Review of El Carácter Hermenéutico Común a la Fe Bíblica y a Filosofía by Paul Ricoeur

  1. Nombre y apellido del alumno Bert Amsing
  2. Fecha June 15, 2016
  3. Título del texto leído Paul Ricoeur

El Carácter Hermenéutico Común a la Fe Bíblica y a Filosofía

  1. ¿De qué trata el artículo o capítulo leído?

Paul Ricoeur, in his final chapter “El carácter hermenéutico común a la fe bíblica y a filosofía,” found in his book Fe y Filosofia – Problemas del lenguaje religioso, discusses the hermeneutical foundation in common between Biblical Faith and Philosophy.

  1. ¿Cuál es la idea central del autor?

Paul Ricoeur claims that there is a common hermeneutical basis to both Biblical Faith and Philosophy and provides three dialectical areas in which this can be seen.

  1. ¿De qué nos quiere convencer?

He is trying to convince us that there is a necessary and desirable effect that comes from a conception of biblical faith as an intelligence of its own that provides motivation and insight into human existence from the side of the imagination and love which balances the argumentation and justice concerns of philosophy.

  1. ¿Cuáles son los puntos fuertes y los puntos débiles del texto?

The topic of faith and philosophy is already of interest to theological students but to add a chapter on the relationship of biblical faith and philosophical anthropology makes for very interesting reading.  In terms of the history of philosophy over the last couple of hundred years, metaphysics and the supernatural, much less natural theology and the historicity and objectivity of the biblical text has been under continual attack.  To return to the question of the relationship between Athens and Jerusalem in authors such as Leo Strauss and Paul Ricoeur is a treat not to be missed.  Still, in general, there are misgivings about the entire philosophical approach that distinguishes Athens from Jerusalem, Reason from Faith, or even love from justice.  It appears to the present author that the distinctions are too sharp and the dichotomy too strong, even though the attempt at harmonization or, at least, a clarifying of roles is welcome.  But let’s start at the beginning.
Paul Ricoeur starts by making some clarifications about the hermeneutical character of both biblical faith and philosophy.  He appears to agree with Paul Tillich, at least in general, when he claims that the ultimate purpose of philosophy and theology is to understand the human condition/existence.  He says, “así considerada, la filosofía es fundamentalmente una antropología filosófica..(p. 222).”  Philosophy is about being, specifically, in Ricoeur’s thinking, human beings (i.e. he makes the distinction between things that exist, things that are alive and human beings in their distinctiveness – awareness, cognition etc.).  Paul Tillich claims that both theology and philosophy deal with the same subject matter – being – but from two different points of view, or two different starting points.  A similar point is being made here by Ricoeur and therefore deserves at least some of the same argumentation.  Since the secularization of philosophy, even being can no longer be understood in terms of an objective substance that humans have but rather an essence that they live out in the context of time and space.  Metaphysics is out.  Praxis is in.  Even Ricoeur defines his philosophical anthropology in non-metaphysical terms.
The problem is the biblical text which is incurably metaphysical and deals with ultimate issues from a supernatural point of view.  It can be demythologized (i.e. Bultmann) or even reduced to kerygma (i.e. Barth) or simply re-stated/re-interpreted in rational terms that are more agreeable to modern man, but the Bible refuses all such categories.  It claims a supernatural origin, a supernatural author, a supernatural message and a supernatural calling.  Yes, it is about being, especially human beings but it claims a metaphysical and supernatural origin and purpose to man that challenges any attempt to reduce it to a rational description of man’s thoughts about himself throughout the history of the Jewish/Christian Biblical history.
So, right from the start, the categories are too mutually exclusive, too distinct, too structured.  It isn’t Jerusalem against Athens, but rather Jerusalem (Paul) in Athens, calling them to repentance and faith.  Yes, Jerusalem (biblical faith) will always be a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks, but that is nothing new.  The relationship is more dialectical and integrative than Ricoeur allows for in his discussion.  It is more dialectical because Athens will never understand or accept Jerusalem on equal terms (or on any rational terms at all) and more integrative because Jerusalem will not accept anything less than the full surrender of Athens so that reason can function fully and properly only in the context of faith.
Paul Ricoeur claims no role for philosophy as a “cripto-teología,” but does allow for the biblical faith to have a role as a “cripto-filosófia (p. 222).”  A role in philosophy, similar to a historical role in science, as “the god of the gaps,” but this time because there are real gaps that only biblical faith can fulfill.  Things such as the origin of evil and the historical pride of philosophy as having the only claim to ultimate truth, are mentioned by Ricoeur.  There are many others.  Ricoeur explains himself by saying, “A este respecto, me cuido de aplicar a la relación entre filosofía y fe bíblica el esquema pregunta-respuesta (p. 222).”  He suggests that there are problems in human existence that only “una intelligencia de la fe (p. 223)” can give an answer to precisely because it has, according to Kant, the power of “la regeneración de nuestro poder-hacer (p. 223).”
Ricoeur, himself, would go beyond merely the ethical dimension to include other elements of the imagination and creative powers of our being that allows Ricoeur claims that this relationship between the reader and the text that results in the gift of a “new being” able to take action in a dangerous and difficult world, even at the level of dealing with evil, is worthy of being called a hermeneutic (p. 224).”  He even suggests that there is a hermeneutical circle between the community of interpreters of the biblical text through history and the foundational texts that results in an intelligent faith that thinks and acts on a level that philosophy can never attain to.
Having established the general hermeneutical character of the biblical faith as an interpretation of life on the basis of foundational texts, Ricoeur now elaborates more specifically on the relationship between the “hermenéutica filosófica y hermenéutica bíblica a fin de dar un giro más dialéctico (p. 225).”  Of course, this begs the question about the accuracy of the title which claims that biblical faith and philosophy have a common hermeneutic.  What is common, according to Ricoeur is that they can both be considered a hermeneutic.  It appears that the “dialectic” relationship between the two is stronger than what they have in common.
Without going into details, suffice it to say that Ricoeur speaks about “las tres dialécticas que acabamos de recorrer – en el plano metódico, en el plano existencial, en el plano conceptual – no anuncian ninguna nueva confusión entre filosofía antropológica e inteligencia de la fe (p. 229).”  In other words, “es perfectamente inútil oponer Jerusalén a Atenas (p. 228).”  Leaving aside our earlier comments about the incompatible dialectic as well as the integrative nature of these two poles/horizons, still Ricoeur seems to generate conceptual difficulties out of thin air.  In dealing with the conceptual issues, he claims that “la teología no ha podido alcanzar tales cumbres sin tomar préstamos considerables de la filosofía, principalmente neo-platónica y más tarde aristotélica (p. 228).”
What a strange thing to say, as if all of theology can be summed up in Thomism (or even neoThomism) on the one hand, and that all of Patristic (especially St. Augustine) thought was a synergistic, unthinking, mixture of Hellenistic philosophy and Christian theology.  Apparently, even philosophers like to make proclamations on generalities without doing their homework.
Still, his suggestion that “¿no ha llegado el tiempo de reconducir la inteligencia de la fe a su origen, sobre una base más exegética que teológica, mientras que la filosofía por su lado ha de ser intimada a renunciar a su hybris totalizante y fundacional? (p. 228), ” is welcome and mostly on target.  On the one hand, the philosophical “hybris” is muted by Ricoeur’s own redefinition of philosophy as “filosofía antropológica.”  On the other hand, his definition of “the intelligence of faith” as “una fe pensante,” is also welcome but deserves a bit more attention.  The problem is not in the general idea but in what Ricoeur means to say by it in specific terms.  He calls us back to “una base más exegética que teológica.”  That is always a good thing and Reformation thinking has always submitted theology under exegesis and the biblical text itself.  No problem.  What is suspect is that this call to prioritize exegesis over theology is, in reality, a call to abandon a supernatural theology rooted in a hybrid metaphysics based on the mixture of Greek thinking with the Christian faith.  If that is so, many theologians are willing accomplices (and even many good Reformed theologians are at least willing to give up any pretensions of an effective natural theology).
But a closer look at the Christian faith and its relationship with Greek thought will reveal a different story.  On the one hand, the Christian metaphysics and supernatural origin is independent of Greek thought (even though, where appropriate, Greek thought supported or expanded ideas already within the biblical revelation).  On the other hand, in the plurality of approaches to theology throughout time, including the hellenization of Christian thought by the Alexandrian fathers and the later marriage of Aristotle to the Biblical Revelation by St. Thomas Aquinas, does not justify the conclusions of the philosophers who use these approaches to justify their own conclusions.  A true understanding of the Christian message based upon the authority and inspiration of the Word of God culminating in a hermeneutic based on Scripture interpreting Scripture, means that even the philosophers must distinguish between a hermeneutic (and theological approach) that is true to the biblical text and one that is not.  Any conclusions made must take into account that fundamental distinction within Christianity.
Finally, after all of the modifications and discussions and misrepresentations made about the biblical faith in relation to the role of philosophy, even so, the attempt by Ricoeur to struggle with these issues from a rationalistic point of view and worldview is appreciated if for no other reason than to provide a good counterpoint for the Christian and Evangelical point of view.

  1. ¿Qué aspectos no entendí?

Ricoeur speaks of the language of faith as a “poetic discourse.”  Right from the start, this is problematic for Evangelical scholars but, giving Ricoeur the benefit of the doubt and attempting to understand his language within his particular lexical context, we could understand what he wants to say in existential terms rather than in terms of the historicity or objective truth value of the biblical text (both of which he would deny in any event).  Needless to say, this was my first encounter with Paul Ricoeur and I am sure that his other writings will clarify things considerably.

  1. ¿Cómo se puede aplicar el contenido a la tarea hermenéutica?

There wasn’t anything specific to apply to the hermeneutic task other than a general understanding of what Paul Ricoeur believed makes up the hermeneutic task of biblical exegesis.
Bert Amsing
Master’s Program – FIET