De Lubac on the differences between Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Heidegger.

De Lubac is critical but charitable.

“I find no equivalence between his faith and the nihilism of men like Nietzsche or Heidegger. If the filiation of Heidegger to Nietzsche is a matter of history, that of Nietzsche to Kierkegaard is not; and the kinship that can be discovered between these two men of genius should not blind us to their fundamental antithesis. Heidegger no doubt owes much to Kierkegaard, but the debt is not such that Kierkegaard can be held responsible for Heidegger’s nihilism. I shall not look to Kierkegaard for an ontology he never proposed to construct; but it seems futile to attempt to show that, without wishing it and without realizing it, he chose nothingness because he could not choose anything else. To refuse a man the right to inform us of what he thinks and to arrogate to oneself the right to understand him, not as he understands himself but “as he ought to be understood”, is a very subjective principle of exegesis. The principle is not, perhaps, completely false, but it is at least dangerous. It is particularly arbitrary when the thing to be judged is not just a system of concepts but a faith-and a faith that is amply, richly expressed: Whatever the preliminaries may be, should not such a faith be judged first of all in itself? … However that may be, it must be recognized that Kierkegaard is a stimulating writer rather than a safe one. His ideas are not so much a food as a tonic and, taken in too large a dose, they might become a toxin. Anyone who, thinking to follow in his footsteps, entrenched himself forthwith in Kierkegaard’s positions, would run the risk of cutting himself off from all rational life and perhaps from all culture-an inhuman attitude that was certainly not Kierkegaard’s and that would be of no benefit to Christianity in the end” (The Drama of Atheist Humanism, p. 108-109).

Boethius’ description of Providence, Fate, and Fortune in Bk IV.

Lady Philosophy asks Boethius to “imagine a set of revolving concentric circles” in her effort to explain how Providence and Fate relate to one another. It is extraordinary how Boethius evokes a visual image to try and explain a deep and perennial mystery. The innermost circle is closest to “the simplicity of the centre” which is equated to the “high citadel of oneness” which is Providence or “Divine Reason.” Providence is also equated to the “Primary Intelligence.” Due to it being equated with Divine Reason, Providence does not itself orbit anything. It does not move. It is essentially the Unmoved Mover. The closer an orbit is to the simplicity of the centre, the more that thing which is the circle is freed from Fate (or “above the chain of Fate”). It seems to me this is essentially “rest”.
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Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy – The significance of Lady Philosophy’s appearance

When Lady Philosophy appears to Boethius, he has lost his mind to the passions in the midst of his suffering (“wandered away from yourself” pg. 16). Lady Philosophy stands over him. “Understand” is the Old English word used to translate intellectus but I like the association here. The only way to “become aware” of Lady Philosophy is with this proper stance of humility beneath her, looking up. Her “awe-inspiring appearance” echos Plato – “philosophy begins in wonder” (Plato, Theaetetus 155c-d). “Her eyes burning and keen beyond the usual power of men” indicates that the rational mind is that which is able to illumine and perceive the hidden essence of things, whereas the “usual power of men” is limited and generally content with the appearances of things. “She was so full of years that I could hardly think of her as of my own generation, and yet she possessed a vivid colour and undiminished vigor” points towards the notion of there being a “Perennial Philosophy”. Lady Philosophy embodies all that is best and timeless of human wisdom, and yet remains fresh and alive in every contemporary situation. As Copleston states at the beginning of his History of Philosophy series, “Philosophy, which is the work of the human spirit and not the revelation of God, grows and develops; fresh vistas may be opened up by new lines of approach or application to new problems, newly discovered facts, fresh situations, etc” (Copleston, History of Philosophy Vol 1pg 4). “It was difficult to be sure of her height, for sometimes she was of average human size, while at other times she seemed to touch the very sky…” Lady Philosophy, as she is “the work of the human spirit” will always be on some level familiar to us and reflective of us, however, human reason in the variety of Philosophers with their unique insights and gifts will always transcend any individual as the various insights are shared and received and as the mind approaches the intellectual and eternal realms. “Her clothes were made of imperishable material” indicates that once truth has been apprehended, it cannot be destroyed. However, this doesn’t mean that it is always appreciated or recollected (Boethius is himself an example of someone in whom Lady Philosophy had become obscured due to neglect). The embroidered “Pi” and “Theta” shows the value of both practical and contemplative Philosophy, but again the relation of one beneath the other must be noted. Practical philosophy must serve to raise our intellects towards that which transcends the merely physical and practical. “Her dress had been torn by the hands of marauders who had each carried off such pieces as he could get.” This is where I enter into Boethius’ work. There are those who grab at fragments of philosophy without comprehending or appreciating the whole. The danger, we see later (pgs 8, 63), is especially acute if such people think and act as though they have the whole of Philosophy on the basis of their little fragmentary wisdom. The books indicate the way we are able to engage the wisdom of the past. The sceptre indicates the authority of Wisdom over human life and affairs.

Social Contract and Divine Law

Question: In terms of Crito and Apology in a society formed by social contract, is it possible to oppose any given law as unjust without appeal to divine law?

1) In Crito Socrates draws a link between an obvious understanding of what is best for physical training (natural training) and what is best for training in the virtues (intellectual or spiritual training). This leads me to think that if one is willing and able to consider the matters humbly and honestly, the way forward towards increased justice will be as self-evident as the way forward in physical training. Both will enable one to live a good life, though the life of the soul is of far more importance than the life of the body.

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The Christian mystical experience and the limits of language

“If the mystic wishes to describe the mystical union of the soul with God and its effects, he has to make use of words which are not designed to express any such thing. For example, in order to express the closeness of the union, the elevation of the soul and the effect of the union on the soul’s activity, he employs a verb like ‘transform’ or ‘change into’. But ‘change into’ denotes such processes as assimilation (of food), consumption of material by fire, production of steam from water, heat from energy, and so on, whereas the mystical union of the soul with God is sui generis and really requires an altogether new and special word to describe it. But if the mystic coined a brand new word for this purpose, it would convey nothing at all to anyone who lacked the experience in question. Therefore he has to employ words in more or less ordinary use, even though these words inevitably suggest pictures and parallels which do not strictly apply to the experience he is attempting to describe. There is nothing to be surprised at, then, if some of the mystic’s statements, taken literally, are inadequate or even incorrect. And if the mystic is also a theologian and philosopher, as Eckhart was, inexactitude is likely to affect even his more abstract statements, at least if he attempts to express in theological and philosophical statements an experience which is not properly expressible, employing for this purpose words and phrases which either suggest parallels that are not strict parallels or already possess a defined meaning in theology and philosophy.”


Copleston, Frederick Charles. A History of Philosophy: Volume 3, Part 1. Garden City, NY: Image, 1962. 206. Print.

Dietrich Bonheoffer

“Dietrich Bonheoffer (1906-1945) a German Lutheran minister who joined Barth in resisting Hitler’s attempts to use the Lutheran Church, became a teacher in the seminary of the newly formed Confessing Church, tried to form a link between Germans opposed to Hitler and the British government, and was involved in the plot to assassinate Hitler. He was arrested and put in prison in 1943 and hanged just before the end of the Second World War in 1945. His Letters and Papers from Prison reflect an impressive and courageous witness under hardship; and they reflect on the growing secularization of man (Nietzsche’s ‘God is dead’ idea) and on the need to speak about God in a secular way, so that God is not reduced to a pseudo-religious magic force or so-called “God-of-the-gaps” but who on account of Jesus Christ’s redemptive act is present at the center of even secular and non-religious life” (Frederick Lawrence, Philosophers and Theologians, Boston College).


“Karl Barth (1886-1968) reacted against the liberal theological trend that started with Schleiermacher, because in reducing religion to feeling it also tended to reduce Christianity back into the meanings and values of the secular culture. He tried to bring theology back to the principles of the Reformation and the prophetic message of the Bible. Heavily influenced by Kierkegaard, he interpreted the Christian message to mean that God is so supremely transcendent and superior to all human aspirations that human reason and ‘natural theology’ (philosophy of God which does not accept the teachings of revelations) are worthless; and religion grounded in mere human experience (as in Schleiermacher) is impossible. His Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans rejected all merely historical interpretation of Scripture as incapable of doing justice to the text as the inspired Word of God. His ability to distinguish so sharply Christianity from human culture enabled Barth to resist Hitler’s attempts to enlist the German Lutheran State Church in the Nazi cause, saying, “We have no Fuehrer (leader) but Jesus Christ!” In the Humanity of God he still affirmed that God’s sole revelation is in Jesus Christ, who in becoming human, uttered the only really significant Yes! of the transcendent God to poor sinful humanity in need of redemption through grace” (Frederick Lawrence, Philosophers and Theologians, Boston College).


“Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834) tried to win the educated classes back to religion in his Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers. He argued against both German rationalists and orthodox dogmatists, contending that religion is based on intuition and feeling which is more important than and independent of dogmas or rituals, which may or may not be adequate expressions of religious feeling. The highest experience of religion for Schleiermacher is a sensation of union with the infinite. He defined religion as a feeling of absolute dependence which finds its purest expression in monotheism. The variety of forms which the feeling of absolute dependence assumes in different individuals and nations accounts for the diversity of religions, of which Christianity is the highest, but not the only true one” (Frederick Lawrence, Philosophers and Theologians, Boston College).


“Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), like Kierkegaard and Marx, was opposed to the pretensions of any kind of rationalist approach such as Hegel’s. But he was also a radical critic of Plato, of Christianity, and of the kind of person produced by liberal democracy (Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau), or communism (Marx). He called this kind of person “the Last Man” who, in his concern for bodily health, relaxation, entertainment, and feeling good about himself, thinks he is greater and smarter than anyone before in history; and yet who has lost all the deepest aspirations and desires that really make people human. Liberal democracy’s and communism’s preoccupation with comfortable self-preservation—the joyless quest for joy—ends up making us universal, homogeneous, and trivial. Nietzsche teaches that throughout history human beings have needed to create horizons of serious values by which to live and give meaning to their everyday existences. But they have to hide from themselves that these horizons or values have been created by their own will-to-power. Continue reading “Nietzsche”


“Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) also reacted against the abstractness of Hegel’s dialectical march of ideas in the unfolding of the Absolute Spirit because it leaves out the concrete dynamics of personal and individual existence. For Kierkegaard what is actual and particular is more important than universal concepts and abstractions. Passionately Christian, Kierkegaard was contemptuous of organized religion and of the tendency to use doctrines to blunt our awareness of how we are making decisions about our personal existence. He attacks any kind of rationalism (i.e. exclusive dependence on sense observation or reasoning in rejection of belief or faith) and he tries to justify a new commitment or ‘leap of faith’ in which passion and feeling have as much importance as reason and in which the inward and personal life of human beings is recognized as the source of meaning and value. Continue reading “Kierkegaard”