Friday 31st July 2015

Home » Featured Today » Currently Reading:

A Book Review… A Critique Of Christians’ Misleading Language

December 13, 2013 Featured Today No Comments

By JUDE DOUGHERTY

Brague, Remi, On the God of the Christians (and on one or two others), trans. from the French Du Dieu des chretiens by Paul Seaton. South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2013. Pp. xvii + 160. Contact the publisher at www.staugustine.net or 574-291-3500.

The aim of this book, Remi Brague declares at the outset, is to describe the image made of God by Christianity. In Himself God is the same for all, but the images and concepts that have been made of God differ among men and among the associations that bring men together, whether they be philosophical or religious. “I want to show,” writes Brague, “that a certain image of God, the one that Christians address, possesses traits that distinguish it from certain other images.”
Remi Brague writes as a philosopher but as one steeped in the history of Western thought from antiquity to the present. He is professor of philosophy at the University of Paris: I Pantheon-Sorbonne and at the University of Munich. This book builds upon his previously published and much-admired work, The Legend of the Middle Ages: Philosophical Explorations of Medieval Christianity, Judaism and Islam (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009).
This volume is an extended critique of the often misleading language by which Christians express their beliefs. To speak of three Abrahamic religions, for example, is not only false but dangerous.
“To so speak,” writes Brague, “is to mask a serious error concerning the nature of the three religions.” By the phrase, “the three religions of Abraham,” people believe that they have established common ground by appealing to a common ancestor. It is true that all three, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, have books in which the name Abraham appears, but, says Brague, “The history of Abraham is not interpreted in the same way in Judaism and Christianity, let alone in Islam. The Quran makes use of the figure of Abraham to recount a history that neither Judaism nor Christianity know anything about. For Islam there is only one religion of Abraham, which is Islam itself.”
Well-meaning Christians who speak of the “religion of Abraham” include Judaism and Islam, and to associate them with Christianity in a vague sort of way. But the Abraham that the three religions have in common is nothing more than a vague abstraction. “The smallest of common denominators coincide with none of the concrete figures revered by them in which they recognize themselves.” To accept such an Abraham, Christians would have to renounce a dimension of their faith.
“So too with the expression, ‘three religions of the book’,” Brague writes. There are three very different books, Old Testament, New Testament, and Quran. The concept of “revealed religion” is similarly deceptive. “What is revealed in Judaism is the history of the people of Israel. For Christianity, the revealed object is not the New Testament but the person of Christ himself; the book only recounts the history and reports the teaching of this person. In Islam, the revealed object is truly the book; the person of Mohammed, at least in primitive Islam, had little importance.”
To speak of “monotheism” is equally misleading, says Brague. The designation comes from without, not from within, the religions themselves. The term “monotheism” can be traced to the pen of Henry More, one of the Christian Platonists who used it in 1660.
Monotheism is not essentially religious. This can be seen in the deism of certain Enlightenment thinkers, but the best examples may be sought among the Greek philosophers who never heard of Judaism, not to mention Christianity, viz., Xenophones of Colophon (sixth-fifth century BC), who spoke of “a sole god, the greatest among gods and men, who resembles mortals neither in appearance or in thought.” Aristotle himself called the unchanging first mover of his natural philosophy by the name of “god.”
In an aside, Brague notes that Christianity recognizes the monotheism of Judaism “although Judaism finds it harder to return the favor.” Maimonides, the 12th-century Jewish philosopher, reproached Christians for making God “the third of three.”
Addressing the question of how do we know God, Brague finds it necessary to reference the thought of Aristotle, C.S. Peirce, Pascal, Schleiermacher, and Locke, who each in his own day has reflected on the subject. Granted that God is one, how is unity to be conceived? Brague begins his discussion with a distinction between belief and faith. Belief, he holds, is imperfect knowledge of what can be known. We can believe in something but we can also believe in someone. Belief in something is susceptible of degrees; to believe in someone is not: “In the case of God, faith bears simultaneously upon a content and the one who reveals it. In Christianity the content of Revelation is nothing other than the one who reveals himself.”
In a chapter entitled “The One God,” Brague addresses the uniqueness and unity of God revealed as Triune. “The mystery of the Trinity exists only in God and has no real analogy within the types of unity found within the created world.” Thus one must not conceive God on the model of the created world. “For the Christian the Trinity is the manner in which God is one; to say that ‘God is one’ is a way of saying that God is love.”
And Brague adds, “The way in which God is one is not without implications for the way in which we have to conduct ourselves.” Brague finds it necessary in talking about the Trinity to distinguish between uniqueness and unity. “To be unique and to be one do not mean the same thing. To say that God is unique means there is but one God, and there is not a plurality of gods [as in pagan antiquity]. In contrast to say that God is one means to say that god is simple.”
Brague continues this with an extended discussion of the Incarnate Word as found in John of the Cross.
There follows the question of the definitiveness or closure of Revelation. Brague answers in the spirit of John of the Cross: “God has spoken in such a definitive and total way that if God, per impossibiles, spoke again, this would be to repeat himself, to harp. . . . Everything may be given, but everything is not manifested.” Then, too, if everything has been said, in the words of Hegel, if “God no longer has any secrets,” a thousand things need to be done.
Reading Remi Brague is to find insight after insight, one gem following another. He more or less ends this volume with a short discourse on the meaning of life. “A bit too often people speak of the meaning of life. Sometimes the phrase is used for apologetic purposes and therefore means ‘Faith gives meaning to life.’ It would be impossible to live if life did not have meaning. Hence we need faith.” There may be some truth to that, but, says Brague, “Christianity does not propose to give meaning to life, as if life did not have meaning and there was need to seek for some outside of it. Christianity rather proposes to unveil this meaning.”
In a final passage “on the withdrawal of the sacred,” Brague sadly observes, “The modern world can be characterized as the time of the silence of the gods or God. The long process of several centuries during which the world ‘modernized’ no longer leaves room for divine words.” It doesn’t take a philosopher to notice that withdrawal, but it may take a rejuvenated philosophy to reopen a place for the Divine Word within the academy. Clearly, Remi Brague in this and in other works has shown the value of philosophy to theology and, indeed, theology’s rightful place within centers of learning.

+    +    +

(Dr. Dougherty is dean emeritus of The School of Philosophy at The Catholic University of America.)

Share Button

Comment on this Article:

Untitled 3

Pope FrancisAn Open Letter To His Holiness Pope Francis      Given the controversy and confusion surrounding the 2014 Synod on the Family, the staff of The Wanderer and its supporters thought it appropriate to address Pope Francis with an open letter . . .

Jamestown Excavation Unearths Four Bodies and a Possible Catholic Reliquary

Could a mysterious box unearthed in historic Jamestown, Virginia, the first permanent English settlement in North America, point to a Catholic connection with the foundation of the United States of America? While Spanish and Portuguese exploration, settlement and conquest of…Continue Reading

Catholic officials, others react to Boy Scouts’ decision to allow openly gay leaders

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The top leaders of the National Catholic Committee on Scouting have made an uneasy peace with the Boy Scouts of America’s decision July 27 to allow openly gay troop leaders and employees to serve in their ranks…Continue Reading

The Remnant REALLY? . . . Is This How We Support Fellow Catholics Battling A Cause We Should All Be Behind?

Planned Parenthood Hires PR Firm to Run Damage Control After It’s Exposed Selling Aborted Babies

The Planed Parenthood abortion business is so desperate to put out the public relations fires that have developed in the wake of it being caught numerous times selling the body parts of aborted babies that it has hired a top…Continue Reading

More than Half of Young Catholic Families Are Latino Despite Recent Decline

More than half of young Catholic families (53 percent) identify themselves as Latino or Hispanic compared with 32 percent of all Catholics, according to a recent survey. Could the presence of Hispanic families in the Catholic Church indicate Latino congregational…Continue Reading

New York Catholic churches closing after decades of service

Parishioners in New York are losing their churches as the Catholic Archdiocese carries out an aggressive consolidation plan. The cuts are driven by declining membership, fiscal insolvency of churches, and fewer priests, according to church officials. While there are 2.8…Continue Reading

Kenyan President to Obama: You Will not Impose The ‘Gay Rights’ Agenda In Kenya

We need to speak frankly about these things” says President Kenyatta in response to Obama’s statement that Kenya must share the same values as the United States on sodomite rights issues. Kenyatta, at the press conference this morning in Kenya,…Continue Reading

Nancy Pelosi: Ignore Planned Parenthood Selling Aborted Babies, Investigate Pro-Lifers

nancyp

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi has no interest in digging deeper into the revelations that the Planned Parenthood abortion business is selling the body part of aborted babies Instead, she wants the Obama administration to investigate the pro-life activists who…Continue Reading

Carly Fiorina to Planned Parenthood: You Deny Ultrasounds to Show Women Life Within Them, but Use Ultrasounds to Preserve Organs of Their Dead Babies

Venezuela’s bishops caution against the adoption of no-fault divorce

The Venezuelan bishops last week warned that marriage and families in their nation will be weakened as a result of a court decision ruling that spouses can divorce without any evidence of wrongdoing on either’s part , Christian Telegraph reports…Continue Reading

Rationing? Obamacare Health Care Plans Have 34 Percent Fewer Doctors, Hospitals

According to the Washington Examiner, a new study reveals that Obamacare plans have 34% fewer doctors and hospitals than other health insurance plans. The information was released today by Avalere Heath and proves that exchange networks actually provide fewer heart…Continue Reading

Cdl. Vincent Nichols to Expand LGBT Ministry

WESTMINSTER, July 21, 2015 (ChurchMilitant.com) – Cardinal Vincent Nichols, president of the Catholic bishops conference of England and Wales, is pushing to expand the Church’s ministry to those in the LGBT community. Monsignor Keith Barltrop, parish priest of St. Mary…Continue Reading

Newsmax

Untitled 5 Untitled 2

Attention Readers:

  Welcome to our new website. Readers who are familiar with The Wanderer know we have been providing Catholic news and orthodox commentary for over 145 years in our weekly print edition. Now we are introducing the online daily version of our print journal.


  Our daily version offers only some of what we publish weekly in print. To take advantage of everything The Wanderer publishes, we encourage you to su
bscribe to our flagship weekly print edition, which is mailed every Friday or, if you want to view it in its entirety online, you can subscribe to the E-edition, which is a replica of the print edition.
 
  Our daily edition includes: a selection of material from recent issues of our print edition, news stories updated daily from renowned news sources, access to archives from The Wanderer from the past 10 years, available at a minimum charge (this will be expanded as time goes on). Also: regularly updated features where we go back in time and highlight various columns and news items covered in The Wanderer over the past 145 years. And: a comments section in which your remarks are encouraged, both good and bad, including suggestions.
 
  We encourage you to become a daily visitor to our site. If you appreciate our site, tell your friends. As Catholics we must band together to rediscover our faith and share it with the world if we are to effectively counter a society whose moral culture seems to have no boundaries and a government whose rapidly extending reach threatens to extinguish the rights of people of faith to practice their religion (witness the HHS mandate). Now more than ever, vehicles like The Wanderer are needed for clarification and guidance on the issues of the day.

Catholic, conservative, orthodox, and loyal to the Magisterium have been this journal’s hallmarks for five generations. God willing, our message will continue well into this century and beyond.

Joseph Matt
President, The Wanderer Printing Co.

Untitled 1

A Powerful Weapon: 15 Quotes on the Holy Rosary

We live in evil times. I hardly need elaborate the multitude of crises that fill the globe. Sadly, many are being swept away by this flood of evil and are succumbing to an overwhelming anxiety and discouragement. But no matter how tempting it is, we must not shrink back. We must pray and fast with a living faith and a firm confidence—and there is no better way to…Continue Reading

12 Ways to Become a Committed Catholic Man

There is a Catholic “man-crisis.” Large numbers of men who were baptized Catholic have left the Church and the majority of those who remain are “Casual Catholic Men”, men who do not know the Catholic faith and don’t practice it. This large-scale failure of Catholic men to commit themselves to Jesus Christ and His Church has contributed to the accelerating…Continue Reading

Today . . .

BREAKING: Court blocks pro-life group from releasing some new fetal part footage

July 29, 15 (LifeSiteNews) – The California Superior Court has issued a narrow temporary restraining order preventing the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), a pro-life group, from releasing further undercover video footage taken of three top-level staff of StemExpress. CMP is the organization behind the series of three videos released over the past three weeks exposing the alleged harvesting and sale of body parts from aborted babies by Planned Parenthood – body parts that are…Continue Reading

4th video shows Planned Parenthood director negotiating fetal body parts

July 30, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – Workers in a lab are seen sorting through body parts on a dish: a heart, stomach, kidney, and legs. And then a medical assistant suddenly announces: “It’s another boy!” This is just a little of the macabre and heart-wrenching footage in the newest undercover video showing alleged harvesting and sale of body parts from aborted babies by Planned Parenthood, released Thursday morning. The newest video also shows a Planned Parenthood…Continue Reading

Late Cardinal Played Key Role in Catholic Ed. in Lead-up to Ex corde Ecclesiae

July 29, 2015, at 12:10 PM  |  By Justin Petrisek  | Cardinal William Baum, one of the principal players in the formative years of Pope St. John Paul II’s constitution on Catholic higher education, Ex corde Ecclesiae, has passed away at the age of 88 after a long illness, according to Catholic News Service. He died on July 23 in Washington, D.C., at a residence run by the Little Sisters of the Poor. “Cardinal Baum…Continue Reading

A blessing to one another: John Paul II and the Jewish People

jp2

Vatican City, 28 July 2015 (VIS) – “A blessing to one another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People” is the title of an exhibition opening today in the Vatican (Charlemagne Wing, 29 July to 17 September), previously displayed in a number of state capitals in the U.S.A., where it received more than a million visitors. The exhibition, presented as a gift to John Paul II for his 85th birthday, was inaugurated at the Xavier…Continue Reading

Culture Of Life 101 . . . “Homosexuality And The Church Crisis”

By BRIAN CLOWES Part 2 (Editor’s Note: Brian Clowes has been director of research and training at Human Life International since 1995. For electronic copies of previous articles on homosexual “marriage,” the special rights agenda and the role of homosexuality in the Church crisis, e-mail him at bclowes@hli.org.) + + + “Facts are stubborn things,…Continue Reading

Defend The Little Sisters Of The Poor — And American Liberty

By TERENCE P. JEFFREY (Editor’s Note: Terence P. Jeffrey is the editor-in-chief of CNSnews.com. Creators Syndicate distributes his column. All rights reserved.) + + + No group in the United States today is making a stronger stand for liberty than the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Catholic nuns dedicated to running nursing…Continue Reading

Aggressive Obama, Passive National GOP . . . Is Third-Party Option Starting To Look Better?

By DEXTER DUGGAN House Speaker John Boehner said the recently released sting video of a national Planned Parenthood official at lunch, munching away and chatting about how to “crush” unborn babies to harvest their organs for money, was “disgusting.” Republican Boehner finally seemed to have found his voice in a Washington where he usually blends…Continue Reading

Is This What Determines Our Position On Common Core?

By JAMES K. FITZPATRICK The mail that we receive at First Teachers is overwhelmingly opposed to Common Core, the federal government’s effort to establish education standards for the country. Certain of our correspondents object to what they see as a liberal bias in Common Core’s curriculum, while others object to what they believe are confusing…Continue Reading

When Trump Talks, People Should Listen

By REY FLORES How many of you recall the old E.F. Hutton television commercials where everyone on an airplane would stop and listen to one man when he says, “My broker is E.F. Hutton, and E.F. Hutton says….” The voiceover would then state: “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.” Donald Trump can do the same…Continue Reading

Advertisement

Our Catholic Faith (Section B of print edition)

Our Journey Through The Desert

By FR. ROBERT ALTIER Nineteenth Sunday In Ordinary Time (YR B) Readings: 1 Kings 19:4-8 Eph. 4:30-5:2 John 6:41-51 In the second reading today St. Paul instructs us to do nothing that will grieve the Holy Spirit. In his brief list of offenses that would grieve the Holy Spirit, St. Paul includes bitterness, fury, anger, reviling, shouting, and all malice.…Continue Reading

Obergefell V. Hodges . . . “To Sin By Silence . . . Makes Cowards Of Men”

By FR. PETER MITCHELL (Editor’s Note: Fr. Peter Mitchell is the pastor of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Greenville, Wis. He gave this homily on the 13th Sunday of Ordinary Time, June 28 — two days after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in Obergefell v. Hodges.) + + + “To sin by silence when they…Continue Reading

A Leaven In The World . . . Like Love, Assent To Faith Is A Matter Of The Will

By FR. KEVIN M. CUSICK Reaction to my column last week titled “Where Is There Room to Disagree With Jesus? In Hell!” included the following note from a Facebook follower. Kim wrote, “Perhaps the question posed to you was not worded correctly. How about this onea. . . . Is there a line where Catholic teachings are not something Catholics…Continue Reading

An Apologetics Course . . . Why Is The Gospel Message Unique Among Religions?

By RAYMOND DE SOUZA Part 12 In this series of articles on apologetics, we have followed a logical sequence, moving from the simpler to the more complex. So, first we saw how it makes sense that truth is objective, and not subjective; that is, our minds do not create the truth, they learn it, discover it, and grasp it from…Continue Reading

The Four Marks Of The Church — Catholicity

By DON FIER Part 3 As we continued to examine the third mark of the Church last week, that she is catholic (or universal), we saw that all mankind is called to belong to the one true Church, the new People of God. Christ’s clear mandate to His apostles was to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the…Continue Reading

Catholic Heroes… St. Martha

By CAROLE BRESLIN A popular pilgrimage among the Catholics of southern France takes visitors to the Grotte de la Sainte-Baume, located in the hills of Provence about 20 miles east of the port of Marseilles. To reach this holy site, the driver must cover miles of winding, ascending roads to the foot of the mountain. Then the pilgrim ascends a…Continue Reading

Catholic Heroes… St. Bridget

By CAROLE BRESLIN One of St. Teresa of Calcutta’s most quoted sayings would fit with this column’s saint, “God hasn’t called me to be successful. He has called me to be faithful.” What encouraging words for anyone seeking to do God’s will, knowing that the cross, the setbacks, and the obstacles are all part of working for the Kingdom of…Continue Reading