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The Anti-Catholicism of Heidegger’s Black Notebooks

The publication in the last few years of several volumes of the Black Notebooks (Schwarze Hefte)—consisting of Heidegger’s unedited ruminations from the early 1930’s to the early 1940’s on Being, human being, destiny, religion, ethics, and politics—has had about it the character of a sensation. It was thought that if we are to find beneath the complexities and opacities of Heidegger’s expression regarding his basic attitudes towards contemporary culture and political events, then here in these journals or notebooks, which Heidegger expressly forbade to be published in his lifetime, one can finally gain clarity in real time of the views Heidegger held during the fateful years of the Third Reich. The Notebooks, we are told, provide the raw and unfiltered versions of Heidegger’s attitude towards things of which he best provides notices in his published works. The Black Notebooks are understood to be the ultimate exposé, the smoking gun that was needed to put the nail in the coffin for a colluder masquerading as a thinker. The genre of the advertising for the Black Notebooks seems to be in equal parts tabloid and a bad version of psychoanalysis applied to texts: if Heidegger’s published texts from time to time present us with signs of attitudes rather than or in addition to deep philosophical probing, the Black Notebooks actually give us unfettered access to Heidegger’s unconscious. How disclosive the Black Notebooks truly are remains an open question. Still, it is antecedently unlikely that disclosure will match the advertisement which moves towards cheapness both in form and in content. While psychoanalysis has often been used to analyze society, at no time has any psychoanalyst claimed that the unconscious is more than partially ex-posed.

The publication has also meant something of a third public trial for Heidegger, whose flirtation with Nationalist Socialism made him, immediately after WWII, a persona non-grata who was refused permission to teach, and whose crass statements about Jews in his published work, and especially his infamous Rectorial Address at the University of Freiburg in 1933 in which he pledged loyalty to National Socialism, has for decades being raked over in volume after volume. In the deluge of response to the publication of the Black Notebooks over the last few years there have been two dimensions of engagement, one descriptive, the other evaluative. This analytic distinction is more logical than real in that it is only in rare cases of commentary that these dimensions are fully separated from each other. Nonetheless, the distinction is a useful one in that depending on the writer, one or the other will tend to dominate. By and large the descriptive dimension has focused on the question as to what further light the Black Notebooks shine on Heidegger’s relation to Judaism given the episodically rebarbative comments that sprinkle his published work, which run the gamut from the most base of ethnic prejudices to his critique of forms of instrumental and calculative thinking considered to be typical of this group and by dissemination of modernity. The evaluative question raised is whether in the light of further evidence of anti-Semitic bias the curtain should necessarily come down on Heidegger being regarded in any shape or form as a great philosopher. Of course, the guiding assumption here is that a philosopher who has displayed such a prejudice should necessarily be excluded from the canon.

A few years out the sensation looks more than a little contrived. In any event there has been far more heat than light thrown on what has come to be called the “Heidegger Affair.” Although high expectations were unreasonable, very few of the excited readers of the Black Notebooks thought that the descriptive dispute would amount to counting the explicitly anti-Jewish passages, whether 12 or more, and establishing criteria that might count as an anti-Semitic passage. Just as few expected that whatever the particular disposition of the evidence, it did not obviously budge the meter either one way or the other when it came to assessing whether Heidegger was in or out of the philosophy canon. The same tangles remained: while there are a number of unseemly anti-Semitic passages to be found in the Black Notebooks, are there not also plenty of criticisms of Nationalist Socialism to be found in the Black Notebooks? Does not Heidegger also repeatedly denounce biologism and racism? Is there not in philosophy as in art a measure of separation of a person from their thought? If one is going to use a political measure, is Heidegger’s case really different from that of Plato and Aristotle who supported slavery? And if Heidegger is to be excluded from the philosophical canon because of anti-Jewish opinions, what about Hegel who, while he supported voting rights for Jews, made extraordinarily disparaging comments about Jewish thought throughout his career?

The fact that the Black Notebooks have turned out to promise us more than they deliver regarding the “Jewish Question” does not in any way disqualify the seriousness of the questions raised regarding Heidegger. The questions remain essential, even if the Black Notebooks on their own cannot decide the issues. They can and should be pursued. Here, however, I want to draw attention to a peculiar blind spot when it comes to analysis of the Black Notebooks. Conspicuously absent in the flurry of advertising and commentary has been any attention given to the far more numerous anti-Christian sentiments expressed throughout the Black Notebooks. Why the curious avoidance of the obvious question of whether in the Black Notebooks more clearly than anywhere else Heidegger reveals his systemic animus towards Christianity and especially towards Catholicism. With respect to the latter Heidegger there was no compunction about stereotyping it, characterizing it as a historical mistake, and suggesting that it is an important conduit of a degenerate modernity. What I would like to do here is to unveil where these Heideggerian prejudices are hidden in plain sight with the view to indicating that there are difficulties as well as opportunities when Catholic thought negotiates with Heidegger’s philosophy. Here one is not necessarily talking simply about hurt feelings, but as with regard to the Jewish question whether Heidegger’s philosophy, just like Nietzsche’s, is constitutively anti-Christian, and if not constitutively anti-Christian, then decidedly anti-Catholic. The question of the relation is unavoidable. Many Catholic thinkers of the twentieth century honed their theological reflection by engaging Heidegger. The list is a distinguished one and includes Karl Rahner, Edith Stein, Erich Przywara, Hans Urs von Balthasar. In our own day we have John D. Caputo, Jean-Luc Marion, and Jean-Yves Lacoste. Given what Heidegger writes about Catholicism in the Black Notebooks, what ought to be the expectations of Catholic thinkers who continue to read him?

Anti-Catholicism Throughout Heidegger’s Work

Outside of the Black Notebooks we know a great deal about Heidegger’s attitude to Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. We know from texts published in Heidegger’s lifetime that he thinks that Christianity constitutively represses free inquiry; that “Christian philosophy” is in essence an oxymoron; that Christian thought is straight-jacketed by a commitment to explanation and specifically to the construction of a First Cause; and that Christianity has effectively thrown in its lot with a correspondence notion of truth: the sign refers to a thing, with all the consequences of the reification of reality that one would think its important, as well as supreme, instance exceeds percepts and concepts. The condemnation of Christianity or at least Christian thought is general, since Heidegger is sensible enough not to exempt Protestantism tout court from claims to certain truth and even from the blight of Scholasticism. With regard to the latter, there are after all the examples of Leibniz and Christian Wolff whom Kant purged in The Critique of Pure Reason. Still, throughout writings published in his lifetime, it is obvious that Heidegger favors Lutheranism over Catholicism. This is not only intimated by his collaboration with Bultmann at Marburg in the 1920’s, but also by the way in which he consistently praises Luther for separating faith from reason, whose close linkage Luther designated the constitutive Catholic confusion. Even if his own commitment to Luther’s sola fide is formal rather than substantive, since for Heidegger while fear and trembling can be sanctioned both in his early phenomenological and in his post-phenomenological philosophy, fear and trembling before the personal God of the Bible cannot. Nor again does Heidegger commit himself to the view that the Bible is the unique Word of God; rather there are the words of the gods throughout history and the hearing of those with ears to hear. There is no reason to suppose, for example, that in Heidegger the gnomic sayings of Heraclitus, and the equally gnomic sayings of Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra are not on the same level as the Bible, which he elevates above reason and tradition in his speech to the Protestant clergymen in Zurich in 1954. Similarly, there is no reason to suppose that the hymns and odes of Hölderlin, which Heidegger focused on almost obsessively throughout the post-Being and Time period, do not contain as much if not more disclosive potential than the biblical text.

Furthermore, if the archaeological work regarding the pre-Being and Time Heidegger has shown us anything, it is that on his way to his philosophical maturity Heidegger was sorting through not only classical and medieval philosophy, but also his specifically religious options. The critique of Duns Scotus and Henry of Ghent in his habilitation (1915) in due course became the critique of Augustine on whom Heidegger lectured in 1921 and the studied preference for Schleiermacher, Luther, and a radical Paul understood as an apocalyptic thinker who constructs Christianity not so much as witnessing to, or awaiting, the (re-)appearance of Christ but as awaiting a revelation whose content cannot be specified. The lectures on Paul are consistent with Heidegger’s preference for Luther over Catholic thought, for it suggests that Protestantism is structurally apocalyptic in a way that Catholicism is not. Protestantism may not be the whole truth, precisely because it insists on particular truths, but it is far more adequate to the truth than Catholicism in that it grasps the event character of disclosure. Pauline Christianity may have to be replaced by a philosophical doublet that features the erring of Being rather than the gratuity of divine action, but at least in the Pauline and Protestant version there is a sketch for what a truly apocalyptic take on reality would look like. It was during what we now know was not only a fateful period of parturition, but also of really valuable work, that Heidegger converted from Catholicism to Lutheranism. And it is due to the deep explorations of this period in the last two decades that we know that Heidegger became initially frustrated by, and ultimately disgusted with, what he deemed to be the structural authoritarianism of Catholicism and its intellectual rigidity, the immediate signposts being the modernist controversy and the elevation of Aquinas as the philosopher of the Catholic Church. It was perhaps these larger phenomena, rather than this inability to secure a Chair at the Catholic university of Freiburg, that accounts for his disenchantment with Catholicism, which lasts to the end of his life, but which, arguably, receives its most vehement expression in the Black Notebooks.

Across the great arc of works both published in his own lifetime and other works such as Contributions to Philosophy which belong to the 1930’s, but which were only published posthumously, it is clear that Heidegger is never simply thinking of ideas, but of the basic stance of human being towards an enigmatic reality that will not finally yield its secrets. In Being and Time (1927) the stance recommended is an anxious comportment to a reality that cannot be codified and which elicits all of one’s strength to face the annihilation that is one’s inescapable destiny. In this squarely facing of one’s nothing or erasure consists “authenticity.” Any number of Christian commentators considered Heidegger’s stance to be nihilistic and its basic pedigree to be Nietzschian. But they also noted that Heidegger manufactured this Christian result out of an engagement with Christian thinkers, specifically Kierkegaard and Augustine, who provided sketches of Heidegger’s reflections on human comportment towards reality, but whose full expression were stymied by their religious commitments and by their deficient philosophical views. It has rightly been noted that whether the change is philosophically substantial or a matter of rhetorical décor, from the 1930’s on Heidegger speaks of the exemplary human being as being receptive to and waiting on whatever reality provides or gives. The key term is Gelassenheit, a term Heidegger borrows from Meister Eckhart. We now know that Eckhart was a thinking companion for Heidegger from almost the very beginning of a sixty year-long philosophical journal as he attempted to find a way of access to reality that he believes has been covered over by the philosophical tradition. In the texts that postdate Being and Time, in which Eckhart’s leading concept of self-emptying is playing a major role, Heidegger makes it abundantly clear that this does not signify for him even nostalgia for the Church that he left behind. For him, as a term Gelassenheit is a free radical and indicates a disposition towards reality entirely free of Catholic assumptions. It is this conviction that allows him to entertain the prospect that such a disposition might be intimated in other religions, especially Buddhism and Taoism. Of course, Heidegger could also depend, on the one hand, on the fact that even after he made the split with Rome, Luther felt he could continue to use the language of Gelassenheit without committing himself to the entire Roman theological and philosophical apparatus and, on the other, on Hegel’s taking up of Eckhart precisely as a non-Catholic thinker neither given to instrumental reason nor servile obedience. For Heidegger, it is the great hymns and odes of the German Romantic poet Hölderlin that provide the proximate vocabulary for the kind of stance that he commends and recommends, just as it is the courage of this poet, who is both prophet and priest, that he holds up as the model for us to move beyond our Christian past and our modern impasse.

Anti-Catholicism in the Notebooks

The Black Notebooks, at a far greater level of concentration, repeats Heidegger’s arguments against Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular, throughout the work published in his own lifetime. They confirm what we find in complete works that belong to the same period as the Black Notebooks and which were only published posthumously, and augment what has been excavated from Heidegger’s pre-Being and Time period—most of which has only come to light in the past two decades. There are any number of places throughout the Black Notebooks where Heidegger denounces the non-interrogative nature of Christianity, where one comes across negative comments on Scholasticism in general and Aquinas in particular. We also find there an impassioned denunciation of reason, especially concerning its ability to prove the existence of God and install God as cause of the universe, which always makes what happens in the world accountable, rather than uncanny. If we keep Heidegger’s pre-Being and Time work in view, especially his work on Scholasticism and Augustine, we will notice that Heidegger criticizes Christian theology’s commitment to eternity over time, which is at the same time an indictment of its commitment to metaphysics which appears to be the ineliminable philosophical disease. We will notice also that in the Black Notebooks Heidegger throws scorn on the Catholic view of the transcendentals. Interestingly, given the highly aesthetic dimensions of his post-Being and Time thought, Heidegger displays a particular interest in dissociating truth from beauty almost as if he is aware of the minority tradition in Scholasticism in which beauty as well as truth, goodness, and unity is a transcendental. When he does this his proximate model seems to be more nearly Nietzsche than Hölderlin for whom there is a genuine unity between beauty and truth.

Regarding Catholicism the tone is a bit rougher in the Black Noteboks than it is in Heidegger’s work published in his own lifetime. The now famous author of Being and Time has little compunction about indulging in low-brow stereotypes of Catholicism very much in line with his stereotyping of Jews as the cabal that controls the economy and who function culturally as traffickers in deracination and internationalism. Heidegger accepts without reservation Nietzsche’s construction of Christianity as the operation of the lie. At the same time he shows that he can go lower: he avails of the extant stereotypes regarding the Jesuits as mendacious and interested in power to refer to Catholicism as a whole. This is a stereotype which, although not invented by Voltaire, was mediated through him to other anti-Catholic thinkers of the nineteenth century including Nietzsche and Dostoyevsky. Still, one should not ignore the fact that in German philosophical circles from Kant through and beyond German Idealism it is more or less axiomatic that Catholicism is caught between the extremes of a world-denying asceticism and a lust for worldly power that will not be inhibited by intellectual integrity. Still, compared with what we can discover in the books published within his own lifetime, as well as in the excavations in commentary and criticism the last two decades of the pre-Being and Time Heidegger, in the Black Notebooks there appears to be a quite determinate focus on Catholicism’s role after WWI in advertising itself as the agent of the renewal of Christian culture that will help build up a Germany badly in need of intellectual and spiritual rehabilitation as well as economic rebuilding.

Protestant thinkers such as Barth and Bultmann rejected the notion of Christian culture on essentially theological grounds, while also sowing the suspicion that this very culture was responsible for WWI and the ensuing fiasco of the postwar Germany. In both cases, and especially in the case of Barth, the intended audience were Liberal Protestants rather than Catholics, although doubtless had either been asked about Catholic culpability they would likely not have excused Catholicism whose views on the relation of faith and reason, and faith and culture, were inimical to Bultmann and nothing short of the intimation of the Antichrist for Barth. For Heidegger in the Black Notebooks, in its self-interpretation as a carrier of cultural Christianity, Catholicism is represented as a uniquely self-interested standard-bearer of cowardly accommodation to the intellectual status quo and the bearer of false hopes of renewal. The Catholic thinker Romano Guardini, who would have been an early promoter of such renewal, is called out by name. One presumes that had Erich Przywara been well-known enough, he also would have been called out. It leads to the interesting question of what Heidegger thought of Karl Rahner who studied with him in the 1930’s and whose Spirit in the World obviously owes so much to Heidegger in its articulation of the nature of the human subject and a disclosure model of truth. Is Rahner judged not to be engaged in Catholic apologetics and Catholic wielding of temporal as well as spiritual power? And if not, what are the criteria for ascription? In any event, according to Heidegger, Catholicism is capable only of generating a simulacrum when it comes to thinking and providing a mold for authentic forms of existence. For a thinker such as Edith Stein, who like Heidegger is making a pathway through phenomenology to a more radical form of thought influenced equally by Aquinas and Saint John of the Cross, it is precisely Heideggerianism that is the simulacrum: Heideggerian thought is dependent on Christianity that is vociferously denied; it is simply that Christianity’s basic content is inverted. There is only world, time, nothing, and chance. Proscribed is any sense of another world, eternity, the fullness of being, and gratuity and providence.

As Heidegger revealed in his 1929 Davos debate with a baffled Ernst Cassirer, the great philosopher of culture, the notion of culture is essentially the fiction of a continuous and bearable tradition. In the Black Notebooks “culture” is continually identified as a Catholic fiction that necessarily prioritizes the past as the ground of the present and future insofar as their meaning and truth is based on their capacity to recollect what was given in illo tempore. In often biting remarks that evince a significant measure of agitation, Heidegger rails against the past and against tradition: history is the scene of chance, the scene of erring. What is valuable is not continuity, for what continues is, by the nature of the case, according to Heidegger, sheer mediocrity. What is truly “historical” are precisely those events of thought, language, and forms of existence that cannot be anticipated and cannot even be fully grasped after the fact. These events, these apocalypses, are signs of a future that does not gestate within the present as an endowment from the past, but rather comes from “beyond”—although certainly not from that beyond which Christians identify as the transcendent God who solicitously oversees all human affairs. Throughout the many ponderings or mediations of the Black Notebooks one of the most frequent targets of Heidegger’s wrath is what he calls historiology, that is, the lazy tendency of thought to think that it can master history as if it somehow corresponded to the continuous disclosure of meaning and truth—thereby constituting itself as material for some kind of moral lesson and even more importantly presenting the outlines of a plausible story into which we could read ourselves. Here implicitly Nietzsche’s view of history is being uplifted against all proponents of a continuous tradition, whether Ernst Cassirer or Catholics who mandate cultural rehabilitation by a return to ancient intellectual, moral, and spiritual resources. In contrast, Heidegger champions a view of history in which meaning occurs merely episodically and always in a punctual, unrepeatable manner. And the revealers, whoever they may be, but certainly both Nietzsche and Hölderlin have to be included, are themselves not reproducible. They live and think ecstatically without having a culture to rely on. They live dangerously. These are our models. Yet, very much like the Christian’s relation to Christ, strictly speaking they cannot be emulated. They are phenomena of the once, once-only kind.

Perhaps one might say a little more about this point. Heidegger thinks of the Presocratic thinkers and poets as a series of unrepeatable existential and discursive events, with Heraclitus perhaps standing above the others. Since the Black Notebooks are written in a time in which there is deep engagement with Nietzsche, then Nietzsche too can be regarded as an event. Still, there is a primus inter pares. The event of events in terms of pointing to truth and the essential truing of selves is offered by the German Romantic poet Hölderlin who, as is well-known, enjoys an astonishing status in Heidegger’s post Being and Time ruminations and meditations. If in the Black Notebooks Heidegger is annoyed that in all the enthusiastic German reclamation of Hölderlin he has not been understood, Heidegger is furious that this epochal poet-thinker is being adopted by Catholics as an agent in Christian cultural renewal. The general criticism is more trenchant than what one finds in Heidegger’s published commentaries on Hölderlin, but not essentially different in substance. Hölderlin’s greatness is such that it cannot be contained by periodization or taxonomic schemes of professorial types. What is new in the Black Notebooks is Heidegger’s interest in proscribing German Catholic assimilation of Hölderlin. Throughout his commentary Heidegger never speaks to Hölderlin’s fascination with Mary, one this Protestant German poet shared with the Catholic contemporary Novalis, and observes a scrupulous silence when it comes to Hölderlin’s stated preference for Christ (especially in the Eucharist) over other heroes, including Dionysius. Compared with his published commentaries on Hölderlin, the Black Notebooks reveal that Heidegger’s interest is not so much in the niceties of interpretation as use. Heidegger wishes to stipulate that the unrepeatable Hölderlin has nothing to do with the reclamation of culture and even less to do with Catholicism. Yet, Heidegger is sensing a pattern of assimilation in which occurs an objectionable dampening of the radicality of Hölderlin’s thought, mode of expression, and life. In any event, Heidegger’s instincts regarding a Catholic pattern of adoption of Hölderlin were not entirely wrong. At that time in German speaking thought a Catholic pattern of assimilation of Hölderlin can be observed. Przywara followed in Guardini’s train while also taking Rilke on board. Balthasar followed Przywara in thinking that both Hölderlin and Rilke presented real opportunities for Catholic thought anxious to move beyond the impasse of modernism and anti-modernism, although he refused to elevate German literature at the expense of the French as witnessed by his championing of Péguy, Claudel, and Bernanos. In his early work, very much following in the wake of both Przywara and Balthasar, Marion offers an astonishingly convincing reading of Hölderlin that delivers him from the hands of Heidegger’s deliberately anti-Christian readings of his great odes and hymns and in his sacramental and Trinitarian reading make him more nearly the analogue of Pseudo-Dionysius and Bonaventure than Nietzsche.

Correlative to the prioritization for event over culture in the Black Notebooks is the insistence on decision. If one is to follow the intent of the German, it is best to hyphenate as “de-cision” in order thereby to signify the cut and separation from the standard disposition towards reality characterized by distraction, flaccidity in terms of language, and the constitutional second-rate in terms of thinking. Heidegger neglects to draw attention to the various forms of the double-bind that he puts his posthumous readers in by, on the one hand, calling for a conversion or whole scale transformation of thought, disposition, and action, while suggesting that it is not in our power and, on the other, calling attention to prototypes of decision such as Heraclitus, Neitzsche, and Hölderlin who by definition cannot be emulated. Be that as it may, “decision” is what is required for human being to be all that it can be, to specifically be the site of a fundamental occurrence of reality in language, disposition, or action. “Decision” is in many senses a later version of the “resoluteness” of which Heidegger spoke in Being and Time, where he seemed to call for a disposition and behavior different from that of the “they,” or the crowd. But in the Black Notebooks, as in other works that date from the 1930’s, Heidegger is anxious to underscore the positive dimension of the stance and the fact that this disposition is more a gift than a human product. Decision is not only de-cision from, but decision for an enigmatic reality that one is willing to bear. There are echoes of Nietzsche’s amor fati and eternal recurrence mixed in with Hölderlin’s and even Meister Eckhart’s emphasis on will-lessness. There is both a sense of expectant waiting and reaching or ecstasy. Heidegger is very much making a call for conversion in the Black Notebooks. He does not seem to notice, or if notice, truly care, that the call implies an autonomous human agent who can answer or refuse the call and thus be assigned merit or demerit. In the end, and presenting an analogue of Luther’s sola gratia, merit or demerit seems finally to be beside the point. Lack of openness to the deliverances of reality seem to be just as much the operation of an enigmatic reality as the openness to reality.

Although decision cannot be attributed to an autonomous human being with the proper name of Friedrich Hölderlin, Friedrich Nietzsche, or for a brief period Adolf Hitler, nonetheless, as sites of decision to be imitated, these figures are heroes. Moreover, in the case of the first two, their writings provide the basic contours for what any hero would look like, that is, being the exception, being the seeker, being what Nietzsche called “the Argonaut of the spirit” while waiting on reality rather than attempting to construct or produce it. Even if we put Nietzsche in parenthesis, the elevation of the hero is a phenomenon in German letters that has a tradition. In literature it is typical of Goethe and perhaps not untypical of Schiller. In philosophy it is certainly typical of Hegel. What is common to all is the felt need to replace the Christian notion of the saint with something like the Greek sense of the hero. Unlike the saint, who reproduces a world of belief and action in himself or herself by exemplifying it, the hero constructs or produces a world. The saint is obligated to an institution, in the West to the Christian Church, and is indebted to the past. In contrast, the hero in this German understanding of the Greek hero is the origin of institutions which, nonetheless, cannot adequately house him or her, and the aim of the hero is always the uncontainable future. In his published works it would be easy to read Heidegger’s support of the hero as one more example of the German love affair with Greece. Read thus, the hero provides a new model of exceptionality, one that is entirely unrestricted and without convention. In principle, it can co-exist alongside the Christian view of the saint. To some extent this is true of Schiller’s plays, as Hans Urs von Balthasar points out. It definitely is not true of Hegel, who makes it abundantly clear that a Christian exceptionality with its constitutive refusal to engage the world is untrue to the world. Hegel even goes one step further by suggesting that it is untrue to the fundamental essence of Christianity. Hegel wishes to delete sainthood from a Christian vocabulary—in this sense he follows Luther—and replace it with the hero. So also does Nietzsche who has, however, no conviction that Christianity can remake itself to get in line with modernity, or even that, should it be so capable, that this would be a good thing. It seems clear from the Black Notebooks that Heidegger is involved in displacement and replacement of the Christian concept of the saint and in this respect is very much a successor of Nietzsche. As a successor, he very much reads Hölderlin to be involved in the same enterprise, even if this means that he will avoid talking about Christ in Hölderlin’s odes and hymns, and will read the German poet’s evocations of Spirit as recalling the Presocatic philosophers rather than the Bible. Yet in the Black Notebooks, it proves difficult to leave entirely the Christian notion of the saint. Heidegger, after the manner of Nietzsche, characterizes the hero as marked by courage rather than humility. Yet, the same Heidegger proceeds to recall the Christian saint when he proceeds to depict the hero as being without self-assertion and patiently and obediently waiting a call whose content cannot be charted. In Heidegger’s depiction of the hero it is hard not to think of Ignatius’ profound reflections on vocation, of Thérèse’s “little way,’’ and almost impossible not to think of Mary and her Amen.

Summary Remarks

The suggestion I am making here is that the Black Notebooks might on the whole be more revealing about Heidegger’s constitutive anti-Catholicism than they are about his constitutive anti-Judaism, although it should be noted that since Kant, and perhaps before, the one involves the other. Although there are any number of stock Heideggerian broadsides against the Catholic tradition in general and the Scholastic tradition in particular, in the Black Notebooks there is a nastiness expressed towards Catholicism unlike anything that we find in Heidegger’s voluminous works now running in the German critical edition at 100 volumes. What are Catholic thinkers, interested in modern philosophy, to do with such revelations? The one thing that seems manifestly not an option is to pretend that we have not come upon them. Yet, recognizing them does not automatically empower us. It is not clear, for example, that this means that Heidegger’s thought should unilaterally rejected, if only for the reason that his thought often seems to be providing philosophical doublets of ideas, dispositions, and forms of life essential to Christianity. As we make our way through the twilight of modernity, we may need these doublets as well as the real thing. We will need to be as well-provided for a long and difficult journey as possible. Perhaps it does suggest, however, that were Catholic thinkers to continue to extend a welcome to Heidegger’s world of thought, assumption, and challenge, they should do so cautiously and in full recognition that Heidegger is the most unruly of intellectual guests. Thankfully, we have been told this story too by Przywara, Balthasar, Marion, and others. This too has become part of our tradition that we can continue on and bring further.

Editorial Statement: This post is part of an ongoing “Ressourcement Futures” series that will look at the mid-century (mostly) French movement of recovering the sources of Christian culture, the movements antecedents, its continued influence, and satellite figures. Posts will be collected here as they are published.


The History of Natural Right

Featured Image: Willy Pragher, Martin Heidegger Color Photograph [retouched], 1960; Source: Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0.

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.