The History of Religions: Essays in Methodology by Mircea Eliade and Joseph M. Kitagawa (eds.)
Mircea Eliade was born in Bucharest in 1907 and began teaching in the field the history of religions in 1946 at the Sorbonne in Paris. He was a member of the University of Chicago faculty from 1957 until his death in 1986. His many books include: Cosmos and History (1959), The Sacred and the Profane (1959), Myths, Dreams and Mysteries (1960), Images and Symbols (1969), and Myths and Reality (1963). Published by University of Chicago Press, 1959. The material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.
Phenomenology of Religions and Philosophy of Religion by Jean Daniélou
The problem of a systematization of the data furnished by the history of religions has today entered a decisive phase. The immense amount of material accumulated has shown that analogous structures have been found over and over again in different religions and that it has therefore been possible to state some general laws which permit us to think in terms of an ordered unity and at the same time to differentiate the religious datum at various levels in its historical totality. Various attempts of this kind have been made, among which those of Van der Leeuw and Eliade are well known. Joachim Wach proposed a classification of types of religious experience for which there is very great interest.
Recently Henry Duméry has made an attempt to go still further. (Critique et Religion [Paris: Société d’Éditions d’Enseignement, 1957]; Philosophie de la Religion [2 vols.; Paris: Presses Universitaires, 1957]; Le Problème de Dieu [Bruges: Desclée, De Brouwer, 1957]). Taking his position with regard to the authors we have just cited, he writes in his Critique and Religion:
Joachim Wach, with all that he claims for his typology, has to contend with a normative method. His manner of classification of the great forms of religious experience amounts, in fact, to a strongly rational selection. But it hardly rests on well worked out philosophical criteria. One can say as much of Van der Leeuw and Eliade, whose works are otherwise extremely valuable [CR, p. 204].We would like to see whether Duméry has succeeded in his proposal to bring to the phenomenology of religions the philosophical justification which it lacked.
Professor Duméry’s point of departure is incontestable. The history of religions today confronts us with an immense amount of material dealing with myths, symbols, and rites. All these elements have a truth value. But they must be examined critically. This allows us to discover their meaning, to verify their interrelationships, and at the same time to affirm their foundation. The philosophy of religion is in no way a substitute for religion itself. Religion is still the essential thing. Yet philosophy does bring a kind of verification to the spontaneous and existential movement of religion. It bears witness to the fact that religion is not an illusion or an emotional allurement, but that it answers to the most rigorous test of reason. It also purifies religion of its distortions.
Reason must in turn be criticized, however. Indeed, in its effort to reduce and to unify, it risks conceiving God as nothing more than the universal principle of intelligibility. And precisely this God of reason could never be the true God. Actually, as Duméry so often reiterates, the true God can never be treated as an object of reason. He is sovereign subjectivity. He is also beyond all that the mind conceives him to be. He transcends all determinations by which the mind aspires toward him.
A fruitful study might begin with these two remarks. It would consist of a dialectic in which immediate religious data would constantly be the object of critical reflection, but also in which critical reflection would constantly be referred to specific religious situations. The problem would be analogous to that of the relationships between the Bible and theology. The Bible should be continuously elaborated by theological reflection, but religious reflection must always remain in touch with the realities of the biblical witness, the first, irreducible principles upon which this reflection takes place. Austen Farrer in The Glass of the Vision has well demonstrated the necessity for this dual approach.
But this is precisely what appears inadequate to Henry Duméry, whose method aims at a much more radical reduction. For him, symbols and concepts do not represent two parallel lines of approach which ought to criticize each other, one arising from existence and the other from reason, but they are two stages of a hierarchy whose levels express successive modes through which the mind seeks to grasp the transcendent One. The object of criticism or of the philosophy of religion is simply to reduce these modes to the creative activity of the mind, of which they are the determining conditions, to order them in an ascending hierarchy, and thus afford them their rational justification.
Professor Duméry’s criticism would then tend to be based upon the explaining of religion under its different modalities. This basis would consist in showing in these modalities the expression of the very life of the mind in its orientation toward the One, which is, for Duméry, the true name of God. Indeed, insofar as they are determinations, these modalities do not come from God. He is beyond all determination. They come, then, from the activity of the mind. They are not imposed upon it from without. It is the mind that creates them, in the order of knowledge as well as in the order of existence. But at the same time the mind must also determine itself. It cannot aspire to the inaccessible One except through a certain multiplicity. But it can manage this multiplicity all the better when it has its only source in the mind itself.
Here we come to the essential point of what we are compelled to call Henry Duméry’s religious philosophy, for it is no longer just a question of a critique of religious representations but of a certain interpretation of the relationship between God and the mind. This essential point is that, for the author, not only is the mind transcendent with regard to all determining conditions, which we willingly accept, but that it is the creator of these conditions. In other words, determination, which of course is foreign to God in himself, is equally foreign to God in man and in the world, that is to say, it has its sole origin in the very mind or spirit of man. This is the principal thesis of Professor Duméry’s philosophy. He repeatedly returns to his refusal to apply to God the quality of creator. Insofar as the word creator means the source of determination, it corresponds to the level of the intelligible, not of the divine, of the one-multiple, not of the one.
We can clearly see the concern which this position reflects. It entails an avoidance, in the representation of the relationships of God and the mind, of all forms of dependence which might be suggested by the world of physical causality. And this concern is quite legitimate. The relationships of God and the mind are those of two inward natures. God is sovereign inwardness. And it is in progressively interiorizing himself that man tends toward God. To be sure, his is a derived inwardness. It is the hidden presence in him of the One who is the very source of his perpetual interiorization, the attraction of the sovereign inwardness. But it is also clear that this process of interiorization expresses itself with increasing spontaneity and autonomy.
Let us apply this to the problem of determinations. It is essential to the true nature of the relations between God and man that man does not receive determinations from God, but that he provides them for himself. So the relationship remains that of two autonomous subjects. Besides, it is clear that if determination as such comes only from the intelligible, the intelligible draws from God the energy by which it is itself determined. And it also follows that through the determinations the intelligible seeks to grasp the inaccessible core of the One, in relation to which they alone take their meaning. Thus religious structures at different levels are the creations of the human mind, creations by which it aspires to the inaccessible One.
Such is the final reduction which Professor Duméry proposes to give to the science of religions a really philosophical and rational status. It does not lack positive elements. We have pointed them out in passing. One will note how the concern to defend transcendence is accompanied by that which seeks to justify rational demands. The necessity of criticizing religious representations and of pointing out their deficiency in relation to the aspired object is admirably underlined. The transcendence of freedom with regard to all objectivity which would impose itself from without responds to the claims of the best of Christian existentialism.
But there remains one fundamental difficulty which concerns the principal thesis of Duméry’s system. This thesis holds that the source of determination is not in God but in the mind, for otherwise the transcendence of God could not be preserved. The consequence of this would be that there is movement of man towards God, but not of God towards man. For Duméry, God moves by the desire to bring the world into being, but does not intervene in it. There is no analogy in the order of knowledge, nor creation in the order of efficiency. It follows that religious structures are exclusively the creation of the mind, strivings by which it aims at the One through necessarily multiple representations.
One may wonder whether this takes into account the religious attitude in its essence -- for the present I put aside the Christian event, which poses still other problems -- for the religious attitude appears fundamentally as the expression of a dependence, whatever the point of departure for this dependence may be. Moreover, this clearly implies that the mind finds itself in conflict with some determinations which do not arise out of its own activity. Duméry has clearly foreseen this objection (PR, I, 30-34). He replies to it by saying that in order for the freedom of the mind not to be pure, arbitrary contingency, as it is according to Sartre, it is enough that the mind be animated by a basic dynamism toward the One: the determinations of its thought as of its action would then not have to be supplied from without. They will be the expression that the mind will give to itself with the guidance of its intelligence and its will, and they will find their norm in this orientation toward the One. This is the definition of the mind as both act and law (PD, pp. 100-102).
But this does not seem to do justice to the true character of the religious fact, which is to make us feel the resistance of an Other through the awareness of the laws of our own being. Sin, in the religious sense, is not a defect in the harmony of a spiritual order; it is an offense against the most holy will of God. And this implies that determinations of action and of knowledge, the good as well as the true, are not founded on the exigencies of the life of the mind, but that they express the exigencies of God. In other words, it is not in my mind that I find the ultimate basis of religious expressions. They manifest not only the vitality which turns me toward God, but first of all that which brings God to my awareness.
Now does this not seem to compromise the transcendence of God, in reducing him to determinations, and the transcendence of man in subjecting him to objective norms? Thus it would be if we accept transcendence as Duméry conceives it, but this view seems very materialistic and objectivistic. Indeed for him, transcendence is the unity which is sought through all multiplicity and for which all multiplicity is only a degradation. Yet one may ask if this transcendence, which appears at the beginning of a homogeneous series, is a true transcendence. It can, in fact, be made to agree perfectly with a rationalism or pantheism. This transcendence is that of Plotinus and of Spinoza, but in truth it is only a limit and not properly speaking a "beyond." It does not mark off that chasm between God and all else which is unbridgeable in the sense of going from man to God and bridgeable only in the sense of going from God to man -- that chasm which expresses the idea of creation.
True transcendence is to be sought in another vein, that is to say, in terms of a sovereign subjectivity which is both infinitely more accessible and much more susceptible to free communication without becoming diminished. It would seem that Duméry’s God has to be remote in order to safeguard a transcendence which would prevent his intervention in the world. But if we are dealing with the transcendence of a sovereign subject, with a personal life, it is not immediately evident how its transcendence would be diminished by the fact that it freely communicates itself. For it remains inaccessible to all pretention of taking hold of it. Thus the transcendence of God is not altered by the creation, through which he places before him, both in its consistency and its dependence, the spiritual or psychic creation, in the manner of making it the protagonist of a dialogue and rendering it capable of an exchange of love. But this, which is the very essence of authentic transcendence, is more or less suspect for Professor Duméry, who rejects the God of dialogue (PD, p. 110) and the notion of creation applied to God.
The same problem arises concerning the transcendence of the mind. It is clear that the mind does not see itself as subject to a system of abstract norms. The only reality which can impose itself on the mind is one which surpasses it in the line of its own excellence, that is, of inwardness. But precisely that which causes the determination of laws as well as essences rightfully to impose themselves upon the mind will respect in them the truth and goodness of sovereign subjectivity. It is in this sense that heteronomy is constitutive of religion. But it is a heteronomy by which an autonomous subject freely submits itself to an order not of its own making, in which he pays homage to the expression of the Good that imposes itself absolutely on his behalf.
I understand Duméry’s impatience with the idea of a determining structure which could impose itself upon freedom from outside. Essences and norms are only ways by which the mind which transcends them tends toward the One. But these essences and these norms the mind does not give to itself, any more than it gives itself to itself. It receives them, as it receives itself. And religion is precisely this, not at first a movement of man toward God, but a movement of God toward man, implying a tension between the divine sovereignty and human freedom, a radical dependence of being and action. Thus, for fear of seeing the human mind treat its own creations as divine realities, Duméry comes out with a God so separated from the world, so foreign from the world, that one wonders if he is still the God of religion.
Furthermore, it indeed seems that here there is a contradiction in Duméry’s thought between the emphasis that he places on the transcendence of freedom in its relation to all determinations, and on the other hand his conception of the whole as a hierarchy of essences. This seems to be bound up with his rejection of the ontology which has its ultimate basis in existence as such. The primacy that he gives to the One over Being inevitably also gives primacy to the opposition of the one and the many over the relationship of uncreated being to created being. Persons become accidents of the eternal intelligibility, instead of the intelligible subsisting only in contingent persons (PR, I, 83).
One may then ask if the reductive method exalted by Professor Duméry, pretending as it does to preserve transcendence, is not in the last analysis a rational reduction that takes us back to a God who is the principle of intelligibility. Duméry’s great mentors, Plotinus and Spinoza, seem to make this apparent. But if this is the case, then the problem is serious. For there is more authentic religious content in the anthropomorphisms of Isaiah than in all of Plotinus and Spinoza. It is the religious element as something irreducible from the rational that is reduced to the rational --reduced, that is to say, in this case eliminated. And so we do not go beyond Husserl, but return to a position which is well prior to the phenomenology of religions.
Duméry’s reduction of religion to rational principles becomes particularly apparent in his critique of Christianity. This critique comprises the greatest part of his work. We can only praise him for having chosen the religion he knows best as the object of his critique, and can only admire the loyalty with which he agrees unreservedly to submit Christianity to criticism. This is in the best tradition. What is somewhat regrettable is that, lacking information about the other religions, Duméry has understood Christianity as an expression which is typical of religions, whereas on the contrary it constitutes an exception. A more rigorous phenomenology, such as that of Wach or Eliade, would have permitted him more clearly to recognize its irreducibility.
The character of the Christian revelation, insofar as it is to be distinguished from other religions, is that it bears essentially on the historical interventions of God, of which the Incarnation is the most prominent. These facts are reported in the Scriptures in an unpolished form. But criticism ought to confine itself to this matrix. This is precisely the role of theology, which is the exercise of reason on this particular fact of the history of salvation, the rightful content of the Christian faith. But apparently Duméry does not admit this. For him Christianity is composed of a system of patterns and categories which must be reduced to the requisites of the human mind. It is just this reduction which is the task of the philosophy of Christianity.
Let us here quote the author:
The critical method can only be from the side of immanence. . . . The immanentist method claims that reason has jurisdiction over religion and because of that it keeps it in harmony with the other domains of life. . . . The argument from authority remains extrinsic to the arguments of reason. . . . The immanentist method implies the rejection of all particularity. It is opposed to the various attempts to limit the power of reason from without by the breaking up of human reality into separate areas of influence. It is a defense of rationality and of intelligibility. In this respect it honors an imperative which is one with philosophical demands [CR, pp. 50-51].
As for theology, it is "the science of salvation, not of speculative discernment or purely rational reflection." Furthermore, what the theologian will learn from the philosopher about the Trinity is its dogmatic import, its religious meaning, its soteriological value; he will not learn about its critical structuration, its formal coherence, or its judicative modality (CR, p. 110).
This conception of the relation between philosophy and theology seems barely acceptable. It makes of theology a practical science of salvation without speculative value; it is the philosophy of religion that affords a rational critique of Christianity, and it accomplishes this critique by pointing out in Christian dogmas the resolutions of the mind as it seeks to grasp the Ineffable One. We say on the contrary that the philosophy of religion, inasmuch as it has for its object a rational reduction, results in showing that the Christian data do not refer to a mental or spiritual function, but to the authority of a revelation. Its critique consists in establishing the rational legitimacy of this authority. But it is the domain of theology, which is a speculative discipline, to elaborate upon what is given in revelation by means of reason. Theology should examine the representations of religion not in terms of the workings of the mind but in terms of the demands of this revelation itself.
We mention at this point an expression which recurs continually in Henry Duméry’s works. He asserts that his critique of religion applies only to religious representations and not to religion itself. But his aim really concerns metaphysics and is not just the critique of knowledge. He does not confine himself to representations or symbols of God and of the intelligible, but speaks of their very reality. These are determinate realities, not only because they are representations, but insofar as they characterize a sphere of existence, that of the intelligible, which he examines critically. Moreover, in the case which concerns us, these are no longer determinations of a dogmatic pronouncement, but the reality affirmed by dogma, as determination, of which he proposes the reduction.
Duméry applies this to different dogmatic statements. In Critique et Religion he criticizes Blondel for affirming that the revelation of the Trinity opens a path which is closed to pure reason. "This evades the difficulty. For it is a question of knowing how the notion of the Trinity is worked out. One cannot forget that it, too, took form by virtue of reason" (CR, p. l09). "The trinitarian system [consists] in applying a logico-metaphysical structure to quite diverse data. It involves a representation of the divine mystery by means of an ingenious supposition. Under these conditions it becomes evident that the mystery itself lies beyond this supposition" (PR, I, 201). Thus the Trinity constitutes a system which needs to be reduced. "God as mystery remains outside attainment" (CR, p. 109). And Duméry concludes, in a passage which so well betrays his thought, "In order for the affirmed object to be valued from a rational point of view, it would have to harmonize with such a view. [Such is not the case here: the factual compounds with the ideal.] It remains for it to be found valid from the standpoint of religious behavior" (PR, I, 201-2).
Thus does Professor Duméry recognize the non-rational character of the Trinity. But instead of seeing there the expression of its suprarational character, irreducible to this rational proposition, that is to say, the appearance of a fact truly revealed, he sees there only the expression of an imperfect construction, which will demand further reductions and which has none but a pragmatic value. No one could say more bluntly that dogmas are pure determinations, created by the mind for approaching a mystery that remains inaccessible. And since they are created by the mind, the mind must see in them what it has wanted to put there, that is, schemes and categories, but without any speculative value.
Rational reduction, which Duméry uses to dissipate the reality of the Trinity as constitutive of the being of God, dissipates in the same manner the trinitarian events which constitute the economy and the design of salvation, the actions of sacred history. The idea of divine interventions in time is repudiated by our author. History rests upon a configuration which ought to be reduced. In reality the Christian affirmations of the Incarnation of the Word, of the Redemption as liberation from sin, of the procession of the Spirit, of the future Parousia, are mythical notions which should be reduced to their rational meaning. These meanings show those affirmations to be expressions of the eternal relationship between God and the mind.
The Christian affirmation consists alone in the unique character of the fact of Jesus. Here indeed is a factual datum which intervenes, and thus a historical movement. But this movement is only one of a progressive discovery of true religion, that is to say, of the fundamental relation of man and God. After the still crude patterns of primitive religions, after the progress accomplished by the Jewish people, in Jesus religion manifests itself in structures whose critical reduction shows that they express the inwardness and universality that are the requisites of the mind. Jesus is the religious summit of humanity. And this is why true religion defines itself by reference to him.
Duméry’s position here reminds us of that of Bultmann. He also works a de-mythicization which is, in fact, as Cullman has shown, an elimination of history, and which implies in Christian affirmations -- Incarnation, Resurrection, Parousia -- the mythical expression of the man-God relationship. Yet the difference is that Bultmann does not try to reduce these expressions to a rational religion, but sees in them the expression of a situation of discontinuity. Besides, Bultmann seeks to disengage the fundamental Christian affirmation from representations and symbols which seem to him out of date. Here Duméry wisely remarks that the mind expressing itself as it must on all levels, cannot do without myths and that the evangelical myths are on the whole preferable to those by which one might wish to replace them (PR, I, 243).
Let us give some examples. That which we call the Incarnation is not a new event by which a new relationship is established between the Word of God and human nature. Theandrism is religion itself, that is to say, the eternal relationship between man and God, the presence of the One to the human spirit. But the Christ is the religious man in whom this relationship has found its perfect expression, in whom the intimacy between God and man which exists eternally is at last truly realized. "To believe is to rest on a series of facts (the history of Jesus) the affirmation of the intrinsic relationship of the human spirit to God. It is to affirm and declare that the attitude taken by Jesus has revealed the spirit of inwardness; it is to recognize that in the events of his life, the eternal mediation, immanent in the mind, is unveiled" (PR, II, 111).
Thus the Incarnation does not correspond to a new event, to an act of God. It is the representation of an eternal philosophical truth. How else would there be an act of God? For Duméry, the One is foreign to the world of determinate actions. He no more assumes them than does he create them. The idea of a divine intervention is unthinkable. Only human acts exist, and it is the mind that creates and invents. Its inventions are only the expressions of an intemporal reality. All history goes back to myth. Critical reduction has for its object precisely to disengage eternal meanings from their historical incrustation.
But all this we well know. Already this was the objection of Greek rationalism to the Incarnation. The idea that God came among men appeared as madness to Celsus and Porphyry. History was for them the world of the contingent and God the one who was a stranger to the contingent. Rationally, this is logical. And nevertheless, Christianity affirms that God became man. By the standards of reason this is pure folly. But the question is to know whether it is true. In every way this is an affirmation which cannot be reduced to the simple conception of a bond between the created mind and the uncreated One.
If we had to locate Duméry’s position in relation to that of his master Plotinus, we would have to say that the sole difference is that for him Christian dogmas, which are only mythical representations of eternal truths, ought not be eliminated, but understood. Thus the integrity of Christianity is conserved. But it is conserved as the expression of philosophical truths on the imaginative level. The philosopher is one who knows that. He does not condemn the simple believer, who knows the truth but does not know how to examine critically the symbol through which he approaches the truth.
But does this not make the very content of the Christian affirmation disappear? Indeed so, for according to this affirmation the modes of God’s presence in the cosmic religions, in Judaism, and in Christianity are radically distinct. To be sure, there are analogies between these modes of divine presence, and a phenomenology of religion is possible precisely because religions have analogous structures. But we must also respect the differences. In denying all intervention of God in history and in purely and simply assimilating the diverse modes of the presence of God, Duméry abolishes all phenomenology of religions.
Actually, the phenomenology of religions has as its basis a description which respects the data and their peculiar intentionality. It endeavors to establish an order. This is just what Joachim Wach did. Moreover, this order is not merely one of more or less happy formulations of universal data, but one of distinct data which are successive forms of one reality. We are thus led to a conception of one Heilsgeschichte, composed of separate events, but sustained by an intelligible unity among them. However, Professor Duméry does not do this, because his idealism refuses to recognize the objectivity of the divine actions which are the object of the Christian faith, objectivities which are irreducible to rational requirements and disconcerting for them.
One could easily show how Duméry applies the same method to the other events which constitute the object of faith. Take sin for example. The sin of Adam, which necessitated the redemption, is not a historical situation from which man can be delivered only by a redemptive action, but it is "man’s mythical projection of his own guilt" (PR, II, 193). "This should be called noumenal. Ultimately this means that man can affirm himself properly only in recognizing his separation from himself, from God, and from others" (PR, I, 271). Thus original sin is a myth which must be reduced to a metaphysical meaning, that is to say, to the expression of a necessity which is constitutive of the life of the mind as such.
Consequently, exactly the same is true of the redemption. "It is not the event as event which saves," writes Duméry in referring to "Spinoza, who refused to enslave the mind to an idolatry of the historical. Exteriority could neither justify nor establish interiority. The latter in a rigorous sense can rest only on itself" (PR, II, 63). Consequently, the death of Jesus as such is only a hapax. We must reduce this to the operation which it signifies, which is both "internal and spiritual, as well as eternal, that is, to the mediation of the Word immanent in men’s minds" (PR, I, 195). One will note the reduction of the hapax to the pure factitiousness of anecdotal history. It is not that Duméry ignores the opposition of historia and Geschichte (PR, II, 25), but Geschichte is for him meta-history, no longer history at all, but an expression of immanent necessity (PR, I, 271).
The notions of grace and faith, which Professor Duméry studies at length, would evoke similar remarks. Grace is the expression of the fundamental relation of man and God. It means that the mind can only realize itself by the immanent presence in itself of the One (PR, I, 283). This is the statement of a metaphysical truth which he puts in strong relief. But is it this ontological relationship that Christianity calls grace? Actually it denotes quite another thing, to have access to a participation in the life of the Trinity which surpasses absolutely the demands of the mind. But for Duméry this conception of grace is an idea which must be reduced to the necessary and immanent relationship between the mind and the One.
We find the same reversal of perspectives again and again. Whatever Christianity considers to be a gratuitous event, a free decision of the love of God, not reducible to the exigencies of the mind as such, is considered inversely as a mythical pattern which is merely the expression of an inferior level of needs constitutive of the life of the mind. So theology must be reduced to philosophy. But this amounts exactly to eliminating what constitutes the specificity of the Christian message, reducing it to a collection of myths -- perhaps the most perfect myths, but ones to which philosophy alone gives us the final meaning.
One can say as much concerning faith. This is defined as the profound attitude of the religious man (PR, II, 38). It differs from purely rational procedure because "it embraces all the planes together," that is to say it expresses itself on the level of myths, of rites, of feeling, and also finally on the level of categories. But faith in the biblical sense is something quite different from the religious attitude as such. It is the adherence to affirmations which are irreducible to rational necessity and which derive their certitude from the authority of the revealed word. It is clear that this appeal to authority appears to Duméry as the strengthening of externalistic representations which should instead be reduced. But at once it is faith itself in its specificity that is eliminated.
This appears in a footnote where Duméry explains that "the auctoritas Dei revelantis is difficult to include in a phenomenology of faith" (PR, II, 148). The reason is that the action of the revealing God expresses itself in a sociological pattern, that of authority. This pattern seems too extrinsic, when we are dealing with the intrinsicality of truth or love" (ibid.). Here again, as always, Duméry seeks to disengage that which this pattern itself can express, which is divine truthfulness, the fidelity of God to himself. But this reduction would leave aside entirely the matter which is in question, not how to know the truth of God as the ultimate basis of all truth, but the fact of a historical revelation and of the devotion that the human spirit can offer it.
An examination of the results of Professor Duméry’s critique on religion permits us to appreciate its value, but we must say that far from being an achievement in the phenomenology of religion such as Husserl, Van der Leeuw, Eliade, or Wach have conceived it, it runs the risk of compromising the results of phenomenology. Indeed, the thesis according to which religious representations are, like all determinate expressions, a manifestation of the creativity of the mind and thus referred ultimately to reason, fails to recognize the special contribution of phenomenology, which is the irreducibility of these representations to purely rational functions.
And so it rests that the problem posed by Professor Duméry concerning the systematization of the data furnished by the history of religions remains an essential problem. Even if the response which he brings to it is contestable, he does at least have the great merit of posing it boldly. On the other hand, by taking account in Critique et Religion of previous attempts at synthesis, he allows for the point about what may already be considered as dismissed and for the elimination of a certain number of false ideas which would compromise the research to which his books invite us. These are the positive results to which I should now like to return in order to sum up the main points. They make up the program which Duméry has proposed to us and which seems so clearly to express the present state of the problem.
The first task consists of clearing away certain inadmissible interpretations. Thus there is an entire order of "reductions" which are gotten rid of, the kind which the positivists of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries delighted in making. Such are the attempts at explanations from social pressure or psychological sublimation. Duméry unmasks the fallacy of these interpretations in his treatment of the "naturalist prejudice." We must consider the "explicative methods" as insufficient "because their objectivism or their naturalism seeks to explain religion by something other than itself" (CR, p. 178). Likewise theories of a priori formations of religion, like that of Kant, are inadequate, "because their efforts at anticipation eliminate real religion and substitute for it a religion without a religious soul" (Ibid.).
Two fundamental premises thus seem to be dispelled. The first is the necessity of starting with "positive disciplines, especially history." It is here that the history of religions contributes a primary element. The error of ancient theodicies is indeed in having failed to recognize this positive substructure affording an immense mass of symbols, rites, and attitudes which form the data on which a reflection on religion may be carried out. The second premise is the recognition of the specificity of the religious fact. It is here that the contribution of phenomenology is decisive. Duméry makes much of this, whether it be a question of descriptive analogies like those of Otto in The Idea of the Holy or of a justification of these analyses by a critique of knowledge such as is suggested by the works of Husserl, Scheler, or Gabriel Marcel.
These results are already considerable. One may wonder whether Duméry does not in fact compromise them through his own attempts to surpass others, either in belittling the importance of the positive data through insufficient information or in compromising the results of phenomenology by a reduction which risks bringing us back to an immanentism of religious knowledge, which is really a transcendence of religious reality. But let us leave aside what we have already discussed. What is important for us here is the manner in which the problem is posed and the results which are considered achieved.
The problem with which one finds oneself confronted then, the same one which Duméry poses and which is actually the one which the science of religion faces today, is that of the organization of religious data in a coherent fashion. This consists of an effort to discern the meanings of the data furnished by the history of religions, to locate these different meanings in their proper relationships, and finally also to place various religions in their reciprocal positions with regard to each other. This last problem especially interested Joachim Wach. It concerns essentially the specificity of the Christian fact and previously the Jewish fact in relation to that of cosmic or non-historical religions. We have said that in fact Duméry sidetracks the issue, or more exactly, treats it in a deceiving fashion, neglecting the specificities and coming out with a purely relative and homogeneous hierarchy which admits only degrees.
On the other hand, in presenting the first two points of his program, he lifts up principles of great value and fecundity. In the first place it must be acknowledged that religious understanding cannot function except in terms of structures. This does not mean that these structures allow us to attain the transcendent itself. Duméry is a decided partisan of negative theology. God is always beyond all that we can imagine or conceive him to be. But conversely, what we conceive him to be really expresses something. Intentionality aims beyond the forms in which it finds expression, but in a sense it cannot go beyond these forms, patterns, or categories. It is of the nature of the human spirit both to aim toward God really and to aim toward him only through the finite forms of the mind.
In this manner Duméry dispels the illusions of those who would like to reject the forms of expression in order to get at a religious fact in its pure state. This is the illusion of the purely positivist exegetes. "The pure exegete would like, with the help of historical criticism, to make use of what has really happened, and consequently of what has been construed or imagined. In reality this choice is denied him" (PR, II, 24). Such is the fallacy of those who would recover a pure gospel prior to its interpretation in the structures of the Hellenistic mind. The Gospel has never been presented except through structures. But at first these structures were those of the world of the apocalyptics, and this was already a theology. This does not prevent religious reality from being attained, but it is always attained through representations which arise in the mind.
Such also is the illusion of kerygmatism,
. . . which claims to recover in its purity the first layer of facts and ideas which served as a point of departure for the first generation of Christians. ‘Repristinizations’ can only lead to a false primitivism Kerygmatism already tends to be based on a first synthesis of facts and ideas. In no case does it rest on pure fact. It coincides with a certain cultural context which is not our own, but which is not the absence of all culture or of all interpretive superstructure. It is therefore vain to hope to recover a first gospel, stripped of all cultural envelopment. To lay bare the faith of our present mentality will always be to rediscover it in a mentality, never without one. The kerygmatic fallacy is to believe that faith was able to precede its cultural expressions [PR, II, 24].
It is in this same perspective that Duméry also rejects the demythicization of Rudolf Bultmann (PR, II, 243).
In the second place, Duméry’s method is comprehensive, to the degree that it shows that religious reality is not apprehended only through certain special modes, but that it is expressed in myth as well as in concept. These modes of expression correspond to different levels of human expression, which is at once material, sensible, rational, and intellectual. Religious expression does not of itself reside in any one of these areas out of preference to any other. It is not a function of the imagination, as some would have it, neither is it a grasping by the intellect, as others see it. In reality God is transcendent over all these levels, although he can be approached through any of them. Religious expression therefore integrates and enhances the human being. And consequently it becomes possible to integrate all the aspects of religious expression into a single understanding. The only problem will be where to locate this understanding, and this will be the judicative element. This manner of proceeding appears to us as one of the most solid points of Duméry’s thesis.
Here again Duméry’s response is important. It sanctions first the rehabilitation of myths as authentic means of religious knowledge against a unilateral intellectualism. This appears as one of the essential results of the modern study of religion and of the convergence of the work of the historians of religions with the Jungian psychoanalysts and phenomenologists like Scheler. The truth value of feeling and image is here re-established. And consequently the whole immense contribution of mythologies and of mysticisms no longer appears as the residue of a prelogical mentality, but as the expression of a permanent structure of religious knowledge and understanding.
I am equally satisfied with Duméry’s point that rational categories are a valuable and necessary means to knowledge of the holy. The biblical reaction against theology tends today in fact to devaluate as distortions the formulations and systematizations of the revelation in terms of Greek philosophical categories. There is a desire to return to a pure biblicism. Duméry denounces this as a fallacy. In the first place it ignores the fact that in the Bible the revelation is not in a pure state, but enmeshed in a mentality, and that the Semitic schemes are nothing but schemes. But above all, this view fails to see that the mythical expression corresponds only to an anthropological level and that conceptual expression constitutes a valid and necessary reduction.
In this respect Professor Duméry has good reason to criticize the unilateral position of Claude Tresmontant:
Even in making something special of the Semitic mentality, one must guard against attributing to it an exclusive primacy. . . . Minds like Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and above all the Pseudo-Dionysus, believed, as Philo the Jew, that the Judaic and Greek cultures were more complementary than contradictory. One may ask, as the comparatists too often fail to do, whether the Jewish and Hellenistic cultures, by and large the Bible and Platonism, are not stages in an evolution more than they are conceptions of the world considered as complete and heterogeneous types of wisdom. Christian realism (more specifically, Judeo-Christian) is perhaps a permanent element of conscience; Greek idealism another level equally permanent [PR, II, 92-93].
These remarks are excellent. Their "comprehensive" conception links them with positions like those of Austen Farrer and Georges Florowsky. It guards against an anti-intellectualist reaction which would purely and simply be the suppression of one of the levels of religious expression. Moreover, their notion of a complementarity leads to an integral and hierarchical view of the contributions of diverse structures to religious understanding. One will note that here again Duméry limits his investigation to the Semitic and Platonic mentalities. It would be interesting to extend his method to other world views and to see if they would define other levels or at least offer some novel contributions.
In this domain, the books of Henry Duméry contribute incontestably principles which will serve to inspire the work of religious phenomenology. They will be recorded as the extension of the work of Wach, Van der Leeuw, and Eliade by their concern to go beyond the descriptive and to introduce a normative element. But we cannot say that they will go further. The new element that they would seek to bring, that of a philosophical reflection which would permit reference of religious knowledge to the dynamism of the mind and its grounding in the requisites of the mind, leads us back to a reduction which impoverishes the wealth of religious expressions and compromises their irreducibility.
Viewed 115955 times.