22 December 2005

schindler on marion

Earlier, in the autumn, I attended a philosophy conference at Notre Dame where I was commenting on a paper. Among the other sessions I attended was a satellite session sponsored by the International Institute for Hermeneutics on the thought of Hans Urs von Balthasar.

While all the papers presented were strimulating and helpful, I thought that David C. Schindler of Villanova University presented an especially lucid Balthasarian critique of Marion's critique of onto-theology, a paper that was especially interesting in light of other papers that linked Marion and von Balthasar more closely. Of course, one can distinguish between Marion's earlier work (e.g., God without Being) from the more Balthasar-friendly directions in which he later headed.

Schindler began with Heidegger's famous argument that the project of metaphysics generates an onto-theology, that is, a way of doing philosophy that subjects God to human reason, making the God of reason into a mere idol. Thus Heidegger, on one reading, embraces the finitude and limits of reason in order to allow room for the demands of faith.

But Heidegger's approach here is not without problems. First, Schindler noted, a vigilant godlessness of human reason and thought presupposes the neutrality of reason, that reason is not intrinsically ordered towards God. But such a supposition is hardly neutral.

Second, as Marion notes, reason imposes its own conditions of possibility to faith, thereby confining God to a space outside of reason. "Being" ends up being defined prior to an independent of God and thus (of course) God can only appear as a being.

Third, Marion therefore suggests that God must be conceived without being or beyond being and as non-phenomenal. God is impossible (in terms of the conditions of possibility that reason imposes), both in terms of what God is in himself and how God is known to us. If that is so, however, any purported knowledge of God leaves us with either an idol (a God who is a phenomenon of experience) or an unknown X.

A rejection of onto-theology, therefore, in which reason and metaphysics is excluded from any approach to God, is at least as problematic as any onto-theological idol that poses as God.

Schindler identified two presuppositions that underlie the approach of (the earlier) Marion here. First, Marion assumes that "Being" is only defined "from below." Second, he assumes that human reason is inherently immanentizing. Neither of these assumptions, however, is necessarily justified.

The thought of Hans Urs von Balthasar, Schindler suggested, offers a different approach to the question of Being and of human reason that outwits both of Marion's assumptions. For von Balthasar, Christians are to be the guardians of metaphysics and philosophy poses no obstacle to faith since, otherwise, faith would always remains irrational and arbitrary. Instead, the glory of God elevates and intensifies the glory of Being and of the human reason by which Being is known.

Thus, there are three primary areas of difference between Marion and von Balthasar, according to Schindler:

First, with regard to Being, von Balthasar emphasizes a divine transcendence in which God is not merely beyond Being, but also insists that self-transcendence (ekstasis) is proper to Being. In von Balthasar's understanding of the analogia entis, therefore, Being is determined from above rather than below.

Second, with regard to human reason, von Balthasar posits reason as also ecstatic, having a dramatic character that responds to a call from outside and beyond reason itself.

Third, with regard to theology, von Balthasar places it prior to metaphysics, but witout supplanting a properly theological metaphsics.

That's all too brief a sketch of Schindler's paper (which I hope will make it into a journal at some point), but for those familiar with both Marion and von Balthasar should suffice to evoke the trajectory of his argument.