Apologetics. Part II.

First Part here.

In many ways Kierkegaard and Jean-Luc Marion couldn’t be more different. Kierkegaard, the protestant’s Protestant (19th century no less) and Marion, the Catholic theologian par excellence, and who rarely makes any sort of reference to Kierkegaard whatever in his voluminous writings. However, on some topics their thought converges from different locations (one of these is the concept of love, a main theme in both Kiekegaard and Marion). Apologetics is another. Mormonism, while we cannot accurately characterize it as either strictly Protestant or Catholic, is in some ways an amalgamation of both, with its established magisterium (the priesthood hierarchy) and its Resortationist/Protesant roots and structures. (It is also, of course, much more than than a reduction of American Christianity alone). And while Kierkegaard leans closer to the descriptive in his writings and Marion to the prescriptive, there is, I’m arguing here, significant value in understanding how they as well as others have conceived the relationship of philosophy, theology, and apologetics within a Church. I began with Kierkegaard, here I’ll outline Marion’s approach, and in the third and final installment I’ll make some tentative suggestions as to how they apply to specifically Mormon paradigms.

Speaking from a very thoroughly Catholic point of view, Marion argues that there is a difference between the theologian and the theologian, emphasizing theo—relating to God in the one—and logos—relating to the word or the text in the other (scripture). The theologian “proceeds to a hermeneutic of the biblical text that does not aim at the text, but through the text at the event, the referent.” [1] What is this event that grounds scripture for the Christian theologian? It is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Thus, the Christian theologian must go beyond the text to that which founds the text as truly theological and Christian: the Christ-event. For Marion, the site of this fundamental or authentic theology is the Eucharist. Why the Eucharist? Because in the Eucharist the Word (capital ‘W’—Jesus Christ) in person silently speaks and blesses. Luke 24:34, speaking of the disciples on the road to Emmaus: “They themselves recounted [or, we might say for our purposes here, they established a hermeneutic, an interpretation] the things that happened on the way and how he was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread.” Marion writes, “To say the Eucharistic hermeneutic, to repeat it for the first time, as one tries a new art, a new thought, a new mode of the real, hence to perform it, this draws, so to speak, an immediate confirmation: ‘While they said these things, he himself stood among them’ (Luke 24:37) to give the spirit and to be repeated as absolute Word.” Theology, then, properly done, is Eucharistic in nature, for its goal is to reveal Christ as the true referent of the text in a way that causes Christ to become visible to the community of believers and speak to them and bless them. That it is the Eucharist that accomplishes this is essential, for it is the Eucharist that is the central religious mechanism that binds the community together by revealing Christ.

This leads Marion to conclude that, (for Catholics, naturally) only the Catholic bishop merits, in the fullest sense, the title of theologian, or in other words the theologian par excellence, against which other teachers of the Word (other theologians) find their grounding as authentic within the community (remember, the Word is Christ. The word is the text, or sacred scripture). The bishop presides over the Eucharist, where the Word is revealed to the community. Thus the teaching of the Word and the presiding over the Eucharist are closely tied together. Without the Bishop (without one to administer the Eucharist), there is no eucharistic space for the Word to appear and to teach the Word outside this Eucharistic space is to function as a theologian, not a theologian.  To be a theologian, is to mistakenly reduce theology to a science by seeking a neutral reference point or object for theology apart from the revealed Word—to point to the word and not the Word. In other words, to make of theology a purely secular enterprise. The theologian severs herself from service to the community by either interpreting the text in such a way that it has no referent whatever (it refers to nothing beyond itself, has no spiritual meaning, and therefore it says nothing to the religious community) or she produces a new site of interpretation apart from the Eucharist and establishes a new referent (the text refers to something beyond itself but not to not the Word (Christ) to which it should refer. Thus to break with the bishop as administrator of the Eucharist is either to cease to serve the community at all, or to turn the community away from the Eucharistic site. To be turned toward anything else is to be engaged in idolatry.

What is particularly crucial here is that, as theologian par excellence, the bishop is not interpreting texts or doctrines or theologizing in the traditional sense. He is not, strictly speaking, even teaching anything at all. He can certainly do this, but even this lies outside the liturgical realm of administrator of the Eucharist, in which his only role is to administer the ordinance that the community recognizes reveals the Word such that each is individually blessed and spoken to by the Word.  It is by virtue of this authority that the Eucharistic space is opened, in order that authentic, “Word-related” (not merely “word-related”) theology can take place.  Thus connected to this authority, others can also become theologians and teachers, theologizing in the light of the Word and not merely by their own words alone.

For Marion, the theologian, directly inscribed in the Eucharistic, community-binding site the bishop by his authority opens up, has only the edification and upbuilding of the community as her ideal purpose. In this way, the theologian is an apologist, an apologist of both the Eucharistic site and the community that she seeks to edify and preserve through the opening of that site. But there is a conundrum: something is unnecessarily sacrificed when apologetic and unapologetic teaching is utilized. The apologist uses reasons to justify Christ’s admittance to the community and the world, but potentially sacrifices the world’s reception of the Christian. (In other words, as apologist, the world will not accept the Christian that is constituted by apologetic discourse). Nonapologetics, free of this kind of reasoning, tries to get the world to accept the Christian while potentially sacrificing Christ’s admittance in the process. Here’s the upshot: If the goal is to convince others to Christianity through reasoning alone, apologetics is useless, for other means will accomplish the goal better: the silent community of shared experiences, the sharing of hopes and struggles, the “irrational” of lived experience. But let us suppose, Marion suggests, that apologetics could attain such a degree of rigor that nearly any rational mind would be convinced by the reasons it produces. Perhaps for the believer faith is strengthened; for the nonbeliever, perhaps reassessment or even some sort of conversion occurs. In either case, nothing is really gained, for so long as the will does not freely will to love, apologetics has accomplished nothing significant other than setting itself up as an idolatry that has used words that do not point to the Word (capital ‘W’) but to themselves alone, in their eminent cleverness. For Marion, conventional apologetics aims to convince the unconvinced or strengthen the weak, where in fact it should aim to constrain. By constraint, Marion means that, where reason is utilized (as it of course must be) apologetics should aim at persuading the will to cease and desist at a certain point. Apologetics is traditionally concerned with the convincing of the will, but for Marion the nature of the will is such that it always decides for itself on the basis of itself. And yet, the will never remains fully convinced in any case, for all the reasons in the world are never wholly sufficient. The will ceaselessly seeks to justify its convictions, and for this reason isalways uncertain to one degree or another. Not that reason should be jettisoned in favor of some other schema (this is impossible) but reason is never wholly sufficient.

Well and good, the believing apologist might say. Reason isn’t the entire story of my faith anyway. Just one tool among others in the shed, one way of expressing my faith among others. But what Marion is implying here is stronger than that:  it’s not that reason is one of many discourses in which the rational believer is engaged (others might be lived experience, narrative, community participation, etc) but that the rational basis for apologetics itself, narrowly construed within that realm alone, is insufficient to do the work the believer should hope to accomplish, which is the revealing of the Word to both believer and nonbeliever. Instead, apologetics should assist in providing sufficient reasons to stop insisting on more reasons. Then and only then can apologetics turn away from serving death. The theologian is not justified unless, instead, she serves charity, that chief Christian virtue, of which the Son of God is fully constituted, which prophecy, tongues, and even knowledge is nothing without; otherwise she brings death, for charity illuminates the Word in the Eucharistic site of theology, and the Word is Life; anything else is, by extension, death. An apologetics of charity allows one to be able to surrender one’s will to that which is everlastingly enduring, that which allows us to dwell in authentic relationships with those we seek to persuade, instead of remaining a slave to the endless demands of reason. The teacher/theologian without authority, inscribed as she should be in the Word and only in words as they lead to the Word, does not aim to develop a well-oiled argumentative machine by which she seeks to convince (convict) by force of reason alone, but by love. This then becomes a transitional movement from the word to the Word, and then, through love to Love (Christ), or in other words through love in order to recognize the Word as Love.  Effective apologetics begins with evidence and ends with love. It allows the will to leave itself alone just long enough to be open to the love of God, instead of pummeling itself and others with the insatiable demand for more reasons, these reasons, my reasons. According to Marion, apologetics plays the role of clearly indicating the place where the decision of the will must intervene, so that the will can truly come to know the One whom it must decide to confess or repudiate. Apologetics, he writes, “progresses toward its goal—to reach Love by love only by finally becoming useless (as regards arguments) little by little, for finally love alone, and not discourse, can go to the place apologetics should claim to lead. Apologetics culminates at the threshold of Love.” Anything else is idolatry, for if apologetics does not lead us to Christ, it only leads us back to ourselves, in our own empty, self-reflecting brilliance.

[1] I utilize Marion’s God without Being and Prolegomena to Charity in this post.


  1. Nice job explaining Marion’s very difficult philosophy — bravo!

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    Favorite line: “Effective apologetics begin with evidence and end with love.”

  3. Ugh, Marion does not believe in individual revelation and the perfectibility of the individual against the backdrop of the Church and its bishops. That changes everything.

  4. I am sorry, what I meant to indicate is that there are MANY theologians in the Mormon Church. We all imagine ourselves to be thus. As well as apologists, capable of discussing the fine points of Mormon theology to almost anybody. What is a missionary?

  5. I want to make sure I have jacob’s transition between paragraphs 4 & 5 correct. The apologist should, as does of the “Bishop presiding at Eucharist – the theologian par execellence,” stop the will from desiring more reasons?


    Interested in seeing how you relate this to the priesthood of all male believers.

  6. themormonbrit says:

    I find his idea that faith should rest on will rather than reason intriguing. While I can value that approach and admire it, I do not think it is particularly common in mormonism. Our testimonies are mostly rooted in evidence and reason – granted, they are mostly spiritual evidences, but they are evidences nonetheless. I don’t think it is really that common for someone to stand up in testimony meeting and say: I know the church is true because I want it to be true. Most mormons would, I think, say that wanting something to be true is different to knowing something to be true.
    Furthermore, wanting the gospel to be true is generally regarded as being inferior to knowing the gospel is true. While most mormons I know would probably say that a desire to believe is good, perhaps even necessary for a true testimony, it is only really seen as the beginning of a path, which has as its ultimate goal a pure knowledge, firmly rooted in spiritual evidences, of the truthfulness of the gospel.

  7. Enjoyed this. Reminds me of Buridan’s ass. The Book of Mormon seems to function in a similar matter. Im convinced it can neither be defended nor refuted by reason alone. Has apologetics or the critics ever really proved anything as to the book? It seems to stand as this odd thing that allows us to make a choice. What kind of world do we want to believe in? The one of miracles or not. It reads us as much as we read it.

  8. I assume you are also familiar with Flannery O’Connor’s thoughts on the Eucharist. One Catholic writer I particularly enjoy has a principle that the Biblical text should not be interpreted more than more than 30 feet from the Eucharistic table, or they should only be interpreted on the way to the Eucharistic table, keeping in-line with the Emmaus story.

  9. Bravo, Jacob! Great job of explicating Marion’s position (which does not deny individual revelation nor the perfection of the church’s members against the backdrop of the church and its leaders). I’m looking forward to how you connect this to Mormonism.

  10. S.P. Bailey says:

    “It reads us as much as we read it.”


  11. One last comment. I have often thought that the most efficient organization is fractal, that each piece of the organization contains all pieces of the organization, perhaps not as full blown as with those entrusted with the specific task in the organization, but still aware and acting as such. This is a huge deal in any organization. If the janitor thinks, at least a little, like the CEO, this is a good thing.

    The Mormon Church seems to fit, in many measures, this description. After all many of us have been bishops, stake presidents, etc., and we are all missionaries, and by extension, amateur apologists. In Marion’s terms we are all, at once, bishops and apologists as well as teachers, prophets, etc. We may not be as good a prophet as THE prophet, but being prophetic we can further the Church. This is also the meaning of agency, that we should act according to our best fractal knowledge for the good of the organization.

    We even believe that we are a little God-like, that within us we have that kernel of godhood. We always try to look at life as God sees it at its best and worst, which is a good thing. Each one of us contains a little of every function.

    True agency requires this fractal structure, otherwise we must be instructed in all things.

    Marion, however, deconstructs this and separates things and divides functions. But perhaps he was saying that we should not do that so much, that apologists and bishops should be more of the same, focusing on love. But he has complicated things by their separation, or rather, he has deoptimized things which should be optimized. and then he only takes a baby step towards completion. Or should I say, the Catholics have deconstructed things. (Catholicism, after all, is two churches, the lay church and the church of the clergy. They are different enough that they could be considered separate, maybe like the Gnostics, a church for the psychics and a church for the pneumatics. In fact, that corresponds to Marion’s description, the psychics being the church of the mind and reason, the pneumatics being the church of the spirit. Hmm.So he is saying the the psychics should be more pneumatic.)

    I have to admit that I found his reference to death nonsensical. He says if Christ is life, then all else is death. for charity illuminates the Word in the Eucharistic site of theology, and the Word is Life; anything else is, by extension, death. But Mormons know Christ is life, and in all and is the foundation of life. This is Christ’s kingdom, it is a kingdom of life. Which is another thing I love about Mormonism. We bask in life and do not consign even apologists to death because they want to explain things.

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