Thomas d’Aquino a philosopher and a mystic

In beginning our inquiry I would like to distinguish three different regions of human engagement in which the over­lapping of one onto the other is not always easy to discern: philosophy, philosophical theology and mysticism. I want to say ” philosophical theology ” and not simply ” theology ” be­cause I think that it is not possible to theologize without at the same time also philosophizing. I think St. Thomas thought this as well. That is why his theology was always philosophi­cal, in dialogue with the philosophers: Aristotle, the Platonists, Maimonides and the Arabs. In saying this, however, I do not mean to say that philosophy and theology are the same. Now the alternative which Caputo would have us embrace, because presumably not onto-theo-logical, is that of a ” religious alethiology” of mysticism.[1] One is then led to ask whether and if so, how, the same person could be both a philosopher and a mystic, i.e. both a thinker and a person of faith. Do they remain ” existentially ” opposed, as Heidegger maintained in his essay, Phanomenologie und Theologie, or is this, as in his Einfuhrung in die Metaphysik, a case where the person of faith cannot ask the question of Being except in an „as if” way? [2] Is it fair to say that in his deconstruction of Aquinas’ metaphysics Caputo has let theology slip away as well so that only mysticism remains? [3] Does ” onto-theo-logy ” now remain only a problem for philosophy, where, as Heidegger reminds us, the word ” theologia ” is not a term found in Scrip­ture but in Greek philosophy? [4]

While the above references in Heidegger seem to support the view that philosophy and Christian theology ought to be kept strictly apart, there are other texts one can turn to in Hei­degger which question the possibility of this, such as, „All theology of faith is possible only on the basis of philosophy ” [5]. So, one wonders whether or not Heidegger himself is speaking on two levels which ought to be distinguished and kept strictly apart. We have already alluded to the hymanitas of the homo humanus as the reason why theology entails philosophy: if we are be-essenced through our relationship to Being such that we are Dasein, as Heidegger contends, then no human as human stands outside this relationship. This relationship is what makes our thinking human and not divine, for it is we as temporal and finite, and not God,[6] who stand in this rela­tionship to Being such that through it we are. We think humanly, even if about God, and this because of our relation to Being as finite. Thus it is that Heidegger tells us in the Brief über den Humanismus: only from the truth of Being do we think God[7]. Thus what I want to argue here is that there are two contentions at issue in Heidegger which are not the same and that Caputo has glossed over one of them.

The first contention involves the history of metaphysics as onto-theo-logical, in which a double forgottenness has oc­curred:

1) the internal drive of metaphysics to ground Being in a being, namely God. But metaphysics can just as well ground Being in another being which does not take the ” place” .of God, which remains empty, but corresponds metaphysically to that place, as has happened in modern philosophy, according to Heidegger.[8] The question of Being as that which be-essences us is forgotten.

2) The forgottenness of the dif-ference (Austrag, Vnter-schied) between Being and beings, the es gibt, in which the difference between Being and beings as difference remains unthought. Thus metaphysics shows itself to be, from the viewpoint of Heidegger’s ques­tioning, the history of the thoughtlessness about both Being and the dif-ference. But for Heidegger this also involves a third result:

3) the Fehl Gottes. This is not surprising, if God is to be thought from Being (in the theion of theologia) [9].  If Being ” remains out,” then it can indeed follow that God, too, becomes ” missing ” and indeed ” missed ” as a concomitant occurrence in the drive of metaphysics, which is to say West­ern thought. The drive of this thought eventuates in ” nihil­ism,” where it is ” nothing ” with Being and God is ” dead „[10].

The second of Heidegger’s contentions speaks about our nec­essary relation to Being such that God is to be thought from Being, which is not to say as Being. The very beginning of philosophy from the time of the ancient Greeks shows the at­tempt to think highest being, i.e. the theion, in the attempt to understand beings as a whole. Heidegger’s concern is to think out the meaning of this for philosophy, especially since what has come to pass for God in philosophy is, according to Hei­degger, not ” divine enough.” In this Heidegger attempts to draw closer to that opening which is ” perhaps closer to the divine God ” and ” freer for him than onto-theo-logy would like to admit”[11]. Now in this second contention Heidegger is certainly not proposing a religious mysticism which presupposes Christian faith, the life of grace, etc. Nor is he proposing a secular mysti­cism which seeks to replace Christian faith. Rather, what he is proposing is something that sounds very philosophical: the clearing of Being such that the God is present for us in a. think­ing which has overcome metaphysics and thus both Seinsvergessenheit and the Fehl Gottes. It also relates to that strange, if not paradoxical, fragment from Heraclitus which says: ” The One [Being] is ready and yet not ready to be called „ Zeus ”[12] In another way, however, it relates to what Aquinas says when he speaks of being as first known, as transcendental, which Heidegger alludes to in the opening pages of Sein und Zeit as one of the three historical presuppositions about Being. Now of this being as first known St. Thomas has this to say:

For the first object envisaged by the intellect is being [ens], with­out which nothing can be apprehended by it . . . Thus all the other [divine names] are somehow included in it, unitedly and indis­tinctly, as in their source[13]

St. Thomas then goes on to make a further statement, which, as we have seen from Heidegger’s approach to the above fragment of Heraclitus, Heidegger himself was reluctant to make:

And for this reason, too, it is fitting that being should be the most proper of the divine names.

Now in trying to compare Heidegger and St. Thomas, Caputo sides with those Thomists who relate Heidegger’s no­tion of Sein to St. Thomas’s metaphysical notion of esse rather than with another group of Thomists who relate Heidegger’s notion of Sein to St. Thomas’ notion of ens ut primum cognitum, as we have done, and consequently with only the esse of ens intentionale. Where Caputo differs with the former group of Thomists is that he, unlike them, concedes to Hei­degger that Aquinas, too, falls under the critique of the for gottenness of Being, especially in regard to the difference be­tween Being and beings. Hence the need to deconstruct Aquinas metaphysics.

In contrast, I am going to suggest, along with the latter group of Thomists, that Heidegger’s Sein can be more fruit­fully compared with Aquinas’ being as first known (which is not to say that they are the same) than it can be with esse. I propose to do this through a retrieved notion of ratio in St. Thomas so that philosophy and theology are seen to belong together, enabling us to speak of „philosophical theology”. In such a case I am not speaking about a ” theological phi­losophy,” but rather about a theology which is, in Heidegger’s words,

… a thinking and questioning elaboration of the world of Chris­tian experience, i.e. of faith. That is theology,[14] and which seeks to avoid. . . the disastrous notion that philosophy can help to provide a refurbished theology which will satisfy the needs and tastes of the time.



[1] See John D. Caputo, Heidegger and Aquinas: An Essay on Overcoming Metaphysics (N.Y.: Fordham University Press, 1982), p. 283.

[2] See Heidegger, ” Phanomenologie und Theologie,” in Wegmarhen, p. 66, and Einfiihrung in die Metaphysik (Tubingen: Max Niemeyer, 1976), p. 5.

[3] ” For just as Heidegger wants to make the step back out of metaphysics, so there is in St. Thomas a tendency, a desiderium naturale, to divest one­self of the concepts, judgments, and ratiocinations of metaphysics in order to enter into the simplicity of intellectus. To Heidegger’s Seinserfahrung I offer the mystical pati divina in St. Thomas” (Caputo, op. tit., p. 271).

[4] See Heidegger, Schellings Abhandlung uber das Wesen der menschlichen Freiheit (Tubingen: Max Niemeyer, 1971), p. 61.

[5] Schelling’s Treatise on the Essence of Human Freedom, trans. Joan Stambaugh (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1985), p. 51. (Schellings Abhandlung, p. 61; also, see p. 62). Also, „. . . alles Existieren ist schon ein Philosophieren ” (Metaphysische Anfangsgrilnde der Logik im Ausgang von Leibniz [Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klosterman, 1978], p. 274; also, see p. 202).

[6] Denn Ontologie is ein Index der Endlichkeit. Gott hat sie nicht” („Davoser Disputation,” in Kant und das Problem der Metaphysik [Frank­furt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 1973], p. 252).

[7] See Wegmarken, pp. 347-8. Also, see pp. 327-8. Joseph S. O’Leary in Questioning Back: The Overcoming of Metaphysics in Christian Tradition (Minneapolis: Winston Press, Inc., 1985), pp. 18-19, quotes Heidegger as saying in a dialogue with students in 1951: „I believe that being can never be thought as the ground and essence of God, but that, however, the experi­ence of God and his revealedness (insofar as it encounters man) takes place in the dimension of being, which never means that being can be ac­cepted as a possible predicate for God. Here we have need of quite new dis­tinctions and delimitations.” Nor is this inconsistent with Aquinas’ view: . . hoc no men Deus est nomen appellativum, et non proprium, quia sig-nificat naturam divinam ut in habente . . . Nomina enim non sequuntur modum essendi qui est in rebus, sed modum essendi secundum quod in cogni Hone nostra est” {ST, I, 13, 9, ad 2).

[8] See Heidegger, ” Nietzsches Wort „Gott ist tot ” in Holzwege (Frank­furt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 1972), p. 208. Also, see pp. 235-6.

[9] See Schellings Abhandlung, p. 61.

[10]See Heidegger, „Wozu Dichter?” in Holzwege, pp. 248-51, and „Nietz-sches Wort’ Gott ist tot,’ ” ibid., pp. 239-45.

[11] See Heidegger, ” Die Onto-theo-logisehe Verfassung der Metaphysik,” in Identitat und Differenz (Pfullingen: ISTeske, 1978), p. 65. Heidegger is speaking here of a dimension in which, ” Wiirde Bern nicht scheinen, dann g&be es keine Gegend, innerhalb der en allein ein Gegenuber sich ansiedeln kann,” and in which it may be possible to say, ” Wdhrend Gott spielt, wird Welt” (Der Satz vom Grund [Pfullingen: Neske, 1978], pp. Ill, 186).

[12] See Heidegger, „Logos,” in Vortrdge und Aufsdtze (Pfullingen: Neske, 1967), III, p. 18-20.

[13] St. Thomas, / Sent., Dist. 8, 1, 3, c. The translation is from James F. Anderson, An Introduction to the Metaphysics of St. Thomas Aquinas (Chicago: Henry Regnery Co., 1969), p. 44. I shall have cause to comment upon this translation later.

[14] Heidegger, An Introduction to Metaphysics (New Haven: Yale Univer­sity Press, 1977), p. 7. In Einfuhrung in die Metaphysik, p. 6

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