Philosophy between Faith and Theology: Addresses to Catholic Intellectuals. By Adriaan Theodoor Peperzak


Pp. xiv, 216 , University of Notre Dame Press , 2005 , $22.00 .

This book is a collection of revised papers, discussions, and addresses. It is divided into two parts, the first of which covers five chapters under the title ‘Christian Faith and Scholarship.’ To the question ‘How can philosophy be Christian?’ Peperzak answers that Augustine and Anselm philosophized in a spirit of prayer. Under the question ‘How can faith be philosophical?’ he proposes that philosophy give some attention to activities such as speaking, communicating, giving, loving, suffering.

Peperzak recalls that pagan philosophy was turned into contemplative spirituality in such figures as Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine, Maximus the Confessor, Dionysius, Anselm, Bonaventure, Thomas, Scotus, Eckhart, Cusanus. He puts genealogies offered by modern and postmodern thinkers into question by suggesting a Christian genealogy. For example, Peperzak says that rather than adopting modernity's view that ethics is the ‘highest criterion of human dignity’ (the denial of God's grace), Christianity has always taught that ethics has as its decisive element charity, the gift of participation in trinitarian love.

Peperzak sees three questions, neglected by modern philosophy, as especially urgent: (1) the question of Desire; (2) the question of intersubjectivity; (3) the question of God. The questions have to be answered all over again, for the present and the future, and in the light of the Christian faith.

Chapter 5, ‘Does Theology Have a Role to Play in the University? A Philosophical Perspective,’ outlines what would be an ideal theology. Peperzak summarizes his position in five points and the fifth one states: ‘It [the ideal theology] shows how theology itself and other disciplines fit into a Christian existence that does not testify only to intellectual excellence, but also to emotional and practical holiness.’

The second part of the book, covering Chapters 6–14, is entitled ‘From Philosophy to Prayer and Vice Versa,’ and offers samples of the kind of thought proposed in Chapters 1–5. Chapter 6 takes the position that everyone has a religion and a faith as a ground of existence, a complex of meaning, and that philosophy is adhered to in faith by some philosophers in ways very close to the way believers adhere to their religion.

Chapter 7 is about ‘Retrieving Onto-Theo-Logy,’ and lauds the advantage of philosophers whose reflections are enhanced by the religious experience of union with God, as were the discussions of the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian philosophers of the Middle Ages. This is Peperzak's call for devotion as well as reflection.

Chapters 8–14 take up themes that are both philosophical and Christian. For example, in Chapter 8 a contrast is set up between the amazement or wonder that brought on Plato's and Aristotle's philosophy and Christian amazement or wonder at the appearance and actions of Jesus Christ. In the first case, the philosophical, understanding yields theoria and in the second case, the Christian, gnosis elicits admiration and adoration.

Chapters 9–12 are on the Desire that Peperzak sees as one of the three questions neglected by modern philosophy. This Desire is the reason for the longing that motivates human lives. Philosophy can say something about the desire of human salvation that is the Christian's faith. (Chapter 9) ‘God across Being and the Good’ connects with Chapter 7 on onto-theo-logy, and as the title suggests, begins with the truth that being and good are convertible, and so ontology and ethics cannot be separated. (Chapter 10)

Chapter 13 uses ‘The Address of the Letter’ as a way to understand what it means to offer a philosophical text and to receive such a text. The letter-writer has to take form and coherence into account, and yet the letter-writer does not control how the sent letter will be received. The reading of earlier texts, like the reading of earlier letters, is a creative task. Texts, like letters, ‘look forward to a new reading.’

Chapter 14 has the title ‘Provocation: Can God Speak within the Limits of Philosophy? Should Philosophers Speak to God?’ Peperzak's answer to the first question is yes, provided that philosophy will stop disdaining or ignoring the religious belief of human beings. He also asks for attention to a phenomenology of speaking, especially to its powers of renewal, which are more than the message; they lie in the addressing itself. God's speaking has been documented in the Scriptures, and Jesus Christ is the Word of God.

His answer to the second question, should philosophers speak to God, is yes, and this speaking is prayer. It occurs in a life, every philosophical life, already driven by Desire, which is the same as being attracted to anything, and in this case, to God. All such philosophy ‘is a form of fides quaerens intellectum.’ We can never succeed in speaking in an adequate way about God, and we falter as we speak to God. Still, Peperzak's hope is that contemplation ‘will replace arrogance with adoration.’

Peperzak says that in bringing to our attention the three neglected questions of Desire, intersubjectivity, and God, he has given mere sketches of how the unity between faith and philosophy might be achieved in the thought of a Christian philosopher. To say that this book is astonishing is not to say too much.