Academic journal article Philosophy Today

The Passion of Grace: Love, Beauty, and the Theological Re-Turn

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

The Passion of Grace: Love, Beauty, and the Theological Re-Turn

Article excerpt

The mutual influence of philosophy and theology can be traced through the history of Western Philosophy b ack to Aquinas and (with a certain anachronism) further back than that. If we can speak of a "theological turn" in phenomenology, then we would need to place those thinkers involved within a complex and fecund history. This paper cannot accomplish such a task, but rather seeks to show how the problematic of grace finds philosophical articulation in both Modern and Contemporary philosophy through the concerns with autonomy, the foundations of morality, and the aesthetics of nature. The concerns are both historical and thematic: that a certain turn in theology framed the context of a philosophical understanding of the self in and towards nature and how this understanding can be challenged by a rethinking of passion, love and beauty. The question of grace is philosophically important for reasons which are related to, and yet distinct from, the theological. The articulation of grace occurs in response to the reality of human desire, which seems to outstrip both human need and capacity. Understood erotically such desire functions to fulfil a lack which is itself contingent on the situation (epistemically, socially or historically understood) of the desiring self; agapeically understood desire responds to an excess in the world, rooted in a perception of the world in terms of givenness, as something gratuitous, as grace. These two possibilities develop into Pelagianism and Augustinianism, an asceticism of knowledge based on the capacity to know and the endeavour to be, on the one hand, and the trust in an other traced in the manifest, where all asceticism and exercises in virtue experience their own finitude in the realisation that (in Augustine's words) non posse non peccare (it is not possible not to sin).

This paper is in two parts and a short conclusion. The first part shows that the present "theological turn" (see Janicaud 2000: 3-103) is itself a theological re-turn, "return" not so much (but in part) in the sense of going back, but much more in the sense of turning again, repeating but in a different key. Many of the key philosophers associated with this turn-especially Marion, Chrétien, and Lacoste-were influenced by a theological revolution, that of the Nouvelle Théologie in French and German Roman Catholic theology leading up to Vatican II (see Mettepenningen 2010), which itself involved a rethinking of the key movements of theological thought in the late Medieval period. Focusing on the concept of "pure nature" this section shows the manner in which theological reflection foreshadowed modern philosophy. The second section takes up this theme more thematically and in particular shows that while the modern self emerging from these theological discourses was deeply implicated in Stoic apatheia, the self which emerges from a phenomenological rethinking of the place of love and beauty in the worldiness of being and appearance is one which is fundamentally passionate. At play here is a shift in the notion of will from that of sovereign indifference to a desiring will structured by the trajectories of love and hate.

I

If philosophy is the desire to fulfil thinking which defines us, and theology is a discourse on God who always surpasses us, then the human being is it would seem double, has two natures or one nature and a gifted super-natural destiny. These respective destinies, one natural, one supernatural, give anthropological legitimacy to the division of philosophy and theology, but do so through marking the self with fundamental divisions and dualisms: autonomous/heteronomous, religious/secular, master/servant, intellect/passion.

The dualisms which mark modernity are all prefigured by that of grace and nature, which in different ways Augustine and Aquinas understood as entwined in one another. When that dualism is complete, so too is the disjunction of philosophy and theology. Only a world without grace, a world of nature unmixed with grace, can be a world in which theology and philosophy speak in different voices, speak distinct discourses. …

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