JSR The Journal of Scriptural Reasoning

Some Phenomenological Crumbs

W. C. Hackett
Australian Catholic University

In the events narrated and appreciated in the New Testament the Christian distinction is lived by Christ. The distinction that displays God and the world for what they ultimately are is lived by Jesus in a more accurate and effective way than it is anywhere formulated. The Christian distinction between God and the world is the kind of thing that has to be lived before it can be stated. In the life of Jesus the world is questioned in a way it is not questioned by philosophy.1

The question we are really posing to ourselves is like the one Adolf von Harnack posed in his Berlin lectures in 1899-1900: What is Christianity?2 There is a peculiar difficulty that inheres within this question. Harnack, himself, is a good example for us of the very difficulty I have in mind, and we ought to let him stand as a warning of sorts: he claimed a sort of proto-phenomenological fidelity to the historical manifestation of Christianity apart from specific dogmatic theses, but it is hard to deny today that the result was merely an avowed presentation of the apostolic faith in the image of Harnack’s own 19th century liberalism. This is convenient if you are a 19th century German academic, but we do not have that convenience. We are now 21st century academics; if we are merely academics, we are doing neither theology nor philosophy, whichever you prefer (and phenomenology regardless), very well at all. As Albert Schweitzer observed in his great critique of the “liberal lives of Jesus” from that era, the picture that they painted in their interpretation of the Gospels was a self-portrait. Today, we can radicalize Schweitzer’s insight: we always find traces of ourselves in our approach to the phenomenon of Christianity.3 The Gospels inexorably tend to become a mirror of our assumed and un-interrogated values, of our implicit desires, of ourselves writ large. We must affirm that this inexorability is, from a phenomenological vantage, a general necessity once noted by Merleau-Ponty: we are always chasing the things themselves, which can never in themselves be reduced to our description of them, even if, as a response, our description takes part in the manifestation of the phenomenon in a particular elaborated mode.4  When the phenomenon is God, this inexorability would seem to assume the specific form of idolatry, and yet, there is a positive dimension to this inevitable idolatry inasmuch as we can come to discern it with greater acumen in our phenomenological practice of reading the Gospels.  A central task of this kind of phenomenology would involve bringing into greater clarity the ways in which we insinuate ourselves into the phenomenon of revelation.  This is meant neither to isolate nor secure, as it were, the objective correlate to our subjective intendings (and, thereby, illusorily to overcome the necessary inexorability—a major temptation!), but rather (1) to discern the limits—the human limits—of our response to God’s words and deeds and (2) to understand, from an explicitly religious point of view, the strange fact that the intrinsic intelligibility of the phenomenon of revelation itself always includes ourselves within it. These two basic dimensions may compose something like the phenomenological structure of Christian revelation. What does it tell us about ourselves? That our human character is “naturally supernatural.”5

However, we need to step far back from explicating this. We will assume it. It is enough here merely to anticipate a major aspect of it through the following reflection, an elaboration which I will state now in the form of a thesis that by the end of our approach will be brought into sharp focus: the revelation of God in Jesus of Nazareth reveals us to ourselves. Admittedly, this is not all it does. Nevertheless, we must affirm it because the phenomenon of revelation demands of us the total investment of self in order to appear, and it appears only in and through the response we give to it. The inexorable failure of this response is a fundamental part of the phenomenon’s truth, and, if I can speak this way, it is paradoxically our salvation. Indeed, we must speak in this way, since we are aspiring toward a phenomenological practice of the Gospels.

To pursue this thesis, our course will be first to ask ourselves about the nature of phenomenological practice, second to ask ourselves in a general manner what happens to this practice when the phenomenon of revelation is introduced into it, and finally to focus on this phenomenological practice, as expanded and intensified by revelation, in order to distinguish some of the major elements within it. You will invariably be disappointed, for we proceed in the following remoto Christo, at a remove from the direct data of the Gospels themselves even though the phenomenological sense of God we are seeking to understand in ourselves presupposes it. We are only striking a certain chord, neither playing the entire symphony nor even the totality of its main theme.

What is Phenomenology?

Phenomenology is the disciplined practice of attention to the “how” of whatever appears, to its fundamental modes of intelligibility in its original showing forth and, ultimately, to the “how” of any original showing forth whatever: to phenomenality as such.

Phenomenology attempts to describe the appearances—nothing less than that if also much more than that. Nothing less in that phenomenology gets to the things themselves, to the essential matters, the matters of most concern—the appearances, which it attempts to describe starting from themselves and for their own sake. But not only for their sake, and here we find the “much more”: phenomenology, at least in its classical iteration, describes the appearances in order to ground, to secure, and to ensure the philosophical legitimacy of every other kind of inquiry that starts from the appearances. Every philosophy, every thinking and every science starts from the appearances without, however, inquiring into them on their own terms and starting from themselves. Only phenomenology, by definition, inquires into the appearances themselves.

Phenomenology describes. What is this act of description? Description is always “of”: it is a matter of the appearances. Phenomenology, as description, attempts to give the essence of the appearances—not the essence behind the appearances, but of them: the phenomenal structure of the appearances. The appearances are described in order to discern, or rather, as the act of discernment of the logos of the appearances, that which comes before every thought, idea, reflection and response to experience. The appearances as appearances are always “to” someone; they have a dative character. They are given. Phenomenology deals in particular with the pre-predicative domain, the original passive pre-givenness of phenomena, the way in which something of sensible or affective experience is already there in its integrity, “in the flesh,” before judgment. It deals with the domain of the purely passive constitution of experience, the condition by which something can then come to speech, to logic, and to language.6  Phenomenology deals with the archê; it is concerned with the native or original intelligibility of experience, especially as it assumes a coherent character as “world,” the always already given background and condition for any particular appearing itself. In order to appear, things must appear to someone as an object of intentional or directed consciousness, and things must appear as appearings in the world, within the whole context of what is given. The world is the context that, along with the ego which receives the totality of the world as given along with everything in it—whether actual, possible or impossible—determines the primordial conditions for Husserl of the phenomena.7

Phenomenology is, therefore, universal: it uncovers the unique parameters for everything that is and anything that can be given to us in experience. These parameters—the world on the one hand and the self on the other—have unique properties peculiar to them. The world is given as never given, as a whole that encompasses everything actual and possible. The self, in experience, is the still point around which the world is arranged, but essential to this experience at the same time is the recognition that the self is intrinsically displaced from this center. It is one thing among other things within the horizon of the world; the self is not solus ipse. Neither the world nor the self are given merely as a thing in the world. The self is given in that way, but at the same time it uniquely receives the whole of the world as the one to and for whom the world is given as a phenomenon. The world and the self are both singularities, even if there are many singular selves that together share the world intersubjectively.

Phenomenology and Revelation

How does this particular universality of phenomenology, double-framed by the ellipsis of world and self, change when we step beyond Husserl8 to introduce a third dimension that proposes itself through its appearing as, along with the world and the self, basic to the logos or intelligibility of experience and further appearing as uniquely basic—even more basic than the world and the self? That is, how does phenomenology change when revelation is explicitly introduced as a phenomenological topic? Clearly, the self-disclosure of God entails a new and absolute qualification of the “world” as absolute horizon, for God does not appear as present in the world as a thing among other things within the totality of the world. God appears as absent in the world, as the presence that is everywhere and nowhere at once, as the origin and end of the world as given. God arises as an absent phenomenon, as the Absolute, as the interval across which we experience ourselves and the world, ourselves as selves in the world, and the world as the world for ourselves. When we acknowledge “that” the world is stands as a wholly distinct category from “what” the world is, and when we acknowledge that basic to the world’s appearing is the possibility of its non-appearing or that it never had to be at all—a possibility that is just as rational as its actualized possibility with which we are familiar and within which we participate—9 the unity of the world becomes an opening to an absolute alterity which is fundamental to the world’s appearing as world. It has no reason for its own existence; the world is just there, and in being there it manifests the abyss of freedom within which it subsists. In this way, therefore, the disclosure of God entails a disclosure of the world in a totally new sense, as grounded in God and as “given” in a completely new way: not merely as the infinite horizon of possibility for the appearing of phenomena, but as an infinity that is finite, that is groundless, ohne warum, that does not contain its own conditions but rather subsists in the God who transcends the categories of opposition that determine the world’s own intelligibility, of presence and absence, of this and that, of near and far, of rest and motion, of transcendence and immanence, of cause and effect, of sameness and otherness, etc. God, when introduced, displaces the world in a way somewhat akin to the self’s experience of displacement in the world, although in an even more radical sense: God is the world’s “other” but in a way that exceeds or comes before the very difference between God and world.

I follow Robert Sokolowski as seeing this sense of God, what he calls the “Christian distinction” (from the quotation at the beginning of this essay), as given in revelation, when God steps into the world horizon to reveal himself as the one that exceeds the most basic categories that define the world precisely through entering the world. This revelation brings with it the new sense of divinity that determines Christian thought.10  If the greatest religious thinkers of antiquity anticipated this sense of God, they only anticipated it; pagan thought either still considered God as an element of the world, even if the highest, or it simply refused that identification and made a practice out of this refusal in apophatic silence (especially in the Neoplatonism of Late Antiquity), considering any particular appearing of the divine in the world to be ipso facto merely an appearing without the definitive character that the Christians determinately applied to their revelation. This view is explicated in, for example, Porphyry’s Against the Christians, which considered this new conception of God “irrational.”

The change to the world and the self in this context can be summarized in the following way: in the disclosure of God as non-contrastive with the world, the world becomes not only more radically contingent but also simultaneously more radically given. The natural integrity of things becomes emphasized by virtue of their groundless ground in absolute freedom. The self, unique among things in the world, becomes in this context more unique by becoming an agent with true freedom in the order of what eventually came to be called “secondary causes,” with no conflict of opposition with the primary causality: the agency of God. What the world and self are become more acutely presented when set off against the background of the absolute horizon.

In light of this distinction between God and the world, which uniquely gives the world (in giving the world to itself) in a new, more radical manner, we can observe that if one were to make a fundamental distinction at the beginning of thought between revelation, on the one hand and everything that is not revelation on the other, (e.g., that which is studied as “natural,” without immediate reference to God—admittedly, an abstraction), or, more appropriately now, between God and the world, then phenomenology is equally there on both sides of the distinction inasmuch as God’s manifest appearing as absent in the world, and the world’s appearing as given to itself in divine freedom, are taken into account as the first order of business for thought, whether philosophical or theological. It is this basic distinction that gives the difference between the two discourses by transcending them.11 Phenomenology does not delimit itself to preconceived disciplinary boundaries, for in its response to what is given it must bracket every a priori limit.12

Revelation, in the human sense (and what other sense matters to us?), is always revelation to historically conditioned, finite persons in the world, and as an historical event or reality or datum, it enters into the field of human experience in the world and reflection on itself and its world that is already, as it were, underway. Revelation is phenomenological, and phenomenology is or can be equally philosophical and theological. For one, philosophy is ultimately and in the first place about God, and, therefore, it is theological and concerned with revelation if only in a negative manner, as present in absence. For two, theology is always already philosophical inasmuch as it often and perhaps always assumes or borrows categories and principles from outside of the domain of “pure” revelation (admittedly, an abstraction), since even the intelligibility of revelation happens in the world or by reference to the world, even if it is given as eclipsing the world—that is, even if the world’s absolute character is given as suspended in an anticipatory way through the eschatological disclosure of God (the fundamental inflection of Christian revelation that makes it unique).13 We can say, therefore, that phenomenology is unique in its fundamental mode of dwelling at the frontier of the supernatural and natural domains (if we want, for the moment, to continue to utilize an influential abstraction), as concerned with the primary intelligibility of divine revelation and of the world on its own terms, in the “natural” intelligibility that it evinces in itself (if we understand this “nature” in the appropriately paradoxical way in its divine groundless ground). Phenomenology is basic to theology and philosophy here since it is concerned with what comes first, the appearances which are first whether it is a matter of divine or worldly appearing.14

Therefore, phenomenology is appropriate to revelation, like everything else, inasmuch as revelation, like everything else, first concerns acts of appearing with the intelligibility appropriate to them, and, therefore, includes the universal context of world and self. Thus, as far as phenomenology is concerned, revelation is a kind or type of phenomenon. The phenomenon is a master-category of reason and, as such, implies the universality of the intelligibility that it investigates. To appear means to have a structure, to be shot through with intelligence. Appearing is a condition for knowing.

Revelation is, in other words, one phenomenon among others. At the same time, however, revelation has special status as a phenomenon, inasmuch as reason, intelligibility or logos is ultimately one, which is a character of logos that comes from revelation. In this case, revelation is the archetypal phenomenon—the absolute phenomenon—and it gives the paradigm phenomenality of all phenomena whatsoever because in giving God, it gives the more basic distinction—that distinction between God and the world)—that serves as the primordial condition for the distinctions that serve as the conditions within the horizon of the world. Revelation extends the horizon of the conceivable starting from itself, and it thereby offers the greatest challenge to reason itself, a challenge by which reason alone can adequately come to itself.15 Phenomenology, as the phenomenology of revelation, gives the primal intelligibility of all phenomena, of intelligibility as such, because revelation is the paradigm of intelligibility as such. This phenomenological definition of revelation is inscribed within the meaningful appearing of the phenomenon of revelation itself. It gives itself as absolute; it gives itself, in other words, as giving the world and the self to themselves in their non-contrastive distinction with God.

At the same time, phenomenology—the work of describing and explicating the phenomenon of revelation—is itself a response, itself requiring the phenomena themselves with which it is never coincident nor can it be. This non-coincidence of the things themselves and the response of description is not absolute; description of phenomena finds itself already playing a part in their appearing. The phenomenological reduction—even the “spontaneous reduction” given to us by the divine phenomenon—does not take us wholly outside of the world to give us a God’s-eye-view. Rather, it simply allows us to step to the side along the edge of the world and to observe ourselves as beings-in-the-world, all the while remaining ourselves in the world even if our being-in-the-world is manifest as trespassing the world—at least in anticipatory, symbolic modes by, for example, being-towards-God in liturgical or eschatological dwelling.16 And yet, precisely in this way, the appearing is always more than its partial manifestation in the description. If it is merely words, totally coincident with the description, the appearing is only a manifestation of the self of the phenomenologist, and this is the case all the more so when it is a matter of revelation: God gives and transcends his own revelation at one and the same time. By giving and transcending at once—by eclipsing the world in its totality, by showing himself master of it, free in relation to it and a priori to its logic, and, thereby, giving himself as its original condition—God is truly given as divine. The response to revelation is inscribed within it from the beginning.

This delay or interval between description and the phenomena in themselves tells us something essential about the human condition and about the divine “object” as revelation. It tells us something about the finitude of the human condition: at best, the human, in its quest for the divine manifestation, is always on the way to and always emerging from out of the phenomenon of revelation. It tells us something about the ever-greater character of God in revelation: God is always greater than, free from, and unconstrained by our phenomenological description of him, even if and especially because the revelation is true. This unconstrainedness of the manifestation—the elusive and ungraspable character of the God who appears and who appears as transcending his appearing—is itself a manifestation of his giving without reserve. God’s transcendence in his immanence, as his immanence—his elusiveness in, through, and even as his utter and limitless self-giving to the limited human grasp—is itself revelatory of what, or rather who and how, God is. This ever-greater character is inscribed within the phenomenon of revelation itself, and in manifesting itself, it manifests its peculiar contrast with the being in the world who responds to it.17

Phenomenology of Revelation

There are many ways to give such disciplined attention when it is a matter of Christian revelation, and it depends on what we first understand Christianity to be (a world religion, an Abrahamic faith, a wisdom tradition, the revealed religion, God’s last word, etc.), and it depends also on how we make our first approach to it as a phenomenon (whether as a set of speculative/practical doctrines, as a Trinitarian form of worship of the One God, a eucharistic practice; as the religion of incarnation, of “God with us,” of resurrection, of the overcoming of death, or as the eschatological disclosure of God’s judgment and salvation, etc.). None of these starting points are exclusive of one another, and we must say that the question of the relation of phenomenology to Christianity, of how best to practice disciplined attention to what shows itself forth in the Christian faith, can be legitimately raised in a number of ways. Beginning at any one point is only partial, a fragment of Christian phenomenality that, if it manifests the whole, nevertheless only does so in fragmentary form from a particular vantage point. The phenomenology of Christianity, therefore, aspires to be “symphonic” (to use a word dear to Hans Urs von Balthasar), and this can only remain a perpetual aspiration, a formal condition for us.18 But can we say more? Is there an intelligible or necessary relation among the various approaches? What is our criterion of judgment in order to discern what is better, more whole in its fragment than others? We must ask this question and attempt to answer it. The phenomenon, only accessed by faith, demands this of us.

Phenomenologically, we can only say that our criterion of judgment is, in the first place, a matter of fidelity to what appears in the way that it appears. Does phenomenological fidelity—one’s devotion to the appearing of God in its appearing—participate in the fides of religious faith itself? This seems to be the case inasmuch as the act of appearing of the God-phenomenon, of revelation, implicates the receiver of his appearing in his appearing, calling the receiver forth as one who responds and who is faithful to God, and grounding this faith. The phenomenology of Christianity is a matter, then, of what the Scriptures call “discipleship,” being schooled in the revelation of Jesus Christ and in his way of life, a sequela Christi understood in the phenomenological sense as training in the particular reduction that he proposes, determined by his singular relationship with the Father, the origin and end of all things. By following Christ we learn to see God in the way he gives to us to see God, and we see God as Father, as love, etc., through doing: through the lived experience of faith. Revelation, in this sense, comes to us through faith as a practice: as a way of practicing our humanity, of electing to comport ourselves in the world after Christ as sons of the Father. Revelation is given to us when we choose to see it, which we are free to do at least when this freedom is granted to us. This freedom is a formal aspect of revelation itself. To reverse a platitude, we would have to say in this context—at least insofar as faith understands itself—that “you must believe it in order to see it.”19 Faith conceives itself as a gift.

Yet this fidelity, as I have just implied by reference to its fragmentary character, is itself the recognition that it falls short of the phenomenon. Therefore, such attending to God demands conversion, on which it is predicated. When we practice conversion as a manner of living, then we actualize the revelation already given to us; we visibilize the invisible. Revelation becomes manifest in our response, as the human response of Jesus of Nazareth to the God of Israel manifests the relation of Son to the Father. But this practice has a strange aspect: it can never truly or definitively happen through us, the merely human. God can be loved in ever-greater ways, and he therefore ought to be loved in a way that ever-transcends our capacity to love him. The rule is furnished to us by Bernard of Clairvaux: “The measure of our love to God is to love immeasurably.”20 But in ever falling short, in assuming this necessary infidelity as a habit of fidelity, this fidelity gestures to and even manifests an essential truth mentioned above: God, in his freedom, is ever greater than any description, any logic, even any manifestation. Hence, our practice of attention only truly happens when it definitively does not. God again manifests himself precisely by transcending his manifestation; he gives himself over and beyond his appearing. In acknowledging this—better, assenting to it and living from it—we begin to grasp something of its truth.

But we ought to ask, how does God’s escape from the appearing? How does his essential invisibility that even the New Testament almost programmatically leaves intact (Jn. 1:18), leave us with any truth at all? We can at least conclude, to summarize what I have stated above, that God’s escape from the appearing is true and that this escape paradoxically allows the appearing itself to be true. The following Augustinian maxim is pertinent here: “If you have comprehended it, it is not God” (Sermon 117.3.5). Nevertheless, we would still have to ask how the appearing relates to the God who escapes it, for its truthfulness is precisely tied to this relation—i.e., in this relation remaining tied. Let me only say here that it is first a matter of the nature of God’s escape. Classically, in rational modes that are abstracted or abstract themselves from historical revelation, God escapes by transcending into silence at the apex of reason’s exhausted ascent and its final ecstatic leap into the darkness of the mystical abyss, which only lasts momentarily before the philosopher is catapulted back into the world-horizon. Here, however, with the phenonemenon of revelation, it seems he escapes reason by appearing below its threshold, by pressing into the flesh and illuminating its peculiar intelligibility, by a kenotic “self-emptying” (Phil 1:6-12) into the world that manifests all the more acutely the nature of God’s distinction from the world, a distinction which exceeds its contrasts. Here the maxim for the practice of our response comes from Tertullian: “[T]he flesh is the very condition on which salvation hinges…[I]t is the flesh which actually renders [the soul] capable of its service (De resurrectione carnis 8).21 But this is only an indication; it is best not to answer this question too quickly—that is, to believe that an answer to this question would have anything but the most cursory value, an answer that is itself not given “in the flesh,” as a practice, as a matter of free comportment to the proposal offered of the essence of our humanity and of the divinity of God in the figure of Jesus of Nazareth.

God is a problematic phenomenon. Demanding the whole commitment of ourselves, he ever eludes us. In giving himself wholly to us, he remains free of every demand the creature could place over him. In appearing, he remains invisible. In becoming flesh—in identifying himself completely with an ontic reality, localizable in history, submitted to every condition of worldly existence that defines our humanity including the consequences of sin, in rending the “veil of separation” between the world and God and even disclosing personally the Trinitarian depths of his being, in these ways trespassing egregiously the “ontological difference” in such a manner as to uphold it in a more primordial distinction22—he remains, or rather shows himself as “the Lord,” to use a biblical term. We could even say “Lord of Being,” to use Schelling’s expression.23 As Karl Barth unsurpassably put it in a famous absolute tautology, “God is God,” hence echoing in a third-person manner the first-person “I am who I am” of Ex. 3:14.24 Balthasar, in his characteristic way, expressed very well in the first aphorism of his 1953 The Grain of Wheat what is involved in this phenomenological practice of Christianity, this disciplined attention to the God who is God—an attention that is an attending, a lived attention:

God’s Face like a countenance beaming forth from the darkness: in order to see it we throw everything we possess into the fire—the world, our joys, our hopes. The flame leaps forth, consumes it all, and in its glow the beloved Face lights up. But the flame dies down, and we feed it with what little remains to us: honor, success, our will, the intellect, our temperament, and finally our very self: absume et suscipe—“take and receive.” This is not simple self giving but, increasingly the recognition that I am being taken, that I must surrender. Grace is everything: the moment of God’s appearing; grace also every sacrifice the fire snatches from me.25


1. Robert Sokolowski, The God of Faith and Reason (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1995),123.

2. Das Wesen des Christentums, 1900. English translation: What Is Christianity?, trans. Thomas Bailey Saunders (NY: Putnam and Sons, 1901).

3. Von Reimarus zu Rede, 1906. English translation: The Quest for the Historical Jesus, trans. W. Montgomery (NY: MacMillan, 1973).

4. See The Visible and Invisible, trans. Alfonso Lingis (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1968): Philosophical description “is a reflection which turns back over the density of the world in order to clarify it, but which, coming second, reflects back to it its own light” (35). For his famous comments on the perpetually unfinished character of the phenomenological reduction as its most important lesson (and as a lens of interpretation for Husserl’s works), see his preface to Phenomenology of Perception, xiv-xxi.

5. This phrase comes from Jean-Luc Marion, “On the Foundation of the Distinction Between Theology and Philosophy.” See note 15, below.

6. Husserl, Experience and Judgment, part 1.

7. I would like to set to the side the obvious and most radical critique of such phenomenology: Michel Henry’s phenomenology of self-affectivity, which appears “without world” in pure immanence, set over-against the world-horizon of “transcendence.” It may be the case after all that such experience of pure affectivity happens apart from and even grounds the world of transcendence, but we may ask whether it can come to experience as conscious for us apart from the world of exteriority. We always come too late to receive it in reflection as it is; the phenomenological description of it, for example, must partake of the world of transcendence, even if it continually points or even hands itself over to that from which it receives itself. Auto-affection is, for a phenomenology of Christianity that wants to remain in the world of historical experience as the horizon of the revelation of God in Christ, ambivalent to say the least. This ambivalence is the object of Henry’s last work, Words of Christ. We will have to return to this elsewhere.

8. In Ideas I, Husserl famously excludes “the transcendency of God” from the horizon of the world and, hence, from the horizon of phenomenological investigation. True enough, God does not present himself in the world, except as a trace arising from the world’s intelligible givenness that ceaselessly points beyond itself in its sheer gratuity to the question of God.

9. For this notion of the supernatural “interval” implicit within “natural” experience, see David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013), 96.

10. David Burrell expands this sense to Judaism and Islam. See his contribution to Sokolowski’s Festschrift, “The Christian Distinction Celebrated and Expanded,” The Truthful and the Good, ed. John Drummond and James Hart (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic, 1996). Burrell is probably correct here. The next step would be to show the particular, distinct and irreducible manners by which each of these traditions elaborates this distinction (and we could add at least major strains of Buddhism and Hinduism as well, if David Bentley Hart is to be believed. See, again, his The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss).

11. See Michel Henry, Incarnation: Une philosophie de la chair (Paris : Seuil, 2000), conclusion, esp. 361-5.

12. See Jean-Yves Lacoste, La phénoménalité de Dieu: Neuf études (Paris : Cerf, 2008), 9-11.

13. As Jean-Yves Lacoste has shown. See Experience and the Absolute: Disputed Questions on the Humanity of Man (NY: Fordham, 2004).

14. In fact, the phenomenological conception of revelation abolishes the distinction between philosophy and theology as we have come to know it since the High Middle Ages, which reifies a useful abstraction. At the same time, the phenomenon of revelation re-articulates the distinction, albeit no longer with a clear or final demarcation or boundary between them. In other words, it reveals their shared frontier. Revelation reveals that both philosophy and theology are concerned with what is given to be understood and with investigating the intelligibility of what presents itself as intelligible, but both pursue this intelligibility in distinctive ways. At the same time, again, both philosophy and theology acknowledge together that revelation grounds them both, the revelation, that is, of the distinction between God and the world that provides a formal unity. Both theology and philosophy exercise the same rationality—that is the reason for a working “material” distinction. Revelation, therefore, liberates the philosophical as such. Because there is no competition between God and the world, the world can and ought to be investigated on the terms of its own intrinsic intelligibility—an intelligibility, which, theology knows (and philosophy as well inasmuch as philosophy understands itself) surpasses itself into the divine. This means that philosophy does not have to take revelation into account unless philosophy itself becomes its own object of inquiry, precisely understood as the free, unconstrained inquiry in what is given to be thought. Only revelation gives philosophy its distinction from theology.

15. See Jean-Luc Marion, “On the Foundation of the Distinction Between Theology and Philosophy,” Religions and Transcendence, ed. Philippe Capelle-Dumont (Manila: Atelone University Press, 2010) 47-76.

16. Again, as Lacoste has shown.

17. Nevertheless, granted these essential human and philosophical limitations of the phenomenology of revelation—limitations that pertain to it as an essentially human science (demarcated by the horizon or the world, the material horizon of the flesh and the temporal flux of the horizon of consciousness), that it shares, even as first philosophy, with every other philosophy and mode of reflective inquiry, every other regional science, concerned with this or that that comes after the appearances considered in themselves, presupposing them and taking them in an un-interrogated manner—phenomenology nevertheless comes before and grounds these other sciences (Wissenschaften = kinds of knowledge).In relation to theology, for example: phenomenology precedes it. That is to say, phenomenology as theological, as concerned with revelation, precedes theology, whether in the speculative (considering God ‘in himself’ and the emergence of the world vis-à-vis God’s freedom), practical (considering the return of the world to God in freedom) or speculative-practical senses (considering the sacramental passage of return that liberates creaturely freedom in its return to God). Keeping with the Thomist conception of theology, adumbrated here, phenomenology would be the key of intelligible access to the principles of sacred doctrine that correspond, under the conditions of history, to the self-knowledge of God, investigated by studying the data of revelation itself in Scripture.

18. Truth is Symphonic (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987).

19. See Pascal, Pensées, #233 and Jean-Luc Marion, Le croire pour le voir, 2010.

20. On Loving God, chs. I and VI.

21. “The truth is that the flesh is the very condition on which salvation hinges. And since the soul is, in consequence of its salvation, chosen in the service of God, it is the flesh which actually renders it capable of such service.” Patrologia Latina 2, 852.

22. See Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord, vol. 5, 613-56.

23. See also Robert Sokolowski, The God of Faith and Reason, 123: [In the life of Jesus] [t]he world is questioned and brought to light in contrast to the God who can remain God while becoming man, and whose divinity and action are made manifest not only in a teaching but in the crucifixion and resurrection. The sense of God that comes forward for us in these events is that of the God who could become part of the world, as man, without disrupting the integrity of the world and of nature; he must therefore not be one of the kinds of being in the world. And when we reflect on this further, we see that he could not be a God who requires anything in the world to be himself or to be in any way better or greater. … The Christian distinction between God and the world is most vividly asserted in the actions and events that present it, not primarily in the words that make it known.”

24. This tautology is the starting point for his early thought. See both editions of the Römerbrief, 1919 and 1922. See also Eberhard Busch’s article “God is God: The Meaning of a Controversial Formula and the Fundamental Problem of Speaking about God,” The Princeton Seminary Bulletin 7.2 (1986).

25. The Grain of Wheat, trans. Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995), 1 [translation modified].


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