By Way of Obstacles: Finitude in Question

The question of “finitude as such,” as the point of departure of all research, including in theology, poses a problem, and has posed a problem since its first exposition in my earlier work. Everything happens as if rootedness in finitude renounced any request for the infinite. I have, however, indicated this many times over: the disputation here is not about calling for the infinite (which we will, in light of the resurrection, keep understanding as “working” from creation onward [Irenaeus’s perspective]) but rather over the “point of departure” by which to begin. “The beginning is the most important part of any work,” Socrates reminds us in the second book of the Republic. Such is, and such will therefore be, the difficult debate now to be conducted—once again in order to not retreat in this pathway that is decidedly “strewn with obstacles.”

Making clear that the dice are not “loaded” in advance if one clearly distinguishes the blocked horizon of “finitude” from the position of the “infinite,” showing that this “finitude” is not, however, contrary to a certain sense of the “desire for God” in man, and finally returning to the “problem of the supernatural” (de Lubac), whether to distinguish myself from Maurice Blondel or to bring forth a new sense of apologetics—these are the stages here of an itinerary that is steep, to say the least, so high, and even at times impossible to overcome, do the obstacles to be crossed appear.

Finitude and Infinity

How then can one think on the one hand a finitude in its absolute positivity, without insufficiency or deficiency, and on the other hand call for a metamorphosis of finitude as if it nevertheless had to be transformed? This burning question runs through the entirety of The Metamorphosis of Finitude and deserves to be raised now. In other words, what reason(s) can one invoke for wanting to transcend a horizon posited at the beginning as non-overcomeable, while it is the task of the human in his or her own right to be able to root him- or herself in finitude rather than escaping from it? If finitude is not the finite, as I insist from the beginning of the book onward, the closure of such a horizon has, by right, no reason to be crossed, unless one denies “at the end” (the overcoming of finitude) what had been postulated “at the beginning” (non-overcomeable finitude).

The fair objection raised here—“can finitude truly be positive?”—in reality accords with the pertinent remark that Émile Boutroux stated in opposition to Maurice Blondel on the day of Blondel’s defense of his dissertation Action in November 1893: “The desire of the infinite: Isn’t that the starting point and, as it were, the petitio principii of all your research? And with the infinite in hand, it’s hardly surprising, is it, that you would clear up all the contradictions of the finite?” In short, the dice will therefore be “loaded,” as it were, as soon as finitude for the unbeliever (closed within the horizon of death) has nothing in common with finitude for the believer (open onto the resurrection). Whence the question—which comes from the atheist, or at the very least from the unbeliever or the agnostic—how does finitude stand for the one who is not resurrected or, rather, who does not believe in the resurrection? Are the Christian and the atheist really on an equal footing?

This is not first a question of belief. Everything in reality depends on the philosophical interpretation of finitude itself. Certainly, one can indeed accuse a finitude that is closed on itself and not related to the thing in itself, following Kant’s accurate phrase, of a petitio principii, or else one can call for an infinite that would alone be capable of grounding finitude, following Hegel. But the question of finitude is less the question of Descartes, Kant, or Hegel than it is the interpretation that Martin Heidegger would give to it, privileging the world’s closure within the horizon of death over its opening onto some infinite that does not belong to it. A “choice of horizons” in reality marks the distinction here, or rather the division. At stake here, in my view, is “common humanity,” or the “human tout court.” It is difficult to think the believing being, at least in my eyes, as directly separated or indeed as elected in a difference posited a priori.

For this one can give at least two reasons, one phenomenological, the other theological. From a phenomenological point of view first, a phenomenology of the resurrection must at first be rooted in that which is most “phenomenal,” and therefore most appearing, in humans. Finitude and the horizon of death thus “stamp” that which appears to us “first and most often,” to put it in Martin Heidegger’s terms. The quest for a community by finitude entails that we will not first require that our interlocutor see first of all phenomena that are invisible or that cannot be aimed at [invisibles ou invisables]. No one is obliged to see what we ourselves see, and we cannot regret that he or she does not see it if we do not from the start accept being transformed by him or her. We will thus recognize a “possibility of not believing” as also being part of the human, only in the sense in which the human being “without God” (non-theism) is not necessarily “against God” (atheism or anti-theism).

Hence the second reason, theological this time. God made man—which is the motif of the incarnation—justifies precisely that we first begin with man. Nothing requires us to think that Christ’s divinity as the Son of God takes de facto priority over his own humanity as the Son of Man. Quite the contrary, it is through the Man-God that we discover “both” man “and” God. We will thus distinguish two levels of finitude: a “static finitude” as the horizon of man before his death and a “dynamic finitude” as the raising up of man within this blocked humanity. But these two planes of finitude remain, all in all, a single finitude, and that is what is essential. There is no finitude of unbelievers and atheists on the one hand and of believers and the elect on the other—the former forever closed within the horizon of death and the others called to get out of it or get through it.

If there is a theological motif of the resurrection or of the “metamorphosis of finitude,” this arises less from man than from God, less from the weight of death at the heart of the human than from the Son’s ordeal in his relation to the Father at the heart of the divine. Here everything is a matter of the Trinity and not of “liberation” or liberty. Only the Son knows what it is to bear unto the end the “weight of finitude” shared by every human and described at the height of contemporary philosophy (Heidegger, Sartre, Camus, Deleuze, Foucault . . . ). Trinitarianly suffering the passion [pâtissant] of this weight of death, he makes it pass over [passer] to the Father who determines its metamorphosis, transformation, or raising up. In this sense, but according to a “shortcut” that can only refer back to the second part of The Metamorphosis of Finitude (“Toward a Metamorphosis”), the opening of finitude comes from God himself more than from man, even though it is inscribed from the start in finitude according to God’s good will in his plan for salvation. Nothing, accordingly, except the act by which God comes toward humans in our lives, either can presuppose or could have presupposed such a victory over death—so scarcely credible that it was hardly thinkable. The ambition of the resurrection is an ambition of God more than of man because the possibility of impossibility (death) becomes the possibility of the impossible (resurrection) solely by the power of God himself.

The “Metamorphoses of Ovid” and “The Metamorphosis of Finitude” do not, in my view, proceed in the same fashion, in that the former sets out only progressive changes in man, whereas the second marks the definitive transformation of man in the figure of the Man-God. One cannot move so easily from the pagan to the Christian, and the homology of the term “metamorphosis” does not indicate the equivalence of the transformation. The gap between “human metamorphoses” and the “resurrection of the Lord” in reality remains uncrossable, except by God himself. For it is a matter neither of transforming “oneself” nor of metamorphosing “oneself,” in Christianity that is, but of “being resurrected” or raised up by another. “Nothing resurrects itself” as I noted as early as The Guide to Gethsemane and reiterated in The Metamorphosis of Finitude. For if activity or “force” must be found again today, sometimes at the expense of phenomenology, which most often confines itself to passivity or fallibility, they will first have to do with the “power of the Spirit” and not with a figure of man or of the overman who would be capable of auto-transforming himself: “You will receive a ‘force,’ (dynamin), that of the Holy Spirit, who will descend on you” (Acts 1:8), as we read, by way of announcement, on the day of the Ascension, such that Peter proclaims at Pentecost, “You crucified and killed [him] by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up” (Acts 2:22–24).

Ovid and Christ are therefore not the same, from the moment that “metamorphosis” (metabê) is attributed to each of them. It is by measuring the gap between them that one will discover their specificity, sure that the pagan and the Christian are not identical, without, nevertheless, necessarily combatting each other or misjudging each other. Every “transformation” is a call to alterity, or at the very least a call to not become sclerosed. Thus the “encounter” will once again take precedence over identity, in the conviction that difference and, at times, even difference of views are also the best manner of agreeing or, at a minimum, of not ignoring each other.

The Desire for God and Human Finitude

The theologian, or rather theological discourse, then takes the reins of this confrontation with a paganized world, this time interrogating, starting from God himself, the aforementioned suitability of beginning with finitude. The point of departure is then different, for it is starting from the figure of God that philosophy will be interrogated this time. The “counterblow” is fully struck when it is also struck and, still more, practiced in the other camp. That finitude can be given as an absolute point of departure, not solely by virtue of modernity but also and first because God, in his kenosis, became incarnate—such is also the theological project of a God come to fully assume and transform humanity.

Certainly fustigating a certain “naïve optimism,” The Metamorphosis of Finitude indeed attempts to begin from the human tout court: “We have no other experience of God but human experience,” stipulates the first sentence of “Impassible Immanence.” That which is the ordinary beginning of philosophy (finitude) therefore also becomes, paradoxically, the beginning for theology (God made man). Rather than opposing the disciplines, the second part of my triptych of books therefore already joined them to each other, even though it would be necessary to wait for Crossing the Rubicon to effect the theorization of this joining. The “importance of the limit,” emphasized later and with the support of Thomas Aquinas in particular, will in reality confirm this identity of the point of departure, be it a matter of philosophy or of theology, even though it falls to theology itself, and to theology alone, to open to the unlimited by the metamorphosis or the resurrection as such.

To say that “the resurrection changes everything” indeed amounts, accordingly, to recognizing the absolute novelty of theology for philosophy, not because philosophy overflows its own human limits but because theology itself, by Christology, rejoins philosophy and leads it well beyond what it could have counted on or even hoped. Let us be careful here, however. It is not a matter of “lowering God to the level of finitude” but of recognizing that “God has assumed and transfigured finitude.” The debate surrounding the aforementioned “anthropological reduction” (Hans Urs von Balthasar / Karl Rahner) is here definitively overcome. It is not a matter of reducing God to man, but on the contrary of recognizing that God himself lowered himself toward man to bear him and to lead him toward a future that he could not have suspected. The movement is not one of “overcoming” but rather of “kenosis.” It is not man who ascends, but God who descends. Thus man ascends, or rather “re-ascends,” but only with God. In this sense, and in this sense only, the ascension marks the act by which “Christianity dared to place the (human) body in the most hidden depths of God,” to take up again Romano Guardini’s audacious suggestion.

There is therefore “neither intrinsicism nor extrinsicism” in the unfolding of The Metamorphosis of Finitude. There is no intrinsicism in that humans are first considered qua humans without supposing anything about God, and there is no extrinsicism because God himself, assuming all that belongs to humans in his incarnation, always and ever remains within it, even though humans could not have suspected that he would unwearyingly stay there, at least in the first instance, before the blocked horizon of his existence. Against the numerous misinterpretations of the work by those who do not traverse it from beginning to end, it is nonetheless clear that one will find no “negation of the desire for God” in The Metamorphosis of Finitude. There is indeed a desire for God in humans, but this desire cannot be thought or read save on the cusp of a resurrection that is itself at the origin of everything—and indeed of creation itself (Pannenberg’s prolepsis). In this sense, “the resurrection changes everything” not only in that it transforms us at the end in the “raising up of the body” but also in that it modifies us from the start by placing the “desire for God” in us. God himself deposits our desire for him in us—an ambition for overcoming that is born by God himself, recognized by him who makes us a gift of it, rather than instituted by us who could claim credit for the possession of it: “If there is an opening here to transcendence and desire for God—and no longer uniquely closure of immanence or interdiction of any preemption of the infinite over the finite,” as we read at the heart of The Metamorphosis of Finitude, “it is simply because God himself, by his metamorphosis and by our metamorphosis in him, transfigures the structure of the world, and places a desire for him in us.”

“God alone places that desire for him in me”: this phrase that I had then pronounced permits us to respect both the horizon of finitude (existence blocked by death) and its possible metamorphosis (the assumption and transformation of that horizon by the resurrection). The event is indeed in this sense “Trinitarian.” Or rather, it is all the more “Trinitarian” for being human because the Son bears and transports [porte et transporte] man in himself at the heart of the Trinity. Far from composing some sort of “quaternity” (a heresy identified by the Fourth Lateran Council [1215]), the Trinity itself becomes the site and the place where mankind in its totality can finally live and, as it were, remain, never again to depart from it: “Nothing happens to mankind that did not first happen to God, except sin.

The Problem of the Supernatural

That the turn of French phenomenology is not only “theological” but also “Christological” is, then, the just consequence of this finitude assumed and transformed by God himself. We must indeed recognize that Dominique Janicaud’s The Theological Turn of French Phenomenology has paradoxically produced a reverse effect from the one counted on. Rather than disconnecting phenomenology from theology, which was indeed its initial intention, it led rather to them being brought together still more, this time within the framework of Christology—which alone was capable, in my own view, of linking together the “phenomenology of finitude” on the one hand and the “Christology of the incarnation” on the other. The “reverse effect” therefore, and very fortunately, does nothing but revive the debate between phenomenology and theology, even permitting us to return toward the “metaphysical question” that phenomenology has sometimes vulgarly denied. Coming back to authors said to belong to French spiritualism while developing, properly speaking, a “philosophical Christology”—Maine de Biran, Félix Ravaisson, Maurice Blondel, Simone Weil, and Gabriel Marcel—then becomes one of the ways by which it is indeed possible today to rethink the phenomenological questions within that other framework of metaphysics. Rather than opposing them, as I have said, “phenomenology” and “metaphysics” are now called to entertain relations of “goodwill,” and even of “mutual fecundity,” because the “traversal of the ‘physical’” (meta-physis) today necessitates that we “overcome” the too-simple, or at the very least too-easy, hypothesis of the aforementioned “overcoming of metaphysics.” We should therefore “overcome the overcoming,” to use terms employed elsewhere.

There comes, however, the difficult objection that never ceases to be frequently raised against my view: is not remaining within “finitude” (my hypothesis) contrary to the “problem of the supernatural” (de Lubac) and thus theologically, even phenomenologically, unfounded? In other words, is not the concession to philosophy, and here to Heideggerian philosophy in particular, too massive, such that one would forget how much the theological tradition itself has been, or supposedly is, always founded on man’s aspiration toward God rather than on the imperative of the blocked horizon of our existence? The debate at least possesses the merit of asking each one to justify his or her own way, sure that different points of departure (the enclosure of finitude or the aspiration to the infinite) will not prevent us from meeting together at the end or at the arrival (the resurrection). Everything in reality depends on the relation maintained with contemporary culture, or at the very least with modern man constituted as a “figure of finitude” (Foucault). While one would be wrong to see in the human tout court only an idolatry or license given to contemporary philosophy that has wholly forgotten its necessary relation to the infinite, I maintain first and philosophically speaking that this finitude in reality remains for all the horizon of our common humanity, such that there is first no other experience of God than that of humans. Hence the fact, to translate it theologically this time, that one will begin first by the Man-God (the Christ) in order next to possibly find there “both” man “and” God.

Certainly, refusing the “immediacy of the infinite” or the absolute of God in himself as it is given in, for example, Descartes is not the same thing as conflating it with the “natural desire for God,” in the Thomistic or Lubacian sense of the term, or even with the Blondelian definition of the supernatural as simultaneously “necessary and inaccessible.” The stakes, however, remain identical to my eyes. By refusing the human tout court that constitutes our common base, whether one is a believer or not, it is indeed difficult to see how one could at the same time maintain on the one hand the closure first experienced by humans with regard to their own death and on the other their aspiration toward a beyond-finitude—an assertion that would already be, as it were, a manner of breaking the closure, or of leaping into a beyond that supposedly could alone justify the sense of the below. In other words, by refusing Nietzsche’s, Freud’s, Heidegger’s, Sartre’s, Derrida’s, Deleuze’s, and Foucault’s points of departure, which mark out our modernity, it is difficult to see how Christianity today could still join our “common humanity,” by denying the culture in which it is also called to root itself, albeit to transform it from within.

There is more, and there is better. An accurate interpretation of Henri de Lubac’s The Mystery of the Supernatural (1965) hardly permits us to posit de facto the desire for God in man, at least as originarily given by way of a first experience. Jean-Yves Lacoste is authoritative on this point in his perfect commentary on the Jesuit’s work, whose heir he unhesitatingly proclaims himself:

The fact of our mondanity is first of all that of an atheism, of an existence for which only death holds the last word; and within the limits of the world, no consistent protest can really be raised against the eschatological rights of death . . . It is paradoxical to say so, but we do no violence to the theoretical concern of “de Lubac.” He did not claim to describe the “actual conditions of this existence”; the theological concept brought back into his work between 1947 and 1967 [the natural desire for the supernatural] leaves intact the Heideggerian hermeneutics of facticity.

We accordingly will not separate on the one hand a “sinful” human, supposedly shut away and enclosed in his or her immanence, and on the other a believing human, open to supernature or transcendence, any more than we will presuppose the experience of the supernatural given a priori and even envisioned so easily. The disputation here is a close game, played out in terms that are renewed today. Between the “theists” and the “a-theists” stand the “non-theists,” named thus by Maurice Merleau-Ponty in philosophy and Eberhard Jüngel in theology, in a “third term” that is to be found again today: not those who are “for” or “against” God but those who live “without” God or who do without him. Such is the difference, as I have said, between the virulent atheism of the postwar era and the coherent atheism of the present time. Another situation, another conceptuality—not to deny the old one or to adapt it anew, but to recognize that the common base can no longer be recognized in the same way: it is no longer the immediate aspiration toward God in the sometimes-naive optimism of a certain form of Catholicism, but the sometimes-tragic acknowledgment of the blocked horizon of our existence that only God comes to inhabit and even also to convert or save.

One will thus distinguish the philosophical schema of man’s natural aspiration toward God (Blondel) from the theological structure of man’s transformation by God (de Lubac). The latter (the theologian) indeed possesses over the former (the philosopher) the advantage of avoiding the pitfall of a Baius’s or a Cajetan’s “pure nature,” not by simply “opening” nature to supernature but by recognizing in supernature itself the sole possibility for transforming nature. The theologian, still more than the philosopher and precisely on account of the resurrection, as likewise of kenosis, knows the thickness of finitude also and paradoxically on account of his very belief—thus avoiding too quickly “tearing a hole” in its horizon in his desire to overcome it. In other words, and solely for the theologian, only the after (the resurrection) denies the before (the limited horizon of our existence) and makes it so that there was indeed therefore a “before” before the “after”—named “a-theism” in the sense of a “world at home, separated, happy, created” (Levinas) or of an “a priori of existence” (Lacoste). Reminding ourselves, therefore, following St. Paul, of that time when we were “without God in the world” (Eph 2:12), we will thus distinguish the “heuristic exposition” from the “didactic approach,” specifically avoiding consecrating the horizon of finitude as a definitive negation of the natural desire for God.

Discovering first the blocked horizon of one’s own existence does not indicate that finitude is one’s last word but only that it is one’s first word, at least in the order of discovery (heuristic) or of the experience that is general and common to every human (the human tout court). Doctrine or teaching (didactics) can and must indeed posit God at the origin, at least in theology, even though that is not what is discovered first in the course of our existence (heuristics). Thus the resurrection is not a simple completion, which it would necessarily be if it came only to accomplish what was in advance given in the desire for God in humans. It marks and indicates a genuine “transformation” or “metamorphosis”—that is, an ontological and not only ontic event.

I said this when I began: everything in reality depends on the type of reasoning, or rather of advancing, that is at work here. Everyone has his type of mount, or his manner of steering it, to cross the obstacles or to traverse the “pathway through obstacles.” There are on the one hand the “balanced thoughts,” for which Maurice Blondel or Paul Ricœur would serve as protagonists, and on the other the “decided thoughts,” with Martin Heidegger or Maurice Merleau-Ponty as pioneers, such that taking one way is never following the other at the same time. As I have shown in the epilogue of The Loving Struggle, in dialogue with Jean Greisch, the undergrowth of philosophy contains “foxes” (that go here and there in the field of concepts to find a point of equilibrium for thought) and “hedgehogs” (who dig their furrow, or even their hole, never again to leave it). I belong to the latter more than to the former. All have their merits but at times have difficulty agreeing, not because they speak of other things but because they speak otherwise of the same thing. And this is probably true of the position concerning the desire for God in humans: not, as I have said, that it is accepted by the one side and denied on the other but that the order of priority is not the same: while some want to posit, wrongly and as if it were immediately recognized, an opening to the absolute, one will discover it, in my view, only on the cusp of the resurrection, first taking cognizance of a finitude that first appears to me in a closed future and a shuttered horizon.

But beyond the gaps, which also constitute thought’s decisions, an essential point remains—in particular in light of the works of Maurice Blondel, Simone Weil, or Henri de Lubac for example. One will indeed be surprised to find unto this day only an anthropological, and not a cosmological, perspective on the resurrection in my Philosophical Triduum. Everything indeed happens as if the act of the “metamorphosis” really did concern only humankind in the Son but not the world itself, unto its structure as a created being. Should not the importance of the “organic” in The Wedding Feast of the Lamb be extended to “matter” itself—also worthy of salvation?

As with “birth” that serves as an existential of the resurrection (The Metamorphosis of Finitude), the “body” and “eros” as existentials of the Eucharist (The Wedding Feast of the Lamb), and the experience of “anxiety” and of “death” as an existential of the episode of “Gethsemane,” likewise it will be necessary to show, or at least to make visible, to what an extent the phenomenological existential of the “world” could also take on sense and be transformed, this time in the theological experience of “creation.” If the thesis of the “beginning of the world” falls within the realm more of faith than of reason (Thomas Aquinas) it is not because it would be scarcely believable by the means of natural theology alone but because the position of “creation” can be understood only within the framework of dependence on God. Creation itself, like the incarnation or the resurrection, must be understood as an “act of faith,” whereby it has the means, in light of the resurrection, to “transform” the “world” and its existential rather than simply conforming to it. The acosmism of my Philosophical Triduum will thus gain in the future by nourishing itself on the panchristism of Maurice Blondel or on the relation of creation and decreation established, for example, by Simone Weil. The Philosophical Triduum of the three days of the passion—the body and the Eucharist (Holy Thursday, The Wedding Feast of the Lamb), suffering and Gethsemane (Good Friday, Guide to Gethsemane), birth and resurrection (Easter Sunday, Metamorphosis of Finitude)—still awaits, as I have said, a theological Triduum of the three days of the recapitulation: evil and sin (Holy Saturday), creation and the world (the first day), childhood and the kingdom (the last day). This “new triptych,” heralded by way of an epilogue to The Guide to Gethsemane (“From One Triptych to Another”), still remains far from being realized. It is a perspective whose necessity is here seen anew.

A Question of “Apologetics”

The debate with Maurice Blondel is, then, not finished. Better, it continues, and it is even reversed. Allegiance to Maurice Blondel in philosophy, as to Henri de Lubac in theology, is perfectly justified—in their time as in our own. It remains that the situation has changed and that apologetics must also be transformed. We will not, therefore, content ourselves with repeating, but precisely in order to be faithful to them we will strive, following them, and for today, to innovate.

The transformation of aims requires us, then, to interrogate the double relation (a) to reason on the one hand and (b) to the text of the Scriptures on the other. (a) Regarding ratio first, it is no longer suitable, in my view, to deploy an “apologetics of rationality” in the way that the enterprise is nonetheless still renewed in the nets of Maurice Blondel, even if it belongs to charity rather than to the secularized world. The stakes are experiential and not exclusively conceptual. Or, rather, adherence waits for its conceptualization—“fides quaerens intellectum” [“faith seeking understanding”]—and not the reverse.

(b) Concerning sacra Scriptura next, we will rightly recognize that the indirect, even distant, relation of Maurice Blondel to the text of the Scriptures, to the tradition of the Fathers or the medievals, and even to the symbolic of images does not permit, and even forbids, any real confrontation of philosophy “and” theology in the philosopher of Action. If there is indeed a possible link between the two disciplines in Maurice Blondel, it is of the order of liaison (vinculum) but not of confrontation and still less of the “counterblow.” Philosophy and theology complete each other, as Maurice Blondel (the aspiration to the supernatural) opens onto the works of Henri de Lubac (the mystery of the supernatural). But they do not mutually question each other, nor do they modify each other. There is no crossing in Gethsemane without a “guide” who transforms the sense of suffering, nor is there a “metamorphosis of finitude” without any implication of the resurrection for the philosophical structure of the world, nor is there a “Wedding Feast of the Lamb” without the conversion of eros by agape. This is precisely the place, and the investigation, by which the times have changed—not in the simple complementarity of the disciplines but in their mutual fertilization.

The challenge remains, then, of “that” which it is fitting to undertake for today, not to erase the past but on the contrary to renew it on the basis of what once was already given. The debate between experience and rationality must in reality be overcome unless it is founded not solely on an interpretation of Christianity in terms of “faith” and “reason” but also of “person” and “culture.” The question of the “cultural sense of Christianity” indeed deserves to be interrogated, according to two aims that are, if not opposed, at least divergent. (a) Within the framework of what it is indeed fitting to call a “philosophy of religion,” it really is a matter of measuring what Christianity brings to secularization. All the works that draw out the “cultural base of Christianity,” in particular in contemporary culture, will thus make visible both its validity and its fruitfulness.

(b) But within the sphere of what we are calling a “philosophy of religious experience,” the appeal to the culture seeks less to draw the philosophical rationality from a theological given (the concept of the “person,” for example) than to recall theology itself to order, as pertinent in its own concepts, so that God himself can use our human language to also speak to us. Recognizing the phrase “This is my body,” following Jean-Luc Nancy, as the definitive mark of the West, to the point that it serves as a leitmotif for “everyone in this culture, Christian or otherwise,” or calling in philosophy for a “credible” Christianity (grounded in rationality and furnishing God with a language) but leaving to God himself the task of rendering it “believable” or not, independently of any apologetics, is indeed launching an “appeal to the culture.” The challenge is neither to only philosophize nor to exclusively theologize but to render the language of theology pertinent, including even within philosophy.

In other words, the thinker less pronounces her own words by drawing them from the mouth of God (“philosophy of religion”) than she gives words to God so that he may use them to speak to humans (“philosophy of religious experience”). The movement is not that of the “liberation of philosophy by theology,” to refer to Hans Urs von Balthasar here explicitly espousing a Hegelian position, but that of a “liberation of theology by philosophy” called for according to a principle of proportionality according to which “the more we theologize, the better we philosophize.” The perspectives, far from being opposed, are here complementary because “rationality” and “experience” certainly mutually fertilize each other, but this time in the “common base of culture,” be it according to two aims whose goals remain differentiated. It is thus by encountering each other that “culture” and “faith” will be able to advance together, not by virtue of some “crusade” in order to evangelize, but rather in order to open toward a new apologetics where the “transformation of the self,” rather than the “conversion of the other,” must be aimed at first.

EDITORIAL NOTE: This essay is excerpted from By Way of Obstacles A Pathway through a Work (34–48), used by permission of Wipf and Stock Publishers,, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. 

Featured Image: Kandinsky, Improvization on Binz in Rugen, 1901; Source: Wikimedia Commons, PD-Old-100. 


Emmanuel Falque

Emmanuel Falque is Honorary Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy at the Catholic University of Paris. He is well known for writings that combine an expertise in medieval philosophy, modern French phenomenology, and theology. His recent publications include Passer le Rubicon [Crossing the Rubicon] (2013), Saint Bonaventure et l'entrée de Dieu en théologie (2000); Dieu, la chair et l'autre [God, the Flesh and the Other] (2008) and the trilogy: Le passseur de Gethsémani (1999), Métamorphose de la finitude [Metamorphosis of Finitude] (2004), and Les Noces de l'Agneau [The Wedding Feast of the Lamb] (2011).

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