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).

Steven DeLay: In the Spirit: A Phenomenology of Faith

In the Spirit: A Phenomenology of Faith Book Cover In the Spirit: A Phenomenology of Faith
Steven DeLay
Christian Alternative Books: John Hunt Publishing
2022
Paperback
173

Reviewed by: Sarah Pawlett Jackson (St Mellitus College and University of London)

In the Spirit is a short text comprised of nine chapters and a conclusion. Each chapter has a loose thematic centre, which it explores associatively. The author draws out different existential threads in conversation with the Christian scriptures and a range of different works of art. There is a particular journey that the book hopes to take its reader on, although I didn’t fully appreciate this until I got to the end. Starting in darkness, with the soul asleep, journeying through resistance to conversion to a life renewed, the book ends with a vision of perfection and the pattern of a divinely ordered life.

The opening chapter – ‘A Drunkard’s Sleep’ – takes drunkenness as its phenomenological and theological meditation. In this chapter DeLay draws substantially on Adriaen van Ostade’s Drunkards in a Tavern to illuminate his various conceptual forays on this theme. He goes in a number of different directions exploring the image and experience of drunkenness. Intoxication by alcohol is associated variously with sleep, dreaming, lying, illusion, blindness, restlessness, simmering rage, hardness of heart and a failure to be satiated. These different qualities of the drunk and the addict find obvious correlates in the existential and spiritual realm. For DeLay, that which the drunk’s restless thirst longs for is ultimately the living water which Christ offers the Samaritan woman in John 4; the water that is himself. Yet the drunk ‘dulls his sensibility’ (12) to this living water, which is why there is a wakefulness, a ‘sober-mindedness’ (16) needed before it is even possible to drink from that which will satisfy. There is a particularly interesting reflection in the midst of this meandering exploration, on two types of blindness. DeLay takes us to Christ’s diagnosis in Matthew 11:18-19 of those that reject both he and John the Baptist, but for different reasons. John is rejected for his sobriety while Jesus is rejected for his so-called gluttony. As DeLay puts it: ‘Doubt, then, comes in two forms of blindness: with John, an unduly suspicious seeing that does not see what meets the eye, simply because it does not want to see it; with Christ, a self-servingly shallow seeing that sees only enough to be able to remain blind to whatever more it does not want to see.’ (18) DeLay puts the question to us – where else do these two types of blindness show up (or fail to show up) in the reader’s life and experience – the not seeing what is there and the only seeing what is there?

The second chapter – ‘The Strong Wind and a Still Small Voice’ – majors on the theme of dependence. It focuses on the Biblical story in 1 Kings 19 where the prophet Elijah is fed by an angel after waking alone and exhausted in the wilderness. DeLay considers the weakness, fragility of Elijah in his moment, which leads him to a broader reflection on the vulnerability and dependency woven through the human condition, requiring a posture of something like Løgstrup’s ‘basic trust’. He notes the ways we can resist this part of ourselves and try to maintain an illusion of independence. DeLay considers different artist’s impressions of this moment in Elijah’s story (Escalante, Bol, Maggiotto and Moretto.) These different ways of depicting the moment give us, as the reader, a way into imagining different possible postures – both of resistance and of receptivity – in Elijah in this moment, and in ourselves.

The third chapter – ‘On the Broad Way’ – circles around the theme of desire. It considers both desires locked into their own sense of themselves, as well as the possibility of a desire that leads to divine transcendence. DeLay tells us, starkly, that ‘Desire’s transfiguration, from inattentive or feverish, on the one hand, to attentive and judicious, on the other, is an upheaval of everything, that great moment of lucidity marking the fear of God.’ (35) This chapter circles back to themes from the previous two, picking up the narcotising theme from the first chapter. He again uses different pieces of visual art (Rodin and Munch) to invite us to consider different ways of seeing-as-artist, and so different ways of desiring. With echoes of Levinas he identifies the desire which hoovers the world into one’s own totalising artistic project, and an alternative which is receptive to the interruption of God.

Chapter Four is called ‘The Golden Calf.’ As its title suggests, this portion of text riffs on the theme of idolatry. Here DeLay engages with the contemporary prevalence of social media, thinking phenomenologically about the pressure it exerts to keep us preoccupied with images of ourselves. He diagnoses a new very and yet very old phenomenon, traced back to the myth of Narcissus. In an enjoyable pun, he diagnoses: ‘Narcissus, in fact, is the ancient predecessor of what for us has become rampant, a transcendental egoism consisting in the illusion of independence and self-sufficiency from God, a shallow pride leading to the pursuit of self-adoration, thereby culminating in an existence whereby one becomes one’s own idol, one’s own golden calf.’ (54) Taking this pronouncement further, he claims that this narcissism becomes ‘demonic’, because ‘divorced from the goal of becoming wise, the task of being oneself meets with failure. For underestimating evil, it fails to take adequate refuge from it.’ (65)

Chapter Five – ‘Through the Veil of the Word made Flesh’ – is something of a hinge chapter. Here DeLay tells us retrospectively what he has been seeking to do so far, and why: ‘If, then, the preceding chapters have aimed to establish one thing, it is to disclose the stupor in which we grope when we are estranged from God, whatever the particular reason is. Having fought for however long it may be to live apart from God, how will coming to know him be achievable after persisting alone? What form can a reconciliation between God and us take?’ (66) This chapter tries to illuminate the moment of conversion, where the inverted, self-satisfied ego is taken out of itself and transformed. This, then, is the frame with which to read this chapter, and the whole of the second half of the book. The exploration of a phenomenology of the closed-off life becomes an exploration of the phenomenology of conversion becomes an exploration of the phenomenology of the spiritually open and given-over life. DeLay’s orthodox answer to the question of what form divine-human reconciliation might take, is that ‘the incarnation changes everything.’ (66) It is the incarnation of God that ruptures our experience (of drunkenness, independence, feverish desire and idolatry) and addresses us. The recurring image – once again explored through the eyes of various artists, but particularly in this case, Caravaggio – is of St Paul’s Damascus Road conversion. It is Paul’s confrontation with the incarnate and reconciling person of Christ that knocks him (and us) off our horse. DeLay describes it thus: ‘The haze lifts. The riddle dissolves. Life ceases to be a Promethean project of forging an identity by way of the purposes we choose to determine for ourselves. Now, it instead takes on the pure form of a divinely appointed vocation, a task God gives us…Henceforth, the incarnation points the way for us, because Christ, while in earth, dwelling among us, leaves the pattern of life by which reaching eternal life is possible.’ (68) In the second half of this chapter he starts the constructive work of articulating what a phenomenology of this life so patterned involves. He offers a rich description of the ‘spiritual senses’ – what-it-is-like to have spiritual sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch (the eyes, ears, nose, mouth and hands of the heart, as it puts it) awake and attuned.

The sixth chapter – ‘The Purple Robe’– takes evil as its theme, particularly evil’s resistance to the conversion held up in the previous chapter. Different manifestations of the resistance to conversion are explored, but DeLay’s focus is evil’s pattern of denial of the truth followed by violent attack on the truth. The counter-pattern of the converted life works against this grain of denial-and-attack: ‘Displaying the futility of evil’s will to destroy the truth, Christ’s personal victory over death takes on universal significance. Having passed through suffering unto death, and back to life, his resurrection guarantees the good’s ultimate triumph over evil. Even when evil seemingly has overpowered the truth to the point of putting it to death, it fails, for the truth only rises again. This is the eternal power of the good originating beyond the world, a good having issued its first word with creation, and its last word with the resurrection.’ (102)

Work and rest are the central theme of the seventh chapter, titled ‘Apparitions of the Kingdom’. By implicit contrast to the locked-in desire and restlessness explored in earlier chapters, this is an examination of a work redeemed and a true rest that springs from outside of the self. As we find in all these chapters, DeLay offers a taxonomy of experiences. Of particular interest here is his distinction between different types of restoring rest – rest found through connection with the whole, and rest found in meditation on the dignity of the details, which he demonstrates in his discussions of Turner and Monet respectively. Again, what is offered is a phenomenology of the life spiritual – after the pattern of Christ. Rather than embroiling himself in classic philosophical debates about work and rest (usually cashed out as activity and passivity, or freedom and determinism) he rather points us to the fact that ‘metaphysical questions regarding God’s relation to creation and the relation between divine and human action are resolved simply by imitating Christ.’ (109)

‘Paul and the Philosophers’, DeLay’s eight chapter, takes wisdom as its theme. Paul’s famous sermon to the Greeks at Mars Hill is explored through various painterly depictions (Raphael, Ricco, Fortuny, Pannini and Rothermel.) The wisdom that is the pattern of Christ DeLay describes as ‘a third way’ (120) between the wisdom of the Greek philosophers (both Stoic and Epicurean) and the Jewish wisdom tradition from which Paul himself comes. Most pertinently for the philosophers reading this text, DeLay puts forward the suggestion that intellectualism’s sceptical posture can be destructive not only as a form of idolatry, but also as a form of superstition. For ‘when the truth has been revealed, and one persists in ignorance, what previously had been an admirable attitude of epistemic modesty itself becomes superstition, for it clings to an ignorance that has ceased to be warranted.’ (125) By contrast, Paul preaches obedience to the truth revealed, the person of Christ himself.

Chapter Nine, ‘The World’, considers the theme of overcoming. The Biblical stories paired and explored through artworks here are that of St John’s Revelation on the island of Patmos, and Christ’s temptation in the wilderness. The connection hangs on Patmos as a site of temptation similar to that of Christ’s wilderness. Drawing on both stories, DeLay gives an account the work and experience of overcoming – overcoming the world, overcoming temptation and (rightly) overcoming oneself. Christ is again the pattern book for this existential task. In refusing Satan’s attempts to get him to use his power in the wilderness he shows us, for example, that real power does not always need to show itself, and this is the kind of overcoming that our more spiritually alive selves are called to.

We come to the Conclusion, which is titled ‘Perfection’. The telos of the journey is held before us to continually elevate us, to remind us of the nobility that is possible and to-be-pursued. ‘Existence assumes the form of faith, for it becomes a stretching forth, a perpetual exodus always in patience seeking after the heavenly city, rather than turning back to idle aimlessly where it had begun.’ (150) And yet lest we forget, we are reminded – ‘nobody begins elsewhere than with mercy.’ (151)

My experience of reading this book was that each chapter was something like a homily – less primarily a piece of conceptual analysis (although this is wound through DeLay’s prose) and more of a moral, spiritual and existential exhortation. Or perhaps the foreground use of artworks makes this book feel like visiting a gallery with someone, attending with them, jointly attending and seeing what they see. I could imagine a sermon or lecture companion series to this text. Knowing now the homiletic quality of the text, I might have chosen to read it differently. I suspect that the best way to approach this book is not to read it too quickly, but to treat each chapter as a meditation, pausing between each. There are strands of connection between the chapters, but similarly, one could easily read each chapter as standalone. As so much of the book involves discussion of unseen works of art, reading in a space where one has access to a high resolution screen to search for the images will probably serve this more tuned-in and contemplative reading. (Learn from this reader’s mistake – don’t read on the London Underground with no Wi-Fi to search for images). In an ideal world this book would have included all the images it refers to, but there are a huge number of artworks engaged, which would no doubt have been a huge cost and headache to compile.

Although I want to say that this is a homiletic piece of work, it is also certainly reads as a primary piece of phenomenology in the tradition of Christian existentialism. DeLay’s energy is not directed towards any secondary analysis of any other thinkers – the text is focused on making its own declarations, analyses and exhortations. The prose has a meandering and associative quality, with themes built on implicitly, and in a non-linear way. The form of the book seems to want to evoke some of the texture of our experiential and existential existence. It has no introduction, no framing, no signposting, no overview. We are dropped straight into the meditation on drunkenness and sleep with the question: ‘Am I in darkness?’ Initially I found this jarring and disorientating, but, in settling in to DeLay’s prose, I take it that this abruptness is intentional, evoking our thrownness and the disoriented sense of waking from sleep, not knowing quite where we are or what it is to find ourselves awake (or are we?)

As a work of phenomenology, the extent to which the reader will find it valuable will be the extent to which the rich phenomenological descriptions that DeLay paints resonate with the lived experience of the reader, or not. For this reader, there were many points at which the text spoke to my lived experience – see above, on blindness and intellectualism particularly. On this point I would be fascinated to speak to others who have also read the text. This text is accessible to the engaged and interested reader of any stripe – no previous expertise in philosophy is needed, although my suspicion is that the book may split a room. This is a book that I wish I had been able to read with others, to find out what did and didn’t resonate with them, what they saw, felt or noticed in reading this book that I didn’t, what rubbed them the wrong way. I am particularly curious as to how the book’s assertions might land with those who do not share the theological commitments that are made foreground. For this reader, immersed in and committed to the Christian faith, the theological assumptions are a familiar landscape in which I live, move and have my being. But how might the non-believer respond to the assertion that ‘the incarnation changes everything?’ This of course raises something of the meta-question of the nature, significance and legitimacy of the theological turn in phenomenology, although I think DeLay is rightly unapologetic in assuming that this kind of theological phenomenology is legitimate. I am interested less here in the meta-philosophical question and more in the interpersonal and experiential one: what-is-it-like for an atheist to read this book? There are many kinds of atheist, of course, so there will not be one answer to this question. My sense is that there are flavours and textures of human experience which DeLay puts words to, in conversation with art and scripture, which make this work the kind of site where theists and atheists can dialogue…but I seek the atheist’s opinion here.

In a similar vein, I am also curious as to how the tone and feel of the book is received by a non-Christian audience. The sermonising quality of DeLay’s writing has a certain severity or heaviness to it. This is a descriptive rather than critical point – again, the quality of a primary existential text (as we find in the likes of Kierkegaard, Levinas and friends) definitionally has a confronting tone. I would love to know for whom else this is a holy confrontation, and whether there are those for whom it leaves cold as moralising. One person’s aphorism is another’s cliché. Maybe all existential writing runs this risk, and there is a boldness to DeLay’s unironic frontal delivery which, in a philosophical landscape typically concerned with caveats and an obsession with narrowing the scope of a set of claims, is refreshing. As I say – I am curious to know where this text leads others.

Hanne Jacobs (Ed.): The Husserlian Mind

The Husserlian Mind Book Cover The Husserlian Mind
Routledge Philosophical Minds
Hanne Jacobs (Ed.)
Routledge
2021
Hardback GBP £190.00
568

Reviewed by: Mitchell Atkinson III (IFiS PAN)

 

 Introduction

I am not aware of any recent collection of pieces by Husserl scholars that includes so many of the most important names in the field. Hanne Jacobs has demonstrated an astonishing prowess at organizing not only the material within the text but also in choosing and arranging contributors for this compilation. The book has, in its substance, aspirations to be the definitive introduction to Husserl—and by implication to phenomenological philosophy—in the English language. As philosophers and good critical readers, we must assess these aspirations in light of the works we already have while attempting to bring Husserl to a wider readership within and outside of the academy.

Perhaps it’s appropriate to examine for a moment the question why one makes such a fuss over Husserl in the first place. There has been a line of discussion in phenomenology, and several “post”-phenomenological disciplines, that makes of Husserl a sort of spastic Cartesian, chastised by Frege for psychologism, flailing ineffectually between an outdated dualism, an outdated essentialism, and a metaphysics he dare not name. This sort of dismissal can be found among so-called analytic as well as continental philosophers, although the level and volubility of the attack tends to differ between the schools. Strong phenomenologists have published doubts of central Husserlian notions, including essence and the epoche. Others have attempted to refine or expand Husserl’s work into new domains of human experience. Still others have attempted to use parts of the phenomenological method to deepen work in adjacent disciplines, most notably the social sciences, psychology, and cognitive science. But the question of Husserl’s value remains, nonetheless. We can ask ourselves, as Adorno’s imagined interlocutor says of Hegel, “Why should I be interested in this?”[1] Are there not many other philosophers, many other more contemporary dealers in concepts whose work will bring me closer to the intellectual promised land? The question is related intimately with the question why one does philosophy to begin with. The money’s no good and hardly anyone reads it. If J.K. Rowling or Stephen King wrote a text on transcendental epistemology, would anyone care to read it? Philosophers, as a group, have given weak answers to the question of the utility of philosophy. Socrates, in line 38a of Plato’s apology, famously says the unexamined life is not worth living. Wittgenstein seems to have thought sometimes that philosophy isn’t good for much at all. Philosophers like Schopenhauer see in philosophy the path to a kind of resignation to the dreariness of life. The existentialists give us angst and its attendant pleasures.  And what of Husserl? How would he answer this question? And might we, if we tease out a possible answer for him, not see something penetrating about what it is that Husserl has to offer us today?

One of the problems with trying to catch hold of Husserl’s motivations for doing his philosophy—and by extension what he thought philosophy could do—is that Husserl wrote so much that had implications for so many disciplines. One need only glance at the list of works in Husserliana to get a sense of the dizzying and perhaps dismaying depth of Husserl’s Nachlass. What this means in practice is that one must always interpret Husserl with a certain air of humility. It is always possible that a new page, maniacally scribbled over in his modified shorthand, will be discovered, and one’s prize interpretation will be sent to pot. This difficulty has been noted before, and it haunts all scholars who choose to tangle with prolific thinkers. There is always the threat of another level or dimension in the work which one has not quite reached, an aspect of the work which, having remained obscure to you for years, comes into focus just in time to obliterate the paper you’re currently writing. If our Husserl presents himself as such a bottomless pit of philosophical insight, perhaps the power of philosophy was for him also bottomless. In which case, the answer to the question, what for Husserl, can philosophy do? would be exceedingly simple: everything.

Now, invocations of “everything” are not so common in good philosophy without adequate justification, and we certainly have not yet provided it. Further, if we take a step back and examine our aims in this little review, we will find a much more satisfying route toward the answer that we seek. It is not an undifferentiated omnipotence that Husserl saw in philosophy. What is more differentiated than the work of Edmund Husserl? Rather it is a multifarious form of experiential description, questioning, analysis and elaboration—according to a sharply defined method—that he sees in philosophy. The value of the activity and method we’ll say ever-so-few words about at the end of this text.

In the meantime, it would be nice to get straight about what it is philosophy can do by Husserl’s lights. It so happens the book currently being reviewed is beautifully structured to do just that. Jacobs’ collection is divided into seven parts: (1) Major works, (2) Phenomenological method, (3) Phenomenology of consciousness, (4) Epistemology, (5) Ethics and social and political philosophy, (6) Philosophy of science, (7) Metaphysics. A naive interpretation of the structure of the book would be that Husserl’s thought fits comprehensively within these categories. To the extent that it does, we can say the book captures the Husserlian mind, thereby living up to its title. Where such a set of categories misses Husserl, where he slips away, may mark territory where this collection refuses to follow him.

Major Texts

The book appropriately opens with an overview of Husserl’s major texts. Pierre-Jean Renaudie writes on the Logical Investigations, Nicolas de Warren on Ideas I, Sara Heinämaa on the Cartesian Meditations, Mirja Hartimo on Formal and Transcendental Logic, and Dermot Moran on The Crisis. We can see the logic in this selection of texts. We begin with Husserl’s first mature philosophical book and end with his last one. We have the lynchpin of the transcendental turn in Ideas I. Sara Heinämaa writes persuasively on Husserl’s egology in the Cartesian Meditations, as well as helping us to contextualize the extent to which Husserl can be called a Cartesian. Heinämaa writes, “Husserl presents Descartes’ doubt as a great methodological innovation which provided the possibility of reforming all philosophy. However, he immediately points out Descartes made a series of fundamental mistakes that blocked the entry to the transcendental field that radicalized doubt laid open” (p. 41). Heinämaa shows that Husserl is a Cartesian in a rather qualified sense, in the sense of having received a limited inspiration in the theme of Cartesian skepticism. The themes in Descartes that are most commonly attacked, most notably a rather untenable mind-body dualism, are not at all operant features of Husserl’s mature philosophy. Nicolas de Warren, in his contribution, tells us something illuminating of Husserl’s approach to doing philosophy. The title of his piece, “If I am to call myself a philosopher,” refers to a line from a 1906 writing in which Husserl, characteristically, sets himself a task in order to gain philosophy as such. While de Warren’s contribution is eminently useful as an elucidation of difficult phenomenological concepts like noesis and noema, the natural and naturalistic attitudes, and many others, perhaps the greatest insight it provides is given in this short quotation. Still in 1906, Husserl was writing things like “If I am to be…” He had not, on some level, settled into an image of himself. Or perhaps better, he was still challenging himself to develop in order to match the philosophical aspirations he held so dear.

When setting out a philosopher as prolific as Husserl’s “major works,” there will necessarily be some difficult omissions. Here, one might like to see a chapter on either the Analysis Concerning Passive and Active Synthesis or Experience and Judgment. In that way, with one or both represented, the importance of the theme of genesis, the technique of genetic phenomenology all told, would receive a fuller exposition. No text as comprehensive as this one can possibly avoid the genetic theme altogether, but it would be helpful to see one of the major genetic texts included with the ”major works.”

Phenomenological Method

The second part of this book is, to my mind, the most important for young philosophers. The method of phenomenology must always be front and center because phenomenology is something philosophers do; it is not a list of conclusions other philosophers have already reached. Those who focus on and reiterate the method as Husserl’s major discovery enact a tradition of phenomenology that allows it to be a living, dynamic branch of philosophical practice as opposed to a stodgy cul-de-sac of philosophical history. In this collection, we have Dominique Pradelle discussing transcendental idealism, Andrea Staiti on the transcendental and the eidetic in Ideas I, Rochus Sowa on eidetic description, Jacob Rump on reduction and reflection, Jagna Brudzińska on the genetic turn, and Steven Crowell on Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology. Pradelle’s text is absolutely essential for unlocking the association between Kant and Husserl, and the ways in which Husserl suffers under the Kantian influence. An under-appreciation of the nuances in both thinkers might tempt us to characterize the phenomenological reduction as merely a restatement of Kant’s Copernican revolution. Such a reading would see the Kantian transcendental and the Husserlian transcendental as one and the same; their differences, as philosophers, would be relegated to style and method. Pradelle writes that for Husserl, “Kant discovers the region of pure consciousness or subjectivity, which is not intra-worldly but supra-worldly, which is not objective but constitutes all objectivity, and which is not inserted in the spatio-temporality or causality of the world but is fundamentally different from any worldly entity” (77). But for Husserl, as a central feature of his philosophy, the Kantian thing in itself is inimical to consciousness, a strange exteriority to conscious life that can’t, in the end, have anything whatsoever to do with a philosophy grounded in the transcendental as a method as well as a theme.

Rochus Sowa and Andrea Staiti together help us to clarify the eidetic method as we see it in Husserl. Sowa takes us from Husserl’s insistence that descriptions are facts, due to the factual nature of experience, to an analysis of Husserl’s descriptive eidetic laws which Husserl needs to motivate a view of phenomenology as general enough to undergird other forms of human enquiry. Key to this generality of application is the distinction between empirical concepts and pure descriptive concepts, the latter of which apply to possible or ”thinkable” objects and states of affairs irrespective of their empirical instantiation. Sowa also helps us to see that in eidetic work, the examples brought before the mind, whether objects in the world as experienced or possibilities in phantasy, are not the theme of the analysis; the examples are there to help guide us to an essential relation or an eidetic law. It is against such precise considerations that we can read Andrea Staiti’s contribution on the relation between eidetics and the transcendental. Staiti points to a tendency in the literature to treat the suspension of the being of the world as an instant path to essential description, as if all one had to do was dunk one’s head in the transcendental waters to see the colorful essential fish. This idea is sharply incongruous with Husserl’s work ethic, with his almost superhuman drive to add, distinguish, complexify. At the same time, those who acknowledge the need for eidetic work can draw too sharp a distinction between the transcendental and the eidetic, the implication being that we can pick one or the other to motivate our phenomenology. Staiti concludes that the eidetic and transcendental are “inextricably linked’ (96). Although this may sound obvious, it has implications. Perhaps most importantly, it places rigorous limitations on the degree to which phenomenologists are doing phenomenology when they engage in interdisciplinary work. On Staiti’s view, phenomenologists may have much to say about case-specific, empirically oriented studies in the human sciences but their properly phenomenological contributions will be bound by the transcendental and characterized by the eidetic.

Jagna Brudzinska gives us a penetrating overview of Husserl’s turn to a genetic phenomenology, a development in his thinking that is increasingly seen as crucial for understanding his later works. Brudzinska points out that even today many phenomenologists view the eidetic method as purely static. If phenomenology is meant to be anything like a theory of subjectivity, however, a static methodology is bound to be inadequate. The experience of the subject is dynamic, flowing, changing in our awareness of time’s passage. Brudzinska gives us a quick historical overview, making the claim that the importance of the genetic theme was there for Husserl as far back as the Logical Investigations. From there, Brudzinska develops the expansion of the field of inquiry that the genetic method achieves. She says, “In this context, it becomes possible to take into account not only present and immediately intuitive experiences. In addition to consciousness of the past we also gain the possibility to consider alien and future consciousnesses.” (132). Phenomenology needs this breadth of enquiry if it is to become the philosophy of subjectivity, for experiencing subjects are constituted and constituting in time.

Steven Crowell’s contribution is in many ways a commentary on the other pieces in the methodology section. His aim is to further clarify Husserl’s phenomenology by examining his notion of the transcendental and distinguishing it from Kant’s.

Phenomenology of Consciousness

Although the papers on method are some of the most important in this collection for young philosophers, part three, on consciousness, will no doubt be of interest to many seasoned Husserl researchers. Christopher Erhard introduces us to Husserlian intentionality by exploring three questions, why intentionality matters philosophically, what intentionality is, and finally what the lasting impact of intentionality is. He develops, through a reading motivated by a tight logical style, a view of Husserl’s idealism that shows its fundamental differences from both Kant and Berkeley. Maxime Doyan works through the normative turn in intentionality, citing a normative theme in Husserl’s studies of intentionality that is seldom observed. Doyan identifies the most important norms for this discussion as identity and recognition, identifying them with noema and noesis respectively. This allows a discussion of illusion and hallucination to unfold alongside a Husserlian rejection of the conjunctivist/disjunctivist distinction. Doyan here sides with Zahavi and Staiti, claiming that from the Husserlian view the question whether perceptions, illusions and hallucinations are the same kind of experience hardly makes sense at all.

Lanei Rodemeyer’s work on inner time consciousness is required reading for anyone attempting to understand Husserl and his place in the literature today. In her contribution here, she provides an overview of Husserl’s phenomenology of internal time consciousness, displaying as ever her unique pedagogical powers. She reiterates Husserl’s claim that the phenomenology of time is the most difficult of philosophical topics. Indeed, getting the phenomenology of time in a digestible package is difficult for various reasons. Husserl changed his mind concerning the structure of inner time consciousness in at least one major way and his ideas on time are scattered throughout his works. Rodemeyer treats us to a general introduction to the problem in Husserl, discusses the place of content in inner time consciousness and describes levels of constitution in Husserl. There are few practitioners in contemporary phenomenology as helpful in introducing the reader to Husserl’s work on temporalization.

Chad Kidd, in his contribution, seeks to rescue the theme of judgment from philosophical obscurity. His approach outlines Husserl’s theory of judgment while avoiding a reiteration of the commonplace debates concerning psychologism. Roberto Walton provides us with an excellently researched elaboration of Husserl’s work on language as a ground of the common world. Among the piece’s many useful contents, it stresses the distinction between Wittgenstein’s insistence on language as a “proto-phenomenon” and Husserl’s understanding of prelinguistic modes of consciousness that “condition the general structure of predicative statements” (255). Walton’s work sets the stage beautifully for Phillip Walshes’s text on other minds. Walsh is keenly aware that one of the most common charges against phenomenology is that of solipsism, or even more—Cartesian methodological solipsism. Walsh notes that the problem of intersubjectivity, of the constitution of the other in consciousness, is a fundamental phenomenological problem to which Husserl returned again and again. Zahavi’s chapter on three types of ego is the last in the section on consciousness. Because of Zahavi’s extraordinary precision as a scholar and reader of Husserl, his papers on changes to phenomenology, false starts and complete reversals, are incredibly valuable. Here, he unveils the steps Husserl took from an almost absolute disinterest in the ego concept to placing it so prominently in later works like the Cartesian Meditations. The chapter has extraordinary pedagogical value, not least because Zahavi synthesizes Husserl’s complex egology into the three phases given in the title while at the same time going painstakingly over the important details in the body of the text.

Epistemology

Clinton Tolley’s is the first paper on epistemology in Husserl. Here, he helps us understand Husserl’s project as a clarifying of cognition. This task is placed in a Kantian shadow that Husserl labored in throughout his career. Many of his pages were filled with responses to neo-Kantians like Natorp, Cohen, and Rickert. The chapter helps bring into focus the extent to which Kant’s preoccupation with (human) reason is taken up by Husserl. Walter Hopp begins his work with a nod to the challenge posed by the philosophical zombie. He develops an argument whereby we come to see the notion of unconscious intentionality as absurd on its face. Philipp Berghofer’s seeks to establish the sources of knowledge available in phenomenological work. He provides a typology of knowlege that includes types of object, experience, givenness and evidence. Using these categories, we can better understand the range of knowledges available to philosophical discussion. In John Drummond’s contribution, Husserl’s concept of objectivity is explored. Here, we begin by rejecting any reliance on either subjectivism or objectivism. If these categories, as naive theoretical types, are cast aside, the question of what it is to be an object for consciousness remains. Drummond motivates his discussion with what he calls putative and intersubjective objectivity. Hanne Jacobs, the editor of the volume, makes her contribution by discussing Husserl on epistemic agency. Jacobs uses a reading of Husserl to challenge deflationary accounts of epistemic agency, accounts that would minimize the role of our active participation in the formation of beliefs. Husserl’s emphasis on the centrality of attention in our holding of any proposition to be true as epistemic agents. Jacobs takes the reading of Husserl to the realm of personal responsibility, arguing that, for Husserl, one can be responsible not only for positively held beliefs but also for what one does not believe, doesn’t know, or doesn’t want to know.

Ethics, Social, and Political Philosophy

The fifth division of the book collects chapters on ethics, social and political philosophy. One might fault this section for being a kind of grab bag of “social» topics, but in reading the chapters here, one sees how they are inter-related as levels of exploration of the intersubjective theme in Husserl’s phenomenology. Inga Romer imagines Husserl’s history of ethics as a battlefield, pitting reason and feeling against one another. Romer’s text is a deep resource for understanding the works in philosophical history that informed Husserl’s development as an ethical thinker. The chapter also lays bare a tension in Husserl’s sometimes stated aims with respect to formal and material axiology and praxis as a science of ethics and the view of ethics toward which his late phenomenology pulled him. Mariano Crespo situates Husserl’s ethics among his contemporaries, including Lipps, Pfänder and Geiger. In the discussion, Crespo uncovers insights related to live issues in phenomenology, including especially the need for a phenomenology of the will. Sonja Rinofner-Kreidl writes about evaluative experience in prose whose grace is a relief after many turgid lines. Rinofner-Kreidl reminds us that Husserl does not hold that evaluative experiences infringe upon our rationality. The axiology Husserl develops is nonetheless complex, involving top-down formal axiology and formal praxis with bottom-up descriptions of associated experiences. We are even given an analysis of Husserl’s Kaizo articles and a discussion of the complex late ethics, culminating in a teleological view that grants us a universalism, as it were, from within. Sophie Loidolt writes on the fragility of the personal project. Loidolt moves from Husserl’s claim in Ideas II that motivation is the “basic law that governs the life of the person” (393) to a discussion of various topics guiding the debate on personhood and practical agency in Husserlian phenomenology. We end up with the claim that the person for Husserl is not defined as an achieved unity; the person is rather a fragile potential unity, ever missing its ultimate aim. Indeed, Loidolt ends with the rumination that it may only be through the support of others that our fragile projects of personhood can be maintained. Sean Petranovich takes us through Husserl’s work on social groups, exploring Husserl’s mereological work to draw attention to Husserl’s relevance to contemporary discussions regarding mereology and the social. The final chapter in this section of the book is by Esteban Marín-Ávila, discussing Husserl’s conception of philosophy as a rigorous science and its influence on his axiology and ethics. Marín-Ávila tackles the problem of Eurocentrism in Husserl with candor, refusing to dismiss it as an idle charge yet at the same time insisting that a Husserlian ethics, as elaborated in works like the Crisis, have much to say to non-European peoples. Husserl’s unfortunate writings on the impossibility of European peoples “Indianizing” themselves are referenced here, as well as his apparent belief that the achievements of Europe were such as to motivate a kind of rationally motivated mimicry in all other peoples of the world. Marín-Ávila ends with an affirmation of transcendental phenomenology that sees it as an already critical discipline capable of leading us toward a philosophy that matters.

Philosophy of Science

The sixth division of the text takes up Husserl’s work on the philosophy of science. We begin the division with Marco Cavallaro’s text which attempts to outline Husserl’s theory of science and posits a distinction between pure and transcendental phenomenology. Cavallaro sees ”pure” phenomenology as related to the project of a theory of science and transcendental phenomenology as related to ultimate epistemic foundations. Cavallaro is quick to point out this distinction is not made explicitly by Husserl. Jeff Yoshimi is the first in this collection to focus on the deepening field of phenomenological psychology. In this chapter we encounter Husserl’s main contemporary psychological influences (Wundt, Stumpf, Brentano, Dilthey). Yoshimi wants to link phenomenological psychology with transcendental phenomenology, phenomenological with empirical psychology and finally phenomenological psychology with philosophy of mind. One might misconstrue this as an effort to naturalize phenomenology, but it seems Yosimi is after a much more Husserlian move—establishing a transcendental dimension in the philosophies of mind and cognitive science. David Carr’s contribution looks to history as a science and its relation to phenomenology. This piece has pedagogical value as a general introduction to philosophy of history as well as an example of good Husserl scholarship. Carr helps us to see history as a study of the natural attitude in temporal development. Carr’s important Husserlian claim is that in the Crisis phenomenology takes on a decidedly historical character, for it is here that Husserl makes of philosophy as such a human endeavor with a history. The proper description for the historical a priori is something, Carr reminds us, Husserl struggled with until the very end. We are once again in full view of Husserl as a philosopher forever unsatisfied and unwilling to yield to his own limitations. The final contribution on the philosophy of science is Harald Wiltsche’s text on physics. Wiltsche quickly contextualizes the early twentieth century as a time of great upheaval in the sciences, noting above all others the arrival of relativity theory and quantum theory as fundamental disruptions to the way we view the world. He associates these shifts with changes in dominant philosophical discourses. Wiltsche shows that while Husserl himself may have demonstrated limited interest in the cutting edge physics of his day, in the person of a one-time student, Hermann Weyl, Husserlian ideas found their way into the scientific mainstream. Wiltsche also, rightly, points out that the discursive divide between analytic and continental philosophy is still far too robust today, despite our best efforts to pretend its dissolution a thing already achieved.

Metaphysics

The final division of the text is devoted to metaphysics. We may find the inclusion of these chapters strange because, as Daniele De Santis points out, Husserl’s relationship to metaphysical philosophy is all-too-often taken for granted. If for no other reasons (and of course there are other reasons) the chapter is useful in that it contributes to the literature refuting the charge that Husserl is a naive metaphysician of presence. De Santis is a systematic thinker whose penetrating Husserl scholarship attempts to make the development of the metaphysical in Husserl something clear and useful for scholars. Claudio Majolino takes on the Herculean task of mapping Husserl’s ontology. The difficulty, as Majolino points out, is that Husserl is so vast and many of his works have ontological elements and implications. Majolino’s work here—using Burnyeat and Aristotle to seek out contours of Husserl’s ontology—is too original for a few lines in a review such as this. The chapter is worth serious study. Timo Miettinen’s contribution begins with a general introduction to the theme of teleology, moving quickly to a detailed exposition of the place of teleology in Husserl’s phenomenology. Miettinen notes the importance of genetic method in exploring the development of experiential structures demonstrating immanent teleological character. This means that early static analyses of teleology were not sufficient given the temporal requirements of goal-directed experience. Miettinen also, here, deepens our understanding of Husserl’s alleged Eurocentrism, responding to an accusation by Derrida that, Miettinen shows, relies on a crucial misreading. One unresolved question in the chapter is whether and how all of Husserl’s teleological descriptions can be subsumed under transcendental phenomenology. The final chapter of the final section of the book is Emiliano Trizio’s paper on teleology and theology. Trizio, more than any other scholar in this compilation, is concerned with Husserl’s investigations of the nature of God and what they can do to deepen our phenomenological understanding. For Trizio, God is a necessary theme of phenomenology. Trizio shows how theology fits within Husserl’s overall phenomenology. And, finally, Trizio develops a non-objectivist reading of Husserl’s most theological passages.

Concluding Remarks

Having commented on these contributions, we are left dizzied by the depth and variety of Husserlian concern. Beginning this review, we confronted two basic questions. The first, Why Husserl?, asks us to assess Husserl as a thinker today. The second, What for Husserl can philosophy do?, is a refinement and extension of the first. What perhaps a collection like The Husserlian Mind gives us is the scope to determine, for ourselves, the answers to these questions. At the very least, we have within these pages the first lengths of many different paths one might take through the mind of Edmund Husserl and accordingly through philosophy as such. In so doing, we can discover for ourselves the value of great minds and the philosophies they make.

Bibliography

Adorno, Theodor W. 1993. Hegel: Three Studies. Translated by Shierry Weber Nicholsen. MIT Press.

Husserl, Edmund. 2001. Analyses Concerning Passive and Active Synthesis: Lectures on Transcendental Logic. Translated by Anthony J. Steinbock. Kluwer Academic Publishers.

———. 1970. The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology: An Introduction to Phenomenological Philosophy. Translated by David Carr. Evanston, Ill: Northwestern University Press.

———. 1973. Experience and Judgment. Translated by James Spencer Churchill and Karl Ameriks. Evanston, Ill: Northwestern University Press.


[1] Adorno (1993: 109).

Joseph Rivera: Phenomenology and the Horizon of Experience, Routledge, 2021

Phenomenology and the Horizon of Experience: Spiritual Themes in Henry, Marion, and Lacoste Book Cover Phenomenology and the Horizon of Experience: Spiritual Themes in Henry, Marion, and Lacoste
Routledge New Critical Thinking in Religion, Theology and Biblical Studies
Joseph Rivera
Routledge
2021
Hardback £84.00
260

Klaus Hemmerle: Theses Towards a Trinitarian Ontology

Theses Towards a Trinitarian Ontology Book Cover Theses Towards a Trinitarian Ontology
Klaus Hemmerle. Foreword by Dr. Rowan Williams
Angelico Press
2020
Paperback: $14.95 / Hardcover: $25
78

Reviewed by: Elisa Zocchi (University of Münster)

After many years of waiting, Klaus Hemmerle’s Thesen zu einer trinitarischen Ontologie finally finds an English translation. Written in 1975 on the occasion of Hans Urs von Balthasar’s 70th birthday, this short essay is considered one of the richest expressions of Hemmerle’s thought, particularly important for the recent rebirth of interest towards trinitarian ontology. Little known in the English speaking world for many years, in recent times Hemmerle’s trinitarian reflection has in fact gained the attention of more and more scholars, as fully expressed in the conference on “New Trinitarian Ontologies”, first held in Cambridge in September 2019 and holding in 2021 its third edition. This renewed interest certainly must have played a role in the decision of translating this essay, on which scholars can finally work directly. What is, though, trinitarian ontology, and why is it so important today?

To answer this question we have to look at Hemmerle’s major inspiration in thinking trinitarian ontology, the man to which the Theses are dedicated. In the preface to the book Hemmerle introduces the thought of Hans Urs von Balthasar as “an alternative to a theology with a merely anthropological approach” and, at the same time, “also an alternative to a static and deductive theological thinking”. Trinitarian ontology is for Hemmerle exactly the alternative to these two approaches to theology, so common in the second half of 20th century. Between an utterly deductive, analytic approach and one that can only stay within anthropological limits, Hemmerle recognized the necessity for post-Conciliar theology to find a third way, that same third way so often invoked by Balthasar in his many works. What was needed was not only a new way of thinking theology, but rather a new way to approach the whole of reality, of life. Hemmerle sketches this new approach in 33 theses, divided into four chapters.

In the first chapter, ontology is clearly defined as that which became superfluous, when compared to disciplines more interested with the “needs and practical consequences” of facts. This superfluity directly affects theology: the problematic Hellenization of Christianity is something that has to be fixed by “getting back behind ontology”, to a pre-metaphysical and pre-theological thinking, as suggested by Heidegger and many others. Hemmerle, although agreeing with the necessity of a “conversion”, disagrees with the method to achieve it, suggesting that the way for shaping a true ontology might come exactly from theology. In order to articulate this claim, Hemmerle starts by listing some basic elements of theology.

The first is  what he calls a “double a priori” of theology: if God has to be understood by man he has to speak a human language, but at the same time, for the human language to grasp revelation, man has to be open to God’s speaking.

Secondly, he classifies two types of theology: theology of translation and theology of witness. In the first, the content of revelation is “translated” thanks to the use of “a human, historical, philosophically pre-formed mode of questioning and understanding” (18); this is the case of Aquina’s use of Aristotelian thinking. Theology of witness instead, exemplified by Bonaventure, implies man’s abandonment to “God’s radical beginning”, acquiring new “possibilities of thinking and speaking” (18).

In both theologies the double a priori comes into play, as it did in the conciliar formulations of Christological and Trinitarian dogmas. As an example Hemmerle brings the so called Hellenization of Christianity: if it is true that Christianity took its shape on a Greek background, it is also true that it maintains its originality, resisting a complete submission to Greek categories and developing fundamental concepts not previously available, like the doctrine of the Trinity. Among these doctrines developed by theology however we do not find, for Hemmerle, a fully comprehensive meaning of Being: there is no proper Christian Ontology, and Christianity was always “a guest among multiple philosophical projects and systems, the sources of whose formation lay elsewhere” (21). This deficiency and lack of a common ground became even more profound in the modern time, with the multiplying of approaches and models.

In the second chapter Hemmerle delves into the characteristic that a Christian ontology should have: as per the title of the chapter, he opens an “Entry into the Distinctively Christian Element”. To understand what is distinctively Christian Hemmerle asks the core question of the book: “in what way are the fundamental human experiences and fundamental understanding of God, the world, and human beings altered when faith in Jesus Christ breaks in upon them?” (23).

To find an answer Hemmerle introduces two categories. First, the phenomenon of religion, i.e. the experience of displacement: the comprehension of reality is not anymore from the point of view of the human subject, but rather from the point of view of an Other, an Other upon which man and the world “are most intimately dependent” (24). Secondly, the experience of the Logos, of the inter-connectedness of every aspect of reality graspable by man.

Hemmerle applies these two categories to the Ancient Covenant, from which comes a first answer to the question on the proprium of Christianity; in it these two categories are included but somehow overcome, surpassed. In the Old Testament we discover that the experience of displacement is that of an Other who, although transcendent, “stands on the side of human beings” (28) and provokes a change in every aspect of life; the experience of the Logos is seen in the fact that God is transcendent but not in competition with human wisdom.

With the New Covenant the question finds a definitive, more radical answer: as for the phenomenon of religion, man is called to put aside the old age and exchange it for a new one, the age of Christ; as for the experience of the Logos, God enters now physically in history, in a specific time and space. God is not anymore playing a role in history with sporadic intervention and episodic revelations; with Christ, “our history becomes His epiphany”, “history becomes the word spoken by the God who is revealed in it” (30). This is the core of what is precisely Christian, what Hemmerle has been guiding us to: in Jesus Christ, “God shares all of what is ours and all of what is His”. In Jesus, God comes into history and yet remains above history. Christianity’s uniqueness is therefore the experience of “a God above us who encounters and answers the God who is among us”: transcendence and immanence are maintained in a unique tension,  they are united by unconditional love – the Holy Spirit. What is uniquely Christian is, therefore, the trinitarian doctrine experienced by men when they believe in Jesus Christ; if God is threefold, human thinking experiences a radical conversion [Umkehrung]. It will not be enough to simply reformulate a previous ontology, and a new ontology is needed – indeed, a trinitarian ontology, that can no longer take Being for self-subsistence or independent. Hemmerle is clear: if God is Trinity, the whole structure of being is involved.

The third chapter is the most intense and complex one: here Hemmerle lays the foundations of a new trinitarian ontology. First of all, Hemmerle makes it clear that the Trinity is not a new formal principle from which everything is logically inferred, in Aristotelian fashion. Thinking the Trinity is rather the beginning of a phenomenology in which everything is interpreted from the standpoint of the core element of the Trinity itself: the act of self-giving. What remains, for Hemmerle, is not a speculative principle, but the element that draws the Trinity together: love, agape. This love is what  “articulates the original self-showing of Being and beings” (36). In this phenomenology the main role is played by the verb rather than the noun: an object can for Hemmerle be understood only in its action, which is a “communication, a delimitation, and an adaptation to an overarching context” (38). The unity of each object is only preserved in the process, which involves a plural origination, as Hemmerle explains using the example of language. Each word has three origins that “spring up mutually: I, language, and you”. Exemplar are also cases like identity and time: they all remain themselves exactly in virtue of their process of becoming “more”. Their internal unity comes from their plural origination. This new approach to the object, from the standpoint of process and of the plural origination, causes a radical revolution in our way of thinking.

Hemmerle faces then the foreseeable objection: what about the ineliminable resistance of things? This objection would subsist for those philosophies in which process and plural origination are taken as principles of deduction, blocks of a system. But in Hemmerle’s trinitarian theology the thing plays a different role, “giving itself over into what takes place in self-giving” (43). Self-giving is therefore the pivotal element of this ontology, not as an added element to an object, but as the fundamental structure that allows an object to be what it is. Only by bringing itself to the other does something arrive at itself; Hemmerle gets to the point of saying that “substance comes to transubstantiation, to communion” (44). The main examples are once again given by language (“when I say something, I bring it to light in what is proper to it”, 46) and thought (“when something gives itself to be thought, it comes into its own brightness”, 45). In the same way, Being “is” only as the fulfillment of passing-over, of communion of self-giving, only as for-each-other. Everything finds itself in the midst of a play with multiple origins: the play between being, thinking, and speaking; everything owes its existence to the game, and yet we are responsible for our actions and answers.

Hemmerle seems then to acknowledge that in multiple occasions the philosophical tradition has seen attempts to modify and replace the classic ontology of the static substance: Aquina’s analogy, Bonaventure’s ars aeterna, Nicholas of Cusa’s mereology, Descartes’ system, Schelling’s late philosophy, the eucharistic understanding of the world of Baader, Rosenzweig’s reflection about language, Heidegger’s Being and Time, Rombach’s structural ontology. These, however, were all approaches “from below”, and could not reach the very depth of “the threefold mystery of God, which is revealed to us in faith” (50). It becomes clear that for Hemmerle a new ontology can only be based on revelation, the very mystery of self-giving itself. This has its ground in Jesus’s death and resurrection, a gift that transformed the whole world. In this way, the analogy of Being becomes the analogy of the Trinity: the way to fulfillment is nothing else than entering into relatedness.

Finally, Hemmerle analyses the “levels of trinitarian happening”. The access is given by the event of the economic trinity, which is not an external supplement to the internal being of God, but rather his deepest mystery: the economic trinity reveals the immanent trinity. This way, the economy of creation is included in the trinitarian life, as an anticipation of the trinitarian fulfillment, and the believers live their life in the awareness of being-in-Christ. This originates a new way of living, dictated by the very ethos of Jesus’s relation to the Father.

The fourth chapter is an appendix, “Consequences of a Trinitarian Ontology”. Hemmerle draws three types of consequences: philosophical, theological, and practical. In the end however, he states that these three levels are deeply united.

The philosophical and theological consequences concern especially the unity of freedom and necessity; in God, necessity is an interpretation of freedom. Jesus’s freedom to obey the Father is the most incomprehensible act of self-giving, and therefore the moment where God is most himself. As for the practical consequences (“for how we think, speak, and exist”), Hemmerle insists strongly on the idea that every individual performance is deeply united with the performance of partners: society is not utterly the sum of individuals, but a unity, a single common life in which every person is “the point of departure, the goal and the middle of a movement” (63).

When talking of society, Hemmerle claims that trinitarian ontology allows one to step beyond the profound modern separation of theory and praxis – its contemplative spirituality naturally points out towards “the We”, towards the others. The most profound moment of contemplation is in fact the Cross, which also coincides with the greatest act of self-giving, the most revealing and opening instant. For this reason, it is a spirituality that in being contemplative is also active, a communitarian spirituality of service, and so is the theology that results from this new ontology: both traditional and contemporary, communitarian and of service.

The first question that emerges when closing this book is very simple: are these 33 theses enough to shape the Christian philosophy that Hemmerle wishes for, and to present the new life generated by discovering the centrality of the trinitarian self-giving?

The answer has to be negative: it is Hemmerle himself that defines this work “fragmentary and incompletely demonstrated in its argumentations and conclusions” (8). Multiple thinkers are now continuing the work of Hemmerle; as for the foundational work, we could say much lies already in Balthasar’s trinitarian thought, as Hemmerle himself acknowledges. What do we gain, then, in engaging a detailed reading of this work, rather than a more inclusive manual on the discipline? What Hemmerle is uniquely able to express in this short essay is more and more necessary, with the multiplying of voices talking about trinitarian ontology: a focus precisely on what is at stake. Why is a new way of thinking ontology so important? And why do we need to re-think Being not merely in light of the categories of relationship (as many thinkers in the last centuries did not fail to notice), but first and foremost in light of the trinitarian relationship?

From Heidegger onwards, it has become normal to think of ontology as something to reshape, something “gone wrong”. Heidegger was certainly an important influence, but Hemmerle takes a position that is the complete opposite to the Heideggerian accusation of ontotheology and of the forgetfulness of the ontological difference. Trinitarian ontology is precisely about the non-difference of being and beings. This non-difference is not identity, but rather the being-in-God of every being. Every being is originated from the intra-trinitarian love. This love, as Balthasar will later say, is not the absolute Good beyond being, but rather the depth, height, length and breadth of being itself. Trinitarian ontology does not therefore imply a triadic structure of reality, as one might think, but rather that the totality of reality has its origin in the self-giving of the trinitarian love. This movement of self-giving is therefore the rhythm of being, without turning movement into a principle: the only principle is agape. This makes it clear that what is at stake, for Hemmerle, is not only the possibility of a Christian philosophy, that has so vehemently been denied in the first half of the century by many philosophers, but also life itself, our way of living. Communal life is the main place where trinitarian life can be experienced in this world, to the point that Hemmerle claims that “the sky is among us”, as per the title of another of his works (Der Himmel ist zwischen uns). A Christian ontology does not merely change the way we think, but is a true revolution of the way we live. “It is play and process that once more interest human beings, at the end of modern age, and at the end of objective metaphysics: life, for example, freedom, meaning. Such processes are about me – but not about me alone; are about the whole – but not about a whole from which I can abstract myself, are about society – but about a society which may not once more become a Subject devouring the individual” (42). For Hemmerle it is clear that a trinitarian God changes our entire way of living, because our history is His history, so that we see and form everything in the image of the Trinity.

This takes a concrete shape in the experience of the Focolare Movement, whose history is profoundly intertwined with the life and thought of Klaus Hemmerle. The profound unity of contemplation and spirituality is just one reflection of the central role played by the notion of unity for the Focolare charisma. It is not of minor importance to notice how the two men involved in the foundation of a trinitarian ontology, Hans Urs von Balthasar and Klaus Hemmerle, had a profound friendship with two mystics: respectively, Adrienne von Speyr and Chiara Lubich. Lubich’s mystical experience of the unitive presence of Divine Love influenced Hemmerle from 1958, date of their first meeting, and Hemmerle will claim that “Chiara has conveyed to us a school of life. This school of life, however, is also a school for theology. The result is not so much an improvement of theology, as a living theology that originates from revelation”[1]. This is a pivotal element of Hemmerle’s thought: there is no real barrier between the mystical experience and the theological reflection, between experience and thought, between philosophy and theology. This can happen because all these elements are originated by the one and only principle at the core of the Trinity, the act of self-giving.

This also answers the second question that can emerge while engaging this reading: how is this ontology any different from the many “relational ontologies” blossomed in the 20th century, ontologies that see the “other” as the pivotal element? What is the difference between a relational ontology and a trinitarian ontology, and why shouldn’t we just talk of relation?

Hemmerle is clear that relationship and process are not to become “some new principle from which everything would once again be inferred in a lonely deduction. Only one thing remains: active participation in that movement which agape itself is” (35). Against the deductive method, Hemmerle shapes an ontology which does not begin from invariance, but from self-giving, and not every relation is a place of self-giving. Ontology can only start from the most original self-giving, that of the Trinity itself – from the kenotic event intended in its radical sense, thus not limited to the Cross but including the whole self-giving of the Trinity. That being is self-giving cannot in fact be disclosed from below, claims Hemmerle: it needs a revelation. Ontology needs therefore to be trinitarian, and not simply relational, because, to quote Balthasar, “only love is [a] credible” answer to the question on Being.

Hemmerle might not be particularly original in some of his reflections ­– the description of the process of the world as a play, or the idea of a  reciprocity without beginning, had already been described by the first volume of Balthasar’s Theo-Drama a few years before. Hemmerle himself mentions in the Theses the many names that attempted a reflection on trinitarian ontology. And yet, the sharp and clear focus on “what is distinctively Christian” is unique of this work. The major strength of this essay is the clarity with which Hemmerle expresses the need for his time (and, we could say, for our times) of a renewal of the relationship between theology and philosophy. Ontology is for him the fundamental place where to set this renewal into movement. Not always as clear is however the way in which this capsizing of ontology has to take place – these Theses are the first stone of a project that Hemmerle himself didn’t pursue, at least not in a clearly systematic form. Hemmerle is in fact not exhaustive in his arguments – Balthasar rightly describes the Theses as “highly concentrated and aphoristic”. Especially the third chapter, where Hemmerle exposes the core of his trinitarian ontology, is particularly intense and not always easy to follow. This is however not to be seen only as a flaw of the work itself. On the contrary, it becomes one of its major virtues: it allows scholars, as it did in recent years, to draw from it in order to open new paths, as witnessed by the many conferences and publications on trinitarian ontology. These are not limited to scholars belonging to the Focolare movement, and involve thinkers of multiple origins and backgrounds. Examples are to be found in the reflections of Thomas Norris in Ireland and Klaus Kienzle in Germany, but especially in Italy, where Hemmerle has been known and translated already in 1986 and where he is at the center of the speculative work of the Sophia Institute of Loppiano, especially with the work of Piero Coda. Coda draws from Hemmerle and expands on the theological elements of his reflections, those that did not receive in-depth analysis in the Theses; central in Coda’s reflection is the crucified and abandoned Christ and the role of “non-being” within the Trinity. Italy hosts also the fruitful  reflection of Giulio Maspero, who thinks trinitarian ontology especially in relation to the Church Fathers. The availability of Hemmerle’s texts in the Italian language (together with the influence of Chiara Lubich’s movement) certainly plays a pivotal role in the abundance of reflections on trinitarian ontology in Italy, and shows how precious this English translation can be for future outcomes in the English speaking theological and philosophical community. The recent increase in interest in trinitarian ontology functions itself as a sign that Hemmerle’s intuitions are correct and require time and attention to bare their fruits. The conference on New Trinitarian Ontologies, which will see in 2021 its third edition, is enriched by contributions that stretch from ancient to modern philosophy and theology, but also to economic, political, and ecological ontologies. This is the power of this work, defined by Elmar Salmann as the most important book published in the post-conciliar years: not only are Hemmerle’s Theses potentially able to open multiple paths and include a variety of Denkformen, enriching therefore the contemporary debate on the relation between theology and philosophy; they also invite theology to draw from metaphysics and ontology, after the long lasting prevalence of a stale analytic approach. Trinitarian ontology is certainly open to criticisms, more or less original – those same criticisms moved to almost every theory based on an analogical approach. Similarly to Balthasar however, Hemmerle’s strength is to insert the analogical approach into a bigger picture, that of the profound unity of metaphysics and mystic, of thought and prayer. Lived in this profoundly symphonic unity, metaphysics is not at the end, and Hemmerle’s Theses can be one of the starting blocks for its new beginning.


[1] Klaus Hemmerle, “Tell Me about Your God”, Being One 1 (1996): 20.

Jean-Luc Marion: Paroles données, Éditions du Cerf, 2021

Paroles données Book Cover Paroles données
Jean-Luc Marion. Edited by Mathias Goy
Éditions du Cerf
2021
Paperback 29,00 €
440

Theodore George, Gert-Jan van der Heiden (Eds.): The Gadamerian Mind, Routledge, 2021

The Gadamerian Mind Book Cover The Gadamerian Mind
Routledge Philosophical Minds
Theodore George, Gert-Jan van der Heiden (Eds.)
Routledge
2021
Hardback £190.00
616

Martin Koci, Jason Alvis (Eds.): Transforming the Theological Turn: Phenomenology with Emmanuel Falque

Transforming the Theological Turn: Phenomenology with Emmanuel Falque Book Cover Transforming the Theological Turn: Phenomenology with Emmanuel Falque
Reframing Continental Philosophy of Religion
Martin Koci and Jason Alvis (Eds.)
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
2020
Hardback $130.00 • £100.00
264

Reviewed by: Nikolaas Deketelaere (Catholic University of Paris)

Crossing without Confusing

 

During my first forays into so-called ‘continental philosophy of religion’, I mostly knew Emmanuel Falque as the author of a series of extraordinarily insightful essays on the major figures of contemporary French phenomenology, but never seriously explored his own original phenomenological work. After all, as a rare atheist philosopher active in this field who more or less shares Dominique Janicaud’s diagnosis of it, Falque’s work initially struck me as exacerbating the worst tendencies of that of Jean-Luc Marion and Michel Henry: a theologisation of phenomenology by way of a too close reconciliation of philosophy and theology that is not only unsatisfying philosophically but equally remains naïve theologically, thus disappointing both philosophers and theologians. This judgement on my part, however, was little more than a prejudice based on the back covers of Falque’s books—which, admittedly, carry extremely theological titles that might make even the most open-minded atheist philosopher suspicious—and some initial English-language scholarly discussion of their contents. Take for example the chapter on Falque in Christina Gschwandtner’s Postmodern Apologetics—for a while the only comprehensive overview available in English—, which initially describes him as follows: “He has degrees in both philosophy and theology and merges the two disciplines far more fully than any of the other thinkers, occasionally even challenging the boundaries between these subject matters as unnecessary and superficial.”[1] It was only after seeing Falque speak in person that I was tempted to start reading his work more thoroughly, until I realised that Gschwandtner’s description seriously mischaracterised it. Indeed, I attended a conference on continental philosophy of religion at which both Falque and Marion, his former doctoral supervisor, delivered keynote addresses. Teacher and student made very different impressions, however. Marion addressed a crowded auditorium but simply repeated one of his Gifford lectures, a text that had been published a few years earlier and with which—presumably—most if not all attendants were therefore already familiar. Far fewer people showed up for Falque’s lecture early the next morning, but he displayed so much energy and enthusiasm that I myself certainly left feeling much more inspired than I had done the night before. I wanted to learn more about this man’s work and immediately ordered his Triduum philosophique upon my return home. What I found there was a philosophy that, whilst certainly making liberal use of theology, at no point risked merging the two but instead employed both disciplines separately and with an equal degree of sophistication—something that is both hard to do as an author and difficult to understand as a reader.

Having now come to appreciate Falque as one of the most interesting and audacious French philosophers working today, I am suitably embarrassed by my previous misconceptions. I am also equally excited by this first edited volume dedicated to his work in English, as it may help others avoid making the mistakes I did. Reassuringly, the editors acknowledge that we must be careful when reading Falque, for otherwise we might easily arrive at “the misunderstanding that Falque is the direct successor of the theological turn, and a cursory reading of Falque’s work can lend to the impression that he seeks an even deeper radicalization and abrupt intrusion of the theological into the philosophical. Even worse, one might think he intends to exact theological imperialism over philosophy, ultimately reducing any phenomenologically gained insights to ready-made theological truths” (xxi). To remedy this misunderstanding, the essays included in the book all confront Falque’s method, as set out in his Crossing the Rubicon, from a variety of perspectives. This method can be summarised using two of Falque’s favourite phrases. First, there is ‘crossing the Rubicon’, which becomes the title of Falque’s self-proclaimed ‘discourse on method’ and serves to indicate the act by which the philosopher transgresses the boundaries of their own field in order to set foot on that of theology and vice versa, leaving them transformed. Second, there is Falque’s ‘principle of proportionality’, which states that ‘the more we theologise, the better we philosophise’, and according to which the two disciplines must thus be practiced together but without losing their respective rigour. The summary of this framework provided by the editors in their introduction is perhaps the clearest one available in the scholarly literature so far:

Nevertheless, in the context of the discourse on method, it must be stated clearly that the joint practice of theology and philosophy does not result in their fusion, which necessarily would result (and indeed already has) in confusion. The point in the making is that in crossing the Rubicon one is allowed to pass onto the other bank, look around, and then come back home before getting lost in its waters. In this sense, the boundaries are not abolished (Lacoste) or confused (as Falque’s critics interpret his work) but transformed. (xxiii)

Indeed, what perhaps causes the misunderstandings surrounding Falque’s method is that the act of returning to one’s proper bank, as well as avoiding drowning in the Rubicon’s perilous waters, are too often neglected in favour of that initial crossing: even in the transformation (i.e., the crossing) of one by the other, the distinction (i.e., the boundary) is maintained. After all, without acknowledging the reality of the boundary and confirming its legitimacy, there can be no crossing to speak of. We may then summarise the task this volume sets itself as facilitating crossing without confusing: to show how Emmanuel Falque, as a philosopher, crosses the disciplinary boundary between philosophy and theology, without ever confusing them and thus ceasing to be a philosopher. The difficulty of this enterprise, both for Falque to execute rigorously and for the book to document adequately, should not be underestimated.

Indeed, the difficulty is attested to by the volume itself: several of its contributors offer wholly contradictory interpretations of Falque, with the ‘crossing’ sometimes undeniably becoming ‘confusing’. However, given that this volume only constitutes the opening salvo for the many battles in the English-language reception of Falque that are sure to follow, the diversity of opinion on offer here is to be expected and indeed entirely welcome. Taken together, these essays provide a fascinating and varied overview of the many ways in which Falque’s method can reinvigorate the debate concerning the relationship between theology and philosophy. The book itself is divided in three parts: first, critical interpretations of Falque; second, comparisons between him and other philosophers (unfortunately somewhat limited to French intellectual sphere, with authors like Blondel, Ricœur and Lévinas); and, finally, constructive engagements with his work. The book also includes an essay by Falque that probably constitutes the most succinct statement of his method, as well as an afterword by him.

It is the question of that method, of crossing from one territory to another rather than confusing them, that runs through the entirety of the book. Therefore, that question will also be my focus here, particularly how it makes various contributors claim mutually contradictory interpretations of Falque and occasionally confuse the territories he wants to keep separate. Before exploring these confusions and contradictions, however, it would be remiss of me not to note that this volume also has plenty of other criticisms and developments of Falque to offer that do not primarily concern his method. There is, for example, Bruce Ellis Benson’s important observation that Falque’s “account fundamentally overlooks a concept that he mentions more than once but never analyzes: namely, what ‘religion’ is” (33). Indeed, Falque talks a lot about ‘religion’, but in doing so virtually always means something entirely different: namely, Christianity if not simply Roman Catholicism. He may provide a philosophy of Christianity (e.g., philosophical treatments of Christian concepts like the Passion, Resurrection and Eucharist), but in absolutely no way does he provide a philosophy of religion: i.e., an analysis of the troubled notion of the ‘essence of religion’, or any kind of discourse that also concerns other world-religions. To be fair to him, this problem is one of the field of ‘continental philosophy of religion’ as whole: it talks a lot about Christian theological concepts, but very little about those of other religious traditions or indeed about religion as such. Perhaps less excusable is what Benson calls Falque’s “religious homogeneity,” even when dealing with Christianity: “he shows remarkably little concern for the multiplicity that is found in world Christianity” (27). Of course, Falque has read the major 20th century German theologians, but that is where his engagement with anything outside Catholicism stops. Now, we shouldn’t expect a French philosopher to engage with, say, Asian or American Pentecostalism; but Christian thought in Europe—even in France—nevertheless has an abundance of sources to draw on beyond Catholicism and specifically German Lutheranism. The most glaring lacuna in Falque’s bibliography is perhaps the rich Orthodox theological traditions, including the Russian émigré theologians who often wrote in French (e.g., Lossky, Bulgakov, Florovsky, Berdyaev)—though the present volume remedies this oversight somewhat. A theologian can afford to dwell within a particular confessional framework when discussing Christian concepts since his labours serve a particular church; an author who claims to be philosophe avant tout and wants to address a larger audience, however, cannot.

Two more constructive contributions that do not directly concern Falque’s account of the relationship between philosophy and theology but are noteworthy nevertheless are those by William Connelly and Andrew Sackin-Poll respectively, for they show how phenomenological philosophy borders not just on theology but on other disciplines as well. Connelly situates Falque’s work at the confluence of phenomenology and non-phenomenology, impressively developing this notion by way of Merleau-Ponty and Blondel. In a complex and sophisticated essay, Sackin-Poll meanwhile explores the relation between phenomenology and metaphysics from a trinitarian perspective. It strikes me that Sackin-Poll’s essay could very well form a somewhat unexpected but nevertheless very welcome bridge between the sometimes excessively French preoccupations of this volume and recent developments in Anglo-American theology.

The volume’s chief concern, however, is Falque’s account of the relationship between philosophy and theology: what it means to ‘cross the Rubicon’ between both disciplines whereby one is transformed by the other without them ever being confused with it. The various contributions offer equally varying interpretations of this notion, resulting in some contributors directly contradicting others (which the editors are clearly aware of and exploit in their organisation of the material). This variety of opinion illustrates the difficulty of rigorously ‘crossing the Rubicon’, of jointly practicing philosophy and theology without ever confusing them. A source of the confusion and contradiction may be the liberal use of metaphor made throughout the volume to interpret the central metaphor used by Falque (i.e., ‘crossing the Rubicon’). In his contribution, for example, William Woody asks whether this crossing must be understood as ‘foreign exchange’ or ‘hostile incursion’: even though it uses a military metaphor, Woody asks, doesn’t “Falque’s account blithely ignore an essential—and perhaps necessary and productive—hostility between philosophy and theology?” (52). He explains:

Despite this, is there not a necessary hostility—or perhaps a less charged, beneficial antagonism—that we should maintain between theology and philosophy? Crossing the Rubicon provides an exemplary model that enables dialogue across difference, though such a movement also exposes a necessary inner tension that appears irresolvable in the relationship between philosophy and theology—a mutual necessity but also a mutual hostility or antagonism, or (at best) a mutual opposition and critique. I fear that, in some cases, Falque advocates an overly optimistic view of the potential for this relationship. (59)

Nevertheless, Woody does not give any examples of cases that concern him, sticking instead to the analysis of Falque’s method as Crossing the Rubicon states it generally and abstractly—often, he notes correctly, through various curious uses of metaphor. He then concludes with a metaphor of his own, reinterpreting Falque’s: “Without antagonism and hostility in the relationship, perhaps Falque advocates not so much crossing the Rubicon as the more docile exchange of crossing the Schengen zone” (60).

It is true that we Europeans have grown accustomed to our ability to cross borders easily, perhaps even blithely. Equally, ancient hostilities between European nations have ceased. Arguably, these two developments went hand in hand. However, to say that with them all antagonism has also disappeared—whether on the metaphorical level (between European nations) or as concerns the topic at hand (between philosophy and theology in Falque’s work)—could not be more wrong. Indeed, just like there remains plenty of antagonism amongst European nations, there very much is a necessary antagonism between philosophy and theology in the substantive parts of Falque’s work (which, after all, Crossing the Rubicon precisely looks back on methodologically). In his critique of Henry’s phenomenology of incarnation, for example, Falque questions the too close reconciliation of what theology and French phenomenology both have separately come to call ‘flesh’: sarx in John or caro in Tertullian, he argues vigorously, does not equal Leib in Husserl or chair in Henry. In this respect, there is a perfectly obvious and necessary antagonism between philosophy and theology, one that is precisely productive of what Falque calls the ‘backlash’ of theology on phenomenology and comprises the substance of his own philosophical contribution. This backlash, the result of an antagonism between the two disciplines, is the site where the ‘crossing’ takes place: the transformation of phenomenology in its encounter with theology. Moreover, Falque has explicitly thematised this antagonism—by way of another titular metaphor—in his The Loving Struggle: just like there continues to be strife amongst European nations, philosophy and theology remain mutual antagonists in their eternal struggle with one another; the point Falque wants to make, however, is that this antagonism never reaches the level of hostility. “We deceive ourselves,” he explains, “if we see this struggle as a war. Here, the opposition of contenders (agon) characterizes the conflict (polemos), such that the ‘loving struggle’ among thinkers consists of more than a clash of one ‘force against another force’ aimed at the obliteration of one by the other. (…) Instead, I envision a quasi-athletic clash (lutte) wherein the partners are adversaries only in order to measure themselves against one another and thereby surpass themselves.”[2] For example, precisely in struggling with the theological notions of sarx and caro, will phenomenology truly come to appreciate the distinctly philosophical meaning of what it calls chair—i.e., one that is different from the theological one and therefore cannot be confused with it. In short, there obviously is antagonism between philosophy and theology, but Falque wants to show us how this antagonism should be understood, not as the hostilities of war, but as the loving struggle of an intellectual dialogue in which mutual transformation can take place: according to the principle of proportionality (‘the more we theologise, the better we philosophise’), it is not that philosophy becomes more theological by actually theologising more; rather, in exploring the other bank of the Rubicon, philosophy’s very philosophising is improved (i.e., becomes more rigorously philosophical).

Fortunately, Tamsin Jones sets the record straight with an extremely clear essay that immediately follows Woody’s and eloquently captures Falque’s approach as follows:

Falque is interested in encounter, not conversion. Indeed, this is one of the markers which, arguably, separates him from a previous generation of French phenomenologists who, by refusing the distance between the two disciplines and claiming certain topics (such as revelation, liturgy, Eucharist) as properly philosophical, also were less explicit about the confessional origin of those topics. Distinctly, Falque has no need to ‘baptize’ philosophers like Badiou, Franck, and Nancy, who might, nevertheless, make use of theology in interesting ways. Despite the fact that Falque employs a militaristic metaphor—Caesar’s crossing is a movement into battle—(…) the ensuing encounter (…) need not result in ‘crushing’ one’s foe, but instead could be understood as an athletic contest in which one encounters an equal adversary against which to test, exercise, and thus strengthen one’s own abilities. (64)

Indeed, of all the contributions included here, Jones’ states Falque’s method most clearly and succinctly as intended to “at once, uphold and traverse the distance between the two disciplines” (63) (i.e., ‘crossing without confusing’). Indeed, she is so succinct when setting out Falque’s framework that she manages to have sufficient space left to use it for some interesting reflections on the institutional structures within which the relevant disciplines are practiced in North America.

In one of the most eloquent contributions to the edited volume, Barnabas Aspray then offers a final metaphor for the interpretation of Falque’s original one:

However, it would be a gross misunderstanding of Falque’s project to consider it as one of confusion. Falque is not a transgressor of boundaries but a marriage counselor; he calls for us to overcome the divorce between philosophy and theology. His aim is to break down the artificial barrier of separation between the disciplines that was erected in twentieth-century France. Just as a marriage makes ‘one flesh’ out of two individuals without destroying the uniqueness of each, so Falque’s reuniting of philosophy and theology does not homogenize them but rather restores their right mutual relation. (163)

Aspray writes well and develops the metaphor beautifully, so it is not without regret that I cannot help but feel that thinking of Falque as a marriage counsellor is seriously flawed. Indeed, though Aspray clearly knows that on Falque’s account “each discipline is transformed by the other without losing its core identity or its distinctive contribution” (164), I wonder if his own essay does not inadvertently end up confusing them after all due to this metaphor.

The metaphor of a marriage counsellor as Aspray presents it can be questioned from several perspectives. First of all, it strikes me as odd to think of an author who puts so much emphasis on the gesture of ‘crossing’ as anything but “a transgressor of boundaries.” However, perhaps what Aspray means by this is that Falque does not cross into foreign lands in order to conquer them, but rather to listen to those living there—which is an important part of his method that Aspray rightly emphasises:

Emmanuel Falque is first and foremost a true listener, reaching out across the barricades to engage in serious and honest dialogue with people who ‘see things differently’ than Christians. This listening attitude is laudable, because it shows love and respect for the humanity of the people to whom he listens. (168)

Secondly, Aspray’s choice of metaphor should also be criticised for downplaying the reality and significance of philosophy’s separation from theology: regardless of the “artificial” way in which it may have come about institutionally, it is a significant reality for the way in which each discipline understands itself and is practiced today. That this distinction should not be taken seriously is a claim some theologians and confessional philosophers like to make in the most casual of ways as supposedly self-evident. That it only seems to be confessional thinkers making this claim has apparently never given them any pause. Yet, if there is a Christian thinker who understands that even a confessional philosopher cannot display such a careless disregard towards the work of their atheist colleagues, it is Emmanuel Falque: he maintains that he is philosophe avant tout because he wants his argument to be intelligible to those who do not share his faith and might not even recognise theology as a valid intellectual enterprise, let alone understand their own philosophising as connected to it in any way. Finally, Aspray’s use of the marriage counsellor metaphor is perhaps too one-sided: after all, marriage counsellors do not just reconcile lovers who have grown apart; at times, they also facilitate an amicable divorce once the marriage has run its course. Perhaps Falque is then only a marriage counsellor in the latter sense: setting up the division of assets between two former partners who have grown apart after a long history together and must now reconfigure their relationship by way of a loving struggle. Falque’s question is first of all how to think the apparently still productive relationship between philosophy and theology once history has separated them from each other: he never questions this separation, for at no instance does he want to confuse the two.

It is curious that Aspray never acknowledges this alternative interpretation of the metaphor he uses. I wonder if that might be because the rest of his essay inadvertently tends to merge or confuse philosophy and theology in its apparent assumption that the two self-evidently belong together, meaning that any attempt at separating them must be dismissed as an artificial accident of history: the job of the marriage counsellor, for Aspray, is to reconcile what naturally belongs together. Yet, in thinking of the marriage of philosophy and theology as entirely natural, one risks confusing them. For example, Aspray writes: “Philosophy and theology can enrich each other precisely because they offer mutually complementary perspectives on the same object” (163). This statement seems innocent enough, yet we must be careful: in saying that philosophy and theology are complementary, i.e. that together they provide a full account of their shared object, it is implied that theology completes the limited account provided by philosophy (or vice versa). Yet, Falque’s principle of proportionality (i.e., ‘the more we theologise, the better we philosophise’) does not state that in stepping onto the terrain of theology the philosopher ends up with a better ‘philosophy’ (i.e., a more complete one), but rather that their ‘philosophising’ is improved (i.e., becomes more rigorously philosophical). There is thus a difference between saying that philosophy can learn from theology and saying that theology completes philosophy. A philosophical explanation is complete in itself, though it can be more philosophically rigorous when confronted with theology, for philosophy thereby gains an appreciation of its own distinction from theology (i.e., it does not confuse its own concepts with similar theological ones).

The confusion of theological and philosophical concepts might then be precisely what is going on in Aspray’s critique of Falque. Noting appreciatively that Falque advocates for constructing all theology on top of a secular philosophical anthropology—so that the Christian message may be available and intelligible to all (i.e., on the basis of our shared humanity) rather than to a privileged set of believers (i.e., on the basis of faith as a pre-existing God-relationship)—, Aspray is nevertheless concerned that Falque may be showing too much deference to philosophy in practice:

But if philosophy has such a large impact on theology, as Falque rightly insists, it becomes all the more important that philosophy is correct in its account of the human condition. Falque’s picture of the human is the one given to us by contemporary phenomenology (…). But is it the correct picture of the plain and simple human (l’homme tout court)? Should theology allow itself to be unilaterally determined by contemporary phenomenology? Such a position would open theology to be led about by the trends of philosophy like a dog on a leash that must follow wherever its master goes. (171)

Now, Aspray produces a valid theological critique of Falque’s larger framework which, when followed to its logical conclusion, really robs theology of any methodological independence: theology, too, would essentially exist in elucidation of the existentiality of the human being and a phenomenology of its transformation by the encounter with God. That being said, it is hard to think of a period in history where theology would have had complete methodological independence: theology has always had to borrow its method from philosophy, history, social science, etc. Aspray also rightly makes the important point that there can be philosophical discussion about what constitutes a good understanding of the human condition: there is no reason to privilege Heidegger’s analytic of finitude to the extent Falque does without real justification and to the detriment of alternative philosophical accounts. We might say that Aspray therefore accuses Falque of ‘anthropological homogeneity’ alongside Benson’s complaint of ‘religious homogeneity’. However, insofar as Aspray suggests that it is up to theology to decide what constitutes an adequate anthropology, he risks confusing philosophical and theological conceptualisations of the human condition. Theology, by definition, cannot evaluate the account philosophy provides of what Falque calls l’homme tout court, for this is a fundamentally philosophical notion: it indicates the human being ‘as such’ (tout court), i.e. in terms of its pure and simple humanity and thus without any reference to God whatsoever. Such an understanding of the human being as ‘pure nature’ is, of course, highly unorthodox in terms of Catholic theology, but Falque is not doing theology: insofar as he thinks of himself as philosophe avant tout, his methodology equally maintains philosophie avant tout. His method is really based on a fundamental rejection of the most influential ideas of Henri de Lubac’s:

Although it is absolutely invalid from a dogmatic point of view, insofar as it rejects a divine creation, the conjecture of a ‘pure nature’ retains here nonetheless a certain heuristic value. Human beings were not created without grace, but all the same we find ourselves first in nature (or better in finitude)—that is to say, independent of the evidence that will be the revelation of God. In this respect we return to our own humanity along with all of those of our contemporaries who are capable of living authentically without God. Contemporary philosophy thus finds, and in the shape of phenomenology in particular, what Catholic theology had thought already settled.[3]

In other words, the philosophical conception of l’homme tout court by definition cannot be evaluated on a theological basis because theology never views the human being tout court, but always in relation to God. It is this perspective that makes theology theological, meaning distinct from philosophy insofar as they both entertain anthropological themes. Theology and philosophy are different disciplines and will therefore produces different anthropologies: theology cannot disprove philosophy’s claims about the human condition, just like physics cannot disprove theology’s claims about the origin of the world­—such cross-disciplinary evaluation would amount to a confusion of disciplinary boundaries and concepts (or worse, a theological imperialism akin to the scientific naturalism theologians are often so eager to reject). In short, philosophy is not completed by theology and theology therefore cannot take anything away from philosophy; yet, this does not mean that they cannot learn from one another: in their mutual encounter, in crossing the boundary and setting foot on the terrain of the other, each gains a better appreciation of their own rigour without confusing it with that of the other.

Perhaps I can propose a metaphor of my own to interpret what Falque understands as the transformation of philosophy by theology and vice versa. Rather than military manoeuvres, athletic contests or marriage counselling, perhaps the philosopher or theologian’s venturing beyond their respective borders should be understood as a form of tourism. A tourist certainly crosses international borders, but always does so with the intention of returning home shortly afterwards. Moreover, a tourist clearly stands out as such and is never confused with a local. This is not to disparage tourism, for it is often a transformative experience: not because the tourist stays long enough so as to become a local, but precisely because the experience of having been abroad has transformed the way they perceive their homeland upon their return. The British tourist does not become French simply by taking the Eurostar to Paris. However, having enjoyed the gastronomy of France whilst away from home, they might find they have lost their previous appetite for English food upon their return. At the same time, simply setting foot in France has—sadly—in no way given them mastery of French cuisine so that they might recreate it at home. So, the transformation that takes place is not of the Brit into a Frenchman; instead, the Brit is changed insofar as they come to see or conceive of Britain and their own Britishness in a new way. Of course, they may have brought some things back with them from France, but souvenirs are generally tacky and unsophisticated things. We should think of the philosopher’s venturing onto the terrain of theology in the same way: unmistakeably not themselves one of the theologians who are native to this foreign land, and indeed probably unaware of much of this tribe’s sophistication; the philosopher courageous enough to listen will nevertheless have their philosophical practice enriched by this experience upon their return, as long as they can refrain from bringing with them ready-made theological truths that turn out to be garish once placed in a philosophical landscape and are aware that at no point do they themselves turn into a theologian or master the distinct rigour of theology. Perhaps the crossing Falque has in mind is then not Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon in 49 BC, but Lévinas’ crossing of the Rhine in 1928: not a hostile military invasion, but a relatively short and temporary scholarly stay abroad born out of intellectual interest in or love for a way of thinking that is different from what one is used to at home. After all, when he returned after his two semesters of study with Husserl, Lévinas did not spend his life developing Husserlian orthodoxy but rather renewed and transformed French philosophy by way of phenomenology: clearing the space for a distinctly French phenomenology and thereby immediately inscribing into that phenomenology the potential for its later theological turn (i.e., the epiphany of the face becoming the theophany of Christ).

Of course, I don’t claim any authority for my particular choice of metaphor. It will have flaws of its own, as all metaphors do (e.g., it would be wrong to think of Falque himself, personally, as a mere tourist on the terrain of theology). Indeed, given the variety of metaphors used by its contributors and the contradictions this leads to, this volume perfectly illustrates the philosophical endeavour itself: it is the necessarily metaphorical character of thinking that prohibits philosophy from ever considering any question as settled, including questions concerning the interpretation of other philosophers. For that is, ultimately, what this volume establishes most clearly: Emmanuel Falque is a philosopher worthy of the name; i.e., not just an author who thinks (and comes up with metaphors), but an author whose thinking spawns different ‘paths of thinking’ (Denkwege) in others (who come up with their own metaphors). As a result, the publication of this first edited volume on Falque’s work is an event to be celebrated: it will undoubtedly set the tone for scholarship of Falque in years to come and hopefully encourage further exercises in the rigorous crosspollination of philosophy and theology he advocates (i.e., crossing without confusing).


[1] Christina M. Gschwandtner. 2013. Postmodern Apologetics: Arguments for God in Contemporary Philosophy. New York: Fordham University Press, 184.

[2] Emmanuel Falque. 2018. The Loving Struggle: Phenomenological and Theological Debates. Trans. by Bradley B. Onishi and Lucas McCracken. London: Rowman & Littlefield, 1-2.

[3] Emmanuel Falque. 2012. The Metamorphosis of Finitude: An Essay on Birth and Resurrection. Trans. by George Hughes. New York: Fordham University Press, 16.

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