Jean-Yves Lacoste draws an analogy in several of his works–including both Note sur le temps and Experience and the Absolute–between Heideggerian “care” and Augustinian “restlessness.” The analogy identifies a similarity located within a greater dissimilarity. On the one hand, both care and restlessness express the unavoidable unease that comes with living in a temporal world of transience and death (the similarity). On the other hand, Heidegger’s concept of care presupposes that the meaning of being which is manifest in the structures of human experience is definitive, whereas Augustine’s account of restlessness aims at an ultimate horizon of divine freedom which subverts the hold of any supposedely manifest finality in the here-and-now (the greater dissimilarity).
This analogy might help to explain the attraction which Christian thinkers have had to Heidegger’s philosophy and other similarly rich descriptions of human-being-in-the-world which have emerged from the phenomenological tradition. For there is a common concern to acquire a more nuanced understanding of what might loosely be called the “human condition.” And yet, the analogy also demonstrates why these dialogues, these relationships, will always be strained. Ultimately, the relation between theology and phenomenology is more dissimilar than it is similar. The address to God, the hope in God, the existence lived before God–these primary theological practices have their final significance in things not-yet seen, in realities beyond manifestation, in a future without the apparent definitiveness of death. Theology’s concern are just different.
I realize that this point may be obvious to some, perhaps to most. But it is something which occurred to me with a sense of refreshing newness today.
The difference between Jean-Louis Chretien and Jean-Yves Lacoste comes out in one way by looking at their distinct readings of Heidegger. See my earlier post: https://memoriadei.wordpress.com/2010/02/06/ways-to-be-theologically-heideggerian-french-edition/. But one could also contrast them by noting their differing interpretations of John of the Cross.
Lacoste takes John’s dark night as inspiration for his own account of the nocturnal character of liturgy. When we pray, and place ourselves coram Deo, we do not thereby acquire automatic access to a luminous experience of the absolute, as though God were manifest in the light of day. Rather, the act of prayer positions us in a mode of patient vigil, characterized by an as yet unverified anticipation of the parousia which is always eschatologically deferred. For Lacoste, then, John becomes a figure of ascesis or distance with respect to the affect, the senses, and experience in general.
By contrast, Chretien draws primarily on John’s spiritual canticle in an effort to show that the modes by which the call of God reaches us incorporates all the senses, including even the most basic sense of feeling which is coextensive with the body. In John’s canticle, the height of mystic encounter involves a moment in which God and the creature “touch,” and Chretien takes this choice of language quite seriously. The tacticle blends together with the visual and the auditory in a synesthetic apprehension of the divine summons. One receives God’s vocation with the ears, the eyes, and the very delicacy of bodily encounter. Thus, Chretien’s appropriation of John would appear to be more mystical, or perhaps one should say communicative, than it is ascetical.
I suspect that John would discourage us from pretending to choose between the two. The question becomes: how to think them together?
1. Jean-Luc Marion. The general strategy is to move from being to givenness. First, construe Heidegger primarily as a thinker of being–more precisely, of the ontological difference as it has been concealed in the onto-theo-logical constitution of metaphysics. Second, accept this analysis but argue that it does not apply to crucial figures in the theological tradition (Dionysius, Bonaventure, Aquinas, et al). Third, posit a more extensive horizon of givenness (phenomenologically) or grace (theologically), which exposes the conceptually idolatrous limits of Heideggerian thought and makes way for the icon.
2. Jean-Yves Lacoste. Basic approach: subvert world and earth with liturgy and the eschaton. First, characterize Heidegger in terms of a dialectical tension between two horizons of experience: world (structured by the anxiety of being-toward-death) and earth (structured by dwelling natively in the Fourfold of gods, mortals, earth, and sky). Second, define liturgy (or being-before-God) as an alternative mode of experience which symbolically subverts the play of world and earth while factically retaining them. Third, present liturgy as a form of eschatological anticipation which abolishes Heidegger’s equation of the definitive with the initial/originary.
3. Jean-Louis Chretien. In short: take Heidegger’s ideas of language as response to the call of being, as the house of being, and as poetic, and transpose them into a prayerful key. First, make explicit the religious traditions (Hebrew, Greek, patristic, and medieval) undergirding Heidegger’s theme of the call: it is not just being but God who resounds in language, which is always already a response. Second, replace the image of a house with that of an ark: the home which speech gives to creatures is a vessel in transit toward God. Finally, think of hymn as the telos of poetry: the point is not just to disclose being in its truth but to sing the whole of creation to the glory of God.
4. Louis-Marie Chauvet. Identify a homologous relationship between Heidegger’s philosophy and Christian sacramental theology, in which the attitude is similar but the object is different. First, use Heidegger to define metaphysics as a problem affecting humans in general–a problem in which one attempts to grasp presence objectively without acknowledging its inevitable historical, cultural, textual, and bodily arrival, and the absence which this implies. (It may help to relate Heidegger’s account of metaphysics to a psychoanalytic theory in which the desire for presence without absence is expressed in terms of a neurotic attachment to the Thing and a refusal to mourn the loss of immanence.) Second, argue that Christian theology addresses the problem of metaphysics by attending to the fundamental sacramentality of the faith (i.e., its ritual mediation, which is historical, cultural, etc.). Finally, clarify that the presence/absence which the sacraments mediate is not only of being but of God through Christ in the Holy Spirit, and received by the celebrating church.