Dr Philip Gonzales says the receipt of a prestigious grant will see St Patrick’s College, Maynooth shape the future of Christian philosophy, writes Jason Osborne
Christianity identified the discipline of philosophy early on as a potential ally in its efforts to show the intelligibility of Christ’s message to the world. Many of the Church Fathers were philosophically versed, and this contributed to the establishment of much of the theology and dogma that underpins the Church today.
The future of Christianity’s relationship with philosophy is as bright as its past, however, with the faculty of philosophy at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth having been selected to host one of the twelve grants offered by the ‘Widening Horizons in Philosophical Theology’ project, which is based at the University of St Andrews in Fife and funded by a £2 million (€2.3 million) grant from the Templeton Religion Trust.
The project is spearheaded by the leading researchers and thinkers in the fields of philosophy and theology, and ultimately seeks to find out how better philosophy, especially in the continental tradition, can be put in service of theology and revelation.
Leading the Irish contribution to the project is St Patrick’s College philosophy lecturer Dr Philip Gonzales, whose two-year project received a proportion of the £2 million grant.
Speaking to The Irish Catholic newspaper, Dr Gonzales explained why he believes the project is a valuable opportunity for not only the philosophy community in Ireland, but the Christian one, too.
“It draws an international spotlight on the research being done at the faculty of philosophy at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth,” Dr Gonzales says.
The international project “very much matches with the vision of Christian philosophy which we’re trying to put forward here in Maynooth,” he says, recalling a conference the college hosted earlier this year, and pointing to a major international conference they’re hosting in April 2022, which will see Christian intellectuals such as former archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and Eastern Orthodox philosopher and theologian David Bentley Hart descend on the campus.
“It’s just a way of showing that exciting things are indeed happening at the faculty of philosophy in Maynooth, and that we’re starting to get international, public recognition,” Dr Gonzales says.
Dr Gonzales own contribution to the international effort is a two-year project titled Analogical Metaphysics and Incarnate Mimetic Desire.
“It’s going to investigate specifically how Christianity sees and interprets being and human existence. Rooted in an understanding that our God is a God of love and peace, and that thus human life and existence is itself radical gift. This is another way of saying that the project presents a metaphysics of creation, understood as gift and love. We ourselves are gift, as is all of creation.
The international project will draw heavily on the continental philosophical tradition, seeing in it many valuable contributions to Christian thought”
“From there it’s going to explore in a more concrete, social, and practical way how this vision is incarnated in human desire and relationships in which we imitate the desire of others,” Dr Gonzales says.
“So, in the end, it’s going to call for a Christian philosophy of testimony that must perform and incarnate the metaphysical vision of being as gift. In doing, it demands Christians to ask themselves: ‘Why are we Christians so often violent, why are we leading lives that do not match up with this vision?’ It’s basically saying that the task of Christians is to incarnate the truth of love and that love is the entrance into truth. It is a call for Christians to becomes models of desire, of love, peace and forgiveness.”
The international project will draw heavily on the continental philosophical tradition, seeing in it many valuable contributions to Christian thought. Asked why the emphasis was on this school of philosophical thought, Dr Gonzales said that it’s because of “its dealing with fundamental questions that are very burning to human existence”.
“In that sense, it’s a way of making sure that our philosophy and our theology are also in dialogue with things that are going on, the questions that are being asked in the current culture.”
Many accuse philosophy of being detached from practicality, and it’s a criticism Dr Gonzales is keenly aware of. However, he believes the project and its intellectual pursuits have ramifications for the lives of the Faithful everywhere, as Christian theology and philosophy have developed the worldviews that most people take for granted all over the western world and beyond.
He hopes that his contribution to the project is a “way of saying that the theoretical, dogmatic, and metaphysical understandings that underpin the Christian Faith, the Catholic Faith, are absolutely essential, nevertheless the way in which they’re going to be ‘proven,’ so to speak, within the 21st Century is through seeing these truths incarnated and performed in human life.
“So that when you see a person desiring in a different manner than everybody else, you stop and you wonder why that person desires things that are so different from what everybody else desires. Is there something going on?
“In many ways this is the way in which Christianity grew – it was a minority report where people stopped and said ‘see how they love one another’. It was just a few people in the backwaters of Palestine telling this story, performing this story, and starting to live in a completely different and radical way from other people. In this the project’s understanding of being and desire is deeply inspired by the Johannine writings,” Dr Gonzales explains.
In a world that’s grown tired of Christianity, a fresh vision of the Christian life must be set forth, and it’s just that that Dr Gonzales and the rest of the project’s researchers are seeking to do.”
“So, I think in some ways we’re almost back to the original state of Christianity, only now with one huge difference. That the world has radically rejected Christianity, rather than Christianity having just entered into the world. Christianity is tired and Christians must take responsibility for this failure and rejection of Christianity and must understand that in such a world as today’s only love is credible, as von Balthasar knew.”
In a world that’s grown tired of Christianity, a fresh vision of the Christian life must be set forth, and it’s just that that Dr Gonzales and the rest of the project’s researchers are seeking to do.