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).

Christianity as always “I” and “We”

Edited, 30/01/21

First line of the Apostles’ Creed:
Credo in deum patrem omnipotentem” – “I believe in God the Father almighty”
cred.o (PRES ACTIVE IND 1st person singular).

First line of the Nicene/Constantinopolitan Creed:
“Πιστεύομεν εἰς ἕνα θεόν” – “We believe in one God”
πιστεύομεν (Root: πιστευω, LN: 31.35; verb, present, active, indicative, first person, plural).

It is of profound importance that the Church, has held together the personal and individual declaration of belief with the communal and participatory declaration of belief. One way this happens is by way of the two creeds universally regarded as authoritative within mainstream Christianity (east and west, Catholic, Orthodox, and Reformed Christianity), the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene/Constantinopolitan Creed. However, this importance has not always been recognized. Here I argue for an intentional use and increased awareness of the importance of the “I” of the baptismal creed, and the “We” of the conciliar and communal creed. The Christian faith is both personal and corporate, and the two cannot be severed without seriously damaging how we understand the Christian faith.

Even though these two creeds counterbalance the ”I” and the “We” this is not to say that the Church in time has been able to hold together these two emphases in an ideal or even somewhat ideal way. In fact, it is a basic struggle to hold the individual and communal together. The Nicene Creed underwent what many regard as an incidental change, by exchanging the “We” for the “I”. Philip Schaff says that this change was “in accordance with the Apostles’ Creed and the more subjective character of the Western churches.” In other words, the change was on one hand functional, because the Nicene Creed began being used as a baptismal creed. On the other hand, it shows a preference for the individual over the communal.

The struggle is not simple, however. It can be seen also in terms of the ministry and organization of the Church down through the centuries. At times the communal aspect of Christianity (emphasizing corporate authority and what may be characterized by a mechanistic individual participation within the corporate church) has marginalized or even eclipsed the individual and personal importance of declared and lived Christian belief. At other times the individual and personal basis of Christian belief has marginalized or eclipsed the necessity of being a part of the Body of Christ (the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church).

Our age is not an age of ‘We’ (at least not in the late modern ‘West’). The drift in late modern western Christianity has certainly between towards the mere “I” of individual and subjective belief, as a default. The drift is due to deep cultural currents of subjectivism and existentialism—currents which have altered the composition of the water in the cultural wells from which we all drink. We may be attentive to the influences, but we have all been influenced in varying degrees (even if the influence has caused a negative reaction and resistance).

For example, within even more reformed minded contemporary “Evangelical” churches, There is the tendency to substitute the Nicene Creed with the Apostles’ Creed (often justified by preferences for simplicity or brevity). This imbalanced preference causes a drift away from the central importance of Catholic (universal, historical, corporate, communal, fellowship) Christianity. (Here, of course, I’m not speaking of local congregations or fellowships which have abandoned the Creeds altogether, which is a problem of a different magnitude – a problem which manifestly has resulted in (or caused) a generally unhinged subjectivism and capitulation to contemporary culture, mostly due to a degree of disregard for substantial theological union and continuity with the historical Church – no keel, no rudder – inadequate keel, broken rudder). The drift caused by imbalanced language within our worship is not only indicated in credal preference, but also in confessions. The “I confess” of the daily office services has a tendency to supplanted the “We confess” of the classical Eucharistic services. There is a disregard for, or an embarrassment about, the declared absolution for our sins from the priest or bishop. This too indicates a drift towards the mere “I” as an entity which is a member of the Church by way of free association and does not really require the Church – the ego receives forgiveness subjectively and independent of the ministry of the Church (and for that matter ultimately interprets scripture and doctrine on its own terms also). The drift from common chalices to individual communion cups reveals the priority of the individual over the body in the Eucharist.

As noted above, the drift to the “I” is not merely a late modern innovation, however. Liturgically, in east and west, the original “We” was replaced by “I”. In the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and following revisions, the original “We” of the Nicene Creed has been replaced by the “I”. Some later revisions have adopted the “We” of the original Greek text of the Nicene/Constantinopolitan Creed. Schaff’s simple point above regarding subjectivity in the west is a vast and important topic to explore. Eastern Orthodoxy does not typically use the Apostles’ Creed, thus the adaptation of the Nicene Creed for baptismal purposes makes sense. When it was incorporated into the Eucharist it was in response to Arianism. While there are notable theological and cultural differences between eastern and western Christianity regarding the individual and the community I find it odd that the Orthodox Church has not returned to the original “We” of the Nicene/Constantinopolitan Creed. I contend that the absence of this interplay is a loss for them that may well bear fruit as they also feel the influence of western subjective individualism in their own jurisdictions.

Of course, the Creeds do not invent this dual character of belief. It is Biblical. Biblical anthropology and the character of belief has held the “I” and the “We” together from the start. Adam’s “I” is inadequate, even in the time of innocence, and thus the Lord God creates Eve. We learn logos (intelligent human speech) which enables growth in rationality and ‘personhood’ (variously conceived), from the “Other”. Intelligent human speech requires always the “Other.” The primary “Other” is our Maker, whom we worship and to whom we pray and offer our solitary interiority to the extent we are able to fathom ourselves and communicate this fathoming. Secondarily, we direct human speech to one another in community. If we are incapacitated or born without the capacity for human communication, how much more do we depend upon the “We” of our family and broader community (and crucially, how does a local church which has emphasized the “I” to the exclusion of the “We” include the very young, those who have suffered some kind of mental injury, or those born incapable of intelligent human speech)? The covenant of circumcision is the “I” being circumcised within the Covenant people of Israel. There is the individual and corporate calls to repentance, as well as individual and corporate redemption and judgement. In the New Covenant, the baptized person is encountered by their Maker alone, but never utterly alone, as they are baptized within the Church, by the Church, and into the Church. The Eucharist cannot rightly be celebrated in a solitary fashion (and even when it is celebrated solitarily by individual priests, even that is generally joined to a deep belief of the solitary nested within the Body of Christ’s church victorious, and within the Body of Christ’s church militant).

The solitary human heart and mind is inadequate to the task of its own formation. Not only do we require being encountered by our Maker for our salvation, we require one another for instruction and influence. One of the key sources of Divine influence in the world, if not THE key source, is the Body of Christ, the Church. She is entrusted with God’s Word Written. Through her worship, and flowing out of that worship, she is called, in the words of J.H. Blunt, to “influence, subdue, and attract the world” with the Good News. Of basic importance to our worship and our ministry is this understanding that we approach our Maker always as both “I” and “We”.

The agnosticism of Kant regarding the noumenon

I’ve never read anyone so difficult to understand as Kant, but his importance serves as a goad to persist… If anyone reading this is a Kantian or a Kant scholar, please feel free to correct me if what I’m saying here is either inaccurate or contested. Anyway, as I quoted in a previous post, Etienne Gilson writes, “Today our only choice is not Kant or Descartes; it is rather Kant or Thomas Aquinas. All the other positions are but halfway houses on the roads which lead either to absolute religious agnosticism or to the natural theology of Christian metaphysics” (God and Philosophy p. 114). In §32 of the Prolegomena, Kant refers to “special beings of the understanding (noumena), which are supposed to constitute an intelligible world.” He grants the possibility of the existence of such beings “but only with the enforcement of this rule that admits of no exception: that we neither know nor can know anything at all determinate about these pure beings of the understanding, because our pure concepts of the understanding as well as our pure intuitions extend to nothing but objects of possible experience” (i.e., extend to the realms of Newtonian physics). Here is Kant’s agnosticism regarding intellectual beings. Kant’s interest is not that we be conformed to the totality of what is real as much as we are able (in conduct and thought) but that we ourselves process our intuitions rendering them into experience which is in accordance with the laws of Newtonian physics (the principles of which reside in us a priori). I would like to contrast what Kant regards as being our own a priori understanding which is able to order our intuitions as coherent experience with Aquinas’ notion (h/t Aristotle) of the “agent intellect” (i.e., the proper active principle). The agent intellect renders intelligible all sensory experience received by the “possible intellect” (i.e., the passive principle). Aquinas’ cognitive theory has the interaction between active and passive principles as foundational to all reality. In Kant there is also an interaction between active and passive principles, but where the natural theology of Aquinas gives us the ability to say something “positive” about the objects external to us, in Kant we have external to us something real but we know not what (“we are not discussing the origin of experience, but what lies in experience” §21a). Kant’s agnosticism regarding “special beings” extends to the very origins of our intuition. While they are ‘real’ we can’t know them. So, there is an activity of some sort, as without it our intuitions receive nothing whatsoever, but his philosophical commitments don’t allow him to express anything confident or positive about what constitutes that activity.

Hume’s skepticism and human epistemological interdependence

Hume pushes philosophical skepticism to the utmost limits, and in so doing serves to illustrate perhaps what Locke anticipated in his caution regarding total skepticism. Hume does recognize that he must make an effort to safeguard his humanity–his participation in human community—while exercising his philosophical skepticism. He knows that man is a sociable no less than a reasonable being [and] man is also an active being (An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Section I). There is an intentionality to his words when he says, Be a philosopher, but amid all your philosophy, be still a man (Enquiry, I). His own remarks underline that his philosophical method if embraced tends to fragment how humans engage with and think about, the world. He makes a distinction between approaching life as an agent and as a philosopher (Enquiry, IV, 2). One area where this fragmentation is acute is in his understanding regarding the nature of belief. He states in philosophy we can go no further than assert that belief is something felt by the mind which distinguishes the ideas of the judgment from the fictions of the imagination (Enquiry, V, 2). However, this understanding of belief excludes the key component of relationship which most people, if given a chance to consider what they mean when they say they believe in something, implicitly recognize. Josef Pieper speaks philosophically from within the perennial stream when he states that the reason for believing “something” is that one believes “someone” (Faith, Hope, Love, p. 30). Hume’s philosophical skepticism often excludes “the other”. For example, he says, suppose a person, though endowed with the strongest faculties of reason and reflection be brought on a sudden into this world… He would not be able to reach the idea of cause and effect (Enquiry V, 1). But, of course, this is not how people ever enter into the world, and we cannot come to learn anything about this world unless we first “believe” someone who “knows” something about it and communicates that knowledge to us. I think Hume’s definition of belief, his philosophical skepticism which excludes this notion of a relationship of trust with a knower, and his comprehensive denial regarding the legitimacy of the testimony of others in gaining knowledge (Enquiry X, 1), have a corrosive effect on our understanding of what it means to be a human in community.

It’s either Thomas Aquinas or Immanuel Kant…

According to Etienne Gilson anyway…

“Today our only choice is not Kant or Descartes; it is rather Kant or Thomas Aquinas. All the other positions are but halfway houses on the roads which lead either to absolute religious agnosticism or to the natural theology of Christian metaphysics” (God and Philosophy, p. 114).

A connection between Locke and Aquinas regarding the limits of human perception and understanding

Locke states, “There is not so contemptible a plant or animal that does not confound the most enlarged understanding” (Essay Concerning Human Understanding Bk III, VI, 9).  Later he says, “how, vain… it is to expect demonstration and certainty in things not capable of it, and refuse assent to very rational propositions… because they cannot be made out so evident as to surmount every… pretense of doubting” (Essay Bk IV, XI, 10). Locke then establishes belief as a way to “supply our want of knowledge.” The grounds for believing which Locke gives, especially the second being “the testimony of others…” has implications regarding the intellectual defensibility of the Christian faith.

Aquinas wrote something regarding how the limits of our powers of perception and understanding ought to not result in skepticism of anything that cannot be demonstrated, especially in relation to the Christian faith. In the Prologue of his exposition of the Apostles’ Creed (https://dhspriory.org/thomas/english/Creed.htm) he answers the question “what is faith?” Aquinas says, “But someone will say that it is foolish to believe what is not seen, and that one should not believe in things that he cannot see. I answer by saying that the imperfect nature of our intellect takes away the basis of this difficulty. For if man of himself could in a perfect manner know all things visible and invisible, it would indeed be foolish to believe what he does not see. But our manner of knowing is so weak that no philosopher could perfectly investigate the nature of even one little fly.” Given our limited experience and understanding we must often “partake” in the knowledge of a knower. This involves a humble recognition of the limits of our experience and knowledge, and a willingness to be in a relationship of trust with our fellow human beings who have experience and knowledge which we have not. Ultimately, according to Aquinas and Locke, it must direct us to trust in God and his revelation.

Patience, hope, and love – Gabriel Marcel

“If we introduce the element of patience into non-acceptance we at once come very much nearer to hope. It seems then that there exists a secret and rarely discovered connection between the way in which the ego is either centred or not centred in itself, and its reaction to the duration of time, or more precisely to the temporal order, that is to say to the fact that change is possible in reality. A simple expression borrowed from everyday language is a help here: to take one’s time. He who stiffens and rebels does not know how to take his time. What exactly do these words, so foreign to the vocabulary of technical philosophy, mean? “Take your time”, an examiner would say, for example, to a flurried candidate. That means, do not force the personal rhythm, the proper cadence of your reflection, or even of your memory, for if you do you will spoil your chances, you will be likely to say at random the first words which come into your head. It may seem that we have wandered very far from hope in the strict sense of the word. I do not think so, and this how I am going to try to explain the analogy, or more exactly, perhaps, the secret affinity between hope and relaxation. Does not he who hopes, and, as we have seen, has to contend with a certain trail comparable to a form of captivity, tend to treat this trial and to proceed in regard to it as he who is patient towards himself treats his inexperience young ego, the ego which needs educating and controlling. Above all he never lets it contract but, on the other hand, he does not allow it to kick over the traces* or take control prematurely or unwarrantably. From this point of view, hope means first accepting the trial as an integral part of the self, but while so doing it considers it as destined to be absorbed and transmuted by the inner works of a certain creative process.

Further back I spoke of patience with oneself; perhaps it is still more instructive now to consider patience with others. This most certainly consists in never hustling or being rough with another person, more exactly, in never trying to substitute our won rhythm for his by violence. Neither should the other person be treated as though he lacked an autonomous rhythm, and could accordingly be force or bent to suit us. Let us say positively this time that it consists in placing our confidence in a certain process of growth and development. To give one’s confidence does not merely mean that one makes an act of theoretical acceptance with no idea of intervention, for that would, in fact, be to abandon the other purely and simply to himself. No, to have confidence here seems to mean to embrace this process, in a sense, so that we promote it from within. Patience seems, then, to suggest a certain temporal pluralism, a certain pluralisation of the self in time. It is radically opposed to the act by which I despair of the other person, declaring that he is good for nothing, or that he will never understand anything, or that he is incurable. That is, of course, the same despair which makes me proclaim that I shall never be cured, that I shall never see the end of my captivity, etc. It seems, strangely enough, that in hoping, I develop in connection with the event, and perhaps above all through what it makes of me, a type of relationship, a kind of intimacy comparable to that which I have with the other person when I am patient with him. Perhaps we might go so far as to speak here of a certain domesticating of circumstances, which might otherwise, if we allowed them to get the better of us, fright us into accepting them as a fatum. If we look no further than its etymological meaning, patience appears to be just a simple letting things alone, or allowing them to take their course, but if we take the analysis a little further we find that such non-interference is of a higher order than indifference and implies a subtle respect for the other person’s need of time to preserve his vital rhythm, so that it tends to exercises a transforming influence upon him which is comparable to that which sometimes rewards love. It should moreover be shown how here and there pure causality is utterly left behind. Of course patience can easily be degraded; it can become mere weakness, or mere complacency, precisely in so far as it betrays the principle of charity which should animate it.”

* “The idiom ‘kick over the traces’ goes back at least to the 1800s and refers to the straps that attach a horse, oxen or other draft animal to the wagon it is pulling, known as traces. If an animal kicks over the traces, it steps over these leather straps. This makes it impossible for the driver to control the animal” – h/t http://www.grammarist.com

Marcel, Gabriel. Homo Viator: Introduction to the Metaphysic of Hope. USA: Harper Torch Book, 1965, pgs 39-40.

The Realization of Personality

“The personality is only realized in the act by which it tends to become incarnate (in a book, for instance, or an action or in a complete life), but at the same time it is of its very essence never to fix itself or crystallize itself finally in this particular incarnation. Why? Because it participates in the inexhaustible fulness of the being from which it emanates. There lies the deep reason for which it is impossible to think of personality or the personal order without at the same time thinking of that which reaches beyond them both, a supra-personal reality, presiding over all their initiative, which is both are beginning in their end”

Marcel, Gabriel. Homo Viator: Introduction to the Metaphysic of Hope. USA: Harper Torch Book, 1965, p. 26.

Aquinas studies – Can there be a conflict between natural and divine law?

On one level, no there can be no conflict between natural and divine law. However, there may be conflict between the two in how they are embodied on an individual or cultural level. There may also be the appearance of conflict if we don’t properly distinguish the principles from the proper conclusions.

For an excellent introductory guide to Aquinas follow this link.

Human beings, in having a natural inclination to “the fitting act and end”– which is ultimately “eternal reason” — exhibit in our rational and creaturely existence, a participatory relationship between natural law and divine law (Thomas Aquinas: Selected Writings, Penguin Books., London 1998, p. 620). The rational recognition and obedience to natural law is the means by which we participate in the divine law (p. 620). Our rational natures, our desire and ability to contemplate about things beyond the merely material, and to concern ourselves with things not merely limited to material well-being, should provide us with a hint that the “fitting act and end” exceeds our material or natural capacities. For this reason, God gives us divine law. Thomas gives four reasons for God revealing to us his divine law. First, as our ultimate end exceeds our natural capacity in being directed towards “eternal happiness” we need divine direction in order to attain our ultimate end. Second, we are not accurately able to judge on “contingent and particular things” and so we require certitude of judgement which can only come from God. Thirdly, as our “fitting act and end” involves our interior intellectual lives, natural law is not adequate to govern or “restrain interior acts.” Fourth, in order for there to be final clarity and justice in the mixture of practical and particular judgements, all things will ultimately be judged according to divine law (p. 623).

In none of these things is there a conflict between natural and divine law. The one serves as a floor upon which we may, by the light of faith, break through the ceiling of our materiality and apprehend and participate in divine law. And as God is simple/holy and infinitely Good, it is not possible for the principles originating in him and sustained by him to be in conflict. “God through his wisdom is the maker of the universe of things… the notion of divine wisdom moving all things to their fitting end takes on the note of law… the eternal law is nothing other than the idea of divine wisdom insofar as it is directive of all acts and movements” (p. 633).

However, in terms of how human beings exhibit this participatory relationship between natural law and divine law, there is conflict. While human affairs are subject ultimately to eternal law, in both our knowledge and our actions we are in varying degrees “imperfect” and “corrupt” (p. 640). Insofar as our knowledge of eternal law and natural knowledge are obscured by “passions and the habit of sin” a holy/perfect participatory relationship between natural law and divine law is “defective” (p. 640-641). The conflict is in proportion to how “bad” one is. On the other hand, “the good are perfectly subject to the eternal law, as always fulfilling it” (p 641). Also, there may be failure in this regard in terms of “rectitude” (there may be an impediment in nature (e.g., are psychopaths born that way?) and knowledge (if one’s reason has been “depraved” by bad customs, or a “bad cast of nature”). This is to say that there may be a general culture which depraves or malforms us in relation to specific moral principles (p. 649). Finally, a conflict may arise as a consequence of prolonged damage to the human heart. This may be a result of “bad persuasion” regarding speculative matters, depraved customs, or corrupt habits. Such things may result in the natural law being “erased from the hearts of men” (p. 652).

Finally, there may be the appearance of conflict if we don’t distinguish between the common principles and the proper conclusions (i.e., secondary precepts or particular applications). Whereas there is “the same truth or rectitude for all “in reference to “common principles of reason” (e.g., “one cannot simultaneously affirm and deny something” p. 644) this does not mean that everyone knows matters pertaining to “proper conclusions” of speculative reason to the same degree (e.g., the outworking of speculative reason resulting in specific of geometrical definitions not known to all). Neither do the common principles work themselves out in a uniformed way, as the “proper conclusions” of practical reason will vary depending upon the specific circumstances (p. 648). Also, relating to the reality of circumstantial and cultural change, whereas the “common principles of reason” are immutable, the natural law may change by way of addition or subtraction in reference to particular contexts or situations (p. 650). This addition or subtraction will, if proper and good, leave the common principles uncorrupted, but effect the proper conclusions in a generally applicable way for a particular culture. For example, the principle of “everyone should act according to reason” results in the proper conclusion regarding terms of borrowing goods and returning them to the rightful owner. However, there may be culturally or regionally unique circumstances that may make the terms of borrowing (and the rectitude of returning them) different (p. 648). For example, in peacetime, a scythe has simpler associations than during a time of war. It may be right not to return such a tool during wartime if it threatens the safety of the owner or others. If we don’t keep the difference between the common principles and the proper conclusions clear, we may think there is a conflict between natural law and divine law, when in fact there is only a difference in the outworking of natural and divine law in a local or individual context.

Comparing Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle’s conception of the human good.

Whereas both Thomas and Aristotle would agree that “the ultimate end of man, as of any intellectual substance, is called felicity or happiness” there is a profound difference between them regarding in what that happiness consists. The difference between Thomas and Aristotle’s accounts of the human good boils down to the difference between Thomas’ Christianity (grace and faith) and Aristotle’s virtuous paganism (the integrated intellectual life at its humanly best).

For an excellent introductory guide to Aquinas follow this link.
Continue reading “Comparing Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle’s conception of the human good.”