Early in his career (Idol and Distance 1977), Marion speaks of distance as a positively determined (but not predicated) divine excess through and toward which we traverse, but which we never abolish, in our prayer and praise. God is ever greater as given but more fundamentally as not given. The difference between traversing and abolishing distance is precisely the gap between the given and the not given. It is a gap which is denied by predication but respected by prayer/praise. This is what Marion learns from the mystical theology of Dionysius the Areopagite, but also from Nietzsche, Hoelderlin, Balthasar, and certain passages of Christian scripture.
Later in his career (e.g., In Excess 2001), Marion shifts focus toward the eidetic possibility of revelation conceived as the “saturated phenomenon par excellence.” Again, the Dionysian tradition is recalled, but this time divine excess is thought as saturation: i.e., the surplus of intuition over intentionality. This is a complete inversion of the Kantian (but also Husserlian) understanding of transcendence, according to which intentionality exceeds intuition, the latter being impoverished. In saturation, it is not that givenness falls short of our ability to grasp it; it is that givenness wildly oustrips our ability to grasp it. But what warrants our attention for the moment is this: that which makes God ever greater in this revised phenomenological rubric remains, perplexingly, a kind of immanence: immanence, not in the sphere of intentionality, but in the sphere of givenness (for consciousness), which entails possibility, not actuality. According to Marion, we can say with phenomenological certainty that already within what is given there is given the essential possibility of much more intuition of God than we are able to organize, interpret, or understand.
Question: having noted the difference and similarity between the two, should one conclude that saturation (because its theorization comes later) supercedes distance? No.
The emphasis has to be placed on distance, though not to the exclusion of saturation. The earlier formulation must be prioritized. Why? Because the claim that God is ever greater cannot be translated adequately by a theory of immanence or givenness, however expansive and inverted. If one thinks divine excess in terms of saturation alone, this suggests a never realizable potential for full understanding already within our consciousness. It suggests that God is (qua eidetic possibility) already totally given. It seems necessary to maintain, on the contrary, that however much the givenness of God already exceeds our ability to grasp it, that which is not given of God exceeds it all the more. In short, the excess of distance exceeds (but does not render meaningless) the excess of saturation.
Phenomenology perhaps cannot think this thought. For this one perhaps needs prayer/praise, which, moreover, makes no pretense of bracketing the actuality of God.
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.
One of my consistent frustrations with secondary sources on medieval thinkers is how extraordinarily pietistic most of them are, and I’ve discovered recently that this is especially true of Bonaventure. There is a positive side to this phenomenon: it’s an expression of the enormous contextual difference between medieval and modern theology. With Bonaventure this contextual difference is exacerbated, since he’s obviously sympathetic with older monastic ways of thinking, and over the course of his career—especially after he leaves the University of Paris to become Minister General of the Franciscans—increasingly interested in Francis’s contemplative life. It makes sense that the spiritual orientation of medieval theology is one of the things that jumps out at people first in reading it, and that it would be one of the key aspects of that age that people might want to revive.
But it obscures so much! I don’t want to deny the importance of that orientation for a proper understanding of what they’re doing—that would actually be impossible for Bonaventure, who makes it part of his definition of theology as a “sapiential science.” What I want to deny is that everything that was written in that period is best understood as an extension of the medievals’ “spiritual theology.” Most treatments of Bonaventure’s commitment to voluntary poverty, for example, explicitly lay aside philosophical or political-economic considerations to get to the real, spiritual poverty that Bonaventure’s concerned with. And this despite the fact that Bonaventure’s commitment to voluntary poverty actually does have substantive philosophical ramifications (more than that through this semester), which is massively interesting.
One genuinely philosophical treatment of Bonaventure I’m looking forward to getting around to is a book called Saint Bonaventure et l’entrée de Dieu en théologie by Emmanuel Falque (1, 2). In its earlier draft, this was the dissertation he wrote under J.-L. Marion, taking Heidegger up on a little research program he noted in his dissertation on Scotus to read the medievals as phenomenologists. He’s since continued the project through phenomenological analyses of birth and resurrection, finitude, suffering, etc., all in close conversation with the patristics and the medievals. From what I remember from a lecture he gave at Notre Dame a few years ago, he could make an interesting addition to Andrew’s list in his own right, and I have high hopes that he’ll make a useful model for constructive philosophical engagement with these thinkers.
Posted by Brian Hamilton
I recently read through Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises. I did so much too quickly: I spent a few hours rather than the prescribed four weeks. And yet, I find them nevertheless very enriching. I especially like Ignatius’ idea that we should meditate very concretely on particular scenes in scripture. Try to picture the place, think about who is there. Apply each of the senses: try to hear the sounds, smell the air, feel the ground beneath one’s feet, see the people and the scenery.
This technique, which appears in different ways in each of the exercises, seems to have had a profound impact on many theologians. I wonder if Rahner’s insistence on Aquinas’ doctrine of “conversion to the phantasm” in Spirit in the World has something to do with his practice of this sensory form of Ignatian meditation. Likewise, Balthasar’s project of rewriting theology from the point of view of aesthetics may very well be inspired by the aesthetic quality of this form of Ignatian prayer. Ellacuria’s turn to the concrete reality of the historical Jesus, which is followed and developed by Sobrino, also points to the depth of their Jesuit training in this sensory method.
As influential as it has been in theology, it strikes me that this spiritual exercise is not totally unlike the form of phenomenological reflection developed by Husserl (only to be expanded and revised by Heidegger and others). In both cases, the method is to take sensory intuition and to vary it imaginatively, in order to sense and understand it from every angle. Just as in Ignatian prayer, so too in phenomenology, one distinguishes profiles of experience in order to appreciate more clearly the ways in which they compose one whole. The difference, in short, is that for Ignatius and the theologians who follow him, Christ is the phenomenon par excellence.
Perhaps Jean-Louis Chretien, in his synaesthetic approach to phenomenology and theology, in works such as The Call and Response, has been the one most perceptive of this continuity between spiritual and philosophical practice.