Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Do We Need a New Metaphysics Beyond Substance? Louis Dupre's "The Fateful Separation of Philosophy and Theology"

Given on May 9, 2007 as the Paul Tillich Lecture

(to be commented on and hopefully made more explicit)


1. So far we have discussed how transcendental philosophy and hermeneutic thought may have opened a new way toward integrating transcendent meaning with a philosophy of Being. But does religious faith need metaphysics? We know that one of the important theologians of the past century, Karl Barth vehemently denies this. According to his Church Dogmatics, any attempt to mediate biblical revelation through metaphysics corrupts the divine message. Like a meteor fallen from heaven Christ touches this world at one tangential point. His revelation needs no philosophical support, nor does it fit our categories of thinking. The Christian message cannot even be ranked under the general concept of religion.

Against this position I hold, with most theologians, that a faith conceived in human ideas, expressed in human words, requires some praeparatio fidei, to be received, cultivated, and practiced. As Guardini describes the process, we must first see something and then risk the plunge. Etwas sehen und es dann wagen. Metaphysics leads us to that insight in the human condition, where alone the need for transcendent meaning can be felt.

2. Yet metaphysics may be more than a praeparatio fidei. It may become assumed by faith as an integral part of it. In concluding the volume on modern metaphysics of his monumental The Glory of the Lord, Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote: “A Christian has to conduct philosophical enquiry on account of his faith. Believing in the absolute love of God for the world, he is obliged to understand Being in its ontological difference as pointing to love, and to live in accordance with this indication - - - The mystery that anything exists at all becomes for him yet more profound and in the most comprehensive sense more worthy of enquiry than it does for any other kind of philosopher.” For the believer, Being possesses no intrinsic necessity as it did in ancient thought, when the cosmos and the gods possessed an equal necessity. The believer experiences Being as a gift.

This means more than that God created all things. To claim that, since God created all things, God created Being, evades the fundamental metaphysical question: Why is there something rather than nothing? It merely raises the further question: And what about God? Is God not Being? Heidegger repeated Leibniz’s question in his Introduction to Metaphysics (1935) (1953). He continued to struggle with it for years and finally, in the letter on Humanism (1949) repeated what all philosophers since Kant had claimed, namely, that philosophy is incapable of adequately dealing with the idea of God.

In my view, there is only one way to reconcile the Scholastic position that God is Being – esse substantiale subsistens, as St. Thomas defines divine Being – with the notion of creation, namely, in positing that all created things exist in God, as all beings are in Being. Heidegger himself tentatively suggested a somewhat related analogy in a 1960 meeting with theologians: philosophy is related to Being as theology is related to God. Creation, then, would consist in an unfolding of divine Being, as Nicolas of Cusa had argued in the fifteenth century. God, thereby becomes the very Being of all beings, distinct from them by nothing but their finitude.

This panentheistic position differs from the pantheistic one that God is the sum total of all beings. First, because God in Christian theology is discussed as substantial Being, which means that God, while including al beings within the divine Being, transcends them. This presupposes that the relation between Being and all beings be conceived as a dynamic, unfolding of Being, a process which monotheist theology calls creation. Precisely this dynamic aspect of creation distinguishes Cusanus’ metaphysics from Spinoza’s static one, in which God is the substance of all things. Scholastic metaphysics, inspired by Neo-Platonism, was particularly well equipped for expressing the self-communication of Being represented by the mystery of creation. The adage bonum est difusivum sui supported the mysterious description of the First Epistle of John, that God is Love, which I would translate as goodness that communicates itself.

3. If God is Love, we understand that all God’s manifestations, all created beings are gratuitous, not intrinsically necessary, yet freely dispensed as a gift. This still does not exhaust the meaning of the Christian belief that Being itself is a gift. How can the Giver also be gift? What the Creator gives is nothing but Himself: God is the very Being of all beings. To this metaphysical truth, indispensable to faith for understanding its own mystery, theology has added yet another one, which deepens metaphysics’ own insight. In the mystery of the Blessed Trinity, inscrutable to philosophy yet completing its self-understanding, the relation of fides quaerens intellectum reversed itself into the equally Augustinian intellectus quaerens fidem.

Balthasar, the, has rightly called the Christian the guardian of that metaphysical wonderment in which philosophy originates. The religious believer deepens his faith through metaphysics, while at the same time keeping the metaphysical flame alive. During two and one half centuries of Western philosophy, the wonderment before the religious mystery has stimulated metaphysical thought, from Parmenides to Plato and Plotinus; from Augustine to Aquinas and Scotus, from Nicolas for Cusa to Leibniz and Hegel.

The forgetfulness of Being denounced by Heidegger is, not coincidentally, accompanied by a forgetfulness of God. Metaphysics has risen from mythology and religion. Without a religious sense of wonder the philosopher is rarely inclined to raise the question of Being in its totality, against the horizon of nothingness. In an essay “On a certain Blindness” William James identified the lack of perceptiveness for the significance of things as one of the principal shortcomings of our time. We have lost our ability for being surprised by their being there. Today it is among poets, rather than philosophers, that we most commonly find the sense of wonder from which metaphysics springs (underline mine).


Brian Kilroy said...

How many of our contemporaries end their day with a child-like, meditative gaze into the Heavens accompanied by the sense of awe and wonderment that all of our human ancestors experienced? Modern man’s intelligence has given way to his pessimism about the inability to learn anything meaningful about himself and his Creator by quietly gazing upward. And, not even the poets are read anymore so it is small wonder that there exists a forgetfulness of Being, and of God, and of the eternal. Satan has done his work well—there is no coincidence here—and time is of the essence. If not the Heavens, then the world of work--admittedly a poor substitute for the natural and metaphysical world.

Kentucky Scot said...

Further to my comment that Man can no longer distract himself sufficiently to alleviate his boredom, I believe it also true that philosopy and metaphysics may have reached the limits of human endeavor. For example, Postmodernism threw Philosophy out the window. Absent returning to the One, there was no place left to go with Philosophy. The human mind had reached the limits of its ability to interpret existence, so, like clever trouble makers, Nietzsche, Derrida, and others dramatically changed perspectives to one of infinite facets that will leave us chasing our tail back to tribalism.

It is far preferable to gaze into the stars, and know that the mustard seed is within.

Kentucky Scot

Anonymous said...

Are there 4 other parts leading up to this post and if so where can I find them?!