Thursday 29th January 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:

Notre Dame theologian known for books, liberal stands, dies

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — The Rev. Richard McBrien, a University of Notre Dame theologian known for his unabashed liberal stands on various church teachings and his popular books on Catholicism, died Sunday in his native Connecticut, according to the…Continue Reading

Bankruptcy case brings financial fears for Catholic schools

As president of an inner-city Catholic grade school that depends critically on donations, Helen Dahlman admits to an unconventional fundraising strategy. “We believe in miracles, so we pray a lot,” said Dahlman, who leads Risen Christ School in south Minneapolis,…Continue Reading

Cardinal: No pro-life victory without reaching the marginalized

Washington D.C., Jan 22, 2015 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- For the pro-life movement to truly succeed, it must fight not only abortion, but also the broader “throwaway culture” wherever life is being discarded, said Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston…Continue Reading

70 Churches Destroyed in ‘Anti-Charlie Hebdo’ Protests

The Christian community in Niger says it is in shock in the wake of weekend violence that has claimed the lives of 10 people and led to the destruction of dozens of places of worship and Christian homes. The protest,…Continue Reading

ITALY: Muslims smash, urinate on statue of Mary

A man was kneeling in prayer before the statue of the revered Madonna, with the photograph of a loved one in hand, in the small chapel of St. Barnabas in Perugia (Italy), when he was attacked by five “immigrants.” The…Continue Reading

At new in-flight press conference Francis says good Catholics are not required ‘to be like rabbits’

Catholics fail to practise “responsible parenthood” when they have too many children, Pope Francis has said during an in-flight press conference on the way home from Manila. He also denounced the teaching of “gender theory” in schools, likening it to…Continue Reading

CRUX’s “spirituality columnist” is “devastated” the Pope upholds Catholic teaching

Margery Eagan appears to be angling for a job as editor of National “Catholic” Reporter. Or perhaps spokesman for the LCWR: The news that Pope Francis has strongly defended the Church’s ban on artificial birth control left me, in a word, devastated. Goodness. Even…Continue Reading

St. Paul-Mpls. archdiocese declares bankruptcy in response to abuse lawsuits

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Friday, saying it cannot meet its financial obligations from an unprecedented wave of clergy sex abuse lawsuits. The move freezes lawsuits against the church, protecting the archdiocese…Continue Reading

Pope Francis strongly defends church teaching against contraception

Pope Francis issued his strongest defense yet of church teaching opposing artificial contraception on Friday, using a rally in Asia’s largest Catholic nation to urge families to be “sanctuaries of respect for life.” Francis also denounced the corruption that has plagued…Continue Reading

Bella Dodd, who rejected Communism in favour of faith, is a lesson for young jihadis

Her story shows how easily the best human impulses can be twisted to evil Having blogged last week about John Beaumont’s book, The Mississippi Flows Into The Tiber, with all the extraordinary, uplifting and grace-filled stories of conversion that it…Continue Reading

Fox News’ Bret Baier, actor Gary Sinise cancel on Catholic group after gay gripes

FOX News Channel’s chief political anchor, Bret Baier, has shown himself to have a thinner skin than might be guessed from his on-air persona.  Baier has caved in to pressure from the homosexual activist group ‘Good as You’ to back…Continue Reading

Federal judge strikes down South Dakota’s gay marriage ban

SIOUX FALLS – A federal judge has declared South Dakota’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional, but has stayed the decision pending appeal. U.S. District Judge Karen Schreier on Monday issued a summary judgment in favor of the six couples who filed…Continue Reading

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 subscribe 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 . . .

General Audience: Pope Focuses On Role Of Father In Family Life

pope7115

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis called on fathers to be present in the lives of their children pointing out that the absence of a ‘father figure’ can have grave consequences. Speaking on Wednesday during the weekly General Audience, the Pope continued in his catechesis on the family, choosing to focus on the dignity and role of fathers. He said that teaching…Continue Reading

Pope’s Morning Homily: Obeying God’s Will is the Path to Holiness

Rome, January 27, 2015 (Zenit.org) Junno Arocho Esteves Obedience to the will of God is the path of holiness. This was the main theme of Pope Francis’ homily during his daily morning Mass at Casa Santa Marta. Today’s first reading from the Letter to the Hebrews explained that the sacrifices of old were not enough “for it is impossible that…Continue Reading

Pope Francis: Women First And Foremost In Transmitting Faith

pope714

(Vatican Radio) The primary and indispensable role of women in transmitting the faith to new generations: this was the focus of Pope Francis’ remarks to the faithful following the readings of the day at Mass on Monday morning in the chapel of the Santa Marta residence in the Vatican. On the day when the Church celebrates the memory of Saints…Continue Reading

Pope Angelus: Jesus Wanted United Christians

(Vatican Radio) On Sunday and before the Angelus, the Pope recalled the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and its theme, “Give me a drink”, the sentence uttered by Jesus to the Samaritan woman. He told the faithful gathered that the “desire for unity” of the disciples of Jesus is part of our “thirst not only material for water, but…Continue Reading

Culture Of Life 101 . . . “Should Catholic Hospitals Use The Morning-After Pill For Rape Victims?”

By BRIAN CLOWES (Editor’s Note: Brian Clowes has been director of research and training at Human Life International since 1995. For a compact disc with more than 320 patient information pamphlets for all of the different types of abortifacients, e-mail him at bclowes@hli.org.) + + + Even with all of the different contraceptives and abortifacients…Continue Reading

Obama’s Tax On Stay-At-Home Moms

By TERENCE P. JEFFREY President Obama’s disrespect for motherhood has manifested itself in policies ranging from support for same-sex marriage to defense of a form of abortion that involves forcing a baby into a drug-induced premature delivery and then leaving that little one to die. When it comes to the most vulnerable and innocent human…Continue Reading

A Book Review… Dietrich Von Hildebrand’s Heroic Witness In Perilous Times

By STEPHANIE BLOCK My Battle Against Hitler: Faith, Truth, and Defiance in the Shadow of the Third Reich by Dietrich von Hildebrand. Translated and edited by John Henry Crosby with John F. Crosby, Image Books (2014); $28.00; 335 pages. My Battle Against Hitler, a posthumously published memoir and collection of essays by “20th century Doctor…Continue Reading

“I Can’t Breathe”… The Plight Of The Preborn

By REY FLORES (Editor’s Note: This article is reprinted from www.all.org, the website of American Life League. All rights reserved.) + + + This past year has seen race relations decline as a result of a well-orchestrated attempt by a corrupt government that wants to divide us at all costs. And the propaganda peddlers known…Continue Reading

“Flee Immorality,” Church Unity, & Right To Life March

By JOHN F. KIPPLEY (Editor’s Note: John F. Kippley is the author of Sex and the Marriage Covenant: A Basis for Morality and other books and articles. With his wife Sheila, he is a coauthor of Natural Family Planning: The Complete Approach and cofounder of NFP International. This commentary appeared on his January 18 blog…Continue Reading

Advertisement

Our Catholic Faith (Section B of print edition)

Pope’s Address At Meeting Of Families In Manila… Set Out On The Path The Lord Sets For Each Of You

MANILA (ZENIT) — Here is a translation of the Holy Father’s January 16 address at a Meeting With Families at the “Mall of Asia Arena” in Manila. In his text, Pope Francis praised the courage of Pope Paul VI in writing Humanae Vitae. ZENIT News Agency provided the text; all rights reserved. + + + The angel of the Lord…Continue Reading

A Leaven In The World.. Papal Bloopers And Catholic Teaching

By FR. KEVIN M. CUSICK Pope Francis continues to grab headlines, not only by setting a new record for drawing the largest crowd in history, but also by his question and answer sessions on the planes to and from his pastoral visits. On the plane to the Philippines, the Pope responded to questions about free speech and violent responses to…Continue Reading

Mary’s Perpetual Virginity . . . The Faith Of The Early Christians

By RAYMOND DE SOUZA, KM Part 6 What did the Early Christians believe about the Catholic doctrine on the perpetual virginity of the Mother of Jesus? Those men, women, and children who sacrificed everything for the true faith — even their very own lives? They were imprisoned, tortured, murdered. Some were burned alive, racked, beheaded. Others were crucified, flayed alive,…Continue Reading

I Believe — We Believe

By DON FIER Over the past three weeks of this series on the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), we have been reflectively examining the characteristics of the indescribably wonderful gift of faith that Almighty God has so generously availed mankind. As so adeptly summarized in the Compendium of the CCC, we know that faith is “the supernatural virtue which…Continue Reading

Catholic Replies

Q. I remember a nun telling us back in Catholic school that after God ejected Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, He promised that He would eventually send them a Messiah. Where is that in the Bible? — M.R., Indiana. A. In chapter 3 of the Book of Genesis. Actually, the promise was made before God expelled our…Continue Reading

Catholic Heroes . . . St. Mutien Marie Wiaux

By CAROLE BRESLIN A few decades ago, when Catholic schools taught religion from the Baltimore Catechism, one of the first questions children learned was, “Why did God make you?” The answer was, “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.” The Catechism…Continue Reading

Catholic Heroes . . . St. Anthony Of Egypt, Abbot

By CAROLE BRESLIN While we can understand that God is infinite, it is difficult to comprehend the stretch of such infinity. Certainly our finite minds cannot begin to comprehend it. Hence, since our minds our finite, the more we have cluttering our minds with worldly affairs such as possessions, relationships, and activities, the less time and room we have in…Continue Reading