John Paul II's Call for a Renewed Theology of Being: Just What Did He Mean, and How Can We Respond?

Studies in Christian Ethics 21 (2):194-218 (2008)
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In this article I explore the contemporary relationship of theology to philosophy through the call for a `renewed philosophy of being' by Pope John Paul II. I argue that in fact three understandings of being appear in this call: the first, phenomenological, appears as the bringing to description of the situation of contemporary nihilism, exemplified by Nietzsche both in his published works and his Nachlaß; the second, metaphysical, can be understood as the moralistic voice taken up by contemporary theologians in addressing philosophy. This voice, I argue, is the voicing of the subjectivity of the (Cartesian) subject, and can be understood as the unfolding of the being-historical of the subject, explained in Martin Heidegger's use of the term `history of being' or Seinsgeschichte . This voice arises out of the `modernity' of the eighteenth century up to the present: it is a voice of extreme nihilism, but expressing itself as an imperative — not what `is', but what `should be'. This voice is also to be found in John Paul II. The third understanding is a possibility only arising out of the extreme nihilism encountered in the first two understandings of being. This understanding makes possible the genuine asking of the `question of being', the Seinsfrage, also laid out by Heidegger. As such, the question of being, when genuinely asked, alters the human comportment to God. Inasmuch as being presses in on man through a lack, an emptiness, that reasserts the fundamental orientation toward the future that unfolds from out of the being of beings, so the region of concealment and the withdrawal of the nihilating of the nothing, which is the region proper to divinity, can be understood and seen all over again



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Laurence Hemming
Lancaster University

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