Unity in Resurrection


The systematic philosophic elaboration of participation in the divine described in the previous lecture was predicated upon the deepening awareness of being as existence at the time of the Christian Fathers. It made possible a new awareness of the importance of men and of physical nature. They were not, as had been thought by Plato, significant only in terms of their forms whose reality existed in a somehow separated world. Nor were they, as understood by Aristotle, bent only upon the continuation of their species in imitation of the permanence of higher bodies. Rather, each was a unique existent, a living participation of divine perfection in this world in a manner which had never before been realized, nor ever would be again. What the person did not accomplish of his possibilities for sharing divine life no one else would ever be able to realize.

This vision of the unique value and beauty of men and of each thing in nature as participations in God was lived by St. Francis of Assisi in simplicity and bliss. The same vision was also a dangerous temptation to many others. If nature and human persons were so important, would it not be helpful to focus upon them exclusively? In that case it would be advantageous to employ types of knowledge which were less holistic and unitive, but rendered more detailed information. Bacon saw that such knowledge would enable many to redirect the order of nature and of persons as well.

Scientific projects concerning nature and political projects concerning men, to which the mind originally had been attracted on the basis of the unitive participational vision, came to be separated therefrom. In that state they produced a new and ominous problematic, often appropriately termed alienation. A contemporary phenomenology of the term would include, not only the divorce of the laborer from the fruit of his work, but the pervasive sense of isolation of man from the whole of nature, as well as the rapture of the meaning of each thing from that of every other.

This might be traced to the conceptualist’s rejection of the foundation of the order of existing things, and ultimately of the creative will, in divine knowledge. Without this there was no stable or dynamic between existents; nature came to be understood not as a unity of physis, but as a construction from alien objects. What was dismantled was thereby devalued. Clear description and transformation of nature became the sole purpose of human knowledge. Man was defined as an administrator of objects for progress, which was defined in terms of progress itself; physical resources were squandered and nature disfigured. Today, the adequacy of any such notion of progress is strongly questioned, and a new understanding of man’s relation to nature is sought. The need to understand the relation of realities among themselves and to God has once again come to be of central importance.

The appreciation of the meaning of ‘person’ does not seem to have fared notably better than that of ‘world’. Though there have been remarkable developments in the appreciation of both subject and subjectivity, they have been carried out in relative isolation and even in reaction against the development of the physical sciences and their technological derivatives. In striking parallel to the phenomena of isolation, devaluation, and destruction regarding nature, in the social and political order independence has given birth to loneliness, human life has lost its inherent value, and social values have been sacrificed to individual goals. The awareness of self is marred by selfishness; its concomitant, violence, looms large both within families and cities and between nations.1

From this one should not conclude that the developments in the understanding of nature and of person which characterize the modern and contemporary worlds should—or could—be dispensed with. Rather, they constitute the new dimensions of awareness which are the proper advance of our times and upon which the institutions and even the number of men largely depend. What has been said above, however, suggests that the problems we face today reflect the difficulty in carrying forward the foundational wisdom from earlier ages in order that the process be one of authentic transformation resulting in a richer and more adequate svnthesis.

In these circumstances to rediscover the divine and, as a participation therein the meaning of contemporary man, it is not sufficient merely to evoke their earlier philosophical articulation; it is that experience of the positive meaning of the world and man which is questioned. Instead, we need to retrieve more of the original, if implicit, experience of the founding unity experienced in the joys and tragedies of social life, lived in the simplest societies in terms of the totem, articulated in hymns and myths, and celebrated as the substance of family life. A phenomenological method for this search into human experience was elaborated, especially, by Edmund Husserl (1859-1938) and his assistant, Martin Heidegger. We shall look at the thought of three philosophers who have employed it to rearticulate for our times the meaning of participation in plenitude.



Paul Tillich (1886-1965) constructed a dialectic of divine revelation through a phenomenological analysis of man’s contemporary experience. In the first step or thesis the essence of God is articulated as the basis for the relation between subject and object. The second step, or antithesis, states the recent experience of the loss of this meaning in man’s existential condition as ‘standing forth’ from God. The synthesis unites both thesis and antithesis as the revelation of the divine in contemporary life.2

The thesis is stated succinctly as follows. "Reason in its correspondence between objective and subjective structures points to something which appears in these structures but which transcends them in power and meaning."3 Logos becomes the point of identity between God, self, and world. Of these three, the logos of God is central and is participated in by self and world as they acquire their being. Thus the logos of reason gives us a first introduction to the concept Tillich has of participation: it is that of God overcoming the separation of subject and object to provide a deeper synthesis of the reality of both.

Human intuition of the divine always has distinguished between the abyss of the divine (the element of power) and the fullness of its content (the element of meaning), between the divine depth and the divine logos. The first principle is the basis of Godhead, that which makes God, God. It is the root of his majesty, the unapproachable intensity of his being, the inexhaustible ground of being in which everything has its origin. It is the power of being infinitely resisting nonbeing, giving the power of being to everything that is.4

The possibility of existential estrangement, the second stage of Tillich’s dialectic, is traced to man’s finite freedom. Finite man is excluded from the infinity to which he belongs. This negative phase in the dialectic is mediated to the level of consciousness by the general, and presently acute, phenomenon of anxiety which arises from the non-being in finite reality. The non-being of finitude and estrangement is present on each level of being in three ways: ontic, spiritual and moral. This produces three corresponding types or characteristics of anxiety. Ontic anxiety is awareness that our basic self-affirmation as our being is threatened proximately by fate, the decided contingency of our position, and ultimately by death. Spiritual anxiety is the awareness of the emptiness of the concrete content of our particular beliefs. It is, even more, awareness of the loss of a spiritual center of meaning resulting in ultimate meaninglessness in which "not even the meaningfulness of a serious question meaning is left for him."5 Moral anxiety is awareness that, in virtue of that very freedom which makes us men, we continually choose against the fulfillment of our destiny and the actualization of our essential nature, thus adding the element of guilt.6 All three elements of anxiety—death, meaninglessness and guilt-combine to produce despair, the ultimate or "boundary" situation.

The first stage of Tillich’s existential dialectic presented the essential or potential state of finite reality in union with the divine. The second or negative moment of this dialectic placed individualization in its present context of meaninglessness. This expressed the difficulty in actualizing the element of union or participation in the divine which is indispensable to religion Let us see how the third stage attempts to provide this element in a contemporary fashion. Because the existential separation and disruption leaves man opaque to the divine, Tillich does not consider that an awareness of the divine can be derived from an analysis of man’s experience. If God is to be the answer to the existential question of man, he must come "to human existence from beyond it."7 The divine depth must break through in particular things and particular circumstances.

In the mind there corresponds to the stigma of non-being the shock of non-being, the anxiety of death, meaninglessness, and guilt. These tend to disrupt the normal balance of the mind, to shake it in its structure and to force it to its boundary line where it openly faces non-being. It is there, face to face with the meaninglessness and despair which one must recognize if he is serious about anything at all, that one is grasped by mystery. In the act of despair one accepts meaninglessness and the acceptation itself is a meaningful act; it could be done only on the power of the being it negates.8 In this way there is manifested within oneself the reality of a transcending power.

In this experience it is necessary to distinguish the point of immediate awareness from the breadth of content. The point of awareness is expressed in what Tillich refers to as the ontological principle. "Man is immediately aware of something unconditional which is the prius of the interaction and separation of both subject and object, both theoretically and practically."9 Generally this point is experienced in a special situation and in a special form. The ultimate concern is made concrete in some one thing. It may, for instance, be the nation, a god, or the God of the Bible. This concrete content of our act of belief differs from ultimacy as ultimacy in that it is not immediately evident. Since it remains within the subject-object dichotomy, its acceptance as ultimate requires an act of courage and venturing faith. The certainty we have about the breadth of concrete content is then only conditional.10 Time may reveal this content to be finite. In that case our faith will still have been an authentic contact with the unconditional itself. It is only the concrete expression which will have been deficient.11

Tillich’s phenomenological analysis of the revelation of God is contemporary; it enters into the lived cxperience of alienation and nothingness to find therein the revelation of the Absolute as ultimate concern. The dialectic begins from the absolute essence as thesis; for its antithesis it passes through the experience of negation in the structures of the composit; the synthesis is the revelation of the divine in concrete, but now theonomous, phases of human life.

His elaboration of the dialectic is rich and sophisticated. The addresses in which he articulated its significance for a vast array of scientific and professional societies shows that it effectively articulates the meaning of participation in plenitude, not only for those disaffected from modern life, but for those most engaged in building the contemporary world. By revealing how their concern and commitment in their professional activities could manifest the divine he opened to them the deep unity, meaning, and beauty of their complex and often frenetic lives.



To all of this Martin Buber (1878-1965) adds a cautionary note, a kind of via negativa. Buber had developed Husserl’s phenomenological insights in terms of relations, noting that these may be either ‘I-it’ or ‘I-thou’. The former is impersonal, and in it the ‘I’ is a thing; the latter is personal, and in it the ‘I’ is a person. Speaking thus of Max Scheler, he states an important caution which is relevant to Tillich’s position regarding the concrete reality which becomes a revelation of God.

A modern philosopher supposes that every man believes of necessity either in God or in "idols"—which is to say, some finite good such as his nation, his art, power, knowledge, the acquisition of money, the "ever repeated triumph with women"—some good that has become an absolute value for him, taking its place between him and God; and if only one proves to man the conditionality of the good, thus "smashing" the idol, then the diverted religious act will all by itself return to its proper object.12

Buber objects that this presupposes that the relation of man to finite goods is the same as that of man to God, and that revelation is simply a matter of substituting the proper for the improper object. In fact, he notes, the relation to a "particular something" which has come to replace eternity as the supreme point in one’s values is directed to the experience and use of an "It". This can be healed only by a change, not merely of the goal, but of the nature of the relation from "I-it" to an "I-thou".

If one serves a people in a fire kindled by immeasurable fate—if one is willing to devote oneself to it, one means God. But if the nation is for him an idol to which he desires to subjugate everything because in its image he extols his own—do you fancy that you only have to spoil the nation for him and he will then see the truth.13

With many intellectuals in Germany, Tillich had once looked to National Socialism as the coming divine revelation, only to have had to oppose it with heroism when the real nature of Nazism became manifest. If one is concerned that al1 things participate in and proclaim the glory of God, however, is it sufficient to say that such faith had been an authentic contact with the unconditional itself, that only its concrete expression was deficient ? If it is the life of God which is being shared, then its implications for peace in unity, for justice in truth, for love in goodness, are not incidental but substantive to the participation. Thus the concerns for the quality of life today—of the effect of our industrial development and in general of personal growth in society—are central. In this light the work of the playwright-philosopher, Gabriel Marcel (1889-1973), will be of particular significance to our project.14



Marcel’s attention is directed first to the quality of contemporary life and its effect upon the person’s self-understanding. What he finds is ominous. Economic and political structures interpret man’s entire meaning and value simply in function of a rationalized system of production. Marcel points out, as Carnap eagerly insisted, that our being as persons is ignored by the modern scientific world-view. This focuses upon the surface; it understands man in terms of his operational or functional relations; intentionally, it ignores the person’s interior being or autonomous center.15 Marcel called this attention to the surface, that is, to empirical detail only, primary reflection; it is objective, universal, analytic, and verifiable.

Personally, it had always been clear to Marcel that the fragmentary and partial data of the senses and of abstraction were inadequate. At first, however, he attempted to pass beyond this by means of abstraction to an Hegelian Absolute Knowledge or Bradlean Absolute Experience as self-sufficient, concrete, and more genuine than sense experience. From the beginning and throughout his life Marcel was in profound agreement with Bradley’s affirmation in Appearance and Reality of an original and immediate awareness, on the level of feeling, of the One.16 In science analytic reason fragments this unity in order to reunify it in a conscious manner. Science, however, can never fully realize this goal, and it remains for metaphysics to recapture unity on the level of thought.

On further reflection, however, similar to Plato’s enrichment of, rather than revolt against, Parmenides, he noted that the Absolutes of Hegel and Bradley allowed no place for the thinking by which they were demanded.17 They were abstractions. By this he did not mean that they were not real, for they were requirements of human thought. He meant rather that they needed to be opened to the reality of the person who is the subject of that thought.

This enabled Marcel not only to understand more deeply the dilemma which modern rationalism has constructed for man, but to derive some orientation for its resolution. On the one hand, when understood by idealism as the supreme principle of meaning and creativity, the self is "transcendentalized" as the universal and unifying principle. As a result, the portrait of the individual self which is dialectically derived therefrom by pure thought is too flattering; it is man as he should be, not as he is.18 On the other hand paradoxically, because the person is seen only as a limitation of the Absolute Essence, man is devalued before this Unity.19 To the incursions of pragmatic functionalism, mentioned above, this adds the totalitarian and no less pragmatic oppressions of the dialectical rationalisms both on the right and on the left.

The threat, however, is not only from without. The gravest danger in philosophy is that if its vision is not sufficiently open, it will result in one devaluing oneself. The idealist position, wrote Marcel, "that each one of us is perfectly alone in life and that isolation is, as it were, the price paid for freedom...obstructs communication with other people by preventing him from even imagining them in their concrete reality."20

From all that has been said in these chapters, one can suspect that so strong a stricture upon idealism from one who remains throughly committed to its major concern for a conscious unity bespeaks the development of an added level of awareness. This is concerned, as he says, "with other people . . . in their concrete reality; it is the essence of the very general contemporary revolt against the essential as abstract and impersonal, and in favor of the existential as concrete and personal. This is a dimension of meaning with which any contemporary philosophy must grapple for, like the knowledge of good and evil, it enables what previously had been seen only in its positive meaning to be seen in its ambiguity. For example, Marcel even urges that, understood in the restrictive context of a Bradlean idealism self-consciousness, which previously had been seen only in its unlimited positive meaning, now "far from being an illuminating principle, as traditional philosophy has held, on the contrary shuts the human person in on himself and this results in opacity rather than enlightenment."21 If humans cannot do without that light, however, the question now is how the ambiguity can be clarified and the negative side surmounted so that the light might once again illumine the human path.

Conversely, if self-consciousness is understood concretely, that is, as being realized in the body, in the world, and especially in relation with other persons, there is a striking parallel to the growth in self awareness implied by the personal and free response to the redemptive invitation. In the previous lecture, we saw how that made it possible for the awareness of being to develop from form to existence which, in turn, made possible the Christian synthesis of the Platonic and Aristotelian visions. It will be important to see what Marcel’s existential awareness of the concrete will contribute to an understanding of plenitude and participation and what this will imply for the meaning of the person in society.

To take account of the concrete person, says Marcel, a new type of reflection, called secondary reflection, will be needed. Unlike primary reflection this does not abstract and universalize; it does not seek information about an object or treat it simply as an instance of a specific type. Rather it is concerned with the full concrete reality of being, with what Marcel calls their ontological weight.22 This is being taken not as a noun but as a verb, with all the active affirmation that implies. Whereas primary reflection was an attempt to obtain complete and fixed data which will enable anyone to carry out an exhaustive analysis of an object, secondary reflection concerns this personal reality of the subject in its ontological weight as self-affirmation which is not subject to exhaustive analysis.

Secondary reflection, as phenomenological method, has a further implication for Marcel. If the one to whom we relate must not be reduced to an object, neither must we ourselves be omitted from the concrete reality of this encounter. On entering personal relations we are not abstract and inert as measuring rods, but concrete and active as selves.23 Here, there can never be the Cartesian ideal of a perfect problem after the analogy of mathematics.

Marcel’s main effort was to carry out secondary reflection upon the inter-personal "I-thou" relation and such of its characteristics as hope and courage. His objective was not to reason to the active reality of being itself, but to allow its plenitude and participation to reveal itself to us. This converges with, and explains, the principle which we drew from Ricoeur and applied in the first lecture, namely, that the fundamental existential unity is both affective and cognitive and is to be found in the feeling of kinship between men lived in the unity of family and of society.

One such reflection might help to trace the main lines of Marcel’s thought; it is his reflection upon creative fidelity, elaborated in his book by the same title.24 Step by step its reflection upon personal experience reveals the character both of personal participation and of the plenitude which is its precondition. Typically, it is carried out in terms, not merely of "two persons" for that would be an abstraction, but of, for example, Arthur and Agnes. Further, the circumstances also are concrete, as in a play. At no point in the phenomenological reflection on these acts will there be a process of universalization; the reflection with move rather by convergence of the concrete details of what actually occurs. It is in this existential convergence or syneidesis that the ontological weight or true meaning of life and its preconditions will be revealed.

For example, Agnes is visited by Arthur when she is teaching in a distant village, and Arthur promises to return in a few days; or in a moment of exaltation Arthur asks Agnes to marry him, promising to love her always. Marcel notes that Arthur’s promises are not factual statements that he is visiting Agnes or does love her; they state that he will visit her and will love her always. What is important here is that such promises, while concrete, are not conditioned upon the particular circumstances of their time and place. These conditions in their partial, conflicting, and incoherent nature are treated as negligible. He promises to love her as it were, despite them—no matter what.25

Moreover, this ability to make such promises, to commit ourselves definitively and in terms which are not able to be characterized in objectively verifiable conditions is not incidental to human life. It is the very alternative to anarchy in human relations and hence is a condition of possibility for life that is human. The extent of this unconditional character increases as one moves from matters which are less personal, to those which are more so: from a bank loan in which one binds oneself, no matter what the circumstances, to repay at a certain time a definite amount; through an oath of office by which one binds oneself, whatever be the circumstances and for the full duration of his term of office, to fulfill the particular duties specified by the law; to the marriage promise to love made precisely "for richer or poorer, in sickness or in health, till death do us part," and open to the totally pervasive care and concern that is love. In explicit negative terms this mutual commitment of Arthur and Agnes rejected any merely empirical, objective, abstractive, or partial understanding of their life with one another; it was a total commitment made despite all the unforeseeable and changeable circumstances. Positively, they promised to love and cherish each other till death did them part.

The radical totality in this mutual act of freedom by Arthur and Agnes manifests a transcendent Presence, for this totality can be understood only through its direction to being more fully, and basically to the plenitude which is Being Itself. This is the condition of possibility for their life together being not a mere succession of separate and dissociable actions, but a continuous and unified whole. Due to this their fidelity to each other is not static, inert, or immobilizing, but active and creative.26 Formal correspondence to an abstract law which is clear, distinct, and univocous for all will be necessary, of course, but not sufficient. Rather, their life will constitute an actively developing recognition of a living, personal, and transcendent ontological Presence. This can never be grasped and can even be forgotten or betrayed. Nevertheless, it is continually evoked as that in terms to which each moment of fidelity is lived; it is the living Plenitude of truth and love of which all that is true and good in men’s lives are participations.

Participation, then, does not imply that one’s life is set and predetermined as a part of the whole. The transcendence of this Presence enables one’s life to be spontaneous and yet in its freedom to be united with others. We are not an assemblage of isolated individuals playing prefixed roles which, in a Bradlean manner, are designed to coincide. We are ever new creations shaping our lives in active communion as in an orchestra, that is, in the act of living with others.27 Other persons are neighbors who stand before me, not as objects, but as selves to be greeted. Together we form a fraternity or community built, not upon a deadening equality resentful of difference, but upon a common sonship lived by a diversity of persons. The success of one enriches and ennobles the others; the sufferings and sorrows of each are matters of common concern.

When Arthur and Agnes said "for richer or poorer, in sickness and health", they did not become indifferent to each other’s concerns. On the contrary, the relative and limited past and future concerns of Agnes took on for Arthur an ultimate meaning which they could never have for Agnes herself. Arthur is passionately, unconditionedly concerned for Agnes if she is even moderately sick, as is Agnes for Arthur and for her child, Mary. It is a concern which a doctor, nurse, or other professionally involved person can seldom, if ever, share. It manifests that abiding Presence which transcends all the differentiated conditions of name and form and in which, through participation, our lives have their ontological weight, their real meaning for ourselves, and their communion with others.

This is more than a mere relation of given individuals, even one that is stable and lasting. More properly it is a communion, for in this each finds his or her being and freedom.28 "This tie not only does not fetter him, but frees him from himself. . . . Each one of us tends to become a prisoner of himself not only in his material interests, his passions, or simply his prejudices, but still more essentially in the predisposition which inclines him to be centered on himself and to view everything from his own perspective."29 The more intense the recognition and response to others the more one breaks away from this self-centeredness and the greater the intimation of the suprapersonal "real and pleromic unity where we will be all in all."30 From this comes hope, not as a series of particular claims to be achieved by our efforts, but as a relaxation, humility, and patience which enables us to see things whole and to respond with total love, dedication, and perseverance.

Is the "pleroma" or plenitude in which all participate personal? If by personal is meant someone related as a contrary to others, then this would not apply. Rather, the "pleroma" should be called, not impersonal, but suprapersonal. Thus, in his Metaphysical Journal he refers to God as the "Absolute Thou" which is not an object, a "he."31


The previous chapters concerned ages long past when communication between continents was, at best, little and slow. That this is no longer the case has been taken by some to mean that it was time to form a global culture predicated upon a single philosophy. Like esperanto, that would devalue our cultural pluralism; we would all be the poorer. What was said above concerning development and retrieve, however, may suggest a more comprehensive model for the manner in which shared problems can generate culturally diversified responses.

It was noted that a transformation takes place when a need arises, that to respond to that need we must reach back to retrieve more of our foundational wisdom, and that the new equilibrium will be a synthesis of this rediscovery with the structured content of the prior stage of development. In the present situation of highly developed media for communication there is no reason to believe that the needs will arise separately in the East and the West—quite the contrary. In the West the combined development of science and technology channeled thought too exclusively into primary reflection restricted to the empirical at the expense of secondary reflection. This has generated an experience of alienation and created a need to rediscover the person and God, as was described above. What is now being communicated most actively from West to East, would appear to be (a) the same scientific worldview, which educational systems are extensively involved in disseminating, and (b) similar industrial and technological means which both the public and private sectors are fully engaged in developing. To this should be added the implied threats to the person as these attitudes are applied in the areas of commerce and public administration. It is not surprising then to find arising in both East and West a similar set of needs gravitating around the understanding, protection, and promotion of the person in private and social life This is manifested in the combined search by the older and younger generations more adequately to realize civil rights and a greater sensitivity to disadvantaged minorities. On the part of the young, especially, it is manifested negatively in their heightened scepticism regarding social structures and the Absolute, and positively in their insistence upon a more active role in decisions by which they are affected.

If the problems are common, however, the response should be distinctive to the several cultures. It should not take the nihilist path of rejecting one’s cultural foundations or the alienating path of substituting another’s. Rather, it should consist in a creative transformation of one’s heritage. As seen above this will require reaching back to one’s roots to find elements not previously developed. For a detailed and controlled effort it will require also the systematic philosophic tools developed thusfar, especially in one’s own and perhaps also in other traditions.

This raises three questions: First, what is the condition of these tools? Second, how can they develop the heritage of wisdom regarding plenitude and participation to aid men to find their way in this period of intensive development? Third, what implications does the new interpersonal sensitivity have for the philosopher’s effort ?

Co-operating Systems

Regarding the condition of the tools for systematic philosophy, Dasgupta’s History of Indian Philosophy and most other studies of Indian philosophy present the systems in parallel fashion, distinct and almost separate one from another, much as did Madhva in his Sarva-darsana-samgraha in the Thirteenth century, Dasgupta notes that "As a system passed on it had to meet unexpected troublesome criticisms for which it was not in the least prepared. Its adherents had therefore to use all their ingenuity and subtlety in support of their own positions, and to discover the defects of the rival schools that attacked them."32

What might now be accomplished in philosophy for India and humankind if the new spirit blowing across this land meant that after 1500 or even 2500 years it were possible to draw upon the combined wisdom of these carefully developed systems! By this I do not mean simply an impoverishing compromise based upon a least common denominator, but a combination of resources which would realize more perfectly the distinctive contributions of each. Above, we saw the elaboration by Thomas, at a new level of awareness, of a creative synthesis of Plato’s insight regarding participation in the One with Aristotle’s scientific concern for the reality of the physical order. This suggests some questions.

First, is there implicit in the contemporary Indian concern for the physical development of the country’s resources a newly developed awareness of the reality of the universe which might enable the thought of Madhva and Shankara to be seen as complementary rather than as contradictory positions? Certainly, Madhva’s lack of a causal dependence of differentiated reality must be corrected in the light of Shankara’s affirmation of the Absolute as One.33 But would not some causal participational model also make it possible to understand and articulate, not only how the universe founds its reality in the One, but how the One proclaims its reality by sharing it as universe?

Second, is there in the Indian affirmation and reaffirmation of freedom democratically shared among men an implicit deepening in awareness of personal affirmation which might enable the thought of Ramanuja and Shankara to be seen as complementary rather than as mutually exclusive insights? Certainly, Ramanuja’s notion of attributes which qualify the divine would need to be corrected in the light of Shankara’s clear proclamation of the Absolute’s unity and Plenitude of perfection. Parmenides will always say the most important world.34 But to take account of the person will it not be important to trace participation to its source in some sequential pattern of truly transcendental properties? As personal, each would be open and unlimited in its affirmation of being; hence, they would not qualify or limit the divine which they progressively explicate. This might help, not only to ground the personal in the One, but to articulate the life of the Absolute, and to uncover the meaning of that life for ours in this increasingly complex society.

Such a system could be extended further. It is said that Shankara was not interested in developing a logic because systems of logic were already at hand. The same might be said of systems of combinations of elements for understanding the material or physical universe. Such systems become logicisms or materialisms only when not employed within a larger and more integrating vision. Aristotle’s system of the sciences is an example of one way in which this has been done so that each body of knowledge can make its proper contribution to a philosophy which is an integrating understanding of all things. In this each part is related to the highest knowledge which concerns the Absolute Consciousness, by whose attractiveness all is moved in the physical and ethical orders. A coordination of the combined resources of Indian thought done in its own terms might prove to be no less impressive, nor less needed in order to face the problems of contemporary life.

Participation and Technology

The implications of the contemporary awareness of the person must be carried beyond the interaction between men, however. One of the major factors in the contemporary problematic is the development of scientific and technological capabilities which threaten to depersonalize their creators. It is not enough to decry these capabilities, for they have shaped the present world in which we live and we cannot now survive without them. Nor is the problem immediately resolved by noting that man carries out his inventive role as a participation in the divine plenitude, for this would still be a depersonalization if man’s intellect were merely carrying out a preformed plan within the limitations of its definitive categories. In a merely mechanical, imitative process there would be none of the creativity of freedom which man experiences in his newly found capacity to transform matter. There would be no recognition of the fact that nature now appears to man as material for his creative activity, rather than as an exterior limit imposed upon him.

In this the roots of the real dilemma begin to appear. It is not simply a question of whether man has either absolute freedom in his actions in the sense of an absolute indeterminacy (and empty gratuitousness), or a structured relationship to an ordered and determined body of nature. This dilemma can be overcome by the appreciation of both man and nature as dependent upon the Divine; as expressions of the same perfection they complement rather than exclude each other so that human freedom can express itself in nature. The real question is whether and how this order of nature actually relates to the area of freedom in the divine, and hence to what degree man can exercise a creative freedom as he images the divine in the technological area. It is in the solution of this problem that the roots of man’s intellectualization of nature are to be found. Progress can be made on this problem by reflecting upon the nature of God Himself as absolute and perfect, being in His simplicity the plenitude of all perfection. This combination of the infinity of perfection with the unity of the Divine is most important for our problem, because it means that there is no perfection, actual or conceivable, which has not been included in the simple unity which is the Divine itself.

The vast possibilities which open before man in this technological culture, the new usages for matter and new forms of material and social perfection conceivable by the endless capacity of the mind—all are included within the unity of the infinite simplicity which, having neither past nor future, is the eternal now of which God is the perfect possession.35 The term ‘possession’ is, however, capable of still further meaning. The Aristotelian conception of knowledge has always identified knowing with unity, rather than with the dichotomy of subject and object: This appears in Thomas Aquinas. God as Truth itself is the perfection of divine Unity. He is unlimited perfection, thus unlimited intelligibility; further, he is unlimited act and therefore unlimited knowing. The identification of both of these constitutes in a most perfect way the one act of understanding, or truth itself.36

This identification of the source of all being with an unlimited and simple absolute truth is the guarantee, the inspiration and the challenge of technological man. It is the guarantee because it assures that no structure or category which expresses a limited degree of perfection or of being can ever be identified with truth itself or can ever stand as a limit to his striving toward further perfection. Thus if the forms of nature are increasingly relativized and transcended, it is not a movement towards irrationality or arbitrariness, but rather towards a new, more complete and more profound manifestation of truth itself. Striving towards a new realization of perfection, man is always striving towards a new participation in the infinite perfection of the Divine. In doing this rationally, he is participating in the knowledge had by the ultimate exemplar cause according to which God understands the ways in which His absolute perfection is imitable in an unlimited number of ways.37 Thus one can draw a parallel between the Divine Word as containing the intelligible perfection of all creatures and the human artisan who contains in his mind the plans for that which he will produce.38

There is here also the source of man’s inspiration, for since the principle of this knowledge is the divine infinity itself, there is no limit to the amount of perfection which can be conceived. Finally, since this knowledge of the good in conjunction with the will is the principle of love, neither is there any limit to the impetus to progress through the creative intellectualization of nature which is characteristic of our technological culture.

From this there follows the true dimensions of the present challenge for philosophy in an increasingly industrialized technological and scientific culture, and an indication of the full dimensions of the task which lies before it. It would be insufficient to define this in terms of conquering matter as an evil opponent, or of improving the means to an end. Rather, what is called for is the appreciation that man in his technological activities is giving glory to God by participating in the creative intellectual work of God’s creation. In this he stands as subordinate to God in his being and in his work of intellection, but he is responsible and creative on the pattern of the Divine intellect. In his own less perfect manner, through a continued actualization of his intellectual capacities, man proceeds to an understanding of ever new ways in which the plenitude of perfection can be participated in the present circumstances of nature. He does this by himself participating in the divine light and carrying that light into the midst of nature. Thus, his task is never simply his own because it opens onto a truth—and hence onto a meaning and value—which transcends all else and is absolute in itself.

There are dangers here that man will not look high enough, that he may look upon nature only as a limit, or that he may look at nature as mere indeterminacy manifesting nothing. In that case, he would be driven back upon himself where, finding nothing absolute and final, he must dash the great promise of technology on the rocks of materialism, pessimism, and atheism. There is no protection against this but truth itself. In these times of intensive development man must look above himself in an active contemplation which includes the full notion of communion with the divine as the source and goal of his intellectual endeavors. There he will find both the key to the intelligibility already existing about him and the inspiration to work with nature so that it might respond more fully to the needs of men.

Philosophizing and Communion

Finally, as personal, one must not only be free oneself and exercise one’s high priesthood in relation to nature, one must also commune with others. Above we saw Marcel’s concern that Idealism, especially in its British form, contained a danger of closure upon the self. This is a special problem today due to the convergence of a number of factors: the increasing demands placed upon resources by the extended longevity and hence the numbers of people, the increasing pressure placed upon persons by the technological and industrial coordination of their work, the increasing human expectations due to the development of both personal self-awareness and communication. All of these combine to underline the importance of the concern for others which was reflected above in a number of the indices of the contemporary mind.

In the light of such factors philosophers must continually reassess the adequacy of their work. Buddhism’s addition of the ideal of the Bodhisattva is classical in this context. Like the extension of the cycles of rebirths of the Jivanmakta it provides an important pointer, but may not take sufficient account of the newly developing personal and interpersonal awareness. The classical Christian notion of participation understood as sharing by our existence in Being itself is an essential contribution, for it enables us to be more fully aware of the reality of persons, of the transcendent importance of the life they lead and of the sufferings they undergo. It implies as well an appreciation of a brotherhood between men as sons of the same Father.

The contemporary awareness of persons goes further, however. As articulated by Buber and Marcel, men now understand themselves as persons precisely in relation to other free persons; the personal I is discovered in my I-thou relations. This develops the notion of participation in the Absolute in at least three ways. First, I-thou relations require and participate in an I-Thou relation. Second, the I-Thou relation is achieved in an I-thou relation. Third, for us living is not only sharing in God and returning to Him, but sharing His truth and goodness with our neighbors. The latter is not merely an implication of the former; it is the present human mode of its realization.

Liberation or salvation is then not something we achieve by ourselves and then put off in order to help others. Particularly today, our truly personal acts—those with full ontological weight—are lived above all in Communion with others. There is here the basis for a social philosophy in the Ghandian spirit. But one would not be true to that spirit if one were to see in it merely an ethics, for it is not only a question of what we should do; more fundamentally it is a question of metaphysics, of what we are and how we can live more fully.

Marcel joins the great tradition of Eastern philosophy when he says that basically the answer to this question requires overcoming the tendency to center upon ourselves. His antidote may point the way to a contemporary road to liberation; it is to oppose this centering upon oneself by opening to others in loving service our communion with our brother is our participation in Presence, the Plenitude of being in which we live.

Even this, however, must be tested to be sure that we do not look to others only for what we can receive from them, thereby ultimately remaining closed upon ourselves. This is corrected by assuring that we are conscious of others as persons, free centers, for whose good we are concerned. There is a test of this; it lies in our response to those who have nothing to give but their suffering. There is then a criterion for the authenticity of a contemporary philosophy of participation in plenitude. It is not merely deductive certitude, for beyond this a new test has been added by which we can judge our work in philosophy. It is our concern, not only to understand emancipation or realize it in our lives, but to bring the good news to the poor.


1. See my "Foundations of Unity," Philosophes critiques d’eu-memes, ed., Andre Mercicr (Munich: Lang Verlag, 1977), pp. 61-71; "Theory and Praxis in the Sciences of Man," Teoria e Prassi (Roma: Centro di Studi Culturali, 1977); and "Inter-American Philosophy and Development," in Filosofia e desenvolvimento, ed. T. Padilha (Rio de Janeiro: Edition Americana, 1977).

2. George F. McLean, "Paul Tillich’s Existential Philosophy of Protestantism," The Thomist, XXVIII (1964), 1-50.

3. Systematic Theology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951), I, 79.

4. "Symbol and Knowledge: a Response," Journal of Liberal Religion, 11 (1941), 250-51.

5. The Courage to Be (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1952), p. 48; see Systematic Theology, I, 189 and II, 74.

6. "Freedom in the Period of Transformation," in Freedom: Its Meaning, ed. Ruth Nanda Anshen (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1940), pp. 123-124 and 131-132.

7. Systematic Theology, I, 64-65. The alternative would, he says, be a humanist, naturalist or dualist approach to God.

8. The Courage of Be, p. 176. Despair supposes something positive. "The negative ‘lives’ by the positive which it negates." Love, Power, and Justice: Ontological Analysis and Ethical Applications (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1954), pp. 38-39.

9. "The Two Types of Philosophy of Religion," Union Seminary Quarterly Review, I (1946), 10.

10. "The Problem of the Theological Method," Journal of Religion (1947), 99 73.

11. Dynamics of Faith, Vol. X or World Perspectives, ed Ruth Nanda Anshen (New York: Harper, 1957), p. 18.

12. I and Thou, trans., W. Kaufmann (Edinburgh: C1ark, 1970), p. 153.

13. Ibid., 154. See also Rollo May, Paulus: Reminiscences of a Friendship (London: Collins, 1974), chap. v.

14. The Existential Background of Human Dignity (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1963). In this series of lectures delivered late in his life, he surveys and evaluates the development Of his thought. This will be the principle source for interpreting the main emphases in his philosophy.

15. Rudolf Carnap et al, Wissenschaftliche Weltaufassung: Der Wiener Kreis, chaps. ii-iv, trans. by A. Blumberg in J. Mann and G. Kreyche, eds., Perspectives on Reality (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1966), pp. 483-494. See also G. Marcel, The Philosophy of Existence, tans. by M. Hariri (New York: Philosophical Library, 1949), pp. 1-30: B.F. Skinner, Beyond Freedom and Destiny (New York: Knopf, 1971), pp. 25 and 197.

16. Existential Background, p. 21

17. Ibid., p. 22

18. Ibid., p, 96.

19. Ibid.

20. Ibid., pp. 33-34.

21. Ibid.

22. Ibid., p. 79.

23. Ibid., pp. 40-42.

24. Trans. by R. Rosthal (New York, 1964).

25. Existential Background, pp. 65, 72, and 74.

26. Ibid.

27. Ibid., p. 78.

28. Ibid., p. 88.

29. Ibid, p. 147.

30. Ibid., p 141.

31. Trans. by B. Wall (Chicago, 1952), p. 281.

32. Dasgupta, 1, 64.

33. Bede Griffiths, Vedanta and Christian Faith (Dehra Dun: Jyoti Sahi), p. 24,

34. Ibid., pp. 20-24.

35. Summa theological, 1, q. 25, a. 3.

36. Truth, q. 8, a. 6.

37. Ibid., q. 2, a. 9 and q. 7, a 8 ad 2.

38. Summa contra Gentiles, IV, 3.

Last Revised 06-Feb-09 02:27 PM.