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Theology: Transcendental or Hermeneutical?

  • Francis Schüssler Fiorenza (a1)


Jack Bonsor's essay as well as his interpretation of Karl Rahner and especially of Rahner's appropriation of Martin Heidegger's philosophy raises a central issue of theology today. His essay raises the issue of the relation between transcendental and hermeneutical approaches. Are they radically opposed? Or can they be synthesized into a unity?

This issue has become particularly acute within contemporary theology influenced by the contemporary philosophical scene. The American philosophical debates on relativity, realism, and pragmatism have challenged traditional transcendental approaches to philosophy. In addition, hermeneutics has taken a new turn. Previously hermeneutical theory underscored the authority and binding claims of classics. Now literary critical theory and post-structuralist French philosophy emphasize instead the deconstruction of classical texts. This shift entails a further turn away from metaphysics and transcendental philosophy to relativism—a turn exemplified in Richard Rorty's critique of transcendental and metaphysical philosophy. His critique appeals to the hermeneutical tradition of Heidegger and Gadamer, to the pragmatic philosophy of James and Dewey (neglecting Peirce), to the deconstructivism of Derrida, and to a literary theory influenced by Nietzsche.

Another move toward relativism is the emerging debate about modernity that contrasts post-modernity with what modernity represents. The critics of modernity argue that the universalism of transcendental philosophy is a relic of modernity. They label transcendental universality a false universality of a dominating and oppressive reason. They label it a repressive reason for it suppresses the particularities of ethnic, gender, social, and economic groups. Their criticisms of traditional metaphysics and transcendental rationality are often so trenchant that the title of a Richard Bernstein's recent essay seems deserved: “The Rage against Reason.”



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1 Rorty, Richard, The Mirror of Nature (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1979), Consequences of Pragmatism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1982), and Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989).

2 Much of the controversy exists not only in regard to Rorty's relativism, but also in regard to the validity of his interpretation and appeal to these authors.

3 Lyotard, Jean-François, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984) and The Differend: Phrases in Dispute (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988).

4 In McMullin, Ernan, ed., Construction and Constraint: The Shaping of Scientific Rationality (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1988), pp. 189221.

5 Rahner, Karl, Spirit in the World (New York: Herder and Herder, 1968), Bouillard, Henri, Conversion and Grace (Paris: Cerf, 1944);Schillebeeckx, Edward, De sacramentele heilseconomie: Theologische bezinning op St. Thomas; sacramentenleer in het licht van de traditie en van de hedendaagse sacramentsproblematiek (Antwerp: Nelissen, 1952), the systematic results of which are summarized in Chrisf the Sacrament of Encounter with God (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1963);Lonergan, Bernard, Verbum: Word and Idea in Aquinas, ed. Burrell, David (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1967) and Grace and Freedom: Operative Grace in the Thought of St. Thomas Aquinas, ed. Burns, J. P. (New York: Herder and Herder, 1971). In addition one could add the important historical-theological works of Chenu, deLubac, and Pesch.

6 Seckler, Max, Instinkt und Glaubenswill (Mainz: Matthias-Grünewald, 1961) and Das Heil in der Geschichte (Munich: Kösel, 1964).Metz, Johann B., Christliche Anthropozentrik (Munich: Kösel, 1962).

7 Küng, Hans, Justificatio: The Doctrine of Karl Barth and a Catholic Reflection (2nd ed.; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1981) and Ratzinger, Joseph, The Theology of History in St. Bonaventure (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1971).

8 (New York: Herder and Herder, 1972).

9 See The Understanding of Faith: Interpretation and Criticism (New York: Seabury, 1974).

10 Especially his latest book, Plurality and Ambiguity: Hermeneutics, Religion, and Hope (New York: Harper and Row, 1987).

11 The Hermeneutic of Dogma (Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1975).

12 Radical Hermeneutics: Repetition, Deconstruction and the Hermeneutic Project (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987).

13 Granier, Jean, “Savoir, idéologie, interprétation” in Lauret, Bernard and Lauret, François, eds., Initiation à la pratique de la théologie (Paris: Cerf, 1982). See also his Le problème de la vérité dans la philosophie de Nietzsche (Paris: Seuil, 1966).

14 The Risk of Interpretation: On Being Faithful to the Christian Tradition in a Non-Christian Age (New York: Paulist, 1987).

15 Theology after Wittgenstein (New York: Basil Blackwell, 1989). Whether Kerr correctly interprets Rahner is of course open to discussion.

16 Christology in Conflict: The Identity of a Saviour in Rahner and Earth (New York: Blackwell, 1987).

17 See Bonsor, Jack, Rahner, Heidegger and Truth (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1987).

18 See Fiorenza, Francis, “Karl Rahner and the Kantian Problematic” in Rahner, Karl, Spirit in the World, pp. xixxlv.

19 See Insight, pp. 342-447, and Method, pp. 214-24.

20 See Matthew Lamb's interpretation of The Social and Political Dimensions of Lonergan's Thought” in The Desires of the Human Heart, ed. Gregson, Vernon (New York: Paulist, 1988), pp. 255–84.

21 See Tyrrell, Bernard, Bernard Lonergan's Philosophy of God (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1974).

22 See Bernard Lonergan, Method, chapters 4 and 11, Philosophy of God and Theology (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1973), pp. 120. For a careful analysis of the development of Lonergan's thought, see Crowe's, Frederick E.Bernard Lonergan's Thought on Ultimate Reality and Meaning” in the collection of his essays Appropriating the Lonergan Idea, ed. Vertin, M. (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1989), pp. 71105.

23 See Rahner, Karl, Foundations of Christian Faith (New York: Crossroad, 1978).

24 See footnote 16. It is, of course, one of the major criticisms that Hans Urs von Balthasar has made of Rahner's Christology.

25 Küng, Hans, On Being a Christian (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1977).

26 Schillebeeckx, Edward, Jesus (New York: Crossroad, 1980).

27 Gutiérrez, Gustavo, A Theology of Liberation (2nd ed.; Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1988); see Fiorenza, Francis Schüssler, “Critical Social Theory and Christology,” CTSA Proceedings 30 (1975), 63110.

28 Fiorenza, Elisabeth Schüssler, In Memory of Her (New York: Crossroad, 1984).

29 I do not wish to state that Lonergan's christology is neo-scholastic. In fact, it is not. His interpretations of the psychology of Jesus and the Chalcedon formula are indeed innovative and creative. Nevertheless, his writings do not provide a comparison with the exegetical work of contemporary Roman Catholic christologies.

30 Atomic Theory and the Description of Nature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1934), p. 96.

31 See The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1984).

32 For the literature on broad reflective equilibrium, see Fiorenza, Francis Schüssler, Foundational Theology: Jesus and the Church (New York: Crossroad, 1984), pp. 301–21.

33 Kuhn, Thomas, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (2nd ed.; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970) and, with important modifications, The Essential Tension: Selected Studies in Scientific Tradition and Change (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977). For a radical representation of a post-empirical position, see the many writings of Feyerabend, Paul, especially his Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge (London: NLB, 1975).

34 See Winch, Peter, The Idea of Social Science and Its Relation to Philosophy (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1958).

35 Habermas, Jürgen, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity. Twelve Lectures (Boston: Beacon, 1987). For a comparison between Habermas and Foucault on their understanding of power and rationality, see Honneth, Axel, Kritik der Macht (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1983; 2nd ed. with appendix 1988).

36 Megill, Allan, Prophets of Extremity: Nietzsche, Heidegger, Foucault, Derrida (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984).

37 Gewirth, Alan, Reason and Morality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978) and Lukes, Steven, “Relativism in Its Place” in Hollis, Martin and Lukes, Steven, eds., Rationality and Relativism (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1982).

38 MacIntyre, Alasdair, After Virtue (2nd ed.; Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984) and Whose Justice? Whose Rationality? (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1988);Walzer, Michael, Spheres of Justice (New York: Basic Books, 1983) and Interpretation and Social Criticism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987).

39 See Habermas, ibid., pp. 153-86; McCarthy, Thomas, “Scientific Rationality, and the ‘Strong Program’ in the Sociology of Knowledge” in McMullin, , Constraint, pp. 7596;Stout, Jeffrey, Ethics after Babel: The Language of Morals and Their Discontents (Boston: Beacon, 1988).

40 See Habermas, Jürgen, Nachmetaphysisches Denken (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1988), pp. 3560.

41 My book Foundational Theology seeks to answer this charge against Lonergan by pointing to the double hermeneutic involved in religious understanding engaged in the hermeneutical reconstruction of identity within foundational theology.

42 See especially the writing on apologetics by Henri Bouillard. At times David Tracy also seems to make this claim.

43 Buckley, Michael, At the Origins of Modern Atheism (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1987).

44 See Schleiermacher, Frederick, On the Glaubenslehre: Open Letters to Dr. Lucke, tr. Duke, James and Fiorenza, Francis (Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1981). In contemplating a revision of his Glaubenslehre he examines the merits and demerits of beginning with prolegomena or with christology.

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Theology: Transcendental or Hermeneutical?

  • Francis Schüssler Fiorenza (a1)


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