Home > Christianity, Criticism, Literature, Philosophy, Theology > A Theology of Criticism: Balthasar, Postmodernism, and the Catholic Imagination

A Theology of Criticism: Balthasar, Postmodernism, and the Catholic Imagination

  • Author: Michael P. Murphy
  • Series: American Academy of Religion Book
  • Publisher:  Oxford University Press, USA
  • Published: January, 2008
  • Pages: 272
  • Language: English
  • Format:  PDF
  • Price: $74.00

A number of critics and scholars argue for the notion of a distinctly Catholic variety of imagination, not as a matter of doctrine or even of belief, but rather as an artistic sensibility. They figure the blend of intellectual, emotional, spiritual and ethical assumptions that proceed from Catholic belief constitutes a vision of reality that necessarily informs the artist’s imaginative expression. The notion of a Catholic imagination, however, has lacked thematic and theological coherence. To articulate this intuition is to cross the problematic interdisciplinary borders between theology and literature; and, although scholars have developed useful methods for undertaking such interdisciplinary “border-crossings,” relatively few have been devoted to a serious examination of the theological aesthetic upon which these other aesthetics might hinge.

In A Theology of Criticism, Michael Patrick Murphy proposes a new framework to better define the concept of a Catholic imagination. He explores the many ways in which the theological work of Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988) can provide the model, content, and optic for distinguishing this type of imagination from others. Since Balthasar views art and literature precisely as theologies, Murphy surveys a broad array of poetry, drama, fiction, and film and sets it against central aspects of Balthasar’s theological program. In doing so, Murphy seeks to develop a theology of criticism.

This interdisciplinary work recovers the legitimate place of a distinct “theological imagination” in critical theory, showing that Balthasar’s voice both challenges and complements contemporary developments. Murphy also contends that postmodern interpretive methodology, with its careful critique of entrenched philosophical assumptions and reiterated codes of meaning, is not the threat to theological meaning that many fear. On the contrary, by juxtaposing postmodern critical methodologies against Balthasar’s visionary theological range, a space is made available for literary critics and theologians alike. More important, the critic is provided with the tools to assess, challenge, and celebrate the theological imagination as it is depicted today.

Editorial Reviews

“Michael Murphy’s book is a singular contribution to the study of Hans Urs von Balthasar’s theological enterprise. Murphy skillfully extends von Balthasar’s aesthetic and dramatic concerns into a critical dialogue with postmodern assumptions about philosophy, theology, literature and the arts. Murphy argues, in effect, that von Balthasar offers both theologians and literary critics a path for doing “theological” criticism. Masterfully weaving his argument through the works of Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, David Lodge, Denise Levertov, and Lars von Trier, Murphy demonstrates the vital link between theology and culture often missing in today’s intellectual discourse.” —Mark Bosco, Loyola University Chicago

“Michael Murphy has advanced the fields of theology and literary criticism with this marvelous look at the relevance of the great theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar to literary studies. More important, in the connections made between literature and the Catholic imagination, Murphy paves a road towards a twenty-first century critical reading of the religious import of literary fiction.” —Alejandro Garcia-Rivera, author of The Community of the Beautiful

“Michael Murphy’s “A Theology of Criticism” is a remarkable and eye-opening book precisely because it fulfills the bold interdisciplinary promise of its title. It is at one and the same time an illuminating exposition of Balthasar’s aesthetic theology and an equally illuminating explication of a number of modern texts– fiction, poetry, and film– that substantiates how Balthasar’s thought can inform critical reading. Murphy offers a fresh paradigm and exemplum for criticism, and on both the theoretical and practical levels he writes with intellectual incisiveness and passionate conviction.” —Albert Gelpi, Stanford University

About the Author

Michael Murphy earned his doctorate in theology and literature from the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley. He resides in the Bay Area with his wife and two daughters.

Most helpful reviews

Balthasar…A must have for scholar, layman and theologian alike

By Daniel J. Lazar

Michael Murphy is the second coming of Edgar Allen Poe meets Pope John Paul the Second. He is a master of suspense keeping the reader on the edge of their high back wing chair. This chronicle of Balthasar’s escapades through the dangerous Middle Ages is as scintillating and titillating as Poe’s A Tell Tale Heart. A must have for layman of any religion, priest and scholar alike. Kudos Michael!!!

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