This is the first book of a young scholar who promises to be a major voice in the contemporary constructive theological conversations within the broad catholic tradition. It does not present an easy task, but it amply repays careful and reflective reading as, with its own particular voice and inner logic, it develops a theology of church and sacrament out of profound and critical reflections on the thought of Michel Henry after Husserl and Heidegger, and behind them Descartes and the violence to Christian thought detonated by Nietzsche in the 19th century. Rivera joins thinkers of the distinction of Jean-Yves Lacoste and Jean-Luc Marion within the tradition of phenomenology after Husserl (whose presence haunts almost every page of this book) in an authentic reconstruction of Christian thought and theology after the European Enlightenment and its aftermath in Derrida and postmodernity. But the depth and strength of Rivera’s careful constructions towards the mystical and contemplative within the life of the Church lie, finally, in their profound rootedness in early Christian theology from Tertullian to Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa and the Cappadocians, and, above all the ‘proto-phenomenological’ Augustine. With them beside us we are led to the moves made by Henry in his thought towards the theological, haunted also by the mystical theology of Meister Eckhart and Pseudo-Dionysius. In contemporary terms, however, this is not a journey made without theological dialogue. Sensitive yet critical conversations take place with Hans Urs von Balthasar, Karl Barth (and his theology after Nietzsche) and, to a lesser degree, Karl Rahner. In short, the breadth and range of this book are extraordinary. But the primary conversation (for that is what this book is) is with Michel Henry himself, though it is one of equals. For this is no mere commentary on Henry’s thought, but a patient analysis of its strengths and weaknesses as Christian theology, hence it is finally Rivera’s voice that is clearest and most articulate. After Husserl (and Heidegger), Henry liberates phenomenology (which Rivera wisely refuses to define too precisely as we begin to live within it in his text) for a ‘comprehensive vision of Christianity’ (p. 152). It is as we approach the issue of Henry’s ‘monism’, at the very centre of the book, that Rivera’s critique takes on a clarity that impels him towards his own constructive thinking. The turn is made ‘after having reviewed [Henry’s] conception of “generation” set over against creation as well as the basic unity of phenomenology and theology that motivates his methodological approach. What ontology does Henry presume as the inner logic of his theological anthropology?’ (p. 153). This very inner logic draws Henry towards something like a pantheistic position, a failure to address Christological problems as he drifts in the direction of Docetism in his inability ‘to attend positively to the bodily and temporal dwelling in the visible world’ (p. 155). This difficulty in Henry’s Christian thinking becomes the stage upon which Rivera can embark upon his own theology of the body, flesh, and incarnation. Here, increasingly, his closest companion becomes St. Augustine. A brief review cannot do justice to the subtlety of Rivera’s arguments concerning the body and soul, such that Henry’s monism does not lead us to disintegrate into or regress towards some form of Cartesian dualism, but we are led to a proper Christological recovery that sets the scene for the third part of the book, ‘Toward the Contemplative Self’. It is here that, in the best and broadest sense of the term, Rivera’s thought is revealed as deeply catholic. Alongside Augustine, as always, being the best guide in matters concerning temporality and the eternal, we reach finally our ecclesial community as found and known with the Eucharistic Body, our place in the Church, in faith and hope, and our participation (avoiding Henry’s too-realized eschatology) in the resurrection of the flesh. Yet, we continue to wait to see the glory of the Lord, ‘where no phenomenality but God’s luminous holiness may appear’ (p. 330), and Rivera concludes his book with the admission that the whole exercise has been one of ground clearing for further questions to be investigated. In short, here is an utterly intriguing prolegomenon to a further systematic theology that, within the tradition of phenomenology, will stand alongside the work of Marion and Lacoste as perhaps the most serious recovery of a generous catholic theology of our time. I await further volumes eagerly. © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press 2017; all rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Literature and Theology – Oxford University Press
Published: Feb 4, 2017
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