cognition.” So the treatment of dramatic bias through psychic conversion became a focus for Doran’s work as is clear from the entries in the bibliography below.

[5] The term scotosis appears several times in Insight (e.g.215). Lonergan describes it as an unconscious process, a blind spot, a censorship that  “governs the emergence of psychic contents.”

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