Between the Priest and the Philosopher*
1. The affinity
of priest and philosopher is an archaic one. The priest may be the
older brother of the two, but both are originally of the same family.
A certain tension of the two is also as archaic.1 The
affinity concerns their engagement with what is ultimate and our
proper relation to it. The tension is that for the priest this relation
is inseparable from fidelity to a tradition which for the philosopher
never is quite beyond question. For the priest loyalty to a community
has a certain authoritative role in defining human importances,
and what counts as ultimately true, trustworthy, and deserving of
ethical and spiritual esteem. For the philosopher the call to think
through the meaning of our fidelities carries with it the chance
of striking out from the already sanctioned ways.
2. It is not
that the philosopher is not embedded in a tradition of thought.
It is not that the priest is necessarily an enemy of thought that
might induce modifications, even transformations of the hitherto
authoritative tradition. Perhaps it is somewhere in the stress between
tradition and thought that the difference comes to lie. Priests
can become authoritarian in this wise: guardians against thought
rather than guardians of a tradition’s endowment of truth. Philosophers
can become critical in this wise: merely debunking what has gone
before, hence more tearing down what has been than adding something
new to the treasury of worthy human possibilities. It is a too-well
rehearsed move of the philosophical despisers of religion to remind
us that the inquisitorial priest will offer Bruno to the bonfire.
It is less well recalled that someone like the genial Hume, in immortal
words of philosophical toleration, will consign to the flames all
those tomes of theology and metaphysics. The philosophers should
beware being too smug. From them too we smell the smoke and hear
the crackle of the fire.
3. The affinity
of priest and philosopher holds if there is an ultimate towards
which both are oriented. In this affinity the two are intimate others,
even if in tension. This tension in affinity is itself double. It
can be a source of conflict: either the priest or philosopher might
treat its intimate other as a rival, potentially hostile, if not
subordinate to its own claim to pre-eminence. It might also be a
source of fruitfulness: thought can keep fidelity alert, while fidelity
can keep thought poised on a path of discernment.
4. But what
if our orientation to God as ultimate is deemed beyond our concern
or beneath it, or denied outright? For instance, one can sometimes
find an emphasis on divine transcendence which the philosopher will
less seek to understand, as claim that it releases us from reflection
on this “beyond.” It is too beyond, so beyond that human thought
cannot concern itself with it. Let that “beyond” fall to the vocation
of priest; by contrast, the philosopher must seek to become the
rational master of the immanent whole. The priest may well stand
in accord with this proposal, consenting to being consigned the
special duty of guarding that “beyond,” though not by any means
of thought. A kind of dualism between priest and philosopher can
here come to be, and perhaps paradoxically due to a certain dualism
of immanence and transcendence. One thinks of Descartes, for instance.
Then philosophy will tend to define itself through itself alone,
not through its relation to another absolute, beyond both itself
and religion. At a certain extreme, the result is a secularizing
of philosophy. Thought will be desacralized. What the sacred is
will have little or nothing to do with thought. Perhaps fidelity
will be allowed in terms of a certain fideism, but the philosophical
mindfulness of that fidelity will not be to the fore.
5, It seems
to me that modern philosophy is marked by such a desacralized thought,
even as thought tries to maintain itself as a kind of absolute:
a power to make intelligible that is defined purely through itself
alone: absolutely autonomous, self-determining reason. Clearly in
this view, the priest and the philosopher will have little to do
with each other. Quite the opposite: the risk of hostility, often
claimed to be the preserve of premodern sacralized thinking, will
be very much in evidence, but now from the direction of the self-proclaimed
superiority of autonomous thought. The priest may now be decried
as a lackey of tyrannical tradition and dogma, not a free thinker.
The philosopher glories in the pride of thought.
6. This sense
of the relation between the two is a very modern construction and
it has entered deeply into the self-image of priest and philosopher,
but clearly there are other relations possible. If we live in postmodern
times, this construction may also ask to be deconstructed, and something
of their antecedent archaic affinity might return in new form. Of
course, many of those claiming to be postmodern still work with
an image of the philosopher as having shed the alleged authoritarian
tutelage of the priest. They are heirs of the Enlightenment as they
dismantle the Enlightenment. And yet a more fertile point to any
such deconstruction might be the opening up of a new, or renewed
porosity between the priest and philosopher as intimate others,
not as dualistic opposites. This porosity is not necessarily opened
by simply breaking down the identities of the priest and the philosopher.
A reformation of such identities might be required, or at least
some recuperation of an intimacy between them in their otherness.
I would say that it is crucial to maintain properly a sense of the
God “beyond” priest and philosopher, if each of these is to be seen
as offering different services of a transcendence that surpasses
either alone, and towards which the dialogue of the two tends.
7. Of course,
if there are different traditions, what it means to be a priest
will be different. Something analogous might be said of different
practices of philosophy. There is a certain consecration to divinity
or ultimacy in diverse traditions, even if the nature of the ultimate
or the ultimate divinity is differently understood. This consecration
takes the character of a certain intermediation: the priest stands
in a middle where there is said to be a communication from the ultimate
to the relative, and from the relative to the ultimate. These two
directions of communication need not be the same: from divinity
to us as graced and inspired; from us to divinity, as reverent and
praising. The priest is a consecrated middle: a between porous on
both sides, and hence able to turn in two directions, able to turn
around, upward and downwards, enunciating the relation of the two,
enacting it, incarnating it. A consecrated middle turning to finite
life, from a turn to what is above finite life. A consecrated middle
enacting the turn of human beings to God, or the turning of God
to human beings in creation, in sacred ritual and in a way of life
consecrated to ethical service of the other.
8. Does philosophical
thought have anything to do with this? In many practices of religion,
the priest was also a figure of wisdom, not unrelated to the sage.2
The philosopher is a later-born son in this family, perhaps giving
a different priority to critical thought than either, yet nevertheless
coming to be in a familial relation to them, a relation to be denied
at the cost of reducing philosophy to a technical expertise or a
quasi-scientific method, with the loss of the sapiential dimension
of reflective thought itself. For one might see the philosopher
also as a figure of the between: in Platonic terms a creature of
eros, daimonic in the sense of a mediator between the mortal and
the divine, emergent from the given materialities of existence yet
ecstatic and surpassing the limits of finite confinements in the
direction of the ultimate. The philosopher as between is both porous
to what is beyond the human self, and in human selving directed
to what is beyond, turning the soul in that direction by a discipline
of mindfulness that is more than the mere clever virtuosity of the
abstract intellect. The whole human being is put to the question,
put to the test.
9. In all this,
what authority or authorization is claimed, or can be claimed by
the philosopher? A priest has authority by being invested, first
relative to the divine as the ultimate endowing source, and second
relative to the long accumulated wisdom of a tradition or historical
community. This community is itself the more ultimate between, in
the space intermediating human beings and God. There is something
trans-individual about the priest as a between, just as a participant
in that community, and as consecrated with the endowing power of
the divine. I do not think the philosophy can or should claim any
such authorizing, and yet I think there can be a vocation to philosophy,
which again places priest and philosopher in the same between, and
as intimate relations of each other.
10. In modernity,
admittedly, there is a general tendency of philosophy to try to
generate its own self-authorization by claiming that rational thinking
justifies itself. Thinking is to be absolutely self-determining:
questioner, responder, and judge of the claims of others and of
its own claim. This self-authorization reaches its acme in modern
rational enlightenment, such as we find in the philosophy of Hegel,
for instance. It also continues in thinkers dedicated to the deconstruction
of modern rational enlightenment, such as Nietzsche, though here
things begin to become more deeply equivocal. These seemingly opposed
instances do not exhaust the possibilities. There is another view
of the heteronomy of philosophical thought that would bring
it closer to the religious porosity of the priest. This other view
suggests that thinking is not self-determining but is endowed from
an enigmatic source other to thought thinking itself. This possibility
was lived more spontaneously by premodern philosophers, I think.
Now in post-modernity, signs begin to flicker of something not unlike
it, beyond the deconstruction of absolutely autonomous secular reason.
The signs flicker in the porosity of philosophy to its most significant
others, especially great art, and being religious. Does this latter
possibility point to a new form of consecrated thought? Consecrated
thought beyond both the hubris of autonomous reason seeking self-absolutization
and the evisceration of reason in a deconstruction which has trouble
clearing nihilism, equally anti-philosophical as anti-religious?
Between Religion and Philosophy
11. What can
thought be between religion and philosophy? Of course, there is
the familiar fides quarens intellectum. This has been a desideratum
of the intellectually trained priest, as well as the philosopher
who wishes to make intelligible sense of the perplexing claims of
faith. It may well be true that in recent times the intellectual
vocation of the priest has fallen too much into desuetude: overreaction
to the too mechanical resort to a too packaged Thomism, coupled
with a breathless eagerness to catch up with the age. Of course,
anxiety about falling behind the age can occasion the jettisoning
of the wisdom of long ages for the fashionable babble of the daybabble
mutating from day to day. As there is a long community of faith,
there is a long community of thinking about faith and this must
be deeply respected. Otherwise we reinvent the wheel, and a wheel
does not necessarily move one better just because it is announced
Is there a thinking
between religion and philosophy, which is open to both, and yet
puts questions to both? Questions not only of the philosopher to
the priest, but of the priest to the philosopher? For if religion
is closest to the ultimate, as it is, then it seems questionable
to simply let the philosopher pose questions on his pet terms, and
his alone. Yet the priest has to have a fides of mind, a
con-fides or confidence, not just that religion can withstand
intellectual scrutiny but that it opens enigmas and perplexities
that put the philosopher to the utmost test. This asks of the philosopher
that she or he be porous to the possibility that there are forms
of religion that communicate from a space of significance more ultimate
than philosophy itself. A certain openness to the religious qua
religious must already be there.3
If the dialogue here
is two-way, the priest also must be open to what philosophy communicates.
Yet too, in the education of the priest, if the prevalent forms
of philosophizing are threadbare, one must beware of Greeks bearing
gifts. The practices of philosophy may already have so defined themselves
that this fertile space between philosophical thought and religion
may lie fallow. Some practices of philosophy may not even allow
that there is such a space at all where philosophical thought itself
is tested to the utmost. In that respect, the pedagogy of priest
has a vested interest in the health of robust philosophical thought
open to the space between itself and the religious. Once again,
though, if the dominant philosophical culture is defined by indifference
to, or hostility towards the religious, it is foolish to look in
the direction of philosophers for sapiential solidarity. Philosophy
is not a neutral conceptual tool, or intellectual technique. Embedded
in its practices are fundamental decisions and orientations towards
what is of most import, and ultimate: what it means to be, to be
true, to be good, to be a human person, what is or is not sacred,
what God is.
12. Perhaps the
notion of vocation reaches out on both sides in the middle space
between the priest and the philosopher. Vocation implies something
of a special calling. There is a certain singularity to a vocation.
This singular person is called to be such and such. If one believes
in a God that knows every creature to the hairs on their head, this
will not seem impossible, even if astounding relative to the kinds
of knowledges we possess. The agapeic love of the divine is to us
an idiot wisdom. Our knowledges are usually of a sort yielding a
more neutral generality or universality. But vocation bears on the
singular as singular. There might, of course, be a singular communitycertainly
this is claimed for the Jews as an elect people. The singularity
at issue will be hard to grant if we think in neutral generalities.
Relative to the singular human being, vocation bears on the intimacy
of being, and there seems something idiosyncratic, even idiotic
from the point of a more respectable generality or universality.4
This is not a point in rejection of more general assessments; yet
the singularity of vocation calls for a different kind of finesse
and discrimination. If one were only concerned with numbers, one
would have lost the thread, and one might as well recruit noughts
as anything else to swell the numbers.
13. There are
those in religious institutions who might be skeptical of the notion
of singular vocationorganization men, suspicious just of the
singular as singular. Yet if there is not some irreducible singularity,
what then recommends any specialness to the calling. One might be
humble to the point of self-effacement but if this singular tonality
of uniqueness is not granted its place, then God becomes a manager
of neutral universals, not a lover whose agapeic mindfulness knows
even the hairs on the heads of fragile mortals.
generally are also suspicious of vocation for not unlike reasons.
They love the neutral universal, and identify the singular with
the merely contingent and the capricious. They are not wrong in
this regard, namely, that a person might exploit claims to singularity,
when the real story is the puffing up of one’s pretensions to false
importance. In religion, as in any other areas, there is no immunity
from counterfeit singularities that mimic the real thing. Human
beings are driven to singularize themselves, to try to define themselves
as themselves. In this instance, the counterfeit singularity is
what it is by virtue of a self-insistence that has no opening to
what is beyond itself.
The singularity of vocation
is quite other. Since there is a call, there is a receiving more
primal than any self-asserting. The receiving so qualifies the self-asserting,
that all self-affirmation might undergo a metanoia in which
our indebtedness to an endowing source beyond ourselves moves us
in the direction of gratitude rather than self-glorification. There
is reverence for what has been given rather than arrogance for what
is claimed as one’s own.
15. Genuine religious
vocation has something of this special singularity, and indeed a
kind of idiocy, though again I would construe this idiocy in terms
of the intimacy of being. If the religious calling does not address
itself to what is most intimate in our being, it is hard to see
how it can make the ultimate claim on us that it does. Augustine
speaks of God as more intimate to me than I am to myself. This is
divine idiocy that calls even when we are dead and think that every
call is the urge of self-insistent ambition.
16. Some philosophers
have mulled on this self-insistence. I think of Plato’s understanding
of our tendencies to eros turannos. They have wanted to devise
therapies of mindfulness to moderate the tyranny of self-insistence.
That moderation can be effect in the direction of the neutral universal,
but if that is all, such a moderation can only amount to a partial
therapy, precisely to the degree that it is effected by the denial
or abrogation of the singular qua singular intimacy. I think of
Spinoza and the Stoics. It is rightly felt that there is something
other and beyond self-insistent singularity. But this is not exhausted
by the neutral or indifferent universal. There is what I call the
intimate universal: a community of being that in promise
extends to all, but that appeals to what is most intimate in the
depths of the singular soul, and within which that intimate appeal
finds itself addressed in a unique way. In my view, the genuine
religious community is the intimate universal, in the sense intended
here. Not a neutral universal, not a collection of merely capricious
singularities, but a community which guards and serves the intimacy
of the singular in bonds that are themselves constituted by the
most intimate of lovesloves that finally come to rest in the
divine as the absolute in agapeic mindfulness.5
17. In this community
of the intimate universal there is a sense in which we are all priests
as singularly called into the ultimate community. There may be some
singulars whose witness of life pays even more special honor to
what is asked of us by this community of vocation. The priest dedicated
to a life between the human and the divine stands out in witness
to this community of the intimate universal. But whether with all,
or with the special case, the intimate community is the between
of the human and the divine, graced by the communication of the
divine and served by the response of the human.
18. Could one
say also that there can be a vocation to be a philosopher in the
sense here intended? I think there is something to this. One might
choose to be a philosopher but there is an impulse to philosophize
that is not first the product of choice. It comes to us out of the
obscurity of the soul and the singularity of a life. For enigmatic
reasons we do not comprehend, less in the beginning than perhaps
later, we are called on a journey which will take us we know not
wherea journey into the darkness of our ignorance, and perhaps
the learned ignorance that may crown fidelity to the spirit of truthfulness.
From where does this call come? No philosopher has an answer. Our
answer to the call, in the beginning, is that we do not have an
answer, and so we heed the call. Or turn from it.
19. For the beginning
is a happening, not the product of a choicechoice comes later.
We are struck into astonishment. An otherness comes over one and
the strangeness of being at all communicates itself intimately,
calling us to mind it, to become mindful of what it means in the
full extent of its intelligibility and mystery. First there is a
happening of astonishment and perplexity to which we are patient;
then more mindful thought comes in the gap between this patience
and a seeking that would both respond and make sense. The seeking
seeks an answer by itself answering a call in which it does not
put the question but which puts it into question. A philosopher
is first put into question before he puts anything else into question,
even himself. Out of this receiving the activities of further thought
arisearise as a vocation committed to follow the call.
20. I sense that
in the longer traditions of the great religions this vocation was
well recognized in its fraternal (or sisterly) relation to the vocation
of the priest. It formed part of the vocation of some of the great
saints. But whether in a sanctified life, or not, there is a vocation
to thought which is first a solicitation before it is a commitment.
And there is no evident reward offered for the undertaking. The
professional enticements of a solid salary and social respectability
can hardly be held up as sufficient enticements to follow this vocation
to thought. One gets paid to be a professor, no one pays one to
be a philosopher. True, when one becomes a respected professor,
the confusion with the unpaid philosopher can quickly take over.
But the vocation is followed for nothing, done for nothing, nothing
beyond fidelity to the call itself, done for free. Those who feel
the attraction of philosophy as young students know that there is
a risk to be undertaken, and prudent parents fret about the paucity
of job prospects to crown such studies. The successful professor
can fulfill the role of a spiritual mirage in offering a mask that
hides the hazard of thought for free. The respectable professor
is the placebo of the philosopher. The philosopher, as following
a vocation to thought, may be a healeror, betraying that vocation,
21. Should the
training of the priest recover some appreciation of the vocation
to consecrated thought and foster it? Of course, to the secularized
reason of modernity the idea of consecrated thought makes no sense.
The idea of a priestly vocation also must make little sense, since
the identity of human beings is primarily defined by what they choose
to be rather than what they are called to be. In a fully secularized
world, who would be there to call the human being to be? Other human
beings? But other human beings seem heteronomous others, hence ambiguous
relative to our own claim to the autonomous self-determination of
identity. Do we call ourselves? There have been theories which amount
to such a self-calling. But how could the human being call to itself?
It would have to be split between itself as listening to itself
and itself as speaking to itself. People do talk to themselves thussome
sane, some mad. But how does the self-calling human being envisage
a more complete or higher version of itself to which it calls itself
to be? In some enigmatic sense it would already have to be its own
more complete or higher self. But why then call to itself? And how
then be a less complete or less high version of itself, if already
it is its own higher self? One can insist that the human being is
supposedly self-creating, but then we have the tension: it must
be itself to create itself, and it must create itself to be itself;
but how can it be both? And what if there is something already about
it given to be, before it creates itself? It does not create
this given, this being given to be. It is endowed with it as gift.
consecrated life and thought imply another calling that is superior,
higher than ourselves. I grant that it is not entirely false
to say we call ourselves to our own heights, in that we immanently
feel the call to be ourselves more truly, to be true to what we
are, to perfect the powers of life with which we are endowed. But
any such “self-calling” presupposes the prior granting of our own
being as endowed. We do not endow ourselves. And there is the reality
that the dimensions of vocation bear on something unconditionally
supreme in a religious sense, where the experience is of being called
beyond oneself, not only to oneself as realized as in a higher,
more perfect form, but called to something more transcendent still,
even though this is also intimately immanent. For, after all, to
hear a call is indeed something very intimate.
put, if there is a consecration of life, or thought, we do not consecrate
ourselves. We consent to a call, and find ourselves consecrated.
Before one lives a consecrated existence, one receives from another
source beyond oneself more than one could generate or define through
oneself alone. Consecration is an investiturean endowing that
confirms an endowment. And if it is also a commitment, this is to
something exceeding oneself. It is an exceeding commitment, in that
the living out of the consecration entails a hyperbolic dimension:
we could neither grant it, nor guarantee it through ourselves alone.
We find ourselves again and again called to lay ourselves open to
the strengthening source that empowers one to live up to the ideal.
We must be willing, but we cannot just will the attainment of this
ideal. There is a willing that is prior to this or that act of will:
a state of willingness, readiness, vigilance to what comes, in a
world recharged by consecration with enigmatic sacred significance.
24. A purely
secular ethos here makes no sense. While this seems more evident
with the priest, I think it has relevance to the philosopher also.
If there is a vocational side to philosophy, it makes sense to ask
who or what calls the philosopher, and to whom or what is she or
he called. If there is a sense of unconditional truth that carries
the thinker forward then we are in a space that is hard to render
in purely secular termsterms which reduce everything to immanent
conditionality. In such a milieu of immanent conditionals, from
where could the unconditional emerge, and make a call on us? And
yet it does emerge. It emerges in our ethical being, certainly;
and in our searches for the truth. While we do not possess the absolute
truth, we are under the charge of the spirit of truth, and called
to the utmost fidelity in being truthful. Being truthful is a token
of unconditionality in a conditioned finite creature like us: called
to an honesty and truthfulness that is not of our own construction
but that lays its charge on us.
25. The priest
might ritually be consecrated by incorporation into a religious
community. How is the thinker consecrated? Getting a PhD is not
the sacred ritual that magically transforms the graduate student
into a philosopherthough it might be the union card needed
to apply for an academic job with any chance of success. There seems
no ritual ordination in the ordination of the thinker to truth.
And yet there is an ordination. And what of the community into which
consecration gives initiation? The academic community, or college
of professors? I think this is not it either, since there is a difference
between being a professor and a philosopher, and sometimes academic
communities can be less than acute when it comes to philosophical
acumen. Many of the great philosophers were not members of an academic
community in that sense.
26. The ordination
of the philosopher would be more like a nameless initiation into
an incognito community of seekers after the ultimate, though again
there can be individuals who experience the call with an intensity
and urgency that many humans do not know. There is something intimately
universal about philosophy, and yet the difficulty of thinking makes
it so that it will be primarily for the few and only indirectly
for the many.
27. There will
be those who make haste to post their chilling indictment: Elitism!
This is not quite my point. Rather, it is the need to consider seriously
if there is such a thing as gifted thinking? I mean this
in two senses. First, there are some individuals who seem especially
gifted with the powers of thinking. These individuals have a spontaneous,
native feel for the energy of thought, and when they discover this,
they are lived by an energy of minding in which they participate
rather than fully possess through themselves alone. In a way they
are possessed by thinking. There is an element of the involuntary
and received: possessed in a way reminding us of the theiamania,
which for Plato is one of the gifts of the philosophers, as well
as the poets. This possession, needless to say, has its dangers.
It can equivocally skirt the boundaries of mad madness rather than
divine madness. We need discernment to see where the divine is in
the madness and where the madness is merely mad; and where the possession
is merely a defection from mindfulness.
Second, there is also
the sense of gifted thinking which applies in a wider way. One might
argue that more originally we do not think but find ourselves thinking.
We do not first think ourselves into thinking. We wake up
to ourselves already as thinking, as beings who are endowed with
the promise of mindfulness, even though the endowment can then be
developed according to its native gifts. But first there is the
original givenness of thinking as the promise of a unique power
of minding being that marks the human being. This gift-character
of thinking is forgotten when our image of thought is of a self-determining
reason which would define everything through itself alone. Nevertheless,
its power to define itself has first been given as a power or invested
as a promise.
28. At the origin
of itself, thought’s powers of self-determination are qualified
by a sourcing that retreats into recesses, even as we try to subject
it to our own autonomous self-determination. Thought’s source is
heteronomous but in no tyrannical sense. This sourcing gives us
the resource to think, in an endowing and releasing sense. After
all, it is an amazing thing that the human being wakes up to itself
and the rest of being, endowed with the astonishing power to mind
all things, itself included. Of course, as we develop this minding
power, we forget the amazing grant that minding thus is granted
at all. It is granted but once granted it is taken for granted
and henceforth we quickly forget the gifted character of the thinking.
A wakeful philosopher should be especially attentive to the enigma
of this gift.
takes us beyond self-insistent singularity, as I said above, and
yet it pertains to the singular as singular, as well as to ordination
to a community that transcends self-insistence. I would say that
the gifted thinking of consecrated philosophizing, like the vocation
to the priesthood, entails a certain porosity of being in which
one is a middle between the human and what transcends the human.
There is a passio essendi that is more primal than every
conatus essendi: a patience of being more original than all
our endeavors to be. It is with regard to this passio essendi
that the gift of thinking is also patiently received: given from
another source first, before developed this way or that, in its
endeavor to think this or that.
a response to the call of vocation means keeping this primal porosity
unclogged. In philosophy, keeping the porosity unclogged is aided
by the disciplines of reflection and inquiry that are attentive
to actualities beyond the immanent confines of bewitching abstractions.
In living, the porosity is kept unclogged in an orientation to life
that is ethically attentive to the sources of worth and value, and
that lives them as integrally as possible. In being religious, praying
is the happening that most keeps unclogged the primal porosity.
31. The priority
of the passio essendi does not mean a flaccid passivity,
a kind of lackadaisical lethargy towards things or deeds. It does
not entail a languid quietism but an alertness and readiness to
what comes to pass, and what we are to bring to pass. This alertness
is expressed in contemplative as well as active modes. Yet one might
stress that there is a patience of thought that is especially marked
by a vocation to something more contemplative in its way of being.
This especially is to be recalled in our time, when loud utilitarian
pressures harry us and toss us this way and that, depriving us of
all more inherent serenity, and rushing us from means to means,
with the end of it all lost in a maelstrom of acquisition that,
in craving possession of all things, ends in occupancy of nothing.
32. Gifted, consecrated
thought is patient thought. Hence it is contemplative of what exceeds
us, what exceeds our use and usages, what is worthy in its own right,
even when it does not accord with how we might more pragmatically
evaluate it. We are not the measure of consecrated thought, nor
is our measure the measure of what is worthy to be affirmed. The
energy of a transcending is in the patience of gifted thought, as
the passio essendi is caught up in surpassings beyond itself:
to truth as for itself, even if as also other to our mastery. We
might be the measure of many things but, as called, we are not the
measure of ourselves. There is a direction and destiny in the path
that is to be obscurely followed; but towards what the path goes,
we do not, and cannot know in advance with complete univocal certainty.
There is a certain faith in being given over to this path: a fidelity
in our passing along it to something exceeding our scientific determination,
even ethical determination. One remains faithful to it by remaining
faithful to the call as communicated and acknowledged in intimate
innerness: passing towards truth by the light of our own fidelity
to being truthful.
33. It is not
that this contemplative side is lacking its own practical side.
But this practical side is not utilitarian, is not defined by serviceable
disposability.6 It is more integrally ethical. That is,
we are called to the doing of the truth: the deed itself can incarnate,
be the enactment of, the call of being true.7 There are
many dimensions to our being ethical; but the most important here
is that the patience of being true calls us beyond our self-insistence
into a service of the good. This is a service of the good of the
other, but this is not exclusive of service of one’s own good. There
is a service of the good of self that also is beyond self-insistence.
At the heights this service is an agapeic service.8 The
service of consecrated thought it also an agapeic service: lived
out of gift, and in patience towards what is beyond oneself, but
out of a surplus of mindfulness that first again is given to one
before one can give oneself over to minding what is beyond oneself.
Minding that arises from being gifted comes to be a mindfulness
free to give itself over to what is beyond itselfand without
imposing conditions on the other in advance. To be a consecrated
thinker is hence impossible without the proper way of life: not
only mindful of the good of life, but living mindfully a good life.
34. The pragmatism
of modernity notwithstanding, there is a measure beyond the human,
and contemplation is needed to be open to it. Beyond the instrumentalizings
of modernity, there are practices of life in which we try to enact
with integrity the good. The consecrated passion of the first opening
is matched by the committed endeavor of the second enactment. Then
the passio essendi and the conatus essendi come to
be in accord, under the call of a more original patience to the
good, and a more unconditional doing that would live agapeically,
in light of the good beyond human measure.
35. This is why
one might say that such consecrated thinking awakens to itself in
the same family circle wherein praying is at home.
The intimacy of prayer is also a porosity to the divine. We do not
pray through ourselves; we await a gift of communication from the
divine, within which we find ourselves and to which we wake up in
prayer. The initiation, initiative comes from the other side, even
if we must respond in order for the communicationalready full
in its surplus fullnessto be further fulfilled by being heard.
36. There are
modes of thinking that are more like prayer than anything else.
One wakes up to something astonishing. One is struck into thought.
One finds oneself already in thinking, entertaining thoughts that
come to one from who knows where. In the past the meditative practices
of the philosophers have evoked certain likenesses with religious
meditation. These likenesses are the more lost, the more reason
wants to secularize itself, and the more the loss of the sapiential
dimension is carried through. With the sapiential dimension, thought
needs to relish the savor of truth. Sapiential savoring is not unlike
a taste of the divinea finesse for the divine.
37. One might
also say that the notion of agapeic service is cognate to this sense
of the porosity of prayer. Agapeic service lays itself open generously
to what is other. There need be nothing servile about this service.
This is a service which has the bearings of nobility. The priestly
height is down in the valleys of life, there where all self-affirming
sovereignty becomes again like a child, and the servant of servants
hiddenly passes by in a secret nobility. This service is not a matter
of possessing power but of being empowered and being able to empowerbut
not with one’s own power but with the energy of the divine in which
it is one’s privilege to participate. Being at all is this participation,
even when it is not known as such, and even when we remain unheeding
of its soliciting call.
* This article
was originally published in Louvain Studies 30 (2005), 92-106.
1. See my Philosophy and Its Others: Ways of Being and Mind
(Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1990), chapter
1, especially pp. 39-43.
Philosophy and Its Others, pp. 55-61.
some of these issues more fully, see my Is There a Sabbath for
Thought? Between Religion and Philosophy (New York: Fordham
University Press, 2005).
the idiotic and agapeic mind, see my Perplexity and Ultimacy
(Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1995), chapters
3 and 4; on idiot wisdom, see Philosophy and its Others,
the intimate universal, see my “Het Intieme Universeel: Tussen Religie
en Filosofie,” in Godsdienst/Filosofisch bekeken, ed. P.
Cortois, W. Desmond, I. Verhack (Kapellen: Pelckmans, 2003), pp.
71-87; also Is There a Sabbath for Thought?, introduction.
this see Ethics and the Between (Albany, NY: State University
of New York Press, 2001), chapter 14.
Being and the Between (Albany, NY: State University of New
York Press, 1995), chapter 12, “Being True.”
Ethics and the Between, chapter 16.