Morrison, G. J. (2008). The (im)possibilities of Levinas for Christian Theology. Responsibility, God and Society. Theological Ethics in Dialogue.
The paper aims to show how Levinas’ philosophy opens up a style of thinking and suggests a vocabulary of expression that can serve Christian theology, especially by opening the possibility of a language of alterity, or radical “otherness”, in theology. Given our paradox of the (im)possibilities of Levinas for Christian theology and, hence, the very risk of falling into the language of onto-theology, the paper will firstly relate my approach to Levinas writings for the benefit of Christian theology.
My special concern for the talk will be to provide an example of doing theology with Levinas. To this end, I will engage the theology of von Balthasar, no less a complex and many-faceted thinker than Levinas himself. In this regard, the talk will be limited to exemplifying my approach through enhancing von Balthasar’s study of John 20:19-23 where the Risen Jesus identifies himself to the disciples, greets them with peace and initiates their mission with the power of the Holy Spirit. Our aim here is to provide a context to theologise with the language of alterity. Consequently, I will suggest four aspects of Levinas’ idea of illeity (diachrony, the immemorial, effacement and ambiguity) to uncover the sense of the non-phenomenality of the Risen Christ’s otherness and face. The talk, by seeking to go beyond von Balthasar’s language of theology to refer to the Risen Christ, will most likely result in the impossibility of keeping faithful to von Balthasar’s theological boundaries. Yet, it is a risk and a trespass worth attempting for theology to traverse beyond essence towards ethical transcendence.
Levinas, language of alterity, von Balthasar, John 20:19-23