Symposium Introduction

Several of my favorite books are by Michel Henry. Some of my least favorite books are also by Michel Henry. His is not simply a philosopher of paradox; he is a paradoxical philosopher. His complex authorship is marked not only by a Husserlian legacy, but also a radical revision of Husserlian orthodoxy. He is solidly situated as one of the main voices in “new phenomenology,” and yet he is decidedly out of step with new phenomenology’s frequent focus on externality and transcendence. He writes compellingly about the economics of Marx, the art of Kandinsky, and the dangers of scientific objectivism, but perhaps his most impactful books are devoted to thinking through the idea of being a “son” of God. A philosopher who clings hard to the phenomenological method, he is also deeply theologically oriented and allows personal commitment to impact his speculative thought. For my own part, I have learned much from Henry and written a fair amount on his philosophical program, but I continue to struggle to find my footing between his convincing account of the radical immanence of life, and the equally convincing account offered by Emmanuel Levinas regarding the radical alterity of the face of the Other; between Henry’s notion of God, which at least in some ways bears similarities with the account of Jean-Luc Marion or Jean-Louis Chrétien (whereby God is, to some extent, phenomenally revealed as personal and worthy of worship and devotion), and the notion of God provided by Jacques Derrida or John Caputo whereby God is, variously, the name given to the upsurge of secrecy itself expressed as a non-personal event of justice.

Though Henry’s work has received significant and sustained attention in France for decades, his reception in English scholarship remains rather sparse when compared to the literature on Levinas, Derrida, Marion, and Paul Ricoeur, say. With that said, Joseph Rivera’s expansive book, The Contemplative Self after Michel Henry: A Phenomenological Theology (University of Notre Dame Press, 2015), deserves wide attention from phenomenologically oriented philosophers and theologians alike. Right out of the gate, it is worth stressing that this book is not really intended to be an introduction to the work of Henry—indeed, for such an introductory text, I would recommend Michael O’Sullivan’s book, Michel Henry: Incarnation, Barbarism, and Belief (Peter Lang, 2006)—but instead stands as a constructive text in phenomenological theology in its own right. Rivera does provide a sustained engagement with Henry, but as a context for his own compelling account of theological, and specifically “eschatological,” selfhood that finds its way between what he considers to be the two problematic extreme options on offer in new phenomenology: “those contemporary projects that render God a phenomenon (Henry, Marion, etc.) and those that treat God as wholly other (Derrida, religion without religion, etc.)” (8).

Although constantly in critical conversation with Henry, Rivera highlights two key aspects where he finds Henry’s account of the self to come up short: “the inability to account positively and theologically for the ineluctably temporal and bodily states of the self” (8). Having made similar sorts of critiques of Henry’s work myself—albeit in different respects as concern science and technology in relation to the flourishing of lived bodies—I am quite sympathetic to Rivera’s worries on these fronts. However, as our symposium participants also rightly note, it is sometimes unclear exactly how Rivera’s solution to these problems offers concrete alternatives for embodied cognition and lived practice. Yet, these are good problems to have because they announce the importance of the trajectory on which Rivera’s thinking is itself moving, and in relation to which critical replies are invited.

If Rivera starts with Henry, he ultimately finishes with Augustine, though his conclusion is not final, but merely suggestive of where future thought in Christian phenomenological theology might need to go if it is to account for a lived body that is contemplatively situated as oriented toward the full presence of God (and self) in the eschaton (324). As a result of this book, Rivera is solidly situated as one of the emerging voices in continental philosophical theology to which we all must pay attention. Whether or not individual readers are convinced by his arguments—indeed, there are good reasons, it seems to me, to push back on the slippage between philosophy and theology that occurs often in the book, as well as on the particular model of God that emerges within it—Rivera’s account must be weighed and considered not only as a thorough interpretation of Henry, but (perhaps more importantly) also as an original proposal of what it could mean to stand before God while always standing patiently in the world.

In the essays that follow, we have contributions first from Tamsin Jones who is generally sympathetic to Rivera’s theological account, but pushes him for a more determinate consideration of contemplative practice as part and parcel of religious existence. Then, Michael Kelly provides a general overview of Rivera’s central theses and the arguments provided for them. Kelly asks critical questions not only in line with Jones’s, but also regarding the specifics of the phenomenological account of temporality that Rivera offers as a corrective to Henry. Pushing further, and more technically, on the pressure points concerning the role of temporality and specifically time-consciousness, Neal DeRoo then offers a sustained consideration of the Husserlian underpinnings of Henry’s authorship. Finally, Jean-Yves Lacoste, one of the central influences on Rivera’s own thinking, offers a set of reflections occasioned by reading Rivera’s text. Lacoste’s essay is itself a personal story of wrestling with Henry’s influence and legacy that testifies to the importance of reading philosophers in relation to the historical context in which their writing occurs.

To all of these essays Rivera then offers individual responses that not only helpfully clarify his own positions, but also set into relief places where continental philosophy of religion and phenomenological theology need to devote more time and energy in the coming years. This symposium is exciting not only because it brings the original thought of Joseph Rivera to a very well deserved larger audience, but because it gets at some of the most basic and most pressing questions in the contemporary debates. If it is true that books should be deemed important as a result of the conversation that they help to foster, then Rivera’s The Contemplative Self after Michel Henry is poised to be a very important book indeed. Rather than merely talking about selfhood in light of Henry’s work, this text invites its readers to inhabit such selfhood as we all take ourselves up as not only living in the world, but hopeful about what is to come.

Tamsin Jones


Contemplating Selfhood after Phenomenology

Joseph Rivera states the two primary goals of his ambitious and dexterous book, The Contemplative Self after Michel Henry: A Phenomenological Theology,1 very clearly: first, he seeks to introduce and engage Michel Henry’s phenomenology in general and his notion of a “duplicitous self” in particular. Second, and it could be argued, more importantly to Rivera, is his aim to move beyond Henry; he intends, in other words, “to construct over against Henry . . . a contemplative self whose temporal and bodily modes of existence are firmly situated within the world even if the reach of its gaze, unveiled in Christ, seeks to apprehend and behold the Triune life of God who transcends the world” (327). Specifically, Rivera seeks to bring Henry’s notion of selfhood more concretely into this world, as a being in the world, as well as to orient the “eschatological directionality of the self” (6). Henry’s self is too fixated on both interiority and protology, or arch-origins—both of which can lend themselves to a sort of escapism which Rivera, rightly, abjures.

The most promising, if somewhat counterintuitive, claim guiding Rivera’s book is his argument that a notion of contemplative selfhood, in fact reconciles oneself with, and dedicates oneself to, the world as gift, even while it epektasically desires and seeks after the Triune God within and beyond that world. I have a couple of smaller questions, or critical comments, to state with regard to Rivera’s project. However, the central observation I would like to make, in appreciation of Rivera’s work, has to do with what I see as the larger significance of the argument he is making vis-à-vis the current intellectual movements in phenomenology.

My first question might be stated as follows: need Rivera have written this as a book on Henry? Certainly its value as an introduction into the complicated and, as Rivera notes, “jargon-laden,” thought of Henry is most welcome. However, in his constructive purpose to “articulate a self who seeks God always intimate, and yet, elusive” Rivera is clear that he is attempting to carve out a position that is between Henry, Marion, Derrida, Ricoeur, et al. Rivera wants to explore an “eschatological self [which] inhabits a space between those contemporary projects that render God a phenomenon (Henry, Marion, etc.) and those that treat God as wholly other (Derrida, religion without religion, etc.),” while simultaneously avoiding “the reduction of the self, whose personal identity is fully inscribed in this horizon of the world” (8). In order to do so, Rivera engages a host of thinkers from the phenomenological tradition, including Husserl and Heidegger, as well as, more broadly, drawing from the deep theological well of patristic writers, most especially Augustine. The question is, what is gained (and lost) by constructing his argument primarily as an engagement with Henry? To what extent does the fact that Rivera “appreciate[s] and despise[s]” Henry (9), overly determine his terminology and constrain the parameters of the discussion?

Second, having read Rivera’s introduction and critique of Henry’s too narrow focus on interiority and lack of attention to embodied beings in the world, when Rivera turned to explore a notion of contemplative selfhood in which one’s desire for God entailed an engagement with the world, I was looking forward to a rich discussion of concrete contemplative practices. However, this was not forthcoming. Rivera’s discussion of contemplation was richly sourced from the theological tradition and theoretically sophisticated. Moreover, his dichotomy between the dogmatic vs. doxological/contemplative self—in which the former “requires an absolute assent to one particular historical narrative,” whereas the former “cannot and does not want to prove apodictically the Christian tradition” but bear witness to it and participate in its wonder (26)—is one towards which I am deeply sympathetic. However, it remained a curiously abstract discussion, one which missed a number of opportunities to offer a phenomenology of liturgy, of hymnody, iconography, and the rich array of monastic contemplative practices—both corporate and solitary.2

Rivera’s explicit appeal to theology to complicate previous phenomenological accounts—indicating a theological rationality that can be elucidating to other discourses—makes explicit an undercurrent of much of the so-called “new phenomenology”: namely, an acknowledgment that theology’s inherent drive to heteronomy and creatureliness acts as a strong riposte to the modern emphasis on autonomy and self-sufficiency. Therefore, it is not surprising that, when so many phenomenologists turned to an emphasis on alterity and transcendence, they often found themselves sliding into theological territory so easily. This brings me to the central point I want to make about Rivera’s project: namely, its place within a larger history of ideas whereby phenomenology’s vital correction of modern understandings of selfhood is, itself, in need of correction—a move that is beginning to be made by a new generation of thinkers, amidst which I would locate Rivera’s work.

Rivera sketches the historical arc of philosophical conceptions of subjectivity in an attempt to think the self escaping “the long shadow of modernity” stretching from Descartes onwards (4). This modern understanding of selfhood entailed a certain relationship between the ego and Being, in which the ego cogito is understood primarily as that which confers meaning on Being. Moreover, until the intervention of phenomenology, this Cartesian inheritance has dominated European philosophy: “Functioning like a prism that draws together each divergent intellectual strand, Cartesianism is modernity inasmuch as every major philosophical breakthrough engineered after Descartes has intended to address the question of the being of the ego, and has done so, specifically on the basis of the ego’s capacity to apprehend and thus grasp what is outside itself—representational metaphysics” (20). Thus, modernity’s self is not merely autonomous and self-subsisting, it is the origin of the meaning of all things. The modern self, Rivera contends, finds its apotheosis in Nietzsche’s Wille zur Macht: “a subject who looks at himself with the eye of god, which is secured and confirmed in the very production of himself as a god . . . the basic desire of the will to power is to produce and consume, and it does so at a distance from the world” (29).

The great gift of phenomenology was to challenge this notion of a subject who is not only self-sufficient and autonomous, but is also the first and final source of meaning for all things. In its foundations, phenomenology is a philosophical method by which the subject is necessarily open to the givenness of phenomena, thus breaking open “the solitary confinement of the Cartesian subject” (4). Rivera comes up with a usefully clear and concise formulation for defining phenomenology in its many variations: “it is the study of how phenomena ‘appear’ (i.e., manifest, reveal, show, disclose, display, phenomenalize, etc.) to a perceiving subject” (44). This implies the necessity of these two poles of phenomenology: a dative pole—the self to whom a phenomena is made manifest—and a genitive pole from what appears. Thus the center of gravity shifts from the valorized nominative “I” to become a dialogical relation “between a phenomenon and the lived experience it evokes in ‘me’” (45). The self must be reconsidered not as source and origin of all, but as receiver or witness, or, to repeat William James’s vivid metaphor used by Rivera, as “the center around which phenomena gather like iron fillings around a magnet’s pole” (48).

In Husserl’s hand this dialogical structure which seeks correlation between world and subject (or better, meaning intended and fulfilled, or noesis and noema), remains, nonetheless, confined to the horizontal plane of the finite world. In the second wave of phenomenologists an emphasis on the heteronomy of subjectivity opens beyond the finite world. However, this opening occurs in two opposing directions. On the one hand, we have the Levinasian tradition which clears a way beyond this enclosed thinking of self “toward dialogue, alterity, and intersubjectivity” (9), involving an emphasis on otherness, exteriority, and transcendence. On the other hand, in a less obvious move for a philosopher rejecting the ipseity of Cartesian subjectivity, Henry turns his focus inward, emphasizing interiority and auto-affection. On one side we have a transcendent summons which compels a counter-intentionality, on the other hand, an immanent self-revelation which precedes all intentionality.

In both cases there is a gesture, either implicit or explicit, to the involvement from beyond the finite plane, to the infinite, to God. For both trajectories God is an absolute phenomenon. In the tradition of Levinas and Marion, however, the manifestation of God transgresses the borders of the subject from outside, overwhelming or saturating its normal capacities and inverting the intentional gaze of the subject, in a hyperbolic moment of excess. For Henry, on the other hand, God is internal to the subject, appearing in a non-intentional “field of interiority”—a “concrete sublayer, or primal ‘underground,’ of self-experience” (62).

While both of these trajectories mark the real achievement of phenomenology to escape the hubristic enclosure of Cartesian subjectivity, they are not perfect. It may be that we have reached a point where these phenomenological correctives, themselves, are in need of correction. As Rivera points out, the problem with the Levinas-Marion version is that not all religious experience, in fact, is that excessive; religion is not only “mountain-top experiences” and these thinkers give us little resources to think about everyday religious experience, or corporate religious experience (62). On the other hand, Henry’s problem is that he “eliminates the distance between the creature and the Creator” (63). Moreover, despite accusing Husserl and Heidegger of “ontological monism” (for having ignored the interior and invisible dimension of human experience), Henry so “privileges the interior and invisible at the expense of the exterior and visible” that he himself runs the risk of establishing a “monism of its own making” (117). One might also add that the former trajectory pays too little attention to the subject, or the internal experience of the subject (something fundamentally at odds with phenomenology’s methodological emphasis on “lived experience”). Whereas the latter trajectory is so limited to the interior life of the subject as to forget the spatial and temporal extensions and locatedness of that subject’s feeling. It forgets, in other words, that the subject is embodied and thus always and only ever in this extended world and in time looking forward to the future. Rivera wants to avoid both extremes without returning to Descartes’s ego cogito. In his own words he attempts “to surmount the metaphysics of autonomy and representation” without a “swing to the contrastive pole of utter passivity” (66).

In this regard, I would place Rivera’s book as part of this newest wave of philosophers of religion and theologians who are seeking to rethink subjectivity again in a way that is neither a return to Cartesian autonomy, with its pretense of a self-seeking mastery over the world, nor the entirely passive and abject self who can only be the subject of an accusation or who forgets the distance between the “object” of its desire and her present contemplation. This new opening for phenomenological thinking would challenge the assumption that the only possible alternatives for thinking about subjectivity are either a robustly sovereign, narcissistic, infinitely acquisitive, and dominating subject, on the one hand, or an insubstantial, passive, inept, guilty, and subjugated subject, on the other. Furthermore, it would question whether the emphasis on the subject’s absolute passivity and non-intentionality might not curtail the extent and power with which one can respond, or indeed, what one even means by response.

Rivera gives us an exciting possibility with which to think a way forward: “The contemplative self is a more subtle and complex interweaving of the soul and body, of the self and its outward narration in the world, all guided by the eschatological direction of time itself. To contemplate is to move upward, not beyond time, but in time, towards the properly theological destiny of the heavenly city” (329). Such a phenomenological account of the self would certainly appear beyond the shadow of the Cartesian ego cogito, but might also avoid the excesses of passivity demanded in the prior escape attempts sought in the two trajectories of “new phenomenology”—the absolute passivity of the accused self who is subjugated to the transcendent other (Levinas), or effaced in the reduction to pure givenness (Marion), on the one hand, or the non-intentionality of the self who finds itself only within the fully interiorized and immanent movement of divine self-manifestation (Henry), on the other. In order to do so, a phenomenology of the contemplative self needs to be grounded in concrete material practices and historical subjects, whilst directing its vision forwards in hope.

  1. Joseph Rivera, The Contemplative Self after Michel Henry: A Phenomenological Theology, Thresholds in Philosophy and Theology (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2015). Subsequent references will be made parenthetically within the text.

  2. For the beginnings of such a reading see Christina M. Gschwandtner, Degrees of Givenness: On Saturation in Jean-Luc Marion, Indiana Series in Philosophy of Religion (Bloomington and Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press, 2014), especially chapters 6–7.

  • Joseph Rivera

    Joseph Rivera


    Response to Tamsin Jones

    I am delighted to respond to Tasmin Jones’s illuminating review. Her final remarks about my larger contribution to the ongoing narrative of continental philosophy of religion provokes me to think more about the philosophical structure of the self (quite apart from theology). I will return to this observation only briefly in my final remark.

    First, I turn to her two critical remarks. Both are offered in the spirit of immanent critique, in that she genuinely sees potential weakness from within the argument of the book itself. I am grateful for her close reading of my text, and I hope that a few sketchy responses here may address some of her concerns.

    The most urgent problem, as I see it, is the problem of a lack of emphasis on concrete practice, a problem she raises straightaway. She finds in my book a deficit of actual ritual or contemplative practices, that should accompany my transcendental analysis of the contemplative self. I devote so much time to discussing and “describing” (in the phenomenological sense) the basic capacity the self bears within its structure that I have forgotten to suggest possible concrete practices it can put into play so that it may enjoy communion with God. That is the basic thrust of her constructive critique, if I understand her correctly. While it may be a matter of degree or emphasis, I do explicitly describe a contemplative practice, on two occasions. I discuss the eucharist in culminating moments in both chapters 5 and 6, though other rituals and practices could nourish he contemplative self (depending on tradition and religious perspective).

    In §31and in §36 I do more than allude to how the eucharist can illustrate the practical richness of the contemplative self. I do this in contradistinction to Henry’s preferred spiritual practice, what I call his radical reduction (outline in chapter 3 especially). In §31 I remind the reader that Henry’s variety of practice consists of a radical and unwavering movement away from the world. He does not ask that we bracket off the world only to return back to the world with a renewed attitude. Not at all. Henry is more radical in his refusal of the world. In contrast to Henry, my theological reduction, so to speak, enacted with the help of the eucharist, gives to the self a certain optics to see the world and the temporal flow constitutive of our horizontal experience from a theological point of view. I encourage, in other words, the adoption of a eucharist attitude. It is nothing more than a change in attitude. Of course I do not argue that such a point of view or attitude occupies the exact same terrain as Christ’s attitude, as if the self in its many acts of contemplation could achieve a god’s eye point of view, or experience God as a phenomenon within the stream of consciousness (giving one some kind of purchase on what God thinks or sees). The eucharist alters our experience and view of time from within the flow of time, in which past and future take on a different complexion in relation to the present, just like the optics of a stick in the water makes the stick appear larger and in a slightly different position than when I see it out of the water. On p. 313 I talk specifically of doxology and corporate confession, in the social body, or in the church herself. I talk there at some length of the phenomenological difficulty of communing with the other person in the context of the body of Christ, precisely because I reside in my absolute here, and you over there (in your absolute here). But in the eucharist, we can mystically unite in our love, shared in a bond through the mediation of Christ in the elements of bread and wine. That social bond is exactly what the eucharist accomplishes in its corporate setting. To me, this addresses the problem of concrete social practice. There are many other sacramental postures, rituals and monastic practices one could assume, however, it is the eucharist, as Aquinas says, that is the sacrament of sacraments and the first among equals (ST, part III, Q.65 A.3). I have no problem using the eucharist as the exemplary paradigm of the practical ground of the contemplative self.

    Concerning the question of whether I need Michel Henry to articulate my own version of selfhood, I would say I need Henry to help clarify my position, as I need much of the canon of phenomenology, not least the New Testament and St. Augustine. None of us thinks in a vacuum, whether it is Husserl or Henry, or other great philosophical and theological minds. I suppose the question Jones is asking is whether I need specifically the resources in Henry’s body of work to give voice to my position. I would answer technically no. The reason for this is that I do not employ an analysis of the self in the non-worldly way. I cannot devote myself to the work of advancing Henry’s project, from within his vocabulary and unique trajectory of phenomenology. I like Henry’s approach to phenomenological theology, and he is brilliant in his lucid presentation of Husserl as well as the way he carves out his own counterintuitive position (it is counterintuitive to me anyway). But I do part company from some of Henry’s most basic insights, and I do so for theological reasons. I am inspired by Henry, in other words, but I am not strictly speaking a follower of his spirit, except to say that I think phenomenology offers resources to think about how God is revealed to the self, and how the self must account for its inclination toward God.

    This seems to me not to constitute a problem. I am a rival of Henry, in the sense that I introduce the power of his thought only to highlight a way to go beyond him. Perhaps Henry did not need Husserl, or Heidegger, or Eckhart to advance his own agenda, but he employs various thinkers as a way to filter his thesis of auto-affection through them. I think I do the same with Henry and St. Augustine (or try to anyway). I improve the conceptual power of the contemplative self by engaging with Henry and Augustine.

    Jones flatters me in her final remarks, when she locates my position within the larger narrative of thinkers who want to provide a corrective to the corrective offered in Lacoste, Marion, Henry, Levinas and others who represent the so-called French theological turn. I am interested primarily in active agency embedded within the self. That much is true. I do not think passivity lies at the heart of the self, as so many French correctives to Husserl claim is an irrevocable counter-thesis, as if it is the only alternative to Husserl’s strong Cartesianism. I argue, ultimately, that it is important to think through the anti-realist or idealist pole of selfhood in the way Husserl does (and some pragmatists do, like Putnam and Rorty), but in a way that does its best to avoid the naturalistic subjectivism of Cartesianism. I thank Jones for her generous reading and her perceptive insights into the field of continental philosophy of religion.

Michael Kelly


A Meta-phenomenology and a Phenomenology of the Life and Temporality of Faith

In addition to providing probably the clearest, most comprehensive English-language presentation of, and challenge to, Michel Henry’s phenomenology of Life (immanence), Joseph Rivera’s The Contemplative Self after Michel Henry: A Phenomenological Theology provides a way to think existentially about existential issues often not treated attentively enough in contemporary continental philosophy of religion.1 Contemporary continental philosophy of religion surely considers issues such as selfhood, calling, relationality, love, faith, freedom, spirituality, etc., but it does not always pay them the existential or phenomenological mind that such topics seem intrinsically to warrant. Contemporary continental philosophy of religion—like most academic philosophy today—seems to have left existentialism behind in favor of more technical “philosophical” discussions. Such oversight seems especially conspicuous to me in contemporary phenomenological theology, which seems to favor meta-phenomenological discussions over the existential import and phenomenological dimensions of what it means to live a life, as Rivera puts it, in which one realizes and manifests oneself as imago Dei. According to Rivera, this approach amounts to “an intentionality of ‘seeking’ or pilgrimage undertaken in faith and love, mobilized in word and sacrament, in pursuit of the full vision of glory, the God before whom I will sit ‘face to face’ in the parousia to come” (276).

In this engagement with Rivera’s work, I want to press against Rivera’s first contribution in order to show favor to his second contribution. First, I shall suggest that Rivera’s first contribution, specifically his account of the temporality of faith characteristic of the contemplative self, falls within the growing body of meta-phenomenological literature. Second—and motivated by Rivera’s several tantalizing mentions of the existential tenor of the temporality of faith and faith’s benefits for the good life—I shall sketch the intentional structure and temporality of faith in light of one of the benefits of faith that Rivera identifies, namely, patience. Following a leading clue in Rivera’s text, I offer some suggestions for how phenomenology may make speak this mute (phenomenologically unarticulated) life of faith, particularly the temporality of patience as disclosive of the life of faith.

As a situating explication and critique of Michel Henry’s phenomenology, Rivera’s book works predominately with thinkers grouped in the phenomenological tradition (Husserl, Heidegger, Henry, Marion, J-Y. Lacoste, etc.) and recognizes but also exemplifies what I take to be one of the central issues facing the meta-phenomenology that predominately characterizes phenomenological theology. I’ll move quickly and in broad strokes to establish what I mean by this label. Like all philosophical traditions, phenomenology has a methodology and a presupposed dialogue (or internal debate). Husserl formulated and developed phenomenology’s method in such a way as to give voice to the things themselves by describing various acts of consciousness or subjective achievements, their objective correlates, the empty and filling elements of that intentional structure, etc. As phenomenologists, starting with Heidegger, worried that the subject-object correlation compromised the “integrity” of the things-themselves or, worse, rendered impossible their appearance as the things-themselves, discussions amongst phenomenologists became meta-phenomenological. By this term, I mean to draw attention, however crudely, to the tendency of phenomenological authors to write about phenomenological authors and matters such as invisibility that sometimes do not seem apposite to phenomenological description. In such writings, authors in the phenomenological tradition, seeking to overcome the corruption of the things themselves created (purportedly) when one “presupposes” the subject-object correlation in intentional experience, become preoccupied with expressing “phenomenality”—a catchphrase that captures, for example, that which makes possible intentionality or the self’s self-awareness and thus its awareness of objects.

As early as 1930, Heidegger develops the notion of transcendence as that upon which intentionality is founded.2 As phenomenology moves into the 1960s Heidegger is writing about the es gibt or the clearing on which is founded “everything pre- and absent,”3 Merleau-Ponty develops the notion of latent-intentionality or wild-being from which intentionality “emerges,”4 and Henry introduces his monolith on divine Life’s radical immanence “experiencing itself in its Ipseity and in this self-affection giving birth to Christ and to humanity as his ‘Sons’” (107). I deem such reflections meta-phenomenological because they go beyond (or beneath) the phenomena and leave unaddressed two questions: To what phenomena are you pointing? And what is appearing to whom?5

Rivera himself wants to provide an alternative to Henry’s non-intentional and (on some readings) mystical dimensions. Specifically, he develops an “Augustinian-inspired conception of the [contemplative] self” (237) to overcome such “conceptual problems in Henry” (219). Rather than a radically non-intentional, non-temporal mode of immanence or self-awareness or life within divine Life, Rivera characterizes the contemplative-self as a “stance that is temporal, but carries with it an attitude that desires the eternal,” a view of a self that “seeks God without making God a phenomenon in the mystical purchase of pure union” (220, 225). It is this seeking and a phenomenology of it to which I shall return below.

Rivera prefaces the development of his alternative to Henry’s theo-phenomenology by facing squarely those questions that I think we must ask when reading later phenomenologists (especially those writing in the so-called “theological turn”):

If God is involved within the economy of selfhood, communicating himself in grace to us, it remains for us to thematize with greater phenomenological care how this interior entity . . . is describable. How is the interior intimacy with God to be, after all, a phenomenologically observable field? (241)

Rivera considers the problem an “ostensible” one “the resolution” to which “lies in . . . the double-entry of contemplation” in the contemplative self (241, 235). The account of the double-entry of contemplation, however, insofar as it relies on a “theological modification of Husserlian consciousness of internal-time” (261), amounts to a variant of meta-phenomenological analyses of self rather than a phenomenology of the self that “seeks God” in its pilgrimage.

I place Rivera’s discussion of the temporality of the contemplative self in the meta-phenomenological camp not because I think the phenomenology of time-consciousness is meta-phenomenological. It surely need not be. Husserl’s account of time-consciousness, for example, articulates (while avoiding phenomenological and logical pitfalls) what the structure of conscious life must look like given that we experience consciousness as aware of itself in its awareness of the world and objects in the world across time.

Rather, Rivera’s theological modification trades in the meta-phenomenological because it rests on two moves. First, his account of the contemplative self’s distinctive intentionality rests on the Augustinian notion of the self (or soul) as imago Dei, which Rivera cites Robert O’Connell as claiming, “cannot have ‘forgotten God completely [because] if that were the case . . . no ‘reminder’ could ever succeed in awakening that lost memory” (263). Second, Rivera explains the intentional structure of the contemplative self on analogy with what Husserl in his unpublished Bernau Manuscripts termed a far-retention (as opposed to near-retention or retentions as they’re considered in the lectures on the consciousness of internal time). Taking these two moves together, Rivera argues that a kind of “primordial memory of the immemorial”—the “origin” of imago Dei—“orders” imago Dei’s “temporality of faith,” i.e., “contemplative style of intentionality” (263). Rivera thus develops (against Henryan immanence) his view of the contemplative self as a self that is self-given (in its seeking) in a far-retention that includes the possibility that “the ego can experience an object even while not experiencing it as present in consciousness.” Insofar as there is “some kind of presence” in this [far-retention] experience because, for example, I once must have learned a person’s name to experience now that I no longer remember that name, far-retention marks the form or structure of the self that phenomenologically captures the primordial memory or original immemorial in imago Dei (265, 267, 263). In this “contemplative intentionality,” moreover, we find a far-protention that, “in its eschatological form, draws the past forward” (271).

Does this account meet Rivera’s own and well-founded standards for phenomenological availability? Does this account disclose the self-seeking God and tell us anything about the temporality of faith as lived?

However much Rivera’s analysis might tell us about the temporal form or structure of imago Dei—and that is a promising contribution because a phenomenological description of a self that is conceived of as made in the image of God should have interesting and pertinent differences from a self that is conceived of as (with a form but) not made in the image of God—an account of the temporal form or structure of imago Dei cannot tell us much about the life and temporality of faith. The former tells us about imago Dei’s passive structure, while a certain conscious “act” founds the life and temporality of faith, i.e., at least the activity of choosing. An analysis of imago Dei’s passive syntheses seems to reveal little about the active dimension of the life and thus temporality of faith.6 A phenomenology of the life and temporality of faith—“the portrait of a life of holiness, . . . an account of pilgrimage, growth, and contemplation” that Rivera wants to phenomenologically depict (253)—differs greatly from an account of the temporal structure of imago Dei.7

I was brought to these more “methodological” reservations after having been gripped by the section of Rivera’s book that leads up to his account of imago Dei’s near and far retentions and protentions, namely §30, in which Rivera sketches the “spiritual pathos” and “existential intensity” of the temporality of faith. There, Rivera presents a persuasive account of how the temporality of faith oriented toward the original memory and the eschaton renounces the closure or closed structure and finality of Heideggerian being-unto-death (255). Going beyond the formal, temporal structure of imago Dei, Rivera notes promisingly that “the imago Dei, sustained by faith . . . remembers the divine who can make it happy and strains patiently (in hope) toward that absolute future in which faith is consummated and made happy in the presence of God (parousia)” (260).

Faith makes both the world and the self within the world appear differently. What, then, are the phenomenological differences between the life of faith and its secular counterparts? And how, for example, does patience manifest differently in natural-attitude lives lived inside and outside of the life of faith?

At the outset of Ideas II, which section of Husserl’s work Rivera discusses in a lengthy note, Husserl reminds his audience that consciousness is always interested in the world (inter-esse or among the things) with its affective and cognitive commitments coloring the way the world appears (356–66). One reads the opening sections of that lecture course and sees that, to use my own example, the very same food appears differently to different agents given their different interests; the objective correlate that is the food appears differently to a rushed mother, a hungry vagrant, a refined chef, a spoiled child, a nutritionist, a knight of faith, etc. Phenomenology, we must remember, does not want to invalidate these natural-attitude intentionalities but to describe them. To bring the background of life into the foreground, phenomenology, of course, denies itself use of the theories, methodologies, and explanatory models of disciplines such as the physical and social sciences, philosophy, theology, etc. It takes these various interests and ways of life—these intentionalities—just as they appear to these agents’ lived-experiences in the natural attitude.

These various ways of life “color” how the world appears to the agent who engages it and whose interests correspondingly give the world a different axiological valence. Phenomenology will not, for example, describe the Eucharist according to the “science” of systematic theology. Phenomenologically speaking, one who lives a life of faith does not grasp the Eucharist as a systematic theologian grasps the Eucharist when she analyses it from within the systematic-theological-attitude. Phenomenology would say, further, that the professional systematic theologian taken as a believer considering and receiving the Eucharist does not grasp the Eucharist as a systematic theologian but as a practicing believer. The meaning and appearance of the Eucharist co-relates to the agent’s (present) interest. How does the life and temporality of faith appear in the natural attitude in the way that phenomenology wishes to articulate it? What will a phenomenology of the life and temporality of faith look like, then, beyond the temporal structure of imago Dei?

Perhaps we must start, as many theologically inspired phenomenologists in various ways have said, from the observation that faith be characterized as “faith in . . . rather than belief in . . .”8 The subjective act of (choosing to have) faith takes as its objective correlate neither an abstract fact, nor an abstract principle, nor a proposition of some sort, nor an impersonal power.9 A phenomenological description of faith, particularly Christian faith, would hold that faith is thus interpersonal and bound up with desire, will, and affect, unlike belief, which is merely intellectual. Faith and belief further differ insofar as the former but not the latter necessarily entails choice and commitment. It is trivially true that I choose to believe certain facts, pieces of evidence regarding, say, the chemical composition of water, the recorded Major League Baseball standings as the season progresses, etc., but I do not choose those things. I choose to believe them but not to commit myself to them. The life of faith necessarily entails commitment to the choice; the act of belief, since it does not necessarily entail commitment to those matters believed, is thus not called a life of belief. Of course, I may become impassioned about those matters and choose to become a scientist or a historian of baseball and this is closer to the kind of choice involved in faith that makes it different from belief.10

A careful phenomenology of the life of faith would work out and weed out such equivocations in an eidetic analysis. A phenomenology of the life of faith also must factor into its starting point the realization that, according to the life of faith, I am given to myself in a foundational way in the accusative or second-person. Phenomenology does not attend to theoretical questions surrounding the evidence for such faith commitments; rather, it attempts to disclose the how and the what of such lived experiences. While it’s trivially true that I must be the dative to receive the call in the accusative, a phenomenology of the life of faith must start from the transformative acceptance of the call rather than dwell on the invisible subjectivity that fascinated Henry; indeed, while Henryan Life (immanence) and Rivera’s contemplative self both lead further away from the phenomenologically describable, what I am proposing resurrects the life of faith’s essentially and profoundly existential character by preserving a classical phenomenological approach to the life of faith as lived in the natural attitude.

In order to capture the intentional structure—the subjective and objective correlates—of the life of faith, phenomenology must begin from that life’s understanding of itself as an affective-cognitive, interpersonal life willed as such. And a natural attitude intentionality that is the life of faith, as Rivera mentions, entails additional affective dimensions such as hope, patience, trust, obedience, gratitude, etc.11 As these affective dimensions are not unique to the life of faith, a phenomenology of the life of faith would need to explore these affective attitudes as they occur both inside and outside the life of faith (both in a believer and a non-believer). Such a contrast could serve as a foil for an eidetic analysis that will clarify the natural-attitude intentionality that is the life of faith. And to sketch that briefly, we can look at the temporality of patience as a “virtue” in the believer and non-believer.12

Rivera notes an “existential patience” that waits in hope for the full presence of God (260). Such theological-existential patience (TEP) differs from patience in the ordinary sense in the natural attitude (OP). Phenomenologically, we could say that OP differs from TEP at the most fundamental intentional level. Patience is a stance toward the world that wants some X in the process of happening to finish happening, but it waits in a way that defers to the happening and lets it occur at its own pace. The patience of OP can intend two specific objects within this general object that patience takes: It is part of the essential structure of OP that OP can wish for (1) a present to become absent (e.g., I control myself while the screaming toddler collects himself) or (2) an absent to become present (e.g., that cake cooking in the oven smells great and I want it to be finished cooking and cooling so I can frost and eat it, but I wait patiently for the process to unfold lest I ruin the cake and undermine my own desires). For a person living the life of faith, (1) can surely apply because OP can surely apply to such a person. But, with respect to the specific object of TEP, namely, awaiting the face-to-face with God, we only can apply (2) to the essential structure of TEP.

A second fundamental difference exists between OP and TEP. In the case of OP, it is possible to “know” (a) that the desired X will occur (although I must wait for it to occur) and (b) roughly when it will occur. My point is not that (a) and (b) are essential features of all instances of OP; rather, my point is that OP alone and unlike TEP can intend (1) or (2) in the modes of (a) and/or (b), whereas TEP cannot intend (2) in the mode of (a) or (b). This means that the temporal orientation of OP and TEP, while both future directed, will hold different meanings, involve different modes of expectancy and anticipation, etc. I don’t yet know how I would work this out, but the temporal meaning of patience in TEP must look quite different from the meaning of patience in OP because the modes of (a) and (b) in TEP-2 are not underdetermined but fully indeterminate (for I do not know, although I believe that I shall see God again, and I surely cannot even estimate the arrival of the eschaton and parousia).

One more (but surely not the last) fundamental difference between OP and TEP comes to mind. From the perspective of OP, given that the modes of (a) and (b) may apply in some instances of (1) and (2), OP may have a desire—feel tempted—to act in order to hasten the completion of the process for which it wishes and waits. Most likely, if the OP agent is truly behaving patiently, then she will restrain herself, and she will restrain herself because she knows that that is the way to realize the good she desires and for which she waits. For example, if I frost the cake before letting it cool, or if I voice an objection before my spouse finishes her point, then I may diminish the cake’s quality or derail the conversation (and fail to realize the good I desire and for which I’d been, at least trying, to patiently wait). But there is no control available to TEP. Nothing the TEP-agent does or does not do will hasten or destroy that for which she presently waits. TEP thus may share with OP moments of frustration, but TEP will not feel tempted to intercede.

The remarks in the second half of this engagement with Rivera’s book sketch what I hope is (despite its broad strokes) a promising starting point for a phenomenology of the life and temporality of faith as it is lived in the natural attitude. It is an approach to theological phenomenology that the current state of the field leaves underexplored. It is an approach to theological phenomenology that retains a distinctly phenomenological character that, through its phenomenological description, attends to the essentially existential quality of the life and temporality of faith. It is an approach, moreover, that Rivera recognizes but leaves silent. Favoring the state of the art in contemporary continental philosophy of religion—meta-phenomenology—Rivera leaves us only promising, tantalizing whispers of the essential existential quality of the life and temporality of faith.13

  1. Joseph Rivera, The Contemplative Self after Michel Henry: A Phenomenological Theology (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2015). Subsequent references will be offered parenthetically in the text.

  2. M. Heidegger, Metaphysical Foundations of Logic, trans. A. Hofstadter (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984). Of transcendence, Heidegger writes, “this phenomenon of transcendence is not identical with the problem of the subject-object relation.” Lest one miss Heidegger’s point, “the problem of transcendence as such is not at all identical with the problem of intentionality . . . the latter is itself only possible on the basis of original transcendence . . . being-in-the-world” (MFL, 135).

  3. M. Heidegger, “The End of Philosophy and the Task of Thinking,” in On Time and Being, ed. and trans. J. Stambaugh (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972), 65.

  4. M. Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible, trans. A. Lingis (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1968). He writes, “Precisely there is something that the intentional analytic cannot grasp, for it cannot raise (Husserl) to this ‘simultaneity’ which is meta-intentional” (243). Likewise in that note from April 1960, he sketches the path to articulating this meta-intentionality: “It is necessary to take up again and develop the fungierende or latent-intentionality, which is the intentionality within being. That is not compatible with phenomenology” (244).

  5. M. Kelly, Phenomenology and the Problem of Time (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), xliv, 170.

  6. See A. Steinbock, Moral Emotions (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2014). He writes, “If the [spiritual] emotions have their own modes of givenness peculiar to the kind of experiences they are as personal and interpersonal, they may not necessarily map onto familiar temporal life that we see in the presentation structure of time-consciousness. . . . [The] process of self-temporalization does relate to these experiences as . . . mine. Yet, the temporality of some of these emotional experiences is not simply founded in these presentation structures of time-consciousness. . . . For . . . if there are experiences that exhibit different kinds of givenness and different kinds of evidence (e.g., epiphany . . .), then we can at least suspect that this will hold for their temporal modes of givenness as well” (15).

  7. As Augustine’s Confessions established long ago, the world appears quite differently to the one who enjoys the life of faith—which claim Rivera surely finds compelling insofar as he holds that “faith . . . restores to the image its ‘freshness’, its ‘happiness’, as well as its ‘form’ and ‘colour’” (255)—and I always will be imago Dei even if I’m living a life without faith that leaves unrecognized my human nature.

  8. M. Westphal, “Existentialism and Religion,” in The Cambridge Companion to Existentialism, ed. S. G. Crowell (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 234.

  9. Westphal, “Existentialism and Religion,” 235.

  10. Is there a difference, for instance, between saying “I believe in you” and “I have faith in you”?

  11. Westphal, “Existentialism and Religion,” 325–30.

  12. On the matter of temporality and the life of faith, I refer the reader to Anthony Steinbock’s Moral Emotions and the distinction he draws between temporal meaning and temporal orientation. A. Steinbock, op. cit., 15, 93.

  13. It is worth quoting a bit of that aforementioned footnote: “The reduction, as [Husserl] briefly meditates on it in Ideas II, signals to the saint that the understanding of time belongs to a particular attitude one must take up, an explicit performance. . . . What this means for Husserl is that the attitude I choose attains a certain ‘phenomenological dignity’ precisely because that particular attitude gives the main theme for attention, as the principal intentional act.” I think, here, we have a sense of commitment to some X that will be the orienting point of one’s life for some time. But, Rivera immediately continues in a way that shies away from this existential quality: “The theological or contemplative attitude . . . may involve . . . several background attitudes. . . . But the main theme is eternity, the principal focus on which I meditate is the eternal goodness and glory of the Creator who confers on my soul by grace the desire to transition into the theological attitude. The theological attitude . . . is an intense performance, a directing of my regard to that which pulls me toward it even as I never may apprehend it” (365–66).

  • Joseph Rivera

    Joseph Rivera


    Response to Michael Kelly

    My thanks are due to Michael Kelly’s generous reading of my text. He frames my book in light of the big picture, namely, how to characterize my project as a whole. Rather than confront particular arguments I make, he asks the broad question: what kind of project is The Contemplative Self after Michel Henry? He permits me and the (weary) readers to get a clear sense of what is at stake not only in my book, but also in the field of continental philosophy of religion more generally. Like Jones’s reading, his remarks bear on concrete practices I may (or may not) outline, practices that should complement or fill out the transcendental structure of the self that I introduce in conversation with Henry.

    He uses the term meta-phenomenology to characterize my project. I have never heard of the term “meta-phenomenology” in the way that Kelly uses the term. I find this vocabulary to be a helpful way to characterize non-existential approaches to any phenomenological project. Here, a meta-phenomenological approach, as I understand Kelly’s use of the term, is of a piece with the transcendental method. This reflects an attempt to describe the most basic structures of the self, from worldhood, to temporality, to the body. It is possible, I think, to illustrate some of the prevailing meta-phenomenological paradigms: the constitutive ego in Husserl, auto-affection in Henry, l’adonné in Marion, the accused subject in Levinas, temporal différance in Derrida, and so forth. They are each in their own way consistent with the transcendental method of providing the “conditions for the possibility” of experience in general. But Kelly finds the meta-phenomenological paradigm flawed in a fundamental way: Kelly writes, concerning the definition of the label meta-phenomenology, that it goes “beyond (or beneath) the phenomena and leave[s] unaddressed two questions: To what phenomena are you pointing? And what is appearing to whom?”

    My contemplative self develops this transcendental style of meta-phenomenology. There is no question that I utilise a transcendental theology in my thesis. I am consciously working within the transcendental tradition of Husserl and Henry (as well as arguably Levinas, Marion and Derrida). Kelly isolates, rightly, the double-entry of the self, that I articulate in some phenomenological detail in chapter 5, as the foundation of my meta-phenomenology (especially §28). Kelly argues the double-entry is crucial for two reasons: first that the self contains within it a memory of the immemorial (a claim I make on Augustinian grounds) and its temporal structure includes a far retention of making present that which is not fully present to the stream of consciousness. Here I attempt the modest task of making clear that I think Kelly slightly misunderstands what I try to accomplish in chapter 5. I will quickly reinforce the thesis there, because it is so crucial to the constructive part 3 (and my critique of Henry). I apologize to readers who have yet to read my chapter 5 in any detail; I proceed here out of necessity, so as to avoid any confusion about my understanding of selfhood.

    I sketch a self that is two-tiered in structure: (1) the transcendental ground, which is a form, that is subsequently filled in with (2) content, or concrete theological ritual, the eucharist. To address Kelly’s critique, I will recall the basic movement of the relevant sections of chapter 5 (§§27–31). In §27 and §28, I provide the shape of the transcendental form, the double-entry of the self. Kelly singles this out as crucial to my project, which is correct. This doublt-entry represents an in-built, transcendental structure that is universal. It is a form in the way that Henry posits an a priori form in his work (§14), but it is also double in its structure, like Henry’s principle of the duplicity of appearing (§9). My version of the double-entry is not strictly dichotomous in the way Henry’s opposition between auto-affection and hetero-affection appears to be (and in the way his version evokes Gnostic dualism, as I say in §18). But my understanding of the double-entry does parallel Henry’s work here. I move on to §29: I outline the first entry, the interior aspect, which I argue is non-reflective, but also temporal (the verbum intimum I glean from Augustine). The upshot is that I am present to myself but not purely present in the way Henry’s conception of auto-affection demands. In §30 and §31, I discuss the two temporal directions the outward entry (of the double entry) can take, either the future or the past. Faith can manipulate time, and my lived experience in light of the eucharist should alter, however slightly, my experience of time (via far retention that the church provides, in its living 2,000 year memory). I say that temporality can be inflected in a theological voice, by way of the active intentional stance of faith (I don’t hold to a passive subject at all). I proceed to describe how the contemplative self, on the basis of the double entry, can contemplate God in the future tense (§30), and then how it may also unfold in the past tense (§31). The exemplar of this theological hermeneutic is the eucharist, though I imagine other rituals and practices in other religious traditions could function in a similar manner. These final two sections (§§30–31) consist of the concrete theological “filling” that constitutes the second tier of the contemplative self (without insisting on a strict division between the two tiers). The meta-phenomenology lays the groundwork, the transcendental form. But here I move beyond strictly meta-phenomenology and into theological terrain. In chapter 6, I recapitulate this in light of the body and the community of bodies that makes up the institutional church. I again incorporate an analysis of the eucharist (§36).

    To make the summary clear: my version of anthropology imitates in important ways the economy of the self as it appears in Henry’s body of work. He splits the self into two tiers, the interiority of auto-affection and the exteriority of hetero-affection, and they can never overlap or relate. Further, Henry claims that only truth and life reside in interiority and that only falsehood and death reside in exteriority (though it remains a debated topic just what the moral complexion of the world retains in Henry’s work). In response to Henry’s theological anthropology, I argue that such splitting in half of the self resembles Gnostic dualism. To overcome this, I relocate the self in a middle condition, one that inhabits an ambiguous space between auto-affection and hetero-affection. I do so without collapsing them into each other (say into pure exteriority or pure interiority) or keeping them forever apart (in pure duplicity). This is the structural site of the double entry I describe in §29. The site of pure auto-affection, for me, is site of the divine. I argue therefore that the contemplative self can contemplate the divine, but never apprehend or experience this site in immediacy. Rather I experience God mediated in and through time, in my body, with the help the sacraments. This may also address Jones’s concern that I seem to drop Henry altogether in my analysis of selfhood. I go beyond Henry, but I try to work within the two poles of auto-affection and hetero-affection that he establishes.

    With that said, I am deeply grateful to Kelly’s comments concerning the importance of existential intentional stances, and he draws out patience as one I mention in passing. I also talk of love, hope, gratuity, fortitude, etc. But I do not satisfy Kelly’s request that they remain front and centre. His criticism is a matter of degree, and I take it on board. But I wonder if my project remains only or mostly at the level of meta-phenomenology. I would contend that I leave more than “tantalizing whispers” about how to proceed beyond meta-phenomenology, precisely because the whole of part 3 forms the development of one possible theological attitude, as it modifies and manipulates the natural attitude. Again the emphasis on the sacraments in both chapters 5 and 6 should provide some resources toward a resolution of Kelly’s problematic.

    I have no problem addressing, in closing, the question of the self under the rubric of meta-phenomenology, if it is configured as a kind of transcendental phenomenology. I think a transcendental approach is necessary and helpful, if the question of the self is to be addressed in any intelligent way (and if physicalism is to be avoided). But I do not see meta-phenomenology to be incompatible with or in opposition to practical or pragmatic approaches to the self, which is why I supplement the transcendental interpretation of the self with a study of the eucharist in §31 and §36. I wonder if Kelly sees meta-phenomenology and existential phenomenology as mutually exclusive?

    • Michael Kelly

      Michael Kelly


      Time, Self-givenness, and Transcendental Phenomenology

      Thank you, Joe, for your clarifications! Apologies if what follows is rough and unrefined.

      I find Joe’s recapitulation of his view of self helpful and illuminating. In the form presented here, I think it is a type of transcendental approach (that is) not at all incompatible with phenomenology (existential or otherwise).

      My reservation about Joe’s position is not about transcendental conditions as such. My concern is with the particular type of content that Joe wished to present as a transcendental condition. Can appeals to imago Dei qualify as phenomenological? How can the inner voice be brought to appearance? Is a primordial but immemorial memory adequate to the task? Can the notions of near and far retentions anchored in the imago Dei make speak that mute inner voice?

      If I’m correct in my assessment (which assessment I think gains less traction on Joe’s recapitulated version), Joe explains this transcendental condition as a kind of “primordial memory of the immemorial”—the “origin” of imago Dei— that “orders” imago Dei’s “temporality of faith,” i.e., “contemplative style of intentionality” (263). Notions such as these – which Joe neither takes up in his reply to my commentary nor seems to include in his recapitulation – seem (to me) to lack phenomenological content. This kind of transcendental condition looks much different than the transcendental subject in, for example, internal time consciousness.

      As I noted in my remarks – and thus to answer Joe’s closing question in his reply to my commentary – I do not think transcendental inquiries into the nature of time-consciousness, for example, qualify as meta-phenomenology.

      We have experiences of temporal objects such as sentences. As we listen to a sentence, we neither lose the earlier moments of that object (as the earlier words pass) nor do we collapse the past parts into simultaneity with the present moments. The phenomenological issue, then, concerns how we provide a descriptive account of the structure of consciousness (self-awareness) such that this experience (of a temporal object) unfolds in just this way for us (at the level of object awareness). This mode of (self-aware) conscious-experience at the level of internal-time-consciousness surely is given as absent, but it is an absence that is itself a phenomenon given in a peculiar according to the kind of subjective phenomenon it is. In articulating the form of givenness unique to subjectivity, we bring better to appearance the form of givenness unique to the appearance of objects. In describing internal-time consciousness and the self’s self-givenness, we explicate the being of the dative or that to whom phenomenon appear (in this case, the temporal object that is the sentence). That is, we can answer the two questions I pose to metaphenomenology: To what phenomena are you pointing? And what is appearing to whom?

      I understand Joe’s account as one that introduces a primordial memory itself behind and indeed seemingly constitutive of the self described by Husserl in internal-time-consciousness. Indeed, Joe notes in his reply that the meta-phenomenology lays the groundwork for the transcendental form.

      If I have gotten that claim right, then I want to say that it is just this type of view or commitment that I consider metaphenomenological. If I’ve gotten that claim right, then I want to renew my questions: To what phenomena are you pointing? And what is appearing to whom? Put otherwise, here are the questions: Does the inner voice appear? If so, does God appear in or along with the inner voice? If so, who is the dative of manifestation and how does the self-givenness appear? Does self-givenness depend upon (is self-givenness founded upon) the primordial memory of the immemorial? If so, how does such a primordial memory of the immemorial appear? If it is through far-retentions, are these far retentions part of myself? Are the far-retentions part of my primordial constitution as imago Dei?

      In short, and perhaps more productively, I would like to ask Joe if he thinks that he can get all the descriptively rich existential phenomenological character of his work without this meta-phenomenological groundwork? The excellent work you do on the mediated access to the divine via the sacraments is wonderful, for example, and I wonder if you could make all those claims without the type of transcendental apparatus your book presently employs?

      Thanks! Looking forward to your thoughts!

    • Joseph Rivera

      Joseph Rivera


      The Apriori

      Thanks, Michael, for your thoughtful response to my response! I am enjoying this so much.
      Let me see if I can respond to a few of your follow-up remarks. You are asking tough questions about the “nature” or the “type” of transcendental form that I privilege. You wonder, if I read you right, about its phenomenological stature (or lack thereof).
      My position is that the contemplative self is a theological interpretation of the self. I follow Henry and, for that matter, Husserl, by establishing an apriori principle about the nature and scope of the ego. Phenomenology, by its very nature, moves in a circle, in that it posits in apriori fashion an ego of a certain kind, and then it proceeds to think about experience, and moves back and forth between the ego and the “givens” or “data” of experience, as they illuminate each other. After some time, the apriori validates itself, and provides its own evidence But the apriori structure of the self remains elusive precisely because it is a theoretical posit. The transcendental form is not neutral or external to the philosopher who is the being who makes his being a question to be interrogated. This self-reflexivity must assume that there is a condition in place the permits and enables the intellectual pursuit to get off the ground, philosophically. But as I am a theologian, there is in my mind no difference in saying that the theologian also requires an apriori, a more expansive one, that enables reflection on the experience of the divine to obtain. The very reality of theology as a discipline and spirituality as a way of life can imply that there is a precondition for them to emerge at all.
      Henry will say, for example, that his most basic principle of the self as “duplicitous,” or split into two sides, is an apodictic founding intuition of his phenomenological system, that he assumes to be true, which can supply the ground on which his description of the ego-as-a-son-of-God can unfold. He will also call this basic structure an apriori principle that cannot be proved, but rather, remains always self-confirming (p.194ff in I am the Truth). The apriori, too, does not decide the question of how we know particular objects, but how we know anything at all, in general. It is thus a universal form that gets at the essence of the phenomenon.
      Phenomenology, by definition, rejects the prejudices of empiricism or positivism—precisely because they are just that, prejudices. Phenomenology, therefore, seeks to rediscover the living ego that makes the experience of sense data possible, and thus, science possible. Phenomenology demands strict and meticulous attention be paid to how a thing or an object may be given, whereby the “how” (Wie) of the object’s givenness determines the mode of “delivery,” the manner of givenness as such, and ultimately, the subject’s experience of the given. Husserl famously indicated the radical intention on the part of the phenomenologist when he declared “we are the true positivists” inasmuch as phenomenology cultivates a mindful attitude that liberates the philosopher to see the subjective ground of givenness, and thus manifestation as a lived experience. The subject is the true ground of the phenomenon, because it is experience in flesh and blood. The apriori, as I understand it, cannot be verified, for it does sit under the judgment of the tribunal of positivist claims about what is a valid appearance. The future of the theological turn, then, lies in its continued commitment to an apriori givenness of this kind. I say this, because I think it may address another concern of yours: that I am not being properly phenomenological in my theological conception of the self. My theological apriori (to borrow language drawn from Kark Rahner) my fall outside the strict boundaries of phenomenology as you have drawn them.
      But that is precisely the issue, in my mind: the boundaries of phenomenology. Again, I think we may slightly disagree about phenomenology as a discipline. I do not think phenomenology necessarily restricts modes of givenness or the essence of the phenomenon only to non-theological data. Phenomenology can be recalibrated to account for how divine data, or givens (in the form of scripture, creeds, prayer, etc.) can be experienced and thus can be manifest to a living ego. Of course, the structural capacity of the living ego must be posited in such a way that it would make sense that it can seek the divine and have a lived experience of the divine as it is mediated (and I stress mediated) through those modes of Revelation (creeds, scripture, prayer, ritual). I opt to highlight the revelatory power of the eucharist, but other rituals and forms of revelation would suit my purposes.
      So, as I see it, phenomenology’s “how” of givenness is concerned with both the objective and subjective sides of manifestation. Objects are given, and the phenomenon counts as anything that may be given and experienced. But the given itself determines and shapes the subjective ground, eliciting resources in the subject to make the phenomenon appear before it as a lived experience. In this sense, I think maybe the image Dei can qualify as a phenomenological apriori. No?
      Michael asks a series of questions that I hope here can prompt further exploration of the topic at hand. I introduce them here. He asks:
      “To what phenomena are you pointing? And what is appearing to whom? Put otherwise, here are the questions: Does the inner voice appear? If so, does God appear in or along with the inner voice? If so, who is the dative of manifestation and how does the self-givenness appear?” Crude possibilities of an answer may take the following form:
      1. I am pointing to divine revelation as a phenomenon, mediated in and through texts and ritual.
      2. Traces of the divine, in the form of grace, appear to me, by faith and in ritual (or text). I aspire to “see” in a mirror and in an enigma God once I employ the theological attitude in this way.
      3. The inner voice or the verbum intimum, is my non-intentional self-awareness that I am this particular me. As Augustine notes, it is not an actual voice or word, nor is it even mental image or thought. It is a prethematic sense that I am myself, in that sense it appears as co-present in all that I do. It is manifest not as a visible or audible experience, but as an (in)visible sense of self-having. Must manifestation always be visible? Are there degrees of visibility, say dusk or dawn, where vision is limited?
      4. No, God does not appear with it or in that inward self-awareness. For that is exactly my critique of Henry: I do not inhabit a pure living present in which unmediated contact with the divine occurs.
      5. I am the dative of manifestation, for my structural capacity to contemplate God is an apriori principle (the double entry), a site where I am given to myself non-intentionally via the verbum intimum, and where I am also open to the eternal (porosity).
      Let the discussion continue.

Neal DeRoo


Eschatology, Expression and Spirituality: A Response to Rivera

Joseph Rivera’s book is audacious in its aims, and that is to be applauded.1 It raises many issues that I think are central to the work of philosophy of religion, including the nature of the self, the relation between self and God, and the significance of that relationship for the self’s relation to the world. While positioned closer to a theological articulation than a philosophical one, it nevertheless uses insights from phenomenology to seek to clarify what precisely is at stake philosophically in theological questions of contemplation, the imago Dei, and spiritual life. Having done so, it then seeks to (re-)articulate a Christian response to what Rivera takes to be the central issue in philosophy of religion: the question of the “being of the ego” or of the self (327).

There are so many different avenues I would like to discuss, so many issues opened up admirably by the book and its analyses. This is a testament to the book. I will have some difficulty in limiting myself to the few points I can adequately cover here, but I will try to respond to the challenges raised by the book by suggesting, in the main text of this review, two additional areas of phenomenological clarification that I think would assist the project that the book lays out. I will then pursue one of these areas to try to further elaborate a way that phenomenology and Christianity can be used for the mutual benefit of both. The extent to which my suggestions align or fail to align with either Henry’s or Rivera’s I will, for the most part, leave for others to decide. My purpose here is not to critique the book, per se, but to build on it, as it builds on Henry. My hope is that the following fleshes out the discussion that Rivera’s book opens up so admirably, suggesting ways that certain elements of Rivera’s analyses (usually pointed to in the footnotes) can be more concretely articulated so that we can better understand the self and the world (a problem that Rivera points to in the book’s closing words as a subsequent challenge to be taken up) in a way that is both phenomenologically informed and religiously—even spiritually—helpful.

I. Further Phenomenological Clarification

I begin, then, by offering two points of further phenomenological clarification that I think would aid in the discussion opened up by the book. The first has to do with the question of eschatology in the phenomenological tradition (something Rivera deals with extensively in the book’s third part). The second has to do with the notion of “expression” that is used at several key junctures throughout the book,2 but remains largely unexplained.

I begin, then, with the question of eschatology. Rivera’s use of the term seems consistent with a certain theological framework: in general (though perhaps not exclusively), Rivera uses eschatology to indicate the manner in which the eschaton, as a future-present moment, works back in time to affect the present and/or the past.3 This understanding of the work of eschatology is therefore often aligned with hope, which, in Rivera’s case, acts as the “horizon” orienting part 3’s extensive discussion of the Augustinian notion of epektasis (cf. 254).

While this traditional understanding of eschatology is well-founded in theology, it is not the primary way eschatology is employed in the phenomenological tradition. In phenomenology, eschatology is most often invoked to indicate not the working-backwards of chronological time (i.e., from future to present), but rather the irruption (and not merely the interruption) of alterity or otherness within the subject itself.4 This phenomenological account of eschatology distinguishes two types of relation to the future (broadly speaking, those at work in the subject’s powers of constitution and those at work constituting the subject itself) that, in turn, help us articulate an essentially eschatological (and heteronomous)5 element within the very subjectivity of the subject itself—a move that seems to be precisely in line with Rivera’s own project and intentions (e.g., 7, 188).

Central to this phenomenological account of eschatology, then, is a clarification and reconceptualization of the relationship between that which originates with the self and that which originates outside the self (an issue that, we will see, is central to Henry and to Rivera’s project). Initially, Husserl saw the world as coming from outside the self, and breaking into the “stream” of the subject’s project of self-constitution via the notion of a “primal impression.” This supported his early monadic account of the self, as well as the more “idealist” leanings of, e.g., Ideas I. It also enabled Husserl to largely ignore the uniqueness of the future, especially regarding protention, which was originally viewed as being like retention, but moving in the opposite direction.6 It is no coincidence that when Husserl begins to pay more attention to the unique function of the future and of protention—e.g., in the Bernau Manuscripts—his account of temporality in general, and the present in particular, changes dramatically. The present is now understood as an amalgamation of protended retentions and retained protentions (as Rivera discusses, see 265–69) that exists as a matrix of expectations, clarifying and confirming intuitions, and different types of fulfillment that greatly minimizes the idealist and monadic leanings of the early Husserl by complicating the simple picture of a subject “here” with a world arrayed before it over “there.”

Utilizing more of the resources opened up by these phenomenological investigations of eschatology and the future would open the door to a more clearly articulated halfway point between “empty” and “fulfilled” intentions. This is vital to finding a middle ground between the “Husserlian Revolutions” of Derrida and Marion that Rivera suggests provide the outline for the contours of contemporary philosophy of religion in the phenomenological tradition (cf. §5 of Rivera). Insofar as Rivera wants to situate not only Henry’s work but also his own in this space between the “bipolarity of empty and full intentions” (58), utilizing some more of the phenomenological distinctions at work in the detailed analyses of protention and eschatology would give him a bigger toolbox with which to work to clarify his argument.

The need for such clarity emerges most forcefully on the issue of the relationship between the subject and the world. Currently, Rivera posits Henry’s theory of “nonintentional life” as the best way to proceed between the aforementioned “bipolarity.” But he ends up situating Henry’s project (and perhaps also his own) not between Derrida and Marion at all, but rather in opposition to them, if not to Husserlian phenomenology more generally, on grounds that he will both laud and critique Henry for: the relation (or lack thereof) between Life (as “interior” “auto-affection”) and intentional consciousness (“hetero-affection”) as our way of engaging the (“exterior”) world. In short, Rivera suggests that Henry provides an account that is so focused on the subject that it is unable to account in any meaningful way for our relation to the world.7

All readers of Henry would concede, I think, that Henry’s major contribution to phenomenology is his persistent analysis of self-experience. This experience is categorically unlike my experiences of other things insofar as (to use Rivera’s language) the dative and the genitive are identical in cases of self-experience (or auto-affection) and are necessarily distinct in all other types of experience. This distinction between self-experience and my experience of other things is not itself the problem, for Rivera. The problem, he contends, is that Henry privileges the truth of self-experience to such an extent that he ultimately ends up losing the ability to (legitimately) experience the world (cf. especially §12 and §18).8

Now, Rivera is far from the first person to claim that Henry fails adequately to account for the relationship between self-experience and experience of the world.9 But I think we must be clear, phenomenologically speaking, about the nature of Henry’s analysis and of the problems it engenders.10 Henry is at pains to show that some type of distinct awareness of self is necessary, even for my experience of other objects. While Henry is not the first phenomenologist to notice this (the Husserlian distinction between horizontal and transverse intentionality in his work on time-consciousness seems to suggest something similar, for example), he is the one who pays it the most attention, and the one who is most dogged in maintaining that self-awareness is different in kind than hetero-awareness.

Henry’s focus on two distinct modes of givenness or two distinct modes of bringing to awareness begs for an account of how those two modes are related to each other (cf. 103): how does the way in which I am aware of (or experience) myself tie in with the way in which I am aware of (or experience) the world so as to create a well-rounded picture of my experience of the world? This is an essential phenomenological question, and it is this that most commentators agree Henry fails to adequately account for.

II. Expression and Spirituality

And trying to respond to this challenge, I think, requires a further phenomenological clarification, the second of the two I have promised. For what is needed is a way in which, in one and the same experience, I can in fact have two distinct types of awareness operative, even though I do not immediately experience them both in the same way. And this is precisely the task that Husserl assigns to expression. In the Logical Investigations,11 expression is described as the situation in which two distinct elements are experienced in a phenomenal unity. This unity is characterized by an asymmetry in which I do not experience the two parts of the expression as two parts, but rather precisely as one.12

Expression is therefore marked primarily by the change in intention by which one element (e.g., the physical appearance) is no longer taken merely in its perceptual intuitive sense but rather is taken to mean something via a “meaning-intention.” As such, expression is construed primarily as a function whereby my intention is directed not at the object appearing but at the sense that is intuitively presented with or “in” the object appearing. This intention occurs immediately in the intuitive presentation of the object and decidedly not as a distinct intuition requiring a distinct act of “fulfilling or illustrative intuition” (LI, I, 194). That is, there is not a perceptual-intention that leads us to a distinct meaning-intention (as is the case in indication); in expression, the two are given as one, in a phenomenal unity.

This understanding of expression is not confined strictly to language.13 In his later work, Husserl talks at length about the way in which the elements of the lifeworld (e.g., cultural objects, artifacts and institutions) are inherently expressive of a “spiritual meaning.”14 This idea of a spirit that is essentially expressed in the lifeworld is consistent with his definition of spirit as a “vital presentiment” (Crisis, 275). In this definition, Husserl indicates two important elements of spirit: first, that it is inexorably tied to a uniquely future-oriented way in which we experience the world;15 and second, that it is in some important way connected to “Life” itself.16 First, spirit functions pre-objectively (Gegenstandlich)17 as a pre-condition of rational or theoretical thought; it is more felt than thought, more a product of passive than active synthesis. Spirit is an active, dynamic force that shapes how we bring the world to intuition by operating upon the clarifying mode of bringing to intuition, which helps narrow the range of intuitional possibilities via the horizon of expectations out of which we operate. By filling some of the emptiness of the intended object, the clarifying mode enables the intended object to coincide with a confirming-fulfilling intuition in a synthesis (cf. Hua XI, 79–80).18 As such, spirit helps shape the communal horizon of sense that each individual subject draws upon in constituting their own experience.

But that this is drawn upon in acts of constitution does not mean that it itself operates only within the realm of the constituting work of the subject. To more clearly connect this to the issue of auto- and hetero-affection, we must acknowledge Husserl’s explicit connection of spirit to life. When augmented by Henry’s detailed analyses of Life and Derrida’s arguments for the ultra-transcendental nature of Life as both expression and differance,19 the essential connection between spirit and life suggests that spirit is operative on a transcendental register20 that affects (or perhaps even makes possible) the subject’s constitutive abilities, but does not originate with them. Spirit is precisely that which is expressed in and by the subject even as it arises from outside the subject. Rather, to be more precise, one should say that Spirit arises within the subject—but only as a “trace” of something other-than-the-subject that is both outside the subject (as Other) but also constitutive of the subject. As such, the other is not only “in me” (as Derrida says on multiple occasions), but I am—in my very being as an “I”—the expression of something other. That is, in spiritual expression we can see how “the ego possesses its bodily powers/capacities and wields them freely and spontaneously through a primal ‘I-Can’ [that] in Henry’s estimation [it receives as] a gift” (215).

III. The Spiritual Self

Spiritual expression—perhaps we could even speak of the “spiritual self”21—can therefore help us speak to the issue of the relationship between self-experience and experience of the world that bedevils much of Henry’s project. For this account of spiritual expression brings us back to the question of the world (posed most explicitly by Rivera on 331), and of the ability of God to appear within it—or, more specifically, the ability of us to experience God as appearing within the world. As discussed above, insofar as the elements of our lifeworld are spiritually expressive, we are shaped essentially (perhaps even transcendentally) by the spirits at work in our world. To have a spirit at work in our heart (cf. 175) is, therefore, not only to express that spirit through the actions we consciously undertake, but also to have our very ability to constitute and experience the world shaped by that spirit at work in our Life.22 As we come to express, e.g., the spirit of God better and better, that spirit not only changes our actions, but also how we constitute and represent the world to ourselves: the entire operation of the “I can” is transformed by the recovery of the spirit of Christ which reawakens us to the spiritual depth that is our very selves.23

To speak of the very nature of the human self in the context of Rivera’s book brings us to the question of the imago Dei, the way in which the human being bears the image of God. With the notion of a “spiritual self” that cannot help but express some spirit in its very being and hence in all of its actions,24 bearing an image of something (i.e., expressing some kind of spirit) becomes essential to the very nature of what it is to be a human being.25 It seems that we cannot help but bear the image of something in and through our lives.26 The question of image-bearing then becomes whether the image we bear—whether the spirit we express—is the Spirit of God, or some other spirit.

With this question we are returned to a point that is fundamental to Henry’s project: the spirit that is operative in us—the “spirituality” that constitutes us in our very subjectivity—affects the entirety of our experience of the world. This point allows us to see how Henry’s work on barbarism is as essential to his oeuvre as is his so-called “Christian trilogy.” Because the spirit of barbarism disallows us from seeing spiritual depth at all, including its own “spiritual depth” as a spirit, barbarism is a spiritual problem (perhaps even an “idolatry”) that has real, phenomenological consequences: we constitute the world differently if our heart is in the grip of barbarism than we would if were expressing some other spirit. And we cannot even understand or engage this difference as long as we remain stuck in barbarism, insofar as barbarism inhibits us from seeing the role that spirit plays in our constitution of the world.

What Henry is calling for in both Barbarism and the “Christian trilogy,” then, is a re-engagement of the spirituality that belies the central core of subjectivity itself.27 Missing from his analysis is perhaps what expression opens up for us: the mechanism by which we can experience two things in such a way that causes us to “live through” one of those things so as to “live in” the other. While we may experience subjectivity as pure auto-affection, this does not entail that the self itself is an instance of pure auto-affection—given the reduction, experience is not ontology. If the self is a spiritual expression (i.e., an expression of a spirit that comes to us from elsewhere, picked up in and from the lifeworld(s) in which we live and are constituted), then a way is open to possibly affirm both Henry’s account of auto-affective experience and Derrida’s and Marion’s accounts of heterologous subjectivity.28

The re-emergence of expression here also helps us articulate the challenge of barbarism anew. Husserl is clear that an expression can only function meaningfully (in non-solitary discourse) if it is first taken as indicative (i.e., if I know that the physical grapheme or phoneme is not “all there is” but that a sense or meaning is to be indicated thereby). If I do not take the sounds you make to be meaningful (if I think the noises you make are “just sounds,” like the wind rushing through the trees), then I will never understand what you are telling me: if the “meaning-intention” is never aroused in me, I can never get a meaning from what you are saying. Barbarism can be understood, then, as the spirit that shapes us to intend the physical world only perceptually, so that “meaning” is to be looked for only when there are humans there to introduce meaning into a world of “just stuff.” Barbarism is the “flattening” of spiritual depth and the loss of the possibility of spiritual expression.

If we operate under such a guise—if we never get beyond the perceptual intention to the meaning-intention—we will never be able to experience God in the world, and our religion is condemned to be something that can only ever be “transcendent” (in the sense of “outside the world”).29 This is not to say that God is not operative in the world, but merely that we will never experience God in the world if our engagement with the world is limited to just “physical stuff.”

Through a recovery of the notion of spiritual expression, we can say that Henry is trying to argue that it is only when we recover a spiritual depth that the possibility of God being experienced in and through the world is possible. And it is only when barbarism is countered that we can encounter that spiritual depth—in part by recovering the spiritually expressive nature of human being. Spiritual expression is, therefore, essential to Henry’s project, both phenomenologically and religiously, insofar as it is essential to helping us better understand the self, its relation to the world, and the religious nature of Life itself. As such, I think it is an essential next step in the admirable project that Rivera undertakes in The Contemplative Self after Michel Henry: to “articulate a self who seeks a God always intimate, and yet, elusive” (8).

  1. Joseph Rivera, The Contemplative Self after Michel Henry: A Phenomenological Theology (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2015). Hereafter, all references will be made parenthetically within the text.

  2. For example, in the closing part of the sixth chapter Rivera states that “the soul remains properly itself only by its very expressions in the body” (322; emphasis added). This echoes earlier claims about the relationship between the verbum intimum and existence in the world (251). Insofar as the relation between body and soul is the main point of contention in chapter 6 (279), if not in the whole of part 3, defining that relationship here in large part via expression calls out for a more rigorous understanding and exploration of expression.

  3. Cf., e.g., his discussion of the “mystical body” in terms of the “body to come, yet to be realized in its fullness” (279ff.).

  4. Rather than spending time proving this point here, I will refer those skeptical about this claim to my analysis of the phenomenological conceptions of eschatology and of futurity more broadly, including its methodological implications, in Futurity in Phenomenology: Promise and Method in Husserl, Levinas and Derrida (New York, NY: Fordham, 2013).

  5. Something essential, for Rivera, to a genuinely theological account of the self; cf. 28.

  6. Here, I must say briefly that I find Rivera’s accounts of the “directionality” of time to be lacking in ways that end up inhibiting the clarity and conclusions of his project. For example, his claim that, for Husserl, time moves “by way of a flow, a streaming procession from the future (protention) to the present and backward” (96) is puzzling, especially given his own claims about the importance of the primal impression. Rather, on the early Husserlian account, time moves from the present to the past. Later, in the Bernau Manuscripts (material which Rivera should be highly commended for including in his book, even if I think he could have gotten even more support for his project from that work than he did), when the account of the present shifts away from the “primary impression” toward an amalgamation of protended retentions and retained protentions, the direction of time is almost exclusively a striving from the past toward the future (via protention) within a matrix of expectations, clarifying and confirming intuitions, and different types of fulfillment.

  7. A problem that Rivera ties explicitly to a lack of eschatology in Henry (63–64).

  8. Rivera will ultimately set up his own project as contrasting with Henry on precisely this score; cf., e.g.: “In contrast to Henry, the following chapters intend to unify interiority and exteriority. . . . The present study can depart from Henry here by maintaining that such a self is not isolated from empirical, temporal, and spatial display of the world” (50).

  9. Cf., e.g., Dan Zahavi, “Michel Henry and the Phenomenology of the Invisible,” Continental Philosophy Review 32 (1999): 223–40. Rivera also cites Kevin Hart and Jeffrey Hanson as major Henry commentators who support his criticisms of Henry.

  10. On this score, there is a puzzling tendency in The Contemplative Self to treat “modes of givenness” as interchangeable with “modes of being” (see, e.g., 294). At times in the third part it seems that Rivera wants to treat soul and body as, alternatively, distinct modes of givenness, distinct modes of being, and as something like distinct ontological substances. Much of his analysis in chapter 6, for example, seems to revolve around showing how bodies and souls can be distinct “things” while still being closely and intimately intertwined. This is a fine project, if one wants to revive something like Augustinian dualism within a contemporary paradigm. However, it does not seem to properly honour the nature of the phenomenological reduction, which, in Henry’s case, brackets questions of ontology and deals instead with questions of modes of givenness or of awareness (a point that emerges at times but is lost at other times in Rivera’s discussion of Henry’s “Radical Reduction” in §15). One can certainly try to use Henry’s analyses in the furtherance of this type of project—but then one must be careful not to merely apply Henry’s claims regarding distinct modes of awareness to claims about, e.g., the relation between bodies and souls as distinct modes of being or distinct ontological realities. That, for example, Henry thinks God is best experienced within an experience of my very self—that God first appears in my self-awareness and not in the world—does not entail that “Henry refuses to see God as an incarnate person ‘in the world’” (286); it could merely suggest that experiencing anything in the world as an experience of God is possible if and only if certain elements within my own self-awareness are first aligned in a certain way. That is, perhaps I can only encounter even Jesus of Nazareth as God if my heart (to use another Henry-ian term) has been prepared, by God, to so receive him. To say this is distinctly not to deny that Jesus of Nazareth is God incarnate; it is merely to raise the question of how one is able to experience him as such. We will return to some of this below. Whether the roots of this problem are planted in the soil of Rivera’s analyses or of Henry’s is not immediately clear.

  11. Husserl, Logical Investigations, trans. J. N. Findlay (London and New York: Routledge, 2001); hereafter cited in text as LI, followed by Investigation number and page number (e.g., LI, I, 1).

  12. That I can later, through reflection, distinguish the parts is essential to the nature of this unity—the unity I experience is an experienced unity, not an ontological unity or a unity of substance (cf. LI, I, 193).

  13. I will focus here primarily on the work of Husserl, but the phenomenologist who makes the most use of the concept of expression is Merleau-Ponty. For accounts of this, see Foti, Tracing Expression in Merleau-Ponty (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2013) and Landes, Merleau-Ponty and the Paradoxes of Expression (London and New York, NY: Continuum, 2013).

  14. This occurs across several works of Husserl’s later period, notably Ideas II and Husserliana volume XXXIX, and is thematized convincingly in Pulkinnen, “Lifeworld as an Embodiment of Spiritual Meaning: The Constitutive Dynamics of Activity and Passivity in Husserl,” in Jensen and Moran (eds.), The Phenomenology of Embodied Subjectivity, Contributions to Phenomenology 71 (Cham: Springer, 2013).

  15. The notion of presentiment here is connected via “horizons of expectation” to passive synthesis and the late (non-impression based) account of the present (a case I make in some detail in the second chapter of Futurity in Phenomenology). Significantly for this piece, the relation of spirit to our future orientation suggests it could play a significant role in Rivera’s project by being more precisely connected to eschatology (in the phenomenological sense), given that the notion of our future orientation is a central element in Rivera’s argument for the contemplative self in the book’s third part, as we have mentioned above.

  16. Something that makes it important, not only to Husserl, and of course to Henry, but also to the project of transcendental phenomenology more broadly. Though I cannot explain this in any detail here, such a case is made in Derrida’s Voice and Phenomenon, which critiques Husserl’s early use of expression (especially in Logical Investigations) so as to affirm a transcendental account of life-as-expression that Derrida will call differance. The argument of Voice and Phenomenon is important to our understanding of Henry insofar as Derrida’s criticism in that work is directed against an account of expression as “exteriorization” (see Kates, Essential History: Jacques Derrida and the Development of Deconstruction [Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2004] for more on this theme), as is Henry’s critique of the modern. As such, Derrida’s ultimate affirmation of an ultra-transcendental form of expression that avoids (or undergirds) exteriorization opens the possibility of an account of expression that might be amenable with Henry’s project, though whether or not the two end up being amenable may depend, in large part, on whether Derrida avoids or merely undergirds “exteriorization.”

  17. See Husserl, Analyses concerning Active and Passive Synthesis: Lectures on Transcendental Logic, trans. A. J. Steinbock (Dordrecht/Boston/London: Kluwer Academic, 2001), §28 and Formal and Transcendental Logic, trans. D. Cairns (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1969), 69. Hereafter cited in text as Hua XI and FTL, respectively.

  18. Note that spirit operates in a manner that is neither wholly empty of intuitive content (as Rivera characterizes the Derridean project; cf. 59–61) nor entails a fully saturated, or even over-saturated, relationship between intentionality and intuition (as Rivera characterizes Marion’s project; cf. 58–59). As such, spirit operates in a terrain similar to Rivera’s own project, somewhere between “the bipolarity of empty and full intentions” (58). Again, this helps show why I think a further clarification of eschatology—and futurity more generally—in the phenomenological tradition would greatly assist Rivera’s long-term project here.

  19. See Derrida’s Voice and Phenomenon and note 16 above.

  20. One cannot ignore that Henry himself equates “spirit” with transcendental Life in Incarnation (cf. Rivera, 192), though it remains to be shown whether “spirit” as I am using it here is consistent with Henry’s use of the term.

  21. How this “spiritual self” relates to Rivera’s “contemplative self” would I think be interesting to tease out—but I will not have the time to do so here. A place to begin would be whether this “spiritual self” provides an articulation of the “spiritual way of life” that Rivera claims his understanding of the imago Dei calls for; cf. 235. At the least, it seems consistent with Rivera’s desire to view our relationship to God (which he discusses under the language of “contemplation”) as a “way of life” in which we are “present to ourselves in our world” (225).

  22. Compare this to: “The knowledge of Life, in Henry’s mind . . . is the living foundation of the knowledge that springs from representational consciousness” (176).

  23. Such that we can experience our very flesh as “a pure feeling of Christ touching my ipseity at every point of my being” (201).

  24. It should be pointed here out that this notion of a “spiritual self” resonates strongly with the philosophical anthropology suggested by the Dutch phenomenologist Herman Dooyeweerd; cf. Dooyeweerd, A New Critique of Theoretical Thought, 3 vols., trans. David H. Freeman, William S. Young and Henry de Jongste (Philadelphia, PA: Reformed and Presbyterian Publishing Company, 1953–1957). For more on the relation of Dooyeweerd to the phenomenological tradition, see DeRoo, “The Meaning of Being Is . . . Being as Meaning: The Phenomenological Underpinning of Dooyeweerd’s Thought,” in Phenomenology for the Twenty-First Century, eds. J. Aaron Simmons and James E. Hackett (Palgrave MacMillan, 2016). For a (brief) account of the Dooyeweerdian anthropology and its significance specifically for Christian philosophy, look for my contribution to the forthcoming Christian Philosophy? Conceptions, Continuations and Challenges, edited by J. Aaron Simmons (in process).

  25. Rivera seems to agree with something like this conception of the imago Dei as essential to the nature of human being (233). However, this affirmation seems at odds with his equation of the imago Dei with a particular capacity humans have (namely, that of contemplating and participating in the eternal; 232). Perhaps this notion of the “spiritual self” can be seen as a more detailed elaboration of how the self contemplates and participates in the eternal via its average, everyday life. At the least, perhaps “expression” gives another way of talking about the way in which humans “image” God, rather than the language of “reflection” that Rivera uses regularly, and which seems to cut too close to Henry’s critiques of representation.

  26. Based on Dooyeweerd’s enigmatic conception of a “supra-temporal heart” (which has many interesting resonances with the work of both Henry [cf., e.g., Rivera, 100] and Marion), others (most notably James H. Olthuis) have suggested that imaging God is not something a human being does (via some particular action or other) but rather is essential to the nature of what a human being is: to be human is to be an image bearer. On such an account, we do not image God by having some god-like quality that the rest of (non-image-bearing) creation does not have (e.g., reason, creativity). Rather we are inherently image-bearers, insofar as we cannot help but express some “spirit” in everything we do. Cf. Olthuis, The Beautiful Risk: A New Psychology of Loving and Being Loved (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001) and “Be(com)ing: Humankind as Gift and Call,” Philosophia Reformata 58 (1993): 153–72.

  27. Henry’s critical remarks about “the world” then should perhaps be read similarly to Paul’s comments on “the flesh”: not as criticisms of the world or of the body itself, but as criticisms of a particular way of being in or experiencing the world and the body. The condemnation of the “word of the world” is perhaps not a condemnation of embodied existence, but rather of an existence that is able to experience only the objective, physical body, and not the (spiritual) depth of flesh, a depth that is manifest, encountered, and expressed in the world. “The World” (of barbarism) is to be condemned, for Henry, because it prevents us from acknowledging the true nature of the (life-)world as the world of Life.

  28. Obviously, this is not to suggest that Derrida and Marion offer identical accounts of subjectivity. However, both do seem to offer a heterologous account of subjectivity, insofar as the subject is primarily “constituted by” or a gift of some(one/thing) that is simultaneously beyond the self but also captured in the essence of subjectivity itself.

  29. A view of religion that Charles Taylor equates with the “disenchanted” view of our secular age.

  • Joseph Rivera

    Joseph Rivera


    Response to Neal DeRoo

    Perhaps the most technical essay in this symposium, Neal DeRoo’s review affords me the opportunity to clarify a few philosophical-cum-theological points in my book. The points, listed below, are sometimes incidental to my argument, and sometimes central. I am grateful nonetheless that he raised particular philosophical points with precision. I will be as thorough as I can be here, without being too tedious. I will admit up front that I cannot address adequately all the questions he raises.

    First, DeRoo raises a point about my formulation of eschatology, which I develop in part 3 of the manuscript. He indicates that I have a chronological or linear view of time, in which eschatology reframes time with an absolute future “to come,” ahead of the past and present. It functions as a future “horizon,” as DeRoo suggests, because it represents a movement of “working-backwards” in chronological fashion. He thinks that an alternative way of framing eschatological time is visible in phenomenology. He charts quickly the evolution of Husserl’s understanding of the future, what I would call after Theodore Kisiel the “kairology of being,” which points up the possibility of an existential experience of the future that can be experience in the now, presumably to show that time is a matrix of all three ecstasies working in conjunction with each other.1 DeRoo prioritizes kairology over chronology. I wish to point out that in §30, where I advocate for epektasis, or the leaning into the eschatological future, I do not hold to a strict chronological account of eschatology. I rather talk of the “porosity” of time to the eternal, in which the distention (or theological expansion) of time taps into what I call the porous fabric of time (254). I then talk in the subsequent section (§31) of the eucharistic temporal movement, in which past and future bend together toward the present. I do not see how this theological interpretation of eschatology is strictly linear or chronological at all. And yet, I do appreciate DeRoo’s astute Husserlian reflections on how protention is central to the ego’s experience of the present and past. I could, in other words, use Husserl here to offer a more finely grained understanding of time.

    A second corrective DeRoo provides for me is an insight into the subject-world relationship. He rightly sees that I want to overcome Henry’s radical phenomenology: the self-affective subject immediately experiences itself to the extent that the subject has no meaningful relation to the exterior world. I name this Henry’s monism (see §18). DeRoo, however, counters my interpretation. He thinks that Henry is justified (if I am reading DeRoo correctly here) in his non-intentional approach because Henry unveils the importance of self-awareness as a distinct form of appearing. I appear to myself in relation to myself (self-awareness) and I also appear in the world among other things different than myself (hetero-awareness). How do I account for both types of appearing in the same subject, without alienating the subject from the world (or hetero-awareness)? My problem with Henry is that he does not offer a resolution to this question. He provides an account of the subject who is alienated from the world. This is because, moreover, he argues that the truth of the subject lies in its non-temporal or acosmic self-experience of itself crushing against itself in pure immanence. Pure self-presence for Henry opens out onto an experience that does not involve a temporal flow. For Henry (recall in §10, where I discuss the living present) it is clear that temporality is violent and unnatural, in that it throws me outside myself. The only way I can truly experience myself as myself, is to experience myself in a domain that is underneath or outside of temporality as such. DeRoo appears to say that myself and others like Dan Zahavi point out this weakness in Henry. I am not sure if DeRoo agrees with my critique of Henry or if he is defending Henry on this point.

    In my section §29, which explores the verbum intimum, a Latin word derived from Augustine’s brilliant analysis of self-experience in The Trinity, I show a way forward; I attempt to avoid the splitting-in-half of the subject that Henry advances (for more on this, see my response to Michael Kelly). I highlight that even though self does experience itself in pure presence, it may nevertheless remain intimately associated with itself in a state of non-reflective self-awareness. The reason I cannot experience myself in pure immanence is due to the fact that I am always immersed in the flow of time. But I do not think time violently throws me outside myself, eradicating the possibility of a unified sense of self. I think this principle of the verbum intimum may complement what DeRoo suggests is Husserl’s paradigm of the ego’s double experience, which is given the label of “expression.” DeRoo says that Husserlian self-awareness considers how the self can experience two distinct types of awareness (self-awareness and hetero-awareness) as a phenomenal unity. I admit I did not use expression in this technical Husserlian sense. I appreciate learning more about Husserl from DeRoo on this point. I want to argue something similar. I agree we are self-aware and hetero-aware at the same time, as long we insist that self-awareness is not pure immanence. Derrida’s claim that Husserl’s ego collapses upon itself in pure auto-affection (in Voice and Phenomena) is simply not true. To my mind, no one develops a principle of auto-affection in phenomenology with exacting rigor except for Michel Henry.

    Henry’s problem with (and critique of) Husserl is that Husserl does not develop a proper phenomenological account of self-experience or auto-affection, because the flow of time is always tearing the self away from itself (see Henry’s Material Phenomenology). I argue, siding in part with Husserl, that temporality need not tear the self away from itself completely (unless one wants to interpret time from a Gnostic point of view, as if time were an evil force). It goes without saying at this juncture that I am more Husserlian here because I do not suggest the self can retreat from time, whereas Henry suggests that once the self retreats, and only then, can it undergo the truth of life in the achievement of pure auto-affection. To be more direct, Henry would say that all of us are already undergoing the truth of life in an acosmic unity with God whether we realize it or not!

    I also appreciate insights in Henry. I agree in part with Henry concerning our fundamental relation to God. DeRoo notes that the self may have a transcendental structure. Yes indeed, that is what I argue. I make this clear in the conclusion. I say there:

    [EXT]The subjective depths each of us possesses “in God” is ineluctably prior to narrative and language, even to consciousness, and for this rediscovery (Augustine discovered it first) of the universal truth of theological selfhood, we can heartily affirm Henry’s work as a major achievement: no matter the story or narrative in which I choose to plot my life, I am always a Son of God. The phenomenological analysis of this transcendental structure carried out by Henry and the radical results obtained by it, however, call for greater balance, so that protology meets its limit in eschatology. (329)[/EXT]

    DeRoo closes by saying that Henry’s transcendental Christology enables us to see that spirituality that dwells in our subjective core “affects the entirety of our experience of the world.” That is exactly not what it does for Henry. My whole argument in the book has been focused on exposing Henry’s Gnostic leanings, his inclination to urge us to escape from the world, because the world is the site of self-alienation, not of spirit. I disagree, like DeRoo, with Henry on this point. I think the world is the site of a spiritual journey, where the image of God grows in its capacity to reflect the eternal presence of God. DeRoo will go on to claim that Henry does not offer his readers an ontology of the self. Again, I must disagree. Henry’s L’essence de la manifestation incorporates ontological language on nearly every page. Auto-affection is the essence of the self. DeRoo says that “while we may experience subjectivity as pure auto-affection, this does not entail that the self itself is an instance of pure auto-affection—given the reduction, experience is not ontology.” I think that is exactly the issue. For Henry, the self is an instance of pure auto-affection (which is where the Parousia appears), and the narrative of my book attempts to overcome this logic with the aid of the temporal movement of eschatology. Perhaps, then, where I part company from DeRoo, above all, is in my interpretation of Henry’s work. For Henry, pure auto-affection is literally just that, pure. In chapters 2 and 3 I belabour this point. Once one lets in the “light” of the world, or accommodates the “flow” of time, then it follows that the self becomes alienated from itself according to Henry. It no longer becomes possible to affirm auto-affection once an element of difference is introduced into the self. Auto-affection for Henry, so as to avoid confusion, is an experience of the self riveted to the self, wholly independent of time and the world. To follow Henry on this point is to enter into the terrain of the protology of Gnostic dualism. This means, in conclusion, that I agree with DeRoo’s reflections on spirituality, and that DeRoo and I both necessarily disagree with Henry (given my interpretation of Henry), despite DeRoo’s protests that Henry is worth rescuing!

    1. See Theodore Kisiel, “The Kairology of Being,” chapter 9 of The Genesis of Heidegger’s Being and Time (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1995).

    • Neal DeRoo

      Neal DeRoo


      Auto-Affection and our Experience of God

      Thank you, Joe! Your hesitancy regarding where, precisely, my critique lies is warranted. I myself am not sure if my criticism is of you or of Henry, but I can affirm your closing line that I think Henry is worth rescuing. Or, rather, I have an intuition that there is something worth rescuing in Henry’s account of auto-affection, but I cannot yet say what, precisely, it is.

      Your responses (to me and to Mike) have been helpful for me in starting to clarify what I think is at stake. First, I think you and I may have slightly different accounts of what, precisely, is meant by auto- and hetero-affection. In your response to me, you characterize them this way: “I appear to myself in relation to myself (self-awareness) and I also appear in the world among other things different than myself (hetero-awareness).” To me, this seems to confuse ‘awareness’ or ‘affection’ with ‘appearance.’ Hetero-awareness is not the fact that I appear in the world among other things different than myself, but rather that things appear to me as different from myself. The difference here is not (I think) merely semantic, but hints at what I was trying to get at (somewhat clumsily, I admit) with my note about the possible confusion of “appearing” and “being” in your book. To speak of me “appearing in the world among other things different than myself” raises the question (to refer back to your exchange with Mike above) of what, precisely, is appearing to whom. On the formulation just mentioned above, it seems that I am the given (“I appear”), and then it remains unclear who or what I am appearing to (if one presumes something akin to a God-like observer, we perhaps begin to move toward a traditional conception of ontology here).

      The problem is especially acute, at least as it pertains to Henry, in the question of auto-affection or self-awareness. Here, the issues is not that “I appear to myself in relation to myself,” but rather (and this is especially true for Henry, as you point out in your book) that I do not “appear” to myself at all. My awareness of myself is not that of an “appearing” but of something immediately given (and I think it is fair to ask whether phenomenology can still be useful methodologically if this is the case). To use Henry’s example of pain, I do not ‘appear’ to myself to be in pain, nor does my pain ‘appear’ to me as a phenomenon—rather, I experience pain. This is not even the same as saying “I am in pain”, for even that posits a distinction between myself and the pain I feel such that I would experience the pain as a property or condition pertaining to me. Rather, in the moment of pain, I experience only the pain, and I experience it in a way that is direct, without need of any kind of verification (I don’t need a medical instrument to support the claim that I feel pain, and it isn’t clear that it could ever do so). I can, upon further reflection, distinguish that moment of pain from other moments in an ongoing time-synthesis I call ‘me’ (so as to be able to accurately say “ I am in pain”), but such a reflection, arguably, has begun to take myself as an object (i.e., the object of reflection), and so is categorically different from my experience of auto-affection (this is not to say that this further reflection is false or somehow less ‘true’—I certainly can and do experience myself hetero-affectively at certain times. The point is not to denigrate this type of experience, but merely to distinguish it as different in kind from moments of auto-affection).

      My own self-experience (e.g., of pain) is, therefore, categorically different from all those other experiences I have where I experience things as different from myself or as appearing to me from somewhere else (even if that ‘somewhere else’ is within a world I also inhabit or from a different moment in my temporal flux). The difference is not in the object appearing (since I can even experience myself hetero-affectively), but rather in how I am affected by it: in auto-affection, the experience and the experienced are (phenomenally or phenomenologically; i.e., experienced as) one.

      For the phenomenologist, the question then arises: “What is the relationship between auto-affection and hetero-affection?” Put more crudely “How do I experience things that are experienced as other-than-me? Is the nature of my experience of them distinct from the nature of their appearance to me or can I experience them (directly) as other-than-me?”

      I realize this line of thought is more technically philosophical than your more theological project. But I think it has profound implications, not just for our reading of Henry, but ultimately for questions concerning the nature of our experience of God. Put as directly as I can, it asks us whether I experience God as something distinct from myself or whether I experience God as manifesting within (or perhaps even ‘as’) me. This question of how I experience God is distinct from the question of whether God does or does not exist outside myself. That is, one can, I think, affirm the (theological) distinction between creature and Creator while still being open to the fact that I could experience the Creator as shockingly immanent to my very self. Indeed, perhaps such an auto-affective experience of God is a necessary prerequisite to being able to experience or encounter God ‘in the world’ (via sacraments, liturgical presence, epiphanies of the everyday, or any number of other ways recent philosophers of religion have tried to discuss our experience of the divine). To put it still more bluntly (and perhaps more pietistically), perhaps it is only if God is already at work “in my heart” that I can experience God as at work in the world.

      As I understand your project, it is unclear to me whether you would affirm that last statement. I’m not sure whether you would claim that God must be at work within us in order for us to experience God at work in the world or whether we merely need to have some kind of transcendental structure or condition that makes us ‘porous’ to experiences of the divine. And even in the latter case, do I only experience God as always outside of and distinct from myself? Or can I directly experience God within my very self (perhaps this is a re-capitulation of Mike’s earlier question about the phenomenological datum of your project).

      Partly at stake in this, for me, is trying to understand the way God is at work in us, and how that relates to the ways we are at work: if we say that God works ‘in us’ (as the Apostle Paul repeatedly does) or ‘through us’ (as we often talk in religious circles), does God do this in place of our own efforts? In and as our own efforts? Do we, in some important sense, lose ourselves if God is acting and working through us—or is this, precisely, how we find our true selves? My fear (perhaps unwarranted philosophically, but at play pragmatically) is that closing the door to an immanent experience of God opens the door to deism. While this may not pose quite as large a problem in Catholic circles (where a robust notion of the presence of God in the Eucharist can, perhaps, attenuate this problem somewhat), in the Protestant circles in which I run and worship, deism remains a lingering spiritual concern.

      I’m sorry that this response is so wide-ranging (bordering, I fear, on incoherent). I think the issues you raise in your book get at the heart of some of the most important philosophical and religious questions of our time, and I am grateful to you for the book, and for helping me wrestle more deeply with some of those issues. In short, I think my main questions here are three-fold: 1) what is the nature of auto-affection (as you understand it); 2) must God be at work within us in order for us to experience God at work in the world, or is a transcendental structure of the subject sufficient to ‘open’ us to experiences of God; and 3) can I have an experience of God as immanent within my very self, or must I always experience God as other-than-me?

    • Michael Kelly

      Michael Kelly


      Auto-affection and the Experience of God- II

      Hi, Joe and Neal.

      I want to say more about this exchange between you two, but I only can dash something off just now.

      I do not think that we can say, for Henry, that “I” appear in the world among other things different than myself. We cannot even say that “I” appear “in” the world among other things differently than the other things in the world. Concerning the first formulation, we cannot say this because subjectivity strictly speaking does not appear and is not of this world, so to speak, for subjectivity according to Henry (as you both know) is radically immanent and thoroughly non-intentional). Concerning the second formulation, the self given as object in the world would appear in the same objectifying intentionality by which we grasp objects in the world. There is, as I read Henry, too little (if any) room for the second-person (accusative) and too strong a dichotomy between life (subjectivity given without mediation) and intentionality (subjectivity and the world given in time and space). Life, itself, and our subjective life with Life, does not appear in the world. Our subjective life is given but in a radically non-intentional way different in kind from the givenness characteristic of appearing or object awareness (or whatever falls to the blanket label of ontological monism as the prejudice against other modes of awareness).

      I think you both agree with the above.

      What interests me about this issue are the two questions Neal raises. He asks first, “Is phenomenological reflection can still be useful methodologically in this case?” Second, he raises the issue about “whether I experience God as manifesting with … me” (while noting importantly that the question of how I experience God is distinct from these other questions. Our answers to the second question will determine our answers to the first, for if I experience god as manifesting with me, then I do not think the method of phenomenology applies (and surely not Henry’s method unless we want to maintain transcendence and the Creator/creature distinction (as Augustine does, I think)). If we argue that God is mediately presented to us in the sacraments, liturgical presence, etc., then we seem unable to use Henry but could use phenomenology very effectively to describe how the world appears to and for the faithful. And then Neal’s question remains about the way in which God is at work in us (and the extent to which phenomenological reflection can or cannot capture this).

      I hope this helps move the convernsation forward a bit. I’m finding a real renewed interest in this material. And thanks to both of you (and Aaron for organizing).

      Looking forward to reading the follow ups.

    • Neal DeRoo

      Neal DeRoo


      Phenomenology and the God-Self Relation


      Can you talk a little more about why you think Henry’s (phenomenological?) methodology is not useful if we “experience God as manifesting with(in) me”? I’m not sure I follow why an immanent appearance of God cannot be investigated phenomenologically.

      To me, it seems there are two possible ways, post-Henry, that we can discuss a possible immanent manifestation of God within me (which is different from having an experience of God as appearing ‘outside’ me or in some way ‘in’ the ‘world’). First, God could appear within me as other-than-me. In this regard, we would experience God as within me via a hetero-affection (this would almost certainly mean that we do not have a direct experience of God-as-God in our subjective life, but rather that the God-quality of the experience can be made manifest only through a later moment of [phenomenological?] reflection, in much the same way I can make myself an object of hetero-affection via reflection on, say, a past moment in my life). Second, God could appear within me as, in some way, my very self or as more-myself-than-myself (this strikes me as at least possibly analogous to the way the Other appears within/as me such that I am ‘hostage to’ or ‘trace of’ the other, in Levinas and Derrida). That is, here I would have to experience God as my very (access to?) subjectivity, in an auto-affective experience. Something like the latter seems to be Henry’s move (though how one can preserve the Creator-creature distinction here, as both you and Joe have pointed out, becomes a significant issue. Not, perhaps, insurmountable, but also, likely, more a theological or perhaps ‘ontological’ distinction than a phenomenological one here).

      Both of these possible ways of experiencing God seem, at least in principle, accessible via phenomenological reflection. I gather that the second (what I would call the Henry-ian) approach may not obviously be phenomenological, but why can the first possible way of experiencing God not be accessed phenomenologically? And why would Henry’s method not be appropriate for the second?

      I know you were in a rush when you wrote your piece, so I’m hoping you can unpack more what you were thinking on this score. Also, writing this response has brought to mind another question I’d appreciate hearing you and Joe’s (and anyone else’s) answers to: is a distinctly phenomenal distinction between Creator and creature necessary to preserve the theological distinction? That is, can I experience God as one-with-me without thereby erasing the actual distinction between us?

      What do you think?


Jean-Yves Lacoste


Marginal Remarks

Michel Henry is widely known as the most intellectually honest philosopher in his generation. Before Henry published his first Christian text, a friend of mine told me once in earnest that Henry’s armchair was already ready for him in the kingdom of God. The friend who said it was no friend of the Rahnerian theory of “anonymous Christianity,” but he was—and is still—a philosopher with a sound theological education: he knew what Christian theology says about the unbeliever’s salvation. I have not forgotten the friend’s opinion (I may reveal his name, by the way: Rémi Brague . . .).

Once a Christian, Henry ventured into the field of religious, and even theological, investigation. This venture deserves to be praised. Professional theologians have read Henry’s last works with delight. A critical mind if any, the biblical scholar Paul Beauchamp went so far as praising these works as spiritually helpful to him. Joseph Rivera’s tribute to a man whose intellectual and personal career was devoted to the pursuit of truth, and truth only, is well deserved. Rivera is not totally satisfied with Henry’s “contribution to theology.” Nor am I, of course. Nonetheless, Rivera’s counterproposal does not meet with my entire approval—on the questions he asks and answers, I have given elsewhere what is not, let us hope, my “opinion.” A repetition of the views I have already expressed would have been useless, and all the more useless would be to say that I feel more agreement than disagreement. What follows is, therefore, a series of marginal remarks on Henry, on Rivera’s interpretation of Henry, and eventually on Rivera’s own proposition. Long conversations will be necessary to go further. For both of us.


I would have been vastly surprised, when I first came across Henry’s works, had I been told that he would develop in his almost old age into some sort of a theologian. I had a quick look at him in the late sixties (the lady who taught us philosophy at high school loved phenomenology of all kinds), only to discover the strange case of a phenomenologist repudiating intentionality, with the inevitable consequence that I failed to understand the Henryian concept of “life.” Henry reappeared in my life in 1976. Levinas, a philosopher of exteriority if ever there was one, had decided to devote his last seminar to The Essence of Manifestation, and Jacques Colette (a fine Kierkegaard scholar who was then writing a huge, never to be published, dissertation on Levinas) urged me to attend the seminar. The seminar itself was frustrating: students reading weak presentations and the Master answering too shortly. I nonetheless understood the why of this valedictory seminar: Levinas obviously had found in Henry a philosopher of unsurpassable interiority and wanted to take leave of French academic life, in all fairness, in acknowledging the rights of a totally non-Levinasian phenomenology. Noticing the polarity of Henry-Levinas is admittedly very easy (to me, now). But for a graduate student with much room in his creed for intentionality, it was no mean experience to discover that Henry’s repudiation of intentionality was accepted as a legitimate move by someone who, by all accounts, was one of the best phenomenologists alive. Levinas, of course, was himself battling against intentionality . . .


Though Henry is at his best when demolishing his opponents, he never opposed Levinas. Levinas never appeared to me and us, then, as opposing Henry—his desire was to let Henry be read. In one case, nonetheless, Levinas felt the need to be more Henryian than Henry himself, and this case was in relation to Scheler. Henry refuses two Schelerianisms: the concept of intentional feeling (“Fühlen von etwas,” “feeling” for instance a value) and the concept of non-intentional feeling (“Gefühl,” unable as such to feel anything). If you refuse both, where can you accommodate “sentir” in a philosophical/phenomenological construction? Levinas may have answered the question, and I may very well have failed to understand the answer. But if this is the case, I suspect that something was missing in the “last seminar”: an account of Henry’s first book, prior to Essence of Manifestation. Philosophy and Phenomenology of the Body is Henry’s most lucid work (a good reason to ask students to read it as an introduction to the Henryian corpus) and a provocative book. It is provocative, at least, as an interpretation of Maine de Biran: a French philosopher whom all French apprentice philosophers, in Henry’s day, were doomed to overlook (common prejudice among young men of my generation: there was no French philosopher worth being read from Rousseau to Bergson). Henry’s reading of Maine de Biran is fascinating. After reading the book, in the early eighties, I remember telling a friend of mine that if Maine de Biran had actually written everything Henry claimed he has written, Maine de Biran was a great philosopher. Henry was making Maine de Biran a forerunner of phenomenology, of course. But rightly so. And when I decided, very late, to have a close look at the sources, I noticed quickly that Henry had found in him what he needed to work out his own concept of “life” and “flesh.” Maine de Biran’s endeavour is post- and anti-Cartesian: in this only book he spent his life writing and never wrote (the words are Henri Gouhier’s), his ambition (in words he never uses so bluntly) is to rewrite the Cartesian “cogito” from the point of view of bodily, not mental, experience. To use Husserl’s terminology (a terminology Henry knows when he writes his commentary), the move is from an “ego cogito” to an “I who is a flesh” Leib—the common French translation, in these days, was “corps propre.” We “have” a body—corps organique. We “are” a flesh; and our best experience of ourselves is the very simple experience of ourselves as making the tiniest bodily effort. The self therefore is not a “cogitatum.” The self is “felt.” This feeling is not intentional. The philosophy of the body leads thus to a phenomenology of the body/flesh, and it becomes evident that Henry could find no better point of departure than Maine de Biran’s descriptions of embodied existence.


It is wise, at this point, to draw the attention to another very different (but French) philosopher, Claude Bruaire. A Hegelian who had sat at the feet of Gaston Fessard, Bruaire published in 1968 a Philosophy of the Body, which is perhaps his best book. It is also his only book to have met with some public success—a book bearing this title, if it appeared in the midst of the students’ movement, was bound to attract (a totally illegitimate) attention. Bruaire, at a guess, had not read Henry’s book. He used to scorn phenomenology. But his book is important. A theological philosopher, Bruaire (whose dissertations had been devoted to Hegel’s Logic and to the Existence of God) tries to pave the way to a philosophy of the body which makes it possible for the body to have an absolute future: resurrection. An affirmation runs all along the book: the way we think the Absolute and the way we think the body are intrinsic correlates. One guesses that the conclusion will be derived from an incarnational theology. The conclusion, therefore, as fairly often in neo-Hegelian French philosophy, owes as much to philosophy as to theology. But I am alluding here to Bruaire because his is a philosophical work, perfectly respectful of the standards of a particular brand of philosophy, and which must not be read as a piece of apologetics. In any case, my point here is only historical: in 1965, Henry describes a self which is a body without any absolute future, and Henry is not existentially or theoretically interested in Christianity; and in 1968, Bruaire speaks as a philosopher whose concepts and interests are born within Christianity. Their philosophies have very little in common (with a qualification: the necessity of a bodily experience of the human ego). But the quasi-simultaneous publication of both books has something to teach: either on the way to a trinitarian ontology (in Bruaire’s last book, Being and Spirit) or on the way to committed Christianity, one cannot skip viewing the body/flesh as a major philosophical object.


This episode, of course, is part of a very old story, and a story where Christianity bats perpetually for the body. In his “True Discourse,” for instance, Celsus (quoted by Origen), speaks with contempt for the Christians: they are “in love with the body,” pothountes to sôma. Even in Descartes’ late writings, according to Jean-Luc Marion, the body is nothing exterior to the self: it is almost a Husserlian “flesh” of sorts. But, to pay more attention to Henry, one must agree with Rivera on an important point: the eschatological concept of the body we find perpetually in the Christian tradition is almost never to be found in Henry, be it in his pre-Christian or in his Christian period. We may put it in other words. Bruaire’s insistence is on a body which may be saved, whereas the human body, as felt, is part of an absolute now which is in no need of an absolute future. We have all learnt as undergraduates (from Balthasar, Taubes and others) that the eschatological problem has been lurking in recent philosophy since Hegel. We have all learnt (from Kojève) that Hegelian eschatology is a realized one (we have nothing to hope or after absolute knowledge has become available), and it is a strange coincidence that Henry’s eschatology is a realized eschatology as well, whereas Bruaire battles through Hegelianism to argue in favour of a futuristic eschatology where the human body will inherit its absolute future. There is no hermeneutic difficulty here. What Henry learns about the body when he reads Maine de Biran he will never forget. And which is more, he will certainly deepen his intuitions, but he will never question the description of a “parousiac” experience of oneself as a fleshly being. This parousiac experience, to be sure, is no beatific vision, and the paradigmatic version of Henry’s “cogito” is to be found, not in the thinking thing, but in a suffering self—and suffering, pathos, has (hopefully) no absolute future. This parousiac experience (one must stick to the words Henry uses) is nonetheless an eschatological experience. Here and now, I am not content with becoming aware of myself as feeling myself. I, literally, am comprehending myself. And we shall need only a detail (!) to Christianize this realized eschatology and say, with Henry’s late works, that my parousiac presence to myself is tied to Christ’s parousiac presence to myself: life (mine) and Life (Christ’s) are co-given here and now. In fullness.


I have been drawing attention to Bruaire because of the unquestionably Christian orthodoxy of his philosophy of the body, and it is only fair to admit that Henry’s point of departure does not lead him to genuinely Christian conclusions. Were one to accept some brand of realized eschatology (“authentic” existence according to Bultmann would be a candidate, but there are many others), Henry’s absolute present would get theological legitimacy. But are we allowed to use the adjective “parousiac” when describing our relation to the Absolute and to ourselves? I doubt we can, and I am not the only one to give voice to such a doubt. Our bodily presence to ourselves is beyond all doubt. The presence of God’s Word may be the secret of our presence to ourselves. But Rivera is right: Henry, here, deals only with the subjective side of our body (we as “flesh,” Fleisch) and throws its objective side (we as “bodies,” Körper) into the darkness of a meaningless “world.” On the one hand, we are already saved (as beings who are a flesh). On the other hand, our “organic bodies” need no salvation. The flesh is already “risen.” The body will not be risen from the dead. And this undeniably is not far from Gnosticism. The charge of Gnosticism has been levelled against respectable thinkers. Baur published his fat book against Hegel three years after Hegel’s death. Since he has been rediscovered, the late Schelling has been an inspiration for theologians (there is Schellingianism in Balthasar), but his gnostic proclivities have been acknowledged by all. And Heidegger would accuse Scheler’s religious works to be akin to Valentinian gnosticism . . . Henry is in good company. But a qualification is required: whereas the three philosophers I have alluded to had a good knowledge of Christian theology, Henry had almost no knowledge of it at all. Henry undeniably confessed the Christian faith, sometime after his “Genealogy of Psychoanalysis,” and stuck firmly to it. His “version” of Christianity (I borrow “version” from Ricoeur), now, is conceptually queer. Henry told once to a common friend that he had just read John’s Gospel and that it fitted perfectly his philosophy. The friend, a philosopher with much theological expertise, welcomed his enthusiasm, but suggested that he ought to read more. It seems that Henry followed the friend’s advice and read some Balthasar and other contemporary divines during his last years. But Henry undeniably died too young for him to allow Christian theology to influence his philosophy in any depth. Standard gnostics have normally taken leave from (orthodox) Christianity after having been well acquainted with it. Henry, a non-standard gnostic, was not granted the time to take leave from the gnostic ingredients of his philosophy. But those who have known him well (I am not one of them) were impressed by the fervour of his faith.


It is interesting to note here that the intellectual crisis of the Church of France in the late sixties and in the seventies was described as a gnostic crisis in an influential book by the Dominican Marie-Joseph Le Guillou, Le mystère du Père, in 1974. Le Guillou tried to make a point in his book: the classical interplay of “fides quaerens intellectum” and “intellectus quaerens fidem” had—then—disappeared, and theology had more or less become “ancilla philosophiae,” or rather “philosophiarum.” Present day gnosticism, according to Le Guillou, is not what ancient gnosticism was, philosophy run mad, but a reign of philosophy over theology with the Christian tradition falling into oblivion. Hegel had been the arch-case. He is not the only case, and Le Guillou argues that gnosticism is lurking around when theologians become intellectually churchless. Henry died a churchgoer. As a matter of fact, he lived all through his last years the (happy) experience of the man in the pew. He was happy with Christianity as he had discovered it. But what he had discovered was the few tenets of Christianity which fit his philosophical a prioris. 1 Henry had been a creative philosopher for many years when he ventured into Christianity, and he died a young Christian. Making theology (though he never claimed to contribute to theology stricto sensu) the handmaiden of his phenomenology is something he did not want, nor is it a program he would have approved. A clear-cut distinction between the “field” of theology and the “field” of philosophy is also something he does not know of: and he meets here with my full approval. But, I am allowed a “semitic inclusion,” Henry had not taken part in Christian intellectual debates in the days when philosophers who had a desire to be Christian devoted much time to learn theology. If the label “Gnosticism” is to be used aptly in his case, it will only mean that on his way to Christian gnôsis he had not the good fortune to find theological advisors . . .


A surprising comparison crops up when Rivera suggests that Henry’s Christology, as Rahner’s, is “transcendental.” Surprising? Indeed, no. As far as Rahner is concerned, his “transcendental deduction of an absolute savior” leads perhaps somewhere—but it does not lead to the Middle Eastern territories where, in the most contingent way, a man was crucified and rose from the dead, to be acknowledged as saviour. Rahner’s Christ is anonymous. He belongs to no history. And so it is the case with Henry’s Christ. Recent theological lingo has made (too) much use of a distinction, theology from above vs. theology from below, and Henry’s Christology comes straight from the Fourth Gospel and stops dead before the Word is known as present in a man called Jesus. There is something refreshing in authors who do not feel the perpetual need to remind us of Jesus’ “Nazarene” origin. But if events have happened which allow Christian theology to state, in the most un-Greek fashion, that “caro salutis cardo,” then “contingent truths of history” matter. Johannine spirituality is never far from Henry’s “theological” contributions, and this is not an objection. Henry’s Christology is a near revival of monophysitism, and this is an objection. A proposal might be more useful than all objections, though. Rahner’s transcendental theology is more or less unable to come to terms with the historic and the contingent. So is Henry. And in both cases, the spirituality of Ignatius of Loyola might have come to the help of the party. In Ignatian meditation, contemplative prayer begins with what is known as “compositio loci,” imagining the place where this or that happened and becoming intuitively present to something which has the double quality of pastness and exteriority. Praying is not “having a look.” Praying, nonetheless, involves intuition and data of intuition. The Jesuit to be, and anyone who accepts the style of contemplation advocated in the “Exercises,” is committed to looking. He will, no doubt, have the “eyes of faith.” What faith allows him to see, and what neither Rahner’s nor Henry’s transcendentalism make possible, is the undeducible manifestation of the Absolute in the there and then of events in Palestine.


An addition. Associating Henry with Rahner sounds strange. Another strange (but, to my mind, true) association occurs: Henry and Teilhard de Chardin have something in common. Teilhard had travelled. His journey to China is part of his legend. And yet, he never visited Palestine. His Christ is “cosmic” (a Christ “in quo omnia constant”) and deprived of any historical reality. In The Divine Milieu, a book he began to write in the desert of Gobi, he asks a candid question: “Is the Christ of the Gospels, whom imagination and love perceive within the limits of a mediterranean world, still able to act as the centre of our prodigiously expanded world?” (24, French edition). Teilhard’s theology—or rather his spiritual teachings—is not entirely ahistoric: there is room in the same book for the “fascinating and unfathomable reality of the historical Christ” (117). But here again, a philosophy (if there is anything philosophical in a paleontologist’s speculations) is the constant and Christology the variable. This is probably the main reason of Teilhard’s (unwilling but undeniable) gnostic temptation. This short addition might interest Rivera.


Let us go back to the point where phenomenology begins, namely intentionality. Is a purely hyletic (material) phenomenology more than a dream? Anybody who has submitted Henry’s proposal to the test of fair description will admit that there are enstatic experiences. We are here on sure ground. The phenomenon of pain, or the parallel phenomenon of joy, is not (primarily) pain of something or experience of something joyful. Such experiences, if we pay them the attention they deserve, put no object into play: they put me into play, they disclose me to myself (as a suffering self, as a joyful self, etc.). About their reality, we have no objection to level. We do not know whether Maine de Biran would have approved of Henry’s interpretation of his quest of “sens intime.” A conclusion is licit, anyway: what appears to us in experiences of ourselves as “flesh,” as bodies which are an I, is never ecstatic. Henry’s concept of “auto-affection” is paradoxical and provocative, and mostly meant to refuse the constitution of a perpetually ecstatic concept of existence. The secret of life, in Henry, is affective through and through. We can use here Heidegger’s concept of “Befindlichkeit” and state that we “find ourselves” in affective situations. But we must quickly take leave from Heidegger, who ties Befindlichkeit with understanding in such a way that affection is part of a logic of understanding “something”: even if the arch-affection, anxiety, leads to an apt knowledge of no object, but of oneself as a self on its way to death or nothingness, what we are affected by in such an experience comes from outside. A Henryian critique of Heidegger is valid, and a Henryian critique of Scheler is valid as well. Scheler’s concepts of “Fühlen von etwas” and “Gefühl” are coined in such a way that Gefühl is non-intentional and non-cognitive—and we do not need to describe pain in much detail to acknowledge that it is a (a) non-intentional and (b) cognitive phenomenon: the experience of pain includes an understanding of pain. Heidegger has a perfect right to say that all existing acts are affective or partly affective. But he knows of no enstatic access to oneself—and this is counterfactual. Henry’s plea, in a way, is in favour of elementary phenomena. His tactic is not to put intentionality into brackets (it is no reduction in the Husserlian fashion) but to draw our attention toward non-intentional phenomena. And he meets, even if we are sometimes at pain to identify sheer enstasis, with perfect success. We can use the concept of intentionality in a dogmatic fashion: and if we do so, Henry’s proposal is a trivial philosophical heresy. But we can test it: and if we do so, we are led to the conclusion that enstasis—“life,” as opposed to “ek-sistence”—is neither a philosophical dream nor part of a refusal of phenomenology, but—only—a way of being and experiencing oneself that we are perpetually familiar with.


So far, so good, and Rivera’s interpretation of Henry does not collide with what most scholars—and even specialists—would say. Difficulties arise, though, when temptations appear. To phrase them naively, is there some priority of enstasis over extasis? Or some priority of extasis over enstasis? Naive questions give rise to naive prejudices. Extasis, enstasis, both are related in such a way that an ecstatic existence wholly unaware of enstatic phenomena, and a “life” from which extasis would be banned from birth to death, would be sheer fictions. There are ways, plural, of identifying the “sens intime,” or non-intentional self-awareness—I know of no canonical way, singular, of surely getting there. And even if we are not satisfied by exteriority and exteriorizing ourselves, we are not closeted in ourselves: extasis, be it intentional or “caring,” or “using,” is part and parcel of all experience of oneself and the world. One may object against Heidegger’s description of existence—I have raised objections against it. But a sure fact, if one dare use the word “fact,” is that phenomenology does not deal only with “existing” experiences, but deals often and inevitably with cases of “non-existence” or “more than existence,” etc. Not only are existence, extasis, intentionality, perpetually possible; they are always lurking in the vicinity. And yet, our experiences of intentionality, etc., can be perpetually “deconstituted.” I need no more than a toothache to feel myself in a non-intentional way. There are phenomena where hyletic data are lacking any intentional morphè: the project of a material phenomenology, therefore, is faithful to the “things” in the how of their appearing—or rather faithful to a “thing,” the thing we are. Material phenomenology, however, does not and cannot take the whole field of phenomenology by storm. Non-intentional events of consciousness, or purely hyletic phenomena, have the qualities of the real and of the exceptional. And once we have put our finger on this exceptional character, we must add that Henry’s pure interiority, pure withdrawal from the “world,” etc., is always threatened by a remarkable “danger”: extasis, intentionality, are never far from non-intentional phenomena, and perpetually threaten to deconstitute them. There are exceptional experiences. Because of their banality (Maine de Biran’s examples and Henry’s philosophical examples point to phenomena very often unnoticed, we do not pay much attention to what we are doing when doing a minor bodily effort, nor do we when we feel a pain without feeling any need to describe it . . .), we are prone to explore mostly intentionality-involving acts of consciousness (looking at a painting by Kandinsky, after all, is no enstatic experience!). And we must resist a tendency to submit all phenomena to an intentional analysis—the Brentanian and Husserlian description of consciousness is not meant to be used as a straightjacket. But we “exist” more often than we “live.” And existence has a tendency to “endanger” life.—Enough on what I have said elsewhere with some prolixity.


Is some theology eventually useful here? It may be useful if we follow Rivera’s drastic suggestions on what we are when we pray. (A theology which would not understand what we do when we pray would be a very strange one indeed . . .) Contemplation is undeniably ecstatic, be it the contemplation of a work of art or part of a spiritual event, say taking part in the eucharist or practising lectio divina. It is ecstatic and temporal, and temporal as involving a twofold movement, by way of memory and by way of expectation and hope. And it is ecstatic as well conceptualized as a fruitio: as the present rejoicing in what is given to the believer. Little phenomenology is needed here to notice that we are dealing here with general conditions of experience. Memoria, fruitio, spes, do not need to be hastily theologized. A friend of his told me once that visiting a museum (it may have been his private museum) was Henry’s equivalent to attending mass before he became a committed Christian. Henry’s love of Kandinsky was contemplative, as is our love of anything belonging to the realm of exteriority and nurtured in interiority. Contemplation is no property of the believer; but the believer, despite this qualification, cannot escape becoming a “contemplative self.” And once we agree with this slightly trivial pronouncement, theological concepts have a perfect right to appear and overdetermine non-theological experiences. Memory is central in all human experience—but Augustine has much to say about memoria Dei. Protension is part of all constitution of a living present—but when man’s absolute future is a share in eternity, Gregory of Nyssa has much to say about epectasis, a name for man’s openness to, and desire of, the eternal. And if we agree with Heidegger that the present is ruled by the future, to add the theological precision that the key temporal phenomenon, in Christian experience, is a presence (the eucharistic presence) we shall have to subvert Husserl’s constant drive, down to the “C Manuscripts,” to identify the past as that which is no more and the future as that which is not yet. Contemplation—let us take it as synonymous with “spiritual life”—embraces everything in man with an eschatological destiny. As we can describe it, it embraces us here and now, body/flesh and soul/spirit, insofar as we try to exist/live coram Deo, facing God, of course, as beings that very often cannot do better than to exist/live “coram ourselves,” distracted from God by our suffering body or our rambling thoughts. Theologians, when they happen to be interested in spirituality, know that well. And when we speak in a speculative way, short of any power of description, with eschatological anticipations as only foundations of our right to speculate, our last word is that risen man is the measure of everything real in mortal man.


Eschatological speculation is perilous. Rivera is right to notice that Henry’s philosophico-religious texts are devoid of any eschatology, or defend some sort of realized eschatology: an eschatology which gives no room for hope, because every promise is fulfilled in the “now” of presence to oneself, presence to Christ and Christ’s presence (not to forget other man, perfectly present as well as the object of my compassion). Focusing on the concept of contemplation, at all events, is a wise move. It reminds us that man’s relation to God is ecstatic—epectasis. God, must we waste our time to spell it out, is not “out there”: he is also intimior intimo meo, and Henry knows it very well, only not to stress as well that he is summior summo meo. And here, let us remember that “realized eschatology” was coined by C. H. Dodd, a specialist of the Fourth Gospel, after attending an orthodox service—celebrated somewhere on earth by mortal men. Now, praying man, as we can describe his behaviour, is certainly not risen. He prays in the world, with many opportunities to be distracted from what he intends to do. What he wants is memoria Dei—but oblivio Dei threatens perpetually to rule over his liturgical chants or his liturgical silence. The Fourth Gospel intertwines the earthly Jesus and the risen Christ in such a way that Balthasar’s “theology of the forty days” is our best hermeneutical tool when we try to understand how Christ’s eschatological presence may be granted by the “historical,” or “historic,” Jesus. And one more word will be necessary: we shall have to say that the contemplative self—and we may incarnate this self—lives, between history and eschatology, deep in preeschatological experiences. There is room on our way to death for a perpetual desire of God. There is room on this way, as well, for an eclipse of this desire: the believer is (only) a believer, he does not “see,” and forgetting God is as common with him as remembering him. We know it; and even those who defend a realized eschatology of some brand know it—they just have a queer idea of the eschaton. We know, therefore, that spiritual life is not “risen life” stricto sensu, and that our present experience (of God, of ourselves, of our neighbours) is at its best a “penultimate experience.” The contemplative self will be, ultimately, what it is becoming to be, penultimately, when it tries to exist epectically towards a more than transcendent and more than immanent Absolute, and when it tries to find rest—“quies,” “hèsukhia”—in him. What we can say of the “ultimate” we derive with our acquaintance with the penultimate. The derivation must be careful. There is a preeschatological dimension of prayer. Our prayer involves us as flesh and spirit, or soul. Our flesh cannot be dissociated from our organic body. But here we must remember that our organic body is an object, for the physicist as well as for the physician, and that we have no way of describing a risen body. “Resurrection of the flesh,” a Christian concept with no phenomenological implication, means that anything in us worthy of an eternal destiny will live “definitively.” But it decidedly does not mean that there will be a physical reality of the eschata. The naive “physics of glorious bodies” we stumble on even in Aquinas is part of a past we have no need to resurrect. Thomas, who stuck to “natura abhorret vacuum,” asks somewhere what the bowels of the blessed will be full of. And his answer is “of the noblest humours.” It’s a coherent answer, provided one thinks the question is legitimate. And it is not. “Glory” is no physical or biological reality, nor are we to fancy physicists or biologists performing in the heavenly Jerusalem the task they perform in history. The flesh which is called to eternal life has its objective side in the time of the world, where it appears as “body-flesh,” “Leib-Körper.” Is his flesh called to be an eternal object as well? And will there be eternal objects? Will there be incorruptible atoms? Etc. It is better not to embark on such queer questions. They would evoke queer affirmations.

  1. It is interesting to remark that Jean-Luc Marion, who was [a] Henry’s friend and [b] a thoroughbred philosopher, has always taken care, when doing some theology, to anchor it in a fully-fledged Church equipped with the Magisterium, tradition and bishops. Marion is undeniably speculative but [!] undeniably orthodox. But he has sucked Christianity at his mother’s breast, and he started learning theology in the same years he began his philosophical education, under the guidance of people like Fr Louis Bouyer, Mgr Maxime Charles and others.

  • Joseph Rivera

    Joseph Rivera


    Response to Jean-Yves Lacoste

    I am, of course, humbled that Fr. Jean-Yves Lacoste decided to read my book and offer a suggestive and critical review of it. He is, for myself, a living legend whose work is read alongside Marion, Henry, Levinas, Derrida, Chrètien and others. He is a master of phenomenological theology in his own right. Surprised by this gesture of kindness, I take seriously what are some understated, if critical, remarks on my project, especially concerning the structure of theological anthropology. This should recall some themes I covered in my responses to Jones and Kelly.

    Lacoste’s work is subtle, and sometimes eccentric, like the man himself. His sprawling review of my book proves no exception, as readers may see for themselves. His reflections on the life of Henry, his late coming to theological discourse (compared to Marion’s theological training under Fr. Bouyer) as well as his foray into Levinas’s final seminar on Henry’s L’essence de manifestation should fascinate anyone marginally interested in the field.

    Lacoste approves of my reading of Henry. Confirmed in his review here, and once in private conversation, Lacoste once told me that he thinks Henry to be too Gnostic. He thinks that my version of the contemplative self reinscribes back into general conditions of experience, of memory, present experience, and hope, the threefold division of temporal experience. But Lacoste may think I am too hasty in my “theologizing” of this temporal field of experience. He thinks contemplation is a natural act anyone can and does undertake, as Henry’s love of Kandinsky and art was contemplative, “as is our love of anything belonging to the realm of exteriority and nurtured in interiority.” I would not demure from this observation, which is phenomenological in tenor. But I would say, as Lacoste does, that theological contemplation inclines the self to manipulate or as Lacoste says “subvert” and “overdetermine” mundane time, whether it is ecstatic being-toward-death in Heidegger or the interplay between retention and protention in Husserl. I accomplish this in chapter 5, specifically §30 and §31. Whether I achieve it in a manner worthy of Lacoste’s eye is another matter.

    I pause to note that while my book does mention Lacoste’s work and that while my paradigm of the contemplative self appears to align with Lacoste’s version of the self on key junctures, I do part company with him by insisting on a transcendental ground. I call this the double entry of the self. My thesis about selfhood is therefore more influenced by Husserl and Henry (and Rahner) than it is by Heidegger, whereas Lacoste tends to work within Heidegger’s shadow. After reading Lacoste’s review, I think Lacoste’s own position could make room for a transcendental theological a priori. For example, he says above that after Gregory of Nyssa we can affirm our “openness to, and desire of, the eternal.” I heartily agree.1 I affirm this elemental openness, this porosity to the eternal, in the principle of the double entry (§28); I establish this as the transcendental condition for the possibility of contemplation at all. Lacoste must, too, ask about what makes contemplation possible in the first place. How can I subvert or overdetermine retention or protention, with the aid of the eucharist, unless I am prepared to say that the human condition is at an elemental level always already opened to the eternal? One may rename such a transcendental structure in traditional theological vocabulary, such as the analogy of being. I think Lacoste fears that such a hallowed ontological statement about the structure of theological anthropology is too speculative. I consider critically his concern about metaphysics elsewhere.2

    If I understand Lacoste correctly, he thinks I am theologically overdetermining what are completely natural or non-theological structures of experience. I would claim instead that I am advancing a subtle theological naturalism, that expands, without moving beyond, the natural boundaries of the human condition as such. I too agree with Lacoste that we can at once desire and forget God. We may desire other things in God’s place. As Lacoste observes, “forgetting God is as common with him as remembering him.” I do not think we are angels, who always sit in the presence of God. I agree with Augustine that we are mere mortals, weak and sin-ridden (see my chapter 6 on this especially). Hence why the cartography of human experience that phenomenology outlines is so important for theological anthropology and my project. A theological a priori must obtain (analogy of being or the doctrine of creation, or the imago Dei, all are articles of faith), if phenomenology is ever to venture into theological terrain. Such a theological a priori may be too speculative for Lacoste, but I think it fits within those parameters of the Christian intellectual tradition, and certainly within the those set out by Michel Henry. What is theologically at stake, as I see it, is the relationship between nature and grace. What does Lacoste think of nature? Is it pure? If not, what implications does a natural desire to see God hold for theological anthropology?

    Lacoste has been very kind to respond to my book. In subtle ways, if I read him correctly, he begins to interrogate my final chapter. Perhaps I indulge in eschatological speculation (or assertions) and should remain silent about what I cannot possibly know. My thesis in chapter 6, about the soul-body composite, remains only a theological interpretation of the body, informed by what I think is best in Augustine’s work. Wild speculation about the resurrection body appears in the book 22 of The City of God; I hope it is clear I avoided such antiquated and obsolete speculations. I am, in conclusion, very grateful for the long review of my book. I hope to continue the conversation with Lacoste, if not in person, then in writing, as Lacoste’s body of work continues to expand.

    1. I discuss Gregory of Nyssa’s version of the self in a recent article, Joseph Rivera, “Human Nature and the Limits of Plasticity: Revisiting the Debate concerning the Supernatural,” Neue Zeitschrift für Systematische Theologie und Religionsphilosophie 59, no.1 (2017): 34–53.

    2. See, e.g., Joseph Rivera, “God and Metaphysics in Contemporary Theology: Reframing the Debate,” Theological Studies 77, no.4 (2016): 823–44.