“What hath Athens to do with Jerusalem?” What is the relationship between faith and reason? Is such a thing as a “Christian Philosophy” necessary? or even possible? Tertullian’s query hangs like a specter over the entire history of Christian thought. What was once a question intended to safeguard the sacredness of divine revelation has become, in its modern guise, a plea for the autonomy of reason over-and-against the tyranny of religious dogma. Philosophy (so goes the modernist rhetoric), in order for it to be trulyphilosophy, must be free to go about its task without the intrusion of irrational (or even suprarational) claims of faith.
Henri de Lubac, one of the most influential Catholic theologians of the 20th century (and my research obsession for at least the next three years), devotes himself to this dilemma in the first of his published works; a rather unassuming essay entitled “On Christian Philosophy.” De Lubac begins his essay with a reflection on the French philosopher Émile Bréhier. In his History of Philosophy, Bréhier makes the audacious claim that “the advent of Christianity had exercised hardly any influence on the development of philosophical thought” (479). According to Bréhier, any attempt by Christianity to annex philosophy for itself is ultimately in vain, for there is a fundamental incompatibility between Christianity and Philosophy. For Bréhier, “Christianity is essentially the mysterious history of the relationship of God with man, a mysterious history which can only be revealed, while philosophy has rationalism for its life-blood, that is to say, a clear and distinct consciousness of the reason that is in things and in the universe” (479). As we might assume, Bréhier’s comment evoked a number of serious Christian responses, among which de Lubac mentions those offered by Jacques Maritain, Étienne Gilson, and Maurice Blondel.
According to Maritain, Christian faith provides certain certitudes that ultimately assist in pointing human rationality towards its proper end. For Maritain, “this is a precious advantage, an assurance against following false leads, but it does not deprive the pure rationality of any of its philosophical steps” (480). For Gilson, philosophy is deeply indebted to Christianity for a number of fundamental notions (such as the ideas of creation and persons), as well as for transforming certain elements of ancient philosophy in such a way as to make them acceptable to the contemporary philosopher. Finally, according to de Lubac, “Blondel puts the problem back on its properly doctrinal plane” by insisting that “the position taken by Bréhier was dictated to him by an ‘irrationally rationalist’ bias, whereas, ‘in spite of the ancient effort to close the circle on the heavens and on souls, the movement of nature and the spirit tends to infinity’” (481)
What does De Lubac make of these assertions? Well, according to de Lubac, only Blondel ultimately succeeds in establishing “a truly intrinsic relationship between rational speculation and supernatural revelation, without, for all that, opening to philosophy the mysterious content of this revelation” (482-3). Thus, rather than speaking of the contribution of Christianity to philosophy in strictly historical terms, de Lubac (following in the footsteps of Blondel) insists that one can and must speak of Christian philosophy in a truly metaphysical sense. This leads de Lubac to the rather radical assertion that “Only a Christian philosophy can be truly, wholly philosophy” (487). By this, de Lubac does not mean that philosophy, left to its own devices, could somehow stumble upon the truths of Revelation or their rational equivalent. De Lubac is certainly no Hegelian! Rather, what de Lubac is affirming is precisely the opposite, namely that “philosophy, unable to give the total response to the problem of man and yet unable to disinterest itself in this response, cannot find its place of completion and rest—a rest always active—except in revelation, which is nothing other, in fact, than Christian revelation. This is to say that philosophy, by its own movement and without exterior prompting, tends toward revelation” (487). Philosophy, claims de Lubac, is by its very essence Christian, insofar as it is intrinsically open to revelation. “Philosophy then, in this new sense, will not at all be Christian by its own fulness. It will become so, on the contrary, by being aware of its radical insufficiency” (Ibid).
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We shall return in our next post with a brief examination of Henri de Lubac’s understanding of “Christian philosophy.” In the meantime, what do you make of de Lubac and Blondel’s attempt to relate faith and reason?