The Operation of Grace: Further Essays on Art, Faith, and Mystery

By Gregory Wolfe

An incisive collection of essays by Gregory Wolfe, literary critic and editor of the journal Image, exploring art and faith, aesthetics and spirituality.

ISBN: 9780718894399


The Operation of Grace collects a decade’s worth of essays by Gregory Wolfe taken from the pages of Image, the literary journal he founded more than a quarter century ago. As he notes in the preface, his Image editorials, while they cover a wide range of topics, focus on the intersection of “art, faith, and mystery”. Wolfe believes that art and religion, while hardly identical, offer illuminating analogies to one another – art deepening faith through the empathetic reach of the imagination and faith anchoring art in a vision beyond the artist’s ego. Several essays dwell on how aesthetic values like ambiguity, tragedy, and beauty enlarge our understanding of the spiritual life. There are also a series of reflections that extend Wolfe’s campaign to renew the neglected and often misunderstood tradition of Christian humanism. Finally, there are sections that contain more personal meditations arising from Wolfe’s involvement in nurturing and promoting the work of emerging writers and artists. The Operation of Grace demonstrates once again why novelist Ron Hansen has spoken of Wolfe as “one of the most incisive and persuasive voices of our generation”.

Additional information

Dimensions229 × 153 mm


Trade InformationLPOD

About the Author

Gregory Wolfe is editor of Image, one of America’s leading quarterly journals. He serves as Writer in Residence and Director of the low-residency MFA in Creative Writing program at Seattle Pacific University. Wolfe’s books include Beauty Will Save the World, Intruding upon the Timeless, Malcolm Muggeridge: A Biography, and Sacred Passion: The Art of William Schickel. He has served as a judge for the National Book Awards.


Preface: A Metaphorical God

Prologue: Returning to the Cave
The Cave and the Cathedral

Art Speaks to Faith
The Wound of Beauty
The Tragic Sense of Life
Singularly Ambiguous
Strange Pilgrims
Secular Scriptures
Shouts and Whispers
Fully Human

Faith Speaks to Art
Thirty Seconds Away
Religious but Not Spiritual
Current Event
East and West in Miniature
Picturing the Passion
Why the Inklings Aren’t Enough

Art and Faith in the Public Square
The Culture Wars Revisited
Always Now
Two-Way Traffic
Keeping a Private Address
Conservative Elegies
Poetic Justice

Christian Humanism: Then and Now
Looking for a Renaissance
Giotto’s Ratio
Follies Worldly and Divine
The King’s Great Matter … and Ours
Becoming the Other

Words and the Word: The Writing Life
The Humiliation of the Word
Stalking the Spirit
The Operation of Grace
Who’s Afraid of Geoffrey Hill?
The Poetry of Exile

Scenes from a Literary Life
The Voice of This Calling
Scenes from an Editorial Life
The Four Cultures
Mugg, Hitch, and Me



Endorsements and Reviews

Greg Wolfe has done something remarkable for both the Christian community and the fractured, fractious culture we inhabit in the North Atlantic world. These essays amply show how a theologically informed perspective can generate a serious, adult, joyful inhabiting of creation.
Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury

Each of these essays is an invocation – an act of summoning, a preparation for transfigurations yet to come.
Annie Dillard, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

It’s tempting to read Greg Wolfe as a voice speaking to us from an earlier age, when faith and culture were not antagonists, but two sides to the same coin. This would be a mistake: the humane, intelligent essays in The Operation of Grace exist to remind us that that time isn’t past at all.
Christopher Beha, author of What Happened to Sophie Wilder

These occasional pieces in fact add up to a marvellous whole – an erudite, provocative whole, at times winsome and at times bracing. They are, in short, a gift.
Lauren F. Winner, author of Girl Meets God

Such insights as these … are far more than self-evident testimony to Wolfe’s very acute cultural sensibilities. They also articulate a powerful theological aesthetic.
Graham Howes, in Theology, Vol 121, No 1

Wolfe’s voice remains immensely significant to the growing discourse of theology and the arts.
Taylor B. Worley, in Theological Book Review, Vol 28, No 2