Omaha, Nebraska
Spring 1998
Volume 9, Number 2

Jesuit Schloesser Weaves Tapestry of Catholic Imagination

Wendy M. Wright
Associate Professor of Theology

On Monday November 10, 1997 Steven Schloesser S.J. from Stanford University treated a large and eager audience from the Creighton and larger Omaha communities to a feast for the eyes and ears. His project: to explore the shape of the Catholic Imagination using literature, music and the visual arts in his Catholic Imagination Project lecture entitled "Holy the Firm: Irony, Hope and Catholic Imagination." The sacramental insight so fundamental to a Catholic view of reality engages us in "double-business" according to Schloesser. We are bound to see the finite world as the bearer of the infinite and we must consider that which is singular as of nearly infinite significance. The finite and the infinite are inseparably bound. We find God in the ironic juxtaposition of our most fervent hopes and our experience of the sorrow of the world.

With this in mind, the Jesuit scholar referred to contemporary poet Annie Dillard's prose-poem "Holy the Firm" which first presents the reader with a luminous vision of the divine beauty of creation, then introduces an incomprehensible tragedy into the setting, then wrestles with the irony of a world in which God appears utterly close and immanent while at the same time appearing utterly distant. Dillard "binds a radically present firmness to a radically other holiness. This double-business restores us to a place of awe, wonder and humility. Schloesser would locate the Catholic aesthetic precisely at this precarious yet vital point.

Schloesser then turned to the French Catholic Revival of the nineteenth century and the paintings of Rouault to illustrate the double edged character of the Catholic sacramental imagination. Shown next to the drawings of his contemporary Daumier, whose illustrations are noted for their irony, Rouault's paintings leave the viewer not with a sense of despair or outrage but with a sense of compassionate, tragic irony, a sacramental hope in the midst of all that is fallen and lost. The audience was treated at the end of the lecture to a performance of Poulenc's "O Sacrum Convivium" by the Creighton Chamber Choir under the direction of Dr. Marilyn Kielniarz. This piece exemplifies in musical form the particular texture of the Catholic imagination as Schloesser sees it.

Schloesser has been honored by a number of prestigious awards including a Mellon Grant, a Harris Fellowship, a George Lurcy fellowship, the Bourse Chateaubriand and a Charlotte W. Newcombe Woodrow Wilson Fellowship for his interdisciplinary studies. The Catholic Imagination Project is sponsored by the Center for the Study of Religion and Society.