Details of Thesis

Title Levinas, Von Balthasar and Trinitarian Praxis
Author Morrison, Glenn
Institution Australian Catholic University
Date 2004
Abstract 1. Aim   The thesis aims to explore Emmanuel Levinas’ philosophy as a fertile resource for Christian theology. In this general context, we focus specifically on the way Levinas opens the possibility of a language of alterity, or radical “otherness”, in theology, in a manner which escapes the limitations of such categories as objectivity, presence and Being. Recent attempts to employ Levinas’ philosophy for the benefit of Christian theology have hesitated to go beyond onto-theology. This thesis, however, aims to show how Levinas’ philosophy opens up a style of thinking and suggests a vocabulary of expression that can serve Christian theology, especially by intensifying its sense of encounter with Christ and of the Other in him. Accordingly, the thesis will make use of a number of Levinasian notions to critique and complement the theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar. This will lead to the development of what we call a “prolegomenon to a Trinitarian praxis”.  2. Scope  The thesis firstly remarks on Christian theology’s discovery of Levinas’ philosophy. We then go on to introducing three of the major influences of Levinas’ philosophy, namely Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger and Franz Rosenzweig. This will be followed by an introduction to the life of von Balthasar. But the major part of the thesis will be made up of three extensive explorations.  The first introduces a number of key terms and concepts in Levinasian thought, taking into account their possible contribution to the theology of von Balthasar. Here we examine especially the notions of “otherness” and “passivity”.  The second exploration takes us into what might be called a recontextualisation of the major sections of von Balthasar’s theology (aesthetics, dramatics and logic) through Levinasian analysis. We will concentrate especially on von Balthasar’s treatment of Holy Saturday, the Resurrection, Trinitarian and Soteriological “Inversion”, and truth as participation.  The third exploratory exercise attempts to develop a prolegomenon to a Trinitarian praxis. Intrinsic to the very understanding of this Trinitarian praxis is the notion of alterity to such a degree that ethical transcendence is the very inspiration for theology if it is to go beyond the limits of objectivity, Being and presence. This prolegomenon will, therefore, contain an articulation of Trinitarian praxis in the context of ethical transcendence, eschatology and soteriology. To this end, we employ Levinas’ ideas of passivity and otherness to critique von Balthasar’s eschatological conception of Christian existence and his soteriological understanding of the eucharist.   Because Levinas and von Balthasar have both used the writings of Husserl, Heidegger and Rosenzweig as sources, there will be abundant references to these writers at various junctures in this study. Likewise, the views of a number of Christian theologians who have been influenced by Levinas (Purcell, Ward, Barnes and Ford) will be critically examined.  3. Conclusions  The thesis concludes that, with the aid of Levinas’ ideas, theology is offered the possibility of breaking out of the limits imposed by traditional notions of objectivity, Being and presence. In reaching such a conclusion, the thesis contests von Balthasar’s prioritising of the beautiful by resituating his use of analogical thought. In this context, our study suggests new ways of speaking of Holy Saturday and the Resurrection, in a non-phenomenal manner. It means developing a theology of Gift to understand the unity between Christ’s missio and processio. Here we highlight the deepest problem to be faced by a theo-logic as one of giving priority to the ethical over the ontological. In short, the thesis argues for a conception of Christian life that goes beyond the categories of ontology and experience. From what we have learned from Levinas, we propose a notion of Trinitarian praxis in which we come to God by way of ethical transcendence.

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