The Father of Lights
A Theology of Beauty

From the inside flap:

“Every good giving and every perfect gift is from on high, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (James 1:17). This verse offers a powerful image of God as the source and referent of all beauty.

In The Father of Lights, Junius Johnson goes beyond theological aesthetics (art) to consider beauty in its broadest form. Richly informed by Johnson’s scholarly expertise on Bonaventure and von Balthasar, this book demonstrates how the experience of beauty is related to our inherent longing for the God who is reflected in such moments.

“It is rare to find such a lucid, and indeed beautiful, account of the theology of beauty. The terms are well defined, the argument precisely advanced and defended, and the range of reference capacious. It’s as though, amid a modern debate that has generated more heat than light, one of the classic theologians of the Scholastic period has stepped into the room and brought us at last some clarity, definition, and order.”

Malcolm Guite, author of Faith, Hope and Poetry; life fellow of Girton College, Cambridge

“Junius Johnson is easily one of the smartest, most creative, most learned theologians of his generation. Johnson controls all the relevant literature, both theological and theoretical. As an artist in his own right, he has an insider’s feel for the topic. And he brings a rare combination of intelligence, insight, and perceptiveness to this material. Most of my students will be interested in this book and so will many people I go to church with. I strongly and enthusiastically recommend it.”

Kevin Hector, University of Chicago Divinity School

“‘The beauty of holiness’ has long been a familiar phrase with a somewhat elusive meaning. With a combination of scholarly precision and infectious relish for the theological task, Junius Johnson gives a new clarity to this phrase. Beauty is interpreted as the manifestation of a sanctity whose fullness we both remember and anticipate as we encounter a world of creatures densely, dazzlingly, and divinely interconnected.”

Ben Quash, Centre for Arts and the Sacred, King’s College London

“In theological aesthetics the lineaments of Thomistic thought have long been most formative, but now, in this rich, closely argued, and admirably synthetic work of theological aesthetics, Junius Johnson has contributed a powerful adequation of St. Bonaventure’s conception of beauty–both as gift from the Father of Lights and as illumination leading back to him. Beauty rightly perceived–that is, in a necessarily subjective appropriation of objective reality–enables a fuller understanding of God, in Bonaventure’s term a ‘contuition.’ We are simultaneously dazzled by beauty in the world and by beauty’s Giver. Johnson’s thoughtful book, conversing as it does with the likes of von Balthasar, Baudrillard, Barthes, and Ouspensky, is brimming with insight, a remarkably fruitful excursus in philosophical theology in which many will find worthy treasures.”

David Lyle Jeffrey, FRSC, Baylor Institute for Studies in Religion, Baylor University

“Johnson’s work is an illuminating meditation on the experience of beauty and that experience’s implications for the world of theology.”

Anne M. Carpenter, St. Mary’s College of California

Table of Contents



Defining the Question
Three Senses of the Word “Beautiful
Our Concern: Beauty Broadly Speaking

The Challenge of the Ugly
An Ugly World

Structure of the Work

Part I: The Encounter with Beauty

Chapter 1: Eternity in Our Hearts: Memory, Beauty, and Divinity

Characteristics of Beauty

The Theological Definition of Beauty

Corollary 1:
It is not only through the physical that we approach beauty.
Corollary 2: Longing for that which is not present in the desired way is an integral part of the experience of the beautiful.
Corollary 3: The experience of the beautiful, properly speaking, is of creatures.
Corollary 4: God is the remote yet proper referent in the experience of the beautiful.
Corollary 5: However much the beautiful creature is dear to us for its own sake, it is more importantly dear to us for God’s sake.
Corollary 6: Because what reminds one person may not be the same as what reminds another person (for various reasons), the subjective element in the experience of beauty is irreducible.
Preliminary Conclusion: Subjective Objectivity

Beauty in the Ugly World
Understanding Ugliness
Beauty and the Rejection of God

Chapter 2: The Eyes of Faith: Contuition and Spiritual Vision

The Need for Eyes of Faith

The Importance of Vision

The Nature of Vision
Divine Vision
From Uncreated to Created Vision
Angelic Vision
Human Vision
The Nature of Contuition

Contuition and Beauty
Implicit Contuition
Explicit Contuition

Subjective Objectivity Explored 
Symphonic Witness: Virtuosity and the Experience of the Beautiful
Transgressing the Object: Blasphemy and the Ugly

Conclusion: Analogical Expansion to the Rest of Human Experience

Chapter 3: Beauty and Analogy

The Nature of Analogy in General
General Definition of Analogy
Analogical Complexes

The Nature of the Analogia Entis

Part 2: The Meaning of Beauty

Chapter 4: Word and Concept: The Nature of Language

Realist and Relativist Linguistics
Signifier and Signified
Linguistic Relativism
Linguistic Realism

Adjudicating the Positions

Theological Considerations
God’s Creative Speech: Calling Things That Are Not
Naming the Animals: An Irrevocable Choice
Babel: The Shattering of Language
Pentecost: Proleptic Restoration

Language and Beauty
Subjective Objectivity: Naming and Beauty
The Subjective Concern: Babel and Beauty
The Objective Ground: Pentecost and Beauty

Chapter 5: Concept Squared: The Nature of Metaphor

Defining Metaphor
Metaphor and Analogy
Metaphor and Contuition
Ad Placitum Institution and Human Invention
Contuitio ad Placitum Instituta

The Dynamics of Metaphor
Accretion of Meaning
Complexity of Meaning
Complexity of Interpretation
Metaphorical Complexes

Metaphor and Beauty

Chapter 6: Res and Concept: Things as Signs

The Sign Character of Things
Res as Signs
The Transparency and Opacity of Res

Signs and Beauty
Herrlichkeit and the Objective Res
Independence: Herrlichkeit as Sovereignty
Transparency, Opacity, and Incarnational Logic: Herrlichkeit as Glory

Chapter 7: Res Sacramenti: The Nature of Sacraments

The General Concept of Sacrament

Secular Quasi-sacraments
Quasi-sacramental Elements: Culture and Artifacts
Quasi-sacramental Institution: The Assignation of Meaning
Confection: Real Presence and the Quasi-sacramental Elements
Quasi-spiritual Eating: Anamnesis and Incorporation
The Limits of Quasi-sacraments

Cross as Crux

Divine Sacraments
Sacramental Elements: Promptness and Natural Suitability
Sacramental Institution: Res Realized
Real Presence: The Union of God and the Sacramental Creature
Spiritual Eating: Transformation and Conversion
Sacraments versus Quasi-sacraments

Sacraments and Beauty
The Dynamics of the Sacrament in Relation to Beauty
Suffering, Darkness, Pain, and Beauty

Chapter 8: Radiant Res: Icons and Ecstasy

The Nature of Icons
Distinguishing Icons from Sacraments
Icons and Thick Signification
The Efficacy of the Icon

Icons and Beauty
Beauty and Thick Signification
Beauty and Ecstasy
The Rapturing Power of Beauty
The Transformative Power of Beauty


Beauty and Desire

Beauty and Fulfillment