Givenness and Revelation

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Jean-Luc Marion
Translator(s): 
Stephen E. Lewis
  • Oxford, UK: 
    Oxford University Press
    , May
     2016.
     224 pages.
     $40.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9780198757733.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Givenness and Revelation is Jean-Luc Marion’s entry in the famous lecture series established in 1885 by Lord Gifford, translated for delivery in English by Stephen E. Lewis. Much of Marion’s 2014 Gifford Lectures are concerned with themes previously established in his works: a phenomenology of givenness, the notion of the saturated phenomenon, the inadmissibility of a theology based on metaphysics, charity as a fundamental condition for perception, and the exploration of Christian revelation with philosophical tools rigorously based in the texts of Husserl and Heidegger. Yet, alongside these familiar themes and building off them, there are some electrifying surprises—two of which are especially worthy of note.

In his earlier book, Being Given (2002, §24), Marion concerns himself with extending the perceptive field phenomenology is able to incorporate, both developing the concept of the saturated phenomenon and showing how the phenomenon of Jesus Christ can be understood as the absolute saturated phenomenon, encompassing in his appearing all the various aspects of intentional saturation. In Givenness and Revelation, we see such an extension reverberate backwards to the origins of phenomenology. Presumably the program of phenomenology is designed to attend to that which gives itself insofar as it shows itself. But “what phenomenon,” Marion asks, “has ever, without remainder and without reserve, respected the phenomenological program?” (76-77).

The answer, Marion holds, is to be found in the phenomenon of Jesus Christ: “This phenomenon shows itself absolutely because he, and he alone, gives himself absolutely” (77). All other phenomena show themselves and thus give themselves to some degree or other; only Christ shows and gives absolutely, and thus demonstrates the most basic character of what showing and giving are. All other perceptive experiences are only approximations to this one supreme instance of intentional saturation; the given character of all phenomena is revealed through this one phenomenon that is absolute in its givenness. Christ is thereby “the phenomenon of all phenomena” (77). The Christ-phenomenon shows us what all phenomena, to some (lesser) degree, are.

Such a claim for the Christ-phenomenon is crucial for understanding how exactly what Marion offers are in fact Gifford Lectures. Unlike recent lecturers such as Stanley Hauerwas, Sarah Coakley, and Rowan Williams, Marion has no interest in recounting the history of the Gifford Lectures. In fact, he swiftly dismisses traditional natural theology as wedded to an outdated metaphysical picture of the world (see especially his compelling demolition of Francisco Suárez, 20-25). Yet Marion does ask the following question: “What coherence can hold in continuity what we know without revelation and what we know with revelation, if this revealed indeed comes, as by definition it must claim to do, from elsewhere?” (3). His answer to the question is precisely the Christ-phenomenon, in that it is through an approach that is rigorously phenomenological that one discovers Christ as the absolute saturated phenomenon. In this way, a philosophical (if one can still use that word) approach is put to work in the investigation of theological issues—a trajectory that, if not exactly in line with Lord Gifford’s program, at least echoes it in some way.

One might think such an outcome audacious enough, but Marion continues to surprise his readers. The final chapter of the work contains Marion’s most extended meditation on the Trinity, yet he does not—as in God Without Being—depart from phenomenology to embark on a separate theological course. Instead, he attempts to show with phenomenological methods how the Trinity manifests itself in the Christ-phenomenon. There are several striking moments in this bravura performance, only a few of which can be mentioned here. (a) Marion posits that a seeing of the Christ-phenomenon—a seeing of Christ as the Christ—only happens if that phenomenon is placed within a logic of trinitarian manifestation. W(b) Within that logic, the Father is given a key role: we are called to see the Son as the Father sees the Son, called to take the Father’s point-of-view upon the Son. (c) Yet the question remains: how do we take the Father’s point-of-view? Marion’s answer is the Holy Spirit. More specifically, the Spirit is the one who accomplishes anamorphosis in us. This last theme is the most viscerally satisfying one Marion offers in the book: like the Holbein painting where a skull—at first unapparent—only jumps out at you if you put yourself in the right position, Christ only appears as God if the Spirit directs one to take the proper point of view. All of a sudden, under the direction of the Spirit, divinity leaps out at the viewer of the Christ-phenomenon: “the face of Christ” is “at last apprehended as Son, and thus as the manifestation of the Father” (109).

After a reading of Marion’s Gifford Lectures, these two aspects of Givenness and Revelation linger as major accomplishments: the placing of Christ as the key to a general phenomenology of givenness, and the use of phenomenology to explore how the Trinity manifests itself. Certainly readers who are suspicious of Marion’s supposedly illegitimate smuggling of theological beliefs into phenomenology will remain suspicious, but the compelling nature of a series of thoughts at once so grounded in a rigorous phenomenological tradition and so daring in its approach to the Absolute can hardly be denied. The force of Marion’s thought is interesting enough to make one want to lay aside the formal strictures of a purportedly pure phenomenology. Following a suggestion of Jean-Yves Lacoste, one can acknowledge that this—namely, the thrilling nature of the thought that here unfolds itself—is perhaps the best argument Marion has against his opponents.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Thomas J. Millay is a PhD student in Theology at Baylor University.

Date of Review: 
August 24, 2016
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Jean-Luc Marion is Andrew Thomas Greeley and Grace McNichols Greeley Professor of Catholic Studies and Professor of the Philosophy of Religions and Theology at the University of Chicago.

Stephen E. Lewis is professor and chair of the English Department at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. He has translated several works by Jean-Luc Marion.

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