The Challenge of God
Continental Philosophy and the Catholic Intellectual Tradition
- ISBN: 9780567689900
- Published By: Bloomsbury Academic
- Published: January 2020
For those approaching this intersection of topics for the first time in The Challenge of God: Continental Philosophy and the Catholic Intellectual Tradition, edited by Colby Dickinson, Hugh Miller, and Kathleen McNutt, continental philosophy of religion and the Catholic intellectual tradition share more similarities than may be apparent at first glance. Notably, considerable skepticism persists in philosophical circles regarding what, exactly, these thinkers are attempting to do (i.e., Is it philosophy? Or is it theology?).
Well, it is both; however, within philosophical conversations, debates focus their suspicions on religious phenomena, that such phenomena are out of scope or beyond what Edmund Husserl or Martin Heidegger envisioned for phenomenology proper (consider Dominique Janicaud’s Phenomenology and the Theological Turn (Fordham University Press, 1991) as a noteworthy example). Yet, as Bruce Ellis Benson astutely observes in his splendid introduction to this volume, “It’s hard to see why focusing on religious phenomena—or even using religious phenomena . . . as guiding principles—is somehow bad or unscholarly” (13). While several conferences and their resulting collections of essays have explored the important border between continental philosophy and theology, none previously sought to use the Catholic intellectual tradition as a guiding theme for reflection.
The editors of The Challenge of God saw that, due to the lack of attention paid to “this major lacuna in scholarship” (ix), it would be worthwhile to convene such a conference at Loyola University of Chicago in April 2016. Indeed, this collection opens an important space for reflection by addressing longstanding concerns of continental philosophy of religion under the guiding framework of the Catholic intellectual tradition. This collection includes the revised and, in most cases, expanded plenary presentations (recordings are available on Loyola’s Hank Center for the Catholic Intellectual Heritage YouTube channel). These papers offer an accurate representation of the various directions continental philosophy of religion has taken over at least the last two decades, and each thinker (Adriaan T. Peperzak, Jean-Luc Marion, Robyn Horner, John D. Caputo, Thomas J.J. Altizer, and Richard Kearney) provides a different vantage point and entry into exploration of the topic.
As Benson further explains, each of the papers included addresses “the challenge of God” in different ways, but they are all “driven by their desire to escape from metaphysics and to rethink God from the perspective of practice” (17). Overall, the essays succeed in this, and the volume is further enhanced by the adept responses to each of the featured contributors, which in combination do well in contextualizing a particular essay’s place in continental philosophy of religion through reflection rooted in the Catholic intellectual tradition. Though much could be said about each of the essays and their corresponding responses, this review will focus on how those who are interested in the Catholic intellectual tradition may want to begin if approaching continental philosophy of religion for the first time.
Horner’s essay on Saint Ignatius of Loyola takes seriously the importance of prayer as both an opportunity and space between revelation and experience. By using Marion’s concept of the saturated phenomenon and Lacoste’s position that the knowability of God only occurs through affection as her springboard, Horner positions Marion and Lacoste as offering ways “to a thinking of revelation [that] allow that God gives Godself to be felt in experience” (77). After outlining these as significant aspects for her thinking, she turns to the sections on election and the “Rules for the Discernment of Spirits” from Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises (Loyola University Press, 1968) to show that these passages can be reframed and further examined by way of contemporary continental philosophy. Although the respondent, J. Michelle Molina, observes that “a focus on the ordinary prayer that subtended the Spiritual Exercises would better support Horner’s stated desire to have more open dialogue” (96), the attempt nonetheless shows something significant: to engage a modern spiritual classic such as the Spiritual Exercises through the lens of continental philosophy of religion reveals a possibility for both ordinary and extraordinary encounter with God. Further, it points to uncultivated opportunities latent in the Catholic intellectual tradition by way of continental philosophy of religion.
Kearney’s investigation invites the reader to consider how “certain expressions of artistic imagination offer ways of responding to the call of creation which precedes and exceeds the abstract systems of philosophy and theology” (144). Linking interests evolving out of continental philosophy of religion but intimately tied to the Catholic intellectual tradition, Kearney begins by building on his work in The Wake of Imagination (Routledge, 1988), both suggesting the “mutual recreation between human and divine . . . creatures co-creating with their Creator” (145) and invoking the notion of time viewed kairologically (lived and experienced) rather than chronologically (measured and counted). By doing so, Kearney initiates a framework to investigate spiritual artwork (i.e., iconography) as a possible avenue of encounter with the divine. His notion of anatheism (a returning to belief, between theism and atheism, in God) is briefly sketched (see his book Anatheism: Returning to God After God (Columbia University Press, 2010)); and, though not doing the many complexities justice here, in one of the clearest formulations, he asserts that “anatheistic faith is a retrieval of something after you have lost it. It involves the repeating of the former as latter, of the earlier as later” (153).
By concluding with an investigation of Andrei Rublev’s Trinity as an example of theopoetic art, Kearney suggests that it “reveals the mystery of creation in a manner which goes deeper and wider than any treatise of theoretical theology” (160). Although Kearney does not draw a distinction between religious art and iconography in the category of theopoetic art, by teasing out the unsaid and the unwritten expressed in Rublev’s Trinity, he contends that it is an “open gateway to interreligious hospitality” (160).
While these and the other essays included are starting points for serious engagement between continental philosophy of religion and the Catholic intellectual tradition, what is the direction of continental philosophy of religion moving forward? Benson suggests that one possible way would be for those actively working through issues in continental philosophy of religion to engage with philosophers working in analytic philosophy of religion. Both groups being “willing to read beyond the narrow confines of [their] respective silos” (21) is a laudable goal; but perhaps a more fruitful path would be to continue the exploration begun through the essays and responses in The Challenge of God. As the collection suggests, investigations through the lens of the Catholic intellectual tradition quite conceivably offer the greatest hope for both renewed intellectual curiosity and spiritual encounter.
Joseph D. Strubeck is a part-time instructor of philosophy at King’s College in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania.Joseph D. StrubeckDate Of Review:December 22, 2021