Heidegger's Illusory Rapprochement with the Christian Theological Tradition

Heidegger’s Apocalyptic Future and the Impossibility of Christian Tradition

Philosophers of religion, systematic theologians, and readers of continental philosophy are all too familiar with a Heidegger who makes metaphysics impossible. According to him, to the extent to which Christian thought colludes with the history of metaphysics defined as ontotheology, as a reification of Being as a being and/or as a form of productionist metaphysics of efficient causality—it also becomes impossible in his thought. A Christian philosophy, as Heidegger famously puts it in Introduction to Metaphysics, is nothing but an oxymoron, specifically “a square peg in a round hole.”

Arguably less familiar, however, is how Heidegger’s philosophy across its two major moments or movements. The first moment is illustrated in the ontological phenomenology of Being and Time and the texts that prepare for it, the second moment is illustrated by Heidegger’s ruminations on Ereignis in his elucidations (Erläuterungen) of the poems of Hölderlin and in his posthumously published so-called “second masterpiece” Die Beiträge seems to foreclose the possibility of tradition that is vital to many forms of Christianity, most certainly to Catholicism and to Eastern Orthodoxy—even if there is dispute regarding the content and extent of the tradition and how to understand it.

This is a different kind of foreclosure—one that is more formal than material in kind—and depends on both textual phases on thinking about “thinking” as responsive to apocalyptic rupture that by definition cannot be recuperated in time. Whether death in Sein und Zeit, the “hour” in Heidegger’s readings of an apocalyptic Paul; whether the ruminations of a Hölderlin who waits on a coming constitutively deferred, or the hollowed out self-patience of Ereignis as the always untimely event that cleaves time, we are dealing with the inimitable as well as the incalculable, the unshareable as well as the untimely.

To the extent to which this apocalyptic rift is an indelible feature of Heidegger’s thought, and specifically to the extent to which the absolute future subverts anticipation and recollection, then it puts a Christian philosophy, and by extension Christian theology, in a bind: to contend that genuine thought can be handed on (traditio) is to pretend to accomplish what cannot be accomplished, that is, making the untimely timely, channeling and routinizing event. Across Heidegger’s oeuvre then, across the so-called Kehre—whether we think that the “turn” cuts deep or is relatively superficial—Christian philosophy and theology could not have a future. To that extent it also has no genuine past either: it is not past as originary; it is always a never begun. To the extent to which it drapes itself in the appearance of “pastness,” it is more or less spectral.

The question addressed in this essay is what approach to Heidegger is possible for Christian philosophers and philosophical theologians, who on Heideggerian grounds are oxymoronic and anachronistic? More specifically what forms of assimilation of his apocalyptic thinking—if any—is possible, given the commitment to tradition that seems to be an ineluctable for Christian thinkers.

To focus the argument I would like to return to Heidegger’s debate with Cassirer at Davos in 1929 as something of a primal scene and use it as a hinge regarding the systemic nature of Heidegger’s apocalyptic. Davos is not simply a journalistic moment of thinkers speaking past each other, but a sign in the case of one of the participants of a refusal not only of a particular tradition of philosophy but of tradition itself.

If Heidegger’s contribution can be cast as the insistence and exposition of an apocalyptic style of philosophy, it can also be thought of as the point of concentration between two distinct economies of Heidegger’s apocalyptic thinking either side of 1929, and thereby serve as a launching pad for a more detailed examination of why two different forms of apocalyptic philosophical ventures serve as a prophylactic against repetition, whether identical or non-identical (Section 2).

In the case of the first apocalyptic economy (section 2), I draw attention not only to Being and Time, but also to Heidegger’s lectures on Paul (1921) and his critique of Dilthey’s historiography (1925) as setting the stage for the non-conversation with Cassirer who to all intents and purposes seems to represent a “stand-in” for Dilthey. In the case of the second apocalyptic economy or economy of apocalyptic (Section 3) I will touch upon (but not develop) Heidegger’s evocations of Ereignis in Die Beitrage, and the “now” and “fire” of his interpretive constructions in which Heidegger seems to wash his favorite German poet, Friedrich Hölderlin, clean of any elective affinity with Christian forms of thought.

In addition, I will supplement my remarks on Heidegger’s constructive apocalyptic proposal by speaking to his recurring broadsides in the Black Notebooks against the dominant form of historiography with its interest in the preservation of culture and/or its rehabilitation after WW1 which he associates with Catholicism and which he further specifies—just in case we did not fully grasp his anti-Catholic prejudice—as essential to the Jesuit mission.  

The final section (section 4) sums up the difficulties faced by any Christian philosophy or more specifically Catholic philosophy in taking Heidegger’s apocalyptic thinking on board, even if his anti-metaphysical bias has been corrected, or at least alleviated, and one has successfully made the argument that Catholic thought has not univocally succumbed to ontotheology, whether the exception is negative theology (Marion), the correct understanding of Thomistic esse (Fabro, Ulrich), or whether as a practical matter, or even as a matter of principle Catholic thought can be refined and supported in and through an encounter with phenomenology that bypasses the blockages to specifically Christian destruction (getting to root experiences) and reconstruction that Heidegger introduces (e.g. Stein, Przywara, Rahner, Balthasar).

We reflect briefly on the question whether on the basis of the elective affinity between Gadamer’s hermeneutics and Christian and especially Catholic views of tradition, Catholic thinkers have been encouraged to think that Heidegger’s thought represents a program for a renovated, dynamic form of tradition over against a view of the tradition as either repeating dead formula or reliving what might be called originary experiences.

Yet, if we take the apocalyptic thrust and curve of Heidegger’s thought seriously, and pay attention to his historiographic sophistications throughout his career, then it is not clear that Gadamer’s hermeneutics can serve as a bridge from Heidegger to any form of Christian thought in which tradition plays a constitutive role. Relative to any form of theological thought that supposes repetition and cultural formation Heidegger always represents the outsider, the barbarian, the one who destroys in the name of the nameless event that gives itself to thought and refuses repetition and sharing.

§1: Davos and Apocalyptic: The Inflection Point

A number of scholars (e.g. Gordon, Wolin) have drawn attention to the philosophical event at Davos in 1929 as something of a primal scene in which in the encounter between Heidegger and Cassirer the very fate of philosophy was thought to hang in the balance. While, undoubtedly, expectations were far too high regarding outcome and fundamental decision, nonetheless, the situation was a genuine hyperbole in that Cassirer and Heidegger represented with extraordinary clarity the two fundamental options regarding whether, how, and to what extent, philosophy is more than the “owl of Minerva” dealing in dusk with its past, but is truly eventful in attending to and being grasped by what comes from the future and thus being defined by what is fundamentally interruptive and disruptive.

What made debate potentially fruitful was that the designated area for the battle concerned the interpretation of Kant with respect to whom both had already in play influential interpretations. By the time of the debate Cassirer had proven to be developer as well as follower of Kant’s Erkenntnistheorie and in particular had availed of a Kantian epistemology—modified by German Idealism—to construct a philosophy of culture. In contrast, Heidegger, the celebrated author of Sein und Zeit, had put into circulation in Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics (1929) a radically ontological Kant discontinuous with the epistemological regime of modern philosophy with which he was often associated.

It was thus a Kant not obviously hospitable to a philosophy of culture that required not only the sense of regimes of representation and knowing, but also an affirmative sense of the Western tradition that guaranteed a significant measure of continuity in human thinking across history even if, and especially if, this continuity by no means excluded discontinuity.

That the encounter was a catastrophe in the etymological sense of the overturning of expectations hardly needs to be stated. There was no resolution, in fact, there was no dialogue. As much farce as tragedy, dialogue was subverted not because the two protagonists actually tried to talk to each other but simply failed. Rather, a dialogue could not occur. Cassirer’s philosophy was intrinsically dialogical and had the capacity critically to engage other philosophies and other cultural discourses, albeit running the danger of colonizing them and not leaving their strangeness speak long and loud enough.

Heidegger’s philosophy proudly enjoyed no such capacity. It was the discourse of the other who had gone down (Untergang), of the apocalypticist who speaks to the break that cannot be recuperated. When Heidegger talks positively about a canonical philosophical figure such as Kant, Kant is de-familiarized, indeed becomes the pretext for an invention that leaves him unrecognizable. If Cassirer has constructed philosophy as a civil discourse, indeed, the discourse of civilization, at once its expression as well as its instrument, Heidegger performs his self-assigned role as a barbarian, the one who speaks darkly, enigmatically, who sputters and cannot be understood, who may or may not be invited into the city (polis) that in any event is spent, and having used up all its resources may with justification be sacked.

At Davos Heidegger’s strong reading of Kant is in line with the radical eschatological tendency of Sein und Zeit. Perhaps even more it might be regarded as the inflection point between two acts of apocalyptic production, the first receiving its high point in the existential ontological phenomenology of Heidegger’s master work, the second dominated by the middle and late 1930s and thereafter by the event (Ereignis) in which the true philosopher has ceased to speak the language of Being, but resorted to speaking the language of the Holy and/or rattling the cage of the standard language of Being by making it archaic—using Seyn instead of Sein—all in the attempt to forestall thinking being trapped in the accepted categories of the Western philosophical tradition corrupted from the very beginning. Dasein is less a human subjectivity than an emptied site cleared for the deliverance of a mission which is to be a vatic herald of a coming or an arrival that shakes everything. Let me say more about each of these phases of apocalyptic in turn.

§2: Pre-Davos Heidegger and the Apocalyptic

Beginning with the early phase of Heidegger’s apocalyptic production we can make a few points. First, Sein und Zeit (1927) represents a double break, a break within/from phenomenology which itself has already broken from the philosophical tradition governed by objectivism. In Sein und Zeit Heidegger effectively undoes Husserl’s revolution by breaking with phenomenology’s developing subjectivist and Idealist orientation. Or put otherwise, Heidegger realizes the revolution that was never truly radical in Husserl’s hands and never truly broke with philosophy as a conceptual and ultimately idealist enterprise. 

As is well-known, conceptual formation is laid aside by Heidegger in Sein und Zeit. Reality is opened up by mood (Stimmung). While resistant to conceptual formation, nonetheless, reality discloses itself in anxiety and the grasp that Dasein is not so much a subjectivity as a tremulous point of viewing its own facticity and fallenness and even more its grasp of the impossibility of its own death that can never be made part of its biography. Death is the future (Zukunft) that does not belong to the anticipation-recollection structure of time. It is the gift that you cannot refuse, yet that is not beholden to your want. In any case the love affair with Thanatos represents a commitment to the future as univocally unaccountable.

Catholic readers of Heidegger’s magisterial text such as Przywara and Stein expressly criticize Heidegger for what they deem to be a nihilistic substitution for an appeal to a God, who if incalculable, represents the ground of our being and is characterized as absolute solicitude. Rahner presents another kind of Catholic response that is patently less critical than those of Przywara and Stein. Rahner does not so much reject Heidegger in this respect as ignore him. That towards which human being is always oriented towards is God as ipsum esse. In essence, Rahner does not accept Heidegger’s radicality, but uses him to redeem the claims first of Christian philosophy and subsequently Christian theology. He moderates the revolutionary change; he ameliorates or mensurates its apocalyptic charge to enable it to dialogue with Christianity. Arguably, he does so with much greater complacency than either Przywara or Stein.

Stein thought Husserl’s revolution sufficient and that in dialogue with Aquinas he could be saved from his idealist tendencies, while allowing a less poisoned environment for dialogue with Christianity. She worried, as Przywara did, that Heidegger’s atheism was not only methodological but substantive in kind. Both of these Catholic figures not only talked against a Heidegger who subverted conceptual thought and ravaged the tradition, but each in his/her way existentially performed the refusal of Heidegger, Stein by walking into the gas chamber at Auschwitz, Przywara by traversing the dark night of his own incapacities in a movement of acceptance before a God who gives himself in the manner of his beloved Saint John of the Cross and Theresa of Avila in darkness and dereliction.

Yet Sein und Zeit is a summation of a groping towards the elaboration of an eschatological ontology that is general rather than regional. Heidegger’s lectures on Paul in 1921 represent an attempt to extract such an eschatology from the writings of Paul, especially Thessalonians and Galatians. Featured is the “hour,” the moment of decision, expectation, and waiting. Not it seems for the return of Christ, but for a je ne sais quoi. Christ’s coming is in fact whited out, thereby guaranteeing the coming no longer has determinate features: either pure coming, pure future, pure interruption or coming whose determinate form is only given in arrival. There is no language in place for this coming, for this unanticipatable future or futuring.

The only appropriate language would be the strange language from the future. At best biblical language provides notice of what philosophy has to achieve. Philosophy would have to speak a language that thus far it has not shown itself capable of speaking—thus the detour through scripture. If philosophy were ever to speak such an alien language, it would prove difficult, if almost impossible, to decipher. It would seem to be noise, garbled at best, without a grammar, at least without a grammar that we would recognize. Of course, the brazenness of Sein und Zeit is precisely such a massive alteration of philosophical grammar; a language from the future as a language of or about the future.

If Heidegger’s lectures on Paul provide a clue to the radical eschatology of Sein und Zeit that sets limits to the possibility of dialogue at Davos, Heidegger’s reading of Dilthey’s historiography in his 1925 essay prepares us for will be in effect Heidegger’s construction of Cassirer at Davos. Dilthey is a historian of culture and worldviews who comments on changes in assumption across history, but essentially leaves the fabric of the Western intellectual tradition intact. Truth may be temporalized, its warrants become less assured, but it is still in play since thought continues to have the capability to master time, to periodize and to name. Dilthey is engaged in Sein und Zeit as a form of culture philosophy that cannot be allowed to stand. It is not only the case that Dilthey’s thought is not as fundamental as that of Aristotle or Kant. In fact, his far more temporally and historical form of philosophy essentially betrays time.

Within a Heideggerian ambit Dilthey’s philosophy is a form of soft porn; it titillates, suggests that philosophy has been refurbished and brought up to date, while all the time keeping the would-be culture knower safe from a more primal encounter and a going down into the danger of time and its breaking down of individuals and groups. At Davos Cassirer is assimilated to Dilthey. At Davos Heidegger comfortably avoids speaking to the concerns of Cassirer: it serves no purpose to again argue directly against another culture-philosopher caught in the amber of a historiography that consoles by maintaining a tradition.

§3: Post-Davos Apocalyptic Heidegger

In his works after Davos Heidegger does not relent of the revolutionary eschatological and/or apocalyptic turn of his mode of philosophizing. If he modifies its form in significant respects, he does not change the essentials. The mode of access to phenomena, however, will look different. As intimated in Sein und Zeit the different mode of access will include the switch from the focus on Dasein to Sein and the accomplishment of the hermeneutic of the philosophical tradition in which Heidegger will excavate precisely what the great philosophers such as Aristotle, Hegel, and Schelling did not say, or, better, had repressed. If these consummate Western philosophical insiders are capable of being rescued, it is only as outsiders, as aliens, foreign to themselves who speak an alien tongue. Or in short, these figures of Western civilization can only be rescued as barbarians.

Heidegger does not hestitate to to make particular philosophers more or less unrecognizable. In addition, he further wants to make strange the environment of thinking by appeals to forms of thought that do not operate under the standard protocols, whether the thought of the Pre-Socratics whose oracular statements he makes the measure of the Western philosophical tradition (rather than a promissory note in a teleological scheme of the development of reason laid down by Aristotle in his Metaphysics), Christian concepts of grace and mission, of emptying and waiting, and the thought of the Dichter—the true “seers” and “sayers” (especially Hölderlin)—who show the capacity to speak and think otherwise, not merely at a slant to the Western tradition but truly perpendicular to it.

Throughout, however, the apocalyptic regime constitutive of Heidegger’s thought continues, even if in a new key in which Seyn signals a language older than being (Sein) and the holy of ancient Greece, which Hölderlin resurrects and re-purposes, is chthonic, outside and beyond logos. The “Four-Fold” (das Geviert) at once recapitulates mythic hierogamy and submits it to demythologizing translation whose purpose is to rule out the division of reality into upper and lower dimensions that fundamentally contrast with each other. Heidegger refuses the fetishization of transcendence into the transcendent and thus the invention of metaphysics and the embalming of the Christian God.

Heidegger’s affirms “spirit” but not by way of contrast with matter or flesh. Spirit is resolutely this-worldly and intimates the world precisely as world in its own dynamic of transcendence. Whether Heidegger successfully manufactured a truly persuasive alternative to a benighted Judaism and a moribund Christianity is much debated. The pros and cons run the gamut from Heidegger not having gone far enough (Irigaray) and having gone too far (Lacoste). But there can be little doubt that purged of raknarooks and other visions of the end, Heidegger’s apocalyptic of the “last God” represents an alternative construal of the notion of the divine after the manner of any number of Romantic authors, Shelley as well as Novalis, in addition to Hölderlin.

The key to the re-figuration of apocalyptic is the cipher of event (Ereignis) with its associated postures on the side of Dasein of openness, divestiture, waiting, and courage in the face of the incalculable. To the degree to which event can be brought to language we are dealing with a Sprache-Ereignis. There are two crucial sites for such, Heidegger’s elaborations of the poetic thinking of Hölderlin and Heidegger’s posthumously published Beiträge.

Of course, throughout  Heidegger constructs himself as prophet and seer speaking a strange language. This is apparent in and through Heidegger’s analysis of the holy in Beiträge and through his strong reading of Hölderlin that lifts the German poet out of contemporary context of Romantic aspiration and Idealist construction, to suggests that the great German poet is not involved in the retrieval/construction of a religion of art of decidedly Greek vintage, but rather is calling forth a reality far more originary than the beginning of the philosophical tradition and in a sense also the artistic tradition.

Hölderlin is a thinker of the “hour,” the decisive moment of exposure in which selves relent of all they have known and grown used to and pledge to a reality that is arriving, that is arrival itself, and which remains irreducibly enigmatic in that it withholds a full showing and holds in reserve its evidence. If the poet is a figure of spirit, s/he is a figure of fire, of being set on fire in time, by time, and has ceded to the play (Spiel) of chance.

Heidegger is in effect making Hölderlin a stranger to Western history, constructing himself as an alien too—at last an internal émigré—and radicalizing the untimely nature of his thought. With respect to Hölderlin Heidegger also performs an operation of erasure similar to that evident in his treatment of both Augustine and Kierkegaard in Sein und Zeit and of Saint Paul even earlier.

There is a conspicuous absence of mention of Christ in Hölderlin poems—something that Jean-Luc Marion responds to and overcorrects in a Christian direction as if Hölderlin is not probing for alternatives—and a refusal to think that the eschatological thrust in Hölderlin’s poems is linked in any way with Christianity. In any event, strictly speaking Ereignis has no history, no tradition. It figures what is alone worth saying and yet is impossible to say, while suggesting that all the Western traditions of discourse are worthless, illusions constructed for our comfort, forms of blindness optimal for our needed sense of control.

Heidegger will continue to return to origins that come from a future that civilized and Christian discourses cannot inhabit, even if they provide a habitat for those who are exceptional. Exceptions are not intended to give us knowledge, or provide a followable pattern of disposition and action, but rather (similar to what we find in Nietzsche’s Zarathustra) function as accusations, painful reminders of how lost we are and how permanent this loss is. After Davos, in his interpretation of philosophers as well as poets Heidegger will counter their standard profiles with his own.

It would be a mistake to think, however, that the challenge is episodic rather than systemic, as if what was a stake in each case is a new reading by Heidegger of an important Western thinker or visionary intended to displace older more established readings. Heidegger’s attack is far more fundamental and attacks the historiographical regime that makes conventional readings of individual thinkers possible. Though Heidegger intimates this broader species of attack throughout his readings of particular thinkers (Schelling, Hegel, etc.), arguably, the place where he is most clear about the distance between his historiography that deals with the sending (Geschicht) of Being and conventional historiography (Historie) is in the Black Notebooks (Schwarze Hefte).

If the Notebooks do not tell us much by way of philosophical substance that we do not know already from the books published in Heidegger’s lifetime, they confirm some of the prejudices for which he has become infamous, for example, the connection between Jewry and a deracinated modernity—an old German story (Hegel)—and his prejudice against Catholicism that effectively reaches the level of obsession. Nonetheless, on any reading of the Black Notebooks (that extend from the early 30s into the middle 40s) the obsession of obsessions is with the common historiography (Historie)—and what in translation is referred to as “historiology.” Historiology is decadence, the doxography that blocks the appearance of event, the novum that explodes what has been taken for granted. Historiology forestalls true history (Geschichte) which, if it can be written at all, is strange beyond riddle.

The Black Notebooks, however, do tell us something about the fiasco of Davos as a conversation that did not take place because it could not since Heidegger’s apocalyptic discourse was a discourse of cleavage rather than negotiation, a discourse not only of the future but to a certain extent from the future. Relative to conventional philosophical discourses and Christian discourses Heidegger’s newly-minted philosophical discourse was babble and effectively Babel-inducing when brought into conversation with Western philosophical and theological languages.

§4: The Illusion of a Rapprochement with Christianity

Across the two movements of his apocalyptic thought, with its inflection point in Davos, Heidegger both showed and said not only that he could not abide the philosophical tradition, but arguably any discourse that was customary. Thus, the difficulty of Sein und Zeit with its noun-compounds, neologisms and its new existential-ontological grammar; thus also the discourse of Ereignis, of its enigma, its unrecognizability and how to be authentically responsive to it, and thus the making strange of Hölderlin as a poetic thinker who intimates coming and suggests its noiselessness and forever mysterious quality. So, what then are the intrinsic prospects for dialogue between Christian thought and more specifically Catholic thought with Heidegger?  

Of course, we are not denying that actual conversation was there from the beginning and that as a matter of fact Heidegger has been embraced by numerous Catholic thinkers in the continental tradition in whole or in part. Though prestige cannot be ruled out as an incentive, Heidegger’s engagement with Christian thought, though unreservedly critical, served as an invitation to reform and at least imagine a tradition of discourse that was living rather than dead, not rote repetition, but non-identical repetition possible only if a community and individuals were animated by contact with the founding source or sources of the tradition.

Of course, some Christian thinkers rejected Heidegger outright, not being persuaded by his critique of metaphysics, or even feeling the need to engage. What proved attractive to some Christian thinkers (Catholic thinkers not excluded) is how in the different movements of Heidegger’s apocalyptic discourse one could also find Christian traces: in Sein und Zeit Dasein’s fallenness (Geworfenheit), angst, being-towards-death that essentially translate Kierkegaard’s Christian constructs into properly improper philosophical code; and in the case of Heidegger’s post-Davos productions his reflections on Gelassenheit, mindfulness (Besinnung), his doxological view of the I as  moving towards a condition of prayer, of thank you in which belonging is the other side of ecstasy.

And what is there not to embrace in the way in which in his own expropriated voice or in the voice of his proxy, Hölderlin, Heidegger speaks to us of the sacrality of the world in a time of ultimate technological profanation? We can, indeed, choose to put aside Heidegger’s blatant hierarchies in which the elements of Christian discourse are used as indicators of a higher and deeper conceptuality or as provisional markers that in our openness to what reality gives will be replaced and necessarily so since there is a grammar or syntax that has to be broken. Obviously painful questions follow: how can Christian thinkers be satisfied with so little, the ghost of Kierkegaard and doublets of mystical ecstasy, prayer, liturgy, and the saints in a new ideational world in which God is banished so that the “gods”—the occasions or personae of the holy—can abide?

In the second as well as the first iteration of his discourse, Heidegger has indicated that he speaks a different language than the language of the philosophical tradition, and a different language than the Christian philosophical and theological traditions. It is a new language, the language of the new that interrupts the functioning of normal or normalized philosophical discourse, in effect deranging it and making impossible any and all notions of tradition. The apocalyptic tendency evident across both movements implies rupture, incommensurability, implies Christianity yielding without terms, leaving open just the one hope that the language of the alien, the barbarian, will deign to colonize.

To read Heidegger across both the movements of his discourse is to get a sense of a non serviam that does not appear to be violent if only because Heidegger is so sure of the absolute gap between his discourse of the new, both of and from the future, and Western philosophical discourses and the theological discourses that are hostage to it. Yet, despite what Heidegger shows and says surely a bridge can be provided. There is (is there not?) always a bridge. Perhaps this bridge to dialogue with Western philosophy and Christianity can be supplied by a hermeneutic discourse that is in fact created out of elements of Heidegger’s discourses. What if, as Gadamer proposes, one puts together Heidegger’s reflection in Sein und Zeit on understanding and interpretation with his later reflections on the linguisticality of Being and event (language is the house of Being) to fashion a hermeneutic theory that would justify a tradition, even if it also encouraged throwing out much of it and always being mindful of how it needs to be refreshed. 

Maybe this is the bridge? A connection is made, a peace-treaty signed between event and its relative establishment-disestablishment in thought and language. While this hermeneutic view will not favor the idea of tradition as the safe handing on (traditio), it will allow a measure of continuity in all the discontinuity, though continuity will necessarily have to be hard earned.

It is easy to see why Christian thinkers (e.g. Ricoeur, David Tracy), especially those who tend to operate in terms of both-and, would find the option attractive. The question is whether such a bridge can be built. Much depends on the assessment of the gap between Heidegger’s apocalyptic discourse and the discourses of the philosophical and theological traditions. Does the bridge span a river or an ocean?

Davos seems to tell us that it is an ocean, and intellectual honesty should force us to hear Heidegger’s refusal to dialogue and his showing why it is impossible. He tells us that thinking the future and thinking from the future is not something either the Western philosophical and theological traditions either have done or can do. The philosophical and theological traditions belong to the past. Maybe not even that, but perhaps doxic scum on the surface of an infinitely mobile realty that gives and withdraws.

The only response that Heidegger leaves the Christian thinker is to imagine an absolute future that is not the Heraclitean child-playing draughts, but a generous ecstatic God who has loved us into existence, abides with us, invites response in word, act and life, shows us the way, and precisely because we are touched by the future that solicits and consoles provides us with a past unavailable to us without his coming.

EDITORIAL NOTE: This essay was originally one of the twenty papers delivered at the major international conference, The Future of Christian Thinking held at St Patrick’s Pontifical University in Maynooth, Ireland. The event was hosted by the Faculty of Philosophy and organized by Drs. Philip John Paul Gonzales and Gaven Kerr. For more information see here.

Featured Image: Viktor Vasnetsov, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, 1887; Source: Wikimedia Commons, PD-Old-100. 

Author

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 first installment of a multi-volume intellectual history of Gnosticism in modernity, The Anatomy of Misremembering, Volume 1: Hegel.

Read more by Cyril O'Regan