Symposium Introduction

Echoing Tertullian’s famous question about Athens and Jerusalem, one respondent poses of Kevin Hart’s Kingdoms of God, “What has phenomenology to do with theology?” Many readers may just be wondering, “What is phenomenology?” Whether you are already immersed in the recent field of “phenomenological theology” or simply curious about what that is, Hart’s work is worth your consideration. As accessible as it is erudite, it provides multiple entry points into a broader conversation about the relationship between phenomenology and theology through careful analyses of the meaning of the Kingdom of God and related Christian practices and teachings, such as contemplation, neighbor love, forgiveness, and the Trinity.

In this collection of thirteen essays, Hart reflects on various accounts of the kingdom from St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas to G. W. F. Hegel, Soren Kierkegaard, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Offering his own constructive description, he draws on the branch of continental philosophy that begins with Edmund Husserl and gives special attention to its development in Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Martin Heidegger, Michel Henry, Jean-Luc Marion, and Jean-Yves Lacoste among others. But what is particularly helpful about Hart’s approach here is the distinction he makes between this form of philosophy and the phenomenological dynamics commonly at work in the way we live, think, labor, and practice faith. He says, “Husserl gives philosophical precision to ways of being in the world that have been practiced by earlier thinkers, artists, and religious persons. Phenomenology is not restricted to philosophy, certainly not to modern philosophy” (3). So “we must distinguish between phenomenology as a way of seeing and as a particular philosophical position clarified and ramified by Husserl and his successors” (143). It is this more basic “way of seeing,” already embedded in certain modes of knowing and relating, that Hart is interested in for the purpose of understanding Jesus’ teachings on the kingdom.

So when he calls Jesus “a phenomenologist” (144), it is not because he is mistaking him for a twentieth-century philosopher but because certain processes later articulated in the technical language of modern philosophy are already evident in the stories of Jesus recorded in the Gospels. In short, the twofold technique of bracketing (or εποχή) and reduction enable what Husserl refers to as a “method of parenthesizing” or “neutralizing” our ordinary perception of or interaction with things (through the “natural attitude”) and a “leading back” of the subject to some primordial or pre-judging state (the “phenomenological attitude”). After Husserl, continental philosophers put forth different versions of reduction based on what is seen as most essential (about consciousness, Being, Life, etc.). Hart explains these on the way to his own theological rendering which he calls a “basilaic reduction”—the passage from “world” to βασιλεία or “Kingdom” (2). Phenomenology helps us describe something that is happening all the time in the practice of Christian faith: a bracketing of worldly logic and a recalibration of perception or judgment according to divine logic. But what distinguishes Hart’s understanding (along with that of Marion and others doing phenomenological theology), is the claim that “we are reduced, not God” (152). In other words, there is an inversion of the usual direction of reduction. According to Hart, this is particularly evident in and facilitated by the parables of Jesus, namely the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), which he provides a phenomenological reading of in his essay “The Manifestation of the Father.”

But Hart presses the question of phenomenality, or “the how” of appearing, beyond that of theological language to the very heart of Christian doctrine. In “A Little Dialogue,” he takes on the assertion that “there can be no phenomenology of the Trinity” since God does not “appear” as a phenomenon in the world (159-164). The responses to Kingdoms gathered in this symposium focus on this specific issue, addressed at length in Hart’s central chapters where he proposes a “Phenomenology of the Christ” (Ch. 7) and a “Supreme Phenomenology” of the Trinity (Ch. 8). Christina Gschwandtner writes, “I’m not worried here about the legitimacy of employing phenomenological tools in theology, but wondering instead about the extent to which they still are phenomenological and what theological work their transformed phenomenological character is accomplishing.” Keith Lemna, like Gschwandtner, draws attention to a larger problem concerning the difference between phenomenological manifestation and divine revelation. Justin Pritchett, on the other hand, is interested in extending Hart’s insights to other biblical narratives that might also be read as “embodied bracketing practices.” In his replies to each essay, Hart helpfully condenses and clarifies a number of the main claims interweaving Kingdoms.

Justin Pritchett


The Phenomenological Heart of Christianity

It was only the second date, with the woman who would become my wife, when she first asked me why I even bothered studying phenomenology: what has phenomenology to do with theology? Like poor old cliché Tertullian before her asking what Athens has to do with Jerusalem, she, along with all Christians, is right to question the wisdom of this world—which as it happens is precisely what phenomenology is about. Jesus himself performs a peculiar form of phenomenology in the parables which brackets the world and brings the kingdom of God into experience; this is Kevin Hart’s central thesis in Kingdoms of God, and his essays work to outline the foundations of a phenomenological theology grounded on Jesus’ reduction from world to kingdom. As such, Hart does not pursue a phenomenology of religious experience like van der Leeuw or William James, nor does he pursue a phenomenology of God the Father as just another phenomenon amongst others, but rather devotes his attention to both the way Jesus “renders his Father manifest through scripture” and more importantly “how Jesus asks us to turn away from the world to the Kingdom” (178). If Jesus is any indication of what theology ought to be about, and if phenomenology can instructively describe a particular content or method of Jesus’ teaching then Hart is right to articulate a theological strategy that ensconces phenomenology at the very heart of theology itself. His strategy is unique and specific. His is not just a sophisticated version of natural theology nor is his a study of charismata or mysticism which, perhaps unfortunately, reside at the fringes of Christian tradition.1 Rather his phenomenology is an attention to the center of Christianity itself—the parables of Jesus. This both emphasizes phenomenology as a method of theological inquiry and simultaneously limits its application by maintaining that God does not offer himself as phenomenon beyond Jesus and the kingdom.

Phenomenology, in essence, articulates the recognition that we humans do not perceive the world objectively.2 In Husserl’s language, our consciousness intends its perceptions. For instance, science intends to perceive an objective, material, and observable world with repeatable phenomena while the Christian intends, as Gerard Manley Hopkins puts it—a creation “charged with the grandeur of God / it will flame out like shining from shook foil.” Of course, these intentions do not always conflict, and consciousness can intend many perceptions simultaneously. But, the goal of the phenomenological method—or epochē—is to bracket these intentions, natural, or commonsense attitudes, in an attempt to open our perceptions to that which is beyond our intentions. From this germ of insight, phenomenology has grown, diverged, and developed into a vast tradition of thinking that shares this central tenet and, I think, can be constructively applied to every aspect of human endeavor.

Hart’s project fruitfully applies phenomenology to find that Jesus’ parables can be described in just this fashion and argues that Jesus “brackets everyday life and its worldly logic in order to lead those who hear him to a deeper place” (131). His primary example is the parable of the prodigal son, in which Jesus, Hart contends, brackets the world of family and community obligations and offers a vision of the kingdom “based on compassion and forgiveness” (131). This vision of the kingdom invites the listeners and readers “to see how we can be constituted as properly human by participating in the Kingdom” (132). To participate in the kingdom, first, we experience the kenosis of emptying ourselves of worldly logic and ways of being. Then after kenosis, we experience epektasis whereby “the listener stretches himself or herself into the Kingdom of God, that is, into the embedded relations of unconditional love” (132). This movement from the world to kingdom is possible because the listeners have attended to the narratives of Jesus’ parables and thereby “learn how to live as God wishes us to” (132). Or, in other words:

I see the [kingdom] in hearing Jesus; it is intelligible, an intentional correlate of an act; but whether there is such a thing is a risk, one that I must engage by trying to live the life one calls Christian. (153–54)

Phenomenological theology is thus situated as the discipline of attending to the narratives of Jesus in order to allow his presentation of the kingdom to challenge our worldly logics and commonsense attitudes thereby learning how it is God wishes us to live. In a sense phenomenology serves as the bridge from theology to ethics.

In this presentation, the object of the phenomenology is the revelation of God in Scripture and through the kingdom. This is an essential point of Hart’s phenomenological project; Hart is clear that “no human, not even the subtlest of phenomenologists, can make God manifest himself . . . we must wait for revelation” (135). God is always the agent of revelation; we are not. And, the revelation Hart is most comfortable with is “scripture and ecclesial tradition” in which we experience Jesus as Christ “first and foremost through our reading of scripture” and we make acts of faith “on the basis of testimony that has become concrete in the context of a community and a tradition” (136, 139, 142). Yet, it is easy to imagine in our post-Christian world a person embedded in a community and tradition who has read the scriptures and still does not encounter Jesus as Christ and does not perceive the kingdom as a phenomenon in experience. And, Hart does acknowledge that kingdom phenomena are “easily blocked by others.” This recognition suggests to me, however, that something must happen before we can receive the kingdom as revealed by Jesus.

Hart limits his use of phenomenology to the manifestations of Jesus and the kingdom, “which is phenomenon, an elusive one that is easily blocked by others, one that we are enjoined in the synoptic Gospels to help the Father make more manifest” (136). If our perceptions of the kingdom are easily blocked by the world, however, how then are we as humans living in the world east of Eden to help bring it into manifestation? In other words: is the restriction of phenomenological inquiry to Jesus and the kingdom sufficient to disrupt the power the world has over our perceptions and actions? Is it possible that there is an experience, helpfully described in phenomenological terms, that precedes the parables in the lives of Christians? Perhaps Erazim Kohák would prove a helpful dialogue partner at just this point.

Erazim Kohák’s presentation of phenomenological practice emphasizes embodied practices to help create space for the non-intentional to manifest itself in our pre-reflective experience.3 Kohák, like Hart, is also securely within the phenomenological tradition clarified by Husserl, and like Husserl, Kohák starts with the intentionality of perception defined by the natural or commonsense attitude. As another example of how the commonsense attitude can color our perceptions consider a logger; from the perspective of logging, a forest appears as X number of board feet. An ecologist likewise perceives a forest as an ecosystem, and a wildlife photographer sees woodpecker habitat. In each case, the perception of the trees—understood as X number of board feet of lumber, ecosystem stability, or photographic possibility— are not objectively incorrect, but do inhibit the perception of alternative aspects of the forest. This recognition of the intentionality of perception brings to light the pre-reflective attitudes which precede and inform the perceptions upon which we make ethical judgments and actions. These pre-reflective commitments are akin to the worldly logics Hart finds Jesus bracketing in the parables and that are shed in the experience of kenosis. So, to return to Hart’s recognition that phenomena can challenge or block the perception of the kingdom, in one sense this is a purely cognitive failure of humanity—we pre-reflectively intend to see the world rather than intending the kingdom and thus fail to shed our worldly logics and thus fail to perceive our place in creation. Hart’s reading of Jesus’ parables, in Kohák’s language, invites us to bracket our commonsense attitudes and commitments in the effort to allow cognitive space for the kingdom to presence itself to us. Yet, the cognitive brackets are only one-half of the puzzle of perception, according to Kohák.

Kohák expands a second sense in which our perceptions can be limited. He follows the thinking of Jan Patočka, who like Merleau-Ponty emphasized the embodied nature of human consciousness and the ability of the world to impose itself upon the consciousness via the body. This brings to the fore the question of what worldly objects saturate our experience imposing themselves on our bodies and thereby on our consciousnesses. This is easy to observe in the realm of technology where the old adage teaches us that to a man with a hammer everything looks like a nail. If a mere hammer can shape our perceptions how much more so are our perceptions shaped by the high-technology of smartphones, fitbits, and roombas which saturate our lives? Cognitive technologies and social structures such as science, economics, and government bureaucracy are even more powerful to shape our perceptions because they are largely invisible and often culturally unquestionable.4

The recognition that our technologies, physical, social, and structural, shape our perceptions suggests Kohák’s second and more radical epochē, which is the embodied bracketing of particular technologies and social structures to free our bodies as well as our consciousnesses from the imposition of artifacts and structures of our own design. In Hart’s reading of the prodigal son, the father enacts a parallel practice by bracketing the social and religious structures of purity rites and expectations in order to offer unconditional love. If we understand the social structures of first-century Judaism as a kind of religious technē—a set of procedures enacted to bring about a previously intended outcome—then Jesus seems to be suggesting an embodied bracket akin to Kohák’s by telling a parable where his main character brackets the technology, structures, and logics of the day and opens the situation to a previously unimagined possibility.

This suggests that our participation in the coming of the kingdom is precisely a bracketing of our worldly commonsense attitudes which are manifest in the structures and material of our daily lives. If, as Kohák observes, our daily lives are constantly imposing worldly logics on us pre-reflectively, what hope have we of shifting our pre-reflective attitudes by force of reflective will and intellect? Asked another way—does reading Jesus’ parables affect in us a new cognitive understanding by which we are empowered to help make the kingdom manifest—in Hart’s language, do we learn how to live according to the kingdom? Or does a phenomenological reading of the parables invite us into a kingdom practice of bracketing the embodied worldly logics of our day-to-day experience and thereby create a space for God to manifest the kingdom if he so wishes? The translation of Hart’s insight into Kohák’s embodied practices retains the emphases of world, kingdom, and phenomena. But, this translation offers the opportunity to perceive the whole history of Israel and the church as a reduction from world to kingdom affected by the Lord.

If it is true that Hart’s findings can be extended from the parables, then it should be evident elsewhere in scripture. In Exodus, for instance, Israel is led into the desert to escape slavery in Egypt but desires to return to Egypt. This looks like a commonsense attitude imposed by the material and social experience of living, even as slaves, within the relatively secure Egyptian empire. Surely enslavement is better than death in the desert. In Hart’s language, is this not a story of God effecting a reduction from worldly logic to kingdom? And, through kingdom logic and experience Israel comes to perceive the phenomenon of the wilderness not as a place of death, but as a place of encounter and preparation for the promised land? Similarly, when Elijah flees into the desert in fear of his life he is looking for God’s wrath and power to come and secure for him his bodily safety. Instead, God effects a reduction from the worldly logic of power and self-preservation to kingdom logic of trust via the still small voice. This suggests that even the prophets and chosen people of the Lord have commonsense attitudes of worldly logic that require reduction to kingdom logic—for the Lord’s ways are not our ways.

The tradition of the church also provides plenty of examples of embodied bracketing practices. The desert fathers certainly engaged in an epochē of their commonsense attitudes to enter into the unimagined possibilities of the desert. Monastic vows, fasting, prayer, the whole range of spiritual disciplines can be described as an embodied epochē in Kohák’s terms in which the disciple brackets the world in order to allow space to receive kingdom logic. As Hart rightly describes it, “The order of Creation as we know it on Earth has been compromised by the imposition of worldly logic as the only logic to follow: what was created in proper relation with the Father has fallen from that proper relation. We must change our perspective” (137). The ultimate question then is how do we change our perspectives? Hart recommends attending to the phenomenology Jesus performs in the parables in order to learn the logic of the kingdom. But, as he acknowledges, it is a logic that may not be revealed in the first reading, or even in centuries of readings, as our readings themselves can become manifestations of worldly logic. This recognition suggests that there must be something beyond our attentive reading that is at work.

Perhaps radical embodied phenomenological brackets are continuously essential for Christian thought and praxis. Perhaps the phenomenology that Jesus inaugurates is not cemented in the parables of scripture but is in fact carried forth from the scriptures by the Spirit into the world as invitations to continuous, essential, and kingdom-building practices of Christian bracketing. Perhaps the phenomenology of Jesus’ parables is the most perfect of many practices of bracketing aimed at the deconstruction of worldly logic and the opening of Christians to the previously unimagined possibilities of kingdom logic. In any case, no phenomenology, neither Hart’s nor Kohák’s, can make God manifest by necessity. He remains the agent of revelation; “we do not bring God into presence; we enter into his presence” (168). I emphatically agree with Hart that any set of practices, reading or embodied, will not make God manifest to our consciousness—only God can do that. But the God that came and dwelt among us did not abandon us at the ascension. The Spirit continues to brood over creation, nudging, coaxing, cooing, and in some cases dragging us kicking and screaming into participation with the coming of the kingdom.

  1. This is not to suggest that Hart does not take mysticism seriously. His first essay is devoted to mysticism. But, it does not hold the central place in this account of Christian life and thought. Additionally, a later chapter outlining a phenomenology of the Trinity intentionally sets aside the question of experiences of the Spirit “for a later time” (165).

  2. My assessment of phenomenology in general is greatly indebted to Erazim Kohák’s Idea and Experience: Edmund Husserl’s Project of Phenomenology in Ideas I (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978).

  3. Kohák’s best presentation of the embodied phenomenological practice is in The Embers and the Stars: A Philosophical Inquiry into the Moral Sense of Nature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984).

  4. In this regard Kohák’s work is of the same vein as Heidegger’s “The Question Concerning Technology,” Jacques Ellul’s The Technological Society, and Albert Borgmann’s Power Failure.

  • Kevin Hart

    Kevin Hart


    Response to Justin Pritchett

    In Kingdoms of God I sought to do two principal things: to place Jesus of Nazareth, and the grounds for calling him the Christ, at the starting-point of a systematic Christian theology; and to make a case that Jesus performs a radical phenomenology that later phenomenology, especially Husserl’s, can help us to identify, even though it differs markedly from it. To my way of thinking, phenomenology, as well as the circuitous way to it in Western history, has been preoccupied with a passage inwards, whether that be early, as in Augustine, who prized the “inner man” where truth dwells, or late, as in Husserl, who valued transcendental consciousness, “absolute being,” which he held to be prior to the “real being” that transcends it.1 With Heidegger and those who follow him, including Jean-Luc Marion and Jean-Yves Lacoste, the rejection of transcendental consciousness as a distinct substance, and the affirmation of l’adonné or Dasein (taken as “nothing but doors and windows”), does not fundamentally change matters; the problematic remains oriented by the philosophy of the subject, even if it is contested by prizing the accusative over the nominative or by replacing a substance with an empty structure.2 What Jesus shows us is a leading back not to an inner state but to a concrete anterior situation, which he calls the Kingdom.

    The Kingdom is anterior in that it radically precedes each one of us: we are conceived and born in relation with the Father who is also King. This is not a relationship that we can initiate, and it is not one that we can disown. One does not choose to be a son or daughter; one always is one or the other, and it is a matter of recognizing it and acting accordingly or not recognizing it.3 One has siblings, to be sure, but in the Kingdom the prime relationship is with the Father; without that, our relations with one another will be completely at sea. Politics and ethics cannot guarantee the good health of those relations, nor for that matter can religion. The Kingdom is anterior in another sense, for it is continuous with creation before the fall. The very event of the fall both renders it urgent for each person to be in relation with the Father and makes it endlessly difficult to remain in that relationship and with one another. We do not enter the Kingdom as we do a room; it beckons us to live a life that is truly good, but we never have confirmation in the present moment that we are doing that or something less than that.

    Jesus preaches the Kingdom in his parables, only one of which I discuss in Kingdoms of God; each parable performs reduction to a certain extent, illuminating different facets of the Kingdom.4 For example, I make no comparisons with the younger son motif elsewhere in Scripture (e.g., Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Isaac and Ishmael, and so on). I begin with the parables because I start with Jesus, and what was most important to Jesus was the preaching of the Kingdom.

    Yet the parables do not exhaust what can be said about the Kingdom. Let me mention just two events in the life and death of Jesus, each of which has an irreducible structural relation to the Kingdom. The first is resurrection, for it vindicates the preaching of the Kingdom not as one “philosophy” among others but as the way of life that is most pleasing to the Father. Just as the Kingdom was crucified with Christ—mocked and vilified—so too it is raised by the Father. And the second is the Last Supper, the Eucharist, for in proper liturgical partaking of the body and blood of Christ we become, if only for a moment, people of the Kingdom. We look back to creation in all its diversity as we consume the bread and the wine, we are fortified by the virtues we need in order to live well here and now, and we gaze ahead to the communion of saints and life with the triune God. Liturgical time has a distinct phenomenological structure; it calls us away from relying on the present moment, which it reveals as divided and fragile.

    I should also say that meditation on the life, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus also returns us to the Kingdom. Meditation may be liturgical or private; it is always related to events, whether in the life of Jesus (especially in the Eucharist and in devotions such as the Stations of the Cross), or in the lives of those who have identified themselves without reserve with him, the ones we call “saints.” Events in the life of Jesus or in those whose imitation of that life is compelling allow us to see how life should be lived. They prompt what Eberhard Jüngel nicely calls “eine Erfahrung mit der Erfahrung,” an experience with experience; an event calls for a reevaluation of how one has engaged with God, the world and with one another.5 Not so with contemplation, which is qualitatively distinct from it, and which also returns us to the Kingdom. But I will touch on this with respect to Dr. Lemma’s intervention. Parable, meditation, and contemplation: all three involve what I call “basilaic reduction,” and in each case it is God who leads us back into his presence. Consciousness cannot contain the presence of God, nor can our gaze summon him to manifest himself.

    The parables were not preached in order to convert atheists or turn agnostics into believers. Jesus taught those who already followed what God had revealed to Moses, and who trusted YHWH to a greater or lesser extent, but Jesus sought to make God concrete to them in a fresh way. The God of Jesus is not a distant deity but is our Father, like our earthly fathers yet unlike them too. Between that “like” and “unlike” an entire lifetime of study, service, and prayer can take place. As Pritchett rightly insists, our world is not the same as the biblical world. Yet the Holy Spirit uncovers our world, in more than one way, to reveal glimpses of the Kingdom anterior to it, and we should keep in mind that many unbelievers are close to the Kingdom. From the perspective of a believer, those who seek truth, justice, and beauty are also seeking the Father of truth, justice, and beauty. For God cannot be separate from these things. Christians believe that Jesus is the only way to the Father, and we have no right to preach or teach otherwise; but Christ and the Kingdom that he taught in and through the parables and the events of his earthly sojourn are one, and to affirm either or both is to be on the way to God.6 Is it possible that those outside the faith who struggle for the Kingdom and who sometimes suffer for it, are also affirming Christ in a manner that is sufficient for salvation? We cannot say, and perhaps there is no single or simple answer. We can only hope that it is so.

    1. See Augustine, De vere religione, 39: 72; and Husserl, Ideas I, § 49.

    2. See Jean-Luc Marion, Being Given: Towards a Phenomenology of Givenness, trans. Jeffrey L. Kosky (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002), book 5, and Jean-Yves Lacoste, Experience and the Absolute: Disputed Questions on the Humanity of Man, trans. Mark Raftery-Skehan (New York: Fordham University Press, 2004), 11.

    3. One can, however, choose to be the subject of a King. Such would be a way of beginning to understand conversion.

    4. Indeed, my discussion of the parable of the prodigal son is strictly limited to its theological use.

    5. Eberhard Jüngel, God as the Mystery of the World: On the Foundation of the Theology of the Crucified One in the Dispute between Theism and Atheism, trans. Darrell L. Guder (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), 32.

    6. See my Kingdoms of God, ch. 13.

    • Justin Pritchett

      Justin Pritchett


      Response to Kevin Hart

      In his response to my little paper, Professor Hart has offered a far more concise and pointed summary of his main themes than I could ever have hoped to present. And, so I must first thank him for a helpful treatment of his major ideas: thanks, Dr. Hart. He also helpfully illustrates, in full relief, the reasons why I think Kohák’s approach to phenomenology is a helpful and fruitful conversation partner with his project of the “basilaic reduction.” Hart is clear that in Kingdoms of God he intended to offer a theology with Christ at the center and subsequently to suggest that Jesus performs a particular form of phenomenology in the parables in which he reveals the Kingdom. For my part, I attempted to offer the radical phenomenological brackets of Erazim Kohák as a form of spiritual discipline. My hope was that Kohák’s appropriation of phenomenology would dove-tail with Hart’s approach to the phenomenology of Jesus and suggest a manner by which we may participate in, or prepare ourselves for, receiving the Kingdom as revealed in the basilaic reduction. In other words, I hoped that a phenomenology as spiritual discipline could be usefully described and practiced as a philosophical snowplow removing the detritus of our everyday lives and assisting us to be more receptive to the revelation of the Kingdom.

      As I read it, Hart makes four major claims in his response: 1) Phenomenology as it has developed in the West is too inwardly focused and solipsistic, 2) The Kingdom is concrete and anterior to us thus requires not an inward turn but a turn towards the true as revealed, 3) Christ’s Resurrection, the Eucharist, and the whole of liturgical praxis are means of basilaic reduction calling us away from the present moment and into the Kingdom, and 4) meditation and contemplation are also means of affecting the basilaic reduction. I would like to address each of this claims starting with claim two then 3 and 4, and I will conclude by revisiting the first claim that phenomenology is too inward a project.

      In his second paragraph, Hart describes the Kingdom as the anterior situation that “precedes each one of us.” The nature of this situation is concrete and real: we are the children of God, and the primary nature of this fact is the relationship between the each of us and the Father. There is no question of withdrawing from such a condition, nor of entering into it. It simply is the way of things, and the question is then a “matter of recognizing it and acting accordingly or not recognizing it.” Hart insists that “ethics cannot guarantee the good health” of the Kingdom relations we share with others as the children of God—as they are dependent on the primary relation with the Father. However, Hart does say that the question is whether we recognize our relationship to the Father or not. This acknowledgment suggests that though we may be the children of God regardless of our acceptance of that situation if we do not recognize that as the case and do not act accordingly then this metaphysical reality will be of little consequence. As Hart describes it “the fall [simultaneously] renders it urgent for each person to be in relation with the Father and makes it endlessly difficult to remain in that relationship and with one another.” This seems to suggest that what is crucial is not simply the fact of the Kingdom being the true reality of Creation but also that we receive that reality as true. It is not enough to, like Pharisees, cognitively assent to the theological proposition of Kingdom metaphysics. We must experientially receive it and allow it to reshape our loves and lives. And, this suggestion makes me wonder how it is that we come to receive the Kingdom.

      I agree that ethics and politics, conventionally conceived, cannot establish or guarantee healthy Kingdom relations. However, I cannot disregard the fact that all understanding derives from action. There is nothing that we can know that is not founded on something we have done, or so it seems to me. Can I know that salmon swim upstream to spawn if I have not attended actively to their presence? Can I know that Elk move in matriarchal herds without actively watching them or at least sitting down to study those that have? Can I know that God loves me without attending to the Church, the Spirit, or the witness of the saints? This activity at the heart of human knowing suggests to me that it is precisely ethics, in so far as ethics addresses human action, that permits a receptivity to understanding—a receptivity which preconditions transformation and not simply cognitive assent.

      In his third point, Hart argues that the resurrection of Christ, the Eucharist, and the whole of liturgical time “calls us away from relying on the present moment, which it reveals as divided and fragile.” What Hart calls a “proper liturgical” approach to the Eucharist calls us to remember the Creation and anticipate the communion of saints and life with God. I fear that language that describes the Kingdom as “calling us away” from the present moment which is shown to be “divided and fragile” risks inviting an otherworldly and escapist religiosity. I do not read Hart as suggesting an escapist approach to the Kingdom. He does, after all, write that in the Eucharist we “are fortified by the virtues we need in order to live well in the here and now.” I do, however, think that the language of “calling us away” invites a further clarification on the nature of the Kingdom’s anteriority. Is it anterior in a sense that is present and true as the nature of things in their depth if not their appearance or is it anterior in an absent way—as that which has passed and only has significance in memory.

      In my experience, by attending to the liturgical year and liturgical practices and teachings of the Church, we are not pulled into memory and anticipation at the expense of the present moment. Rather we are pulled fully into the depth of the present moment; a depth that incorporates the memory of God’s continual investment and self-giving to this His all too earthly and broken Creation, and the anticipation of Christ return and the resurrection of the dead in a material eschaton. The feast of Mary the Mother of God, Ascension Sunday, The Assumption of Mary, All Saint’s Day, The Feast of the Immaculate Conception, And the Nativity of the Lord, just to name a few examples of the Liturgical calendar, do not call us out of our present situation because it is too divided and fragile. These celebrations of the Church call us fully into the present moment, by reminding us that God chose to move in the world in marvelous ways despite its brokenness and insufficiency. The liturgical practices of the Church do not separate Kingdom time from present broken time, they reveal the Kingdom as already and not yet, revealing both the sanctity of the present moment as well as its dark underbelly. The Eucharist cannot call us to abandon the present moment because there, in the transfigured elements, is God. God enters into the present moment despite its brokenness. Thus, to my mind, it seems the Kingdom is revealed by the basilaic reduction of the Eucharist and liturgy to be anterior in a present way under-girding our day to day worldly experience.

      In his fourth point, Hart argues that meditation and contemplation, while distinct, both serve as additional means of basilaic reduction. He sets contemplation aside to address in response to Dr. Lemna next week and describes meditation as “related to events” either in the life of Jesus or the lives of the Saints. Meditation allows us to “see how life should be lived.” This inaugurates a moment of self-reflection in which we reevaluate how we engage with God and each other. Hart is insistent that God is the agent leading us into his presence for “consciousness cannot contain the presence of God, nor can our gaze summon him to manifest himself.” Hart makes two observations here that feel discordant to me. First is the idea that in meditation we attend to the lives of the saints to show us “how life should be lived” and the second that God cannot be summoned. I agree that God cannot be summoned. Moreover, if that is true than even saintly lives would not be able to summon him. So is it not the case that when we meditate on the lives of the saints, our attention is truly on the acts and gifts of God and not on “how a life should be lived” by means of human will and assent. Even the mother Mary was “full of grace.” Her ability to receive the Christ child was a gift from God. The critical point here is that we cannot by our practices force the Lord to show himself. And that is radically true. Luckily, however, we do not have to because God has never abandoned the world he created; he continues to move and act and love in radical and marvelous ways. The question of meditation, to my mind, is not about asking us to reevaluate how we live our lives, at least not in the first order. Firstly, meditation is about attending to the movements and acts of God in the world. We already believe he is doing it; it is simply a matter of us opening ourselves to receiving and perceiving him.

      And this brings me back to Hart’s opening point, in which he argues that phenomenology is too inward and solipsistic. Hart asserts that phenomenology, from Augustine to Husserl, was too enamored with a turn inward and that Heidegger, Marion, and Lacoste have failed to overcome that deficiency: “the problematic remains oriented by the philosophy of the subject.” That is precisely why I think Kohák is helpful for Hart’s project. Kohák recognizes that the conceptual bracketing presented in Husserl’s epochē is insufficient to open us to anything beyond ourselves. We have bodies after all and we have artifacts, both material and conceptual, which impose themselves on our perceptions. Therefore, as Kohák argues, we must engage in more than simply the conceptual epochē but a radical embodied epochē of artifacts and culture. Kohák invites his readers into practices of lived disruption. While his is a practice of living off the grid on an abandoned farm, I think Kohák’s description applies to fasting, solitude, wilderness, monasticism, simplicity: the whole range of classical Christian spiritual disciplines. Kohák’s radical disciplines strike me as less inwardly focused than meditation, contemplation, and a Eucharist which finds its efficacy in memory and anticipation—both of which are radically inward postures.

      Yet, Kohák’s approach does, in fact, require attention to the structures of subjective human consciousness, perception, and understanding and not simply attention to the way things truly are objectively. If we do not recognize our own role, our own intentionality, in our perceptions then our “objective” view of the world will be radically solipsistic because our own consciousness will have covered over the reality of things. Kohák addresses the accusation of solipsism in Husserl and Augustine directly, and it is worth quoting at length:
      “Typically, it is those who boast of the no-nonsense objectivity of their world view who are likely to go bulldozing through their world, both social and natural, transforming it into a wasteland in a heedless quest for gratification. […] The significance of Saint Augustine’s injunction is not to lead us to some funky, touchy-feely solipsism but to an understanding of reality ‘from within’ in this sense, in terms of its meaningful being rather than in terms of categories arbitrarily imposed upon it from without. So understood, the Augustinian inward turn—the turn of radical brackets—is the very opposite of solipsism. It calls for a radical opening of our life and thought to the world of others, human, animate, inanimate, in the integrity of its otherness and the meaningfulness of it being.”

      And this gets at the great promise of phenomenology to my mind: it fundamentally calls into question our conceptions and perceptions by illustrating the intentionality of consciousness. We do not know “objectively.” Therefore, it deconstructs our way of attending to the world and invites us to engage in further activities of disruption to create a space for that which we did not intend to presence itself. This approach to phenomenology is certainly not inward. It invites us to practice things with our bodies and with our lives and always pushes us to be open to the presencing of that which we had not previously imagined. In effect, to return to the question of how we can receive and recognize our position in the Kingdom of God, these practical, lived, and embodied practices describe a manner in which we can facilitate our reception of the Kingdom as the true anterior condition of creation. We, of course, cannot force God to appear. But we can certainly blind ourselves to his appearance and the phenomenology proposed by Kohák is specifically pointed at the deconstruction of our self-imposed blindness. It is after all the great promise of Christianity that we do not need to make God manifest in the world because he has already done that and he continues to do so. The Kingdom is already. And, as Hart rightly insists, the question is whether or not we will acknowledge it, receive it, and act accordingly.

    • Kevin Hart

      Kevin Hart


      Second Response to Justin Pritchett

      I am thankful to Mr. Pritchett for pressing me on a few points in his response to my first response; he gives me an opportunity to clarify some things. The first issue concerns the relation of the Kingdom and ethics. It should be amply clear that my view of the Kingdom is very much at odds with the liberal Protestant understanding of the Kingdom that comes to us from Albrecht Ritschl, among others, and that informed the Social Gospel movement of Walter Rauschenbusch. In the Kingdom we are invited, first of all, into a relationship with God as Jesus’s Father and, by adoption, our Father. We are called to recognize the Father and to love him without condition; this relationship is fleshed out in worship and prayer. Part of that love is to obey God’s command to love the neighbor; and this is an injunction to practice Christian ethics. We must at first be commanded to love the neighbor because the love in question, ἀγάπη, is quite different from ἔρως and φιλία, and the other modes of love one finds in Greek culture. There is little or no natural motivation to love a neighbor to whom one is not attracted and with whom one does not wish to be friends, and in order to form one’s entire life in a Christian character one must be commanded to try to love people who can be difficult or disagreeable or merely alien to one’s sensibility. “Love of God” means both the perfect love that God freely gives to his creatures and the imperfect love, inspired by God, that we offer to one another. Over the course of a life, we seek in Grace to make that love of others less and less imperfect. What is at first received as command can be transformed in time into something one freely wishes to do.

      The formation of a Christian life, for most of us, takes a very long time; we do not always respond properly to Grace. It is important, I think, to see oneself as always “on the way” to God. We do not simply believe in God; we believe ourselves into him. The liturgical calendar helps in this regard, for we can see ourselves in narratives far larger than our own. Even more important, the sacraments give us, on any given day, a complex understanding of temporality. When I receive Holy Communion I am invited to recall the Creation of the good things that go to make the bread and the wine, and at the same time I am given hope that one day I may be with Christ in the fullness of his self-revelation.  No matter how inattentive I may be on a particular day, no matter if I am having a good day or a bad one, I am directed to God’s plan for me and all other human beings. In being directed to ponder that plan, I am also invited to see how we all frustrate it, beginning with the unjust distribution of the good things of the planet. These ecclesial “long perspectives” do not link us to our losses, as Philip Larkin says with other things in mind in “Reference Back”; rather, they fortify us to make the most of our time with one another, so that at the end we do not feel the pang of remorse that he evokes in “Aubade”: “the love not given, time / Torn off unused.”

      Different Christian groups distinguish meditation and contemplation in various manners. As I use the two words, “meditation” involves the use of images or events (icons, crucifix, biblical scenes, moments in the lives of the saints, and so on) and “contemplation” requires the evacuation of images and concepts so as to be completely open to God. Each has its value in the formation of a Christian life, and God comes to us in each practice. When I meditate on an event in the life of a saint, I open myself to learn new ways of responding to the love of God and embodying it in my life. The sheer number and variety of the saints shows us that there is no one true way of being Christian. Kierkegaard tells us that, “In the spiritual sense, the road is how it is walked.”1 I think that is right: there is only one road, the imitation of Christ, but each of us walks it in his or her own manner, which means that we can learn from the saints and also learn that we need not conform to any one saint.

      To my mind, it was one of the saints, Augustine no less, who gives us an early and powerful version of reduction. Christian life, for him, is finally oriented to seeing the Triune God as illuminated by Jesus as his life and teaching are testified in Scripture. In this life that vision is extremely difficult to achieve, and most of us will not do so. We must cultivate, through Grace, intellectus if we are to pass beyond sententia and scientia and gain sapientia; and that requires us to convert the mind, to switch from ratio inferior to ratio superior. We pass from one mode of looking and thinking (at and of external things) to another mode of looking and thinking (deep within the self), and only in doing that can we, perhaps in no more than a flash, see the divine wisdom. I don’t think this inward move is solipsistic: it puts us in contact with the transcendent deity. And I don’t think that Husserl’s reductions are solipsistic, either: they enable us to see the world better than we usually do. Where I mostly disagree with Husserl is over the idea of a conversion of the gaze. I suspect that we pass from a gaze to something more like a glimpse, and a glimpse is insufficient to found any philosophy or science. Basilaic reduction, as I conceive it, occurs most often in Jesus’s parables. By narrative and metaphor, we are prompted no longer to look at the world in the same way; we are invited to see an anterior way of life, one that has been there from before the foundation of the world, and that can be summed up as “love of God.” Perhaps persons of great spiritual depth can convert their gaze, so that they always see life in basilaic terms; for most of us, I suspect, we can do more than glimpse the possibilities of life in the Kingdom.

      Finally, a word about Erazim Kohák whose books I have been reading for many years. I started with Idea and Experience (1978), his commentary on Husserl’s Ideas I, and have continued to keep abreast of his work, especially his writings about nature. Mr. Prichett values Kohák’s use of bracketing more than I do. Not that I don’t value ἐποχή, or appreciate Kohák’s extensions of what one finds in that way in Husserl and Heidegger, but I see ἐποχή as opening the way to reduction. Kohák’s phenomenology, to my mind, is far too close to common sense, and as Husserl saw it is precisely common sense that is the problem; it veils the world rather than revealing it. For Kohák, phenomenology enables one to see better than one would otherwise, but what he does not stress enough is that it does so by shifting one’s vision to the transcendental register. Even in Idea and Experience, which should be faithful to Husserl, one finds the transcendental aspect of consciousness downplayed a little too much for my liking. We begin to see well only when we “de-absolutize” the world, when we pass through “the awful tremor of the reduction,” as Eugen Fink says so evocatively.2

      1. See Kierkegaard, Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits, (KW, XV, 1993), 292.

      2. See Eugen Fink, Sixth Cartesian Meditation: The Idea of a Transcendental Theory of Method, with Textual Notations by Edmund Husserl, trans. and intro. Ronald Bruzina (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995), 144.

Keith Lemna


The Supreme Phenomenologist of the Trinity

In the past two decades, Kevin Hart has carried out some of the most significant theological engagements with phenomenology, or, more specifically, with la nouvelle phénoménologie, and his recent collection of previously published academic essays, Kingdoms of God, is a valuable resource for English-speaking theologians who recognize the significance of the contemporary French theological or religious turn in phenomenology. He is a singularly erudite and sure guide into terrain that is still largely terra incognita for many theologians, and his own burgeoning synthesis of theology and phenomenology, present in an incipient way in Kingdoms, is a fruitful goad to theological thought in several related areas. I want to focus in this brief essay on the question that Hart broaches in Kingdoms of whether there can be a phenomenology of the Trinity.

Kingdoms of God explores some different ways that the biblical kingdom revealed by and in Christ has been understood, but it focuses especially on how phenomenology can be utilized to clarify Christ’s own way of moving hearers of his words from worldliness to recognition that God the Father has a claim on humanity that precedes its relationship to the world. Christ himself performs, in word and deed, a “basilaic reduction,” a leading back to the kingdom. Rigorous attentiveness to Christ’s own living approach to reduction can provide the key to a renewed fundamental theology that relates the genesis of creedal Christianity to scripture and the historical existence of the church and that informs both the philosopher and the theologian of the obligations of life in the kingdom. In speaking of “kingdoms” in the plural, Hart proposes a path to theological thinking that is ever aware of the need to avoid the kinds of monolithic, ideological co-opting of Christ that have been found in the history of the church.

Hart explores the question of theological phenomenality in conversation with various thinkers, and, in central chapters of the book, particularly chapters 7 and 8, he provides a helpful, synthetic summary of what it means to speak of a “phenomenology of Christ.” He provides therein his most direct clues for how phenomenology might be appropriated in the domain of Trinitarian dogmatics, or at least might help theologians to clarify their methodological presuppositions in this area. In chapter 7, Hart argues that the starting point for phenomenological theology is reflection on the relationship between Jesus and his Father. Jesus is both the datum and genitive of divine revelation. He is at once the phenomenalization of revelation, given to us in scripture, and, one might say, himself the supreme phenomenologist, whose own reception and articulation of divine phenomenality should be the decisive fundament of theological inquiry. Following Jean-Luc Marion, Hart holds that phenomenality must not be consigned to the domains of judgment, consciousness, or being, but, in principle, extends to all that gives itself in whatever manner it does so. In considering the concept of “revelation,” the Marionian construal of phenomenology has helped to relate philosophy to theology in a coherent way that brings the modern question of appearances to the fore. Philosophy may be able to consider “revelation” as an eidetic possibility, yet, as Hart clarifies, it would remain within the boundaries of intuition. Theology, on the other hand, takes revelation to be an actuality. It is a requirement for practitioners of the discipline of theology to hold that the phenomenality of Christ belongs to God’s self-revelation. The theologian has to think in terms of actualities that exceed intuition and that draw the believer into the presence of God. In the basilaic reduction, the theologian is led back to the presence of God; God is not led into the absolute presence of transcendental consciousness. Receptivity has primacy. One cannot methodologically force the kingdom of God to appear.

Hart places a primacy on pre-thetic disclosures, particularly with reference to the parables of Christ. The parable of the prodigal son is of foremost importance to him, for he sees it as particularly revelatory of the nature of the kingdom. The fatherhood of God is illumined in an especially forceful way in this parable. God’s fatherhood is characterized by compassion, forgiveness, and love. It is both like and unlike human fatherhood. Scripture scholars do not generally take the parable of the prodigal son to be about the kingdom, but it nevertheless shows forth the nature of the relationship of God’s fatherhood to his children, the defining personal ground of the kingdom. Creedal dogmatics, Hart avers, cannot provide the basis for a systematic theology that would attend to the concreteness of God’s revelation. It does not bring into play the nuances of Christ’s life and teachings, and it does not show us how to live according to the logic of the kingdom of the Father. Before thetic constructions are achieved, one must first attend to the nuances of the phenomenality of Christ in his words and deeds—particularly his own phenomenological bracketing of the world in the parables. The parables are fathomlessly polyvalent and should stir in us new ways of seeing that we would not have access to in a thetic theological system that did not sufficiently consider the problematic of appearances. Phenomenological analysis applied to the parables enables us to highlight in a supple and rigorous manner the various modalities of givenness and receptivity that come into play in appropriating their metaphorical and narrative meaning.

Chapter 7 lays out in broad strokes many of the general implications of “basilaic reduction.” It stresses the indirect way that God the Father gives himself in and through the kingdom by revealing and re-veiling, by presence and absence, showing forth and re-concealing. We are brought into the kingdom through a transformation of our gaze, whereby we recognize that it is in fact God’s gaze upon us that moves us to enter into the divine presence. This transformation requires both kenosis, or self-emptying, and epektasis, or a stretching out into the kingdom, whereby we find ourselves anew in the primacy of our relationship with God the Father. We must attend to both cross and resurrection, to the unworldly character of the kingdom as well as to the scriptural promise of eschatological transformation of the world. Christ’s own phenomenological practice should be the ultimate locus of the theologian’s attention: a phenomenology of Christ’s phenomenology would constitute what Hart calls in chapter 8 the “supreme phenomenology.”

The concreteness that phenomenological theology seeks, in giving full due to the pre-thetic domain, might lead us to wonder if Trinitarian theology would be relegated by it to an adjunct status, one that it toiled in prior to the renewal of Trinitarian thinking in the past several decades. Does phenomenological theology require us to bracket dogma in an attitude of suspicion, of ideology critique, or to see it as mistaken and invalidated by modern modes of thought? Chapter 8 of Kingdoms might allay this concern, while remaining attentive to the phenomenological desideratum to keep theological thinking connected to living personal existence. Can there be a phenomenology of the Trinity? The imaginary dialogue partners at the beginning of the chapter suggest different answers to this question, one partner in the dialogue cautioning us as to whether the Trinity can be said to have phenomenalized itself in any way, and the other suggesting that the testimony of Jesus of Nazareth evident in the Frükatholizimus or proto-Catholic layer of scripture might enable us to think phenomenologically about Trinitarian revelation. Hart’s own view seems to be a qualified version of the latter. If the triune God cannot be said to be phenomenalized in Christ, so that philosophy would have access to self-evident phenomena of Trinitarian disclosure, at least it can be said that the triune God is given in Christ by the light of faith and ultimately by the illumination of the Holy Spirit. From the standpoint of faith, the whole mystery of the Trinity is present in Christ, the “abbreviated” or “condensed” Word of God. Philosophical and theological phenomenologies would differ in their approach on this matter. The upshot of Hart’s position, it seems to me, is that there is no reason for a phenomenologically-inclined theologian to bifurcate her belief in the eternal unity and relationality of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and her perception of the phenomenon of Christ.

Hart insists that we cannot be said to be able to constitute the Trinity. He holds that not even an enstatic phenomenology along the lines of Michel Henry’s can be said to give us direct access to phenomenalization of the Trinity. If the one God of “natural revelation” can be said to be present to us as a phenomenon, or Christ himself as well, still, the triune God transcends our mental acts. If we can say legitimately, as the tradition of mystical theology has done, that the triune God indwells us, nevertheless, this divine presence within is given modus sine modo. Henry himself can speak of a dyadic manifestation of Life and the living, but he does not, on Hart’s view, recognize the necessity of Christ’s historical mediation in order for us to be brought into the kingdom of life. Neoplatonism, which is not Trinitarian, might give us just as much of the divine as Henry’s phenomenology does. It is only by the light of Christ’s supreme phenomenology of the kingdom of the Father accepted in faith by a gift of the Holy Spirit that Christian Trinitarianism opens up into the domain of phenomenality, but in a concealed way available only to a form of thought suffused with apophatic caution.

Hart gives us much to think about regarding the possibilities and limitations of phenomenology in the domain of Trinitarian thought. He points us back resolutely to the concrete Word of Christ, which, in fact, from the standpoint of faith, provides a more intrinsically Trinitarian starting point for theology than arguments for the existence of God, or explorations of human judgment, feeling, and transcendental experience. Hart enables us to sort through issues regarding the role that phenomenology can play in helping us to attend to the concrete richness of the phenomenality of Christ. This would slip through the nets of a dogmatic theology that limited itself to reflection on the ontological implications of creedal affirmations. There are other approaches that one might take in this regard that are congruent with what Hart says, although they are developed along different lines. Robert Sokolowski, for instance, has explored Christ’s use of language and its Trinitarian implications. The declarative, first-person personal pronoun that Christ employed indicates his full personality and distinction from the Father. This distinction implies, Sokolowski argues, a real sense of eternal, divine relationality. More generally, Sokolowski has shown that phenomenological theology, or the theology of disclosure, might serve dogmatic theology fully and explicitly. It enables the theologian to demonstrate the necessities of disclosure that link history and creedal affirmation. It mediates positive and speculative theology and does not have to imply or entail a denigration of either one or the other. Certain ressourcement theologians utilized phenomenological tools to clarify the way in which the ecclesial consciousness of the faith has operated in particular times and places to appropriate the phenomenon of Christ in doctrinal development. These theologians were very much indebted to John Henry Newman’s historical theology, which was in fact more phenomenological, in a genetic vein, than merely fact-based or historical. One might take a more sympathetic view of Henry than Hart does, particularly by focusing on the former’s Words of Christ, and explore the theme of deification phenomenologically as a source for creedal Trinitarianism. One would thus walk along a path with Saint Athanasius, although this would surely require a reorientation of Henry’s thought. These faint concluding suggestions should in no way detract from Hart’s salutary movement of reduction that leads us to Christ himself, surely, from a Christian standpoint, the supreme phenomenologist and the ultimate source of all Christian theological, Trinitarian understanding.

  • Kevin Hart

    Kevin Hart


    Response to Keith Lemna

    Phenomenality is the essence of a phenomenon, that is, its ability to manifest itself. Things manifest themselves to us in quite different ways: my fountain pen reveals itself to me in profiles; the number four discloses itself to me in cognition; and my teaching next semester manifests itself to me by way of anticipation. In Christianity God manifests himself in various ways at the same time, in and through the created world, in the struggles of his chosen people in their quest to understand their relationship with YHWH, and in the incarnation of the Christ. The manifestation does not end there; it continues, in distinct ways, in scripture, in sacraments, in preaching, in prayer, and elsewhere. Since the twelfth century there have been only seven sacraments, but the church has never placed a numerical limit on sacramentals: God enters creation in any way he wishes. He can make himself manifest in the reading of a lyric, as happened when Simone Weil silently recited George Herbert’s beautiful poem “Love” (III).

    We can never limit the divine phenomenality, but as Christians we are restricted to what has been made manifest. At no time has God ever said that he would manifest to us all that he is, although the church lives in the promise that we can always trust him. This means that the economic Trinity, the sending of the Son by the Father in and through the Spirit, is all that need be given to us for our salvation. That the economic Trinity is one with the immanent Trinity, the eternal dance of divine joy, is the meat of the promise; but that the immanent Trinity is exhausted in its soteriological work for human beings is something we have no right to assert. This note of caution must be kept in mind when engaging in the theology of religions, and even the theology of nonhuman beings. God binds himself to us by a promise, and within that promise theology elaborates itself, seeking understanding and clarity. Beyond that promise we may speculate and hope, but in this life that is all.

    We need to distinguish the constitution of the doctrine of the Trinity from questions about the revelation of the Trinity. The constitution begins with liturgy, particularly with baptism (Matt 28:19), and only thereafter does it become a matter of creed, dogma, and theology. How slowly those three things occur is worth much reflection; only with the Nicene-Constantinopolitian Creed of 381 do we find a Trinitarian formula, and only with Aquinas’s treatise on the Trinity, in his emphasis on real relations rather than divisions, do we secure the dogma that God is one and three. If we look for a flourishing of Trinitarian theology, we might well look to the last fifty years or so. Yet that flourishing is largely disconnected from ordinary Christian devotion. Augustine says, beautifully, that where you see love you also see the Trinity; but many Christians today, and not only in our own times, do not seek this second vision, and fall back into mere monotheism or Arianism.1 So it is important pastorally as well as theologically to stress that, for us, the mystery of the Trinity is given in the mystery of Christ.2 When Christ preaches, he preaches the Kingdom of the Father, and he does so in and through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit who animates the Kingdom. Far from being abstract, the Trinity is the most concrete of Christian realities; and it should be noted that this concretion requires incarnation.

    Paschal Trinitarianism has focused intently on the cross and resurrection, for there we find the Father in solidarity with the Son in his supreme act of κένωσις, and the love between them affirmed there discloses the Holy Spirit. One considerable danger of this mode of Trinitarian theology is that it foreshortens all of Christ’s life so that it is folded almost entirely into his suffering, death, and resurrection. Yet Christ came to preach the Kingdom, not to die; his death is a consequence of his preaching, a sign of contradiction to the world and of absolute fidelity to the Father. With hindsight, the Trinity is seen in the preaching of the Kingdom; it is always the Kingdom of the Father, and the earthly life of the Son is the very condition of possibility for the full manifestation of divine love. To enter the Kingdom of which Jesus teaches, we must undergo κένωσις in the sense of bracketing the world (its allure, its power, its false sense of stability) but not in a deathly manner, for we are then invited to stretch out in the love of others as well as God, and it is in this moment of ἐπέκτασις that we can recognize the reality of the Holy Spirit. I see this movement of κένωσις and ἐπέκτασις figured in the Church’s practice of baptism, the descent into the water and the rising from it into a new life; and it is in that rite that we find the first mention of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That this ἐπέκτασις is difficult, that it is painful, is known to anyone who loves. Christian love is ἀγάπη; it involves the sacrifice of self.

    As always, the preaching of the Kingdom, leagued with the events of Jesus’s life, provides us with a first level of theological investigation. Yet it is not the only level, for that preaching looks back to before creation and beyond history to the fulfillment of human life in unity with the triune life. One way in which this occurs even now is in contemplative prayer. For this mode of prayer also returns us to the Kingdom, in the most profound way that is possible. We are led back to where we cannot go any deeper, to Life before creation, to the Kingdom of Simpleness, in which the triune persons subsist in mutual ecstasy. There we ask for nothing; our petitions fall away. There our meditations fade; they can only prepare us for life. In contemplation we breathe the mystery that the Kingdom of which Jesus preached is one with the Trinity. In such prayer we find ourselves, body and soul, in God’s gaze; it is not the empty gaze of being, but the gaze of love, which presumes differentiation, and which constitutes us as fully human by participating in the life of the Kingdom. Not everyone is called to the contemplative life; yet we are all called to participate in the triune life, which is offered to us in contemplation. God’s nature and his relations are one, as Aquinas argues, while for us our relations are accidental.3 To this I would add that our accidental relations are consequences of our status as creatures, bodies and souls, which has been conferred upon us as an excellence, although that is obscured through sin. Yet in the passage from the world to the Kingdom, those accidental relations are raised to a higher level by the exercise of unconditioned love. Our nature never changes; our “divinization” is participation in the triune life, which can begin on earth.

    1. See Augustine, De trinitate, 8.12.

    2. See Henri de Lubac, The Christian Faith: An Essay on the Structure of the Apostle’s Creed, trans. Richard Arnandez (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1986), 15.

    3. See Aquinas, Summa theologiae, 1a q. 28 art. 2 responsio.

    • Keith Lemna

      Keith Lemna


      The Kingdoms and the Paschal Mystery

      I want to thank Dr. Hart for his beautiful and clear reply. Of course, Kingdoms of God leagues with much 20th-century renewal in Trinitarian theology. This renewal was concomitant to a broader Christocentric turn, which sought to underscore more fully than was thought to be the common theological practice at the time the God of love revealed in Jesus Christ (1 Jn. 4: 8, 16). Theologians from the beginning of the 20th century and before lamented the marginal place to which the triune God had been relegated in Christian life and thought. This lament was sounded forth in ecumenical unison: Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox theologians endeavored to redress the lack of Trinitarian sensibility in the church. They understood that the “mere monotheism” which characterized too much modern Christian life could be overcome only by focusing greater theological attention on the words and deeds of Christ, including especially his central message of the Kingdom of the Father. Theology became more “positive,” that is, historically based. It was now much more dependent than it had been upon scriptural interpretation and more willing to allow openness for inductive investigation. Concomitantly, it was more attentive to address the question of the unity without confusion of the economic Trinity and the immanent Trinity, or, more traditionally put, of “economy” (Christ’s face turned toward us) and “theology” (Christ’s face turned toward the Father).The reference that Dr. Hart makes to Henri de Lubac is indicative: it is only in the mystery of Christ that the Trinitarian mystery is revealed.

      Kingdoms of God exhibits some continuity with this turn by enabling a Christocentric standpoint in fundamental theology. This is hardly a million miles away from the most important achievements of Trinitarian renewal: such as Karl Rahner’s Christo-anthropological reordering of the relationship between philosophy and theology or Hans Urs von Balthasar’s expansion of the question of credibility to reach the totality of the triune form of God displayed in Christ. The fundamental theologian is encouraged by Kingdoms God, in line with these earlier theologians, to attend to Christ’s preaching the Kingdom of the Father through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, embracing Christocentrism without being Christomonist. It provides a contemporary way of bridging theology and philosophy that is much needed in the English-speaking world. At the same time, it gives us a devotional fundamental theology, reminding us of our need for κἑνωσις or ἐπἑκτασις, that is, to reach outside of ourselves in love for God and others in order to enter into the Kingdom and to receive the manifestation of the Father’s love in Christ. Phenomenology is a tailor-made instrument for clarifying the relation between God’s gift of self-revelation in Christ and the exigencies of our reception of that gift. Dr. Hart’s explication of the Gospel’s own reduction to the Kingdom and its meaning for us actualizes in many ways phenomenology’s potentialities in this regard, allowing us to turn our full attention to the words and deeds of Christ without historicizing them. I know that Kingdoms will repay future re-reading.

      Still, based on Dr. Hart’s reply, I wonder if it might be necessary to say more about the Kingdom in the light of the paschal mystery. Indeed, at the risk of sounding overly defensive, I would like to say a good word or two regarding this particular theological turn. Paschal Trinitarianism was not meant to fold the life of Christ entirely into the paschal event but precisely to clarify that the cross, resurrection, and ascension of Christ cannot be detached from one another or from Christ’s entire incarnate existence. For one thing, the resurrection became a locus for theological consideration in a way that it had not been in the modern age, at least in Roman Catholic manuals. The soteriological starting point of this brand of Trinitarianism (as I understand it in F.X. Durrwell and Balthasar) does not have to collapse God into his soteriological function, for it plays on the paradoxical, non-dialectical nature of revelation. It can, moreover, as it does in Balthasar, bring with it a flourishing Trinitarian creationism, allowing us to glimpse the extension of the Kingdom even to non-human beings. This Trinitarian creationism marks a return to the primitive strands of the Christian tradition: it connects not only with Aquinas but with ante-Nicene theology, the latter which may not have been very well understood by Balthasar.1 With respect to the theology of religions, its focus is less on who can be saved than on what it is we mean when we speak of salvation, liberation, or deliverance. This is a crucial consideration for inter-religious dialogue. Has this sort of Trinitarian renewal had an impact on the devotional life of the church? It depends on where one looks. It has deeply affected some European ecclesial movements. Its impact is less evident in the English-speaking world.

      Paschal Trinitarianism does read the four gospels in the light of the letters. If the gospels present the message of Jesus announcing God’s Kingdom and then go to his death, the letters seem to prioritize the story of God’s action through the death of Jesus to save us from sin. Not long after the paschal event, Paul gave us a phenomenology of baptism which tells us that we can only enter into the Kingdom by entering into Christ’s death: “Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans, 6:4). The preaching of the Kingdom, in this understanding, is closely tied to the deeds of Christ, which exhibit him as an anti-type of the Old Testament figure of the Suffering Servant. This does not have to mean forgetting about Christ’s life before the paschal event. It does, however, heighten our understanding of Christ’s mission as one of absolute service unto the end. If we bracket the paschal mystery, do we lose anything in our understanding of Christ’s example of κἑνωσις and ἐπἑκτασις? Would his words and deeds then be sufficiently held in unity?

      1. Cf. Michel Fédou, “La Redécouverte des Anténicéens et ses Enjeux pour la Théologie Trinitaire,” in Emmanuel Durand and Vincent Holzer, ed., Les Sources du Renouveau de la Théologie Trinitaire au XX Siècle (Paris: Cerf, 2008), pp. 59-73.

    • Kevin Hart

      Kevin Hart


      Second Response to Keith Lemna

      It is a pleasure to read Dr Lemna’s response to my response, and I thank him for bringing the issue of Paschal Trinitarianism back into the conversation. Like Dr Lemna, I have learned a great deal from reading works in Paschal Trinitarianism, especially those by Hans Urs von Balthasar, and if I step back from it a little way it is largely so as to get the project and its gains into perspective. It may not have been the intention of Paschal Trinitarians to place an exclusive emphasis on the death and resurrection of Jesus, but it might be an unintended consequence that insufficient attention has been given by them to Jesus’s preaching of the Kingdom.

      The fundamental question, I think, is from where one develops the doctrine of the atonement. There are several alternatives. (1) If we seek to do so from the incarnation, we run the risk of not distinguishing the uniqueness of Jesus as thoroughly as needs to be done from pagan demi-gods, on the one hand, and Vishnu in Hinduism, on the other. (2) If we seek to do so from the suffering and death of Jesus, we can quickly lose perspective about what is central to Christianity. Jesus came to preach the love of God, to make “God” absolutely concrete in people’s minds (as Father), and he was whipped and executed as a consequence of that preaching (or, better perhaps, of misunderstanding that preaching), triggered, no doubt, by the cleansing of the Temple when Jerusalem was bulging with people at Passover. To grant a historical basis to Matt. 16: 24 is to admit that Jesus was well aware of the likely consequence of his ministry. (3) If we seek to do so from the life of Jesus, we have considerable difficulties; for we don’t know much detail about that life, and what we do know, or think we know, is already wrapped in testimony that Jesus is the messiah. What we do know, far better, is that for a year, two years, or perhaps three years, Jesus spoke about the Kingdom; and this strikes me as the most reliable ground from which to develop a doctrine of atonement.

      The preaching of the Kingdom has to be viewed before and after the resurrection. Before the resurrection, it is a powerful vision of how human beings should relate to God and to one another, one that compelled many who heard it, but which had only the politico-religious authority of someone believed possibly to be the messiah. After the resurrection, however, it is vindicated as the vision of how human beings should live in order to be pleasing to God. Just as the Kingdom was vilified when Jesus was on the cross, and hopes for it died with him, so too it was resurrected with Jesus. One does not have to appeal to a “retroactive force,” as Wolfhart Pannenberg does in his account of the resurrection (and all the more in his eschatology); the change of meaning of past events that occurs in the light of future events is akin to what T. S. Eliot evokes in “Tradition and the Individual Talent.”1 All one needs is to recognize that the resurrected Jesus remains one with his preaching of the Kingdom. The Son preaches the Kingdom of the Father, and the love that unifies them while not dissolving the one into the other is the Holy Spirit. Of course, the very preaching of the Kingdom brings forth the ire of “the world” and forces us to see a cross on the horizon. To my way of thinking, the preaching of the Kingdom not only involves the cross but also bespeaks Trinitarian action.

      1. See T. S. Eliot, “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” Selected Essays (London: Faber and Faber, 1951), 15.

Christina M. Gschwandtner


Phenomenology as a Theological Project

In my response to Kevin Hart’s beautiful and intriguing book I would like to focus on the middle section “Manifestations” and what they have to say about phenomenology. I’m particularly interested in Hart’s reflections on the possibility of a “phenomenology of the Christ” (chapter 7) or even a “supreme phenomenology”—namely, one that would consider “the phenomenality of the Trinity” (chapter 8). Although the titles of the chapters sound rather ambitious in this respect, within the text he is careful to distinguish between a purely philosophical use of phenomenology and what is repeatedly called a “phenomenological theology.” I take it that this book, or at least these three central chapters, is engaged in the latter and not the former activity. (Suggested, for example, by the question: “What, though, if our aim were theology, or more precisely phenomenological theology?”) That is to say, Hart seems to be employing phenomenological language and tools, such as the epochē/reduction, phenomenality, or intentionality, in order to pursue what is a theological endeavor of unfolding the phenomenality of Christ’s announcement of the basileia as it is set forth in the Christian gospel accounts. What I would like to take up in this response to his provocative analysis is the question of the relation of this phenomenology to both theology and to philosophy. I want to stress that I am not concerned here with the question of “trespass” over the borders between philosophy and theology (which has been debated to death since Heidegger’s “Phenomenology and Theology” essay and even more so since Janicaud’s accusation of the “theological turn” in French phenomenology) or even the more substantive question to what extent it might be legitimate and productive to employ phenomenological tools within theology. This is neither about policing of borders nor about legitimacy of methodological appropriation. Rather I am interested in raising two questions, one about what the phenomenology means within the theology, and, second, what a philosopher qua philosopher can and should examine when investigating religious phenomena or even specifically “Christian” phenomena (presumably all religious phenomena are specific to traditions rather than abstractly “religious”). What does phenomenology mean when it is a theological endeavor? And can there be such a thing as a “phenomenology of Christ” or a “phenomenology of God” as a philosophical endeavor? (And I certainly intend both of these as real questions, not as veiled criticism of the book.)

Let me summarize in a few words what I see Hart articulating in these central chapters (central, I think, both in terms of location within the book and in their importance). In chapter 6 he engages in a close and creative rereading of the parable of the prodigal son and suggests that it might reveal to us something about the “phenomenality of the Father” in terms of abundant forgiveness and its relation to justice. For example: “The phenomenality of God is given both in his running toward the sinner in love and mercy and in coming out to the righteous elder son with tenderness toward him” (133). In chapter 7 he analyzes what he calls “phenomenology of the Christ” as what is revealed in the preaching of the basileia as identifying God’s phenomenality in the kingdom but also in the person of Christ. In chapter 8 he begins by envisioning a brief dialogue about the possibility of discussing the “phenomenality of the Trinity” and then analyzes this discussion and the questions it raises. Hart draws extensively on phenomenological language in his treatments (in Christ’s parables he “performs a reduction” and in Christ’s description of the basileia the “phenomenality of God is given”) and argues that “Christian theology therefore requires a phenomenology of the Christ before everything else” (139). He explains this task as follows: “A phenomenological theology would begin with Jesus as phenomenon, given to us in scripture, with a determinate material core, as seen, heard, questioned, believed in, and rejected” and it “would attend to Jesus as a phenomenologist, that is, to how he receives phenomena” (144). The “task of the theologian” is “to clarify the basileia” using Husserl (157). The “phenomenology of the basileia” is not an issue of knowledge or givenness but of actions. The “phenomenality of God” is the “revelation of the basileia” (158). And although Hart acknowledges that the Trinity cannot become a phenomenon in the philosophical sense, he does speak of an “enstatic phenomenon of the Trinity” (169) and ultimately proposes “a phenomenology of the triune God” (176).

I am wondering a couple of things: First, Hart is right to draw clear distinctions between “manifestation,” “revelation,” “vision,” and “experience” (165). Do such careful distinctions also have to be drawn between a reduction that sets aside questions about the existence of the object “out there” in order to focus attention entirely on how it appears and a reduction that sets aside our concern with the world (maybe permanently) and converts us to the kingdom? For example, Hart explains: “I want to suggest that Jesus performs a reduction in his telling of the parables, and that we see more deeply into what a parable does when we recognize this. In telling a story Jesus brackets everyday life and its worldly logic in order to lead those who hear him to a deeper place. . . . Jesus leads us from using a worldly logic—one involving exchange, honor, law, and convention—to using a divine logic, one based on compassion and forgiveness” (131), but he seems to want this to become a permanent shift: “We are not asked to see how we constitute the meaning of the phenomena but rather invited to see how we can be constituted as properly human by participating in the Kingdom” (132). Is this process where “the ‘world’ is put out of play for the time of the story and perhaps for a little longer” (148) the same as the phenomenological reduction or at least sufficiently parallel to deserve the same name? What does it mean that “we are reduced, not God”—an essential point Hart suggests Husserl misses (152)? Similarly, is the theological use of “phenomenology” the same as (or sufficiently parallel to) the philosophical one? At one point he says, “Phenomenological theology, as I propose it, would therefore run in quite the opposite direction to that of most classical phenomenology” (152) and insists that “things change” when phenomenology enters theology (172), but then why still use its language? Is the “lived experience” one might have of Christ in listening to the parable (or in reading it or in hearing it preached) what phenomenology generally means by “lived experience”? And if not, then what exactly is served by the use of the phenomenological language? Is it more than just an exhortation to theologians to pay more attention to the ways in which the biblical texts are heard and experienced and how they inform our actions (i.e., to be less focused on texts and more on the whole lived experience of faith)? Again, I’m not worried here about the legitimacy of employing phenomenological tools in theology, but wondering instead about the extent to which they still are phenomenological and what theological work their transformed phenomenological character is accomplishing.

I also wonder about the distinctions between biblical texts (as basic and primary) and the creed (as complicated doctrine): What might be the role of liturgy in this? I’d like to hear more about how prayer and the sacraments “attune us to God” (150). How exactly does phenomenology help us enter into God’s presence (147)? Here also phenomenological language is heavily employed: “The Christian is concerned with understanding his or her home—in the habitus of belief, in Church, in parish life—and is therefore engaged with generative phenomenology, whether knowingly or unknowingly” (153). Indeed, phenomenology turns out to practice contemplation: “In some ways phenomenology is a mode of contemplatio: it trains us in essential seeing, what Husserl calls Wesenserschauung” although in the case of Christianity, contemplation is “directed to the triune God who transcends the world, while phenomenology teaches us only how to look behind the world” (168). The truths of Christianity become visible in the transcendental attitude of phenomenology: “It is only when we pass from the natural or the supernatural attitude to the transcendental attitude that the statements of Christianity or any religion become intelligible” (169). By studying Scripture and experiencing the Eucharist, we can reach a phenomenology of Christ or even a supreme phenomenology:

Even here, phenomenology can focus with confidence only on the Christ as given to us in the words of scripture, preaching, and the Eucharist. It is a phenomenology of the Christ, in the objective and subjective senses of the genitive, which needs to be undertaken. The one would tell us how Jesus renders his Father manifest through a study of all that scripture shows him doing and suffering; and the other would show us how Jesus asks us to turn from the world to the Kingdom, even though the Cross is implicit in the preaching of the Kingdom. That would be the true supreme phenomenology. (177–78)

Is this still a “theological phenomenology” and, if so, how does it move theology forward? Or have we returned to phenomenology proper and maybe gained broader phenomenological insights that might be accessible to anyone?

This brings me to the question about philosophy: What philosophical access might we have to the divine or even to Christ as an incarnate manifestation of God? Let me illustrate my question with two clearer examples: In his trilogy on the Paschal Triduum Emmanuel Falque endeavors to read Christ’s experience phenomenologically as a pattern and paradigm for human suffering, death, resurrection and erotic experience (flesh, marriage, Eucharist). In the first volume, Le passeur de Gethsémani, he analyzes Christ’s experience in the garden prayer for the cup to be taken from him as an instance of a fully human experience of suffering and anguish over death. Similarly, Jean-Luc Marion often speaks of various biblical passages in phenomenological fashion. Christ’s transfiguration or resurrection are instances of a “pre-eminent saturated phenomenon” or even paradigmatic for all phenomenality. But this is puzzling to me: How might we have any access to what Christ actually felt or experienced at that moment? We certainly have some sense what the Gospel writers thought he felt at that moment (and maybe what they think we ought to feel in response). But does that give us any access to Christ’s consciousness or his lived experience? Surely this is not experience that could be examined more closely by varying it or repeating it or imagining and remembering it? What would it mean to posit the Gospel text (philosophically) as some sort of direct access to Christ’s consciousness?

Hart is generally far more careful than Marion and Falque on this point (although at times also somewhat dismissive of historical-critical biblical resources—I’m not sure that “hallowed” and “hollow” readings of Scripture [128] are really the only alternatives) and he is obviously right to say that “we cannot consider the Father as an eidetic essence that we can revolve and inspect at our leisure” (149), but can we do so with Christ? Hart raises this question in terms of evidence: “In phenomenology, the evidence that counts is Evidenz, the making evident of something, and no rules are set in place to limit what makes itself evident” (130). And he is careful to distinguish between philosophical evidence for God’s existence and evidence that comes in living as God says. God’s phenomenality is made manifest in love, “registered in love impulsively coming forward, freely manifesting itself by way of overwhelming compassion for both sorts of people, the younger and the elder sons” and Hart assures us that “one may receive this phenomenality in diverse ways, most usually as artistic pathos or as divine truth. Phenomenology as such is neutral with respect to the choice; it merely allows the choice to be made” (130; see also 146). Here the experience does not seem to be Christ’s, but that of the believer who encounters God’s compassion. Why is the contrast posited as one between the kingdom as “philosophy” and as “truth” (137–38)? Does the distinction between knowledge and agape really hold up? And even if it does, then what would knowledge about God mean? Is it a priori excluded or does it become a different kind of knowledge, namely one of love instead of “certainty” (as Marion insists)? What would it mean to work out a “doctrine of God” (132) based on phenomenological insights? If “no phenomenology within the limits of philosophy can have anything to say about the Trinity” and yet we can have a theological “phenomenology of the Triune God” (176), then it seems to imply that some analysis of God’s experience would be possible. Does such a “doctrine of God” have philosophical import, that is to say, does it provide philosophical evidence for God (maybe not God’s “existence” per se, but at least some sort of insight about who or how God is)? What might this mean for the possibility of a philosophy of religion in a phenomenological mode? Can the divine ever be “in human consciousness” (163) and how could that be identified or described philosophically? Or is philosophy—maybe like sociology or anthropology of religion—always only concerned with human experiences, even when they are experiences that might be called “religious,” “mystical,” “revelatory,” or even “of the divine”?

  • Kevin Hart

    Kevin Hart


    Response to Christina Gschwandtner

    Phenomenology begins to disclose itself in Husserl’s writings, first in the Logical Investigations, and then in successive introductions along with detailed analyses of a wide range of phenomena. All this occurs within philosophy, and within the ethos of Neo-Kantianism, which explains not only some of Husserl’s vocabulary but also, and more importantly, the primacy he grants to epistemology. He wants to put human knowledge on a secure basis, and this can be achieved, he argues, only by close attention to Evidenz, to the correlation of noesis and noema, and so on. Of course, we can attain certain knowledge of only a few things—in logic and mathematics and, if we forego reference, imagination—yet Husserl provides us with a wealth of ways of getting clearer about our intentional relations with the world about us. Once phenomenology has been determined and outlined within philosophy, we can begin to see versions of it have long been in play, in Plato and Aristotle at times, and also in Augustine and other church fathers. Husserl himself saw that the arts are kin to phenomenology, although they cannot play the epistemological role that he thinks is crucial to shore up Western thought; and he recognized that some religious writing is kin to phenomenology as well, though one must refuse the temptation to determine a particular sort of intuition by which the divine gives itself to us.1 Once again, the purity of an epistemological moment is prized.

    Phenomenology encourages us to pass from thinking that the questions “What?” and “Why?” are the only ones that will help us. The question “How?” tells us much as well, though it has been hidden by the sheer success of asking the first two questions, in philosophy as well as in science.2 That third question has been posed with respect to much in human life, and its answers shown (rather than directly said) in many of the arts. Art coaxes phenomena to show themselves, and the person looking, reading, or listening (not always a philosopher) attempts to make them give even more of themselves so that more of them can be shown. Not that art always has commerce with the light; some art affirms the obscure (Maurice Blanchot’s récits do so, par excellence), and yet there is precisely manifestation of that hiddenness: lux is prior to lumen, one might say. Art, then, involves a bracketing of the natural attitude, even if it does not always lead completely to the phenomenological attitude that Husserl cherished and commended.

    Christianity offers something similar. We pass from the natural attitude, even when it has been of use to us. (Historical criticism, for example, uses it with great skill, but often makes dogmatic assumptions about what can and cannot take place in reality: the virginal conception and the resurrection, for example.)3 Yet Christianity has also come to posit what I call the supernatural attitude, the view that the divine is a “world” that mirrors our own. The idea of a supernatural attitude presumes a distinction between “same” and “other” that, when we view it correctly, Christianity contests. God is not “other” than creation; he does not fall within the field of “same” and “other,” a distinction that is properly used only within creation.4 God would be other than anything that we describe in terms of the category of same and other. Apophaticism stems from the doctrine of creation, then, and not only from the doctrine of God. On my reading of the New Testament, especially the Gospels, Jesus points us to how we may pass from both the natural and the supernatural attitudes. The reduction in play is from “world” to “Kingdom.” It does not resemble one of the main currents of Western philosophy, the drive to find truth in consciousness, whether as a property or a substance, but is eccentric to that tradition; the truth is deemed to be anterior to self and to institutional structures (the state, education, culture, even religion). Certainly, basilaic reduction, as I call it, does not lead us to Jesus’s consciousness. Rather, it leads us to recognize a claim that this anterior Kingdom has upon us, a call that can be variously explicated by way of “commandment” and “invitation,” and that I figure in my own use of κένωσις and ἐπέκτασις. We are led back—reduced in the exact Latin sense of the word—to find ourselves in the divine gaze. We might glance around at the world, but God always gazes at us.

    Theology responds to revelation, which always has a soteriological shape; and it does so in several ways, by concerning itself with acting, being, and imagining, as well as with knowing. Strictly speaking, God does not appear in revelation; rather, the possibility of a relation with God, first understood as the Father of Jesus, appears in Scripture, preaching, liturgy, and so on; and this relation, like all relationships, is a work that is at once direct and indirect. To enter the Kingdom is to orient oneself to the King first and foremost: it is a life of sacrament, service, study, and prayer. But one has entered a Kingdom, and the relationship with the King is fleshed out in relations one with another because that is what he asks us to do: it is a life conducted in the quest for justice, which can occur only by way of forgiveness. Do we know if we have been just at any given moment? No: there is no theoretical confirmation available to us. We cannot master the Kingdom, can never assure ourselves of a place there. The Kingdom is a multi-stable phenomenon, now manifesting itself as inner and now as outer, as here and as to come; it discloses itself by way of myth (Eden) and as hope (the communion of saints). No institution can close itself around it.

    We become properly human, created beings living coram deo, only by seeking to live in and through the Kingdom. Of course, no one passage from world to Kingdom is final; it is something we have to do time and again, and not always in the same way. Husserl came to think that the philosopher might live permanently in the phenomenological attitude.5 Yet the Kingdom is blocked, time and again, by the allure of the world; it is a fragile phenomenon, easily overlooked, marginalized, bypassed, and we maintain a relationship with it only precariously. That overlooking, marginalizing, bypassing, and so on, is the concrete understanding of “sin,” and it occurs when one no longer orients oneself to God or no longer seeks justice in all things.

    1. See Husserl, “Husserl an von Hofmannsthal (12. 1. 1907),” Briefwechsel, 10 vols., VII: Wissenschaftlerkorrespondenz, ed. Elisabeth Schuhmann and Karl Schuhmann (Boston: Kluwer, 1994), 135, and Husserl’s letter to Rudolf Otto as given by Hans-Walter Schütte in his Religion und Christentum in der Theologie Rudolf Ottos (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1969), 139–42.

    2. See Husserl, On the Phenomenology of the Consciousness of Internal Time (1893–1917), trans. John Barnett Brough (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic, 1991), 121.

    3. For a notable exception, see Raymond E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, enlarged ed. (New York: Doubleday, 1993), esp. 25–26. It is worth noting that Brown gives considerable attention to the question “How?” in his commentary on the infancy narratives: no phenomenologist, he is, however, alert to the power of the question.

    4. See, in conjunction with this, Robert Sokolowski, The God of Faith and Reason: Foundations of Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1995).

    5. See Husserl, “Phenomenology and Anthropology,” in Psychological and Transcendental Phenomenology and the Confrontation with Heidegger (1927–1931), trans. and ed. Thomas Sheehan and Richard E. Palmer (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1997), 492.