Foundational Thinkers

In the theological circles that I identify with there are many streams of thought which converge in the current conversation. I would like to briefly identify some of the great thinkers, past and present, who define that conversation.

Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy

Eugen Rosentstock Huessy (ERH) was a German Christian thinker. Peter Leithart discusses him in this article, which I will quote here.

The scope of his life’s work is impressively unclassifiable. He disdained the disciplinary confinements of the modern university, and the disdain shows. He wrote on language, religion and the Bible, calendars, time, and grammar. He published a massive history of the Western revolution and a three-volume Soziologie, as well as a monograph on his academic specialty, medieval German legal history. When he came to America, he took a chair in German language and culture at Harvard, but he could have taught sociology, law, philosophy, comparative religion, or any of a half dozen other disciplines. Harvard didn’t know what to do with him. Since he talked a lot about God, they sent him to the divinity school.

Openly orthodox, Rosenstock-Huessy was also a remarkably progressive thinker, embodying what Chesterton, one of Rosenstock-Huessy’s favorite authors, described as the adventure of orthodoxy. This is evident particularly in his meditations on time, and the fundamental temporal orientation of his work. He observed that institutions, ideas, and systems have their day—and then something new is needed: “Philosophies have their time. It is a misunderstanding to attribute a perennial character to any particular philosophy. Philosophy is the expression of a zeitgeist. Philosophies must be buried at the right time. The Jesuits know that Thomism is dead.” He spoke of the world entering a “Johannine” age of history, an age of the Spirit that would move quite differently from the earlier ages of the Church: “each generation has to act differently precisely in order to represent the same thing. Only so can each become a full partner in the process of Making Man.”

I have not read ERH myself, but need to and hope to find the time to in the future.

René Girard

Rene Girard is a French philosopher famed for his theory of “mimetic rivalry” and his discussion of the scapegoat mechanism in society. Perhaps a portion of this interview will serve to summarize his views:

NPQ: Is Christianity superior to other religions?

Girard: Yes. All of my work has been an effort to show that Christianity is superior and not just another mythology. In mythology, a furious mob mobilizes against scapegoats held responsible for some huge crisis. The sacrifice of the guilty victim through collective violence ends the crisis and founds a new order ordained by the divine. Violence and scapegoating are always present in the mythological definition of the divine itself.

It is true that the structure of the Gospels is similar to that of mythology in which a crisis is resolved through a single victim who unites everybody against him, thus reconciling the community. As the Greeks thought, the shock of death of the victim brings about a catharsis that reconciles. It extinguishes the appetite for violence. For the Greeks, the tragic death of the hero enabled ordinary people to go back to their peaceful lives.

However, in this case, the victim is innocent and the victimizers are guilty. Collective violence against the scapegoat as a sacred, founding act is revealed as a lie. Christ redeems the victimizers through enduring his suffering, imploring God to “forgive them for they know not what they do.” He refuses to plead to God to avenge his victimhood with reciprocal violence. Rather, he turns the other cheek.

The victory of the Cross is a victory of love against the scapegoating cycle of violence. It punctures the idea that hatred is a sacred duty.

I have his book “Violence and the Sacred” but have not read it yet.

Cornelius Van Til

Finally, there is the great Cornelius Van Til. Van Til is well-known for being a pioneer of presuppositional apologetics and the transcendental argument for the existence of God. He stressed the antithesis between the believer and the non-believer. Van Til said this of his own method:

My understanding of the relationship between Christian and non-Christian, philosophically speaking.
1. Both have presuppositions about the nature of reality:
a. The Christian presupposes the triune God and his redemptive plan for the universe as set forth once for all in Scripture.
b. The non-Christian presupposes a dialectic between “chance” and “regularity,” the former accounting for the origin of matter and life, the latter accounting for the current success of the scientific enterprise.
2. Neither can, as finite beings, by means of logic as such, say what reality must be or cannot be.
a. The Christian, therefore, attempts to understand his world through the observation and logical ordering of facts in self-conscious subjection to the plan of the self attesting Christ of Scripture.
b. The non-Christian, while attempting an enterprise similar to the Christian’s, attempts nevertheless to use “logic” to destroy the Christian position. On the one hand, appealing to the non- rationality of “matter,” he says that the chance- character of “facts” is conclusive evidence against the Christian position. Then, on the other hand, he maintains like Parmenides that the Christian story cannot possibly be true. Man must be autonomous, “logic” must be legislative as to the field of “possibility” and possibility must be above God.

 

 

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