Introduction: The Impossible Possibility? Philosophy and Theology in the Work of Eberhard Jüngel
A ‘Christian Philosophy’ is a round square and a misunderstanding. There is, to be sure, a thinking and a questioning elaboration of the world of Christian experience, i.e. of faith. That is theology. - Martin HeideggerTraditionally, the relationship between theology and philosophy has been explored through the framework of ‘faith and reason’. This dichotomy can be seen ab ovo as early as the Presocratics, but it comes to the fore most prominently through the philosophy of Plato. In developing his epistemology, Plato divided reality into two orders: the visible realm (doxa) and the intelligible realm (episteme). For Plato, faith (pistis) falls within the realm of doxa, the realm of mere opinion, whereas reason (noesis) is the highest form of the episteme. Thus, true knowledge corresponds to being, whereas faith can only relate to matters of becoming and is thus a deficient form of knowledge.
Although the traditional approaches to the relationship between philosophy and theology may reach conclusions which in no way mirror the Platonic epistemology, they still generally operate from within this framework of ‘faith and reason’. From the outset, Jüngel has attempted to move beyond the Platonic definition of faith as existing in a dichotomous relation to reason, and has rather operated with a notion of faith which is developed from a reading of the New Testament. With this in mind, it should be noted that Jüngel is approaching the relationship between philosophy and theology from an entirely different perspective to that of the tradition. Therefore, before any notion of philosophy or theology within the work of Jüngel is explored, an investigation of the underlying framework of faith which lies behind Jüngel’s whole theological approach must be examined further.
Jüngel on Faith as Selbstverständnis
In any attempt to fully grasp the theological approach exhibited by Jüngel, the various and incongruent influences upon his approach cannot be overlooked. Jüngel weaves an intricate tapestry in which he brings together various disparate thinkers and, thus, he displays a broad horizon of various theological influences. Because of this, Jüngel is often claimed wholesale by one school within this horizon to the detriment of the appreciation of other influences, and to the detriment of the very theological approach which he seeks to utilise. With this in mind, an exploration of the notion of faith within the Jüngel corpus cannot be championed as ‘Barthian’ or ‘Bultmannian’, but should be appreciated as simply ‘Jüngelian’. However, that is not to say that Barth or Bultmann have nothing to offer to the discussion, but rather to direct the focus upon the whole rather than the constituent parts. That said, the massive influence of the Bultmannian concept of faith as Selbstverständnis is the paradigm by which Jüngel’s notion of faith is explicated. However, that is not to make Jüngel a simple Bultmannian, and so the rigorous pressure of Barthian theology upon Jüngel’s doctrine of faith cannot go unnoticed.
Whilst labelling Jüngel’s concept of faith as primarily a Barth-influenced Selbstverständnis, I am aware that the various expressions of this concept of faith throughout his corpus are far from neatly compartmentalised. This is no doubt the result of the existential character of this faith: faith is Selbstverständnis, self-understanding, “a new understanding of existence”. Faith is not merely some state of the human consciousness which bears upon the various other aspects of the human being. For Jüngel, faith is an event (Ereignis) in which the human participates and in which the whole of the person’s existence is conditioned. In this way, the ‘faith and reason’ framework is shattered. Faith is not a type of knowledge but instead the very reconstitution of one’s being. Undoubtedly, the holistic nature of this reconstitution of being must include the faculties of reason, but to simply juxtapose faith against reason is to reduce faith down to mere epistemology.
However, in developing a notion of faith as Selbstverständnis, a further problem must be avoided: the problem of mere anthropology. If faith is characterised as ‘self-understanding’, then is not faith merely reduced down to an anthropological possibility? In this fashion, Karl Barth could claim that Bultmann’s notion of faith as Selbstverständnis acted as an ‘anthropological strait-jacket’ or a ‘totalitarian interpretation’. This objection to Bultmann’s notion of faith as Selbstverständnis has lead to a recurring number of similar criticisms which ultimately claim that this notion of faith is little more than an embodiment of the Lutheran depiction of sin as homo curvatus in se. Instead of being open to that which is extra nos, the reality of God, we rather turn inwards to reflect upon the ego. Instead of being reliant upon the self-revelation of God, we rely sinfully upon our own understanding. However, Jüngel is as concerned as the staunchest of Barthians to avoid developing a notion of faith which presupposes an innate capacity for God in man. Thus, Jüngel can affirm, “Faith comes from the word in which God comes to speech (Rom 10.17). It is a word which is to the benefit of humanity and the human world, a word in which God attests and promises himself: the gospel” It only by a fuller understanding of the event which results in faith that the notion of faith as Selbstverständnis must be understood.
“Faith comes from the word in which God comes to speech.” Thus, faith comes to a person from beyond a person, from God, and it comes in the form of a word, not just any word, but in the form of a word in which God comes to speech: in the person of Jesus Christ. It is only through this identification of God with Christ, in which God comes to the world in speech, that the event of faith must be conceived. The event of faith is, therefore, the human participation in the word about Jesus. “The event of faith occurs when the word about this person [Jesus Christ] is received as the story of God’s own coming to the world, so that Jesus himself is apprehended as God’s past and continuing word to humanity.” Faith is an event, an ongoing occurrence, because it is based on an event: the identification of God with the man Jesus. Jüngel is keen to highlight the event-character of faith because it reduces the risk of conceptualising faith as a metaphysical state or attribute. Were this the case, then the identification of God in Jesus would be conceptualised simply as the highest instantiation of a more general metaphysical principle and, thus, God would merely become a part of this world. “If his identity with the man Jesus were not understood as the event of his indentifying, of his coming to the world, God would be thought of as part – and only part – of the world.”
Jüngel’s conception of the notion of faith can be described as ek-static, as coming from beyond the individual, and thus the ground (Grund) of faith is not the human ego, but rather the God who gives himself to the world. However, the ‘giveness’ of God is not simply reduced down to the level of a passive faith. Jüngel is also keen to argue that ‘giveness’ is just as fundamentally active: it is a ‘giveness’ to knowledge. In giving himself to the world, God, as the ground and source of faith, gives himself up to be the object (Gegenstand) of faith.
Faith is the human participation in the word of Jesus Christ with who God identifies himself. As such it is a Selbstverständnis in which the whole of the human being is reconstituted. This notion of ‘self-understanding’ is not a subjective category, but rather an ek-static movement from beyond the human subject, a movement initiated by God. However, in the event of faith, God gives himself to be the object of faith. It is this ‘giveness’ of God to be the object of faith that results in the need for Christian theology. Jüngel does not operate with a simple paradigm in which ‘faith’ and ‘reason’ are neatly juxtaposed. Instead, he understands reason as constituent element within the reconstituted human person, a human person to whom God has been given as the object of faith.
Theology Thinks Faith
“Faith gives itself to be thought… Faith is passionately concerned to understand itself and thereby understand God.” It is precisely the fact that faith gives itself to be thought that faith needs theology. We have seen how, for Jüngel, faith can be seen as an ek-static movement beyond the subject outwards. The existential nature of faith makes it impossible for faith to be self-reflective. If it could be so, then faith would cease to be what it is: a correspondence to the word of Jesus Christ. As a result, “because faith in every respect points away from itself, the believer needs something like theology.” For Jüngel, therefore, in its simplest form, theology thinks faith. Faith does not think itself. Thought thinks. Thus, theology and faith exist in tension. Theology is not an act of faith but an act of thought. The formal tension between faith as the act of faith and theology as the act of thought touches upon a more basic question regarding the nature of theology: why is it that faith must be thought in the first place? To ‘think’ God is to expose oneself to the dangers of objectivism, of turning God into a mere component of this world’s reality, to make him into an idol. It is exactly this hazard that lead Bultmann to raise the cry of ‘Demythologise!’ within the theological world. For Bultmann, faith was the existential determination of one’s being and, because of this, faith could not be given over to thought without losing itself as faith.
However, Jüngel highlights the inherent problem in simply letting faith be faith. If faith is the event in which God and man come into the closest correspondence (Entsprechung), then there is a danger of this event of faith collapsing the distinction between God an man so that neither God nor man can no longer be distinguished from faith. In order to avoid this ‘Feuerbachian inversion’, theology submits the event of faith to critique and emphasizes the foundational rôle of the act of God in the concrete history of Jesus Christ in dying and rising again. Without theology’s critique of faith, the God who is ‘creator fidei in nobis’ becomes almost indistinguishable from a faith which becomes ‘creatrix divinitatis in nobis’. The importance of the task of theology for Jüngel, therefore, cannot be overstated. Theology thinks faith because, without it, faith would take the place of God, rendering God unnecessary, or take the place of the believer, making faith into an anthropological category. “Were faith not distinguished from God, then ‘God’ would become a superfluous word. Were the believer not distinguished from faith, then faith would become a simple matter of course.”
Philosophy Thinks Thought
When the theological task is articulated in this way, as the rational reflection upon the existential event of faith, the relationship between philosophy and theology becomes much more apparent. Theology thinks faith. Philosophy thinks thought. Both philosophy and theology are acts of thought. Not only that, but philosophy bears upon theology in so far as it thinks thought. Theology, as thought, is part of the intellectual history of thought and as such is affected by the contemporaneous thought-forms that will undoubtedly change with time. One of the most pertinent theological tasks is the attempt to think faith in such a way that the self-critique of faith is not ignorant of the concerns of contemporary thought. That is not to say that theology is governed by thought – “Theology must be prepared to learn what may be learned from a philosophy” yet there will be time when “theology will obviously have to go its own direction, and it cannot simply be identical with the intellectual path of the philosopher.”
Jüngel is careful to nuance the subtle difference between philosophy and theology as acts of thought. The importance of this formal difference between both philosophy and theology emphasises again the ‘otherness’ of the word which theology brings to thought. Theology begins with a presupposition: “The concept of the word of God implies as such the presumption that God be taken seriously as the one who speaks.” Theology, therefore, is dependant upon the self-revelation of God in history so that it can ‘hand over’ faith to thought. In this way, it is not derived from the structure of thought and is therefore more than an anthropological possibility. On the other hand, philosophy grounds itself. If philosophy is the self-reflection of thought, the thinking of thought by thought, then philosophy is self-justified: it ‘posits itself absolutely’. Thus, philosophy and theology, although both acts of thought, still remain subtly distinguished from one another.
There is in Jüngel, therefore, a carefully developed notion of the relationship between philosophy and theology; a dissimilarity in similarity. Whilst both philosophy and theology are formally acts of thought, they still differ materially in that theology remains parasitic upon the event of the word of God appearing in history whereas philosophy is self-justifying. In this sense, it becomes obvious how the relationship between philosophy and theology can only be conceptualised with recourse to the person of Jesus Christ in history. “Theological critique is materially the orientation of theology to the ‘word of the cross’ as the ‘word’ (logos) which is constitutive for all talk about God, and this orientation must be constantly renewed.” In the chapters that follow, a more explicit exploration of this formal relationship will be undertaken so as to more richly develop Jüngel’s conception of the usefulness of philosophy to the theological task.
- That is not to say that the relationship between these two notions is always understood in the same way. Thus, we come across a number of studies with titles ranging from Faith and Reason, Faith with Reason, Faith beyond Reason, Faith and Rationality, &c.
- See Helm, Paul Faith and Reason, ed. Paul Helm, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 15.
- The fullest expression of this epistemology is found in Book VI of the Republic, trans. Tom Griffiths, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).
- Jüngel, ‘Theologische Wissenschaft’, 20.
- The best expression of this comes in the discussion of Hegel in God as Mystery of the World, in which Jüngel explores the ‘faith and reason’ framework through history. Jüngel categorises three major periods in this history – (1) Faith and knowledge as a peaceful distinction within theology (religion), (2) Faith and knowledge as a disputative distinction between theology (religion) and philosophy, (3) Faith and knowledge as an unreconciled distinction within philosophy. See Jüngel, Eberhard. God as the Mystery of the World, trans. Darrell Guder, (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1977), 67-89.
- See Webster, John B. Eberhard Jüngel, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 26, where Webster reduces the influence of Bultmann to mere exegesis and the influence of Barth to mere dogmatics.
- I use Bultmannian in the wider sense of the word to include those who were influenced by Bultmann and subsequently influenced Jüngel, i.e. Ernst Fuchs, Gerhard Ebeling, &c.
- As an exercise, take a copy of God as the Mystery of the World and read through ‘Section 11: The Word as the Place of the Conceivability of God’ noting the various definitions of faith that are given throughout the passage.
- Bultmann, Rudolf ‘Das Problem der “naturlichen Theologie”’ in Glauben und Verstehen: Gesammelte Aufsätze, (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1933-65), vol. 1, 297.
- The notion of faith as Ereignis is an abstract concept. Whilst it seeks to avoid the problems of the Platonic notion of faith as diminished truth it poses a number of problems of its own. For a number of criticisms of the Ereignis character of faith see Watson, Francis ‘Is Revelation an ‘Event’?’ in Modern Theology 10, (1994).
- For the fullest expression of this notion by Jüngel, see Jüngel, Eberhard ‘Glauben und Verstehen: Zum Theologiebegriff Rudolf Bultmanns’ in Wertlose Warheit: Zur Identität und Relevanz des christlichen Glaubens: Theologische Erörterungen III, (Munich: Christian Kaiser, 1990).
- Bultmann, Rudolf ‘Gnade und Freiheit’ in Glauben und Verstehen: Gesammelte Aufsätze, (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1933-65), vol 2. 160.
- On this, see the essay by Ben Myers in which a mediatorial path between Barth and Bultmann is carefully trod – Myers, Benjamin ‘Faith as Self-Understanding: Towards a Post-Barthian Appreciation of Rudolf Bultmann’ in International Journal of Systematic Theology, etc. etc.
- Barth, Karl Church Dogmatics III/2, ed. T.F. Torrance and G.W. Bromiley, (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1960), 446.
- Barth, Karl ‘Rudolf Bultmann – An attempt to Understand Him’ in Kerygma and Myth: A Theological Debate, ed. Hans Bartsch, trans. R.H. Fuller, (London: SPCK, 1953-62), 115.
- See Myers, ‘Faith as Self-Understanding’, 3-4.
- That is not to say that I see this criticism of Bultmann as landing neatly on the mark. See Myers, ‘Faith as Self-Understanding’ for a fuller treatment of Bultmann.
- Jüngel, Eberhard ‘My Theology – A Short Summary’ in Theological Essays II, trans. and ed. J.B. Webster, (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1995), 6.
- “Whatever the word ‘God’ is to mean for our thinking is determined, for the Christian faith, in Jesus. Faith understands him and confesses him as the word of God…Through him, according to Hebrews (1:2), God has spoken to us definitively.” Jüngel, God as Mystery, 12.
- DeHart, Paul Beyond the Necessary God: Trinitarian Faith and Philosophy in the Thought of Eberhard Jüngel, (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1999), 22.
- For some insightful remarks on the event-character of Jesus identification with God see Webster, Eberhard Jüngel, 35-36.
- Jüngel, Eberhard ‘Metaphorical Truth’ in Theological Essays I, trans. and ed. J.B. Webster, (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1989), .
- “In so far as the knowing human person is the subject of knowledge of God, God must be spoken of as the object of this knowledge. In this sense, talk about God’s ‘being-as-object’ is indispensable.” Jüngel, God’s Being is in Becoming, 55.
- Jüngel, ‘My Theology’, 9.
- Jüngel, ‘Freiheit der Theologie’, 18.
- Jüngel, ‘Theologische Wissenschaft’, 13.
- Jüngel, ‘My Theology’, 9.
- In this way, theology must be conceived of as a Nachdenken, or thinking after, which occurs not only temporally ‘after’ the event of faith, but follows in the wake of the faithful existence. See Jüngel, God as Mystery, 167-169.
- Bultmann -
- Jüngel, ‘Freiheit der Theologie’, 25.
- Jüngel briefly expounds this notion of the ‘Feuerbachian inversion’ in Jüngel, Eberhard ‘What Does it Mean to Say, ‘God is Love’?’ in Christ in our Place, eds. Trevor Hart and Daniel Thimell, (Exeter: Paternoster Press, 1990), 304-305.
- This notion can also been seen in the critique of Hegel in God as Mystery. “God became man in Jesus Christ in order to distinguish definitively between God and man forever, and this soteriological aspect is not dealt with by Hegel but turned into its opposite. Hegel’s God needs man, who thereby becomes divine himself.” Jüngel, God as Mystery, 94.
- Jüngel, ‘Freiheit der Theologie’, 25.
- Ibid., 56-57.
- The notion of ‘thought’ in Jüngel is no doubt influenced by the philosophy of the later Martin Heidegger. This is all too often ignored within Jüngel scholarship and so a reading of Heidegger can only be useful to this end. For Heidegger, the notion of thinking as ‘meditative thinking’ is expounded through the notion of Gelassenheit. That is, thought is a releasement towards things, an openness to mystery. The strong ties with Jüngel’s thought here are striking. See Heidegger, Martin ‘Was heisst Denken?’ in Basic Writings, ed. David Krell, (San Fransisco, CA: Harper, 1993) and also Heidegger, Martin Discourse on Thinking, trans. John Anderson and Hans Freund, (New York: Harper and Row, 1969).
- “Whatever must necessarily be thought can only possibly be thought in the historical context of thought.” Jüngel, God as Mystery, 200.
- This, after all, is the driving framework behind Jüngel’s magnum opus, God as the Mystery of the World. The driving hermeneutic behind this work is the tension between the ‘God’ of theism and the ‘God’ of atheism. Jüngel constantly returns to this aporia which colours the whole work: “The statement of the death of God reveals that there is an aporia in the ‘natural’ concept of God which makes the essence of God problematical, and it does so not only in its Christological usage but also in its nontheological, expressly atheistic usege.” Jüngel, God as Mystery, 102.
- Jüngel, God as Mystery, 153.
- Jüngel, God as Mystery, 153.
- The most explicit example of this comes in the article ‘Die Freiheit der Theologie’, where Jüngel carefully formulates this relationship in a very precise manner. See Jüngel, ‘Freiheit der Theologie’, 56-57.
- Jüngel calls this presupposition the ‘presumable presumption’ in Jüngel, God as Mystery, 161.
- In God as Mystery, Jüngel contrasts the ‘thinking of the world’, which is undertaken by philosophy, with the attainment of ‘more than the world’ which is accomplished by theology; a theology which presumes that God is the God who speaks. See Jüngel, God as Mystery, 160-161.
- See Jüngel, ‘Das Verhältnis der theologischen Disziplinen’, 43.
- Jüngel, God as Mystery, 38-39.