Adam J. Graves: The Phenomenology of Revelation in Heidegger, Marion, and Ricœur

The Phenomenology of Revelation in Heidegger, Marion, and Ricoeur Book Cover The Phenomenology of Revelation in Heidegger, Marion, and Ricoeur
Studies in the Thought of Paul Ricoeur
Adam J. Graves
Lexington Books
2021
Paperback $31.95
256

Reviewed by: Steven DeLay (Global Center for Advanced Studies)

Of truth, it was Schopenhauer who said, “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” Thirty years after the publication of Dominique Janicaud’s “The Theological Turn of French Phenomenology,” arguing that the work of Jean-Louis Chrétien, Michel Henry, Emmanuel Levinas, Jean-Luc Marion, and Paul Ricœur was a collective betrayal of classical phenomenology, are we nearing truth’s inevitable third stage? The appearance of Adam J. Graves’s The Phenomenology of Revelation in Heidegger, Marion, and Ricœur indicates such is the case.1 For, although some dismiss the theological turn, continuing to pass over it in silence, as if it were unworthy of their attention or response, there is no longer any pretending that a theological turn in phenomenology has not occurred. Far from it constituting a deviation from phenomenology’s true method, attention to the phenomenon of revelation has always been foundational to phenomenological philosophy’s stand against the prevailing naturalistic, empiricist, and scientistic understanding of the modern, disenchanted, technological world. The task, then, is not one of determining whether revelation is a viability for phenomenology, but of assessing its contribution to phenomenology’s promise as an ongoing movement. In response to this task, Graves has given us a work tracing the trajectory of the phenomenon of revelation in Heidegger, Marion, and Ricœur. “Phenomenology’s turn toward the theological,” as Graves says at one point, “did not begin in the nineteen eighties. It was already well underway by the time Heidegger delivered his lecture on ‘Phenomenology and Theology’ in 1928” (23). Not only then does he illustrate why it is justified today to speak openly of a theological turn in phenomenology, or even of a return. This result would be useful enough! More still, Graves offers us a groundbreaking account of revelation itself contributing to the very theological (re)turn it so admirably examines.

To see why Graves views the turn this way, a mindfulness of the philosophical history shaping phenomenology’s concern with the phenomenon of revelation is necessary. “No single theological concept poses a greater challenge to philosophy than that of revelation,” he observes at the beginning of the introduction (xxi). For just as “revelation implies a claim to disclose truth” thereby “allegedly confronting philosophy on its own turf” (xxi), so then it might be viewed as “an affront to reason, an anathema to philosophy” (xxi). One indeed might simply conclude that revelation and reason are opposed to one another, the two “destined from birth to face off as mortal enemies, caught in an endless, take-no-prisoners battle wherein each seeks to reduce the other to itself, to monopolize truth by capturing and colonizing the other’s terrain” (xxi). Such a characterization, however, overexaggerates the antagonism between them, Graves says. As he points out, philosophy has a history of “negotiating a lasting peace” with revelation, even if such a “precarious ceasefire” has separated reason and revelation into two autonomous zones (xxi). This effort to separate revelation and reason is evident at least as early as in Aquinas, who demarcates “rational truths” (the domain of theologia philosophiae) from the so-called “revealed truths” that are inaccessible to the natural light of reason (the domain of theologia sacrae doctinae) (xxii). A “philosophical theory of two truths” (xxii), Aquinas believed, would allow for philosophical reason and theological revelation to complement one another. However, by the end of the modern period, the arrangement had come to undermine revelation’s own understanding of itself as the dispenser of absolute truth. Modern philosophical reason, imbued with the right to question everything, including the authority of tradition, church, and the Bible, considered revelation an “historical relic.” Consequently, the truths of revelation were subordinated to the eternal truths of reason (xxii). Further complicating matters was the fact that this very distinction between the eternal truths of reason and the historical truths of revelation was unstable, itself becoming a matter of contention. The Enlightenment’s conception of reason’s authority and sovereignty proved not to be above criticism. As Graves remarks, “The kind of autonomy and transparency which philosophy had claimed for itself, could only be defined and maintained when juxtaposed against the backdrop of its proper epistemic ‘other,’ as though the eternal truths of reason could only ever shine against the supposedly opaque and impenetrable surface of revelation and its contingent truths” (xxv). The Enlightenment conception of rational truth defining itself in opposition to revelation “could not do away with its other without doing away with itself” (xxv). This story of modern reason’s evolution, and its relation to revelation, is a fascinating issue in its own right.2 Lest, however, it be concluded that it is only a piece of intellectual history, Graves illustrates how modern philosophy’s question of the extent to which the content of revelation might be reducible to reason is at issue again today in the theological turn of phenomenology. “One of the philosophical frontlines in this centuries-old battle between reason and revelation,” as he says, “is located within the field of phenomenology” (xxv). With this historical backdrop in view, a key claim of Graves’s concerning the relation between reason and revelation here emerges: Heidegger, Marion, and Ricœur in their own ways “undermine the enlightenment’s claim that reason is autonomous and wholly transparent” (xxvi). If Enlightenment efforts of self-grounding reason fail, one might conclude philosophy ends in skepticism or nihilism.2 Or, one might instead attempt to rehabilitate philosophy by resuscitating revelation. As Graves will show, this is what Marion, Heidegger, and Ricœur each aims to do, by refiguring revelation phenomenologically. Just as the concept of reason underwent a transformation in the hands of modern philosophy, so now the concept of revelation has in phenomenology.

In what does this transformation of revelation consist? To begin with, it is a broadening of the concept. Revelation no longer is confined to propositional truths only, as was the case for the Scholastics. In the Middle Ages, as Graves himself explains, “the content of the so-called revealed was comprised of a set of the propositional statements, i.e., doctrines that could not be obtained through human reason, but depended upon God’s active revelation” (12). When, however, revelation became “more closely associated with a particular quality of experience, or a particular kind of phenomenon, rather than a mere collection of dogmatic propositions, the stage was set for its philosophical reevaluation” (xxvi). Part of that legacy is alive today in phenomenology, for which revelation is a matter of experiential truth, of what is encountered. But revelation is not simply said to be a particular mode or content of experience. It is the essence of experience. Quoting Marion, Graves notes, “‘Revelation, by virtue of the givenness that it alone performs perfectly, would accomplish the essence of phenomenality’” (5). Not only, then, does phenomenology seek to undermine and escape the constraints once imposed by modern philosophical reason. Moreover, its interest in revelation “stems from its own root concerns and core problems” (5). As the “other” of Enlightenment reason,3 revelation would lie at the heart of phenomenology’s philosophical project to uncover and describe that which appears, and how it appears. So understood, revelation would designate the form of phenomenality as such:

[Phenomenology’s concern with revelation is] not adopting a theological question that would be foreign or even peripheral to its core concerns. On the contrary, it is actually tackling a question about phenomenology itself, about its ability to live up to its own promise of enabling phenomena to appear as they give themselves out to be, as they are given beyond the limits of enlightenment reason—and that means independently of scientific or naturalistic presuppositions, the narrow constraints of the principle of sufficient reason, and the conditions of possibility imposed upon them by the modern subject (5).

None of this should be considered particularly controversial yet. The phenomenological formulation of revelation as a problem, one will note, involves doing philosophy in light of Husserl’s epoché, insofar as it entails “the fulfillment of Husserl’s original aim, namely, a pure description of the full range of phenomena” (xxvii). Husserl’s “principle of principles” frees the phenomena, notes Graves, such that “everything that appears to consciousness—including religious phenomena—could, at least in principle, become a legitimate object of phenomenological description and thus philosophical investigation” (3). Revelation, then, would appear to be fair game.

However, things are not quite so straightforward, owing to a tension within Husserl himself that the rest of phenomenology inherits. Does not Husserl call for a suspension of theological presuppositions? The same Husserlian method that might be claimed to allow God to appear could also be said to foreclose the appearing of God. “One might wonder,” as Graves observes, how Husserl’s epoché and reductions “could possibly serve as the best method for developing a philosophical account of revelation” (xxvii). Others for this reason have viewed with suspicion the attempt to formulate revelation as a phenomenological problem, calling into question its methodological moves and underlying motives (xxvii). One here again calls to mind Janicaud’s original contention, according to which the theological turn had abandoned an “interrogation of the visible in favor of a blind and imprudent affirmation of radical transcendence” (xxviii). As Graves himself notes, “One may ask whether the turn’s new and peculiar reinterpretation of key phenomenological principles—such as horizon, reduction, intentionality, world, etc.—signals the culmination of the phenomenological enterprise or whether it signals a departure from and deterioration of phenomenology as such” (xxix). “What cannot be disputed,” he says, “is the significance of this ‘turn’ as a purely historical event” (xxix). It here becomes apparent why Graves has elected to open his study of revelation by placing things in historical context. He says,

If some have claimed phenomenology has remained the most powerful and enduring force on the Parisian philosophical scene since its initial reception in the middle of the last century, then the phenomenological appropriation of the category of revelation may be said to represent—for better or worse—the single most significant even in recent French philosophy. How did this event come to pass? What concrete challenge has it raised, and what paths have phenomenologists taken in order to meet those challenges? How has this event altered the phenomenological enterprise itself—its methods, its objectives, and its own self-understanding? How has it altered or informed our understanding of the nature of revelation, or perhaps even of the nature of philosophical reason? (xxx).

Sensitive to the fact that many might find this claim of French phenomenological philosophy’s importance hyperbolic, Graves points out that the problem of revelation, and the corresponding question concerning the methodological relation between phenomenology and theology, is not an issue parochial to French phenomenology. For one thing, theology and the religious life were fundamental concerns of Heidegger’s during the lead-up to Being and Time. Heidegger’s thought (particularly his departing 1928 Marburg lecture), Graves will claim, “is the single most important source for understanding the nature and diversity of the most recent interest in the phenomenology of revelation among French philosophers” (3). How did the Parisian concern with revelation originate in Marburg and Freiburg? As Graves recounts,

On February 14, 1928, Heidegger stood before his colleagues at the University of Marburg to deliver what would be his final lecture before returning—triumphantly, as it were—to Freiburg, where he was to take over as the successor to his former mentor, Edmund Husserl. The topic Heidegger chose for his parting address was “Phenomenology and Theology” (1).

The lecture’s significance can only be understood when appreciated in terms of its place within the overall philosophical project Heidegger was engaged in at the time. In courses on the religious life from earlier that decade, Heidegger had claimed “primal Christian experience becomes concealed through Greek conceptuality,” a thesis prefiguring his “later description of the history of the forgetfulness of Being—the all-important Seinsvergessenheit” (2). For Heidegger, overcoming the history of philosophy’s forgetfulness of being would require a deconstruction of Christianity’s own self-understanding. Here, Graves notes that Heidegger’s approach to revelation highlights two contrasting attitudes toward the role of language in revelation that will structure phenomenology’s subsequent handling of the problem: “the ‘radical’ and the ‘hermeneutical’ attitudes” (6). The radical attitude, he says, “begins to take shape in the works of early Heidegger, whose Destruktion of the metaphysical tradition involved a return to ‘the beginning, the primal, the originary,’ and thus moves in the direction of what might be called the pre-linguistic” (6). As Graves continues, “this partly explains why Heidegger’s destructive (destruktiv) project was leveled against ordinary language—everyday chatter or idle talk (Gerede)—as much as it was against the distinctively philosophical language of modernity” (7). That is to say, Heidegger’s quest for the meaning of being necessitates a return to a primordial experience which “precedes (or cuts beneath)” certain forms of linguistic articulation and sedimentation (7). Now, contrast this radical attitude with the other, the hermeneutic attitude.

Whereas radical phenomenology seeks to overcome metaphysics by sidestepping language in its ceaseless quest for the primordial givenness, hermeneutical phenomenology challenges enlightenment paradigms through language itself, or by insisting upon a richer conception of linguisticality and the inexorable connection between language and being (9).

Thus emerges a further key claim of Graves’s study. Strictly speaking, he will claim, there is “no such thing as the phenomenology of revelation” (9). Rather, we must address “two essentially dichotomous phenomenological views of revelation as they emerge in the works of Heidegger, Marion, and Ricœur” (10). Another central claim of Graves’s work follows. For as he clarifies, the purpose of the study “is not merely to present an account of these opposed approaches from the disinterested standpoint of a spectator or intellectual historian” (10). His aim, rather, is to show that the radical approach (typified by both Heidegger and Marion) divests revelation of its meaning and content, leaving a merely formal concept of revelation—“a revelation without Revelation,” unless it is supplemented with a hermeneutic approach (10). What does Graves mean—what is the problem? Typically, the worry concerning phenomenology turning to the problem of revelation is that it by doing so comprises its philosophical rigor and neutrality—this is the so-called “contamination” problem, as Graves terms it. Phenomenology importing theological content can be a problem, Graves is happy to admit. But he has a different concern in view, what he terms the problem of “counter-contamination.” Fearful of illicitly importing theological content into one’s phenomenological method, one formalizes the phenomenon of revelation to the point whereby it is attenuated completely, bereft of any meaningful content. When this happens, says Graves, an analysis of revelation finds itself having “lost sight” of “the material content of revelation itself” (15), such that whatever remains is “characterized by formalism itself, by a certain lack of determinate content” (15). This process of “attenuation-formalization” (16) leads phenomenological analysis astray in the case of revelation. As Graves asks, how will it be possible for phenomenology to account for the structure of revelation without having to draw from the well of theological discourse? (16). Is not phenomenology “inevitably dependent upon its engagement with religions language?” (16). It may be that phenomenological accounts of revelation are inescapably “contaminated” by a certain theological orientation or bias (16). But this, argues Graves, is in a way inevitable—for the idea of a philosophy somehow starting without presuppositions is a fantasy. In a qualified sense, then, such presuppositions can be a good thing. After all, were phenomenology unable to draw upon theological content when addressing the phenomenon of revelation, what would be left for the phenomenologist to investigate?4 As Graves says,

What would the phenomenological meaning of revelation mean in the absence of any reference to concrete religious experience? Would it represent an empty figure, a mere shadow? Or, would it mark the ultimate essence of revelation as such, beyond any of its particular historical, linguistic, or textual instantiations? (16).

The polar threats of “contamination” and “de-contamination” are related to the twofold sense of revelation itself. On the one hand, revelation can designate “the means or the process by which God is revealed to human beings” (13). On the other hand, it can denote “the nature of the content that is revealed” (13). According to Graves, the problems of ontic contamination and counter-contamination are both apparent in Heidegger’s 1928 lecture. This is largely explainable due to Heidegger’s commitment to what he at the time took to be the scientificity of philosophy. Philosophy and theology, Heidegger claims, are “two sciences rather than two competing worldviews” (25). There are two general types of science—ontic science and ontological science, a distinction grafted onto the ontological difference, the difference between beings (entities) and being (the being of entities). Science for Heidegger, taken in its most general sense, is defined by “‘the founding disclosure, for the sake of disclosure, of a self-contained region of beings, or of Being as such’” (27). The division between ontic and ontological sciences accordingly “derives from these two radically different manners of disclosure—ontic sciences are founded upon a disclosure of a being or a region of beings, whereas ontology involves the disclosure of Being as such” (27). Said another way, ontic sciences never engage the question of being as such. What they do instead, says Heidegger, is conceptualize, objectify, or thematize a set of beings that have already been disclosed in a prescientific manner (28). As Graves explains, “ontic-positive sciences are thereby engaged in second-order operations—experiments, data collection, etc.—that are propped up upon and sustained by the ‘rough’ and ‘naïve’ interpretations of their respective fields—interpretations which they inadvertently inherit from ordinary, pre-scientific experience without ever radically calling them into question” (28). Philosophy is not an ontic science. It is an ontological science—philosophy asks the question of the meaning of being as such. Phenomenology is thus the Urwissenschaft—as fundamental ontology, it is a questioning and clarifying of the meaning of being (29).

How does this concern the problem of revelation? As Graves observes, Heidegger’s distinction between ontical sciences and the ontological science corresponds to a distinction between revelation (Offenbarung) and revealability (Offenbarkeit) (23). Revealability is a formalization of revelation, one that Graves argues threatens to distort the concrete character of revelation itself (24). According to him, Heidegger attempts to illegitimately superimpose the formal character of revealability back upon revelation itself, so that the latter is purged of any ontic content that might threaten to contaminate the ontological character of the analytic of Dasein that is built upon it (24-25). But has not Heidegger thereby hollowed out revelation itself? Graves thinks Heidegger has. Heidegger, he says, “simply folds the ‘purity’ or ‘formality’ constitutive of revealability over into the ontic-positive domain of revelation” (50), such that revelation gets recast as a “pure, formal structure,” while revealability becomes “the structure of a structure” (50). Consequently, Heidegger’s formalization of revelation renders it “merely an empty shell, a mere abstraction” (50-51) That is to say, Heidegger commits the phenomenological sin of counter-contamination: “revealability (Offenbarkeit) intrudes upon and violates revelation (Offenbarung)” (50-51).

Why does Heidegger do this? Graves attributes Heidegger’s error to what Jacques Derrida calls the “logic of presupposition” (30). Heidegger’s prioritization of fundamental ontology over ontic inquiry claims to “reveal deeper structures of experience, which are more primordial than the modes of experience unearthed by ontic-positive analysis” (32). These primordial structures purportedly lie beneath the domains of language, culture, and religion in general (33). According to Graves, however, Heidegger’s ambition of uncovering fundamental or “originary” structures ultimately renders the resulting phenomenon of revelation devoid of any determinate content.

Even if one were to dispute Graves’s claim that revelation in Heidegger is attenuated and formalized to the point of no longer being anything but the structure of a structure, there is another problem which Graves mentions as well. The ontological science—the science of being—like any inquiry is said by Heidegger to be oriented toward particular entities. But if all inquiry implies that ontology’s quest for being must itself begin with some entity, then phenomenology would no longer appear to be a non-oriented, ontological science. Heidegger’s famous solution, as Graves notes, is to emphasize that phenomenology’s difference from the positive ontic sciences is that the kind of being through which a genuine science of being passes is a being with an understanding of being. As Graves says, “On account of the peculiar character of Dasein, Heidegger suggests, his analysis can be delimited and directed toward a particular being (namely, Dasein) without fear of losing sight of the ontological question (namely, of the meaning of Being as such)” (38). The existential analytic, thus, aims to function as a preliminary point of departure for fundamental ontology.

What, though, of the analytic of Dasein’s relationship to theology? Many of the key features of Heidegger’s existential analytic in Being and Time—historicity, facticity, care, fundamental temporality, anxiety—were prefigured by his early lecture courses on religion (45). Thus, there is the potential problem of theological contamination. In an attempt to avoid it, Heidegger will claim that phenomenology resembles theology only because the object of theology (faith, revelation, Christlichkeit) conceals within itself a kind of abstract, formal character which falls to phenomenology to uncover. Heidegger contends that Christlichkeit is derivative—it is founded upon a deeper, more primordial pre-Christian structure (65). Finitude, sin, anxiety, conscience—such phenomena are to be purified of their traditional theological garb, revealing their true ontological significance. The concept of sin, for example, can only be explained in terms of a more fundamental ontological concept of guilt (66). As Graves notes, “none of the determinate content of the way of being of faith remains—it has already been removed as part of the excavation process that served to expose its more radical foundations in the ontology of Dasein” (66). Although Heidegger’s development of his philosophy of being was inextricably tied to his theological interests (41), including Luther’s theology of the cross and Pauline eschatology, the analytic of Dasein “has already been subject to a counter-contamination” (62).

Having examined the problems of contamination and counter-contamination, the logic of presupposition, and the distinction between ontic sciences and ontological science, Graves poses a question meant to highlight a tension in Heidegger’s attempt to purge revelation of any traditional theological content in the name of uncovering “originary” or fundamental ontological structures:

Is Heidegger’s interpretation of primal Christianity (Urchristentum) meant merely to serve as one concrete, historical example that helps illuminate the fundamental existential structures—that is, as one example among other possible examples? If so, he would have to explain why Christian experience appears to supply the example par excellence for his fundamental existentials (an explanation which he never provides). Or, on the contrary, does the primal Christian experience constitute a privileged event (a particular “revelation,” as it were), one that would prove indispensable for Heidegger’s later fundamental ontology—that is, an event in the absence of which the fundamental structures of Being and Time could not have been thought? (45).

Despite the internal vacillation apparent in Heidegger’s text, the ultimate goal of an existential analytic of religious life is to render explicit the general structure of revealability. The traditional theological content serves as mere “formal indications (formale Anzeige)” (42)—signposts on the way to uncovering “the unique temporal modality implicit within the primal Christian eschatological experience” (43). By insisting on the priority of revealability over and above revelation (48), Heidegger tries to “secure a method capable of grasping this experience” (42). To do so, it is necessary to chart a middle course, neither committing an “ontic contamination” of the ontological nor a premature formalization of the ontical. The problem of contamination threatens the philosophical status of phenomenology, the problem of counter-contamination the phenomenology of revelation qua revelation (55). Eager to preempt any accusation that his ontology is contaminated by Christian revelation, Heidegger tries to avoid the first problem by preserving the autonomy and priority of fundamental ontology. He attempts to do this, by hollowing out Christian eschatological experience to such an extent that theology begins to resemble phenomenology and the positum of theology begins to resemble factical life experience itself (55-56). The formalization of the ontical content of revelation enables Heidegger to maintain the priority of phenomenological ontology (the science of being) over theological science (the science of revelation) (56). Consequently, as Graves summarizes,

Heidegger’s obsession with ontological concerns and his constant quest for increasingly radical foundations or conditions of possibility eventually led him to view faith, Christlichkeit, and revelation (Offenbarung) as merely derivative phenomena. But this conclusion came only after a long period of philosophical labor in which the religious concepts underwent (or were subjected to) a series of progressive formalizations and radicalazations, which effectively purged them of their determinate contents (67).

Although Graves does not say it here explicitly, one clearly is meant to conclude that the desirability of what Heidegger’s process of formalization leaves us is dubious.

Does Jean-Luc Marion’s phenomenology of revelation qua revelation fare better? This is the question of Graves’s next chapter. Having first examined Heidegger, here he turns to Husserl. Marion’s phenomenology of revelation, particularly the formulation of the saturated phenomenon, relies on a reworking of the phenomenological reduction in both Husserl and Heidegger. For Heidegger, phenomenology as fundamental ontology is an attempt to deconstruct the history of philosophy, by properly thematizing the question of the meaning of being. It is thus a critique of metaphysics, as metaphysics (on Heidegger’s understanding of the term) fails to understand the being of Dasein and formulate the question of the meaning of being in general. For Marion also, phenomenology is a critique of metaphysics, but here it will be necessary to move beyond even Heidegger’s fundamental ontology and formulation of the ontological difference. In reformulating the phenomenological critique of metaphysics, Marion will argue it is imperative to surpass Husserl and Heidegger, by exploiting a breakthrough in Husserl’s phenomenology that Husserl himself never properly developed. Marion’s goal is to free givenness from all prior constraints. As Marion says, “‘In a metaphysical system, the possibility of appearing never belongs to what appears, nor phenomenality to the phenomenon” (80). As Graves himself explains, “Marion marks a crucial development in Husserl’s thought—namely the widening of the notion of intuition” (81) While Husserlian phenomenology marks an important break with the metaphysical tradition in this respect, Marion claims that the standard interpretation of Husserl misses what is most essential, by focusing solely on Husserl’s extension of intuition (82). Marion has in view two competing ways of interpreting Husserl’s broadening of the concept of intuition, the Derridian and the Heideggerian. On the Heideggerian interpretation, Husserl’s elevation of intuition marks a promising break with metaphysics and supplies a new ground for the question of being (Heidegger is fond of Husserl’s sixth logical investigation on categorial intuition). On the Derridian interpretation, this promotion of intuition marks the fatal step which leads Husserl back into a metaphysics of presence. Marion’s potential innovation, as Graves explains, is to suggest that these two competing perspectives on Husserl can be reconciled within a single interpretation, which would be informed and supported by both (83). “On Marion’s reading,” says Graves, “Husserl felt a need to broaden the field of signification beyond the already extended field of intuition” (83). Husserl’s desire to extend signification beyond intuition, Marion claims, is driven by a vague (and ultimately suppressed) recognition of a givenness which precedes both intuition and signification. Hence, Marion sees the true breakthrough of Husserl’s Logical Investigations not as the broadening of the field of intuition or signification, but as the implicit uncovering of the “unconditional primacy” of givenness itself (84). As Graves summarizes,

If Marion regards Husserl’s breakthrough as the discovery of the unconditional primacy of givenness, he nevertheless admits that this discovery was only partial—the instant givenness is unearthed by Husserl, it is immediately covered over by a classical (i.e., “metaphysical”) theory of intuition (84).

By reducing all givenness to what can be given “objectively,” or according to the horizon of the object (86), Husserl fails to thematize givenness radically. It is here that Marion’s own reduction—the “third” reduction, the reduction to givenness—is deployed. This reformulation of the reduction situates Marion’s account of the saturated phenomenon. Here again, the introduction of the saturated phenomenon is understood by Marion as a break from metaphysics. “Marion’s quasi-teleological interpretive framework,” says Graves, “according to which the development of phenomenology consists of a series of radicalizations culminating in his theory of givenness, seems to hinge upon Husserl’s original break with metaphysics” (79). Not only is it a matter of freeing the phenomenon from Husserlian objectivity. More fundamentally, it is a question of breaking free from Kant’s account of the conditions of possibility for the experience of objects. “The Kantian conditions of possible experience,” as Graves notes, “are not given by phenomena themselves but are rather imposed upon phenomena by the subjective faculties of sensibility and understanding” (79-80). In addition to Kant and Husserl, Marion’s reduction in part break with Heidegger too. Although Heidegger had himself radicalized Husserl’s approach with an existential reduction to being as such (88), he remains beholden to the ontological difference. “The saturated phenomenon,” observes Graves, “is characterized by an excess of intuition […] It cannot be controlled or neutralized by a conscious subject, and it cannot be reduced to or proceeded by any horizon—not even by the horizon of Being (Heidegger), let alone that of objectivity (Husserl)” (108). This is not to say, however, that there are not important overlaps between Heidegger and Marion. Like Heidegger before him, Marion also appears interested in retrieving “originary” and fundamental structures of experience. As Graves says, “Marion’s central idea of the saturated phenomena is based on a recognition that the given often outstrips the conceptual and linguistic categories used to understand or interpret it” (7). Like Heidegger, Marion’s phenomenology of revelation is a radical one.

And like Heidegger also, Marion takes great pains to insist that his phenomenological method is rigorous, strictly philosophical, and not contaminated by theology. In order to distinguish the phenomenology of givenness from theology, Marion employs “a distinction between revelation as possibility, and Revelation as actuality” (79).

According to Marion, [phenomenology] is properly concerned only with possibilities, not actualities. With respect to the phenomenon of revelation, the sole task of the phenomenologist would be to account for the mere possibility of such an experience, without having to presuppose or posit its actuality (108).

Yet Marion’s radical phenomenology, which seeks philosophical purity and rigor, “ultimately [leads] him to recapitulate the Heideggerian strategy,” namely “the protective strategy” of counter-contamination (78-79). Marion’s phenomenological figure of revelation (as possibility) “winds up imposing its own indeterminate status upon Revelation itself” (79). “Revelation,” as Graves says, “is described as a purely formal givenness” (79). In Reduction and Givenness, for example, Marion maintains that the “pure form of the call” is anonymous, “one that defies all names” (7). Such a call is said to be given “before any act of determination or nomination, before any Name can be ‘imposed upon it’” (79). Hence, the call of revelation remains indeterminate. As Graves notes, Marion’s radical attitude entails that revelation be defined in terms of a conceptual indeterminateness and resistance to linguistic determination, predication, or nomination (7). Understandably, part of Marion’s motivation for insisting upon a distinction between revelation as possibility and Revelation as actual is to forestall theological contamination, and the accusation that he is guilty of crypto-theology. But part of it is also an attempt to avoid conceptual idolatry, to avoid a philosophical discourse that would idolatrize God. This is something Marion addressed in God without Being, and Graves offers a fantastic account of that work’s account of the idol and the icon. Of relevance here is the fact that Marion’s phenomenology of givenness is said to overcome metaphysics (and nihilism’s so-called “death of God”), by liberating God from an idolatrous discourse. For Marion, as Graves says,

The problem of God for modernity has less to do with God’s negation, with atheism, than with the reemergence of idolatry at the level of the concept—we are, above all, prevented from respecting God not because God is rejected but because the conceptual idol blinds us to God (138).

The type of idolatry Marion is interested in resisting, hence, is conceptual. According to Marion, every conceptual discourse on God “involves a certain degree of idolatry” (95). How, we might ask, could one formulate a non-idolatrous conceptual discourse on God? (95). As Graves explains, here Marion finds it necessary to go further than Heidegger. In Heidegger, metaphysical thinking’s conceptual idolatry of God is named onto-theology. In onto-theology, God is given the definition of causa sui. Heidegger admonishes onto-theology for its forgetfulness of being and the ontological difference (96). Recalling Graves’s earlier discussion of Heidegger’s 1928 lecture is important here. Graves had shown that in an attempt to preserve the methodological rigor of phenomenology as fundamental ontology, Heidegger fell prey to the problem of “counter-contamination.” Here, Graves notes that Marion, who agrees with Heidegger that onto-theology leads to conceptual idolatry, claims Heidegger ignores a further form of idolatry. As Graves explains,

God’s revelation is contained or conditioned by “the dimension of Being,” by “revealability,” by the existential structures of Dasein. God may be above and beyond all matters of Being and ontology, but if God is to be revealed to Dasein, this revelation (Offenbarung) must conform to the ontological conditions of experience, that is, to revealability (Offenbarkeit) (99).

Consigning God to the ontological difference, and thereby confining revelation to the horizon of being, Marion believes that the Heideggerian divorce between being and God comes at too high a price. As a result of it, any talk of God as such is excluded from philosophical discourse (100). As Graves says, for Heidegger, “since the ontological difference is determinative of philosophical discourse, this implies that we must forever keep silent before God” (101). Or again, “By casting God as such outside ontological discourse, Heidegger essentially abandons theo-logical discourse (discourse about God as such) to the dogs, so to speak” (101). In Marion’s estimation, this silence of Heidegger’s on God avoids the onto-theological concept of “God” as causa sui or supreme being. Such silence, as Graves himself notes, embodies a certain reverence toward God. But the second silence, the silence insisting that nothing at all further can be said of God, “bars reverential silence from becoming the object of thought” (101).

In turn, Graves goes on to show how Marion attempts to open a discourse on God precisely where Heidegger had not. For although the ontological difference marks the borderline beyond which a non-idolatrous thought of God might finally become articulable (103), Heidegger himself does not attempt to think it. Instead, he remains completely silent. Marion suggests that, to think God reverentially, an escape from ontological difference is necessary (103). A phenomenological critique of metaphysics “must remain essentially indifferent to the ontological difference itself” (104), if God is to be discussed non-idolatrously, rather than simply passed over in total silence. To begin sketching how this might be possible, Marion highlights three biblical texts (Romans 4:17 is the text upon which Graves focuses) that he argues enable phenomenology to formulate an anterior instance to the ontological difference (104). In the passage in question from Romans, God is referred to as the one “who gives life to the dead and who calls the non-beings as the beings” (104), indicating God is prior to the ontological difference between being and entities. As Marion puts it, “‘The gift delivers Being/being’” (105). The problem, however, is that this dimension of givenness (or revelation) prior to the ontological difference is an attenuated, formalized structure. Consequently, Graves sees Marion’s attempt to move beyond Heidegger’s ontological difference as something ultimately still beholden to it, insofar as Marion falls prey to the same problem of counter-contamination:

Our thesis regarding Marion remains structurally analogous to the one we advanced in the preceding chapter: Like Heidegger, Marion’s effort to overcome charges of theological contamination leads him to adopt a strategy whereby revelation is divested of its material content. The process of “hollowing out” revelation leads to a merely formal conception of revelation—one that is essentially devoid of any reference to the historical, linguistic, and textual richness of revelation in its religious or theological acceptations. Rather than describing this procedure in terms of a divestment or “hollowing out,” Marion portrays it in terms of a purification of revelation—that is, in terms of a reduction to the “pure” call or the call as such (i.e., revelation) (107).

To be sure, Marion’s claim that “revelation (as gift) proceeds, founds, delivers, brings into play both beings and being itself” (105) invites the objection that this apparent recourse to revealed theology violates the neutrality of phenomenological method. However, Graves is interested in a different objection that others have not made. As he notes, what Marion terms the gift (or the call) is “materially indeterminate” (198). The indeterminateness arises, says Graves, due to the phenomenological method Marion develops in the course of sketching the saturated phenomenon. “Marion insists it is possible,” says Graves, “to provide a strictly phenomenological articulation of it, under the rubric of the saturated phenomenon par excellence—revelation” (108). But this phenomenon—the call, the gift, or revelation, must remain essentially indeterminate and anonymous, claims Marion. This means that those who allege Marion’s phenomenology is crypto-theology have missed the crucial point. This common criticism, which accuses Marion of identifying God as the caller, is in fact prohibited by Marion’s own philosophical analysis in works such as Reduction and Givenness. As Graves reminds us, the call in Marion “is ‘pure’ insofar as the caller remains undetermined; but this lack of determination is a highly ambiguous one” (116). The real objection against Marion, then, says Graves, is not that Marion defines the call theologically (for Marion does not), but that he renders it indeterminate. But if Marion’s account of revelation renders Revelation itself indeterminate, then as with Heidegger, we have another instance of counter-contamination.

It is unsurprising that counter-contamination should occur here, since it is generally committed in the course of defending oneself against the charge of theological contamination or of holding theological biases (115). Heidegger had done so in the 1920s when developing his existential analytic, and here Marion has as well. As Graves summarizes, “While Marion had previously characterized the task of phenomenology as offering a mere description of revelation as possibility, toward the end of Being Given it begins to sound as if Revelation (as event) is only ever given in actuality to the phenomenologist, to the one who rigorously avoids naming it, the one who is willing to live with the indecision of the gift” (117). Part of the indeterminacy Graves highlights is traceable to Marion’s radical approach to language. Marion clears the path for a pure form of a call which remains “entirely anonymous and indeterminate, since the call reaches the subject before the subject can wield any concept, horizon, or names that might serve to delimit the call, or give it a particular determination” (114). The fundamental problem facing Marion’s phenomenology of revelation, thus, is not the potential intrusion of theological presuppositions or contents, but rather a philosophical bias, which in the name of maintaining rigor and neutrality, distorts the actual givenness of Revelation. As Graves says, what results is an “attenuated conception of Revelation” (115). In an effort to defend the methodological rigor of his analysis, Marion misconstrues the religious phenomenon itself (115). Such is Graves’s claim.

It is worth revisiting Marion’s distinction between revelation (as possibility) and Revelation (as actual). For Marion, Revelation is thought in terms of its form rather than its content—as Graves says, it is “construed formally precisely because it refuses any determinant content” (118). But the status of this indeterminateness is ambiguous. Revelation might be said to be so, because it remains at the level of a sheer possibility, a formal possibility (122). In this respect, it is indeterminate insofar as the phenomenologist makes no decision about whether the phenomenon has actually taken place. Marion defends the philosophical legitimacy of his analysis of revelation on the grounds that it holds such determination, designation, or denomination in suspense (122). The philosophical rigor of the analysis is said to be safeguarded by bracketing the question about the actuality of revelation (122). However, Graves notes a further potential kind of indeterminacy. In addition to the formal (or methodological) indeterminacy just noted is another type, “material” indeterminacy:

Marion’s work suggests another kind of indeterminacy, one that belongs to the content or material of the phenomenon itself. Here, the actual content remains indeterminate precisely because this content exceeds or overwhelms all signification and concepts—in short, all efforts to comprehend it, to say it, or to give it a linguistic articulation. We might call this material-indeterminacy since it refers to that which is materially (i.e., actually) given, but given in a way that eludes our (linguistic) understanding of it. That which is given remains indeterminate not because it is non-actual or not-yet-give—as in the case of the formal-indeterminacy—but because this actuality frustrates and exceeds every attempt to pin it down, to make determinations, and to describe its contents. Whereas formal-indeterminacy clearly pertains to revelation (as possibility), material-indeterminacy belongs to Revelation (as actually given)—and thus, it would make no sense to speak of the formal-indeterminacy of Revelation or the material-indeterminacy of revelation (123).

When Marion speaks of a pure givenness or a pure call, which type of indeterminacy does he mean—formal or material? To determine or name the call would involve a theological interpretation which would violate Marion’s own phenomenological description. Under pressure to justify his phenomenological approach on strictly philosophical grounds, Marion has subjected the phenomenon of Revelation to a process of counter-contamination in his work (125). The resulting material indeterminacy of Revelation is related to Marion’s related handling of language and hermeneutics, Graves claims. For has not Marion in effect extricated Revelation from its proper textual-linguistic milieu? (125). In Graves’s estimation, the saturated phenomenon renders any hermeneutic interpretation of it an afterthought, as an activity that works upon an already given phenomenon (126). This is because Marion operates on the assumption that the success of his phenomenology of givenness depends upon a radical suspension of the subject’s capacity to constitute, conceptualize, or name the given (127). In the name of liberating the phenomenon from metaphysics (and hence the conditions of possibility of the transcendental subject), Revelation is left lacking any determinate material content. For although it is true that Marion will insist the saturated phenomenon necessitates an “endless hermeneutic” on the part of the recipient, this is ultimately because no set of finite concepts will ever prove sufficient or adequate to it. In the last analysis, Graves concludes that Marion’s phenomenology of revelation fails to describe Revelation. The decision to formulate the merely formal possibility of revelation, without presupposing an actual event of determinate Revelation, entails that the actual event of Revelation itself is left indeterminate (143). On the one hand, Marion seems to want to insist that linguistic determinations always originate on the side of the finite subject (in his or her effort to interpret the indeterminate given).  On the other hand, he wants to say that the finite subject is constituted by (or receives itself from) the given itself.  In Graves’s view, this presents a problem concerning how to account for determinacy in the first place.

At last, we come to Ricœur, whose approach to revelation is the one Graves most prefers. For it is Ricœur who is said to provide a way forward, by having taken a path that the radical approaches of both Heidegger and Marion did not. It all has to do with language. Contrary to the radical attitude toward linguistic mediation which maintains that any given phenomenon will require interpretation (and hence an imposition on what is fundamentally in itself indeterminate), Ricœur’s hermeneutic approach stresses that all phenomena are always already interpreted. Language is no longer regarded as an inert medium which simply mediates what has already been given by superimposing its determinateness upon it, but rather as a genuine source of revelation in its own right (133). Rather than language obstructing or occluding revelation, revelation takes place in language. For, according to Graves, it is Ricœur who rightly acknowledges that the given is always already linguistically determined (not pure).

This promise of language to resolve the problems of formalization/attenuation, ontic contamination, and counter-contamination besetting the radical approach has gone unnoticed, says Graves, because until recently, Ricœur’s work had been largely overlooked within the secondary literature on the theological turn. For whereas Marion under the threat of ontic contamination—like Heidegger before him—wound up advancing a purely formal figure of Revelation, one that is said to precede any possible description, designation, or act of naming, and one that is therefore anterior to linguistic expression and textual mediation (146), Ricœur instead treats language as the originary site of revelation. For him, revelation involves a transformation of the self during the course of reading or interpreting concrete texts—specifically texts that are deemed sacred (147). To the extent there is an indeterminacy at work in revelation, it has less to do with a prior, pre-linguistic givenness than with an over-determinacy rooted in the domain of language itself (147). The saturation does not reside in an “originary” domain beyond the ken of language and the concept, but in the superabundance of meaning within the text itself.

Ricœur’s discussion of the relationship between phenomenology and hermeneutics does not begin with Heidegger, nor even with Husserl, but rather with a consideration of the epistemological problems that plagued nineteenth-century hermeneutic theory and, specifically, those relation to issues within the Geisteswissenschaft (150). Dilthey, for instance, believed that the primary challenge was to show hermeneutics possessed a methodology that could compete with the natural sciences—a methodology “which could be held together on the basis of a coherent theory of understanding” (150). This required that the diverse procedures of classical hermeneutics such as classical philology and biblical exegesis be subordinated to a more general, unified theory of historical knowledge (150). Ricœur contends that Dilthey’s attempt to describe this process left his hermeneutic theory “forever oscillating between a desire for a general theory of historical knowledge, on the one hand, and a Lebensphilosophie rooted in a regional psychological paradigm, on the other” (151-52). Ricœur notes that if hermeneutics should not be understood in terms of the search for the psychological intentions of the author concealed behind the text, and if it not to be reduced to interpretation designed to the dismantling of the text’s structures, then what remains to be interpreted? (155-56). As Graves says, Ricœur’s answer is the “world of the text”—no textual discourse is so fictional that it does not connect up with reality (157). The world of the text is irreducible to the mental life of its author or to the immanent structure of the work itself (156). The text, hence, opens the pathway to revelation. After all, if revelation is an encounter with the divine which somehow “transcends, shatters, or pierces through the humdrum of everyday reality,” then the text is the most appropriate site for such an encounter (158). For Marion, language and concepts are viewed as a kind of filament imposed upon the given. But for Ricœur, the given is always already linguistic in character (179). The latter’s notion of revelation as the revelation of the world of the text consequently weaves together a hermeneutic theory of textual mediation and a phenomenological theory of being-in-the-world. This avoids the problem of counter-contamination. But in doing so, there is another potential problem.

In characterizing the world of the text as he does, has not Ricœur destroyed any basis for distinguishing sacred texts from secular texts? If every literary or poetic text possesses the power to carry one beyond the everyday world of manipulable objects, what is unique about the Bible? (159). The standard answer is to appeal to inspiration. In the case of a revealed text, there is said to be a double authorship, insofar as God is behind the voice of its human author. However, because Ricœur strongly rejects this conception of revelation as inspiration (166), the problem of distinguishing a sacred from secular text remains. While Ricœur’s hermeneutic theory of revelation represents a gain, insofar as it avoids the pitfalls of psychologism or subjectivism, how is one to know it is God speaking in the text? (170) Here, the temptation would be to appeal to some originary or fundamental phenomenon said to lie behind or beyond the text, yet Ricœur has expressly ruled out that option.

This all comes to a head in Ricœur’s own example of the phenomenon of conscience. As Graves explains, Ricœur’s “long route” differs from Heidegger. Whereas Heidegger’s ontological project entailed a logic of presupposition in which phenomenology would be autonomous from the positive sciences, Ricœur insists on maintaining a creative tension between ontology and the so-called ontico-positive sciences (177). In principle, this would seem to allow Ricœur to avail himself of theology in ways that Heidegger cannot. This would be important, because no matter how long the route one takes, any phenomenological account must eventually face the question of how it is to name the phenomenon that has encountered it. In the case of conscience, Ricœur notes the peculiar modality of otherness belonging to it: its “voice” seems to be coming from another. This is the phenomenon’s enigma: its call issues both from within me and beyond and above me (182). Contrary, however, to what one might expect, here Ricœur, like Heidegger, claims what or who exactly the other is cannot be determined (182), and thus he bars any straightforward identification between God and the call of conscience even at the level of a theology (183). For even Ricœur, the problem of revelation (at least insofar as it concerns the phenomenon of conscience) ends in indeterminacy. As Graves notes, however, setting the particularity of conscience aside, the hermeneutic approach to revelation generally maintains the possibility that the call is already named, that revelation is already determined by the historical, cultural, and textual conditions through which one encounters it.

This has been a very long review. However, in digging into the details to the extent I have, I have still only scratched the surface of what Graves’s book contains. Let me conclude with some final comments regarding the questions that remain to be answered in light of the new ground broken by Graves in his excellent study. As someone sympathetic to radical phenomenology myself, I can say that Graves has developed a number of very important, and compelling, challenges to Heidegger and Marion. In response, I wonder whether turning to Michel Henry might go some way to addressing those problems. This is certainly an odd suggestion, I recognize, as one might think that whatever problems beset Marion’s radical phenomenology are likely to even more so plague Henry’s own. This is because Henry is far more dismissive than Marion of the need of hermeneutical interpretation and textual mediation for revelation. For Henry, there is no call or response structure said to be at work—the revelation of Christ is immediate, ineffable, and unavoidable within the interiority of life. In Marion’s case, Graves correctly emphasizes that the distinction between revelation (as possibility) and Revelation (as actual) leads to the problems of counter-contamination and material indeterminacy. Graves attributes both of these to Marion’s conception of the relation between language and revelation, a view which implies that language does little more than impose meaning on a phenomenon which forever defies any such imposition. In short, the claim is that Marion’s attempt to accommodate the need for hermeneutic interpretation of the saturated phenomenon ultimately fails, because the given itself is always inherently indeterminate, and indeterminate because it is thought to be non-linguistic. In his most recent work, however, Marion has arguably taken a different approach. In D’Ailleurs, la révélation, he assigns a central role to the parable—according to Marion, the revelation that takes place through the words of Christ in the form of parables is a distinctly linguistic phenomenon. The parabolic discourses first disclose a mystery, which is in turn resolved by those who have “ears to hear” and “eyes to see.” It would be interesting to hear from Graves about the extent to which, if at all, he thinks Marion’s analysis of the parable (and in turn the Trinity) addresses the previous problem of Revelation’s material indeterminacy.5 For with the parable, initially Revelation proves mysterious, yet ultimately determinate—Christ reveals himself to be the Son of God.

Of course, Marion’s employment of the parables will elicit the familiar objection that he is guilty after all of doing theology rather than phenomenology, but this is fine, if one thinks, as Graves does, that the ideal of philosophical rigor guiding such an objection, one that had previously led Marion to insist upon the distinction between revelation (as possibility) and Revelation (as actual), is not worth preserving. The question Marion asks in light of the mystery put forth by the parable is a good one: why do some of those who encounter these words of Christ recognize him to be the Son of God, while others do not? Notice that the problem of revelation here is not only linguistic—the problem is not whether one knows (or how one knows that one knows) that the Bible is indeed the word of God. The problem, therefore, is not limited simply to those who encounter the parables in the context of what Ricœur says is considered to be a sacred text by believers. For the problem was already salient for those said to have been directly contemporaneous to Christ. While the problem of revelation is perhaps further complicated by textual mediation, this later complication is only derivative of the more primary problem, one which confronted those who encountered Christ face to face just as much as it does anyone today. If Graves opens his study by recounting the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century critiques of revelation, here it is fitting to mention two figures who sought to defend it: Hamann and Kierkegaard. For Hamann and Kierkegaard, when read in the spirit of Christ, Scripture will address one as the word of God, and the inspired status of its meaning, which is otherwise veiled, becomes accessible. If one fails to do so, no revelation takes place. How, then, does one know it is God speaking in and through the text? Ultimately, it is not possible to demonstrate this to others, nor to deduce it by discursive reason, historical evidence, or any other such public criterion. This is because, even in the case of a revelation that would appear to be mediated linguistically, it is the Word who speaks. This was Henry’s point, and I think it is an unavoidable one, no matter how long a hermeneutic route Ricœur or others first travel in order to finally work up to it. Although it causes philosophical offense, radical phenomenology, I think, is right to insist that revelation always requires a salto mortale.6   


1 One should also mention the recent publication of another text in this same vein, Joseph Rivera’s Phenomenology and the Horizon of Experience: Spiritual Themes in Henry, Marion, and Lacoste (London: Routledge, 2022).

2 Such was the conclusion F. H. Jacobi drew amid the pantheism controversy. It was he who introduced the term “nihilism” into the philosophical lexicon.

3 To speak of a single Enlightenment, as if it were one unified intellectual and geographical movement, would be an oversimplification. There were French, German, Scottish, and English Enlightenments. And although today we tend to treat Enlightenment and deliberate secularization as synonymous, in the case of the seventeenth-century English Enlightenment, at least, disputes regarding the relationship between reason and faith originated within a religious milieu seeking to clarify the so-called “rule of faith”: whether it was the church, Scripture, or inspiration possessing the last word on what constituted religious truth. There was hope reason might adjudicate the issue. That the elevation of reason for this specific purpose would precipitate the broader atheistic and secularist developments it later did was something the Great Tewmen or Cambridge Platonists did not foresee or intend. See Frederick C. Beiser, The Sovereignty of Reason: The Defense of Rationality in the Early English Enlightenment (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996).

4 For an excellent examination of the way in which Heidegger attempts to formulate a phenomenological method successfully navigating the danger of theological “contamination,” see Ryan Coyne’s Heidegger’s Confessions: The Remains of Saint Augustine in Being and Time and Beyond (University of Chicago Press, 2015). Tarek R. Dika has argued that this attempt of Heidegger’s ultimately fails; the theological content of the existential analytic’s fundamental categories is ineliminable, Dika argues. See “Finitude, Phenomenology, and Theology in Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit.” Harvard Theological Review 110 (4) 2017: 476–494.

5 Although some of the material in question was already available in other sources, such as his 2014 “Givenness and Revelation” Gifford Lectures, D’Ailleurs, la révélation itself only appeared in print after Graves had completed his own study. For a discussion of the way in which the parable is said to accomplish Revelation, see Marion, D’Ailleurs, la révélation (Paris: Grasset, 2020), 336-51. An English translation of D’Ailleurs is currently in preparation by Stephanie Rumpza and Stephen E. Lewis.

6 I would like to thank Adam Graves for extending me the invitation to write this review.

Frantz Brentano: The Teaching of Jesus and Its Enduring Significance

The Teaching of Jesus and Its Enduring Significance. With an Appendix: 'A Brief Description of the Christian Doctrine' Book Cover The Teaching of Jesus and Its Enduring Significance. With an Appendix: 'A Brief Description of the Christian Doctrine'
Primary Sources in Phenomenology
Frantz Brentano. Translated by Richard Schaefer
Springer Cham
2021
eBook 58.84 €
VIII, 122

Reviewed by: Elodie Boublil, Ph.D. (University of Paris XII; Alexander von Humboldt Fellow (2018-2020)

The Teaching of Jesus and its Enduring Significance brings together a set of texts written by Frantz Brentano at the end of his life and deals with the Christian doctrine of Revelation, the relationship between faith and reason, the teaching of Jesus reported in the Gospels, and the authority of the Church, as an institution, to define Catholic dogmas. This volume represents a valuable historical, biographical, and philosophical document that allows us to contextualize the genesis of Brentano’s reflection on natural knowledge and the limits of human understanding, and better understand the roots of his rejection of dogmatic theology.

Indeed, these texts reveal how much Brentano was affected by his tumultuous relationship with the Roman Catholic Church as he suffered exclusion and critiques in the aftermath of his opposition to the First Vatican Council. Brentano decided to leave the priesthood in 1873 and then the Church in 1879 because of an existential and spiritual crisis that, until the end of his life, left traces evidenced by this volume.

In his preface, Brentano explained and complained: “in spite of many subsequent attacks from those on the side of the Church, I determined never to act in an aggressive way, and even took pains to encourage a certain respect for the Church, that I myself still cherished, in the hearts of others. But I nevertheless would like to see other youthful souls, who are motivated by the highest aspirations, spared the difficult inner struggles that I suffered through.” Following a rationalist perspective, Brentano aims here to prove that the faith proclaimed by the Revelation and formulated by the Catholic Church does not meet the criteria of rational and objective knowledge. Brentano, a defender of natural theology, sees dogmatic theology as an illegitimate and invalid doctrine incompatible with the latter.

The rupture between Brentano and the Catholic Church followed the proclamation in 1871 of the dogma of papal infallibility on the occasion of the First Vatican Council. Brentano was involved in the discussions as Alfred Kastil’s introduction recalls: “Bishop Ketteler (…) before the opening of the Vatican Council, as the conflict over infallibility, began to surge, commissioned the young theologian Brentano, whose thorough knowledge of Dogmatics and Church history he so valued, to draft a memorandum on the contentious subject.” Brentano joined the leaders of the schismatic current of the “Old Catholics” in elaborating counterarguments to this dogma.

According to Brentano, the affirmation of papal infallibility would represent an abuse of power by the ecclesiastical authorities and an obstacle to intellectual freedom. As I will indicate later, such a statement reflects neither the spirit nor the letter of the texts promulgated by the First Vatican Council, even if it has the merit of alerting to the temptation of clericalism and power abuses.

Brentano’s aim in The Teaching of Jesus and its Enduring Significance is therefore twofold: on the one hand, to show the moral value of the person of Jesus, his authenticity and courage, and on the other hand, to demonstrate what he considers to be inconsistencies or even contradictions in the dogmas of the Catholic Church to justify his opposition to the Council and his rejection of the dogma. We will see, though, that he tends to compensate for his rejection of absolute truth by an absolutization of rationality that may itself be problematic.

This work also helps contextualize Brentano’s rationalism by revealing his personal and philosophical relationship to the Catholic faith and his defense of natural theology. The latter is situated within a broader philosophical movement opposing Catholicism – that of the secularization of the late 19th century – as the author’s references to Nietzsche in the last pages show. His emphasis on the moral and existential exemplarity of Jesus is also striking and original in this particular context. This review begins by summarizing Brentano’s arguments before offering a short critical analysis, both from a philosophical and a theological standpoint, to match the scope of this volume.

I. Jesus, The Gospels, or The Church?

As the book’s introduction indicates, Brentano repeatedly affirms his admiration for Jesus, for the moral law proposed by the Gospels and recognizes the existence of a unique God who is infinitely good. Unlike positivist philosophers supporting historicism, Brentano does not seek to compare the historical Jesus to his presentation in the Gospels. His critique is instead directed toward the Catholic Church and what he believes to be his relation to truth through the problematic question of dogmas’ definitions. According to Brentano, any search for objective truth is the privileged and exclusive domain of philosophy and rational metaphysics based on natural knowledge. Contrary to the Christian doctrine, Brentano does not think natural knowledge is compatible with the Revelation.

Consequently, Brentano does not recognize the logical and epistemic value of “the teaching of Jesus” and even less its dogmatic elaboration by the Tradition. He claims and reaffirms in these pages his apostasy, even if he maintains his moral admiration for the person of Jesus, his courage, his authenticity, and if he retains his providential role in the history of humanity. Brentano’s criticism thus pits the person of Jesus against the Church. This is a statement or hypothesis from the author. However, even if he is a theologian by training, he does not elaborate a theological refutation of the unity between the sacramental body of Christ and the ecclesial body, as affirmed by Saint Paul in the first epistle to the Corinthians.

The first chapter focuses on the moral teaching that can be drawn from the Gospels, contemplating the life and words of Jesus. After recalling the commandments of God’s law given to Moses, Brentano looks at the morality contained in the parables of the Gospels. The author insists on the exemplarity of Christ and the authenticity of his testimony and his life, contrasting with the disciples’ attitudes: “One should look to his example. One should learn from him to be gentle and humble of heart (Matthew 11:29 [NSRV]). The commandment to love one another is transformed into a new commandment by the addition of the words: “as I have loved you” (John 13:34 [NSRV]). One must thus also follow him by taking up his cross. He is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6 [NSRV])” (The Teaching of Jesus, p. 36).

Nevertheless, expanding on his analysis and description of Jesus’ teaching, Brentano became interested in his humanity. He criticizes Jesus’ human traits, his anger, and legitimate outbursts at the religious authorities who consistently seek to trap him, discredit him, and put him to death. However, such a way to downplay Jesus’ personality because of his humanity reveals the way Brentano conceives of God (based on an ideal of impassibility or self-mastery). It does not contradict the Christian dogma, according to which Jesus is true God and Man and therefore endowed with human affectivity. In the following pages, we see that this criticism of Brentano may result from the fact that he was somewhat favorable to Monothelitism, a doctrine rejected by the Church and according to which Christ would have had two natures (human and divine) but only one will (divine). This heresy was rejected by the Lateran Council (649) and the Ecumenical Council of Constantinople III (680-681). Unfortunately, Brentano seems to endorse Monothelitism witfhout explicitly addressing the arguments that refute it.

Brentano insists on the figurative language and parables of Jesus to distinguish faith from reason. He argues that parables are less precise than logical demonstration and, therefore, less prone to convince: “Faith exists in a disproportion between the evidence and the level of conviction. For faith exists, to a certain extent, midway between opinion and knowledge, sharing with the former the absence of secure grounds and sharing with the latter absolute conviction and the suspension of doubt. One has often run up against this, but the Church has continually reaffirmed this paradoxical, logically and morally dubious anomaly (The Teaching of Jesus, p. 39).” Such a rationalist definition immediately rules out the supernatural dimension of faith, which would find its roots in grace, and reduces it to a form of unfounded certainty. These definitions endorsed the Kantian definitions of faith, opinion, and knowledge, proposed in the Critique of Pure Reason and the Critique of Practical Reason. God and the soul, in these contexts, are practical ideas of reason whose application should be limited to the field of morality. According to Brentano, the truth can only have a logical and epistemic value. Thus, if Christ has a moral value of exemplarity, one cannot, according to Brentano, rely on his words to found and legitimate dogmas: “Jesus’s moral teaching does not constitute significant progress because it heralded entirely new commandments, but rather because, through his life and death, he lived them in a way that offered an incomparable example of the possibility of such sublime virtue. His sublime courage enlivened others to imitate him. This example will shine forth forever, and no prophecy is more certain as when, in this sense, one says: Jesus for all time” (The Teaching of Jesus, p. 41).

In a second chapter, Brentano focuses on the content of Jesus’ teaching concerning God, the world, and his mission. According to Brentano, Christ’s humility would conflict with his words about the glory of God and his identity as the Son of God. Brentano transposes here a human and worldly conception of glory and royalty since he qualifies the reign of Christ as a “monarchy,” to consider later this description contradictory and “untenable.”

Brentano’s approach to theology is based on the theology of substitution (supersessionism), which will be refuted by the Church in the 20th century, notably by the declaration Nostra Aetate and the constitutions of the Second Vatican Council (1965). In other words, Brentano’s reading manifests a theological and cultural bias that is entirely incompatible with his claim for an objective knowledge that would be deprived of any form of dogmatism. Moreover, on other occasions, Brentano provides explanations that result from several anti-Semitic prejudices.

II. Brentano’s Epistemology and the Absolutization of Natural Theology

In a third chapter, Brentano examines Blaise Pascal’s ideas and his apologetics of the Christian faith. However, as the volume editor explains, “his terse manner of formulating Pascal’s view is too much geared towards setting up his criticisms to be taken as a comprehensive introduction to, or interpretation of, Pascal’s text.” Brentano believes that Pascal’s argument about the original sin as the source of evil and suffering is irrational and unconvincing. He claims another explanation for the fallibility of human freedom could have been put forward without necessarily resorting to a theological argument. A strictly Aristotelian approach centered on acquiring virtues and analyzing incontinence would have been sufficient in line with his strictly human interpretation of Jesus’ moral perfection. Brentano advocates for self-control that could be acquired without the help of grace.

Brentano criticizes Pascal for not tolerating theological and philosophical criticism and for not subjecting Christian dogmas to rationalist scrutiny: “instead of attempting to bring these doctrines into harmony with reason, Pascal hurls the crassest insults against the presumption of a reason that seeks to evaluate whether real contradictions exist (The Teaching of Jesus, p. 58).” Brentano puts forward scientific arguments to refute creationism and reproaches Pascal for not questioning dogmatic theology’s ontological foundations. Moreover, according to Brentano, Pascal’s work is judged contradictory since Brentano opposes the Jansenist argumentation of the Provincial Letters to the later mysticism of the Thoughts.

In this chapter, Brentano examines more specifically the arguments in favor of the Church offered by Pascal in a passage of The Thoughts: the spread of Christianity in the world, the sanctification of Christians, the divine source of Scripture, the person of Jesus, the testimony of the apostles, the life of Moses and the prophets of the Old Testament, the history of the Jewish people,  the timeless continuity of the religion, the doctrine of original sin, the holiness of Church teaching, the behavior of “worldly-minded people.” To address these doctrinal points, Brentano provides historical counterexamples and rephrases the definitions. To refute prophecies, for instance, Brentano defines them as “predictions” or divinations, whereas such characterization corresponds somewhat to the activities of the “false prophets” described in the Scriptures. The authentic prophet is indeed the one who, as Paul Ricoeur says, “is that man capable of announcing to the King that his power is weak and vain;” in other words, the one who does not respond to the libido dominandi and the libido sciendi of the powerful,  but somewhat reminds them of the vanity of their overly human desires for control over people and events before the almightiness of God. In this sense, the type of divination criticized by Brentano is also undermined by St. Paul as it may contradict the virtue of hope: “For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is no hope at all: Who hopes for what he can already see?” (Rom, 8.24). So, paradoxically, Brentano unconsciously sided with Christian theology and the reasoning behind Pascal’s wager.

The point on which Brentano insists the most is the continuity of the Christian religion, and even more so of the unity of dogma through the centuries. According to him, the variability of the Church’s decisions and attitudes over the centuries and the disagreement between certain popes would show contradictions that would make it impossible to proclaim the dogma of papal infallibility. He criticizes the turning point made under the pontificate of Innocent III (1160-1216), during which the “vicar of Peter” was henceforth called “vicar of Christ” – and the institution of the pontifical theocracy continued and accomplished during the reign of his successor Boniface VIII (1235-1303). Indeed, according to Brentano, the condemnation for the heresy of Pope Honorius I (x- 638), who supported the monothelitic doctrine, shows, in retrospect, that a Pope can be wrong, and his teaching refuted by his successors.

According to Brentano, the affirmation of papal infallibility represents an absolutization of the power of the Church as an institution, which he does not hesitate to compare to the absolutism of Louis XIV, recalling the famous phrase of the French monarch: “I am the State.” It is important here to clarify how Brentano (mis-)understands papal infallibility. According to him, it seems that any statement uttered by a Pope would always be considered universally valid. Thus, the example of Honorius I would have shown that such an assertion would be a contradiction de jure and de facto.

Finally, taking up the example of the moral perfection and goodness of Jesus, Brentano concludes this chapter with a critique of clericalism, the Inquisition, and the political power of religious authorities by emphasizing the incoherence and violence of persecutions against intellectuals and scientists who conducted research contrary to the teaching of the Church (Giordano Bruno, Galileo, and Copernicus). He thus reaffirms – quoting the Gospels – that the command of love cannot be taught through abuses of power, violence, surveillance, calumny, and persecution. Brentano ends his reflections by comparing Jesus to Nietzsche to reaffirm better the moral superiority of Jesus due to his life’s testimony and genuine sense of compassion.

***

Several points must be critically assessed to contextualize Brentano’s text and examine his demonstration.

III. Faith and Reason: Best Enemies?

Brentano’s text leaves no room for the dimension of mystery when he considers the Incarnation, the Trinity, or the Redemption, and the free compliance it entails through the supernatural gift of faith, as conceived by the Christian doctrine. For the Fathers of the Church, faith is not opposed to human reason but opens it to a dimension that exceeds its finite capacities while fulfilling them. The hermeneutic circle described by Augustine between faith and reason, taken up by phenomenology and hermeneutics throughout the 20th century, defines human reason in its relationship to transcendence and its desire for the absolute. Such a conception overcomes the Kantian dichotomy, which may sound quite reductive, between belief as a subjective conviction and truth as objective certainty. The subject-object dichotomy has notably been considerably revised throughout the 20th century. Any attempt to take Brentano’s arguments for granted on the sole basis that he discredits faith as being “subjective” would have to endure and refute, as well, the critiques raised against rationalism and classical empiricism provided by critical epistemology and phenomenology.

Moreover, the First Vatican Council, which Brentano opposes, had precisely defined the respective perimeters of theology and philosophy. Far from rejecting philosophy and rational knowledge, it asserted its value in the search for truth: “There exists a twofold order of knowledge, distinct not only as regards their source, but also as regards their object. Regarding the source, we know in one by natural reason, in the other by divine faith. With regard to the object, because besides those things which natural reason can attain, there are proposed for our belief mysteries hidden in God which, unless they are divinely revealed, cannot be known” (Dei Filius, IV: DS 3015). It is not the First Vatican Council that rejected philosophy but Brentano, who philosophically rejected dogmatic theology, as a reliable way to truth. In other words, from a post-Kantian perspective, Brentano limits the scope of any possible experience to the gnoseology he developed during his philosophical career. For him, faith statements cannot have a truth value.

Brentano’s summary of Christian doctrine is based on the “God of the philosophers,” the “architect” of Malebranche and Leibniz, and not on the God of Christian Revelation defined by dogmatic theology. Consequently, Brentano’s demonstration reveals more of his philosophical option  – a kind of philosophical supersessionism – than it constitutes a viable refutation elaborated from within. From a methodological point of view, Brentano relies on deist dogmatism to refute the Christian dogma of the Trinity. Brentano’s text is instead a counter-apologetic in favor of an alternative definition of God that would make it possible to dispense with dogmas and the Roman Catholic Church, rather than an honest discussion – in the sense of a medieval disputatio – of the arguments given by the Fathers of the Church, moreover rarely cited, on the respective roles of faith and reason in these metaphysical endeavors.

Consequently, Brentano’s text is less a systematic and consistent refutation than a polemical attempt to put down the Christian doctrine. In this sense, it bears historical significance as it reveals the bellicose spirit of the late 19th century. It deserves attention to better understand the sources of division and quarrels between philosophers and theologians around the turn of the 20th century.

IV. On Papal Infallibility and the Catholic Church: Historical and Theological Discussions

One may be surprised while reading Brentano’s critique of the dogma of papal infallibility as it deliberately seems to ignore the decrees of the First Vatican Council that do not match his interpretation. Providing the historical context of the Council would have been helpful. The political history of Europe and Italy (notably the Risorgimento), as well as the history of the Church, showed that affirming the dogma of papal infallibility also responded to a need for unity in the context of growing secularism and a recurrent battle within the Church between Gallicanism and ultramontanist doctrines. Second, Brentano is wrong in implying that the declaration of papal infallibility amounts to an abusive absolutization of the power of the Pope as an individual.

The constitution states: “the Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex-cathedra, that is, when in the discharge of the office of pastor and teacher of all Christians, by virtue of his Apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine regarding faith or morals to be held by the Universal Church is, by the divine assistance promised to him in Blessed Peter,  possessed of that infallibility with which the divine Redeemer willed that his Church should be endowed in defining doctrine regarding faith or morals; and that, therefore, such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church, irreformable” (Vatican I, chap. 4, s. 9).

The declaration specifies that it applies when the Pope speaks “ex-cathedra” and that it concerns dogmatic definitions in matters of faith and morals. These definitions are not meant to be new definitions that would be completely independent of the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church, as the content of the doctrine is believed to have been revealed once and for all by God in the Scriptures and forever complete. In other words, papal infallibility means that dogmatic definitions (such as the dogma of the Assomption in 1950) proclaimed by the Pope ex-cathedra necessarily match the deposit of faith. It also affirms the supernatural and spiritual vocation of the Pope – that exceeds his individual nature – in the sense that the Pope is not meant to be the representative of the Bishops, as in a political party, but rather the “Servant of the servants of God” as other texts will recall (Ecclesiam Suam, 114). Considering this vocation, one should understand the dogma of papal infallibility from the Christian perspective, and not by projecting a strictly secular point of view onto it, as if some rational perfections were granted to a single individual because he would have institutional power. Such a standpoint would contradict Jesus, who declared, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the last of all and the servant of all” (Mark 9, 35). Ex-cathedra then means endowed with the Holy Spirit, in the spirit of Peter, who learned how to let himself “be led by someone else where he does not want to go” (John 21:18), precisely giving up on his own subjective will to obey God rather than men (Acts 5, 29), in other words, to obey the command of love and unity, rather than the lust for power and reputation.

When the constitution states that whoever denies the definitions proclaimed by the Pope ex-cathedra should be declared “anathema,” it only means “separated from Christ” (Rom 9, 3), as Catholics believe that the Church is the body of Christ, and the Pope, the vicar of Christ. This means that if someone refutes this doctrine (for instance, Brentano), he has the absolute right and freedom to endorse another doctrine of faith or none of them, but he is not legitimate in trying to change the deposit of faith of the Catholic doctrine according to his subjective, personal views and to present them as theologically valid for the people.

So, Brentano’s theological position conflated two aspects: a political one and a theological one. One shall necessarily agree with Brentano’s critique of power abuses and the extreme violence committed against those who raised questions or asserted different points of view. However, papal infallibility is not meant to lead to a one-sided homogenization or some ideological arbitrariness but rather to affirm the believers’ capacity through grace to trust in the Pope and the Church so that there will not be “in the Church as many schisms as they are priests” (St. Jerome; Paul VI, Ecclesiam suam, 113), and unity could be preserved throughout history. It is worth noting, though, that the Catholic Church’s aggiornamento in the 20th century has encouraged dialogue with humanities and sciences to make progress in understanding the world and people.

V. Classical empiricism and positivism as appropriate methodological tools to address theological questions?

The phenomenologists of the Göttingen Circle and Edith Stein will reflect extensively on the question of the relationship between phenomenology and religion from both an epistemological and a moral point of view. According to Edith Stein, opposing these two fields should give way to a dialogue that broadens our philosophical conception of truth. In her last treatise (Finite and Eternal Being, IV, #10), entitled “an attempt at a deeper comprehension of truth (logical, transcendental, ontological truth),” Edith Stein carries an in-depth analysis of the Aristotelian and Thomistic definitions of truth to show, from a phenomenological point of view, how transcendental truth and logical truth are articulated, and subsequently how divine truth would be inherently different from any truth. According to her, philosophy would become an ideology if it presents itself as a closed-off system, restricted to logical truths or the propositions of the natural sciences: “Reason would be unreasonable if it persisted in stopping at the things it can discover by itself” (Stein). Philosophy and theology, according to Stein, are not settled: “Pure philosophy, as a science of being and being in its ultimate causes, as far as man’s natural reason can carry is, even in its most complete completion imaginable, essentially unfinished. It is certainly open to theology, and from there, it can be completed. However, theology is also not a closed or enduring doctrine. Historically, it unfolds as an appropriation and intellectual and progressive penetration of the revealed truth of the Tradition.” (Stein)

Brentano’s critique of dogmatic theology should be put into perspective with what Christian doctrine says about the dynamism and spiritual growth of the spirit while contemplating the teaching of Jesus – teaching that for Christian theology are not “logical propositions” to be understood by a few initiates, but the revelation of a personal God accessible to all. In this perspective, a phenomenological approach would instead state that God is less an “object” of investigation than the “subject” of an encounter: “phenomenology is a philosophical style that can be attentive to religious, moral, and ecological evidence without reducing that experience to the presentation of objects” (A. Steinbock.  2012. ‘Evidence in the Phenomenology of Religious Experience, The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Phenomenology (Edited by Dan Zahavi), Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 590-593).

Ultimately, Brentano’s text points to the methodological differences between philosophy and theology. Acknowledging their discrepancies does not mean ruling out one another but encouraging an honest and respectful dialogue. The translation of this volume is timely in that it draws attention to the necessity to think anew about the way we conceive of faith and reason in a disoriented world where, paradoxically, blind scientific positivism confronts new forms of obscurantism and plot theories – two opposite yet similar ways to disfigure the human mind, her reason as well as her heart.

In theology as well as in philosophy, the word of Edith Stein resonates acutely: “accept nothing as love if the truth is missing, accepts nothing as truth if love is lacking.” To Brentano, Jesus is the only teacher who ever managed to fully reconcile these two dimensions of human existence and prove their significance: “If one interprets it consistently and pays close attention to its essential elements, then Jesus’s teachings have not been superseded by history. On the contrary, they have yet to be realized in their fullest sense” (The Teaching of Jesus, p. 41).

Jean-Luc Marion: D’Ailleurs, la révélation

D'ailleurs, la révélation Book Cover D'ailleurs, la révélation
Jean-Luc Marion
Grasset
2020
Paperback 29,00 €
608

Reviewed by:  André Geske

Before starting reviewing D’ailleurs, la révélation, I would like to introduce some key features that form the frame of this book concerning its author and the context that is issued. Jean-Luc Marion’s D’Ailleurs, la révélation is a masterpiece of philosophical thought and literary beauty. Without any doubt, the author is one of the greatest philosophers of this century. Besides being a recognized expert in the philosophy of Descartes, he has made many contributions to the philosophies of Husserl and Heidegger. Furthermore, we observe his influence in many other scholars inspired by his thought. In Christian theology, we are used to identifying the Church Fathers in two classes: those who consecrated themselves to defend the Christian faith through apologetics and those who deepened Christian theology. These last ones we call Polemists. Marion is a polemical thinker in a Christian sense of the word. He has brought to the debate a Christian reflection showing its pertinence to philosophy today. Moreover, he is one of the most important representatives of the renowned movement of renewing phenomenology in France besides great philosophers and theologians such as Emmanuel Levinas, Jean-Louis Chrétien, Philippe Capelle-Dumont, Michel Henry, Paul Ricœur, and others. It is also worthy to note that Marion displays acuteness both in philosophy and theology, something that starts becoming rare in our days. Many philosophers have not enough theological training. In this way, they misinterpret some Christian theological concepts. Moreover, we have to mention the elegance of using the French language marking his literary style. Both the content and the writing style are well-conceived enhancing the experience of reading. We cannot expect less from a member of the Académie Française (The French Academy of literature). A well-built philosophical theology or a well-built theological philosophy, it is up to the reader to decide. However, Marion walks in the path of most prominent Christian philosophers such as Augustin of Hippo or Thomas Aquinas. We will notice that the main discussion of the book is the possibility of overcoming the opposition between faith and reason through a new way, that is, a phenomenological way. Marion will regroup some themes such as revelation, the distinction between Greek Aletheia and Biblical Apocalupsis, witness, love, the phenomenological reduction of the givenness, saturated phenomenon, anamorphosis, paradox in the book. Some of them already present in other books, however in D’ailleurs, la révélation, he organizes them in a way to show the coherence of his entire philosophical-theological thought. Therefore, D’Ailleurs, la Révélation is an invitation for thinking. We are sure that its reception will trigger some discussions concerning revelation and its status in philosophical thinking. We will go further into the provocative character of the book later in this book review.

Marion has presented innovative and profound ideas in this book, but we should consider its symmetric format, too. A discussion of each part will follow in this review, nevertheless, as an introduction, I think it would be worthy of noting the internal arrangement of the book in six parts with four chapters each, excepting the first and the last parts containing two chapters each. The first part (The sending) deals with the problem of the revelation. It starts with the notion of revelation as a general phenomenon in philosophy and not a religious concept only, the Revelation.

The second part (The constitution of the aporia) concerns a discussion of the theme in medieval philosophical theology. In the third part (The restitution of a theological concept), Marion exposes the differences between two concepts of truth – Apocalupsis and Aletheia. He aims at showing the contrast between the Greek notion and the Judeo-Christian. Especially in this part, Marion introduces the idea of anamorphosis borrowed from art and optics to use it in philosophy to question the role of the subject as a critical observer of reality. In this way, Marion illustrates that reality can appear otherwise before the eyes of the observer. Then he should become a witness guided by the saturation of the phenomenon that arrives before him.

In the fourth part (Christ as a phenomenon), we consider how the revelation phenomenalizes itself. Revelation is not a saturated phenomenon, but it reveals Christ, the saturated phenomenon par excellence. From this point, the content starts becoming more theological. In the fifth part (The icon of the invisible), Marion starts dealing with the divine Trinity and all its conundrums to human reason. Finally, in the sixth part (The opening), Marion proposes a reflection concerning being and time from a revelational perspective.

At the end of the book, we find an index nominum with the names mentioned with whom Marion has dialogued, however, the entry of Hegel is missing. A second index presents all biblical references that Marion uses throughout the book. It helps a lot when we need to verify the interpretation of the text made by the author to support a given argumentation. However, an important biblical text – Psalm 19 – generally present in discussions about revelation, does not appear in the book, unfortunately.

Through this review, we would like to emphasize the main lines drawn by the author to establish his thesis. Therefore, we intend to identify the major contributions of the author, however, due to the length of the book (600 pages) and its density, it will become the subject of many academic articles for critical analysis. For this task, I would like to start presenting this work.

In part 1, « The Sending », Marion proposes to think of the world, not as an opened space but something which shows itself in a continuous flow as a river. This notion highlights that the phenomena that we perceive in our daily life show themselves by themselves. They reveal themselves to us. Thus, revelation is something common to our everyday experience. He gives us two examples, one more ordinary than the other, in a very poetic way, the act of skiing and the act of love or using an expression from the author as an erotic act. Both of them have three dimensions – it reveals itself, it reveals a world where this act takes place, and it reveals myself to myself (il me révèle à moi-même). By referencing the act of skiing, Marion intends to show that an ordinary act can always reveal something from itself. However, in the second example, the act of love, Marion shows that even complex phenomena reveal deep structures of reality as time, space, and relation. The relation here is not a simple relation of cause and effect but a personal relationship between myself and somebody else. We can see a strong influence of Hans Urs Von Balthasar here. In part 3, we find a deployment of this topic because, following the thought of St. Augustine, love is a prerequisite to search for truth. Marion starts leading us to not consider epistemology as something deprived of personal relation. Through an Augustinian path, Marion will demonstrate that truth demands love.

The reader accustomed to Marion will notice from the beginning that his ideas such as the donation (la donation) as a third phenomenological reduction, the saturated phenomenon, the erotic reduction, and the concept of revelation are present in this book. However, all of his contributions seem to find their achievement. The idea of revelation is a kind of fil d’Ariane that guides us through the labyrinth of Marion’s thought. Furthermore, in chapter 2 of part 1, we find the main structure for this idea of revelation that englobes a triad consisting of the witness, the resistance, and the paradox. By these concepts, the phenomenality of the revelation can be perceived and understood. However, an expression that will drive the thought of Marion concerning the revelation is its character elsewhere (d’ailleurs). Even though d’ailleurs gives the idea of something coming from somewhere else or from someone else, it can indicate a change in the logical plan and allow us to add a new element without necessary relation with what we have just said. Therefore, the notion of revelation from elsewhere (d’ailleurs) enables us to have a new way of interpreting reality. He introduces another rationality concerning philosophical thought. In this way, he plays with these two significations of the French expression at the same time.

Part 2 provides a route to a discussion in medieval thought. This second part, called « The constitution of the aporia », retraces the concept of revelation to interrogate if it is possible to consider it as a propositional communication of knowledge of God. Even though this discussion alludes to The Middle Ages, it has implications in our days, for example, the status of theology as a science. In this way, Marion brings into the discussion two exponents – Thomas Aquinas and Francisco Suarez.

Firstly, he starts through a discussion regarding Thomas’s comprehension of the scientificity of theology about revelation. Afterwards, he develops Suarez’s propositionality of the revealed truths. According to Marion, the propositionality of the revealed truths would steer us to the possibility of a scientific theology without faith because it would disconnect the apprehension (apprehensio) of things to be believed and the consent (assentio) given to proposed things. Since consent consists of faith (p.88), the propositionality of the revealed truths would permit theological thinking without it. This discussion gravitates around the notion of sufficient proposition (propositio sufficiens) that carries the revelation, that is, the sufficient proposition is the knowledge of the content of the revelation per se. Thus, the revelation could be detached from the consent of faith and assimilated into a scientific method. In the theology of Thomas, we can see a connexion between the revealed and the science. Suarez’s proposition reverses Thomas’ conception of the scientificity of theology.

Marion follows Thomas Aquinas to avoid this disconnection between the revelation and the faith caused by the sufficient proposition. We can observe at this moment how the philosophy of Jean-Luc Marion demands theological training. He understands revelation as englobing even the Church doctrine ordained in tradition, not only the Biblical Scriptures as the Protestant understanding. However, if the sufficient proposition comes only from Holy Scriptures as an original form of revelation, it will give birth to the pretended absolute primacy of the Bible as the criterion of thinking (Sola Scriptura) (p. 106). It would be an unbearable reversal of the metaphysical foundation of theology into the biblical text. Therefore, the Bible would become a collection of propositions. According to Marion, the implication of this reasoning would be a kind of scriptural fundamentalism that is present even in our days. It is an inversion of the epistemological interpretation of the revelation passing by the sufficient proposition towards the sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures. Marion affirms that it will be a Biblical literalism or a Biblism (p.106). This conclusion demands a new step in the arguments to avoid this extreme. Then, Marion provides the source for theological thinking: the Magisterium of the Church.

As Marion points out about the Concile of Trent of 1546, the idea of revelation is absent, although the debate concerned the relation between tradition and Holy Scripture. Indeed, this concept will appear only in 1870 in the First Council of the Vatican. Then, the Magisterium will start discussing this concept recently through the influence of the Protestant theologian Karl Barth who identified revelation not just as a communication of knowledge but manifesting God himself by himself (Dieu lui-même par lui-même). It is this change of perspective that drives Marion to the reflection concerning the revelation. He affirms: « correctly conceive revelation demands the motivation for that and the motivation from God’s perspective. Which divine motivation could justify that God reveals himself in person? Without making this first and last question, no research concerning the concept of revelation has neither significance nor legitimacy. » (p.122,123).

Marion knows the impasse of this conclusion that is all revelation comes from somewhere else, out of this reality (d’ailleurs). And, to conceptualize it is impossible because a human conception of revelation will not embrace this reality from elsewhere (p.123). « Revelation has the concept, formally speaking, of having none. » (p.123).

Thus, revelation is in the same category as God. So both God and revelation have a half concept (quasi-concept) due to the impossibility of having a whole concept, because according to Saint Augustine if we can describe God, it is not God who reveals himself and transcends this reality. Therefore, the Magisterium played a critical role to establish by the encyclical Dei Verbum a balance between the natural and the supernatural knowledge of God. It acknowledged the transcendent character of God and revelation that metaphysics has imposed on Christian theology. So, the Magisterium has the function of making intelligible the propositional content of revelation. Then, Marion explains the origin of the doctrines of the natural and supernatural knowledge of God. He assessed the modern perspectives of revelation through intuition, imagination, will, and concept. However, this aporia has not been closed until today.

Knowing this openness of the discussion concerning revelation (both in philosophy or in Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox theology), Marion proposes in part 3 to deal with « The restitution of a theological concept ». Following the advice of the Magisterium of a more theological concept of revelation with less metaphysical influence, Marion opens this third part with a discussion about the possibilities and the impasses of a concept of revelation. Thus, he supports a more Barthian idea of revelation as the openness of God personally, not a simple communication of predications about God. It implies a relation between man and God coming from elsewhere (d’ailleurs). Then, the Word of God is a declaration (énoncement) from God to man. Marion draws from more Liberal and Neo-Orthodox traditions of Protestant theology to start constructing the understanding of revelation that he proposes. Indeed, Marion starts preparing the way for advancing his arguments. He argues for a comprehension of revelation that must be without an a priori that could establish the conditions of its possibility (this is Karl Barth’s argument). However, without the determinations of the conditions of reception (this is Rudolf Bultmann’s argument), this revelation becomes empty. Then, the inevitable reestablishment of certain conditions (this is Tillich’s, Rahner’s, and Pannenberg’s argument) (p.177) would enable a less metaphysical influence in the idea of revelation. At this point, we could wait for a resort to the theory of a saturated phenomenon, but Marion goes further and affirms that this is not the case. Indeed, the phenomenon of revelation is a kind of a given that surpasses the capacity of conceptualizing it. However, the phenomenality of revelation does not have any other law than the (erotic) logic of giving (le don), of loving (agapê). Thus, to understand revelation, we need to look for a phenomenon that gives itself through love. An infinite givenness of unconditional love which only Jesus Christ can succeed infinitely. The saturated phenomenon par excellence. Therefore, we cannot enter into the truth without love, as Saint Augustine has affirmed.

Chapter 8 brings some chief thesis of the whole book. Firstly, the figure of love phenomenalized in Jesus Christ who gives himself to death is a manifestation of the revelation in its summit. Secondly, Marion demonstrates the dematerialization of things. Through a scientific method heir of the Cartesian philosophy, modern science creates objects from things. Two competing notions of truth appear according to Marion – Alêtheia as the Heideggerian analysis has shown as something that lets itself be seen or Apocalupsis as the Judeo-Christian thinking has used as the discovery of something that was covered by something. Marion makes many distinctions regarding the usage of both terms. Thirdly, Marion discusses the priority of the logic of love to know an object through the philosophy of Pascal. However, in Descartes, this logic is inverted to the precedence of knowing the object to love it. Marion explains that it is a « rational distinction between two usages of reason following the researched purpose (the certitude of an object or the phenomenality of elsewhere (d’ailleurs)) and following the hierarchy of the modes of thinking (primacy of understanding or the primacy of will, then of love) » (p.198). Fourthly and finally, all these steps prepare the reader for the idea of anamorphosis. At this point, the French philosopher introduces it in a facile way to develop it further in the book. So anamorphosis means the decentralization of the Ego (maybe as Paul Ricœur proposed as the ego brisé?) who becomes a witness of something that cannot reduce the description of an event to a concept. This anamorphosis happens when the subject face this elsewhere reversing his intentionality.

Marion continues through a deep thought about these four theses and their implications along with the chapters of this third part of the book. However, in chapter 10 we find the real motivation to understand the effort of the author. He states « This common logic does not succeed because of “the world”, that is we who boast ourselves on remaining Greeks in our understanding of logic, “seeking its wisdom” (I Corinthians 1:24), just as Aristotle sought it in being (étant) as being (étant); and above all, because we have never seriously asked ourselves why this “always searched science” also always remains “aporetic” to us; and finally, because we have never seriously questioned the evidence of our conception of wisdom, however long devalued in the science of beings, and today in the production of objects, according to a limited logic, but still supposedly obvious. » The motivation of the author is to invite us to a deep reflection about human intelligence itself that tries to filter everything according to its method and logic. Therefore, Marion proposes the notion of apocalupsis, the uncovering, that is not irrational, but it does not follow « the logic » of the Greeks that we use every day. This invitation is relevant to many discussions concerning the definition of science and what kind of science philosophy, theology would be, following the path of Dilthey, Ricœur, and Karl-Otto Apel.

To finish this third part, Marion delineates more precisely the articulation of revelation. Firstly, he proposes to understand it as uncovering. Afterwards, he presents three concepts that form this articulation: the witness, the resistance, and the paradox. If, we realize that what reveals itself surpasses our capacity of knowing. Then it is not just a relation of subject-object that takes place. However, a « witness » of this revelation can tell us what happened even though he cannot explain it precisely. There is a « resistance » before the phenomenon because it faces a paradox that pushes logic to its limits. As Marion has delineated: « The resistance comes from the fact that no one is ever immediately prepared, favourable or acquired for a Revelation, but that everyone is opposed to it, initially at least, because it redefines the entire field of possibility. » (p. 44). It is worthy to note that these three concepts concerning anamorphosis point to the notion that the phenomenon itself guides our apprehension of it by the conditions of its appearance.

The articulation of these three concepts was possible only after pointing out four tenets of the uncovering (apocalupsis), namely the epistemological heterogeneity of the thing and its sight, the ad extra phenomenological transcendence of interloqué, the possibility of refusal, and the indirect verification by transfer of visibility. These four tenets lead us to the fourth part of the book to explain how revelation phenomenalizes.

In part 4, Marion proposes a reflection about Christ as the phenomenalization of the revelation. However, we should observe that Marion does not examine Jesus as the phenomenalization of the revelation but Christ. We can perceive that Jesus was a person, but if he was the second person of the Trinity as he has pleaded, it requires some proofs and demonstrations. Thus, Marion starts this fourth part entitled « Christ as a phenomenon » with an enthralling, beautiful, and tricky analysis concerning the phenomenalization of the Greek gods. He shows us the evidence of the gods through their manifestation described by the poets. But it never occurs through a veridical body. Indeed, they assume a visible image to hide their real identity. However, this identity is not attached to the body which they have adopted. When discovered, they transform themselves into their original form to disappear. No one can see the original form of a god and survive. Therefore, there is no authentic relationship between a Greek god and man because a vis-à-vis is impossible. As Marion resumes in one sentence – « the Greek gods are not invisible, rather they are unseenable (invisables), because they have no body, no face. » (p. 280). Then, Marion elucidates why the Greek gods are not true, because they cannot happen in person from elsewhere before us. A contrario, the God of the Bible reveals himself. He can make the invisible visible. Then, Marion proponds a comparison to show the difference when he declares that « The pagan gods manifestly show themselves under their borrowing faces, because they never give themselves in person; Yahweh never manifests his glory as a phenomenon of the world, because he gives his face only in person, as his person, in his word which he speaks, keeps and gives. He gives himself in person (in his face) by giving his word. » (p.287). Therefore, the phenomenalization happens not when a person presents himself before me, because this visibility can be masked or be a lie. A person phenomenalizes his presence not only showing himself to me, but speaking to me, addressing to me. Even if this presence is not from this world (invisible), it really looks at me and it speaks to me, it concerns me. In the person of Jesus, we find this relation as the Christ who came from God.

Evidently, in the time of Jesus, there were doubts about his identity. On one side, the disciples and many others assigned to him the identity as the child of God, the promised Messiah. On the other side, the Pharisees, Sadducees, and others refused this idea. The second group tried many times to prove that Jesus was not Christ. The same emerged when Paul preached the Gospel in many villages of the Roman Empire, and many intellectuals and philosophers refused to believe in a bodily resurrection, something inconceivable by Greek philosophy. However, we can see through these examples a conflict of two kinds of rationalities. A conflict of two logoi. As Marion explains, one logos from the Cross and another from the culture. Although the apparent opposition, there is no true conflict. Because the genuine difference between both logoi is the power of the logos of the Cross that is opposed to the convincing logos of the wisdom of the Greeks. The logos of the cross is empowered not only by an announcement of happiness but through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Then, Marion asks the inevitable question – from where comes this power? This power comes from the shifting of the intentionality by anamorphosis, from the conversion of the heart to this logos, the sight sees the mystery uncovering (apocalupsis) itself. At this moment of the book, we can verify that Marion highlights these two existent ways of rationality that we must acknowledge because both are sources of thinking (p. 313). However, through centuries we have ignored it despite a methodic knowledge through philosophical reasoning emancipated of everything that our reasons cannot fully understand.

Marion shows that we have missed something. We have missed another way of thinking and Marion tries to retrieve it. Saint Augustine has affirmed, we do not access the truth without love and Marion wants to recuperate this love for wisdom. The mystery of Christ is phenomenalized by the incarnation of Jesus who lived a life of love giving himself entirely for his enemies – real proof of love. In the death of Jesus Christ, we can manifestly see the mystery of God who reveals himself to us.

Through chapters 13 and 14, Marion explains how we can shift from one paradigm to another. This shift of perspective works by the principle of the more mystery (mustêrion), the more revelation (apocalupsis) that recalls the phenomenological tenet that is a mark of Marion’s phenomenology « the more reduction, the more donation. » By anamorphosis, we can understand not only the phenomenon before us: the revelation itself makes us understand ourselves through the phenomenon that happens before us. The revelation of the mystery of Christ opens new rationality where the subject is decentralized as describe before to become a witness of the paradox of the limitation of our human capacity of thinking.

If we follow the reasoning of Marion about the logic of revelation in the saturated phenomenon, we have to ask what exactly the figure of Jesus Christ reveals. To answer this question, Marion will engage in a discussion about a chief doctrine in Christian thought – the Trinity. The problem of the Trinity is its dependence on metaphysical thought that was criticized through history, mainly in modern times. According to Descartes, we cannot have any certitude from this kind of theological reasoning. Theology deals with faith, and we only accept it. Therefore, the Trinity is not a case of philosophical reflection. It does not mean that the Trinity does not exist or it is something false, but we cannot prove it by reason because it does not submit itself to human rationality. Marion suggests that the problem we have to understand something like the Trinity is that we try to understand it not according to the rationality it demands, but through the rationality established by philosophy since Descartes.

Marion tries to show how the invisible can phenomenalize itself. However, it should be perceived and thought by another rationality. This rationality of the giving becomes the rationality of the revelation. As follows, part 5, « The icon of the invisible », will deal heavily with the conceptions of the Trinity. As we have mentioned at the beginning of this review, since part 4, the book becomes more theological. Hence, part 5 will plunge into a deep theological investigation concerning a controversial topic throughout the history of theology. Marion will discuss the aporias of the two models of the Trinity that we have in Christian theology. Firstly, the ontological Trinity or immanent Trinity (the Trinity in itself) and secondly, the economic Trinity (the Trinity as it reveals itself in history). Marion will show that both conceptions of the Trinity are intertwined. In effect, there is a mutual dependence of both models. Discussing this subject, Marion revisits concepts such as substance, essence, and person (ousia/substantia/essentia – hupostasis/prosopôn/persona) in dialogue with Barth, Schelling, Rahner, Bultmann, Balthasar. However, Marion does not set the limits of the debate only concerning the Father and the Son as we could expect. He brings into it the third person of the Trinity – the Holy Spirit. He intends to show the phenomenality of the Trinity by givenness through the power of transformation of the subject into a witness of this revelation from elsewhere (d’ailleurs), although (d’ailleurs) following another logic of thinking. The logic of the Holy Ghost.

In part 6, The Opening, Marion guides us through two reflections to retrieve two ideas of paramount importance to our days, namely, Being and Time, recalling Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit. However, to accomplish this task, he invites us to conceive it by the perspective of anamorphosis that shifts the intentionality of the logic of a subject-object relation into the standpoint of the witness who sees the phenomenalization from elsewhere. Even though this discussion seems philosophical, the theological themes and the analysis of biblical texts are abundant. Therefore chapter 19 treats the incarnation, more precisely the kenosis theory to discuss “the real being”, “the being of God” that phenomenalizes in Jesus-Christ who gives himself from elsewhere until death. The comprehension of this phenomenon inverts the logic of “the being” from the Greeks that it is something that we possess, the logic of this phenomenalization through the incarnation and the death of Jesus is one of dispossession as something that gives itself. Marion tries to save the Being from the attack that it has received from Nietzsche and others who identified the failure of Being conceived by metaphysics. As Marion puts it « this being, thus thought to be pure thinkable, no longer thinks of anything of the being, which itself reduces itself to the rank of an idol, to the waste of itself (déchet de lui-même). Thus, “the highest concept”, namely the most universal, the most empty of concepts, the last breath of vanishing reality. » (p. 545). This reality « is exhausted from having wanted to seize it by apprehending it as a booty to be possessed, preserved and reproduced. »(p. 545)

Being has lost its place due to the critical thinking of modernity. Likewise, time is another theme that requests an analysis from an elsewhere (d’ailleurs) perspective. In the last chapter, Marion proposes to think about the time coming from elsewhere on the horizon of death. Death gives the limits to identify the time of now that characterizes human finitude. Moreover, Marion refers to the Last Judgement as the vertical crisis of our horizontal history to trace the diagonal of the « now » to let us live each instant of life as the last one. Jesus Christ is the model of someone who lived in such a perspective and this is the most liberating perspective for someone who wants to live forever.

To conclude this review, I would like to sketch some major points about D’ailleurs, la Révélation. Unfortunately, we were not able to probe every argumentation of the book. We tried to outline the main arguments, but Marion thinks by an association of several ideas. This manner of thinking results in a very complex and imbricated argumentation. Moreover, Marion demonstrates the need to know theology to understand philosophy, because many of the arguments he used in the book and many of his arguments are the results of theological thinking. Consequently, we can understand that the religious concept of revelation gives us the possibility to think about a form of rationality lost since The Enlightenment due to its ideal of objective knowledge ripped off all metaphysics.

Maybe the book can be understood as a response to this Cartesian philosophy that concentrates on reason despite theology. Marion shows us that both can walk together. We can find certitude in theology because there is rationality in the revelation. In other words, Marion provides us with the foundation to understand that revelation can be verified, however, through another rationality besides the scientific rationality of science and philosophy as proposed by Descartes, Kant, and Hegel et al.

Robyn Horner, Claude Romano (Eds.): The Experience of Atheism: Phenomenology, Metaphysics and Religion, Bloomsbury, 2021

The Experience of Atheism: Phenomenology, Metaphysics and Religion Book Cover The Experience of Atheism: Phenomenology, Metaphysics and Religion
Robyn Horner, Claude Romano (Eds.)
Bloomsbury Academic
2021
Hardback £76.50
216

Balázs M. Mezei, Francesca Aran Murphy, Kenneth Oakes (Eds.): The Oxford Handbook of Divine Revelation, Oxford University Press, 2021

The Oxford Handbook of Divine Revelation Book Cover The Oxford Handbook of Divine Revelation
Oxford Handbooks
Balázs M. Mezei, Francesca Aran Murphy, Kenneth Oakes (Eds.)
Oxford University Press
2021
Hardback £110.00
736

Jean-Luc Marion, Christiaan Jacobs-Vandegeer (Eds.): The Enigma of Divine Revelation

The Enigma of Divine Revelation: Between Phenomenology and Comparative Theology Book Cover The Enigma of Divine Revelation: Between Phenomenology and Comparative Theology
Contributions to Hermeneutics, Volume 7
Jean-Luc Marion, Christiaan Jacobs-Vandegeer (Eds.)
Springer
2020
Hardback 88,39 €
IX, 301

Reviewed by: Matías Ignacio Pizzi (University of Buenos Aires)

Currently one of the most important problems from phenomenology of giveness consists of the question of Revelation. However, this concept is not something new in  Jean-Luc Marion’s phenomenology. One can find several formulations throughout his work. On the one hand, his first systematic step in Étant donné (1997). In this book, Marion shows that Revelation should be interpreted as the last expression of phenomenality. This can only happen if phenomenology dares to free itself from the predominance of the principle of sufficient reason, giving way to “excessive phenomena” that are linked to religious phenomena. In other words, religious phenomena can appear as a valid field of phenomenological analysis. On the other hand, the Gifford Lectures, whose results can be found in Giveness and Revelation (2016). In these conferences, Marion goes one step further, and this because he does not distinguish sharply between philosophy and theology when speaking of Revelation. Thus, phenomenology must be the source that allows us to clarify the concept of Revelation, both in philosophy and in theology.

This volume, co-edited by Jean-Luc Marion and Christiaan Jacobs-Vandegeer, aims to investigate and explore various phenomenological aspects of the concept of Revelation, in order to offer new contributions to the phenomenology of giveness. In this respect, this book tries to show, honoring Marion’s intuition, how the concept of Revelation permeates the most current debates in phenomenology and theology.

In Chapter 1, “Introduction: intersections of Revelation and Hermeneutics”, Christiaan Jacobs-Vandegeer introduces the problem of this volume: the interaction and mutual contribution between revelation and hermeneutics (3). Can hermeneutics say something about the possibility or impossibility for divine self-disclosure? In this case, Jacobs-Vandegeer reminds us of Marion´s conception of hermeneutics as a “delay of interpretation”. And this is so because Revelation as such is an essentially excessive phenomenon. As Jacobs-Vandegeer indicates with great acuity, a possible way of understanding this excess can be found in “the idea that the language of revelation does something more excessive and complex than simply impart information about God and the world” (5). In this case, hermeneutics must deal, though without giving up, with an original excess. However, a possible positive consequence of this is that hermeneutics can expand its own limits of interpretation.

In Chapter 2, “The Hermeneutics of Givenness”, Jean-Luc Marion deepens the relationship “hermeneutics” and his phenomenology of givenness. Various scholars have noted some kind of incompatibility between hermeneutics and saturated phenomenon. The question could be asked: how could an interpretation of an excessive phenomenon be “given”? Is that possible? In this text, Marion tries to offer a positive answer. For this, Marion takes up the problem of reduction. As Marion says, the radicalization of the reduction “makes evident, be it only by contraposition, the possibility, even the necessity, of an exception, of an irreducible” (17-18). Paradoxically, the possibility of a hermeneutics of the given lies in the fact that the given cannot be translated into any objectifiable phenomenon. And this is so because “givenness does not produce like an efficient cause, nor is it confined to sensible intuition, because it is not conflated even with intuition in general” (21). Through a critical reading of Husserl and Heidegger, Marion aims to show the radical nature of givenness against sensible intuition. In this sense, the givenness offers a self-referentiality based on its impossibility of being reduced to an object or entity. From this preliminary conclusion, Marion asks the following: “Could it not be that hermeneutics, far from disappearing with givenness (or making it disappear in order to begin speaking),  only in answering the word that fulfills it?” (24). Through a discussion with John Sellars about the famous “myth of the given”, Marion reaffirms that the given can only be thought in opposition to the paradigm of objectivity. As the object appears, the given disappears. Marion finds the origin of this myth in John Locke´s philosophy. Both Sellars and Locke present the same problem: the impossibility of thinking about what is given. And this for the simple reason that they claim that what is given immediately must be the product of an epistemological constitution. However, as Marion points out, the given cannot be thought of as something constituted because it is not an object. The “myth of the given” falls when we establish this distinction (28). In other words, the phenomenology of givenness could be presented as a remedy against this myth. Thus, the given cannot be manifested immediately. For this reason, Marion defines the givenness as an aenigma because the “indetermination of the given perhaps offers its only correct determination” (31).

In this phenomenological horizon, hermeneutics is defined as a discipline that does not operate on objects (33). Phenomenology of givenness and hermeneutics coincide in this rejection of objectivity. Thus, hermeneutics can interpret excessive phenomena because, strictly speaking, it has always done so. Hermeneutics in its original sense cannot start from an ego that interprets the world, because “the ego must remain passive in order to receive the sense that suits exactly that which requests interpretation” (33). Two final conclusions follow from this. First, hermeneutics depends on the phenomenological structure of “call and response” (36). Second, “hermeneutics manages the gap between what shows itself and what gives itself” (40). In other words, hermeneutics must manage the passage from objectivity to saturated phenomena and the reverse. Following this, we suggest that hermeneutics, as a passage from objectivity to saturation, can interpret the second degree of saturated phenomena: Christ as Revelation. How that can happen, stays as an open question or aenigma.

In Chapter 3, “Whose Word Is It Anyway? Interpreting Revelation”, Shane Mackinlay focuses on a series of criticisms concerning the concept of counter-experience in Marion’s phenomenology of givenness, as it appears in “The Possible and Revelation” (2008). In the same way as Marion, John focuses on a Christological paradox: how can Jesus reveals the Father’s will? This problem involves one of the most important consequences of Christianity: the divine and human nature of Christ. Revelation could be interpreted as the place where this paradox occurs. Following Kearney’s objection, Mackinley points out that the concept of counter-experience is not a sufficient criterion to distinguish between divine revelation against the possibilities of deceit and harm (57). In other words, the counter-experience of the icon in Marion’s phenomenology does not offer a clear difference between God’s voice and some kind of monstrosity. In the same way as Marion, Mackenly finds in Hans-Georg Gadamer’s philosophy a source for rethinking the scopes of hermeneutics in relation to the possibility or impossibility of interpreting revelation (60). From Gadamer’s proposal he extracts two ideas. On the one hand, the infinity of any interpretive process. This means that no interpretation of the revelation can exhaust it. On the other hand, if all interpretation is infinite, then the community must always be open to dialogue, since the interpretation of the phenomenon imposes itself as something always reviewable. Each judgement concerning revelation is provisional.

In Chapter 4, “Revelation as a Problem for Our Age”, Robin Horner offers some elements for thinking the language of revelation in the context of Western secularity. Expressed differently: Is it possible to find a language of revelation in a world where all language is merely a language of objects? This current impossibility of thinking the language of revelation has, according to Horner, multiple reasons. First, the problem of anachronism. The language of revelation becomes an irrelevant and even bizarre question. The modern secularisation offers the exaltation of individual autonomy, rationalist thinking. As Horney argues, this movement implies a detraditionalization of memory and any collective activity (75). In this process, religion and believing become something that has no place. Second, the reflections of various philosophical schools that, according to Horner, present disqualifying criticisms of religious belief. Consequently, “the philosopher, too, brings particular commitments to the search for wisdom, which might include a presumption of atheism” (77). Third, theology itself. And this because the theological language of revelation focuses too narrowly on the propositional, letting away the lived experience. Based on these objections, Horner indicates that the concept of experience must be reformulated so that religious belief is not set aside from contemporary problems. Horner uses the term experience “to refer to what happens at that point of opening in the world which is a given instance of life” (69). Given this, we ask ourselves, following Horner, whether the language of revelation may have any reference to the Husserlian Lebenswelt. Finally, Horner suggests, following Lacoste and Marion, that “that philosophy and theology are interested in common problems” (94). Lacoste’s “paradoxical phenomenon” tries to show the mutual cooperation between affection and intellect, theology and philosophy, faith and reason, when it comes to understanding revelation (96). Marion’s epistemological approach to revelation aims to point out that the logic of objects can be clarified out of faith and a radical commitment to an epistemology of revelation. In this sense, Horner concludes that Marion and Lacoste offer tools to find a language of revelation in the lived world of experience. In Horner’s words, “if it is the case that revelation no longer makes sense in contemporary life, perhaps it is because it has been locked for too long in the language of beliefs and made unavailable to experience” (100).

In Chapter 5, “Revelation and Kingdom”, Kevin Hart suggests that the language and experience of revelation depend on the possibility of a place for its manifestation. For this reason, he will concentrate his analysis on the concept of kingdom. Hart argues that “theological epistemology has become phenomenology” (107). Thus, the idea of kingdom must be elucidated from the phenomenological field. The kingdom can appear if we focus on Christ’s modes of phenomenality. Juan clearly states that Jesus “appears, if he does, only within a horizon” (113). Jesus’ parables offer a conversion of intentionality and give “eidetic insight into how to live in obedience to  God” (118). For this, Hart appeals to Marion’s concept of saturated phenomenon and the need to broaden the manifestation horizon of phenomena. In the same horizon as Marion, as well as in that of Christian philosophy in general, Christ plays a mediating role. Jesus can only appear in the horizon of the “Kingdom of God”. We think Hart’s proposal is interesting because, following Marion, he focuses on the place of manifestation of Christ as a saturated phenomenon. His question is spatial, and he finds a possible answer in the Christian concept of the kingdom.

In Chapter 6, “ʻA Whole Habit of Mindʼ: Revelation and Understanding in the Christology of St. Cyril of Alexandria”, William Hackett focuses on the problem of the experiential and participatory dynamics concerning the speech about God. In a very suggestive way, Hackett finds in Cyril of Alexandria’s “sacrifice Christology” a testimony to the dynamic nature of the Verbum. Through a language of patristics, Hackett shows that kenosis and henosis could provide the dynamics of revelation and the centrality of Eucharistic truth of Incarnation. “Mystic communion” provides a model of community (Cyril’s refutation of Nestorius). As Hackett remember, Cyril shows the distance between “reason” and “image” (128). In other words, “reason may explicate the image, but it can never surpass its power to carry the mind to the truth of revelation” (126). Cyril’s distinction between abstract and concrete intellective visions offers a way of understanding the nature of revelation, always previous and source of all theoretical language. The power of images consists in directing our gaze towards that instance prior to reason. We suggest that Hackett’s contribution, clear and erudite, can have an interesting deepening if it is connected with Falque’s interpretation of Nicholas de Cusa’s De visione dei, as it appears in his paper “L´omnivoyant. Fraternité et vision de Dieu chez Nicolas de Cues” (2014). And this because, according to Falque, in the same way as Hackett´s lecture of Cyril´s theology, Nichola´s conception of visio dei offers a reformulation of vision and the possibility of a community vision and a common experience.

In Chapter 7, “Revelation and the Hermeneutics of Love”, Werner G. Jeanrond offers a critical analysis of the different theological hermeneutics of revelation. On the one hand, Yale and its “hermeneutics of revelation”. This school studies revelation “with regard to inner-Christian dynamics and inner-Christian pluralism” (143). On the other hand, Chicago and its “hermeneutics of signification”. This school formulates “an open-ended hermeneutics of signification capable of encouraging a public, global and critical discourse on God” (143). In this horizon, Jeanrod analyzes Paul Ricoeur’s conception of language and hermeneutics, since the French philosopher points out a polysemy originating from the concept of revelation. This, in turn, implies the impossibility of establishing a corpus of truths available to an institution (141). Ricoeur’s concept of revelation “provides a way out of the reduction of an uncritical Enlightenment belief in the final victory of reason over revelation” (141). In accordance with the proposal of the Chicago school and going one step further, Jeanrond argues for a hermeneutics of love. This implies a “praxis of love” that can embrace divine Otherness. Given this, we suggest that Jeanrond’s proposal presents an intimate connection with the concept of love in Jean-Luc Marion’s phenomenology, since “love” saves revelation from the predominance of objectivity, and therefore, opens a dimension of excess that cannot be monopolized by any theological school. Thus, and as Jeanrond sharply points out, love reveals the constitutive plurality of revelation, and in turn, the need for a hermeneutics of love.

In Chapter 8, “Embodied Transactions”, Mara Brecht provides an analysis of revelation in the framework of a feminist hermeneutics (Michelle Voss Roberts). In the horizon of comparative theology, Brecht suggests that hermeneutics must open the access to the embodiment and his relation with revelation. Body plays a fundamental role because “revelation is received not by disembodied minds, but by actual people—who are fully embodied, situated in time and place, and shaped by economic, social, and racialized identities” (152). In this sense, all hermeneutics must account for embodiment in various dimensions: economic, social, political, gender. This allows us to reflect upon a situated subjectivity, leaving aside any abstract and a-historical approach. The embodiment is, following a notion of Jean-Luc Marion and Claude Romano, an “event”, not an abstract concept. According to Brecht, Shannon Sullivan’s feminist-pragmatist framework could help comparative theologians to understand the transformations of subjective identity and his relation between the embodiment. This path makes visible the logic of power that acts in the configuration of subjectivity. Brecht argues that we must analyze how this logic of power acts in the embodied habits of Christians, thus configuring his interpretations of the notions of race and gender. This proposal implies breaking with the monological hermeneutics of the scriptures, always “focused on only one religion” (159). On the contrary, Brecht proposes, following feminist theologians as Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Michelle Voss Roberts and Albertina Nugteren, “a dialogical hermeneutical space” to indicate a discipline focused on multiple religious traditions. In accordance with Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Brecht claims that “that subjectivity needs to be constructed as a profoundly communal phenomenon” (162). For all this, Brecht concludes that religious identity must be understood “as a habit of bodying, and one which exists at the confluence of other habits of bodying, including race and gender” (165).

In Chapter 9, “Into the Blue: Swimming as a Metaphor for Revelation”, Michele Saracino offers an extremely interesting phenomenological reading of swimming. This interpretation is based on an “analogy between water/creator and swimmer/creature” (177). In connection with Mara Brecht, Saracino analyzes bodily habits in relation to the embodiment. However, Saracino assumes that swimming can be seen as a “metaphor for revelation” or as an experience of the divine that includes our relationship with other. In this sense, she claims that “like the swimmer who works on getting a feel for the water in order to swim more efficiently, the believer must learn how to get a feel for God in order to flourish” (179). Swimming can open us to different experiences analyzed in literature and theology: vulnerability (Vaniers), resignation (Hans-Urs von Balthasar). These emotions, far from being negative, open us to otherness and a receptive capacity, in the same way that when swimming we stay “in the middle of things”. This is, in Saracino’s opinion, due to the unique character of water as a means of transformation and rebirth, as we can see in the sacrament of baptism.

In Chapter 10, “Revelation as Sharing in God’s Self-Understanding as Absolute Love”, Frederick Lawrence aims to show the philosophical and theological tension between God’s self-disclosure and God’s unknowability. In this argumentative movement we can find the tension between affirmative and negative theology and the discussion concerning the mystical theology. In this context, Lawrence proposes to analyze the analogy of light to think about the relationship between “Love” and “Revelation” based on the figure of Christ. For this, Lawrence examines the different approaches on this subject in Vatican I´s Dei filius and Vatican II´s Dei verbum. While the first emphasizes the concept of “natural reason” (199), the second focuses on the problem of  “God’s revelation of himself as true love in the communication of the Crucified One as Risen’s saving truth and his call to discipleship and witness” (199). In this sense, Lawrence returns to St. Thomas’s concept of caritas and its corresponding “analogy of light”, recognizing his debt to the mystical theology of Dionysius Areopagite (201). Lawrence recalls – and here we can trace a certain relationship with the experience of swimming in Saracino – that for St. Thomas the intelligible lumen is not a thing, but a means that allows the realization of all judgment or knowledge (209). In a most interesting way, Lawrence points out that St. Thomas’s conception of light is heir to the proposal of St. Augustine and the theory of human being as imago Dei. Going fairly into the subject, Lawrence analyzes Lonergan’s conception of intentionality. And this because “Lonergan’s mature phenomenology of feelings as apprehending a hierarchy of values (…) transcended the three questions about what we are doing when we think we are knowing (cognitional theory), why doing that is knowing (epistemology), and what do we know when we do it (critically grounded metaphysics)” (218). According to Lawrence, this proposal opens the possibility of thinking the “gift of love” as the central element of all revelation. Before any cognitive and individual instance, Lawrence shows the primacy of the interpersonal reality of love in the dynamics of faith and belief. Following this question, Lawrence argues that phenomenology focuses on the  “pre-propositional, preverbal, pre-judgmental, pre-conceptual” (223). Love as faith must be defined in this pre-conceptual horizon. Given this, we believe that Lawrence’s proposal can find many points in common with Jean-Luc Marion’s phenomenological conception of love, as it appears in Le phénomène érotique. In turn, Lawrence’s proposal may find an interesting confrontation with Jorge Roggero’s book Hermeneutics of Love (2019).

In Chapter 11 “Ta’wīl in the Qur’an and the Islamic Exegetical Tradition: the Past and the Future of the Qur’an”, Maria Massi Dakak analyzes the problem of revelation through a reading of the exegetical tradition of the Qurʼan, emphasizing the proposal of Ta’wīl. Against all authoritarian interpretation, Dakak examines “what the Qur’an itself has to say about its own interpretation” (241). The Qurʼan speaks according to its own metaphors and symbols. In this sense, Dakake proposes to think about the Qur’an from Ta’wīl, in order to highlight its multivalent character. Literal and historical meanings can reach a deeper relationship from the perspective proposed by Dakake. This hermeneutical proposal aims to delve into the meaning that emanates from the same Text. In this sense, Dakake offers a phenomenological approach, as “the search for meaning through ta’wil is, from a human perspective, indefinite, in that it does not have a terminal point that can be reached through human contemplative or intellectual effort” (252). However, according to Dakake the term Ta’wīl should not be read only from an esoteric or mystical perspective, but it should also see the possibility of a new and spiritually generative reading that contains the historical context and its excess, as well as an attentive reading of what the text is intended to express itself (259).

In Chapter 12 “The logic of Revelation”, Peter Ochs analyzes reception of Tanakh in the rabbinic Judaism, in order to offer a new logic of Scriptural reasoning. In this respect, Ochs introduces a “semiotic method (the “Logic of Revelation”, LR) for diagramming patterns of non-disjunctive reasoning in practices of tradition-based, scriptural theology” (261). The term “logic” refers to Charles Peirce’s lógica utens, namely “the not-immediately-evident patterns of reasoning that authorize and discipline any practice of inquiry (262). From this, Ochs distinguishes between two modes of revelation that correspond to a distinction made by Charles Peirce. On the one hand, “indexical revelation”. This means that God speaks independently of anything humans can elaborate or control through his reasoning. On the other hand, “iconic revelation”. This implies that the iconic can be formulated in terms of the logic structure “to make a likeness” (267). In relation to the latter, we find a very interesting similarity between this conception of Ochs and Marion’s interpretation of “praise” in Dionysius the Areopagite as en tant que, as it can be found in his work L’idole et la distance (1977). Continuing with this comparison, Ochs addresses a criticism of idolatry, in the same way that Marion formulates a series of invective to the idolatrous conception of the divine in the aforementioned work and in Dieu sans l´être (1982). Both authors caution against reducing the meaning of revelation and God to a humanly construction. In the case of Marion, the iconic conception of the divine offers a counter-intentionality, showing  that humans can only “receive” the “give” which preceeds them. As for Ochs, deepening the communal question of revelation, he indicates that for the “Rabbinic Logic of Revelation” (RLR) “the spoken-word is offered for and to the language community to whom God speaks” (268). If we accept that the predications of revelations are “offered to someone somewhere”, then revelation must appear in a community. Revelations appears as a relation between “God who speaks and the community that hears”. However, the predications of RLR are neither “subjectively” nor “objectively given”. Like Marion, Ochs would seem to conceive the given as a liberated instance of the paradigm of objectivity, adding to the need for a community for revelation. The “danger of idolatry” is overcome by a community committed to exegesis, debate, conservation and dialogue. In turn, this community discussion preserves the apophatic dimension of revelation. According to Ochs, one of the fundamental stimuli for discussion about revelation in Rabbinic Judaism must be found in the catastrophe of the “Burnt Temple” and Jerusalem razed and salted. Those dramatic moments stimulate the community discussion and the ability to meditate on revelation. Thus, the community receive “these spoken words then there is a narrative about how we may have seen God’s face even if the narrative is retained now as a memory” (281).

In Chapter 13, “Revelatory Hermeneutics: How to Read a Gospel, in Light of Mīmāṃsā, India’s Greatest Interpretive Tradition”, Francis Clooney offers a truly comparative theological approach through a study of ancient Indian hermeneutics known as “Mimamsa”. In Clooney´s words, “Mimamsa” appears as “a system one can imagine more refreshingly different, demanding but quite accessible to reason” and contribute to “not limit our understanding of hermeneutics and revelation to the hermeneutical traditions of the Christian West” (287). In this proposal, revelation is understood as something perceptible, heard and seen “in the text”. Vedic hermeneutics and Vedic revelation “does not require a special language that speaks of things beyond ordinary experience” (291). This conception leads Clooney to analyze Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Logical Investigations (as an aggregate, the recurrence to Wittgenstein’s philosophy also appears in Marion’s L’idole et la distance to think of Dionysius’s notion of praise as a non-predicative mode of language). Clooney rescues the practicality of Wittgenstein’s logic, as it can be seen in the notion of “language games”. Among Clooney’s most interesting conclusions, we can speak, on the one hand, that “revelation occurs in the interaction of reader and text” (297). Historical context is secondary because, on the other hand, “one does not need to give undue importance to authorial intentions” (297). Extra-textual realities are a derived instance. In other words, revelation occurs in the text. Revelation is “accesible only in submission to the grammar of the text before us” (300).

To conclude, we can ask the following question: what do phenomenology and theology gain by deepening the concept of Revelation? In this regard, Jean-Luc Marion’s proposal is very clear: the concept of Revelation cannot be reduced to a theological concept. The problem of revelation offers a common place to philosophy and theology that can be explored from phenomenological approach. Furthermore, as we have seen, revelation is a problem that concerns not only Christian theology, but also Muslim, Jewish theology as well as Eastern religions. Appealing to a concept of Alain de Libera, perhaps we should begin to think about the problem of revelation from a translatio studiorum.[1] It should be said that this volume offers not just contributions concerning the question of Revelation, but also a new way of understanding the relation between Phenomenology and Theology.


[1] De Libera, Alain. 2004. La philosophie médiévale. Paris: PUF, p. 57.

Brian Gregor: Ricoeur’s Hermeneutics of Religion: Rebirth of the Capable Self, Lexington Books, 2018

Ricoeur's Hermeneutics of Religion: Rebirth of the Capable Self Book Cover Ricoeur's Hermeneutics of Religion: Rebirth of the Capable Self
Brian Gregor
Lexington Books
2018
Hardback $95.00
240

Jason W. Alvis: The Inconspicuous God: Heidegger, French Phenomenology, and the Theological Turn, Indiana University Press, 2018

The Inconspicuous God: Heidegger, French Phenomenology, and the Theological Turn Book Cover The Inconspicuous God: Heidegger, French Phenomenology, and the Theological Turn
Indiana Series in the Philosophy of Religion
Jason W. Alvis
Indiana University Press
2018
Hardback $65.00
320

Kevin Hart: Poetry and Revelation: For a Phenomenology of Religious Poetry

Poetry and Revelation: For a Phenomenology of Religious Poetry Book Cover Poetry and Revelation: For a Phenomenology of Religious Poetry
Kevin Hart
Bloomsbury Academic
2017
Hardback £76.50
344

Reviewed by: Jacob McGuinn (University of London)

Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.

Psalm 119:18

Kevin Hart’s attention moves from what he calls his “native tongue,” (10) phenomenology, towards theology. His work is consistently concerned with attending to the theological in the phenomenological. This turning to theology has manifested through readings of modern philosophy, most particularly, and perhaps surprisingly, in reading Maurice Blanchot, whose concerns with the impossibilities of literature have lead Hart towards the parallel impossibilities of the sacred. In Poetry and Revelation, Hart resumes these themes: the religious constructions of philosophy, and poetry’s difficult role in shaping and articulating those constructions.

Poetry and Revelation is explicitly concerned with phenomenology, and with developing a phenomenology of reading poetry. Such a project is certainly aligned with contemporary trends in poetics, many of which are favourable to religious experience. Here, for Hart, the shape and structure of this phenomenology is itself afforded by the theological experience of reading. Reading is already theologically inflected, and so is any phenomenology. So while Hart is concerned with the experience of reading poetry, he is at the same time concerned with the ways such reading shapes our sense of phenomenology, and thereby with a theological inflection to phenomenology. Reading modern religious poetry – Gerard Manley Hopkins, T.S. Eliot, Geoffrey Hill, first of all, and then other Australian and European voices – means responding to the range of Christian theology which frames that poetry, and in to the ways this reading frames a version of phenomenology. If there is a religious ‘experience’ of poetry, then it is attuned to the world under the revelation of faith. This is the world experienced as ‘created’, in which that creation is given. And if there is any phenomenological bracketing of the world, it is through a capacity to register shifts in representation framed by this religious experience. The book is therefore a meshing of specifically Christian experience of modern religious poetry with the phenomenological apprehension of that experience; and the two, for Hart, are mutually inflecting. Religious revelation can be subject to phenomenology, “a ‘religious’ experience” where “the speaker has been converted to see things from a new perspective” (54). And this ‘conversion’ of revelation, for Hart, mirrors the epochē of phenomenological bracketing. But it also exceeds phenomenal appearance – and here is Hart’s problem. If there is a religious, revelatory experience, it is of something that transcends the given, because “the phenomenon of divine revelation, centered in Incarnation, saturates our intentional horizon” (59). If we are to speak of a phenomenology of revelation, then, we must do so attentive to this “saturation,” whether disabling of the resources of phenomenology or not.

Poetry can offer new resources for such a phenomenology, and this is the connection Hart is concerned with excavating. Husserl’s injunction that we return our thinking to appearance is, for Hart, “as valuable to a philosopher as to a poet: one must learn how to attend to phenomena, and not merely inherit a sense of the ‘poetic’.” (151) From Husserl, then, Hart’s modernity inherits a double demand: both to think about appearance, and to write it. This twinning shapes his book. The question of ‘phenomena’ in poetry collides with the question of the ‘phenomenological’ reading of it. Both, Hart suggests, are modes of ‘revelation’, and both are therefore channelled through religious experience and writing. Religious poetry, attentive as it is, for Hart, to phenomenal appearance as ‘revelatory’ of religious truth, can span these two poles: its concern with its own poetic ‘phenomena’ models a ‘phenomenology’ of its appearance as poetry. Poetry, in this way, cooperates with phenomenology, defined by Hart as an “attentive response to what is given” (77) – poetry is both response to the world’s phenomena and doing its own phenomenological work. Hart’s Husserlian poet is already involved in a bracketing of experience, an epochē, because a poem’s strategies of manifestation in language already include not merely the questions ‘what’ or ‘why’, but also ‘how’ something appears (156). The artist is “someone wakeful” (157). But “Art is not attention; it is a change in the quality of attention so that we can see that we have already been in contact with what we see.” (157) If the poet is phenomenologist, that phenomenology is articulated in the vocabulary of poetry, and its consequences are registered in a poem.

We are in the orbit of a poetics of phenomenology, here, with, in Part I, Eliot distinguishing between a poetry written in the language of philosophy, and a philosophy articulated through the language of poetry. We favour the latter. Hart’s Eliot is “concerned with how one thinks in verse, not how one translates philosophy into poetry,” (45) and Hart traces his question through poetic encounters, letting these reading encounters shape his articulation of phenomenology. Part I develops a close reading of religious poetry as a phenomenological theology. Hart reads Gerard Manley Hopkins and T.S. Eliot as poets of religious revelation. In Part II, this attention shifts to the limits of religious poetry, described by Geoffrey Hill, and the limits of poetic revelation, rather than of the poetry of revelation. Parts III-V then retrace these two positions – revelation and its limits – through Australian, and then French, Italian, and American, poetries. This poetic scope is matched by a philosophical scope, asking after the limits of phenomenology from Husserl to Derrida, Heidegger, Michel Henry, and Jean-Luc Marion, but also with Levinas and Blanchot, in particular. And Hart brings each of these discourses into a further conversation with Christian theology, ranging from Patristic thinking forwards.

Hart’s methodology is, to use his own metaphor, ‘triangular’ (and no doubt Trinitarian), triangulating poetry with theology and phenomenology. The work of the book is in plotting this triangulation, and this plotting is subject to its own transcendental scrutiny: what kind of experience could account for the conflation, or at least the coincidence, of these distinct modes in the act of reading? In Part I, in close reading Hopkins’s poems (themselves acts of close reading the world), this act of getting reading right is itself theological, and this seems to be Hart’s central point: exegesis can be revealed as intum legere, reading from the inside, in which interpretation is not a determination of experience but its phenomenological revelation. There is certainly a phenomenological shaping of reading experience. The more obvious reference point is Jean-Luc Marion, and his sense of the limits of intuitive experience, but Hart poses the question directly to Husserl. The epochē is resituated as a theological bracketing (22-24). But this in turn resituates theological experience, more explicitly making its transcendent claims part of an experience of immanence. Revelation is the key to this conversation. Under revelation, the phenomenological sense of the world’s unfolding takes on theological dimensions – as one mode of creation, and of faith – as much as theological experience undergoes a phenomenological reading.

A revelatory experience of the world, immanent or not, requires an epochal shift in our sense of the world. Hart is attempting to uproot the theological assumptions in such a bracketing, and to imply that the representational shift of dimensions involved in it are coincident with a ‘revelatory’ Christian tradition. The triangulation of theology and phenomenology with religious poetry is therefore an attempt to demonstrate that shift. Reading such poetry compels us to recognise the revelatory as at once a phenomenological bracketing, and an epochal shift in representation of the world. So Christianity adds to phenomenology “another protocol that does not change it but clarifies its range” (23). Faith opens experience to new intentional horizons. Religious poetry emerges from a contemplation of the world through this faithful bracketing: a sensual imagination of the world as ‘instressed’, to use a word of Hopkins, by faith. For the poem, attuned to faith, the world appears as revelatory: through a phenomenologically guided shift in representation (28-34). “There is no special revelation, only a conversion of the gaze that intensifies the meaning of general, public revelation for the poet.” (34) Hopkins is here participating in a revealed world, not revealing it. Reading a poem, then, means assuming a phenomenological position towards the text: just as the poem is already bracketed from normative experience (here Hart follows Jean-Luc Marion closely, for whom certain experiences are ‘saturated’ with intuition which exceeds any concept invoked (15)), so too a reader of a religious poem is bracketed from expected objects of experience. The poem is ‘of’ revelation to the extent that it is ‘revealed’ (and “reveiled” (10)) through being read.

The question, then, is how much, or in what way, poetic revelation coincides with or collaborates with phenomenological reading. Hart seems to shift his emphasis with each momentary reading of a poem. In Part I, with Eliot, we are explicitly concerned with philosophy articulated in the language of poetry, and not with the poetic adornment of philosophical truths. As suggested, Hart’s Eliot is “concerned with how one thinks in verse, not how one translates philosophy into poetry.” (45) But as we proceed through the book – starting in part II with Hill – religion shifts from being a phenomenological mode of poetic writing to a mode of poetic reading. Hart reads the poems through religion, in a sense suggesting that exegesis is one of the poetic modes of articulation these religious poems inhabit. We shift, then, from the poetic experience of revelation to the revelation of poetic experience. This shift is important, because it opens up one of the ambiguities of this work. To what extent is the articulation of experience something poems do, and to what extent is articulation itself something by which poems are experienced? Do we ‘experience’ revelation in a poem, do we witness, as attuned readers, the revelatory experience poems themselves articulate, or is ‘revelation’ one of the experiences readers can bring to a poem? Is this poetry as revelation, or poetry for revelation? How are these two modes aligned in reading and writing about poetry?

In Part III, describing the saturated sensuality of A.D. Hope’s poem “The Double Looking Glass”, Hart remarks that, “What we see of Susannah in the poem has not all been seen before; it was never so visible.” (138) The poem, here, is exposing the reader to an experience of saturation, and is making visible phenomena which would not otherwise be so. In the poem, “the story [of Susannah] becomes a visionary narrative, a poem in which sensuality and transcendence cooperate rather than compete” (139). In this ‘visionary’ work of making visible, the poem combines the revelations of religious transcendence with the revelations of phenomenal sensuality. The revelatory ‘vision’ of the poem is in making this combination, and cooperation, visible. In part IV, Hart turns explicitly to the idea of poetry’s experience – poetry of, or as, experience – and the congruence of such experience with religious experience. Again, Hart marks poetry as, and not about, experience; but as such, structuring or making visible certain experience. “I am not thinking poetry as Erlebnis, lived experience, but as Erfahrung.” (194) The question raised here by religious poetry is of the experience of transcendence. Such ‘experience’, however, is complicated by the way that poetry draws upon an impossibility of experience. Hart’s point of contact here is the Italian poet Eugenio Montale. There is an inconceivability to this poetry, because of the inconceivable – unthinkable – range of possibilities both inscribed and erased from the poems. Such poetic experience is therefore both ‘impossible’ experience and an experience of ‘impossibility’. Here Hart draws upon Blanchot, and thinks of the ways poetry can configure ‘impossible’ experience itself through its presentation of language: “the poem brings into meaning something that refuses to settle into a definite meaning”. (196)

The ‘impossible’ also signifies the space left for poetry after the ‘departure’ of the Gods (here Hart is after Hölderlin): after a symbolically meaningful religious experience of the world, poetry presents the impossibility of such meaning so that, in such saturation, meaning might be preserved (205-6). Hart’s question, however, is not of a post-Christian experience, but rather, “In a reality held to be finite what sense, if any, can be made of transcendence?” (206). Hart’s thinking about the poetic image in Jaccottet and about poetry’s experience in Montale thus resolves into a question about poetry’s transcendence, or not, of possible experience. The terms of a Husserlian ‘bracketing’ of experience are thereby channelled through a poetic claim that “one cannot simply suspend reference to transcendence in the case of a text, literary or not. One can at best fold that reference.” (207) The ‘transcendence’ Hart has in mind is, of course, religious, and revelatory: an experience, such as Hopkins’s, of the transcendence of the world itself, rather than of any world beyond it. This question is “skewed in advance” by an insistence that modernity is “co-ordinate with the finite” (208). In such insistence, “we distance transcendence from experience at the cost of rendering transcendence unintelligible.” (209) Hart’s task, here, is a reintegration of religious transcendence to our sense of finitude through poetry’s Erfahrung.

Section V leads us to the work, implicitly assigned to poetry throughout, of imagination: that poetry’s invocation of images does not merely ‘present’ a world, but also ‘contemplates’ it, contemplation historically indexed by Catholic devotion to Mary. The picturing of the world in contemplation, as in poetry, reveals the world as not just materially inert, but immanent with poetry’s revelation of meaning. The question of such contemplation is phenomenological: how, we ask in contemplating Mary, does the incarnation happen? How does transcendence happen? In this way, contemplation of Mary and poetry parallel a (more overtly Protestant) Hegelian ‘concretion’: “the particular ways in which the dialectic gathers all that there is and makes it into an ever more concrete reality.” (229) The poetic contemplation of Mary, asking ‘How’ Mary becomes meaningful, thereby also makes the transcendent concrete (242); and in doing so, despite its transcendent object, invokes a phenomenology. Hart’s final question, then, comes into focus here: the question of revelation is the question of ‘how’ the world becomes meaningful, and in a religious sense ‘transcendent’; and as such, the question of poetic revelation exposes us to a phenomenology of the transcendent which other versions of phenomenology might conceal. Religious poetry invokes a bracketing of experience in order to present the transcendent as the ‘impossible’ – sacred or silent, but still one intentional horizon in which the world becomes meaningful. In reading poetry this way, for Hart, we employ a phenomenology. And in this employment, phenomenology is exposed to a religious intentionality it might otherwise conceal, or have concealed. This is not just a compatibility of religious experience with phenomenology, but their coordination.

This coordination amounts to an intervention in our conception of phenomenology – the intervention of theology which, as Hart has repeatedly suggested in his career, is not in an intervention so much as an anamnetic recovery of revelation. In the final chapter, Hart attempts to describe this intervention. Without mentioning recent work on Derrida’s theology, Hart plays deconstruction against this kinds of ‘negative theology’ he has been detailing. Deconstruction takes différance to be a quasi-transcendental condition for the play of meaning between text and context, whereas in negative theology the transcendent idea of God yields multiple meanings in experience of the world. In this situation, however, the two are “back to back,” and in fact, “deconstruction can only ever be the ghost of apophatic theology precisely because it answers to a structure of transcendence and not a divine transascendence” (259). Derrida’s exemplary readings yield a silence behind their texts. Hart asks whether ‘other’ silences might be read, too, and this is where theology becomes operative. Husserl’s presupposed exclusion of the transcendence of God from phenomenology would in such a reading be exposed to a different version of appearance. “In uncovering this presupposition we may ask ourselves what happens if we do not limit our phenomenality at all, restricting it neither to objects (Husserl) nor being (Heidegger), and instead granting everything the right and the power to manifest itself in whatever way is appropriate to it.” (259) For Hart this attitude is indexed through the theological tradition of engaging with the world in its revelation, and articulated by a religious poetry concerned with what the word might reveal (or not) in the world. Undertaking the phenomenology of reading such poetry would only be to rediscover a phenomenological attitude concealed in the Husserlian bracketing of the transcendent from the transcendental. Religious revelation, as religious poetry shows us, is the manifestation of its own transcendent mode of showing, and theology is its shaping construction. After all, “Every prayer is an epochē that can make the writing of theology possible, and theology only begins when we are led back from the world we master and that tries to master us to a created world” (260). And religious poetry is attuned to such creation, the “morning knowledge” of “the way of knowing granted when things are seen as created, invisibly tied to God” (260).