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  • Response to Robert Sokolowski’s “The Theology of Disclosure”
  • Richard Schenk, O.P.

This first colloquium on “Philosophers and Theologians in Conversation” has good reason to begin with reflections by Robert Sokolowski, the author of a remarkable body of work in which this conversation has been fostered from both sides of the table, from the vantage point of philosophy and of theology and in the dialogue of the two disciplines with one another. It was a growing insight of the phenomenological movement, especially in conversation with the hermeneutical method that philosophy had garnered from theology, that complete statements of our interpretations or a fortiori complete interpretations of our understanding are not possible.1 Whatever the periodic aspirations to philosophy to be at once a first and a rigorous science, it belongs to the accomplishment of philosophy and theology to acknowledge that there is no presuppositionless understanding and no completion to the search for wisdom, no defined beginning or end. That is true not only for what philosophy and theology can and should be on average, singularly or in conversation, but also and consciously for the work done by the most outstanding thinkers in these fields.

It was fifty years ago (1964) that Robert Sokolowski, after initial studies in both disciplines, published the first segment (on the constitution [End Page 425] of temporality) of what soon became widely available as his philosophical dissertation, The Formation of Husserl’s Concept of Constitution.2 This work on the intellectual spontaneity needed from us for any access to reality was directed at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium by the Franciscan Herman Leo Van Breda, who had rescued Edmund Husserl’s mostly unpublished manuscripts after the latter’s death in April of 1938 and brought them to the Catholic University, where the first Husserl archive was founded in 1939. The philosophical side of Professor Sokolowski’s conversation will consist largely in developments of Husserlian phenomenology, a reception, as Sokolowski tells us without exaggeration, that not only adopts, but also adapts and develops Husserl’s varied investigations. It is impossible to understand Sokolowski’s “theology of disclosure” without attending to his phenomenological work, just as it is impossible to follow his contribution to phenomenology without examining his attention to what could be of theological interest. Not every contributor to the potential conversation between philosophy and theology needs to be as conversant in both disciplines or as sure of the fruitfulness of their possible communication. One of Husserl’s earliest and theologically most influential students, Martin Heidegger, would state that a “mortal enmity” exists between the two disciplines insofar as they express existential stances.3 So, when Robert Sokolowski is conversant in each discipline and in their dialogue with one another, familiar with the travel routes connecting Athens and Jerusalem, we want to ask how this can be. Monsignor Sokolowski has been kind enough to recall for this colloquium the major themes that need to be addressed by this conversation. In this brief response to his reflections, I want to draw attention to a more minor, often overlooked theme that nevertheless makes this conversation possible. I want to point out where [End Page 426] Sokolowski intentionally stops short of blending philosophy and theology into a single unified theory. My argument will be that Sokolowski’s conversation succeeds because it is only partially synthetic.

In an early monograph on Presence and Absence, Sokolowski analyzed three interrelated pairs of opposites, “a triangle of couples,” as he calls them, that structure the intelligibility or “presentability” that first philosophy requires to “permit the identifications and dissociations which stabilize experience and thought and allow them to be carried on.”4 They testify to the abidingly philosophical quality of a conversation that has not passed into a theological monologue. These three couples—rest and motion, presence and absence, sameness and otherness—can also testify to the dialogical non-identity (the discrete togetherness of the One and the Indeterminate Dyad, as the Platonic tradition put it) that characterizes Sokolowski’s programmatic dialogue of phenomenology with disclosure theology, as he has described it for us in his reflections above. I would like to offer a word of reflection on each of these...


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