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Ovi Symposium; sixty-seventh Meeting Ovi Symposium; sixty-seventh Meeting
by Nikos Laios
2016-04-14 23:53:15
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Ovi Symposium:

“A Philosophical Conversation on the Nature of Art within Modernity
and the Envisioning of a New Humanism”

between Mr Nikos Laios, Drs. Ernesto Paolozzi and Emanuel Paparella
Sixty-seventh Meeting: 15 March 2016

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Symposium's regular participants (in alphabetical order)

laios_01Nikos Laios is a poet, artist, lover of philosophy and student of the human condition, currently writing poetry and producing art; he is also a sculptor, a photographer, widely read in the humanities. He hails from the highlands of Epirus in Greece; greatly influenced by the poetic traditions which have been passed down from his poet ancestor on his maternal side from the island of Cephalonia. He currently resides in North Sydney Australia, is an autodidact and a passionate ‘renaissance’ man, has always been a practical philosopher, throwing himself into the hard questions that life has to offer in search of elusive gems of wisdom.

enDr.Ernesto Paolozzi teaches history of contemporary philosophy at the University Suor Orsola Benincasa of Naples. A Croce scholar and an expert on historicism, he has written widely and published several books, especially on aesthetics and liberalism vis a vis science. His book Benedetto Croce: The Philosophy of History and the Duty of Freedom was printed as an e-book in Ovi magazine in June 2013.

papDr. Emanuel Paparella has a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism with a dissertation on Giambattista Vico from Yale University. He currently teaches philosophy at Barry University and Broward College in Florida, USA. One of his books is titled Hermeneutics in the Philosophy of G. Vico, Mellen Press. His latest e-book Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers was printed in Ovi magazine in June 2013.

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Subtheme of session 67: “Fundamental differences and similarities between the abstract rational God of Plato and Aristotle and the personal historical and providential God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”

Indirect Participants within the Great Conversation across the ages: Avis, Paul, Lewis, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, Einstein, Fearman, Shelling, Hegel, Luther, Comte, Dilthey, Heidegger, Nietzsche, Descartes, Kant, Schleiermacher, Bultmann, Rahner, Tillich, Barth, Whethead, Christ, Angelico, Wittenstein, Shestov, Berdyaev, Kierkegaard, Buber, Husserl, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Pascal, Descartes, Parmenides, Chechov, Husserl, Loyola, Jaffa, Strauss, Carpino.

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Table of Contents for the 67th Session of the Ovi Symposium (15 March 2016)

Preamble by the Symposium’s coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella

Section 1: “Athens and Jerusalem: Some Timely Musings on the Providential God of the Bible and the Rationalistic Hellenistic God of the Philosophers.”  A Presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella

Section 2: A list of two dozen philosophical Ovi articles on the image of God, atheism and faith, and the transcendence of religion from ideology and politics.

Section 3: “Why we cannot but Recognize ourselves as Christians” A revisited essay by Benedetto Croce on the European cultural identity.

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Preamble by the Symposium’s Coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella
(Ovi Symposium 67: March 2016)

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In this 67th issue of the Ovi symposium we continue the explorations and the ongoing dialogue already begun in the previous issue on the image of God and the role of myth, imagination and reason in the construction of such an image. We continue to compare the Hellenistic rationalistic conception of the ancient Greek philosophers, principally Plato and Aristotle, to the Biblical conception as found in both Old and New Testament in the Bible which indeed is composed of two interrelated parts. This remains a thorny and controversial topic since it has to do with the role of mythology and historicism, reason and revelation, within religion. They may at first sight appear mutually exclusive, not to speak of the cultural identity of the EU vis a vis Christianity.

The issue ultimately revolves around this thorny question: are mythology and history logically mutually exclusive, or is a synthesis desirable and possible within the world of the intelligible? If we consider them mutually exclusive, are we not thereby also rendering irrelevant the whole opus of a Thomas Aquinas (in his Summa Theologiae) whose main insight seems to be that the harmonization of reason and faith is desirable and indeed possible? Moreover, by eliminating the phenomenon of religion, and particularly Christianity, from European culture (as de facto many Europeans already do in practice), by considering it as retrograde and passé, a la Voltaire, are we not also destroying its identity? Is 18th century Enlightenment all that is necessary?

These are burning questions that require a modicum of reflection, clarification and some answers in the light of the turmoil or our times as we begin a new millennium. In this regard I have made a modest contribution with a series of articles for Ovi magazine spanning eight years. For the convenience of any curious inquisitive Ovi reader I have compiled in section two a recapitulation of all the titles of said articles, in reverse chronological order. They can easily be retrieved and downloaded via the Ovi search engine.

Finally in section three we revisit the famous essay by Benedetto Croce on Christianity as integral part of the European cultural identity, posted in a previous issue of the symposium; on the crucial importance of not excluding Christianity, in any historical-philosophical analysis of Western- European civilization, at the risk of losing the very origins and consciousness of its cultural identity, that is to say, what it ultimately means to be a Westerner or a European. It was quite natural for Croce, who had always emphasized the importance, indeed the duty of freedom within aesthetics, to consider the issue of freedom vs. necessity which inevitably comes to the fore when Hellenistic conceptions of God are contrasted with Biblical ones. The reader should take notice that Croce is not proselytizing or recommending a loyal practice of Christianity as a religion. He is simply stating that without considering the phenomenon of Christianity in Europe which begins toward the end of the Roman Empire, one will understand precious little of the phenomenon that is Europe. Ultimately, without the identification of an authentic integral identity based on historical facts and phenomena and not on myths, no federalist union can be conceived and long sustained in our times; the wit the unraveling of the EU, as we speak. That lesson could have been easily learned from the history of the US, had not anti-Americanism muddled the waters.

This, I keep on insisting and, alas, will probably continue to insist as a voice crying the desert, is undoubtedly an important philosophical-cultural consideration given the strong tendency, in the brave new secular world in which we live and have our being nowadays, to  marginalizing religion, or perhaps consider it a mere private personal matter whose obligations are fulfilled in one hour in church on Sunday, an unnecessary private crutch which may provide personal consolation but remains irrelevant to true public progress; something to be excluded from the public agora (in effect such is the positivistic stance based on the privileging of science and rationalism), a mere palliative to be substituted by full-fledged “enlightened” positivistic reason guiding empirical science. The point of view proposed in this issue of the symposium, on the other hand, presents us with another more inclusive, more visionary, more challenging alternative in the tradition of Thomas Aquinas who considered reason and revelation complementary to each other for a fully holistic, universal and harmonious approach to human nature.

Finally, we wish to encourage the readership of the symposium which is scattered around the world via the internet and for whose benefit it is posted regularly every month, to actively and democratically participate in this crucial cultural dialogue on Athens and Jerusalem. It seems to be a sine qua non for the envisioning of a global inclusive culture that arrives at the universal without neglecting the particular. Dialogue and the search for truth, even spirited debates, are in fact the very purpose of a symposium. This can best be accomplished via the comment section which is always available to the readers to facilitate a constructive Socratic dialogue and facilitate free speech. It goes without saying that for free speech to flourish, or, for that matter, any dialogue to be fruitful and constructive, it needs to remain civil and friendly, even when inevitable disagreements ensue. Incivility and stubborn insistence on one’s own view at any cost is a very poor justification for free speech, for free speech is not a value in itself by which to rhetorically promote one’s ideology and agenda; rather, it ought to be conceived as a vital instrument to facilitate the search for truth; when such is not the case, it runs the danger of being abused and becoming destructive; for truth is not a private convenient matter, a mere rhetorical tool to win debates; it needs to be taken whole and respected even when it is prejudicial to some of our own personal or collective interests and convenience, to wit a Socrates who opted to take the hemlock rather than to compromise truth and thus taught us that the True, the Beautiful and the Good are the ultimate interrelated values to which we owe ultimate allegiance even beyond personal friendships; they represent the vital center by which a political union may be kept together and prove beneficial to the common good; for friendship itself eventually is tarnished and ineffective when those ultimate values are no longer held firmly and appreciated as overarching synthesizing forces. When truth becomes opportunistic for one’s convenience, friendship too inevitably deteriorates to mere opportunistic cronyism. Indeed, the need to re-examine and reflect anew on the original cultural values of the EU founding fathers is today more urgent than ever. Presently the center does not hold and the present course is untenable. Either we change course or doom our civilization to a glorification of empty rhetorical ideals attractive on paper but hypocritically betrayed in practice. The choice and the consequences of our choice will be ours and to kick the can down the road and decide not to choose is already a choice. Let those who have ears, let them hear.

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1

Athens and Jerusalem:
Some Timely Musings on the Providential God of the Bible
and The Rational Hellenistic God of the Philosophers 

A Presentation by Dr. Emanuel L. Paparella

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“Reason leads to necessity; faith leads to freedom”
                                   --Lev Shestov

Were one to peruse Paul Avis’ book titled God and the Creative Imagination: Metaphor, Symbol and Myth in Religion and Theology, just to mention one of the plethora of philosophical-theological books on the mind’s image and conception of God,one will be immediately struck by the fact that there can be little doubt that Hellenistic philosophy is of crucial importance for understanding the development of early Christian theology. That kind of theology is grounded not only in the teaching about the universal logos found in the Gospel of John, but also in the thought of the apostle Paul. While it is true that Paul had harsh words for the “worldly wisdom” that rejected the message of the crucified and risen Son of God, he also affirms that, by the exercise of clear reason, human beings know of the one God, ”the one God who is creator of the world and who revealed himself in Jesus Christ, as proclaimed by the apostles. (See Romans 1 and 2, and Acts 17.) Indeed, the Christian conception of God, down through the centuries of Western history, has been deeply influenced by Greek philosophy, thus ending up with much confusion regarding the God of the Bible with the God of the philosophers. While not being mutually exclusive, we will argue that it is misguided to collapse one conception into the other. Let’s begin by briefly comparing the two conceptions.

The God of the Bible when compared with the God of the philosophers reveals himself in the history of Israel as a real person, not cool, passionless, remote, but concrete and complex like human beings, only more so. He won't leave us alone; he insists on being with us. C. S. Lewis once wrote that 'real things are sharp and knobbly and complicated and different'; that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the living God of the Bible, is, of all things, a real thing. The 'God' of ancient philosophy, on the other hand, is the philosophical invention of Plato, Aristotle and Plotinus, an abstract object with all the reality of the square root of 16. This so-called God is not alive; it’s like an equation on a board representing the universe, but the universe is alive, one cannot be equated to the other, as Einstein reminded his friend Bohr when he laughed at the equation he has written on the board insisting that it represented the reality of the universe. Einstein was too much of a philosopher to accept an abstraction as the personal providential God of his ancestors.

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The rational God of the philosophers seems to be beyond time and change, not the Ancient of Days but the Eternal One. The God of the philosophers is passionless, incapable of being moved to hot anger and tears by the human condition. He is serene and untroubled, devoid of the imaginative and the poetical. The God of the philosophers knows everything about the future; he can't be surprised in any way and interact with human beings as free creatures on whom the as yet open future in part depends. The God of the philosophers is simple; there is no depth or complexity in his personality. As an abstract object, he is captured in the nets of our philosophical theories. He has his prominent place in our neat and rationally explicable scheme of things. We know what he's like and he is basically determined by rationality and predictable. That is to say that the God of the philosophers, adopted at times by part of the Western theological tradition, is a creature of the human mind and, as such, it is ultimately in our control. But this is the paradox: to bow down to something made by the human mind is no less idolatry than to bow down to something made by human hands. And it's a more insidious, exactly because it is a less obvious form of idolatry. A Zeus on the other hand, hurling thunder bolts, whom we may call a god of imaginative poets, may appear much more human exactly because he is capricious, emotional and umpredictable; but he, alas, remains a myth, another invention of the human imagination, albeit better resembling humans; an imaginary being created in the image of its creator.

It is also indisputable that Greek philosophy was in search of the true nature of the divine, which led to the conclusion that there can be only one and not many gods. Aristotle calls him the First Cause. The one God of the People of Israel, however, who was also the God of Jesus and the early Christians, was viewed by the Greeks as an alien deity of an alien people and so could not command their allegiance. Curiously enough, some continue to view him in that mode, opposing Hellenic mythology to Hebrew mythology. It became a cultural war or sorts. It was therefore necessary to make the argument that the God of Israel is, in fact, the one God conceived by the philosophers. We observe this in the Acts of the Apostles where Paul attempts to do just that in an attempt to convince the Greek philosophers but with little success; eventually he eludes them as they prepare a philosophical challenge to his argument on the “unknown” or hidden God, for he had a whole continent called Europe to Christianize and did not have the leisure to remain in Athens to discuss convoluted logical philosophical-theological points with the Greek philosophers.

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Zeus as the Supreme Hellenistic God within Greek Mythology

Closer to our times, this attempt to bridge the dichotomy on the image of God is by no means a peculiarly Roman Catholic view. The Protestant Luther was sharply critical of what he viewed as the dominance of Aristotle in Scholastic theology, but he did not reject the entire tradition of Christianity’s incorporation of Greek philosophy. He did not, for instance, reject Platonism. Moreover, the earlier Augustinian tradition of Scholastic theology was no less committed to a positive engagement with philosophical reasoning than was the Aristotelian, not to speak of Aquinas who makes Aristotle the underpinning of his theology bypassing Augustine’s Plato. Later on, Schelling and Hegel were advocates of the substantial unity of faith and reason. The call for the “dehellenizing” of Christian theology arose in Protestant theology toward the end of the nineteenth century as part of a broader campaign against “metaphysics.” Metaphysics was depicted as philosophical baggage from the past that must now give way to “positive science.”

When did the supposed end of metaphysics occur? Auguste Comte (1798-1857), who coined the term sociology, confidently declared that metaphysics died with the rise of natural science, and so did religion which precedes it. Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911), on the other hand, contended that it was the modern sense of history that killed metaphysics. An awareness of historical contingencies and the relativity of our own ways of reasoning, he and others claimed, precluded metaphysical claims to absolute and definitive truth. What most attacks on metaphysics and religion had in common was the outright rejection of rational theology.

Martin Heidegger also proclaimed the death of metaphysics, arguing that it happened not with the rise of modern science, nor with the appearance of modern historical consciousness, but with his own critique of the equation of the act of being with the existence of beings. In the entire course of philosophical history, according to Heidegger, being itself, the very act of being, was mistaken for, or attributed to, a particular being, most notably the highest being or God. With Heidegger, he argued rather narcissistically, this error has been corrected. Even Friedrich Nietzsche, in this view, had to be seen as a metaphysical thinker. True, he was an atheist, but he still believed in a highest being, namely, the will to power, a modern idolatrous substitution for the all-powerful deity. The difficulty in Heidegger’s position is that in the Aristotelian tradition it was precisely being as such, not the highest being that was the proper subject of metaphysics. In fact, Heidegger excluded philosophical theology but not metaphysics. Paradoxically, nothing could be more metaphysical than Heidegger’s doctrine of being.

In modern philosophical theology after Descartes and especially after Kant, the concept of being lost the fundamental importance it had in medieval philosophy. The traditional philosophical “demonstrations” of the existence of God as first cause of the universe and therefore as first being were replaced over time by the idea of God as the presupposition of human subjectivity and of its intellectual and ethical functions. The idea of God as first cause of the universe was not abandoned, but it was approached by another line of argument. In Hegel’s rehabilitation of the traditional demonstrations of God’s existence, in response to Kant’s powerful critique, the arguments were recast in terms of the rise of the human mind beyond finite reality to the idea of the infinite. In this understanding, the idea of the infinite is the prior condition for perceiving the finite. Finite beings are conceived” as Descartes had already argued in Meditations (1641) ”by being delimited by the infinite, which therefore is prior to anything finite, including even the human subject itself. Rising beyond the finite to the idea of the infinite belongs to the very nature of the human intellect.” This, it was said, is evident historically in the fact of religion and is expressed theoretically in the rational arguments for the existence of God.

Friedrich Schleiermacher’s speeches of 1799 developed this line of argument with respect to the fact of religion. Religion expresses the human sense of the infinite as the prior condition for conceiving anything finite. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, philosophical theology fell on hard times. The intellectual climate turned against the metaphysical and Protestant theologians turned to the task of dehellenizing Christian thought. Especially noteworthy is the role of Rudolf Bultmann and his program of demythologizing aimed at purging Christian theology of what he viewed as its philosophical accretions.

Neo-scholasticism dominated Roman Catholic theology until the Second Vatican Council. Only a few Catholic theologians, Karl Rahner being notable among them, appropriated the approach of modern philosophical theology in conceiving God from the perspective of human subjectivity, a la Kierkegaard. Among Protestants, Paul Tillich, at first in Germany and later in America, developed philosophical theology as a clear alternative to Barth. Employing the modern approach of human subjectivity, Tillich proposed the idea of God as being itself,”not a being, not even the supreme being, but being itself.” In this, Tillich’s proposal was similar to that of Heidegger.

At the same time, other American thinkers engaged philosophical theology on the basis of Whitehead’s process philosophy. While the school of process theology is still with us, it has never been able to overcome the difficulty that, in Whitehead’s thought, God is only one factor among others in explaining the real world of human experience. It is far from clear how this God can be the biblical creator of heaven and earth. Which, one must add, is not to deny that process philosophy has been quite helpful in the dialogue between religion and science and in exploring the relationship between faith and reason.

As in the apostolic era and through the centuries, the crucial issue is how to conceive of the one God, creator of all that is. For philosophical theology, different cultural situations require different arguments. Today, for instance, the arguments of modern atheism press upon us. Moreover, it is necessary to show how God can be conceived of as the creator of the universe as that universe is described by natural science. This does not necessarily mean that the existence of a creator can be demonstrated by means of natural science, as was thought in medieval and early modern philosophy. Rational argument in philosophy is different from rational argument in science. But a philosophical or theological conception of God as creator must be compatible with the universe as described by science. We do well to remember that the biblical account of creation employed the natural science of that time, most notably Babylonian cosmology. So also will a contemporary account of creation employ contemporary science, including modern cosmology and theories about the evolution of life. Employing such resources today is in continuity with the methods employed by the writers of the Genesis accounts of creation.

There is yet another factor that is crucially important in this consideration of philosophical theology. Theology that is distinctively Christian will attribute the creation to the trinitarian God, namely ”Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” In Christian theology, there is no room for a pre-trinitarian monotheism of the one God. In our time of intense interreligious dialogue, Christians cannot compromise the truth that the Trinitarian conception of God is not simply a Christian addition to a monotheism that we otherwise share with others. The Christian insistence is that God as such is to be understood as a differentiated unity. An undifferentiated unity means unity opposed to the many (look at the image above this article). Unity that is opposed to the many presupposes and therefore is conditioned by that opposition. Precisely because that is a conditioned unity, it cannot be the absolute unity that is before and above the many. Only the triune God, as differentiated unity, is absolutely and unconditionally the one God. It follows that for a Christian, true monotheism is Trinitarian; not to be confused with the polytheism of the Olympian Greek gods.

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Now, in the teaching of Jesus, the name of the one God is Father. This is no mere metaphor but the name of God. As Athanasius insisted, God as Father cannot be conceived apart from a Son. Thus the Son is the eternal correlate of God the Father and is identical with the Logos (Word) of God by which all things were created, both Father and Son being united in eternal communion with the Spirit. This Trinitarian understanding of the one God is one of the most important developments of Christian theology in the past century, with both Karl Barth and Karl Rahner playing a leading role in underscoring its importance. It has contributed immeasurably to our understanding of what it means to say that Trinitarian faith is monotheistic. Also important is the deeper appreciation of the roots of this understanding in the Old Testament. The Hebrew Bible speaks of the one God as Father; and the king, the successor of David, is called his son (Ps. 2:7, 2 Sam. 7:14). The entire people of Israel is also called his son (Hosea 11:1). So the idea of the “son of God” does not occur first with Jesus, although the New Testament understands Jesus to be the definitive manifestation of the eternal Word, the incarnate Son of the Father. Moreover, it is promised that those who believe are incorporated into the Son’s relationship with the Father. The nature of this relationship is manifested in the Son’s obedience to the Father in fulfilling the mission received from the Father, which mission the Father confirmed by raising Jesus from the dead (Rom. 1:4).

Now, this Trinitarian understanding of God is crucial to what Christians claim about the unity of faith and reason. Without compromising the transcendence of God, it enables Christians to affirm the presence of the one God in his creation and in the history of his creation. This view allows for, and even requires, a historical interpretation of the biblical texts. They are understood as expressing the mind of the human authors while, at the same time, respecting the Bible’s divine authority as inspired testimony to the action and word of God. The human nature of the biblical writings makes room for the possibility of their including legendary materials, a possibility that is suggested by literary criteria.

At the same time, reported events are not to be declared legendary or mythological simply because they are unusual. Reports of the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead, to cite a crucial instance, are not legendary or mythological in character. There is absolutely no textual evidence to suggest that they are legendary. If the belief in God as creator and lord of history is not excluded, there is no reason for the exegete not to understand the biblical accounts of the Resurrection to be reporting an actual event in human history. Here again, faith and reason are not in conflict.

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A fresco by Fra Angelico depicting Christ’s Resurrection (1440)

Indeed, the real conflict in our day is over the nature of reason. A secularist positivistic concept of rationality that is widely accepted today simply precludes the possibility of a historical event such as the Resurrection of Jesus, just as it precludes the reality of a creator God and his presence and actions in the world of his creation. But this is not, first of all, a disagreement about the truth of such claims. Rather, it is a disagreement about the nature of reason. While there is no conflict in principle between reason and faith, Christian faith remains in conflict with a truncated concept of reason that is itself not warranted by reason. If Aquinas has taught us nothing else it is this. Christian intellectuals need to more accurately locate the point of conflict with contemporary deformations of rationality, and more effectively contend for preserving and advancing a history of thought marked by greater confidence in the capacities and imperatives of reason itself.

Philosophical conceptions of what God has to be like, no matter what the Bible may say about him, also infect our thinking about God incarnate. The tendency has almost always been to imagine Jesus as something other than fully human, almost a spirit or an angel with the appearance of a body not subject to the same constraints and infirmities as the rest of us mere mortals. We have portrayed him as all-knowing and infallible, as though he were not really a male human being, a Jew born in first-century Palestine but merely a Greek demigod inhabiting a human body. The philosophically-based theology that mesmerized Christianity for centuries has no place for the Jesus who lived a life of faith and trust with his father, having nothing to go on but the witness of the Spirit and his Father's written Word.

The theological tradition, following Plato, has taught that Jesus did not really die; he only appeared to die. He did not face extinction; he merely became temporarily disembodied. His spiritual soul, the immaterial entity he really is, went right on living in a sort of Cartesian-Platonic dualism of body and soul. The tradition does not conceive the incarnation of God himself into a sinful world as an outrageous and desperately risky act of free covenant love. It rejects the notion of God becoming one of us, becoming nothing but a bunch of molecules like you and me. It cannot accommodate Emmanu-El, the God with us who makes himself vulnerable and falls into the hands of those who do not want him to be himself but who want to control him and manipulate him, and who, failing that, proceed to crucify him.

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This misguided “Christian” tradition, which is everything but Christian, has tried to refine and dehumanize the living God in order to make him philosophically acceptable. How can these philosophical theories about God have been reconciled with the witness of the Bible? Innumerable passages in the biblical witness to the living God and his unexpected doings are designated as 'anthropomorphic'; we are told that God doesn't really change his mind, he doesn't really undergo change, he isn't really effected by what we do, he really does always know what human beings are going to do next, he creates once and for all with no possibility of evolution and change. All this, we are informed, are just the Bible's anthropomorphic un-philosophical way of speaking. We are intimidated by these metaphysical arguments. Anyone who thinks Holy Scripture might mean just what it says looks pretty unscholarly and unsophisticated, as naive as the person who imagines God the Father as being an old man with a long white beard sitting on a throne on a cloud. The image of the old bearded man on a cloud, a sort of Santa Claus, is in fact very popular among those who wish to debunk religion and its transcendent claims. And of course not everything the Bible says about God is literally true; there are metaphors and symbols and parables galore in both Old and New Testament. There is room for disagreement as to precisely which of the things the Scriptures tell us about God should be taken literally and which metaphorically. One thing is for sure: the Bible does not claim to be a science book. The crucial question is whether, as our faith seeks understanding, we let Plato, or Aristotle, or Whitehead, or Wittgenstein, or anyone tell us what God is like, rather than letting God speak to us for himself via the poetry and the history contained in the Bible.

Often effective criticism of what goes wrong in philosophy comes from inside philosophy itself. Today many philosophers are realizing that their ideas about God come from non-Christian philosophers with an ax to grind against religion. In contemporary philosophy there are increasingly many reasons to believe that the ideas of God in the theological tradition don't make much sense on their own and, more importantly, that they can't be made to fit the living God we meet in the Bible, just as an abstract mathematical theorem on a board does not fully convey the reality of a living universe on a journey.

The reality of the authority of the Bible is that it is always there to criticize the thought and action of the Christian Church. The word of the living God is powerful and ultimately eludes Christians' best efforts to control it and make the God of whom it speaks palatable and controllable. In fact, the authoritative word of God judges and criticizes our religious and philosophical talk about him. By means of it God can graciously liberate us from the grip of the philosophies that have so distorted our thinking about him. What matters is not whether any particular contemporary philosopher or school of philosophers is right or wrong on any given issue, not what philosophy thinks of God, but what God thinks of philosophy, for the tools of philosophy remain available to deliver us from the God of the philosophers and give us back to the God of the Scriptures who refuses to be boxed in and determined by constricting necessary philosophical categories.

It is natural for human beings in their fallen condition to want to know God as he is in himself. Being rational by nature they naturally use rationality to acquire that knowledge which Aristotle calls the highest knowledge a philosopher can aspire to, the idea of God. But this is not the only way God has chosen to be known. As the great mathematician Pascal aptly put it: the heart also has reasons that reason knows not. We intuitively know God only as he acts on our behalf in our space and time. And what we see are not merely appearances of him, not symbols for him, for beyond those we see the true nature of the living God, God himself showing us who he is, walking, talking, sweating, bleeding, alive, dead, and alive again in our tricky and dangerous world.

The God we know in the Bible is not that obvious and malleable to reason. He transcends the powers of our minds and imagination, as awesome as those are. He is a stumbling block to anyone who thinks God should conform to the concepts and categories of our minds and philosophies. Knowing him cannot be reduced to adopting a theory about him. He simply cannot be transformed into an ideology, religious or secular. Having the right beliefs about him cannot take the place of trusting him. The ultimate question is whether the living God is graciously present in our lives or whether we have shut him out. One way to shut him out is to replace him with an idea, with the unreal, impersonal God of the Greek philosophers and, for that matter, of far too many so called “Christian” theologians. Perhaps it is time for some of us, who declare ourselves Christians, of whatever denomination or tradition, to rethink our ideas about him and come to the realization that the image of God  which comes across in the Bible is not that of a clock maker who made the universe and now allows it to run itself (as most deists tend to believe), rather, he is a loving, personal providential God who cares deeply for the whole of his creation. The universe may be a thought in the mind of God, as Augustine surmises, but Dante perhaps had it more on target when in the very last line of the Divine Comedy defines God as “the love that moves the sun and the other stars.”

II

On “Athens and Jerusalem” and European Man’s Reductionism of the Concept of God:

Perhaps a the ongoing clarification of this issue requires also, in the second part of this essay, the direct comparison of Athens (reason) and Jerusalem’s (revelation) and their distinct approach to the image of God. In the last seventy years or so there has been no philosophical dialogue on reason and revelation which did not include the thought of Karl Barth on the same. This was brought home to me not only in my college years by one of my philosophy professors at St. Francis College (the late Dr. Joseph Carpino) but by Vittorio Possenti whose book on Reason and Revelation I translated from the Italian in the year 2000. A colleague of mine, a former professor of Russian, however, pointed out to me a few years ago that there is another influential, if not as well known philosopher, who precedes Barth and his name is Lev Shestov.

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Lev Shestov (1866-1938)

Lev Shestov (1866-1938) was an existentialist Russian-Jewish philosopher, often described as a philosopher of religion. His philosophical speculations were initially inspired by Nietzsche until he found a kindred spirit in Kierkegaard. He was a contemporary of and a friend of Martin Buber, Edmund Husserl and Nikolai Berdyaev. Shestov's development as a thinker lead him to undertake a vast critique of the history of Western philosophy which he saw broadly as a monumental battle between Reason and Faith, Athens and Jerusalem, secular and religious outlook. He thus engaged on what he termed a "pilgrimage through the souls" of such greats as Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Pascal, Descartes, Plotinus, Parmenides, Chekhov, Husserl, Buber, Solovyov, Spinoza, Plato, Luther and several others.

Shestov wrote no less than thirty-four books on the issue spanning the history of philosophy and theories of knowledge in the West from Parmenides to Husserl, and such eras as ancient philosophy, middle age philosophy, the Enlightenment, the modern era, Existentialism, Jewish and Christian theology and philosophy, Nihilism, Bolshevism. The sheer breath and depth of his erudition and scholarship was astonishing, not to speak of what many scholars consider the most beautiful prose style in Russian literature which makes his book highly appealing.

Athens and Jerusalem is the culmination of Shestov's entire lifetime of intellectual inquiry and spiritual striving. It took him twenty years to write and came out in 1937.  It brings together all the diverse strands that had appeared in his earlier writings. In it he set himself the task of critically examining the pretension of human reason to possession of the capacity for attaining ultimate truth,  a pretension first put forth by the founders of Western philosophy in Athens two and a half millennia ago, maintained ever since by most of the great metaphysicians of Europe, and still defended by many philosophers today.

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First English Edition 1966

The radical nature of Shestov’s thought consists of a frontal and sustained attack on this pretension of philosophy which, in his opinion, must be ultimately rejected. Reason and its by-product, scientific method and its positivist approach, have their proper use and their rightful place in obtaining instrumental technical knowledge concerning empirical phenomena, but they cannot and must not be allowed to determine the directions of man's metaphysical quest or to decide on the ultimate issues - issues such as the reality of God, human freedom and immortality, man’s ultimate destiny, salvation, forgiveness, repentance, redemption.

The scientists and most of the philosophers, Shestov repeatedly insists in Athens and Jerusalem, have been concerned with discovering self-evident, logically consistent, or empirically verifiable propositions which they take to be eternal and universal truths. For them, man is merely another link in the endless chain of phenomena and lives in a universe totally governed by the iron laws of causal necessity. They assume, whether they say so explicitly or not, that human liberty is largely an illusion, that man's freedom to act and his capacity for self-determination are sharply limited by the network of unchangeable and necessary causal relationships into which he has been cast (“thrown into existence,” as Heidegger puts it) and which exercise an insuperable power over him. Consequently, the path of both virtue and wisdom for man, they believe, lies not in useless rebellion against necessity but in submissive obedience and resignation. In a nutshell, necessity rules and necessarily so. There are iron clad rules and laws in the universe to which man has no choice but to submit. The Stoics called it natural law. In rationalist circles this has become a veritable dogma of Western Philosophy, both ancient and modern; a much more stringent dogma than the religious dogmas they seek to debunk.

European man, according to Shestov, has languished for centuries in a hypnotic sleep induced by the conviction that the entire universe is ruled by eternal, self-evident truths (such as the principles of identity and non-contradiction) discoverable by reason, and by an everlastingly unalterable and indifferent power which determines all events and facts. This power is commonly known as "necessity." God Himself, for a thinker like Spinoza, has no power to transcend the necessary structures that express His/Her being. Even for God 2+2 = 4 and a thing cannot be and not be at the same time. For Shestov, Spinoza is the culmination of the mechanistic philosophy that has dominated European metaphysics since Aristotle. To be sure, there have been solitary figures here and there, who have protested against the pretensions of reason and its self-evident truths and have stubbornly refused to accept the dictates of the natural sciences concerning what is possible and what is impossible, but theirs were voices crying in the wilderness. Tertullian's was such a voice, and so also was St. Peter Damian's. 

In modern times, it is Dostoevsky who, in his passionate Notes from the Underground, has presented the strongest and most effective "critique of reason." The world as logic and science conceive it, governed by universal and immutable laws and constrained by the iron hand of necessity, is for Dostoevsky a humanly uninhabitable world or to put it another way, a dehumanized kind of world. It must be resisted to the utmost, even if the struggle seems a senseless beating of the head against a stone wall. Shestov finds an immense nobility and heroism in the cry of Dostoevsky's protagonist in his Notes from the Underground where he says: “But, good Lord, what do I care about the laws of nature and arithmetic if I have my reasons for disliking them, including the one about two and two making four! Of course, I won't be able to breach this wall with my head if I'm not strong enough. But I don't have to accept a stone wall just because it's there and I don't have the strength to breach it. As if such a wall could really leave me resigned and bring me peace of mind because it’s the same as twice two makes four! How stupid can one get? Isn't it much better to recognize the stone walls and the impossibilities for what they are and refuse to accept them if surrendering makes one too sick?”

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To resist the self-evident truths of science and philosophy, to stop glorifying and worshipping them, however, is not necessarily an exercise in futility, as banging one’s head against a wall would indeed be. If man will only attend to the ancient message of the Bible, Shestov maintains, he will find there a conception of God, of the universe and of himself that not only lends meaning to such resistance but also makes of it the first and most essential step in becoming reconciled with God and regaining his freedom. For the Bible, in opposition to Western science and philosophy, proclaims that God is the omnipotent One for whom literally nothing is impossible and whose power is absolutely without limits, and that He stands not only at the center but at the beginning and end of all things. God, according to the Bible, created man as well as a universe in which there is no defect, a universe which He/She saw to be "very good." Having created man, God blessed him, gave him dominion over all the universe and bestowed upon him the essentially divine and most precious of all gifts, freedom. Which is to say, before there was a fall and a curse and necessity, there was innocence, a blessing, and freedom.

Unlike both traditional philosophy and science, which have sought to transform even single, non-recurring facts or events into eternal and unchangeable truths, the Bible refuses to regard any fact as ultimate or eternally subsistent but sees it rather as under the power of God who, in answer to man's cry, can suppress it or make it not to be. For biblical faith, knowledge - whether it is concerned with what have been called "truths of reason" or "truths of fact" - is not, as it is for traditional philosophy and science, the supreme goal of human life. Against their assumption that knowledge justifies human existence, the existential philosophy which takes its rise from the Bible will insist that it is from man's living existence and experience that knowledge must obtain whatever justification it may have.

Shestov insists throughout his work that there can be no reconciliation between science and  philosophy which aspires to be scientific, on the one side, and biblical religion, on the other. Tertullian was right in proclaiming that Athens can never agree with Jerusalem - even though for two thousand years the foremost thinkers of the Western world have firmly believed that a reconciliation is possible and have bent their strongest and most determined efforts toward effecting it. The biblical revelation not only cannot be harmonized with rationalist or would-be "scientific" metaphysics but is itself altogether devoid of support either from logical argument or scientific knowledge.

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Tertullian (165-225 A.D.)

For biblical man based his life totally and unreservedly on faith, which is not, as has often been suggested, a weaker form of knowledge (knowledge, so to speak, "on credit," for which proofs, though presently unavailable, are anticipated at some future time), but rather a completely different dimension of thought. The substance of this faith, emphatically denied both by science and philosophy, is the daring and unsupported but paradoxically true conviction that all things are possible. Shestov was haunted for years by the biblical legend of the fall. As he interpreted it, when Adam ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge, faith was displaced by reason and scientific knowledge. The sin of Adam has been repeated by his descendants, whose relentless pursuit of knowledge has led not to ultimate truth but to the choking of the springs of life and the destruction of man's primordial freedom.

According to Shestov, speculative philosophy beginning in wonder or intellectual curiosity and seeking to "understand" the phenomena of the universe, leads man to a dead end where he loses both personal freedom and all possibility of envisioning ultimate truth. It is, in a sense, the Original Lie which has come into the world as a consequence of man's disobedience of God's command to refrain from eating of the tree of knowledge. Its narrowness, its lack of imagination, (that Vico. for one, strongly emphasized), its preoccupation with "objectivity" and its wish to exclude from thought all human emotions, its conviction that there is nothing in the world that is essentially and forever mysterious and rationally inexplicable, its refusal even to entertain the possibility of a universe in which the rules of traditional logic (such as the principles of non-contradiction and identity) do not hold sway - all this condemns it to sterility.

If philosophy is to serve the human spirit rather than destroy it, it must - Shestov maintains - abandon the method of detached speculation and disinterested reflection (what Husserl called Besinnung); it must become truly "existential" in the sense of issuing out of man's sense of helplessness and despair in the face of the stone walls of natural necessity. "Out of the depths I cried unto Thee, 0 Lord" and "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" - the experience reflected in these agonized cries of the Psalmist, Shestov maintains, must be the starting point of true philosophy. In this he was inspired by Kierkegaard.

When his philosophy has taught man to reject all veritates aeternae as illusions, to confront unflinchingly the horrors of his historical existence, to experience his despair authentically and without evasion, to realize his mortality and his insignificance in a universe that seems bent on his destruction, then it may perhaps succeed in preparing him for that act of spiritual daring which is faith (what Kierkegaard calls “the leap into faith”) and which can bring him to the God who will restore to him not only a center of meaning for his life but also his primordial freedom.

As Shestov clearly states it in Athens and Jerusalem: “...to find God one must tear oneself away from the seductions of reason, with all its physical and moral constraints, and go to another source of truth. In Scripture this source bears the enigmatic name "faith," which is that dimension of thought where truth abandons itself fearlessly and joyously to the entire disposition of the Creator: "Thy will be done!" The will of Him who fearlessly and with sovereign power returns to the believer, in turn, his lost power: “...what things so ever you desire...you shall have them." (Mark as :24).

Faith, for Shestov, is audacity, the audacity of hope beyond necessity and a deterministic natural law and rationalism; it is the daring refusal to accept necessary laws, to regard anything as impossible. It is the demand for the absolute, original freedom which man is supposed to have had before the fall, when he still found the distinction between truth and falsehood, as well as between good and evil, unnecessary and irrelevant, as Nietzsche, despite his “God is dead” proclamation also implies. Through faith, Shestov seems to suggest, man may become, in a sense, like God himself for whom neither intellectual nor moral grounds and reasons have any reality. But Shestov's God - the God of whom the Bible speaks and before whom all human foundations crack and crumble - is not the God of Spinoza or of Kant or of Hegel. Against all metaphysical and rationalist theologies, Shestov declares that "We would speak, as did Pascal, of the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, and not of the God of the philosophers. The God of the philosophers, whether He be conceived as a material or ideal principle, carries with Him the triumph of constraint, of brutal force."  The God of the Bible is not to be found as the conclusion of a syllogism.

How shall one arrive at this Deus absconditus, this hidden God? "The chief thing," says Shestov, "is to think that, even if all men without exception were convinced that God does not exist, this would not mean anything, and that if one could prove as clearly as two times two makes four that God does not exist, this also would not mean anything." To the complaint that it is not possible to ask men to take a position which negates a universal conviction of the race and flies in the face of logic, Shestov replies "Obviously! But God always demands of us the impossible... It is only when man wishes the impossible that he remembers God. To obtain that which is possible he turns to those like himself."

Our task, if we would enter upon the road which leads to true reality and ultimately to the God revealed in Scripture, consists "in the Psalmist's image, in shattering the skeleton which lends substance to our old ego, melting the 'heart in our bowels.'" Experiencing the abyss that opens before him when all his laws, his "eternal truths" and his self-evident certainties are taken away, the desperate soul feels that "God is not, man must himself become God, create all things out of nothing; all things; matter together with forms, and even the eternal laws." When he has experienced this complete abandonment to himself and to boundless despair, then a man - as such irreconcilable enemies as St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, and Luther, the renegade monk, both have testified - may, through faith, direct his eyes toward ultimate reality and see the true God who will restore to him the limitless freedom with which he was created and again make all things possible for him.

Shestov’s ultimate conclusion is this: man must choose: Athens or Jerusalem. He cannot have both.  Athens - with its constraining principles, its eternal truths, its logic and science - may bring man earthly comfort and ease but it also stupefies, if it does not kill, the human spirit. Jerusalem - with its message of God and man for both of whom nothing is impossible, with its proclamation that creativity and freedom are the essential prerogatives of both the divine and human - terrifies man, but it also has the power of liberating him and ultimately transforming the horrors of existence into the joys of that paradisiacal state which God originally intended for His creatures.

Now, what after this description of the thought of Lev Shestov as revealed by a preliminary research, leads to the question, even before reading all the primary sources:  are reason and revelation indeed irreconcilable and it is futile to even attempt a synthesis, or is there the possibility of achieving it,  as Aquinas and Vico seem to hint at when they talk about a transcendent Providence who while being beyond time and space and even beyond reason, it is not ipso facto irrational? Frankly, I would not hazard a definite answer at this point, not yet. For, there are some, such as the philosopher Leo Strauss who according to one of his prominent students, Harry Jaffa, did not believe that such a synthesis was possible and sides with Athens despite his being a Jew, and then there are others such as my former philosophy professor Joseph Carpino (who incidentally wrote a dissertation on Kierkegaard’s thought) who strongly suggest that philosophical efforts toward such a synthesis are not futile and should be carried out; he specifically proposes this at the end of book review dealing with this thorny issue that  “In the New Jerusalem there will be no buying and selling, no giving and taking in marriage--and precious little philosophizing, it must be added; but here there's a world to make ready, and attention must be paid to bodies politic.  In this, liberals and conservatives are both right; independent of the accessibility of a specifically Christian metaphysics, an effort must be made to develop an authentic and rational 'Christianpolitical philosophy.’ It has not yet been achieved." [emphasis mine].

Will it ever be achieved or will we continue to be satisfied with Plato, or worse, Machiavelli’s rationalistic political philosophy. Those philosophies are not Christian and certainly side with Athens, not Jerusalem. As the Italian poet Alessandro Manzoni put it: “Ai posteri l’ardua sentenza”: to posterity belongs the difficult answer. Meanwhile we may have to see the dissolution of the third cycle of pure rationalism (what Vico calls the era of men) and a return to a first cycle (that of the gods, as per the same Vico). That may be a silver lining, given that the poetical also returns in the first cycle, to complement the rational and to providentially preserve our humanity.

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2

A List of Ovi articles on the issue of Religion, the Image and the Existence of God,
Atheism and Faith; listed in reverse chronological order, contributed by Dr. Paparella
in the last 8 years.  They can be retrieved by title via the Ovi search engine.

--Why is there Something rather than Nothing? On Atheism and the Interface of Science and Religion

--Star Wars as imaginative mythology

--The Inappropriate Mixing of Religion and Politics

--Musings on Nihilism, Atheism, Existentialism, Terrorism, and Faith

--Debunking Religion: Are Religion and Science Mutually Incompatible?

--Do Revolutions give rise to Religious Fanaticism?

--Spirituality, Science and God: a Revisiting

--Musings on God’s Solidarity and Metropolitan John D. Zizioulas

--Is Religion mere Sociology?

--Ideology as a Substitute for Religion

--Religion: an Obscene Word?

--Fate and Free Will in Classical and Christian Tragedy

--Paul’s Ambivalence: Disciple of Jesus or Inventor of Christianity?

--The New Age Movement and the Sacred: a Universal Pan Religion?

--Substituting Spirituality and the Sacred for Religion and Theism?

--Nicholas of Cusa’s Via Negativa: Returning to God after Giving up God

--Spirituality, Mysticism, Orthodoxy vis a vis Religion

--G. K. Chesterton on the Vichian Problematic “Myth/History”

--Sundry Reflections on Providence in History

--The Vichian Nexus between Scientific Truth and Faith

--Two Books on the Nexus between Science, Religion, Nature and Humanity

--A Guide to the Dialogue between Science and Religion

--A Third Window beyond Materialistic and Mechanistic Philosophies of Nature

--God: Hidden or Non-Existent?

--The latest on the Nexus between Science and Religion

--Europa Quo Vadis? The Cart before the Horse? The EU at the Crossroads: Selection from Three Books

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3

Why We Cannot but Recognize Ourselves as Christians
By Benedetto Croce
(Translated from the Italian by Emanuel L. Paparella)

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To claim for ourselves the name of Christians we run the risk of being taken for  pious sanctimonious hypocrites, given that at times the assumption of such a name has well served self-complacency and the covering up of things that were diametrically opposite to the Christian spirit, as could be proven with references on which I will not tarry right now so that we don’t bring in distracting judgments extraneous to the issue at hand. I simply wish to affirm, with an appeal to history, that we cannot but recognize ourselves as Christians and that this denomination is a mere recognition of the truth of the matter.  

Christianity is the greatest revolution that humanity has ever experienced: so huge, so comprehensive and deep, so fruitful of consequences, so unexpected and irresistible in its development, that it is not astonishing that it appeared and still appears a miracle, a revelation from on high, a direct intervention of God in human affairs, those affairs which have received from him a new law and direction. All other revolutions and epochs which mark human history, do not compare well with it, appearing in comparison rather narrow and particular. This does not even exclude the revolutions of ancient Greece in the poetical, in art, in philosophy, in political liberty; or those of Rome in the law, not to speak of the most remote revolution in writing, in mathematics, in astronomy, in medicine and whatever else we owe to the East and to Egypt.

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Cyril and Methodius bring Christianity to the Slavic People

Moreover, the revolutions and the discoveries which later followed in modern times, in as much as they were not limited and particular to the preceding ancient ones, but encompassed the whole man, the whole soul of man, cannot even be conceived without the Christian revolution, but only in a relation of dependence to it, hence to it alone belongs the primacy and the original impulse.

The explanation of what the Christian revolution operated is in the very center of the soul, in the moral conscience, conferring a relevancy to the inner reality to the point that it appeared that it had acquired a new virtue and spiritual reality which humanity had lacked till then. It is true that the men, the geniuses, the heroes that precede Christianity performed wonderful deeds, beautiful works, and transmitted to us a very rich treasure of forms, of thoughts and experiences; but in all of them we see what we have in common and makes us all brothers, and it is what only Christianity has given to human life.

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Nevertheless, this was not a miracle which erupted in the course of history inserting itself within it as an alien transcendental force; neither was it that other metaphysical miracle which some philosophers (Hegel above all) have constructed since they began to think of human history as a process within which the spirit acquires its constitutive parts, its categories, and at a certain point scientific knowledge or the state of liberty, and with Christianity moral intimacy, because spirit is always its own fullness, and its history is in its own creations, which are continuous and infinite, by which it celebrates itself. So, as neither Greeks, nor Romans, nor Orientals, were the ones who introduced into the world those universal forms of which we call them creators, but it was because of them that they arrived at heights never reached before and traced some solemn points of human history; similarly the Christian revolution was an historical process which within the general historical process was the most solemn of its crisis. There are attempts, recursions, preparations which can be detected within Christianity, as indeed can be noted in any human creation, for a poem or a political action, but that light which they seem to pass on, is received by reflection, from the work which has been actualized, which did not reside within itself, since no work of art is ever born by aggregation or a collage with others which are not itself, but only by an original creative act; no work exists in its own antecedents.

When Christianity appeared, moral conscience was revived, it leaped forward and tortured itself in novel ways, at the same time enthusiastic and trustful, with the sense of sin which always threatens it and is always defeated, humble and exalted, finding its exaltation in humility and in the service of the Lord. And this moral conscience kept itself pure and uncontaminated, resisting all temptations that would lead to the loss of its identity or put it at odds with itself, diffident of worldly praise and the social climb, its law derived only from its interior voice, not from external commands and prejudices which always leave much to be desired, leading to sensual and utilitarian criteria. And its trust was in love, love toward all, without distinction of races, classes, of free men or slaves, toward all creatures, toward the universe, which is God’s work, toward God who is a God of love and is not detached from man and descends to meet man, and in which we all live and have our being.

From this experience, which was a unique act, sentiment, and thought, a new vision and a new interpretation of reality arose;  a reality searched for not in the object detached from the subject and substituted for it, but in the eternal creator of things and the only principle of their meaning; and thus the concept of spirit is laid down, and God himself was no longer conceived as an abstract undifferentiated unity, and as such unmovable and inert, but a distinct community, because living and fountainhead of life, one and triune.

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The Crucifixion of Europe

This new concept and moral attitude were partly mixed with myths—kingdom of God, resurrection of the dead, baptism as preparation, expiation and repentance, and so on—which began with rugged myths and then became more refined and transparent with truth, and got mixed with thoughts which were not always harmonized and clashed in contradictions about which they paused, unsure and perplexed; but nevertheless are the ones briefly enumerated and that each intuits within oneself when one pronounces the name “Christian.” A new action, a new concept, a new creation of the poetical is not and ought not be conceived, as is conceived as abstraction conjoined to imagination, as something objectively concluded and delineated, but as a force which opens up to life with other forces, and at times it trips up or it gets lost, or other times it proceeds slowly and laboriously or even lets itself be overcome by other which it cannot overcome, and it is tested by defeats from which it returns to the struggle. 

Anybody who would like to understand Christianity in its original character must overlook the extraneous facts, overcome the accidents, see it not so much in its difficulties and slow-downs, in its aperies and contradictions, in its erring and loss of direction but in its first impetus and dominant tension, as if it were a poetical work which is valuable for what it has in it that is poetical and not for the non-poetical which may be mixed with it, for those flaws can even be found in Homer and Dante too.

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Benedictine Monks Christianizing Europe

There is usually some diffidence that this mode of idealization does not respect the reality of doctrines and facts; but that “idealization” (which is never blind however to foreign elements and signs and does not deny them) is nothing more than the “intelligence” which understands them. If we take the opposite approach and place on the same plane the myth and the facts, the logical and the illogical, the certitude and the incertitude of a thinker, the conclusion will be that such a work is not really a work, but a nothing, corrupted and corroded from top to bottom from the errors that critics and historians are accustomed to bring forth, happy, it would appear, to find in the same great works of the past the mental dispersion and moral stagnation that is in them.

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The Hagias Sophia in Istanbul, originally a Christian Byzantine Church

It was also necessary that the formative process of truth, that Christianity had so extraordinarily intensified and accelerated, would stop at a certain point in time, provisionally, and that the Christian revolution would experience a moment to catch its breath, so to speak, (a breath which historically may consist of centuries) and stabilize itself. Here too Christianity has been accused and it has been scolded, and it so continues even today, for the fall from the heights where Christian enthusiasm resided, for the immobility, the practicality, the politicization of the religious thought, which means death. But this bias against the Church’s formation and its very existence makes as much sense as the one against the universities and other schools wherein science, which is continual criticism and auto-criticism, ceases to be such and lives in manuals and catechisms so that one can learn it as prepared, either to utilize it for practical purposes, or for minds well disposed, as subject matter to consider for the attempt at new scientific leaps.

We cannot bypass this moment of the life of the spirit, within which the cognitive process of research is closed with the new acquired faith and that of practical action opens up, wherein faith is transmuted. And if this closing in one sense looks like, and in some way is the death (be it nothing but euthanasia, the merciful death) of truth, since authentic truth resides only in the process of becoming, and on the other hand it is the conservation of truth for its new life and for the recovering of the process, almost always hidden away and protected, which will germinate again and sow new fruits; so the Christian Catholic Church founded its dogmas, without fear of formulating at times what is unthinkable because not resolvable in the unity of thought, its cult, its sacramental system, its hierarchy, its discipline, its temporal patrimony, its economy, its finances, canon law and its tribunals and its juridical system, and studied and acted on compromises and transactions with needs which it could neither extinguish nor repress, nor ignore and leave alone; and its action was beneficial, winning over the polytheism of paganism and the new adversaries from the East (from which she herself had arrived and which she had superseded), those being particularly dangerous since they had borrowed many tracts of her own identity, such as the Gnostics and the Manicheans, and got busy building on new spiritual foundations the decaying and fallen Roman Empire, accepting and preserving its tradition and that of the whole ancient culture.

She then went through a glorious epoch called Medieval (an historic partition and name born almost by chance, but effectively guided by a sure intuition of truth). Within this epoch not only she brought to conclusion the Christianizing and Romanizing and civilizing of the Germans and the barbarians, not only she impeded the new dangers and damages of old-new dualistic, pessimistic, ascetic heresies not cosmic and negating life, not only it called for a defense against Islam, which threatened European civilization, put defended the moral and religious exigency as primary to political domineering politics, and as such it affirmed its right to the dominion of the world and considered the subversion of this right a perversion.

Neither are the other common accusations against the Catholic Church for corruption that it allowed to enter it, valid. This is so because every institution carries within itself the danger of corruption, of parts that corrupt the whole, of private and utilitarian motives which are substituted to moral ones, and in fact every institution suffers them and continually attempts to overcome them and return to sanity. This happens also in the various old Protestant evangelical denominations who protested the corruption in the first Church, even if in a less scandalous or more banal mode.

As is well known, even within medieval times, taking advantage of those Christian free spirits which shed light within and outside its parameters, and making them relevant to its goal, it reformed and renovated itself several times. Later on, due to the corruption of its popes, of its clergy, and its friars and the changed general political situation, which had taken away the domination exercised in medieval times, which rendered scholasticism passé, blunted its spiritual weapons, and finally, because of the new critical thinking, both philosophical and scientific, which rendered its scholasticism antiquated, ran the risk of disorientation, and yet reformed itself prudently and politically, saving whatever prudence and politics are able to save, and continuing its mission, which gave its best fruits in the lands of the New World.

An institution does not die because of accidental errors, but only when it no longer fulfills any need, or when those needs which it fulfills, are diminishing in quantity or quality.

What the present conditions of the Catholic Church may be, is an issue that does not fit in the discussion we have been conducting here. Picking up the discussion at the place where we deviated to furnish the above clarification on the truth that belongs to Christianity and its relation with the Church and the Churches; having acknowledged the necessity that the formative process of Christian thought to cease for a while (as it is done, after all, when we think it permissible for the sake of clarity to translate the big into the small, when, having written a book, one sends it to the editor and to the public, resisting the folly of the infinitum perfectionis), it was to be expected that the process eventually would be re-opened, reviewed and carried further and higher. What we have thought does not mean that we are finished with thinking: the facts are never dry sterile facts, they are always in gestation; to adopt a motto of Leibniz, it is always gros de l’avenir.

Jesus, Paul, the author of the fourth gospel, and all the others who cooperated with them in the first Christian era, led with their own example and action, which was enthusiastic and without pause in thought and in life, to ensure that the teaching they supplied would be not only a source, like a water spring, from which to attain eternally, similar to palm tree carrying fruits, but a perennial development, alive and malleable, that would dominate the course of history thus satisfying the new requirements and the new questions which they themselves did not feel or did not propose, but would later on be generated within the heart of reality.

Given that this execution, which is both transformation and addition, cannot be executed, without first determining, correcting and modifying the first concepts and adding new ones and complete new arrangements, and therefore devoid of repetitions or literary comments or banal work (as is in general, with a few notable exceptions, the case for the medieval period), but genial and congenial work, we must recognize as effective carriers of the religious work of Christianity all those who, beginning with its original concepts and integrating them with their critique and ulterior research, yielded substantial advancements in thought and life. These, with a few anti-Christian appearances, these men of Humanism and the Renaissance humanists of the Renaissance, despite some characteristics which may have appeared anti-Christian, understood the virtue of the poetical and of art and politics recovering full humanity against Medieval supernaturalism and asceticism. In some respects, the men of the Reformation, in as much as they amplified the doctrines of Paul, detaching them from particular references of his own time, were the rigorous founders of modern physico-mathematical and natural science, with new discoveries which gave new tools to human civilization.  

They were the promoters of a new natural religion and natural law and of tolerance, fountainheads of the following liberal conceptions; they were the enlightened men of triumphant reason who reformed socio-political life eliminating whatever there was left of feudalism, of medieval privilege of the clergy, and chasing away the darkness of superstitions and prejudices, lighting-up a new desire and a new enthusiasm for the good and the true and a renewed Christian and humanistic spirit; and then came the practical revolutionaries of France which extended their efficacy all over Europe, and then the philosophers who saw to it that a speculative Christian form be given to the idea of Spirit, substituting it to the ancient subjectivism, we have Vico and Kant and Fichte and Hegel, who directly or indirectly, inaugurate the conception of reality as history, thus overcoming the radicalism of the encyclopedic with the idea of evolution and the abstract libertarianism of the Jacobins and their institutional liberalism, and their abstract cosmopolitanism, by respecting and promoting the independence and the liberty of all the various civilizations of all people, or as they were called, of the nationalities: these and all the others like them whom the Catholic Roman Church anxious to protect its institution and the construction arrived at in the Council of Trent, consequently had to persecute and refuse to acknowledge the whole modern era which it condemns in one of its encyclicals, without being able to counter science, culture and modern civilization, the civilization of secularism, another rigorous science, culture and civilization.

So it has to reject with horror, as a blasphemy, the sullied name of those who work in the Lord’s vineyard, who have with their labor, sacrifices made the truth of Jesus fructify as announced by the first Christian thinkers and then elaborated, not differently than any other form of thought, as an outline to be perpetually supplemented by new lines and paragraphs. Neither could it bend to the idea that there were Christians outside every church, not less genuine than the ones who are inside, and much more Christians because they were free. But we who are writing neither to please nor to displease the men in the churches and understand, with the respect due to truth, the logic of their moral and intellectual position and the laws of their behavior, need to confirm the use of that name which history demonstrates as legitimate and necessary. The proof of his historical interpretation resides in the fact that the continual anti-Church debate, which runs through the centuries of the modern era, has always stopped at the reverent remembrance of Jesus, feeling that an insult to him would be an insult to oneself, to the very raison d’être of its ideals, to the heart of its heart.

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A Christian Cathedral in Helsinki Finland

Even some poets who have the freedom allowed to poets to portray imaginatively with symbols and metaphors the ideals and the counter-ideals according to their passion, saw in Jesus, that Jesus who loved and wanted joy, a denier of joy and a propagator of sadness, at the end had to deny their first judgment, as it happened with the German Goethe and the Italian Carducci. Also vagaries and imaginings of poets were the nostalgic recalling of the tranquil ancient paganism, usually contradicted by opposite vagaries by the very same people who had proposed them for a while. 

The thoughtless lightness and the fun which appeared innocuous whenever it was applied to any fact or person of history and poetry, has not looked so innocent, and it has never been allowed for the figure of Jesus, which has been avoided even on the stages of theaters, except for the naïve sacred representations of medieval times, still alive among the people, and tolerated and even promoted by the Church. Another proof is to be found in the attitudes and the symbolism of Christian flavor, which have decorated the political movements of the modern age, even those with a definite anti-clerical tinge of the 18th century Voltairians, so that we could speak of “the heavenly city,” and “the garden of Eden” transferred to ancient Rome or the Arcadia of reason and nature, which substituted the Bible or the Church, and other similar phenomena; even the revolutions of modern times referred to “prophets,” and sent their “apostles” and glorified their “martyrs.” The fact is that although the whole of history culminates with us as its children, ancient ethics and religion were superseded and resolved in the Christian idea of conscience and moral inspiration, the new idea of God in which we live and have our being, and who can no longer be Zeus, nor Jawhe, nor the German Wotan, despite the praises conferred on him in our times; and so in the moral life and our thinking, we feel that we are directly children of Christianity. Those who dream of a neo-paganism, do not consider the words of Burckhardt who has Hermes of the Vatican say these words: “We had it all, the glory of heavenly gods, eternal youth, but we were not happy because we were not good.”  Which is the same as saying: “we were not Christians.”

Nobody can know if another religion, at a par or superior to the one defined by Hegel as “the absolute religion,” will appear in the future within humankind, but of it we see not even a first light. It is obvious that in our present times, we are still not outside the parameters of Christianity, and that we, just as the first Christians, continue to labor in the construction of the rugged contrasts between immanence and transcendence, between the morality of conscience and that of the commandments and the laws, between liberty and authority, the heavenly and the earthly which are also within man, and the ability to compose them in one single form gives us joy and inner tranquility, and the consciousness that we will never compose them fully and exhaust the sentiment of the perpetual struggler, or the perpetual worker,  to whom and to whose grandchildren will never lack their subject matter, that is to say, of life.

Our recurring need is to preserve and reignite and feed the Christian element, today more than ever pressing and troubling, in between sorrow and hope. And the Christian God is still our God. Our sophisticated philosophies call him Spirit, who is always above us but is also ourselves; and if we no longer worship as mystery, it is because we know that He will always be a mystery in the eyes of abstract intellectualistic logic, misguidedly dignified with the name of “human logic, but in the eyes of concrete logic it is limpid truth which can be said “divine” understood in the Christian sense as that to which man continually aspires to, and which makes him truly man.

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 END  OF 67th SESSION OF THE  OVI  SYMPOSIUM (15/03/2016)

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Intro - P. 1 - P. 2 

2nd Meeting - 3rd Meeting - 4th Meeting - 5th Meeting - 6th Meeting - 7th Meeting - 8th Meeting -

9th Meeting - 10th Meting - 11th Meeting - 12th Meeting - 13th Meeting - 14th Meeting - 15th Meeting -

16th Meeting - 17th Meeting - 18th Meeting - 19th Meeting - 20th Meeting - 21st Meeting -

22nd Meeting -23rd Meeting - 24th Meeting - 25th Meeting - 26th Meeting - 27th Meeting -

28th Meeting -29th Meeting - 30th Meeting - 31st Meeting - 32nd Meeting - 33rd Meeting -

34th Meeting -35th Meeting - 36th Meeting - 37th Meeting - 38th Meeting - 39th Meeting -

40th Meeting -41st Meeting - 42nd Meeting - 43rd Meeting - 44th Meeting - 45th Meeting -

46th Meeting - 47th Meeting - 48th Meeting - 49th Meeting - 50th Meeting - 51st Meeting -

52nd Meeting -53rd Meeting - 54th Meeting - 55th Meeting - 56th Meeting - 57th Meeting -

58th Meeting -59th Meeting - 60th Meeting - 61st Meeting - 62nd Meeting - 63rd Meeting -

64th Meeting -65th Meeting - 66th Meeting - 67th Meeting -

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