Christian Philosophy? IX

[For the previous eight posts in this series of reflections, see here.]

It has been more than a year since I last posted in this series—an eternity in the blogosphere. It might be helpful to pause and recapitulate some of the pathmarkers.

My project here has been to “think out loud” on this blog in terms of the relationship between Christianity and philosophy. While I am attempting to construct something like an argument, I have not engaged in rigorous syllogistic. I have, indeed, rather, sometimes engaged in wordplay. Whether or not a more rigorous rational argument can be made of these thoughts, will likely have to be seen at the conclusion of these posts. But perhaps these tracings may be helpful.

We began with my initial dissatisfaction with making Christian philosophy an infusion of Christian data into philosophical activities and paradigms. I then asserted that the proper way to understand philosophy was to take the classical sense of it as a way of living. Christianity, too, was understood, is understood, as a way of living. We next looked at what we meant by the reason and intellect, affirming that ancient viewpoint of a more full and robust understanding of the intellect’s activities than that of discursive and scientific reasoning. We also engaged the concept of truth, tracing the differences between truth as an intellective object versus truth as a Person. We also cast an eye on faith and the role such plays both in the use of reason and the intellect and in trust in Christ, affirming that though distinctive both sorts of faith are in part a reaching out of the soul towards knowledge.

Let us see, then, what sort of coherence we can make of such thoughts and whether we can draw closer to a conclusion regarding the interrelation of Christianity and philosophy.

One cannot be a philosopher without doing philosophy, and similarly one cannot be a Christian without doing Christianity. To this point we have described some key concepts (though such descriptions are admittedly more asserted than argued), but within the limitations of this medium it is now time to look at the similarities and differences between how philosophy is done and how Christianity is done, and to look again for any compatibility.

The data upon which philosophy’s knowledge is based are empirical sensory and intellective perceptions, with the locus of both the perception and the knowing in the trained individual knower. It is important to emphasize this aspect of philosophy’s knowing: it takes training, askesis, and that program of askesis differed somewhat between Pythagoreans, Platonists and Aristotelians. That is to say, the askesis derived from the community of knowers.

With Christianity, the data upon which philosophical reflection (as an organic part of the way of living that is Christianity) is based is radically different. It does not start with the empirical and intellective perceptions of the individual knower (however much those perceptions were shaped by the communal asketical program). Rather it starts with the Personal revelation of the Son of God, communicated through the living Body of the Church, and experienced in the Sacramental life and union of the person with Christ in the Church. If there are empirical and intellective data that are separable from the experience of this sacramental revelation of the Person of the Son of God, these are the extrarational, mystical experiences of the communal worship, askeses and sacramental living that is Christianity.

Both are experiential, but one is oriented toward the individual knower whereas the other is oriented toward the communal lover.

As I’ve explicated above, the heuristic schema put forth by Pierre Hadot as a means of generalizing the way of living that is classical philosophy is helpful. I also happen to think that the Christian way of living could conceivably be understood within that same paradigm. Specifically, that way of living that is philosophy has a common language derived from orienting principles expressed through soulish exercises toward the development of the soul in conformity with those orienting principles. It should go without saying that each philosophical community (“school”) has it’s own orienting principles, language and common askeses. That Christianity could conceivably be understood within this same rubric is true in a very general way, though I have traced some important dichotomies above.

The differences, however, are great. For philosophy, the orienting principle, Logos, of a particular community is a prereflective intuitive grasp of some aspect of reality. For Christianity, the Logos is a Person, Christ Jesus. For philosophy, the primary organ for transformation is the intellect, and the transformation is accomplished by way of the intellective process, primarily by way of dialogue within the philosophical community. For Christianity, the primary organ for transformation is the heart, and the transformation is accomplished by way grace acting through the askeses of the body as a member of the Body of Christ, the Church. That is to say, in Christianity the intellect is transformed as the heart is transformed by way of discipline of the body in deed and desire. For philosophy, the community is made up of like-minded individual knowers. For Christianity, the community is composed of persons mystically united to Christ via the Sacramental life of the Body of Christ.

Ultimately, we must conclude that in the final analysis, the differences between philosophy and Christianity are too great to admit of reconciliation. Or, if there is a reconciliation, it must be accomplished at the price of a great distortion.

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