Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Offering Life, Love, and Hospitality: The Icon as Lens for the Intersection of Aesthetic and Religious Phenomenality in Three Contemporary Accounts

This article examines the overlap and extensive parallels between aesthetic and religious dimensions in three contemporary phenomenologists: Michel Henry, Jean-Luc Marion, and Richard Kearney. It focuses especially on their discussions of icons as the locus of this intersection between art and religion, examining the role these examples play for their respective analyses of art. The article concludes with a brief critique of the structural parallels between aesthetic and religious experience assumed in these treatments and in French phenomenology more broadly.

D’ailleurs, on ne regarde pas une icône, on l’embrasse pour s’immerger en elle.

Julia Kristeva

The aesthetic dimension holds a privileged place in many phenomenological investigations of human experience, from the early twentieth century onward. More recently, religious experience has also become a topic worthy of consideration by phenomenology. Several contemporary French phenomenologists—among them Michel Henry, Jean-Luc Marion, Jean-Yves Lacoste, Jean-Louis Chrétien, and Emmanuel Falque—and others influenced by them (such as Richard Kearney and Kevin Hart) write extensively about both art and religion, establishing striking parallels between the two types of phenomena. Interestingly, several of these thinkers explicitly or implicitly appeal to “Byzantine” examples in their analyses, especially (but not only) icons. The present article employs the discussions of icons in three contemporary phenomenological treatments of art that explicitly appeal to them (those by Henry, Marion, and Kearney) in order to ascertain the role these [End Page 1] examples play in their respective phenomenological analyses of art and to examine the ways in which they and other thinkers in this group (such as Falque, Lacoste, and Chrétien) treat aesthetic and religious phenomenality in parallel fashion. The article thus does not seek to critique their phenomenologies of art as such (others have already offered such critiques), but to highlight the way in which their fairly brief treatments of Byzantine icons serve as an unacknowledged but privileged locus in their works as the place where the aesthetic and the religious intersect most fully.


Michel Henry’s analysis of art arises out of his broader phenomenological project that seeks to overcome the bifurcation of phenomenon and phenomenality in Husserl’s work in favor of a focus on the invisible essence of manifestation in the life of affectivity.1 He finds a prime example of his convictions about phenomenality in the paintings (and writings) of Wassily Kandinsky, whose work he considers extensively in his Seeing the Invisible, which analyzes form, point, line, color, composition, and other elements of abstract painting (although it also includes some brief comments about music and dance).2 Only a year earlier (1987), he had published a stinging indictment of contemporary society as a form of “barbarism,” in which “tele-techno-science” is destroying our culture, including art, morality, religion, and academic life.3 He considers an early restoration project at the Monastery of Daphne as an especially insidious example of such technological barbarism, because it chose to remove more recent mosaic tiles in a problematic search for authenticity that mars the unity of the work and renders its full experience impossible.4 Although he focuses [End Page 2] primarily on art as an expression of life in these earlier works—and treats the icons in the monastery as artistic phenomena—in his final writings he turns increasingly to Christianity and ultimately argues that its truth supremely expresses the fundamental insights about life he had before attributed to art in a privileged fashion. His analysis of phenomenality does not shift, but it now reveals as the central truth of Christianity what he had earlier characterized as the core aims of art. Indeed, he confirms in several contexts that art, religion, and morality all constitute cultural expressions of the same phenomenality of “Life,” although in his final works he thinks that the “words of Christ” do so most supremely, succinctly, and effectively.5

Most fundamentally, Henry argues that art (whether music, painting, or dance6) expresses an experience of invisible life but without making it a visible phenomenon. That is to say, art is not a mimetic reproduction of life. This would actually be impossible, because life is always itself, as pure experience, and cannot be turned into an object. Life does not reveal something else, something outside itself, but only itself. Life is pure affectivity, which is completely immediate, immanent, and interior: “Life feels and experiences itself immediately such that it coincides with itself in each point of its being. Wholly immersed in itself and drawn from this feeling of itself, it is carried out as pathos.”7 Joy and suffering—prime examples of such affect or pathos throughout his work—are always experienced as themselves; we cannot separate from them, but feel them immediately in our lived body or flesh. While wounds appear in or on the external physical body, suffering or pain is internal and [End Page 3] completely immanent. Phenomenality, as experience, is always at bottom affectivity, because life is, precisely, living, which means feeling oneself feeling and experiencing. Henry is sometimes accused of a kind of Gnosticism, because he stresses the invisible reality of life and rejects the externality of the “world,” yet the life of which he speaks is enfleshed in our immanent existence, expressed in our affectivity, our way of being alive, our experience as such, precisely by feeling ourselves feeling.8

The task of art is to express this invisible self-affective life. Art communicates “the ground and essence of life” because “life’s own essence is present in art.”9 This Life has “another phenomenality, another mode of manifestation and revelation” than do objects or the external world.10 My relation to myself, to my fear, pain, or joy, is immediate, not objective, and art can manifest these subjective dimensions. Kandinsky’s art allows us to see and experience the invisible without actually making it visible: “The content of painting, of all paintings, is the Internal, the invisible life that remains invisible and stays forever in the Dark. The means by which it expresses this invisible content—by forms and colors—are themselves invisible in their original reality and true sense.”11 The content of all possible painting thus is “the profusion of life in itself, its intensification and exaltation.”12 Thus, art does not present a content that would be different from itself, but it is pure self-expression.13 Art is not mimesis of life or of nature, but is life itself in its affectivity.14 In sum, Henry contends “that the true reality is invisible, that our radical subjectivity is this reality, that this reality constitutes the sole content of art, and that art seeks to express this abstract content.”15 While not all art may do this successfully, it is, in Henry’s view, its sole aim and content.

How does art accomplish this manifestation of life? Painting does not simply represent form, show color, or portray physical objects, but it returns us to the [End Page 4] “invisible reality” via the “inner resonance” or “inner vibration” of life and affectivity it evokes.16 For Henry, art does not reveal the physical world around us, but is the “magic vision of another world” and allows us to feel or sense this vision internally.17 Painting expresses “the texture of interior forces and emotions.”18 “Art paints life,” that is to say, it paints emotion and affect such that pleasure and pain are felt within it: “Art is the endlessly repeated attempt to carry each of life’s powers to its highest degree of intensity and thus of pleasure; it is the response given by life to its most intimate essence and to the will which inhabits it—to its desire to surpass.”19 This life is “a dimension of radical immanence” without exteriority or transcendence, as the very expression of itself.20 It is not a matter of art making visible the invisible or even of a relation between visible and invisible in it. The invisible that is manifested in art is quite different from something that has “not yet” appeared; it can never appear in visibility because it is felt rather than perceived.21

Henry contends that we often become so wrapped up in everyday life that we have become deaf to this “inner tonality” or vibration of life, something he will later describe as “forgetting” our condition of sons in the divine life. Art can enable us to experience it again.22 We forget the inner essence of life that alone makes us alive, and art is able to recall us to it.23 The goal of art is to transmit the “proper movement of life” to us.24 The work of art awakens my subjectivity because “the forms, the colors, the graphics awaken in me these forces of which they are an expression.”25 It mediates “an intensification of life” for both artist and spectator.26 Art “brings about the revelation of the invisible life that constitutes the true reality of the human” and must restore us to it.27 In an interview he confirms that art always has the divine in view and explains that churches were constructed “to create an accord between [End Page 5] the human spirit and that of the divine.”28 Art always has a sacred dimension.29 It is religious through its manifestation of invisible life: “For me, aesthetics is a form of religion in the sense of the fundamental link with absolute Life constitutive of any transcendental living.” He adds that this is, in fact, “the only life,” which is expressed in “sensation, affection, passion.”30 His earlier book on Kandinsky ends with the triumphant claim: “Art is the resurrection of eternal life.”31 Despite this implication that art has religious significance, Henry’s focus in these earlier works is firmly on the aesthetic phenomenon.

The monastery of Daphne in Greece serves as a privileged example for illustrating these claims about art and highlighting its “spiritual” significance. Two dimensions of his argument emerge particularly clearly. First, he argues that works of art operate in the realm of the imaginary and that the goal of restoration must always consist in restoring the integrity of the “physical support” of the work such that it can work this aesthetic and spiritual dimension. Second, a work of art is not an accumulation of brushstrokes or a combination of colors or the layering of paint on canvas, but a “totality” or “continuum” of an “aesthetic and spiritual unity.”32 The monastery serves as an example of both of these elements in its arrangement of material icons in a unitive whole. The artwork in the Byzantine church has an overall unity, a continuum, as a composition, which is also why he objects so strongly to the removal of mosaic tiles by the restoration project he witnessed. At the Daphne monastery, “all the representations arranged on the interior walls of the church and on the exonarthex represent the same thing . . . they represent the original essence of life that produces every culture and out of which various cultural forms, in particular art, are developed.”33 The different artistic and architectural elements of the monastery church all [End Page 6] come together into one unified whole, just as the tesserae in a mosaic together show one unified image. A Byzantine church as a whole is “a reality that plays that role [of expressing life] and is proposed as the representation of the essence of things and of their proper nature.”34

Already in the 1970s, he thinks of this as a tremendous aesthetic accomplishment: “The Byzantine monastery thus offers a striking example of an altogether remarkable aesthetic composition. The law of its construction, that is to say of the plastic arrangement of its elements, is like the reflection of a metaphysical composition that assigns each thing its place according to the degree of its ontological participation in the One” namely, the Pantokrator “at the top of the large dome” where “life is understood . . . in its ultimate Basis as the Source and nurturing Principle of everything that is alive.”35 Everything in the monastery comes together to achieve this sense of absolute life expressed via Christ as the source of life. Henry concludes that “the essence of life is the sole and ultimate meaning of the representations drawn on the walls of Daphne.”36 Daphne represents a particularly good example of this because it is not just one pictorial representation but a synthetic unity of multiple works that complement each other for the same aesthetic (and thus “spiritual”) purpose.

This invisible life is expressed in those who are living, although they do not generate it themselves. Art is a representation of invisible life, not only as the divine life, but within the affectivity and pathos of human joy and suffering. In this way also, the icons on the walls of Daphne are “representations of life.”37 Henry contends that the images of the annunciation, the crucifixion, the resurrection, and so forth, painted on the walls of Daphne, express “suffering and joy, humility, ipseity of the being that is itself living.”38 The monastery most profoundly encapsulates this unification of all who are living in the living source of life:

We are not empirical individuals, as if we were some fragment tied to the objective world through a number of connections, delivered over to the same blind fate and just as unintelligible as it. Instead we are those who are living and who have the feeling of ourselves and thus, each one of us has the slow change from suffering desire into the complete fulfillment where Being allows itself to be felt in the pure joy of its Existing. That is what is written on the walls of the Byzantine monastery, and anyone could have read that there before they were marred.39 [End Page 7]

The “artistic” design of the space most profoundly expresses the divine life that is the source of all life and affect.

In Henry’s final works he goes on to interpret Christianity—but no longer art— as the fullest expression of life and the immediacy of affectivity. God is the source of life and Christ is the truth who communicates life to everyone, as we all become “sons” of life within life.40 Henry relies heavily on the Gospel of John to contend that the truth of Christianity is the truth of Life as the manifestation of the invisible, communicating the affectivity of joy and suffering via the words of Christ in complete immediacy.41 We might forget our condition of living sons within the divine life, but we can recover it, no longer by exposure to art but by heeding Christ’s words.42 In the contemporary society of scientism and automation, Christianity provides the sole access to authentic life as self-affectivity.43 His reading of Christianity is entirely congruent with his claims about the essence of manifestation as life and his phenomenological analyses of art.

Although Henry’s discussions of aesthetic expressions of life and of the words of Christ are parallel, if not identical, the only place they join in his work is in his analysis of the icons at Daphne. While he certainly does not claim that the icons are somehow unique in portraying the essence of life, they serve as a privileged example, in which the truth of art and the truth of Christianity intersect and their parallel message is most obvious. The combination of icons in the monastery church provides a physical structure for the experience of self-affective life and thereby works an aesthetic and spiritual unity. The Byzantine monastery serves several closely related functions in his analysis: its images show the way in which art had a sacred function; its mosaic style demonstrates the composition of concrete medium for this sacred purpose, including their plasticity; its overall configuration of images within the church as a whole illuminates the unified harmony of its invisible life; its representations of scenes from Christ’s life highlight “the figures of life” in a fundamental way and in their very essence; and their spiritual and aesthetic message shows the interconnectedness of all those who are living through their affectivity within the divine life. Henry neither makes theological claims nor analyzes Byzantine art or architecture, but instead employs what he considers the experience intended and exemplified by the artistic configuration of the monastery as especially representative of the fundamental yet invisible manifestation of the essence of true life. [End Page 8]


Jean-Luc Marion has repeatedly examined topics relevant to the Orthodox tradition and often refers to Greek patristic texts.44 Some Orthodox thinkers have endorsed his phenomenology quite enthusiastically.45 Art is considered in a variety of contexts in his work, from his early discussion of idol and icon as competing ways of experiencing the divine and his analysis of art in juxtaposition to the defense of icons at Nicaea II, to his later analyses of the phenomenon of the work of art more broadly (no longer with reference to the icon) and his discussion of the painter Gustave Courbet in a book devoted to the artist’s work. Unlike Henry, who turned to Christianity only very late in life, Marion’s writings are motivated by Christian (especially Roman Catholic) concerns from the beginning and suffused with references to the Christian tradition and theological themes in a variety of ways.46

Drawing on the writings of Dionysius the Areopagite (and profoundly influenced by the theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar), Marion early on explored the notion of distance as a way of encountering the divine without compromising the divine transcendence.47 Even his more recent work on the phenomenon of revelation maintains this strong emphasis on divine ineffability.48 In his early work, Marion posits “idol” and “icon” against each other as two ways of encountering the divine, both in an explicitly aesthetic sense (albeit fairly briefly) and in a more metaphorical verbal sense (i.e., concepts can function in idolatrous or iconic ways). The idol, he contends, is indeed a true vision of the divine, but it is a vision that proceeds from the [End Page 9] artist toward the divine and sees only what the artist can fathom, thus functioning as an invisible mirror: the idol reflects, quite literally, the “vision” of the artist.49 In the icon (both physical and verbal), the gaze is instead reversed: the viewer is envisioned by the divine. The divine no longer becomes subject to the human gaze or circumscribed by a concept and thus limited by this gaze or conceptuality, but instead is encountered as the one who envisions and names us.50 Thus, “idol” and “icon” often function in metaphorical fashion for Marion as ways of seeing or instances of types of phenomena. This use becomes exacerbated in his later work where “idol” simply becomes the term he employs to speak of the phenomenality of works of art, and “icon” is used as the term for the phenomenon of encountering—and especially loving—others. There is, however, one treatment that explicitly analyzes the Byzantine icon and the theology developed against iconoclasm. His “looser” use of icon terminology in other places depends on the insights developed there in ways Marion himself does not fully acknowledge.

In The Crossing of the Visible, Marion provides a reading of the history of aesthetics as a history of demise and posits the Byzantine icon against it as a way to “liberate” and save the image, drawing on works by John of Damascus, Theodore the Studite, and the Acts of the Second Council of Nicaea.51 He suggests that the icon functions as a kenosis of the image and teaches us how to handle a particular kind of visibility, arguing, as he had already done in God without Being, that the icon does not serve as a screen or mirror but instead allows the gaze to enter within it in the meeting of a second gaze to which one’s gaze becomes exposed.52 The human gaze is guided by this other gaze along the length (or into the depth) of the icon toward [End Page 10] the invisible.53 That is to say, the invisible divine becomes recognized in the human Christ and within the material icon. Across the icon we experience what he calls a “crossing of gazes,” where my gaze is held by the loving gaze of another, terminology he also employs for the erotic phenomenon.54 Thus the Byzantine icon exercises in a privileged way what saturated phenomena will later accomplish more broadly: it attracts our gaze to it, not so we can contemplate and master it, but rather so we expose ourselves to it and allow it (or, in this case, Christ) to envision us.

This is no longer about imitation, reproduction, or resemblance: “By undoing itself as imitative image, the icon reaches the person of the other as such; the visible does not open onto another visible, but onto the other of the visible—the invisible Holy One.”55 While the icon is a form of repetition, this is not mere representation, not an imitation of the invisible.56 Marion suggests that the relation between image and prototype articulated by patristic thinkers overcomes the modern (and post-modern) conflict between image and original.57 The “principle of the icon” breaks the distinction that assigns the visible solely to the physical surface and the invisible to the intelligible realm, instead establishing an exchange between visible and invisible via the relation between type and prototype.58 Citing Maximus, he refers to [End Page 11] Christ as the “living icon of charity.”59 That is to say, Christ functions as the phenomenon that best manifests charity as a phenomenon, and we can see the parameters of this phenomenon in the revelation of Christ. The Byzantine icon—both literally and metaphorically speaking—uniquely combines aesthetic, erotic, and religious phenomenality and might be said to become a guiding “principle” for Marion’s phenomenology of givenness and saturation.

It is telling that Marion’s earliest discussion of the notion of the saturated phenomenon gives the icon (now taken in almost wholly metaphorical fashion) a privileged place that he mitigates in subsequent treatments.60 Yet, the influence of “the principle of the icon” is especially interesting in his later discussions of “aesthetic visibility,” precisely because he identifies the work of art no longer with what he calls the “icon” but now with the “idol.” Marion draws an important distinction between “seeing” and “appearing” that to some extent reproduces but also shifts his earlier distinctions between idol and icon.61 He argues that we encounter many phenomena as objects; they are subject to our perception. That is, we see them, can describe them, control them, reproduce them, and so forth. Yet, ironically, we do not actually really look at them, because they are easily replaceable.62 In a sense, they become “visible” to us only when they no longer function or are missing: for example, one pays attention to a tool only when it is not in its place when one needs it, or one looks underneath the hood of the car only when it no longer runs. These are replaceable, [End Page 12] technical objects or tools where one is as good as another.63 Although they are easily perceptible, we do not really have to see them and do not require intuitive fulfillment of our intentionality, because “in the case of the object, I can save myself its empirical verification precisely because I foresee it through the rationally known conditions of its possibility.”64 Seeing here becomes actually a kind of “foreseeing” or predicting rather than a real looking at: “The technical object is what one does not see, but which always functions as foreseen. And the fact that it operates as foreseen in a way makes it disappear from visibility.”65 Thus, this “seeing” is deficient, endlessly repeatable, looking for information rather than encounter, not really seeing.

In contrast, other phenomena manifest more uniquely in such a way that they attract our gaze not in terms of perception but in terms of experiencing ourselves targeted or envisioned by them.66 We do not see them as objects, but they appear to us and impose their weight (or glory) on us. Works of art are such phenomena. His standard example is painting. Paintings produce an effect on us, rather than being a tool or a simple object of perception.67 In Marion’s view this is how we distinguish between great and mediocre painting: “a painting is seen, is judged, by what it shows (its result), that is to say, by the effect it produces.”68 Therefore, aesthetic visibility cannot be predicted or anticipated, but comes as a surprise: “The painting, the aesthetic visible, not only escapes foreseeing, but annuls it. Before it, we are in a state of after-seeing, if I can put it that way in order to say the opposite of foreseeing.”69 We are stopped short in our tracks and are called or even redirected by the painting.70 We do not “precede” the painting and do not control it; it is not an object of our [End Page 13] intentionality. This rejection of the saturated phenomenon as an “object of intentionality” is consistent throughout his work, regardless of whether speaking of aesthetic phenomena, phenomena of revelation, cultural events, or encounter with the beloved other. This extrapolates his early claims about being envisioned across the icon into a broader account of saturated phenomenality as counter-experience.

In his later work, Marion employs the terminology of the icon more narrowly for encounter with the human other and instead turns to the aesthetic term anamorphosis as a broader category, positing it as “the opposite of intentionality,”71 because such paintings can only be viewed fully when one stands in a particular place that is determined, in some sense, by the painting. This means that works of art are saturated phenomena that strike us and surprise us, for which we cannot prepare and whose appearance we cannot predict.72 The work of art can shock because it conveys the “maximum of intensity of intuition” that can be tolerated or borne by only some people and not others, although we can learn over time to bear increasingly more of it.73 Art thus refers to “an exceptional realm of visibility.”74 In short, the phenomenon of art always “appears starting from itself.”75 Anamorphosis thus functions precisely as the icon does in the earlier treatment, but now becomes applied—in similar metaphorical fashion—to any saturated phenomenon, including any rich cultural or historical event, the immediacy of our flesh in suffering and joy, the encounter with the human (or divine) other, and phenomena of revelation. Such phenomena have a distinct kind of phenomenality, which is fundamentally different from the phenomenality of objects.76 This has the result, however, that these types of saturated phenomena become conflated with each other and it becomes impossible to distinguish between them.77 All phenomena essentially become icons, although Marion himself now employs the term in a much broader sense, referring no longer solely to the Byzantine icon. [End Page 14]

Ostensibly unlike the icon, works of art appear to full visibility: they are so brilliant and have such depth that no one can ever fully “see” them. Like the reproducible object they also require a kind of repetition, but in a reverse sense. The technical object disappears via its repetitious reproduction; it has no singularity but its definition captures its essence entirely. By contrast, the work of art is so unique and singular that it can never be captured; thus, one must view it over and over again. The work of art is so dazzling and so overwhelming that we must return to it repeatedly and are never finished seeing it: “The work of art is not something that one sees, but it is what one re-sees, what one goes to see again.”78 It is not enough to see such works only once: they are so rich that they cannot be comprehended in a concept, but instead give an abundance of intuition that can never be contained or fully plumbed.79 In this regard they have a “quasi-sacred” character.80 Although the icon supposedly does not become visible in the same way, the insistence on the abundance of intuition and impossibility of the intentionality of the gaze applies what Marion had originally claimed for the icon to the work of art and, more broadly, to all saturated phenomena.

For Marion, the artistic phenomenon is a kind of vision from another reality. He argues that the artist has a privileged access to this realm of the “unseen” (l’invu). By bearing the weight of the unseen, the artist is able to render it visibly as a phenomenon in the world, so that thereby it becomes accessible to others.81 The painter “adds something visible so far unseen to the total of visible things in the world.” Accordingly, a “painter increases the quantity, I might say the density, of the visible, that is to say of the world’s phenomenality.”82 Not only is our world enriched by these new phenomena, these works of creative or visionary genius, but we begin to see the reality around us in terms of the painter’s vision.83 In other contexts, Marion will claim such inspiration or special “seeing” of the previously “unseen” for other “saturated” phenomena as well, especially the phenomenon of revelation and, as the supreme instance of revelation, the phenomenon of the sacrament.84 He depicts the phenomenality of the sacrament, for example, as that of a wholly abandoned gift of charity, which appears always entirely from itself, offers itself fully without remainder, and [End Page 15] cannot be intended.85 The structure of its phenomenality is thus very much like the one he has outlined for the icon, but he does not analyze how they might compare or concretely interact with each other. Structurally speaking, the icon’s supposed phenomenological reversal of the gaze and the repositioning of the phenomenological ego into a surprised and devoted recipient is maintained in this later analysis and pursued even more vigorously. One may well say that in Marion’s phenomenology every encounter with phenomena that are not objects becomes a kenotic exposure to the unseen (potentially divine) gaze revealed within this response. Not only does he speak of the theologian or philosopher of religion in exact parallel to the artist—namely, as being able to introduce something seen in the realm of the “unseen” to general visibility—but he depicts phenomena of revelation as displaying all the characteristics of the aesthetic phenomenon, albeit to a heightened degree. The reversal of gazes first developed in the context of the Byzantine icon now characterizes all saturated phenomenality.86 Thus, although Marion employs the terminology of the icon in merely metaphorical and much more marginal fashion in his later work, his earlier analysis of the Byzantine icon in some form provides a paradigm for the later account of saturation and givenness.


Richard Kearney refers positively to Orthodoxy in various places in his work and often credits his former student John Panteleimon Manoussakis with insights from the Greek Orthodox tradition. Kearney includes a print of Andrei Rublev’s Trinity icon in his Anatheism in the context of arguing that hospitality to the stranger is at the heart of the Christian tradition (and, indeed, the Abrahamic traditions more broadly).87 He refers to it only briefly in the text as a “symbol of the gap in our horizons of time and space where the radically Other may arrive, unexpected and unknown.” As in Marion, the icon functions primarily as a “symbol” for a philosophical claim about hospitality to the stranger. Kearney suggests that the space at the center of the icon can be equated with the “womb-heart” of Mary, who serves as the quintessential example for welcome to the stranger, as khora akhoraton. In this context, he also briefly cites from the Vespers of Holy Friday, in which Christ is repeatedly referred [End Page 16] to as the stranger in the dismissal hymn “Come, let us bless Joseph of eternal memory.”88 The Byzantine examples are here only mentioned very briefly in the context of a broader discussion of the importance of hospitality to strangers in the Abrahamic traditions. He refers to the Trinity icon equally briefly in multiple other contexts, usually to insist on the same point.89 This is also of a piece with his earlier analysis of the divine “dance” of “chora” in The God Who May Be, although he does not discuss the icon or any aspect of the Orthodox tradition in that context.90

A somewhat fuller analysis is provided in his contribution to the edited collection The Art of Anatheism, where he employs three works of art (with Rublev’s Trinity as the first) to illustrate his broader claim about how art can function as illustration of “theopoetics.”91 He presents art as a “divine-human interplay” of reciprocal creating, a “recreation” “where humanity and divinity collaborate in the coming of the Kingdom,” a “sacred play” of “God-making.”92 Poetic and artistic imagination is able to enflesh the word and to offer an image of generous (but not indiscriminate) hospitality. We are “to cooperate in the coming of the Kingdom by joining the Trinitarian dance of perichoresis.”93 Anatheism returns to the beginning of creation after the death of God, in the way in which “Abraham has to lose his son as given in order to receive him back as gift” or as “the possibility of reopening oneself to the original promise of the sacred Stranger.”94 These are central themes in Kearney’s work, from his early writings on imagination,95 through his analyses of narrative and film,96 to his more recent work on art, poetry, and touch.97

Kearney often describes his project as a middle way (metaxu), serving a mediating function between opposing extremes, able to dialogue across differences. In an [End Page 17] early text he posits this as renewing the “dialogue between poetics and ethics.”98 A “post-modern hermeneutics of imagining,” he suggests, would be able “to conjoin, without confusing, the often opposed claims of poetics and ethics.”99 Already here he sees this as mediating between the extreme positions that, on the one hand, give such free reign to imagination that ethics is no longer possible and, on the other hand, constrict it so tightly that it can no longer function, between those who want to resurrect the creative function of imagination and those who seek to restrict or refuse it. In later contexts, it will often consist in mediating between an excessive emphasis on sameness (in modernity) and a superlative stress on alterity (in postmodernity), or between the insistence on perfect translation or cohesive narrative versus the very refusal of the possibility of translation or narrating.100

Kearney’s proposed middle way “is more radical and challenging than either” of these extreme alternatives by championing dialogue with the goal of making “us more hospitable to strangers, gods and monsters without succumbing to mystique or madness,” neither demonizing nor ignoring horror and trauma.101 He calls for greater understanding of alterity and for hermeneutic discernment in the face of the unknown stranger, who might be hostile as easily as vulnerable and fragile. That is to say, discernment is needed precisely because of the ethical imperative of hospitality to the weak and vulnerable. This ethical tenor takes on an increasingly religious flavoring in his later work, but maintains the emphasis on the wager of hospitality to the stranger via the mediating and discerning functions of art in its various pictorial, poetic, and narrative forms. The project of anatheism is a wager of welcome to the outcast, of a “preferential option for hospitality over sovereignty.”102

The Rublev Trinity serves as a testimony to this “anatheistic wager” of turning “hostility into hospitality, fear into love, angst into art.”103 Kearney defines it as a “primal scene” of hospitality, alongside others. In this icon, Rublev seeks “to embody the mystery of divine revelation” so that it can be seen and touched in a work of art. Divine revelation becomes “a drama of lived hospitality” in Abraham’s reception of the three strangers at Mamre. As in other treatments, he emphasizes the space at the center, represented by the chalice, which doubles as womb (for Isaac and later Christ). Kearney argues that the three strangers are depicted in equal terms “in an open-ended dance,” in which each offers “its place to the other in a gesture of endless hospitality,” while also opening onto a fourth person via “an empty place at the base of the table where a new stranger is welcomed, a guest hosted; humanity in the person of each viewer of the painting itself.”104 He stresses again the motif of dance, [End Page 18] where each dancer cedes a place to the other, and the receptacle or empty place at its center: “The chora at the center of the dance represents the core of finitude at the heart of infinity—the chalice-womb of bread and wine that hosts the human to come, the child to be born again and again.”105 This is a space of possibility, of play, and of celebration.

Kearney contends that the colors Rublev uses for the robes of the visitors allude to other scenes of visitation, like the magi and the disciples at Emmaus. Thereby, “Rublev’s perichoresis operates as a visual palimpsest, soliciting multiple successions and repetitions.”106 The icon invites us to come again and again, to participate in the “ongoing work of theopoiesis.”107 Kearney believes that Rublev’s art displays an “ecumenical promise” of “radical openness to the other, the stranger, the guest,” and functions “as a summons to move beyond closed denominational circles to an open embrace of the new, the seemingly ‘impossible’ beyond one’s accredited possibilities.” Sarah’s and Mary’s “impossible” pregnancies, Kearney suggests, operate “a crack or cleft in the divine that incubates a divine possible . . . beyond the impossible.” In this way, “Rublev’s image of hospitality to strangers is an anatheist bridge” and serves as a “portal to interreligious hospitality” even beyond the Abrahamic traditions.108

One may wonder whether Rublev would have recognized himself in such an ecumenical vision of interreligious hospitality. Be that as it may, it is clear that in Kearney’s treatment, too, the icon is employed primarily as a vehicle for making the fundamental point of the broader phenomenological project, rather than being examined for its own sake. Rublev’s Trinity as a work of “artistic imagination” is taken to illustrate “powerfully” “the superabundance of meaning seeded by the ongoing process of theopoesis” and to do so more successfully than “speculative metaphysics and theology.” This icon “offers a theopoetic artwork that reveals the Trinitarian mystery of creation in a manner that goes deeper than any treatise of speculative theology.”109 The icon is interpreted as exemplifying especially well the vision of anatheistic hospitality Kearney provides, but it does so as an artistic example that becomes virtually indistinguishable from the “theopoetic” message it is taken to convey. In other contexts, Kearney engages in very similar treatments of Hopkins’s poetry, Proust’s and Woolf’s fiction, Dorothy Day’s and Jean Vanier’s practices of hospitality, and various films (especially Babette’s Feast).110 The very point of Kearney’s theopoetics is to see the sacred in the everyday, to treat everything as sacramental, to recover the divine in the mundane and lowly. The icon serves as a privileged example of such hospitable theopoetics, but one that is almost immediately absorbed into a wider anatheistic move that treats artistic, poetic, and religious experiences and examples as basically interchangeable. [End Page 19]


All three thinkers thus use the icon as an artistic product, but also as an idea or metaphor for an experience or posture. Although all three are aware of the “Byzantine” context—Henry refers throughout to the “Byzantine” monastery, Marion rehearses the discussion at Nicaea II, Kearney acknowledges that Rublev is Russian Orthodox and identifies Greek or Byzantine ideas and texts as such—they essentially appropriate these examples as a metaphorical instance for their aesthetic claims. The analysis of the icon in each case serves an aesthetic project, but one that always already has theological connotations. Although all three treat icons as phenomena of art in a way that is continuous with what they claim—rightly or wrongly—about art more broadly, those claims are ultimately indistinguishable from what they assert about the truth of Christianity, saturated phenomenality, or theopoetics, respectively. Their use of the icon thus illustrates particularly well the collapse between aesthetic and religious phenomenality characteristic of their broader work, whether as manifestation of invisible life, counter-experience of charity, or space of hospitality. In this collapse, the icon itself becomes elided as a distinct phenomenon.

A close alliance between the aesthetic and the religious dimensions is evident also in other contemporary phenomenologists who do not draw on Byzantine icons to make their points. In an interesting case, Emmanuel Falque examines Nicholas of Cusa’s De icona, arguing that the “icon” in the title refers to a painting and not to an icon.111 He draws various parallels between the painting ostensibly discussed by Cusa and a broader phenomenological account of fraternity. The aesthetic and the mystical dimensions are treated as basically identical.112 Falque also employs paintings as illustrations for theological points in other places, such as in his analysis of the Eucharist,113 although he neither develops a full phenomenology of art in the way Henry and Marion do, nor does art hold as important a place in his work as is the case for Kearney.

Jean-Yves Lacoste develops Heidegger’s reflection on the work of art further in his essay “The Work and Complement of Appearing” in a way that is basically indistinguishable from his account of human “being before God” in many other contexts.114 There are profound structural parallels between his analysis of art in this essay and his description of the kenotic and liminal situation of facing the Absolute. Both rupture our connections with the everyday world and usher us to the very edge [End Page 20] of the eschaton. The work of art “crystallizes the real” and endows things with “a complement of appearing” in a manner that mirrors “liturgical” being-before-God.115

A much fuller discussion of the phenomenality of art is found in the work of Jean-Louis Chrétien, who treats various artistic phenomena in multiple books and essays that range over the entire history of art. An analysis of beauty is central to this discussion, from his early L’Effroi du beau to his final text Fragilité, which includes a chapter on the fragility of beauty.116 He also reflects on the topic of beauty in what is perhaps his most well-known book, The Ark of Speech.117 Although icons are not discussed in any detail in Chrétien’s work and most of his examples are Western paintings, religious and aesthetic phenomenality are closely aligned. Both are instances of vulnerability, fragility, and the dynamic of call and response, including its corporeal dimensions. In his longest treatment of art, Chrétien also deliberately complicates visual and auditory dimensions in art, highlighting how paintings can speak but also portray silence and how music can visualize and evoke images.118 These further analyses of aesthetic phenomena in Falque, Lacoste, and Chrétien are certainly not identical (to each other or to the aforementioned thinkers)—although all have a strongly “kenotic” flavor—but they all illustrate the broader tendency to identify aesthetic and religious experience or to describe them in parallel terms.

In certain ways, such parallels might prove illuminating, potentially enabling a fuller acknowledgment of the aesthetic dimensions in religion, something that is often dismissed, especially in Orthodox treatments of icons.119 It might even make it possible to justify more fully the importance of beauty in worship that has had a tangled and uneasy legacy in the Christian tradition, East and West, but is perhaps especially prominent in the Byzantine tradition, as exemplified by the oft-quoted account of the Kievan ambassadors to Constantinople, which stresses the beauty of the liturgy at Hagia Sophia. Icons play a central role in this tradition as artistic means for the expression of devotion and the manifestation of the divine.

From a phenomenological perspective, however, this close alliance or even conflation of aesthetic and religious phenomena seems problematic. Based on the characteristics of phenomenality they articulate, aesthetic phenomena can no longer be [End Page 21] distinguished from religious phenomena or instances of revelation in Henry, Marion, Kearney, or Lacoste. If phenomenology attempts to uncover the Wesen (nature, kind, or even essence) of the phenomenon—what makes it this sort of phenomenon rather than a different one—by depicting its forms of manifestation as faithfully and accurately as possible, then it must be possible to provide distinct accounts of manifestation for different phenomena, even if they are parallel in some fashion or overlap to a certain extent. Imaginative variation tries to distinguish between phenomena by “trying out” what is essential to a phenomenon and what is merely an accidental element that might not appear in a different context. One might suggest that the analysis of the icon provided especially by Henry and Marion is one such instance of variation. Yet, it cannot serve that role successfully, if art, religion, and other “cultural” phenomena all become manifestations of the invisible, are all saturated phenomena that overwhelm our intentionality, or all equally forms of a theopoetics of hospitality to the stranger.

This neither implies that aesthetic dimensions play no role in religious experience nor disregards that many religious items are also aesthetic artifacts. Rather, it is a phenomenological claim that the experience—possibly even of the same “item” or “work”—as an aesthetic phenomenon is different from experiencing it as a religious phenomenon in perhaps not all but in some crucial ways that should not be erased. To venerate an icon is a different experience than looking at it in a museum, and phenomenology has to find ways of analyzing this difference in the experience rather than conflating the phenomena. When the experience is similar—i.e., when one experiences a work of art in a religious or devotional way that is “spiritual” or transformative—this says something crucial about the experience. Yet, while we might go to see a work of art again and again in a manner that is superficially similar to repeated attendance at a religious service and while both experiences might overwhelm us in certain ways—to cite just two obvious parallels—a phenomenological analysis must go beyond such parallels (obviously without ignoring them) to show how intentionality structures the two experiences in different ways and how other aspects of their phenomenality might also differ.120 Neither radical distinction and complete discontinuity nor conflation and identification of the phenomena or their respective phenomenality are ultimately helpful in helping us understand how these phenomena manifest and signify or what role they play in human experience.121 [End Page 22]

Christina M. Gschwandtner
United States


1. Edmund Husserl is generally regarded as the founder or “father” of phenomenology. Michel Henry is deeply influenced by but also strongly critical of him, especially in his magnum opus, The Essence of Manifestation, trans. G.J. Etzkorn (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1973). For a collection of considerations of Henry’s work in English, see Michel Henry: The Affects of Thought, ed. Jeffrey Hanson and Michael R. Kelly (London: Continuum, 2012).

2. Michel Henry, Voir l’invisible. Sur Kandinsky (Paris: Bourin, 1988), translated by Scott Davidson as Seeing the Invisible: On Kandinsky (London: Continuum, 2009). For Henry on art, see Michel Henry et l’affect de l’art. Recherches sur l’esthétique de la phénoménologie matérielle, ed. Adnen Jdey and Rolf Kühn (Leiden: Brill, 2012).

3. Henry, La barbarie (Paris: Grasset, 1987), translated by Scott Davidson as Barbarism (London: Continuum, 2012).

4. Henry indicts contemporary culture—what he calls its “tele-techno-science” (i.e., the toxic confluence of media, technology, and scientism)—of having destroyed our access to art, culture, morality, and religion. This is the “barbarism” of the contemporary world, obsessed with technology and semblances rather than reality. Culture is an expression of invisible life, which technology suppresses, ignores, or actively destroys. Technology negates this life and its truth and thus destroys culture and makes art, ethics, and religion impossible. Henry sees the “scientific” destruction of the Daphne monastery as a prime example of such barbarism. It is an attack upon life and thus ultimately a “destruction of the human being” (Henry, Barbarism, 3). For the full discussion, see Henry, “La métamorphose de Daphné,” in De l’art et du politique, vol. 3 of Phénoménologie de la vie (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2004), 185–202. This essay was originally published in 1977, shortly after and in response to the “restoration” work at Daphne in 1976. (Both that particular restoration project and Henry’s essay on it were prior to the earthquake of 1999, which led to extensive destruction and precipitated the most recent rounds of restorations. Henry does not comment on these and may have been unaware of them, as he died in 2002.) Much of the 1977 article has been incorporated into Henry, Barbarism, 29–38.

5. See Michel Henry, C’est moi la vérité. Pour une philosophie du christianisme (Paris: Seuil, 1996), translated by Susan Emanuel as I am the Truth: Toward a Philosophy of Christianity (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003), which is essentially a reading of the Gospel of John; Henry, Incarnation. Une philosophie de la chair (Paris: Seuil, 2000), translated by Karl Hefty as Incarnation: A Philosophy of the Flesh (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2015); Henry, Paroles du Christ (Paris: Seuil, 2002). For a reading of Henry’s philosophy by an Orthodox theologian, see John Behr, John the Theologian and His Paschal Gospel: A Prologue to Theology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019), 273–305.

6. “Different arts whose elements seem different can say the same thing because their subjective content is the same.” Henry, “Art et phénoménologie de la vie,” in Art et politique, 306; emphasis in original. For a fuller discussion of music, see Henry, “Dessiner la musique. Théorie pour l’art de Briesen,” in Art et politique 241–308.

7. Henry, Seeing the Invisible, 7. He claims this also for imagination: “The imagination is immanent, because life experiences itself in an immediacy that is never broken and never separates from itself; it is a pathos and a plenitude of an overflowing experience lacking nothing” (ibid., 107–8). Pathos or affectivity does not mean only feeling or emotion in a narrow sense, although they include them, but experience in the broadest sense: the ability to be affected, to sense oneself and all else within oneself.

8. This is why his phenomenology is generally referred to as a “material phenomenology,” a description he frequently employs and also uses as a title for a collection of essays. Henry has also written extensively on Marx, on conditions of labor, on the lived body, and on the flesh (chair, i.e., flesh, has become the standard rendering into French of Husserl’s Leib, translated by Husserl scholars as “lived body,” which is actually the expression Henry employs in his earliest works before employing chair in the later texts). In either case, this is not a Gnostic rejection of lived embodiment or sensory/affective experience.

9. Henry, “Kandinsky and the Meaning of the Work of Art,” in The Michel Henry Reader, ed. Scott Davidson (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2019), 187; Henry, Seeing the Invisible, 122; Henry, “La métamorphose de Daphné,” in Art et politique, 191–92.

10. Henry, “Art et phénoménologie de la vie,” in Art et politique, 300.

11. Henry, Seeing the Invisible, 10; translation lightly modified.

12. Ibid., 16; translation lightly modified.

13. Ibid., 119.

14. Ibid., 120–21.

15. Ibid., 21. This essential connection between art and life is reiterated constantly throughout the book: “Why is life sacred? Because we experience it within ourselves as something we have neither posited nor willed, as something that passes through us without ourselves as its cause—we can only be and do anything whatsoever because we are carried by it. This passivity of life to itself is our pathic subjectivity—this is the invisible, abstract content of eternal art and painting.” Ibid., 127; translation lightly modified.

16. Henry, “Kandinsky and the Meaning of the Work of Art,” 188.

17. “This magical vision of another world—that always remains on the hidden side of the spectacle and never appears within it—is precisely the vision which art lays claim to. Art leaves us to contemplate or rather, as we have mentioned, to feel this vision within ourselves, as this original reality that is both that of the cosmos and our own.” Ibid., 190.

18. Henry, “Art et phénoménologie de la vie,” in Art et politique, 294.

19. Henry, “Kandinsky and the Meaning of the Work of Art,” 192. The influences of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche are rather unmistakable here.

20. Henry, “La métamorphose de Daphné,” in Art et politique, 192.

21. Henry, “Art et phénoménologie de la vie,” in Art et politique, 288–89.

22. Henry, “Kandinsky,” 188. The “goal of art is to stanch the inner abstract content of subjective tonalities from their dissolution in objectivist perception, and instead to isolate them, abstract them in order to restore the power of their original resounding” (ibid., 190). “To say that the imagination is real and subjective, that it works in and through life, and that it is the proper work of life, is to say that the work’s vibrations are not the result of the external aspects of elements on the soul, as if they were the passive traces of an action coming from the world” (Henry, Seeing the Invisible, 109).

23. Henry, “Art et phénoménologie de la vie,” in Art et politique, 297.

24. Henry, Seeing the Invisible, 18.

25. Henry, “Art et phénoménologie de la vie,” in Art et politique, 296.

26. Ibid., 296; in italics in original.

27. Henry, Seeing the Invisible, 20.

28. Henry, “Art et phénoménologie de la vie,” in Art et politique, 285–86.

29. In another context he also attributes a contemplative and religious function to art via its medium: “To justify the media world from which humanity is currently dying, it is customarily said that the media has always existed. After all, a Byzantine mosaic, a fresco, a book, an engraving, and the performance of a symphony are all media, and so culture itself is essentially media. These vulgar sophisms discreetly cover over the disgrace and hypocrisy of a society dedicated to the intellectual, moral and sensible debasement of its members and to a deep hatred of them. . . . The media of culture—mosaics, frescoes, engravings, books, music—usually had a sacred theme; in any case, their theme was the growth of life’s powers up to the exalted discovery of its own essence. The medium was art, namely, the awakening of these powers with the aid of the sensibility that carries all the other ones. The ideal aesthetic image—whether visual or sonorous—was the object of contemplation. It was that which remained and that to which one always returned in the repetition of transcendental processes that led to its creation. To become their contemporary is precisely to reproduce these acts and increased powers of life within oneself. It is to reach them in and through the exaltation of the Basis. Culture was the set of brilliant works that enabled and gave rise to this repetition—culture was the set of signs that human beings gave to one another through the centuries in order to surpass themselves.” Henry, Barbarism, 140–41.

30. Henry, “Art et phénoménologie de la vie,” in Art et politique, 297. Note that “transcendental life” does not refer to transcendence in the theological sense. Henry’s phenomenology is one of radical immanence.

31. Henry, Seeing the Invisible, 142. This is the final line of the book.

32. Henry, “La métamorphose de Daphné,” in Art et politique, 186.

33. Henry, Barbarism, 31–32.

34. Henry, “La métamorphose de Daphné,” in Art et politique, 186.

35. Henry, Barbarism, 32; Henry, “La métamorphose de Daphné,” in Art et politique, 186–87. “Plastic” here refers to plasticity.

36. Henry, Barbarism, 38.

37. Ibid., 36.

38. Henry, “La métamorphose de Daphné,” in Art et politique, 192. “We do not see Suffering but a deposition, not Joy but an annunciation, not the inner change of Suffering into Joy, not the transformation of Despair into the work of salvation, but a crucifixion and a resurrection. We do not see humility . . . but the washing of feet. . . . But we do see the figures of life.” Henry, Barbarism, 37–38.

39. Henry, Barbarism, 37; translation lightly modified.

40. This is laid out most fully in I am the Truth, supplemented to some extent by Incarnation and Words of Christ. As my focus here is on art, I will not explicate his analysis of Christianity in detail. For summaries of his account of Christianity, see my “Knowing God as our True Life: Phenomenology of Redemption in Michel Henry and Julian of Norwich,” Pli: The Warwick Journal of Philosophy 28 (2017): 87–115; “The Truth of Christianity? Michel Henry’s Words of Christ,” Journal of Scriptural Reasoning 13, no. 1 (2014); and the two chapters in Behr’s book mentioned above.

41. See especially chapters 5 and 12 in Henry, I am the Truth, and all of Henry, Paroles du Christ.

42. See chapters 8 and 9 of Henry, I am the Truth, and chapters 4 and 9 of Henry, Paroles du Christ.

43. See especially the conclusion to Henry, I am the Truth.

44. He is, however, quite dismissive of contemporary Orthodoxy in an interview: Jean-Luc Marion, Ruf und Gabe: Zum Verhältnis von Phänomenologie und Theologie, ed. Josef Wohlmuth (Bonn: Borengässer, 2000). Tamsin Jones traces and critically examines Marion’s use of patristic sources, especially Dionysius the Areopagite and Gregory of Nyssa, in her A Genealogy of Marion’s Philosophy of Religion: Apparent Darkness (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011). She contends that Marion often conflates these sources and that a more careful distinction between the thinkers would actually contribute to his overall project.

45. Charles Lock, “Against Being: An Introduction to the Thought of Jean-Luc Marion,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 37, no. 4 (1993): 370–80; Nicolae Turcan, Apologie după sfărşitul metafizicii. Teologie şi fenomenologie la Jean-Luc Marion (Bucharest: Editura Eikon, 2016). See also John Panteleimon Manoussakis, God after Metaphysics: A Theological Aesthetics (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2007), and Jacob D. Myers, “Toward an Erotic Liturgical Theology: Schmemann in Conversation with Contemporary Philosophy,” Worship 87, no. 5 (2013): 387–413.

46. For some of the parallels and differences between Henry’s and Marion’s aesthetic projects, see Peter Joseph Fritz, “Black Holes and Revelations: Michel Henry and Jean-Luc Marion on the Aesthetics of the Invisible,” Modern Theology 25, no. 3 (2009): 415–40, and my “Revealing the Invisible: Michel Henry and Jean-Luc Marion on Aesthetic Experience,” The Journal of Speculative Philosophy, SPEP Supplement, 28, no. 3 (2014): 305–14.

47. Jean-Luc Marion, L’idole et la distance (Paris: Grasset, 1977), translated by Thomas A. Carlson as The Idol and Distance: Five Studies (New York: Fordham University Press, 2001).

48. See his 2014 Gifford Lectures Givenness and Revelation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), and the greatly expanded version D’ailleurs, la révélation (Paris: Grasset, 2020).

49. Marion, Dieu sans l’être (Paris: Fayard, 1982), translated by Thomas A. Carlson as God without Being (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), especially 7–24. He reiterates this in La croisée du visible: “And yet the idol constitutes only an invisible mirror delimited by the measure of the first visible that our gaze can aim at being filled by, thus the last visible that it can support without failing; the idol indirectly gives to be seen by the viewer’s gaze the scope of his own gaze, by the mirror of an extreme spectacle; it closes itself to every other, because it shuts up the gaze in its finite origin.” Marion, La croisée du visible (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1996), translated by James K. A. Smith as The Crossing of the Visible (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2004), 67. Similarly, a (metaphysical) description of the divine that circumscribes God in a concept is ultimately idolatrous. This is why we must name God without “being” because conceiving of God’s being in the same way as ours is idolatrous or blasphemous, establishing univocity between us and God.

50. In the icon, “our gaze does not designate by its aim the spectacle of a first visible, since, inversely, in the vision, no visible is discovered, if not our face itself, which, renouncing all grasping (aisthesis) submits to an apocalyptic exposure; it becomes itself visibly laid out in the open.” Marion, God without Being, 22. On the more “conceptual” dimension in terms of appropriate ways of naming the divine, see the final chapter of Marion, In Excess: Studies of Saturated Phenomena, trans. Robyn Horner and Vincent Carraud (New York: Fordham University Press, 2002), 128–62.

51. The final essay was first delivered as a presentation at a conference on Nicaea II organized by F. Boespflug and Nicolas Lossky at the Collège de France in October 1986.

52. Marion, Croisée, 106–10; Marion, Crossing, 58–62. He speaks of this explicitly in terms of prayer, which means allowing oneself to be seen by another gaze. Marion, Croisée, 115, 139; Marion, Crossing, 65, 78.

53. “Prayer alone can thus rise up from the visible to the invisible (in the sense of the type), whereas the spectator can only compare visible with visible (in the sense of mimetics). Holy things for the holy: prayer alone crosses the icon, because it alone knows the function of the type.” Marion, Croisée, 133; Marion, Crossing, 75; my translation, as the existing translation completely misses the liturgical allusion.

54. “By the simply painted icon, I discover myself visible and seen by a gaze that, although presented within the sensory, remains invisible to me. . . . the aim [of intentionality] is inverted” (Marion, Croisée, 147–48; Marion, Crossing, 83; translation modified); “The stole stake of the icon is the crossing of gazes, thus, strictly speaking, love” (Marion, Croisée, 153; Marion, Crossing, 87; translation modified). The idea of love as a crossing of gazes is first developed in chapter 4 of Marion, Prolegomena to Charity, trans. Stephen Lewis (New York: Fordham University Press, 2002), and developed far more fully in his The Erotic Phenomenon, trans. Stephen E. Lewis (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007).

55. Marion, Croisée, 139; Marion, Crossing, 78; my translation.

56. “The icon thus finds its logic and its unique legitimacy only in repetition. . . . Such a repetition breaks here with any imitation, because the latter proceeds from visible to visible by resemblance, while the latter proceeds from visible to invisible by recognition.” Marion, Croisée, 132; Marion, Crossing, 74; translation modified. He concludes the text as a whole with the claim that “in the icon, visible and invisible enkindle each other with a fire that no longer destroys but illuminates the divine face of humans.” Marion, Croisée, 154; Marion, Crossing, 87; translation modified. These are the final lines of the book.

57. “The icon liberates the image from mimetic rivalry between visible and invisible . . . it replaces the original, where the invisible is erased in the intelligible, with the prototype.” Marion, Croisée, 151; Marion, Crossing, 86; translation modified.

58. Marion, Croisée, 150; Marion, Crossing, 85. For a much fuller analysis of this point, especially how Marion’s account of the icon is developed after the nonfigurative cross, see §§10–11 of Stephanie Rumpza’s Phenomenology of the Icon: Mediating God in His Image (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2022), and Rumpza, “Crossing the Visible or Crossing it Out? Jean-Luc Marion’s Icon as Window into Heaven,” Horizons 49, no. 1 (2022). The book develops a full phenomenology of the icon with trenchant critiques of aesthetic, theological, and philosophical accounts of iconography. (I also want to thank Stephanie for reading an earlier draft of the present article and providing extremely helpful criticism and suggestions.)

59. Marion, Crossing, 85, referring to Letter 64 (PG 91, 644b). “Christ kills the image on the cross, because on it he bridges an immeasurable abyss between his appearance and his glory.” Marion, Croisée, 127; Marion, Crossing, 71; translation modified.

60. His essay “The Saturated Phenomenon,” first published in 1992 and retranslated in The Visible and the Revealed, makes the icon the locus of revelation. Later treatments—from Being Given onward— make it one of the four types of saturated phenomena overturning a Kantian category each, with the icon referring to a Levinassian encounter with the other, in contrast to a fifth type, the phenomenon of revelation, which overcomes all four categories simultaneously. See Marion, The Visible and the Revealed (New York: Fordham University Press, 2008), 18–48; Marion, Being Given: Toward a Phenomenology of Givenness, trans. Jeffrey L. Kosky (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2002), 199–247. The privileging of the icon is still somewhat visible in Being Given, where it overturns the focus on the ego, while the other three (event, idol, flesh) overturn the focus on the horizon, but disappears in later works (such as In Excess and especially Negative Certainties), where the four categories are treated as parallel.

61. Marion, Ce que nous voyons et ce qui apparaît (Bry-sur-Marne: INA Éditions, 2015); Marion, “What We See and What Appears,” in Idol Anxiety, ed. Josh Ellenbogen and Aaron Tugendhaft (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011), 152–68 (translation modified in all cases to say “painting” for le tableau instead of “picture”). Marion’s analysis of the phenomenon of art in In Excess focuses, like Henry’s, primarily on abstract painting, in his case especially that of Rothko and Klee. Abstract art can become a way of making the invisible visible, rendering it as a phenomenon, thus making it accessible to everyone, yet without compromising its dimension of invisibility. In this context he also stresses an essential ethical dimension of the painting, relying heavily on Lévinas, as incapable of presenting the human face because it would reduce the invisible within it and turn it into a phenomenon. See Marion, “The Idol or the Radiance of the Painting,” In Excess, 54–81.

62. “In this sense, the visible does not appear, the gaze does not even allow it the time to appear, we have already moved on” (Marion, “What We See and What Appears,” 153); “That means that the object is what I know without having any need to see it” (ibid., 155).

63. This is a “state of phenomenality that is the phenomenality of the object.” Ibid., 154. For these phenomena our intentional aim is directed at them. The contrast between phenomena that appear as objects and those that appear in a richer or “saturated” sense is explicated in much of Marion’s work. Maybe the most illuminating are the examples for the five senses he gives in his important essay on “The Banality of Saturation,” where he contrasts the ways we experience a voice giving information over a loudspeaker, the colors of a traffic light, the smell of gas, the taste of a poison, or the blind groping in a dark room with the experiences of hearing an opera diva, seeing a Rothko painting, smelling the fragrance of a perfume, tasting a fine wine, and the erotic touching of lovers. The former examples only convey information and that is the only thing that interests us in them as phenomena, while the latter are examples of saturated phenomena that defy every concept and instead provide rich “intuitive” experience. See Marion, Visible and Revealed, 119–44.

64. Marion, “What We See,” 156.

65. Ibid., 157.

66. That is, “by contrast, what we might call the ‘phenomenality of what appears,’ and the fact that what appears, appears in a certain way without our seeing it.” Ibid., 158.

67. He employs the Heideggerian distinctions between vorhanden (being objectively present or present-at-hand) and zuhanden (being handy or ready-to-hand) and argues that works of art fit into neither category but display a different phenomenality—namely, that of having an effect. He also often refers to the distinctions (introduced by Austin’s philosophy of language) between locutionary (descriptive), illocutionary (performative), and perlocutionary (effecting) speech.

68. Marion, “What We See,” 160.

69. Ibid.

70. He analyzes this in Being Given via the example of Caravaggio’s The Calling of St. Matthew, where the call becomes visible in the response on Matthew’s face. Marion, Being Given, 282–87.

71. Marion, “What We See,” 161. He had already worked out the notion of anamorphosis in more detail in his Being Given, 119–31. This refers to the artistic means of painting such that the painting as a whole or an aspect of it can only be seen if one puts oneself in a certain place: “In an anamorphosis, by contrast, you cannot see what there is to see until you put yourself in a certain place.” Maron, “What We See,” 161. In this context he refers to the anamorphic fresco of St. John of Patmos and San Francesco di Paola, painted by Jean-François Niceron, along the hallway of the cloister of the Church of the Holy Trinity on Pincio Hill. But he applies this notion in a broader sense to the priority of the painting over the viewer as an appearance that cannot be predicted or manufactured.

72. “In this case, the painting is an appearance because it is what imposes on me that I see it, myself always in some way lacking the vision of the painting.” Marion, “What We See,” 163.

73. Ibid., 165.

74. Ibid., 168.

75. It is “seen because it appears, because it shows itself starting from itself, because it manifests itself.” Ibid., 166.

76. In fact, Marion suggests that phenomenology often focuses on aesthetic visibility because it “realizes that, far from being marginal, it is one of the access roads to the original situation of the manifestation of phenomena.” Ibid., 168.

77. For a full critique of this, see my “Marion and Negative Certainty: Epistemological Dimensions of the Phenomenology of Givenness,” Philosophy Today 56, no. 3 (2012): 363–70, and the fuller development in Degrees of Givenness (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014).

78. Marion, “What We See,” 162. See also Marion, In Excess, 70–1. “Thus this phenomenon of seeing again (a painting is what one must see again without cease) is not a reappraisal/re-seeing [revision], because when one revises [reviser], one aims at [viser] the same thing several times and verifies that one has not been mistaken.” Marion, “What We See,” 162.

79. “I lack concepts because intuition is constantly renewed for the painting. Thus in a way there is too much to see in the painting for any concepts to be able to organize the corresponding intuition.” Marion, “What We See,” 162; translation modified.

80. Ibid., 162.

81. See also Marion, In Excess, 60–1. This is why “the true painting is always right over against me.” Marion, “What We See,” 163.

82. Marion, “What We See,” 164. See also Marion, In Excess, 66–68.

83. For example, he reports that he sees the landscape around his country home in terms of Courbet’s painting of it: Marion, “What We See,” 164. For a fuller analysis, see his Courbet ou la peinture à l’œil (Paris: Flammarion, 2014).

84. See especially his analyses of the Eucharist in God without Being and Believing in Order to See (New York: Fordham University Press, 2017).

85. See especially Marion, “The Phenomenality of the Sacrament,” in Believing in Order to See, 102–15.

86. See also Egon Sendler’s L’Icône. Image de l’invisible. Eléments de théologie, esthétique et technique (Paris: Brouwer, 1981), which strongly emphasizes the “inverse perspective” of the Byzantine icon (see especially chapter 2) and appeared shortly before Marion’s own publications on the topic. (Although Marion does not refer to Sendler, he does mention Christoph von Schönborn’s L’Icône du Christ [1976] and Louis Bouyer’s Vérité des icônes. La tradition iconographique chrétienne et sa signification [1987], which recommends Sendler’s treatment. Leonid Ouspensky’s influential La Théologie de l’icône was published in French in 1980.)

87. Richard Kearney, Anatheism: Returning to God after God (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), 25–26.

88. Kearney, Anatheism, 27. (It is identified as “Matins” in the text, rather than Vespers.)

89. For example, Richard Kearney and Jens Zimmermann, eds., Reimaging the Sacred (New York: Columbia University Press, 2016), 75, 251–53. See also the brief critique by Zimmermann (ibid., 238), to which the second passage responds. Kearney also refers to it repeatedly in other interviews and essays, often together with the notion of Mary as khora akhoraton. See also Kearney, “Imagining the Sacred Stranger: Hostility or Hospitality,” Politics and the Religious Imagination, ed. John H. A. Dyck, Paul S. Rowe, and Jens Zimmermann (London: Routledge, 2010).

90. Kearney, The God Who May Be: A Hermeneutics of Religion (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001). He mentions the Pauline passage about Christ as the icon of God (ibid., 45) and briefly discusses several Eastern thinkers, including John Damascene, Dionysius the Areopagite, and Basil of Caesarea, on the transfiguration and the notion of prosopon (ibid., 40–44).

91. Kearney and Matthew Clemente, eds., The Art of Anatheism (London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2018), 11–14.

92. Ibid., 3.

93. Ibid., 6.

94. Ibid., 9, 10.

95. See his The Wake of Imagination (London: Routledge, 1988) and Poetics of Imagining (New York: Fordham University Press, 1998).

96. See his On Stories (London: Routledge, 2002) and Strangers, Gods and Monsters (London: Rout-ledge, 2003).

97. Besides Anatheism and Art of Anatheism, see also his Radical Hospitality: From Thought to Action (New York: Fordham University Press, 2021) and Touch: Recovering our Most Vital Sense (New York: Columbia University Press, 2021).

98. Kearney, Poetics of Imagining, 241.

99. Ibid., 236.

100. See his “Linguistic Hospitality—The Risk of Translation,” Research in Phenomenology 49 (2019): 1–8; “Double Hospitality: Between Word and Touch,” Journal for Continental Philosophy of Religion 1 (2019): 71–89; and his introduction to the translation of Paul Ricœur’s On Translation (London: Routledge, 2006), vii–xx.

101. Kearney, Strangers, Gods and Monsters, 18.

102. Kearney, Anatheism, 54.

103. Kearney and Clemente, Art of Anatheism, 10.

104. Ibid., 12.

105. Ibid., 13.

106. Ibid.

107. Ibid., 14.

108. Ibid.

109. Ibid., 11, 14.

110. See especially chapters 4–5 of Anatheism and his “Secular Epiphanies: The Anatheistic Hermeneutics of Gerard Manley Hopkins,” Dialog: A Journal of Theology (2015): 367–74.

111. Emmanuel Falque, “The All-Seeing: Fraternity and Vision of God in Nicholas of Cusa,” Modern Theology 35, no. 4 (2019): 760–87.

112. E.g., ibid., 767. He, too, treats inverse perspective as the primary characteristic of the Byzantine icon, relying extensively on Marion’s analysis (e.g., ibid., 770, 786).

113. Falque, “This is My Body: Contribution to a Philosophy of the Eucharist,” in Carnal Hermeneutics, ed. Richard Kearney and Brian Treanor (New York: Fordham University Press, 2015), 279–94.

114. For English translations of these texts, see “The Work and Complement of Appearing,” in Religious Experience and the End of Metaphysics, ed. Jeffrey Bloechl (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003), 68–93 and Experience and the Absolute: Disputed Questions on the Humanity of Man, trans. Mark Raftery-Skehan (New York: Fordham University Press, 2004).

115. Lacoste, “The Work and Complement of Appearing,” 91. He argues that both function in “pre-eschatological” ways (ibid., 92).

116. Jean-Louis Chrétien, L’effroi du beau (Paris: Cerf, 1987) and Fragilité (Paris: Minuit, 2017).

117. Chrétien, L’arche de la parole (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1998), translated by Andrew Brown as The Ark of Speech (London: Routledge, 2004). See also his important L’appel et la réponse (Paris: Minuit, 1992), translated by Anne A. Davenport as The Call and the Response (New York: Fordham University Press, 2004).

118. Chrétien, Corps à corps: À l’écoute de l’œuvre d’art (1997), translated by Stephen E. Lewis as Hand to Hand: Listening to the Work of Art (New York: Fordham University Press, 2003).

119. Stephanie Rumpza reviews and refutes some of these reductive views in her “Longing in the Flesh: A Phenomenological Account of Icon Veneration,” International Journal of Philosophy and Theology 81, no. 5 (2020): 466–84. See also her more extensive critique of Ouspensky in “On ‘Spiritual’ Vs. ‘Carnal’ Visibility: Phenomenologically Dismantling an Orthodox Iconoclasm,” in Image, Phenomenon and Imagination in the Phenomenology of Religious Experience, ed. M. Nitsche and Olga Louchakova-Schwartz (Nordhausen: Verlag Traugott Bautz, 2022), 193–207.

120. This is perhaps the central problem in Henry and Marion, to a lesser extent in Kearney— namely, their erasure of intentionality.

121. This also goes for the Orthodox tendencies—especially in certain pious circles—on the one hand, to deny any sort of aesthetic parameters for understanding how icons or liturgy function (total distinction) or, on the other hand, to attribute some unqualified revelatory function to the manifestation of beauty in Orthodox worship and liturgical items (total identification). Neither attitude truly enhances our understanding of how Orthodox worship in general or the use of icons in particular function within these experiences.