Emmanuel Falque: Eucharistic Crossings Between Philosophy and Theology

This paean to Emmanuel Falque was delivered by Professor O’Regan over dinner after the Profiling Religious Experience: Notre Dame Systematic Theology Colloquium.

I would like to speak with gratitude, of it, and in a certain sense also to it as the impossible ground or circumstance of belonging and coming together. “With” insofar as I want to express my thanks to Emmanuel Falque of the Institute Catholique for being with us—twice with us—this is his second coming this week and thus a profoundly eschatological gesture. I wish to thank him specifically for the intellectual nourishment he provided all of us in his diverse ruminations that covered historical, theological, and philosophical subject matters and their various “betweens” and borders which variously allow and disallow crossing. I want to thank him for sharing with us not only his thoughts, but his embodied incarnate bodily thinking, and not only his thinking, but its joyous quality which seems substantive rather than accidental and very much like the meal that we have shared, indeed, continue to share, genuinely Eucharistic.

I am grateful in the hope that the first and second comings will prove fecund and beget other comings and second comings in the future, other disclosures, revelations and apocalypses, which themselves probably will be expressions of gratitude that will beget our gratitude and invite us to express it. Emmanuel, I mean Emmanuel Falque, is rightly the major addressee of my gratitude. But I would also like to express my thanks to the indefatigable and ever-generous Bernard McGinn who has taken time from his necessary work to be here with us and whose unsurpassable contributions to the history of mysticism and spirituality have inspired a number of scholarly generations, not excluding the generation represented on our panels today. David Albertson, who studied under Bernie, is also known to us here, and it was he who with Peter Casarella was the major promoter for Emmanuel’s visit to Notre Dame and the University of Chicago—needless to say in that ranked order, although no chauvinism is intended.

I have already thanked my colleague Peter Casarella, but illustrating that gratitude is promiscuous as well as prodigal, I will do so again. I think that formally I have something to do with the visit, but it was as distracted consultant and stamp-seal procurer. In this enterprise my model has been the deus otiosus, whom for once I will not criticize. I would like to reserve a special thanks to our graduate students in theology from whom came forth the idea in the first case, who guided us faculty in seeking funding and who in large part have been responsible for the programming. While this small conference was a group effort by the graduate students, it would be remiss not to thank the two leaders: Fr. Bruno Shah and Jonathan Ciraulo.

But to return to the group: you generated a polyphonic response to the various overlapping domains of Emanuel Falque’s work, his immersion in the erotics of the mystics, their silence and speech, their iconicities, the unraveling of the signifiers required to adequately pick out the signified; the promise and frustrations of phenomenology in its ontological vehemence, but also, and unhappily, the interdicts, preventions, and closures prosecuted in its name; the philosophical and theological value of atheism; the humility and heroism of the flesh as the site of selving, worlding, and maybe through both as God-ding. I regard all the papers presented today as a part of a chorus of thank-yous to the texts of Falque whose thought fed us and whose thinking challenged, reminded, and inspired.

That is speaking with gratitude. I would like now to speak of it, and more specifically how the presence or absence of gratitude is a major theme of Falque’s work, perhaps even in some sense its problematic. Falque’s is a complicated discourse negotiating multiple borders and crossings. His work on medieval figures such as Aquinas, Cusa, the Victorines, Bernard of Clairvaux, and above all Bonaventure is a discourse of border-crossing. We are not simply talking about these discourses as themselves icons of crossing, but rather about Falque’s subtle negotiation of explication and application, fidelity to historical context and history of effects, the constellation of meaning and the horizon of possibility, what can be carried forward into our modern world of assumption and what can press and productively interrupt it.

There is much of this medieval ideational world that necessarily is left behind despite our nostalgia. But significant elements can be brought forward: the signifiers that are embedded in experience and desire that can never leave behind the body; the signified whose name undoes naming, Christ who names God again and for the first time, whose defining eros is sharing his eternally bodily life.

And finally we can say that a decision, which is precisely not a decision, which while insisting philosophy and theology are different and possibly in tension with each other, holds up as iconic their encounter with each other, their acknowledgement of each other, and because of the first two we can say their gratitude for the existence of the other.

A river runs through them, whether the Jordan, the Rubicon, the Tiber, the Loire, or the Seine (maybe Rhine or the Danube), but there is crossing from theology to philosophy and philosophy to theology, two crossings, and perhaps a little double-crossing too, for passage is tricky and things can go wrong. Still for those who know anything about medieval thought one is forced to acknowledge two things: first, that philosophy is but semi-independent rather than fully so. This means that its exemplarity is relative, since if it is difficult to get modernity to acknowledge theology as a discourse on the level of philosophy, it is well-nigh impossible for modernity to accept the relative superiority of theology; second, the “river” that flows between philosophy and theology in the medieval is analogical; we see rivers of different sizes and conjecture that in some cases the current is more treacherous than in the case of others. Given Heidegger’s antipathy to the medieval, one can say with a bit of mischief (using his own reflections on Hölderlin against him) that the river that might be thought to separate is precisely what constitutes the belonging-together of philosophy and theology and we may say their suffering or bearing or forbearance with regard to each other, indeed their passion for each other.

Modernity is the event that involves the derogation of religious discourse and theology as its second-order rendition, which attempts to remain true to its vocabulary of revelation while attempting to define the horizon of possible experience and articulate the grammar of its terms. This derogation takes the form both of sidelining and colonization. The beliefs, practices and forms of life of Christianity can be sidelined by science or by appeal to it as intolerant of metaphor, symbol, narrative, tradition, history, and body. Christianity and its discourses can also be sidelined by philosophy (at least officially) as in Descartes, although in his case only to be surreptitiously invited back in and deployed under the banner of philosophy. It can be colonized as it is in different ways by Kant and in German Idealism. In the case of the former theology is rubbished and the difference between theology and philosophy institutionalized in two separate faculties of completely different status supposed to have nothing in common except the biblical text.

The river now only divides, or rather, for Kant, there is no longer a river whose waters lap against the different shores, but the deep trenches between discourses and mutual discouragement against invitation and encounter. This is more nearly apartheid than colonization. Colonization arises when Kant insists that philosophy rather than theology is capable of unfolding the intelligibility of the narrative of the biblical text; to theology falls the sub-intellectual task of historical annotation. The case of Hegel is somewhat different. Instead of intimacy, acknowledgement, gratitude between philosophy and theology and the irreducibility of two to one, theology becomes an immanent property of philosophy and Christianity is elevated but precisely as something presupposed by the master-speculative discourse that is philosophy. Heidegger is a famously tendentious reader of the philosophical tradition, a style of strong-reading justified by an appeal to hermeneutics as the excavation of the unsaid in the said. But he is likely right about Hegel, whom he cannot get out of his mind no more than Hölderlin and Nietzsche. Recall that the clearest avowal of ontotheology in Heidegger’s corpus occurs in an essay on Hegel.

And while we are throwing out bouquets to philosophers with whom we have vehement disagreements, perhaps we should recall that even if Derrida has ceased to obsess us, more than any recent French writer, even more than Jean-Luc Nancy, he defines the mechanisms in Hegel whereby Christianity is elevated and erased, indeed, erased in the elevation. Still, it is not quite as if there is only one language: religious discourse continues to convey meaning, but there is now full recognition that it cannot really say what it means. It has a residual kind of dumbness or madness from which it would be relieved so that it can say. It is not so much another as a final layer that makes possible philosophical discourse which on the one hand says that Christianity is a presupposition and, on the other, suggests that philosophy is presupposition-less insofar as it can conceptually account for its own conditions. Given the latter, philosophy in the end can only be grateful to itself. Thus speculative philosophy’s immuring self-congratulation and self-worship.

Neither Kant nor Hegel are central preoccupations of Emmanuel Falque in the way that phenomenology is in general and especially the various ways it handles the question of the possibility of phenomena that in the strict sense would be ur-phenomena. There is Husserl’s dogmatic refusal, which Jean-Luc Marion wishes to relitigate and alter by reference to the third reduction of “givenness.” There is Heidegger in his dazzling obfuscations, his vehement insistences, and his “mythological” interventions: first, in Being and Time the gifts of Christian thought are precisely not gifts even when they appear in the existential forms of “anxiety” and “being-towards death:” they were always only naïve representations of what can only be grasped by a fundamental ontology. The images and concepts—whether deployed by Kierkegaard or Augustine—are “ontic” rather than “ontological.” This is a distinction that less demonstrates its cogency than insists on it. In Being and Time anxiety of influence begets violent exclusion.

Second, the medievals and Leibniz, the latter who is thought shamefully to have brought the baggage of the medieval conjugations of philosophy and theology into modernity, are pilloried either side of the so-called Heideggerian Kehre in terms that recall Kant’s insistence on separation and philosophical purity that needs to be relentlessly defended. Thus medievals and Leibniz, but, of course, also Plato, all of whom suggest the negative capability of philosophy to recognize and negotiate with its discursive other “religion,” are effectively demonized. Ironically, given his anti-Judaism, when it comes to protecting the autonomy of philosophical discourse, Heidegger is a Deuteronomist. But then so also was Kant.

Third, post-Kehre we have to deal with a new wrinkle in Heidegger’s on-going attempt to liquidate Christianity as a possible as well as actual partner of philosophy that would be forced to acknowledge its generation of meaning and truth and accordingly be grateful to it. This is the Heidegger who concedes that a phenomenological-hermeneutical mode of philosophy needs to be in relation to other discourses. No surprise, it turns out that Christianity is not one of these discourses. In a way redolent of Schelling, art and myth (hierogamy) are, even if they call for a translation whose effect is to disturb and madden the philosophical status quo. Heidegger resists the possibility of a dialogue between philosophy and Christianity/theology not so much by downplaying Christianity’s discursive contribution as he did in Being and Time, by directly excluding it, but by having other discourses and their corresponding practices and forms of life substitute for it and crowd it out.

I continue to talk of philosophy’s or phenomenology’s gratitude or lack thereof. The more proximate discursive site for Emmanuel Falque’s production is in response to the phenomenology in its mode of the “theological turn,” which while it can be found in Levinas and Henry, decisively characterizes the Marion of God without Being and Idol and Distance. Janicaud’s lamentation concerning theological contamination of pure or original phenomenology had a number of effects, the most conspicuous one being Marion’s renunciation of the “demarche”—the porous boundary—between philosophy and religion and philosophy and theology and a renewed commitment to the vocation of phenomenology as “rigorous science” (als strenge Wissenschaft). Of course, there is the issue of the ratio between promise and sedimentation in the phenomenological tradition and whether one can isolate unnecessary foreclosures in Husserl and correct for them and account for false steps in his reception, particularly in the case of Heidegger. Marion is as relentless as he is brilliant in recovering the promise of phenomenology in Husserl as he is in uncovering the ontology that accompanies Descartes’ turn to the cogito.

The major result is the unfolding of the third reduction, that is, the reduction to givenness to complete the Husserl series, which has eidetic and phenomenological reduction as necessary stages. The effect—and maybe the intent—is to reduce the hostility ratio of phenomenology to religion in general and Christianity in particular. Now whether these maneuvers actually increase the hospitality ratio of phenomenology to Christianity is more complicated. As a matter of logic to decrease the hostility ratio between phenomenology and Christianity is to increase the hospitality ratio. This is Marion’s unsurpassable achievement, even if largely a negative one. Perhaps one can figure Marion as a kind of Trojan horse within phenomenology and secular philosophy more generally. Still, as a matter of argument Marion continues to insist that phenomenology avoid theological contaminants. There are any number of forms of saturated phenomena besides those of religion which fall under “revelation,” which in Marion functions as a philosophical rather than theological category. This is simply one of a number of moves in a highly sophisticated procedural apparatus of deflation.

The “saturated phenomenon” is in equal parts expectation and deflation. That is, it raises expectations that only singularities such as theophanies could serve as instances of the saturated phenomenon. These expectations are shattered, however, when Marion insists on the banality of the saturated phenomenon that can be just about anything, for example, a cigarette box. The banality of the saturated phenomenon is a function of the formality of the concept, that is, the excess of intuition over conceptuality. Marion, then, renders the ordinary strange and ingeniously corrugates the phenomenal field. Put another way, in text after text he draws attention to what he calls anamorphosis. Everywhere there is the sense that these phenomenological explorations are to function as a preparatio to a meeting with theology. Equally, everywhere Marion denies that this is the object of his explorations, while not necessarily forbidding theologians from acting as if in his phenomenology givenness could function in this way.

In any event, the official position is that phenomenology, both in its general method and in its regional areas of inquiry, is always philosophy and nothing but philosophy. In this sense philosophy is not only autonomous as it is in Kant; it is also autotelic. The “later” Marion—in equal parts Cartesian in his clarity and Pascalian in his separation of the human discourse and the discourse of love—does not allow relation between phenomenology and theology and forbids crossing on first principles. If the demarche was a wet land or perhaps a bog—I am Irish—it is dried up. And there is no river to substitute for it. At least the existence of such a river is impossible to posit in Marion’s extraordinarily ascetic phenomenological discourse that relentlessly, even ruthlessly, guards its purity. If intrinsically the reduction to givenness figures phenomenology as a discourse of gratitude, nonetheless, there is no truly functioning other discourse, officially philosophy cannot say thank-you to theology.

Marion’s Gifford Lectures continue the same refusal of another discursive voice and thus of an other, while adding a new wrinkle. Givenness and Revelation is a text about revelation, about Christ, and about the Trinity. It seems philosophically to claim proclamation, and thus the return of the “theological turn” from phenomenology’s sojourn in desert, an overcoming, therefore, of phenomenology’s desertification. Much of Marion’s work after Janicaud’s critique consists of a promise of a linkage between phenomenology with theology that is simultaneously foreclosed. In the case of his Gifford Lectures, the promise seems to be set free only to be recalled in the last instance. It is as if the text is a luminous exercise in nostalgia for what might have been. Perhaps a text that allowed an indulgence and dalliance with relation that can only turn out to be a dream.

This call-back at the last moment becomes all the more regrettable when one thinks of the Marion who opened up liturgy and made possible the liturgical subversion or subvention of phenomenology enacted by Lacoste.  Emmanuel Falque, who is with us, and speaking to philosophers and theologians who are as a group impure, has many subtle things to say about the relation between philosophy and theology in a voice that is playful, hopeful, and not too loud. One of the beauties of his work is that the mutual gratitude of philosophy and theology is never generic. It is always particular, even singular, and one might say erotic.

I turn finally to gratitude governed by the preposition “to” not “with” or “of.”  Here we are talking about the bedrock of gratitude for two reasons. First, because we are talking about the straining and concentrating of phenomenology in vulnerable bodies which are not so much windows on the world as the ineluctable ecstasy of flesh which refutes all ex-carnation. Ecstasy implies dialogue and otherness given from the beginning. Thus, rediscovery and elevation of Merleau-Ponty by theologically interested philosophers such as Falque and others. But it is not simply that one recovers Merleau-Ponty’s convincing ruminations on the passive genesis of sense that offsets Idealist implications of Husserl’s emphasis of constitution. The ecstasy that is the flesh turns out to be a deeper refutation of materialism than any idealism and spiritualism. It is hardly Merleau-Ponty’s intention to initiate a conversation with theology or find an objective correlative. Maybe there is no such correlative.

Emmanuel Falque, however, surmises that there is one, Christ or the Eucharist, the broken body of Christ in its mortification being given to all and potentially received by all. The Eucharist is the real symbol of sharing and gathering of otherness into one, the enacted program of thanksgiving which sounds numerous notes. The Eucharist protects differences while reconciling them. Whatever phenomenology’s original intent one can see in the phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty a discourse that can get to the border of theology and permit crossing. Contrariwise, theological reflection on the Eucharist allows us to see the form of gratitude inscribed in human flesh and awaiting an explanation. Theology also permits crossing into the phenomenological, especially as the focus is the vulnerable, finite and ever so mortal body.

I want to invoke the Eucharist for my own reasons, which it so happens dovetail nicely with Emmanuel’s discussion of it and its potential as a site of crossing into philosophy in this particular form of phenomenology, the Eucharist, which is more than a meal, also makes us see that there is more in a meal than a meal, more a superabundance of gratitude, from which all other forms of gratitude flow, including my thank you to Emmanuel to having been twice with us this week, which promises other happenings of being with us, thus other occasions of gratitude.

Heidegger got many things wrong, including Hölderlin. Marion surely is right in this at least. But this is grudging: he is right on many things. Hölderlin got much right. His poem, Bread and Wine, usually avoided by Heidegger and when not avoided reduced to meditative remembrance, is a hymn to the Eucharist bringing together and thanking that is the promise to all life, the profane life above all.


Christ Doesn’t Save Us by Words First of All, but by His Body

Editorial Statement: During the month of June Church Life Journal will train its focus on defining the Catholic imagination by discussing how and why classics of art, literature, music, encounters with other traditions, and the liturgy transform us in a myriad of ways into more faithful members of the Mystical Body. 

Featured Image: Caesar Crossing the Rubicon, Illuminated medieval manuscripts at the British Library, Royal 18 E V f. 330v; Source: British Library Website, PD-Old-100.

Cyril O'Regan

Cyril O'Regan is the Catherine F. Huisking Chair in Theology at the University of Notre Dame. His latest book is The Anatomy of Misremembering: Von Balthasar's Response to Philosophical Modernity. Volume 1: Hegel.