All posts tagged: philosophy

Life, Language, and Christ Today

I. The Problem of Language Today: The Inadequacy of the Usual Philosophical Answers Language as such is a problem today. The fact that language is a problem is felt in the perpetual oscillation between overvaluing and undervaluing it within modern thought. For example, Ernst Renan—the 19th century French rationalist inventor of the “historical Jesus” fiction—deliberately identified human language with the divine Logos. For him, what previous thinkers dubbed “the divine origin” of language was merely a metaphor. Language results simply from the interplay of mankind’s natural faculties with the natural world. In this world no revelation was possible for Renan. The most divine ideas present in sacred literature are nothing but sublimations of human, all too human, thoughts. In this way, the world becomes entirely disenchanted—just as human language becomes all-powerful, the only provider of meaning in the world. Michel Henry stands at the other end of the spectrum. According to this prominent phenomenologist, since from the outset language situates thought in exteriority, because language brings about an essential division between words and things, it …

Gabriel Marcel and the Discovery of Fatherhood

Gabriel Marcel (1889-1973) wrote about the meaning of the family beginning in 1927 with his earliest Metaphysical Journal right through to his latest autobiographical text, Awakenings (1971) and in dialogues with Paul Ricoeur and others in 1973 about his plays. As a philosopher of the “concrete,” Marcel was fascinated by the intimate relations and identities of family members. The unfolding of his philosophical thinking about the family can be divided into three phases: first, autobiographical reflections on the family he was born into and brought up by; second, the preparation for teaching a course on Fatherhood in Lyons; and third, autobiographical reflections on the family he participated in as husband and father. Throughout these three phases Marcel also created over 20 dramatic plays, in many of which he developed consequences of distorted family experiences and of grace of conversion in the midst of what he called “the broken world.” I. The Family as a Mystery or a Problem In “Concrete Approaches to Investigating the Ontological Mystery,” Marcel offered his well-known distinction between a problem and …

Can Schmitt’s Political Theology Be Redeemed?

A sure way to establish enduring significance as a thinker is to combine sophistication with carefully constructed ambiguity and, if necessary, outright contradiction. The odd combination of precision and ambiguity is something of a goldmine for interpretation and debate. To exponentially amplify it, the thinker just needs to be involved in some form of notoriety that makes a determinative interpretation all the more significant in order to illuminate what went wrong. One need only look at the complexity of Heidegger’s legacy to see how public and important such discussions can become. The notoriety licenses all manner of analyses—Is his or her work entirely undermined by such transgression? Does their thought lead to failure or is some contextual explanation a possible exoneration? The contrast of intellectual achievement and moral failure strikes us viscerally by touching on one of our most basic fears: that markers like high intellect and education cannot always protect against violence and hatred. Like Heidegger, Carl Schmitt is such a thinker of great sophistication, ambiguity, and notoriety. The famous German jurist and political …

A Garden Lurking Beneath the Floorboards

In 1912, Sergei Bulgakov published The Philosophy of Economy, a sociological, philosophical, and religious examination of economic materialism. This was his way of settling an intellectual debt which he owed from his period as a respected Marxist intellectual. After writing two well-received works of Marxist economics, he drifted from political economy to explore the entire gamut of Idealist thought, particularly Kant, Hegel, and Schelling. This drift ended in one final major transition from Idealism to Christianity through reading the Russian sage and mystic Vladimir Solovyov. Like Solovyov, Bulgakov was drawn to a richly speculative understanding of the figure of Sophia from the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament—relating it in different ways to the order of Creation, the historical person of Mary, and the Church considered as the Bride of Christ. The Philosophy of Economy was Bulgakov’s first work to explicitly appeal to Sophiology in order to illuminate what are usually considered concerns of the practical order. With it, he hoped to move beyond the opposition of life and thought toward a more holistic, liturgical, …

The Faith of Ancient Philosophy’s Fathers

Truly one of the joys of reading Dariusz Karlowicz’s Socrates and Other Saints: Early Christian Understandings of Reason and Philosophy, is its lively, engaging style. It is irresistibly beguiling and beguilingly irresistible in so many places. Consider, for example, this opening characterization of the Church Fathers: Even though they looked to the heavens, they were firmly planted on the earth. They were not in danger of falling into a cistern like stargazing Thales. They lived in their own here and now. They knew what was en vogue. They not only knew the invaluable classics, but also the most fashionable trash . . . There is nothing of the classicist streak in them (xix). But the feature of the text to which I am drawing attention here is more than just style for style’s sake, but rather a way of asking questions better than the ways in which similar questions have been asked before. As the author notes, But do the philosophers and the prophets direct our gaze toward the same goal? Does philosophy at least …

Marxism and Religion

According to Marx, religion has a dual role to play. Throughout the history of class society religion performs two essential functions: it buttresses the established order by sanctifying it and by suggesting that the political order is somehow ordained by divine authority, and it consoles the oppressed and exploited by offering them in heaven what they are denied upon earth. At the same time, by holding before them a vision of what they are denied, religion plays at least partly a progressive role in that it gives the common people some idea of what a better order would be. But when it becomes possible to realize that better order upon earth in the form of communism, then religion becomes wholly reactionary, for it distracts men from establishing a now possible good society on earth by still turning their eyes toward heaven. Its sanctification of the existing social order makes it a counter-revolutionary force. Thus in the course of building a communist society, the Marxist must fight religion because it will inevitably stand in his path. …

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 …

Church Life Journal’s Best of 2018

Dear Readers, Thank you for blessing Church Life Journal with your support this past year. We reached more readers with our theological explorations than we could have ever imagined. We couldn’t have done it without all your generous shares, retweets, and personal recommendations. Please keep them coming. My special thanks also goes out to Tim O’Malley for his sage meta-advice on running the journal’s many operations, and Jay Martin for introducing me to an endless stream of contributors. Ultimately, my thanks goes out to all our contributors who continually surprise me with the quality, intelligence, and beauty of their writing. I submit to you our most-read essays of 2018 below as a token of my appreciation and as a promise of what you can expect in 2019 (besides a website redesign). Please click on the essay titles to access what look like the most intriguing reads. A Happy New Year to you and Merry conclusion to your Christmas season. May your Christmas trees make it to February 2nd! In Christ, Artur Rosman, CLJ Managing Editor The …

Newman’s Strategic Reassembly of Secular Trends

“Newman’s mind always pushed against the edges of knowledge,” says Owen Chadwick.[1] Newman is rarely an easy read and An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent is maybe his most dense work. But Newman’s rhetorical, philosophical, and personal complexity pushes his readers to push against the edges of their own knowledge of Newman, his world, and the world as a whole. By identifying faith as a form of reason, Grammar of Assent reflects the European renegotiation of the relationship between Church and state occurring in Newman’s day. We will first examine the book’s context and arguments, then its implications, and then its influence beyond the 19th century. Newman attends to the political order as a “grammar” of interrelated parts. We will conclude with an analysis of Newman’s poem “Lead, Kindly Light” in light of Grammar of Assent, and in contrast with Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach,” the paradigmatic poem of British modernity. In 1851, six years after entering the Roman Catholic Church, Newman wrote that he had been considering writing a “philosophical polemic” for …

Lonergan’s Communal Novum Organon

For a certain generation of those who studied theology, Bernard Lonergan’s Method in Theology (1972) was a book that was constantly referenced. For my generation of theologians, when one mentions the text, it is all too often looked at askance. For many, Lonergan is neither fish nor fowl. For some, he is not sufficiently radical enough, considered too indebted to Tradition. To others, his thought is considered not sufficiently Thomistic, far too eclectic. And still, there are others who point to him as the one providing the blueprint for the philosophy behind a relativistic theology of pluralism with his development of the concept of historical consciousness. I have been asked if my interest in Lonergan is merely a historical curiosity, a desire to look into a period of time in Catholic theology that has since passed. I have been asked, continually in some circles, if Lonergan has really anything to offer in an all-too fractured theological world. My response to those who want to know specifically what Lonergan can offer theology today is to examine …