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Boeve, L., Maeseneer, Y. de, and S. van den Bossche [Eds.]
Religious Experience and Contemporary Theological Epistemology.
Leuven-Paris-Dudley: Peeters; Leuven: University Press 2005. X, 335 S. gr.8° = Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium, 188. Kart. EUR 50,00. ISBN 90-429-1647-8 (Peeters); 90-5867-485-1 (University Press).
Garth W. Green
The product of the 2003 Leuven Encounters in Systematic Theology Conference, this volume contains »keynote addresses« (Part I; 11–224) and »thematic seminars« (Part II; 227–330). Both concern 1. epistemological conditions for, and 2. relations between (sensible, objective) experience and religious experience. Its constant concern lies with »the opposition between reason and revelation … that has its origin in Kant’s critical philosophy« (Zachhuber, 8).
L. Boeve begins with the »modern context of experience that the Christian faith needs to relate [sic] itself«, and thus announces the problem-context for the volume as such. He advises a »›critical co-relation‹ between tradition and the modern situation« (17). Boeve’s essay is apologetic; he seeks »the best argument in favour of … the Christian faith today, both within and with regard to secular society.« He reviews Milbank’s and Blond’s »reintroduction of neo-platonic Augustinian thought frames« (29) and their claim to a theological sublation of philosophy, to a »form of perception ( Wahrnehmung) that is a higher form of ›cognition‹« and thus experience. This »religious mode of perception … displaces and exceeds« empirical and philosophical perception (30). Boeve distinguishes between »the [theo-logical] interruption of experience« and »the experience of [theo-logical] interruption« which locates religious experience both within and without the nature and limits of experience as such; this conclusion while promising remains unfulfilled.
Schaeffler initiates the exegetical and epistemological effort required to justify such a claim to an amplification of the limits of experience after Kant. The problem-context for his essay concerns »Die Unterscheidung zwischen ›Erlebnis‹ und ›Erfahrung‹ … in der Tradition der Transzendentalphilosophie«. Schaeffler identifies (44) the role of the doctrine of sensible intuition played in Kant’s attribution of the conditions for the possibility of experience [Erfahrung] to empirical experience, and the way in which this same doctrine of intuition grounded Kant’s claim to exclude rational theology and its »Gottesbild« from the realm of possible experience. Schaeffler proposes that »religiöse Erfahrung setzt eine spezifische Form des Anschauens und Denkens voraus« in order to ground the claim that »religiöse Erfahrung … überhaupt den Charakter einer Erfahrung hat …«. The response from Dumas notes that Schaeffler »contribue substantiellement à un élargissement de la philosophie transcendentale« (54), in a historical context which calls for »une re-définition … des positions kantiennes«, as did Fichte and Schelling, Maréchal and Michel Henry. Van Den Bossche receives Marion’s phenomenology »as an ancilla theologiae«, as »a new first philosophy through which theological epistemology can give a rational account of what it already confesses« (61). Thus, as did Cusa in De Visione Dei; »we understand the visible world as the gift of the Invisible, without seeing the Invisible«, an understanding which provides both for the sublation of objective reason by revelation, and for »the only non-idolatrous figure of religious understanding« (64). Van Den Bossche’s treatment of this »Augustinian … usurpation of reason by faith«, among the most important contributions within this work, resists summary restatement (69).
The thematic and historical horizon established by these essays– medieval theology, principally neo-Plotinian, its modern philosophical critique, and its recovery within 20th-Century French phenomenology, establishes the context for the essays to follow. Sylvie Robert’s paper on Ignatius’ Spritiual Exercises attempts to comprehend »la place et de la valeur épistémologique de l’expérience en matière de connaissance de Dieu … pour ne pas quitter le terrain de l’expérience«. Grace Jantzen’s excellent paper on Hadewijch of Antwerp considers »the ways in which the abyss has been configured by the erotic imagination« (112). Jantzen exegetes expertly the dynamics within revelation (as a revealing which re-veils), as Rob Faesen treats of the epistemological elements in Ruusbroec’s, William of Saint-Thierry’s, and Hadewijch’s theological method. His skilled exegesis isolates the mutual relations between activity and passivity, visibility and invisibility, and love and knowledge within the theological method of »the mystical tradition of the Low Countries« (228). Similarly, Edmonson treats, almost lyrically, Aelred of Rievaulx’s Mirror of Charity, a theology which »constructs experience even as it steps aside and releases us into it«, in order that religious experience not only be possible epistemologically but become actual, »the rational mode of reception of God’s speech« (247).
While these contributions recover medieval mystical sources, P. Rossi concerns himself with modern philosophical construals of experience, as they »bear upon our conceptualizations of experience« and its limits, and most particularly Kant’s, which »functions implicitly to distinguish ›experience‹ from something that is not taken as experience« (270–271). Rossi too envisages »a route that might lead from Kantian moral subjectivity back to Augustinian interiority« (280). Stoker too argues that »religious experience transcends human reason but does not destroy it« (285), and orients himself from the trajectory of the modern problem of reflection; from Descartes and Kant to Henry and Marion. Thus Stoker begins with pre-reflective and non-intentional consciousness as that principle required for the adequation of the will or intellect (practical or theoretical reason) to itself in spite of the self-alienation of objective intentionality. Zachhuber’s contribution articulates »three pivotal stages« which have led to »an antithesis of religion and revelation« (305). Paramount among these is again »Kant’s critical philosophy«, for which »in short, no ›revelation‹ is even feasible« (306). Regarding the »epistemological foundation of theology … all later critics of religion … from Feuerbach to Neitzsche and Freud are Kantians in this very sense« (306). Zachhuber suggests that »Kant is the originator of the problem we are considering« in this volume. Indeed, »in German Protestant theology, the dichotomy of religion v. revelation [is] the generally accepted starting point of theology«, which thus remains »essentially Kantian« (307.310).
Hemming suggests that »religious experience« as here conceived cannot be less than »a name for the highest possible conditions of experience as such« (5). Hemming begins with Aristotle’s »divine thought«, the »thinking that thinks itself«, and takes without argument the »splendid genealogy« on the question of self-intellection from Aristotle to Aquinas and Hegel. The latter »actually accomplishes the unity indicated by the headline title of our conference« (160). Thus Hegel poses the task of »the securing of a ›theological epistemology‹ which turns out to be the securing of the ground of knowledge itself« (162). Hemming asks; »how did we accomplish this knowledge, the knowledge of knowledge, that is, the absolute condition for knowledge as such?« a cogito me cogitare that is a transcendere (162). Hemming does not ignore the problem of reflection (162.165), and yet holds that »contemporary theology« can only »re-invoke and re-perform the interpretation of absolute Geist that Hegel undertakes« (168). The erudition and force of the author is unmistakable, but one can question this genealogy; it is neither the only possible nor perhaps the most fruitful. While Hegel would sublate theology in a dialectical philosophical synthesis, Fichte and Schelling (and phenomenologists and »transcendental Thomists« influenced by them) prosecute the task of a knowledge of knowledge in the name of theology. Hemming’s paper is, however, exemplary.
F. S. Fiorenza treats the distinction left intimated by Boeve. Fiorenza articulates »five distinct understandings of transcendence«, in a typology, with respect to which he interprets the theme of the »experience of transcendence« in Schleiermacher and Rahner. The former is exposed, convincingly, as »very close to what Joseph Maréchal and Karl Rahner will argue later« regarding »the principle of the possibility of knowledge« (199). Fiorenza is intent to recuperate Rahner not only for his »rapprochement between Thomism and modern philosophy« (201) but for »his central concept of mystagogy«, which is »neither Kantian nor Heideggerian but goes back to Gregory of Nyssa« (201). Fiorenza traces Rahner’s indebtedness to »Maréchal’s critique of Kant«, for which »Kant’s transcendental reflection concerned the a priori conditions determining the appearance of the object to consciousness«, but »restricted apperception to the categorical« (204). This allows Fiorenza to recuperate a Rahner »closer to Maréchal than to Heidegger« (208 n.) and to propose transcendental Thomism as a mature synthesis of the types of transcendence indicated above.
This volume is the product of a promising confluence of four factors. The first Fiorenza names the »post-modern theological renaissance of Neo-Platonic thought« (e. g., Beierwaltes’ Platonismus im Christentum). The second factor concerns recent critical evaluations of Kant’s restrictive doctrine of intuition and its role in the critique of rational theological Seelenlehre and Gotteslehre (e. g., Henry’s L’essence de la manifestation). The third factor concerns recent scholarly work on Fichte’s and Schelling’s early critiques of Kant’s theory of cognition and their resultant philosophies of religion (e. g., Rametta’s Le Strutture Speculative della Dottrina della Scienza and Tilliette’s Une philosophie en devenir). Fifth, we’ve witnessed a renewal of theology informed by each of these traditions; by medieval theological styles, by modern philosophical critique, and by the intent to advance a theology of experience responsive to the claims of each; e. g., Radical Orthodoxy, Transcendental Thomism, and Phenomenological Theology. This volume recognizes and treats each of these elements of our contemporary inheritance, and prosecutes a most fruitful synthesis of philosophical theory of cognition and theological reflection upon religious experience, its possibility and significance.