A sophisticated and important book, Image and Presence makes a notable contribution to our understanding of what images are and the work that they do. Learned, elegant, and beautifully structured, its great virtue is to engage Christian-theological and secular-theoretical conceptions of the image in a way that deepens both and flattens neither.
— Paul Griffiths, Duke University
Christians of many epochs—glutted with images, shocked by them—have resorted to the iconoclast’s hammer or its successor, the authoritarianism of empty space. Natalie Carnes proposes a better way to live through our senses.
— Mark D. Jordan, Harvard University
Bold in conception and subtle in its execution, this is a major contribution to the discussion of image as and in theology.
— Judith Wolfe, University of St. Andrews

Images increasingly saturate our world, making present to us what is distant or obscure. Yet the power of images also arises from what they do not make present―from a type of absence they do not dispel. Joining a growing multidisciplinary conversation that rejects an understanding of images as lifeless objects, this book offers a theological meditation on the ways images convey presence into our world. Just as Christ negates himself in order to manifest the invisible God, images, Natalie Carnes contends, negate themselves to give more than they literally or materially are. Her Christological reflections bring iconoclasm and iconophilia into productive relation, suggesting that they need not oppose one another.

Investigating such images as the biblical golden calf and paintings of the Virgin Mary, Carnes explores how to distinguish between iconoclasms that maintain fidelity to their theological intentions and those that lead to visual temptation. Offering ecumenical reflections on issues that have long divided Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox traditions, Image and Presence provokes a fundamental reconsideration of images and of the global image crises of our time.


Natalie Carnes has written a remarkable book— in its range, its learning and its imaginative sweep. All good history and theology thrive on imaginative engagement— while beauty is most enticing when it is veiled and presented as a mystery. Gregory of Nyssa emerges from these pages as a writer and theologian for our time, at once ancient and postmodern.
— David Jasper, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK
A compelling exploration of Gregory of Nyssa as theologian of the divine beauty. Drawing on her extensive knowledges of Gregory’s writings, Natalie Carnes shows how the themes of fittingness and gratuity take us deep into the heart of his Trinitarian vision. To know God’s beauty is to be wounded— and transformed. A remarkable achievement.
— Joseph L Mangina, Wycliffe College, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Attentive, as many recent theological writers are not, to the dangers of beauty and of the ideologizing of beauty in bougeois discourse, [Carnes] takes us from the modern alternatives of functionality or disinterestedness to the complementary of gratuity and fittingness. Through Gregory’s writing this is show to illuminate both the sufferings of Christ and, poignantly, the human sufferings exemplified by his sister’s breast cancer. The book reminds those of us who have read less of Gregory then we should how much we are missing.
— George Pattison, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK
Beauty is a singular achievement. It retrieves from Gregory key Trinitarian insights and constructively recasts them in the service of delineating a vision of beauty that speaks to our time… ‘Fittingness’ and ‘gratuity’ are key to Carnes’s theological investigation, categories that she refracts in three primary ways: first, theologically, according to Gregory’s doctrine of God… second, christologically, according to the way that we confront in the person of Jesus of Nazareth an unsettling juxtaposition of beauty and poverty; and third, pneumatologically, according to the workings of the Holy Spirit who schools us to recognize beauty anew through a wounding of the self, achieved by means of suffering and love of neighbor.
— Jim Fodor, St Bonaventure University, St Bonaventure, NY

Beauty engages fourth-century bishop Gregory of Nyssa to address beauty's place in theology and the broader world. With the recent resurgence of attention to beauty among theologians, questions still remain about what exactly beauty is, how it is perceived, and whether we should celebrate its return. If beauty fell out of favor because it was seen to distract from the weightier concerns of poverty and suffering--because it can even be a tool of oppression--why should we laud it now? Gregory's writings offer surprisingly rich and relevant reflections that can move contemporary conversations beyond current impasses and critiques of beauty. Drawing Gregory into conversation with such disparate voices as novelist J. M. Coetzee and art theorist Kaja Silverman, Beauty displays the importance of beauty to theology and theology to beauty in a discussion that bridges ancient and modern, practical and theoretical, secular and religious.