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A Companion to Heidegger’s

Phenomenology of Religious Life

Schriften zur Philosophie und
ihrer Problemgeschichte

herausgegeben von

Rudolph Berlinger †
Wiebke Schrader †
Martina Scherbel

Band 80 - 2010

Amsterdam - New York, NY 2010

A Companion to Heidegger’s
Phenomenology of Religious Life

Edited by
S.J. McGrath and Andrzej Wierciński
The paper on which this book is printed meets the requirements of “ISO
9706:1994, Information and documentation - Paper for documents -
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ISBN: 978-90-420-3080-0
E-Book ISBN: 978-90-420-3081-7
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Printed in the Netherlands
Table of Contents

Abbreviations vii

Preface xi

I. The Historical Contexts of Heidegger’s 1920-21 Religion Courses

1. A “Genuinely Religiously Orientated Personality”. Martin Heidegger

and the Religious and Theological Origins of his Philosophy 3
Holger Zaborowski

2. Traces of Heidegger’s Religious Struggle in his

Phenomenology of Religious Life 21
Alfred Denker

3. Religion, Theology and Philosophy on the Way to

Being and Time: Heidegger, Dilthey and Early Christianity 35
István M. Fehér

4. Heidegger and the Ascesis of Thought 67

Franco Volpi

5. Theology and the Historicity of Faith in the Perspective

of the Young Martin Heidegger 93
Jeffrey Andrew Barash

6. A Historical Note on Heidegger’s Relationship to Ernst Troeltsch 115

Sylvain Camilleri

II. Phenomenological Method in the Early Heidegger

7. Heidegger’s Methodological Principles for Understanding

Religious Phenomena 137
Jean Greisch

8. Heidegger’s Atheology: The Possibility of Unbelief 149

Andrzej Wierciñski

9. Formal Indication, Irony, and the Risk of Saying Nothing 179

S.J. McGrath

III. Reading Heidegger on Paul, Augustine, and Christian Mysticism

10. Philosophia Crucis: The Influence of Paul on Heidegger’s

Phenomenology 209
Jaromir Brejdak
11. The End of Time: Temporality in Paul’s Letters to the Thessalonians 219
Graeme Nicholson

12. Present History: Reflections on Martin Heidegger’s Approach

to Early Christianity 233
Gerhard Ruff

13. The Poetics of World: Origins of Poetic Theory in Heidegger’s

Phenomenology of Religious Life 239
Jennifer Anna Gosetti-Ferencei

14. Truth and Temptation: Confessions and Existential Analysis 263

Daniel Dahlstrom

15. Memory and Temptation: Heidegger Reads Book X of

Augustine’s Confessions 285
Costantino Esposito

16. Notes for a Work on the ‘Phenomenology of Religious Life’ (1916-19) 309
Theodore Kisiel

17. The Theological Architecture of the Religious Life-World

according to Heidegger’s Proto-Phenomenology of Religion (1916-1919) 329
Sylvain Camilleri

18. Choosing a Hero: Heidegger’s Conception of Authentic Life

in Relation to Early Christianity 349
Dermot Moran
Abbreviations of Heidegger’s Works

BW. 1993. Basic Writings (ed. David Farrell Krell) (revised and expanded edition). New
York: HarperCollins.
BZ. 1989. The Concept of Time. Begriff der Zeit (tr. William McNeill) (German-English
edition). Oxford: Blackwell.
CT. 1992. The Concept of Time / Der Begriff der Zeit (tr. William McNeill) (German-
English edition). Oxford: Blackwell.
ID. 1957. Identität und Differenz. Pfullingen: Günther Neske. English: 1960. Essays in
Metaphysics: Identity and Difference (tr. Kurt F. Leidecker). New York:
Philosophical Library Inc.
GA1. 1978. Frühe Schriften. 1912-16 (ed. Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann) (Martin
Heidegger Gesamtausgabe 1). Frankfurt a.M.: Vittorio Klostermann.
GA5. 1977. Holzwege. 1935-46 (ed. Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann) (Martin
Heidegger Gesamtausgabe 5). Frankfurt a.M.: Vittorio Klostermann. English:
2002. Off The Beaten Track. 1935-46 (ed. and tr. Julian Young and Kenneth
Haynes). Cambridge University Press.
GA6.1 1996. Nietzsche I. 1936-39 (ed. Brigette Schillbach) (Martin Heidegger
Gesamtausgabe 6, Teil 1). Frankfurt a.M.: Vittorio Klostermann. English:
1979. Nietzsche I: The Will to Power as Art (tr. David F. Krell). New York:
Harper & Row.
GA6.2. 1984. Nietzsche II (ed. Brigette Schillbach) (Martin Heidegger Gesamtausgabe
6, Teil 2) Frankfurt a.M.: Vittorio Klostermann. English: 1984. Nietzsche.
Vol. II. The Eternal Return of the Same (tr. David Farrell Krell). New York:
Harper & Row.
GA9. 1996. Wegmarken (ed. Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann) (Martin Heidegger
Gesamtausgabe 9). Frankfurt a.M.: Vittorio Klostermann. English: 1998.
Pathmarks (ed. William McNeill). Cambridge University Press.
GA10. 1997. Der Satz vom Grund. 1955-56 (ed. Peter Jaeger) (Martin Heidegger
Gesamtausgabe 10). Frankfurt a.M.: Vittorio Klostermann. English: 1991.
The Principle of Reason (tr. Reginald Lilly). Bloomington: Indiana University
GA12. 1950-59. Unterwegs zur Sprache. 1912-59 (ed. Friedrich-Wilhelm von
Herrmann) (Martin Heidegger Gesamtausgabe 12). Frankfurt a.M.: Vittorio
Klostermann. English: 1971. On the Way to Language (tr. Peter D. Herz).
New York: Harper & Row.
GA13. 1985. Aus der Erfahrung des Denkens. 1910-36 (ed. Friedrich-Wilhelm von
Herrmann) (Martin Heidegger Gesamtausgabe 13). Frankfurt a.M.: Vittorio
GA15. 1986. Seminare. 1951-73 (ed. Curd Ochwadt) (Martin Heidegger
Gesamtausgabe 15). Frankfurt a.M.:Vittorio Klostermann. English: 2003.
Four Seminars (tr. Andrew Mitchell and François Raffoul). Bloomington:
Indiana University Press.
GA16. 2000. Reden und andere Zeugnisse eines Lebensweges. 1910-1976 (ed.
Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann) (Martin Heidegger Gesamtausgabe 16).
Frankfurt a.M.: Vittorio Klostermann.
GA17. 1994. Einführung in die phänomenologische Forschung. 1923-24 (ed. Friedrich-
Wilhelm von Herrmann) (Martin Heidegger Gesamtausgabe 17). Frankfurt
a.M.: Vittorio Klostermann.
Abbreviations of Heidegger’s Works

GA19. 1992. Platon: Sophistes. 1924/25 (ed. Ingeborg Schüßler) (Martin Heidegger
Gesamtausgabe 19). Frankfurt a.M.: Vittorio Klostermann. English: 1997.
Plato’s Sophist (tr. Richard Rojcewicz). Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana
University Press.
GA20. 1992. Prolegomena zur Geschichte des Zeitbegriffs. 1925 (ed. Peter Jaeger)
(Martin Heidegger Gesamtausgabe 20). Frankfurt a.M.: Vittorio Klostermann.
English: 1992. History of the Concept of Time: Prolegomena (tr. Theodore
Kisiel). Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press.
GA24. 1997. Die Grundprobleme der Phänomenologie. 1927 (ed. Friedrich-Wilhelm
von Herrmann) (Martin Heidegger Gesamtausgabe 24). Frankfurt a.M.:
Vittorio Klostermann. English: 1982. Basic Problems of Phenomenology (tr.
Albert Hofstadter). Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press.
GA26. 1990. Metaphysiche Anfangsgründe der Logik im Ausgang von Leibniz. 1928
(ed. Klaus Held) (Martin Heidegger Gesamtausgabe 26). Frankfurt a.M.:
Vittorio Klostermann. English: 1984. The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic
(tr. Michael Heim). Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press.
GA40. 1983. Einführung in die Metaphysik. 1935 (ed. Petra Jaeger) (Martin Heidegger
Gesamtausgabe 40). Frankfurt a.M.: Vittorio Klostermann. English: 2000. An
Introduction to Metaphysics (tr. Ralph Manheim). New Haven: Yale
University Press.
GA56/57. 1999. Zur Bestimmung der Philosophie. 1919 (ed. Bernd Heimbüchel)
(Martin Heidegger Gesamtausgabe 56/57). Frankfurt a.M.: Vittorio
Klostermann. English: 2000. Towards the Definition of Philosophy (tr. Ted
Sadler). New York and London: Continuum.
GA58. 1992. Grundprobleme der Phänomenologie. 1919-20 (ed. Hans-Helmuth
Gander) (Martin Heidegger Gesamtausgabe 58). Frankfurt a.M.: Vittorio
GA60. 1995. Phänomenologie des religiösen Lebens. 1917-21 (ed. Claudius Strube)
(Martin Heidegger Gesamtausgabe 60). Frankfurt a.M.: Vittorio Klostermann.
English: 2004. The Phenomenology of Religious Life (tr. Matthias Fritsche
and Jennifer Anna Gosetti). Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press.
GA61. 1994. Phänomenologische Interpretationen zu Aristoteles. Einführung in die
phänomenologische Forschung. 1921-22 (ed. Walter Bröcker und Käte
Bröcker-Oltmanns) (Martin Heidegger Gesamtausgabe 61). Frankfurt a.M.:
Vittorio Klostermann. English: 2001. Phenomenological Interpretations of
Aristotle. Initiation into Phenomenological Research (tr. Richard Rojcewicz).
Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press.
GA63. 1995. Ontologie. Hermeneutik der Faktizität. 1923 (ed. Käte Bröcker-Oltmanns)
(Martin Heidegger Gesamtausgabe 63). Frankfurt a.M.: Vittorio Klostermann.
English: 1999. Ontology and the Hermeneutics of Facticity (tr. John van
Buren). Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press.
GA65. 1994. Beiträge zur Philosophie (Vom Ereignis). 1936-1938 (ed. Friedrich-
Wilhelm von Herrmann) (Martin Heidegger Gesamtausgabe 65). Frankfurt
a.M.: Vittorio Klostermann. English: 1999. Contributions to Philosophy
(From Enowning) (tr. Parvis Emad and Kenneth Maly). Bloomington, Ind.:
Indiana University Press.
Abbreviations of Heidegger’s Works

GA66. 1997. Besinnung. 1938/39 (ed. Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann) (Martin

Heidegger Gesamtausgabe 66). English: 2006. Mindfulness. (tr. Parvis Emad
and Thomas Kalary). London: Athlone.
GA77. 1995. Feldweg-Gespräche. 1944-45 (ed. Ingrid Schüßler) (Martin Heidegger
Gesamtausgabe 77). Frankfurt a.M..: Vittorio Klostermann.
PIA. 1989. ‘Phänomenologische Interpretationen zu Aristoteles. Anzeige der
hermeneutischen Situation’ in Dilthey Jahrbuch für Philosophie und
Geschichte der Geisteswissenschaften 6: 228-69. English: 2002.
‘Phenomenological Interpretations in Connection with Aristotle. An
Indication of the Hermeneutical Situation’ (tr. John van Buren) in S: 111-145.
PSL. ‘Das Problem der Sünde bei Luther’ in Bernd Jaspert (ed.) Sachgemäße Exegese:
Die Protokolle aus Rudolf Bultmanns Neutestamentlichen Seminaren 1921-
51. Marburg: Elwert 1996. 28-33. English: ‘The Problem of Sin in Luther’ (tr.
John van Buren) in S: 105-110.
S. 2002. Supplements. From the Earliest Essays to Being and Time and Beyond (ed.
John van Buren). Albany, N. Y.: State University of New York Press.
SD. 1976. Zur Sache des Denkens (2nd edition). Tübingen: Max Niemeyer. English:
1972. On Time and Being (tr. Joan Stambaugh). NewYork, N.Y.: Harper &
SZ. 1993. Sein und Zeit (17th edition). Tübingen: Max Niemeyer. English: 1962. Being
and Time (tr. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson). New York, N.Y.:
Harper & Row.
US. 1982. Unterwegs zur Sprache (7th edition). Pfullingen: Neske. Reprinted as GA12
VA. 1978. Vorträge und Aufsätze. 1954. Pfullingen: Günther Neske.

Other Abbreviations
Conf. Augustine, Confessiones
Cont. acad. Augustine, Contra academicos
De civ. Dei. Augustine, De civitate Dei
De div. quaest. Augustine, De diversis quaestionibus octoginta tribus
De mag. Augustine, De magistro
De ordine. Augustine, De ordine
De praed. sanct. Augustine, De praedestinatione sanctorum
De. Trin. Augustine, De Trinitate
En. in. Psalm. Augustine, Enarrationes in Psalmos
Epist. Augustine, Epistulae
N.E. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
Serm. Augustine, Sermones
ST. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica
Tract. Jon. Augustine, In Johannis evangelium tractatus

It is no exaggeration to say that the publication of Heidegger’s early

Freiburg lectures (1919-1923) has precipitated a revolution in Heidegger
scholarship.1 We now read Heidegger differently because we have a
different Heidegger to read. This is not the master theoretician of Being
and Time (1927). Nor is this the laconic and cryptic thinker of the later
writings. This is a Heidegger who is working intensely with the
tradition, with neo-Kantianism, with phenomenology, with Aristotle, at
the same time that he is daringly experimenting with language in a bid
to say that which has never before been said. Neologisms are discarded
as fast as they are coined. No tradition is so sacred that it cannot be
turned inside-out. This is above all the hermeneutic Heidegger, the
Heidegger who inspired Hans-Georg Gadamer’s great effort to think
historically, a Heidegger who cannot do without the tradition because
it is in every case the matter to be thought.
The early lectures shed light on a hotly debated issue: the
young Heidegger’s engagement with the Christian tradition.2 Ever since
Heidegger’s Catholic students (Max Müller, Johannes Lotz, Karl
Rahner, Gustav Siewerth) began to interpret Heidegger’s ontology in a
theological frame in the 30s, the question of Heidegger’s compatibility
with Christian philosophical and theological traditions has been in
dispute.3 On the pro-side were those who followed Müller, Lotz, Rahner,
and Siewerth and interpreted Heidegger’s notion of Sein as a figure for
what Aquinas calls esse, the act of being, the absolute paradigm of
which is the creator God.4 On the con-side was Heidegger himself, who
insisted that between phenomenological-ontology and metaphysical
theology no fusion was possible; what the Thomists call esse is on one
side of the ontological difference – an ontic determination, as loaded
with Seinsvergessenheit as all other metaphysical concepts (GA24: 145-
169; GA6.2: 363-416). The later Heidegger’s ontology undoes the
“onto-theological” tradition, the history of metaphysics from Plato to
Hegel, which presumed to answer the question of the meaning of being
by reference to a highest being who produced all other beings. Telling
a story about the causal production of beings from the highest being
xii Preface

only more emphatically covers up the mystery of being and prepares the
ground for technology (GA40: 8-9). Between the pro and the con were
those who saw in Heidegger’s Destruktion of onto-theology the
unveiling of the genuine God, the one who cannot be named in the
language of metaphysics.5
In the background of these disputes were second-hand reports
of Heidegger’s early engagement with Christian theology, especially
radical Protestant theology, in the years before the 1927 publication of
Being and Time. Otto Pöggeler claimed that Heidegger had shown an
early sympathy for the iconoclasm of the early Luther, who emphatically
denied reason the possibility of knowing God without a grace-enabled
experience of revelation (Pöggeler 1990). Bultmann’s theology, which
applied existential phenomenological principles to the New Testament,
while purporting to be historically more accurate, was not as capricious
as it looked; Bultmann was reclaiming for Christianity what was
originally its own (Gadamer 1994: 29-43).
Until recently, Bultmann’s claim lacked textual evidence. With
the publication of the early Freiburg Lectures we now know that the
young Heidegger extracted formal phenomenological structures implicit
in early Christian literature, particularly in Paul and Augustine, as well
as in the medieval mystics.6 The texts published under the title
Phenomenology of Religious Life (volume 60 of the collected works)
include two lecture courses Heidegger gave at the University of Freiburg
in the academic year 1920/1921, reconstructed on the basis of student
notes: ‘Introduction to the Phenomenology of Religion’, and ‘Augustine
and Neo-Platonism’. Appended to the two lectures is the contents of a
folder holding scattered notes Heidegger took on the theme of mysticism
between 1917 and 1919, collected under the misleading title, ‘The
Foundations of Medieval Mysticism: Notes Toward a Cancelled Lecture
Course, 1919..7 It is widely agreed that the early Heidegger’s Dasein
analytic invokes certain Christian themes;8 the religion lectures reveal
to us the extent of Heidegger’s appropriation of Christian concepts.
Heidegger’s turbulent passage from the neo-Scholasticism in
which he was reared to the radical Protestantism with which he came to
identify himself – before abandoning Christianity altogether in the 30s
– determines the method and content of the religion lectures.9 These are
resolutely philosophical, formally atheistic interpretations of theological
texts. Yet Heidegger’s “violent” readings yield interesting results for
theology. He discovers theoretical implications of Paul and Augustine
Preface xiii

that had long been buried under Scholastic interpretations. Paul’s notion
of Christian life as a never-ending “coming to be” (Gewordensein) is
shown to be the heart of the Pauline proclamation. Augustine’s notions
of the blessed life (vita beata), and the temptation (tentatio) and care
(cura) which plague human existence are identified as moments of
breakthrough to the historical self. Methodologically Heidegger shows
that phenomenology is not to be confined to a transcendental Cartesian-
style analysis of the contents of the phenomenologist’s consciousness;
it has as its Sache the great historical texts which constitute Western
understanding, not only philosophical texts but also theological and
religious literature. Because of the historicity of consciousness,
phenomenology is inevitably engaging this historical material: there are
no “pure” concepts. Hermeneutical phenomenology makes explicit the
historical fore-determinations of consciousness implicitly operative in
every ‘a priori’ inspection of ‘transcendental subjectivity’.
Throughout the early Freiburg lectures Heidegger makes
revealing references to Luther.10 In the years immediately following his
Habilitationsschrift, Die Kategorien-und Bedeutungslehre des Duns
Scotus (GA1: 189-401) Heidegger immersed himself in the study of
Protestant theology. Luther’s objection to Scholasticism as the theologia
gloriae, an intrusion of Greek metaphysics into Christianity and a
substitution of a philosophical principle, to which human reason is
assumed to have constant and unhindered access, for the crucified God
who can only be known in revelation, awakened Heidegger from his
dogmatic slumber.11 Heidegger built upon Luther’s theologia crucis an
understanding of “the necessary atheism of philosophy” (PIA: 246;
GA61: 196–97). He turned the theological limitations of philosophy into
a strength: philosophy, bereft of a natural consciousness of God, is in a
privileged position to let the factic speak on its own terms.
The papers solicited for this volume are written by North
American and European scholars who have been actively working on the
young Heidegger in the last two decades. The volume is intended to both
illuminate the text of GA60 and introduce the literature on the topic.
The text of Heidegger’s Phenomenology of Religious Life is
exceptionally difficult. Heidegger is still looking for his way into
phenomenology. He is experimenting with methods, terminology and
subject matter in novel ways that are often impenetrable without
reference to the historical setting of the lectures. A subsidiary purpose
of the volume is to bridge the gap between ‘continental philosophy’ in
xiv Preface

North America and European work on Heidegger. A significant amount

of international scholarship based on the German edition of Heidegger’s
religion lectures remains largely unknown in North America. The
Companion redresses this oversight by drawing together recent English
work with studies by French, German and Italian scholars.
The volume is subdivided into three sections. The first section,
‘The Historical Contexts of the 1920-21 Religion Lectures’, deals with
the biographical, philosophical, and theological background of
Heidegger’s religion lectures. The lectures represent a transition period
for the young Heidegger: he is moving away from the neo-Kantian and
Scholastic interests which occupied him in his dissertation and
Habilitationsschrift into his new role, not only as Husserl’s assistant at
the University of Freiburg, but also as a major voice in the growing
phenomenological movement. Husserl had asked Heidegger to work on
the phenomenology of religion, a task for which he was well prepared
with many years of experience as a seminarian and theology student and
a long-standing interest in mysticism. This biographical background
must be unpacked if the lectures are to be understood. Holger
Zaborowski examines perhaps the most neglected area of Heidegger’s
studies, his student writings. Here we meet a Heidegger for whom
religious questions have an existential, often desperate urgency. Alfred
Denker then follows traces of Heidegger’s personal religious struggles
in the lectures of 1920/21, a period in which Heidegger is in process of
moving away from a personal belief in Christianity toward a
methodological atheism which allows him to formalize theological
concepts. Both Zaborowski and Denker focus on the young Heidegger’s
struggle with the “modernist” crisis in the Roman Catholic Church as a
turning point in Heidegger’s thinking. This upheaval in Catholic
academic culture, precipitated by several Papal pronouncements against
modern trends in science and biblical hermeneutics, lead to the pre-
Vatican II authoritarianism in Catholic theology and philosophy which
pushed Heidegger out of the Church. Heidegger could never tolerate any
external limitation on the freedom of thinking.
István M. Fehér’s piece zeroes in on the most decisive influence
in Heidegger’s phenomenological approach to early Christianity:
Wilhelm Dilthey. Dilthey’s understanding of Christianity as the setting
for the genesis of the Western concept of the historical self was
Heidegger’s cue, not only to the religion lectures, in which he examines
the notions of temporality implicit in Paul and Augustine, but also for
Preface xv

the hermeneutic turn of phenomenology in Being and Time. In the next

chapter Franco Volpi treats the young Heidegger’s self-declared
methodological atheism as itself a spiritual path, an “ascesis of thought”.
Volpi speaks of the relationship between Heideggerian thinking and
Gnosticism, a subject that has received comparatively little attention in
the literature. Drawing extensively on the Protestant theology which
determined, both positively and negatively, the early Heidegger’s
thinking on questions of theology, Jeffrey Andrew Barash provides an
overview of Heidegger’s increasingly ambivalent approach to the
phenomenological significance of faith. In the first of two contributions
to this volume, Sylvain Camilleri closes this section with a historical
reconstruction of Heidegger’s relationship to the liberal Protestant
theologian Ernst Troeltsch.
The second section, ‘Phenomenological Method in the Early
Heidegger’, unpacks the predominantly methodological preoccupations
of Heidegger at the time of the religion lectures. Frustrated with the
sterility of Husserl’s phenomenology to penetrate life as we in fact live
it, Heidegger uses the religion lectures as an opportunity to develop his
own unique approach to phenomenology, something he will later call
“the hermeneutics of facticity”. The subject matter of Heidegger’s
inquiry is not Husserl’s “transcendendental ego”, or the domain of
phenomenological reduced “essences”, but historical life in all of its
indefinable singularity and fluidity. These are not lectures on religion
(something which displeased some of his students, who protested as
much to the dean) but phenomenological lectures drawing upon religion.
Because life hides from the theoretical gaze, an oblique approach must
be used in phenomenology, one which leaves the phenomenon free to
show itself (or conceal itself) on its own terms: the early Heidegger’s
much-discussed method of “formal indication”. Jean Greisch opens the
section by breaking down the methodological assumptions determining
Heidegger’s approach to primitive Christianity into fourteen
hermeneutical rules. Andrzej Wierciñski’s chapter then relates the
notion of “atheology,” the leitmotif of Heidegger’s religion lectures,
with Heidegger’s later speculation on the relation of being and “the
Holy”. Atheology (methodological atheism) is not necessarily a
rejection of religious faith; it may in fact be a preparation for the
drawing near of the divine God. In the next piece, I examine the early
Heidegger’s method of formal indication, which receives a rare
extended treatment in the ‘Introduction to the Phenomenology of
xvi Preface

Religion’, as the key to understanding not only the religion lectures but
the whole of the early Heidegger. The formal indication is meant to
leave the phenomenon unmolested by pre-decided conceptual frames
and help the investigator resist the tendency, all-too-common in
phenomenology, to cut the phenomena to the measure of a theoretical
The third and final section of the volume, ‘Reading Heidegger
on Paul, Augustine, and Christian Mysticism’, is composed of
interpretations of GA60. A central theme running through these chapters
is the surprising way that Paul, Augustine, and Christian mysticism
emerge as forerunners of existential phenomenology. Jaromir Brejdak,
Graeme Nicholson, and Gerhard Ruff offer careful and complementary
expositions of Heidegger’s short and dense reading of Paul’s letters. For
Brejdak an analogy exists between Paul’s theologia crucis, the
impossibility of reasoning about the crucified, and Heidegger’s notion
of facticity, which becomes in Brejdak’s reading a philosophia crucis,
a crucifixion of theory on the cross of the factic. Nicholson looks at how
Paul’s concept of eschaton, the end which is not a telos but a rupture,
emerges as a seed of Heidegger’s concept of “temporality”. Ruff
speculates on the significance of the Paul lectures for the future of
phenomenology. The next chapter, by Jennifer Anna Gosetti-Ferencei,
negotiates the resonances between the idea of “world” in the early
Heidegger’s reading of Paul and the notion of “earth” in the later ‘Origin
of the Work of Art’. Daniel Dahltstrom and Constantino Esposito
examine Heidegger’s rich and suggestive reading of Augustine’s
Confessions Book X (on memory), finding in it numerous hints of the
path to Being and Time, as well as insight into the nature of Augustine’s
breakthrough to the self-world. Theodore Kisiel’s re-construction of the
so-called ‘Philosophical Foundations of Medieval Mysticism’ reveals
some of the textual issues surrounding this bundle of fragments in the
Heidegger archive. Kisiel points out that only a few of these notes
belong to the cancelled lecture course on medieval mysticism: the rest
originate in other aborted research projects into the life-world of
Christian mysticism. Kisiel supplements the notes published in GA60
with unpublished pieces which he copied directly from the file in the
Marbach Archiv, thus offering us a vital supplement to GA60. Sylvain
Camilleri’s second article in this volume is a developed commentary on
the notes, drawing on little known nineteenth-century Protestant
theologians who shaped the young Heidegger’s approach to Christianity.
Preface xvii

The volume closes with Dermot Moran’s meditation on the relationship

of the religion lectures in general to Heidegger’s notion of “choosing a
hero” in Being and Time. The ambiguous relationship of faith to
authenticity comes to the fore in this piece.
The modest aim of this volume is to raise new questions for a
new generation of Heidegger scholars. What possibilities for further
elaboration of religious themes in phenomenology are opened up by
Heidegger’s religion lectures? What is the meaning of the exemplary
relationship of early Christianity to hermeneutic phenomenology? If we
follow the young Heidegger, and argue that phenomenology must begin
in the theological tradition because of the historicity of thinking, what
happens to the ‘objectivity’ of phenomenology, its claim (as strong in
Heidegger as in Husserl) to evidentiality? Can the ontological difference
support the early Heidegger’s methodological distinction between the
ontological and the ontic, between a pure, phenomenological seeing that
nonetheless takes its cue from historical existence? Or does this residue
of Husserl’s phenomenological “intuition” collapse under the weight of
human facticity?12 These are not questions that will be answered soon.
But the very raising of them shakes the foundations of much of the
Heidegger scholarship of the last century.
The early Freiburg Lectures are published in GA56/57, GA58, GA60, GA61, and
GA63. The best introduction to this material remains Kisiel (1993).
A solid review of this issue is found in Caputo (1993).
On Rahner see Sheehan (1987). On Siewerth see Wierciñski (2003; 2005).
Coreth (1968) gives the most systematic presentation of this position.
Welte (1978) made this interpretation of Heidegger famous. The position has been
resuscitated by Hemming (2003).
On Heidegger and Paul, see Brejdak (1998). Heidegger and Augustine, see de Paulo
(2006). On Heidegger and medieval mysticism see Camilleri (2008).
The correct dating of these notes is given by Alfred Denker in chapter two below.
Among the first of Heidegger’s readers to intuit the kinship between Heidegger and
reformed theology was Max Scheler (1976: 295, 260). Cf. Derrida (1995: 22-23):
“Heideggerian thought was not simply a constant attempt to separate itself from
Christianity. . . The same Heideggerian thinking often consists, notably in Sein und Zeit,
in repeating on an ontological level Christian themes and texts that have been ‘de-
Christianized’. Such themes and texts are then presented as ontic, anthropological, or
contrived attempts that come to a sudden halt on the way to an ontological recovery of
their own originary possibility”.
On this series of transformations in Heidegger’s religious life see Zaborowsky and
Denker below. I have analyzed Heidegger’s early writings and lectures in the light of
this defection from Catholicism in McGrath (2006).
See for example GA56/57: 18; GA58: 62, 204-5; GA60: 283, 308, 309; GA61: 7, 182-
83; GA63: 5, 14, 27, 46, 106.
xviii Preface

On the history of Heidegger’s relationship to Luther see Van Buren (1994). For a
philosophical critique of the relationship see McGrath (2005).
For a development of this critique see McGrath (2008).


Buren, John van. 1994. ‘Martin Heidegger. Martin Luther’ in Kisiel,

Theodor and John van Buren (eds). Reading Heidegger from the
Start. Albany: State University of New York Press. 159-74.
Brejdak, Jaromir. 1996. Philosophia crucis. Heideggers Beschäftigung
mit dem Apostel Paulus. Frankfurt a. M.: Peter Lang.
Camilleri, Sylvain. 2008. Phénoménologie de la religion et
herméneutique théologique dans la pensée du jeune Heidegger.
Commentaire de la mystique médiévale (1916-1919).
Dordrecht: Springer.
Caputo, John D. 1993. ‘Heidegger and Theology’ in Guigon, Charles
(ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Heidegger. Cambridge
University Press. 270-88.
Coreth, Emerich. 1968. Metaphysics (tr. Joseph Donceel). New York:
Herder and Herder.
Derrida, Jacques. 1995. The Gift of Death (tr. David Wills). University
of Chicago Press.
Gadamer, Hans-Georg. 1994. Heidegger’s Ways (tr. John W. Stanley).
Albany: State University of New York Press.
Hemming, Laurence, P. 2003. Heidegger’s Atheism: The Refusal of a
Theological Voice. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame
Kisiel, Theodore. 1993. The Genesis of Heidegger’s Being and Time.
Berkeley: University of California Press.
McGrath, S.J. 2005. ‘The Facticity of Being Godforsaken: The Young
Heidegger’s Accommodation of Luther’s Theology of the
Cross’ in American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 79 (2):
– 2006. The Early Heidegger and Medieval Philosophy:
Phenomenology for the Godforsaken. Washington, D.C.:
Catholic University of America Press.
– 2008. Heidegger. A Very Critical Introduction. Grand Rapids, Mich.:
Preface xix

Paulo, Craig J.N. de (ed.). 2006. The Influence of Augustine on

Heidegger: The Emergence of an Augustinian Phenomenology.
Lewiston, Queenston, and Lampeter: Mellon Press.
Pöggeler, Otto. 1994. Der Denkweg Martin Heideggers (2nd edition).
Pfullingen: Günther Neske.
Rahner, Karl. 1994. Hearer of the Word (tr. Joseph Donceel). New
York: Continuum.
Sheehan, Thomas, J. 1987. Karl Rahner: The Philosophical
Foundations. Athens: Ohio University Press.
Scheler, Max. 1976. Späte Schriften (ed. Manfred Frings) (Max Scheler
Gesammelte Werke 9). Bern: Francke.
Welte, Bernhard. 1978. Religionsphilosophie. Freiburg im Breisgau:
Wierciñski, Andrzej. 2003. Inspired Metaphysics? Gustav Siewerth’s
Hermeneutic Reading of the Onto-theological Tradition.
Toronto: The Hermeneutic Press.
– 2005. Philosophizing with Gustav Siewerth: A New German Edition
with Facing Translation of ‘Das Sein als Gleichnis Gottes’ /
‘Being as Likeness of God’. Konstanz: Verlag Gustav Siewerth
I. The Historical Contexts of Heidegger’s
1920-21 Religion Courses
A “Genuinely Religiously Orientated Personality”:
Martin Heidegger and the Religious and Theological
Origins of his Philosophy

Holger Zaborowski

For as you began, so you will remain,

And much as need can effect,
And breeding, still greater power
Adheres to your birth
And the ray of light
That meets the newborn infant.1

Friedrich Hölderlin (2004: 501)

1. Heidegger’s Religious and Theological Origins as Future of His


On several occasions, Martin Heidegger emphasized the theological and

religious origins of his thought. He argued that without his theological
background, he would not have reached the way of thinking. “But
origins”, he famously claimed, looking back upon his life and way of
thinking, “always remain future” (GA12: 96).2 In this quote, Heidegger
refers to his background as seminarian and student of Catholic theology
at Freiburg University. But his Meßkirch background and thus his
religious background more broadly understood, were also important for
his future way of thinking.3 “The today”, Heidegger states on the
occasion of the 700th anniversary of his hometown Meßkirch in July
1961, “has its origins in the past and is at the same time exposed to what
comes towards it” (GA16: 574-582, 575).
As early as the beginning of the 1920s, Heidegger highlighted
the relation of his thought to his religious and theological origins. In a
well-known letter to his student and friend Karl Löwith, Heidegger
asserts that it belongs to his own facticity to be a Christian theologian
and writes that he works out of his “I am”, out of his “factual origins”,
“milieu”, and “contexts of life” (Papenfuss 1990: 29). In 1919,
Heidegger’s teacher Edmund Husserl characterized Heidegger as a
4 Zaborowski

“genuinely religiously orientated personality” (wirklich religiös

gerichtete Persönlichkeit) (Schütte 1969: 139). Hans Georg Gadamer
interpreted Heidegger’s Phenomenological Interpreations of Aristotle,
written in 1922, as “Heideggers ‘theologische’ Jugendschrift” (Gadamer
2003: 77).4 The young Privatdozent Heidegger was not only influenced
by his religious and theological origins, he continued to be interested in
religious and theological issues throughout the early part of his career.
Thus in his early Freiburg lecture courses, Heidegger not only lectures
on the phenomenology of religion, on Augustine, neo-Platonism, and on
St. Paul (and intended to lecture on medieval mysticism), he also
explicitly refers to the importance of Martin Luther and Søren
Kierkegaard for his own philosophical enterprise (GA63: 5).5
In this essay, I would like to explore Heidegger’s theological
and religious background.6 Although he became increasingly aware of
his “vocation” as philosophical, an “inner calling”, his theological roots
remained essential to his thought.7 As a student and young scholar,
Heidegger not only spoke the theological and religious language of his
time, he made this language his own.8 His religious and theological
standpoint also changed over the course of time which sheds an
interesting light upon the subsequent development of his thinking.
Current Heidegger research tends either to overlook this important phase
of Heidegger’s way of life and thought or to simplify it. Heidegger is
characterized as a theology student, heavily influenced by Roman
Catholic neo-scholasticism who would later radically turn against his
origins. The situation, however, is more complex.
In the following essay, I discuss Heidegger’s emphasis on divine
grace, his apologetic opposition to modernism, and his so-called “break
with the system of Catholicism” – what can be called his discovery of
historicity. Before I do so, I will briefly introduce key tendencies in
scholarship on Heidegger’s early way of life and thought.

2. Research in Heidegger’s Early Way of Life and Thinking

Scholars of Heidegger and of twentieth-century German philosophy

have examined Heidegger’s early way of life and thought with different
backgrounds and interests.9 It does not come as a surprise that the
religious and theological background of Heidegger’s thought has also
attracted a considerable amount of scholarly attention. Some scholars
such as Bernhard Casper, Alfred Denker, Hugo Ott, Johannes Schaber,
A “Genuinely Religiously Orientated Personality” 5

and Thomas Sheehan have approached the topic biographically and

historically, examining the religious climate of Heidegger’s hometown
Meßkirch,10 his relation to Benedictan Monasticism and to the Abbey
Beuron (in the vicinity of Meßkirch),11 and the years when Heidegger
was a theology student at Freiburg University.12 Other scholars such as
Karl Lehmann, Otto Pöggeler, Richard Schaeffler, and John Caputo
have taken a more philosophical approach, both systematically and
historically, and discuss, amongst other questions, the extent to which
Heidegger’s mature thought has been influenced by his early way of life
and thought.13 Research in this topic has particularly been stimulated by
new publications and re-prints of early texts by Heidegger in Frühe
Schriften (GA1), Aus der Erfahrung des Denkens (GA13), Reden und
andere Zeugnisse eines Lebensweges (GA16), and in the first volume of
the Heidegger-Jahrbuch which almost exclusively focuses on
Heidegger’s way of life and thought until 1919 (Denker: 2004a).
As far as the sources for Heidegger’s early life and thought are
concerned, however, scholars confront two significant problems. There
are, first of all, important sources such as Heidegger’s letters to his
parents that have, as of today, not yet been published, and, secondly,
generally few sources for Heidegger’s life and thought until 1919. This
is particularly problematic as Heidegger explicitly speaks of the
“exciting years between 1910 and 1914”. What these years gave rise to,
Heidegger claims, “cannot be said properly, but only be indicated
through a list that selects a few aspects”. This list contains not only the
second edition of Nietzsche’s Will to Power and the German translation
of Kierkegaard’s and Dostoevsky’s works, it also lists his “awakening
interest” in Hegel, Schelling, Rilke, Trakl, and Dilthey (GA1: 56).14
During these “exciting years”, however, Heidegger develops a critical
distance to his own religious and theological origins in Roman

3. The Inwardness of Decision and the “Grace Character of All Life”

As a student, Heidegger published four poems. ‘Dying Splendor’

(GA13: 5) was published in 1910, the poems ‘Gethsemane Hours’ and
‘We Want to Wait’ were published in 1911 in the journal Akademische
Rundschau, the poem ‘On Still Paths’ was published in 1911 in Der
Akademiker. Both the Akademische Rundschau and Der Akademiker
were anti-modernistic magazines. All these poems have at least
6 Zaborowski

implicitly a religious dimension.15 Heidegger’s early poems are thus an

important source for an interpretation of the religious and theological
background of his thought. Nevertheless, these poems have been
neglected by Heidegger scholars who tend to disregard them as a source
for interpreting Heidegger’s philosophy.16 In these poems, in which he
uses the language of the poetry of his time, Heidegger first employs the
language of religious and devotional poetry, then increasingly the
language of existential and experience-related poetry. They illustrate in
particular the extent to which the concept of grace was crucially
important for the early Heidegger’s Christian worldview.
The religious dimension is particularly evident in ‘Gethsemane
Hours’ which reads as follows:

Gethsemane hours of my life:

In the dark gleam
Of discouraged desponding
Often you have seen me.
I cried and shouted: never in vain.
My young being
Tired of moaning.
Has trusted only in angel ‘Grace’ (Ott 1993: 71).

This poem shows how Heidegger’s faith was shattered by the experience
of meaninglessness and God’s absence. But this poem also shows
Heidegger’s “solution”. Heidegger does not take refuge in a radical
critique of Christianity nor in a simple affirmation of the neo-Scholastic
wordlview. He trusts in the “angel grace” and thus in his immediate
relation to a transcendent being. Interestingly enough, apart from the
title, there is no Christological reference in the poem.
In ‘Consolation’, a poem published in 1915, angels also play the
role of comforters in a world of death, crisis, and failure:

The sun is shining

For a short hour only.
Must early die.
Love cries –
The meadow of life
A field of broken fragments
How God intends it!
On eternal trace
Are angels courting (Ott 1993: 89).
A “Genuinely Religiously Orientated Personality” 7

Heidegger contrasts the experience of death and finitude to an “eternal

trace”, but not to an “eternal order”. The angels grasp this eternal trace,
but humanity no longer fully understands God’s intentions. But there is
still hope in the “courting of angels”.
Grace remains a crucial notion throughout Heidegger’s career.
In a letter to Elisabeth Blochmann of 1919, Heidegger speaks of the
“lack of internal inner humility towards the mystery of grace and life”
(Heidegger 1989: 14). Later in his life, Heidegger relates grace closely
to origin and birth (GA16: 489). Native soil makes it possible,
Heidegger argues, to accept the gift of grace.
Heidegger’s emphasis on grace shows a particular approach to
Christianity that is influenced by a tradition that runs from Paul and
Augustine to late Scholastic theology, medieval mysticism, and Luther,
Pascal, Kierkegaard, and Dostoevsky. This Pauline and Augustinian
tradition emphasizes divine grace, the fallenness of humanity, the limits
of human existence, and the significance of the divine will. Although
there are undoubtedly overlaps, one can plausibly argue that this is not
the religious and theological tradition that expresses itself in early
twentieth-century neo-Scholasticism. Heidegger speaks the language of
his religious and theological background with a specific “dialect”, as it
were, that would find its expression also in his subsequent interest in the
Protestant tradition and in his later philosophy.
There are further sources that illustrate Heidegger’s early
“Augustinianism”. In 1911, Heidegger published a review of Das
Reisebuch. Licht und Dunkel in Natur und Geist (Jörgensen 1903),
written by the Danish convert to Catholicism Johannes Jörgensen. For
Heidegger, Jörgensen belongs to the Augustinian tradition. He is a
“modern Augustine”, who makes a radical decision for Christianity and
dies to the old Self. “And if you want to live spiritually and achieve your
salvation”, Heidegger writes, agreeing with the very thrust of
Jörgensen’s devout and missionary argument, “die, kill what is low in
you and co-operate with supernatural grace and you will be resurrected”
(GA16: 5).
Heidegger’s early poems, however, also show signs of religious
doubt. Heidegger increasingly has problems with a simple trust in God.
He seems to have experienced the absence of God keenly. In the poem
‘Loneliness’ (Einsamkeit) (GA16: 40), published in 1916, Heidegger
intertwines the historical situation of the First World War, described
once again with reference to angels, with the personal situation of his
8 Zaborowski

own life that is characterized by the experience of sinfulness and


Angels are spreading shrouds outside

Careworn statures which never find the light
Are erring around me, my mourning sins

Heidegger no longer speaks of angels and grace, but of loneliness,

silence, and distance from his own past:

Memory dies. The world stands still

Only a feeling can show what could comfort his soul:

I feel how love of God will flare up –

But even the love of God no longer flares up in him, let alone the
certainty of divine presence. The scene is cold and hopeless:

It snows.

So Heidegger seems to be in a religious crisis.

4. The Battle Against Modernism

Not only Heidegger’s early poems, but also his early essays and the
early lectures he delivered in Meßkirch are important indications of his
theological development. Many of his early essays and articles were
published in the Roman Catholic newspaper Heuberger Volksblatt.17
These texts are characterized by a rigorous criticism of the cultural
decline of the modern world. Heidegger addresses in particular the
human being who “never put his foot onto an erroneous path and did not
let himself be blinded by the fallacious shine of the modern mind”
(GA16: 8).18 Heidegger targets modern individualism in which he claims
most other problems are rooted: “The shrill contradictions of our age –
on the one hand the obstinate reality-fanaticism of the naturalist and
socialist organization of life, on the other the new realm of ideas and
philosophy of immanence with its construction of values for existence
– are the end results of a boundless autonomism” (GA16: 7). Heidegger
turns against this “boundless autonomism” by opposing to it the
A “Genuinely Religiously Orientated Personality” 9

Christian alternative. The human being, Heidegger thinks, is not able to

live merely by his or her own resources – that is the illusion of
autonomism. She is only able to achieve fulfilment if she abandons the
modern claim to power and certainty so that she can be born anew.
Heidegger, however, did not think that modern natural sciences
and philosophy were utterly misguided. On the contrary, Heidegger
opposes modernism and individualism with philosophy and science.
Between 1911 and 1913 he regularly gave papers in Meßkirch on topics
such as modernism, “socialism from a scientific point of view”,
Nietzsche, and the natural sciences. The Heuberger Volksblatt tells us
that in 1912, Heidegger delivered “interesting material out of the area
of natural sciences, concerning the last earthquake and the science of
earthquakes”.19 A month later, Heidegger talks about the “animal origin
of the human being and the judgement of the sciences”. In 1913, he
lectures on “spiritism (modern belief in spirits) and the sciences”, 20 and
on “thinking horses”.21 Here, one can clearly see in the young Heidegger
a lively interest in the natural sciences, which can be traced back to his
The titles of Heidegger’s first lectures (and their summaries in
the Heuberger Volksblatt) show that he was not only interested in
providing a popular and accessible introduction to scientific and
political questions. He intended to engage critically modernistic
doctrines such as socialism and Darwinism. These lectures were
undoubtedly religiously motivated. In the climate of the early twentieth-
century Kulturkampf,23 Heidegger intended to confute doctrines that at
least at his time were not reconcilable with the teaching of the Catholic
church. So, he emphasizes, for example, the radical difference between
the human being and animals (which explains why animals such as
horses cannot think), to confute Darwin and to defend the Christian view
of the human being as crown of creation. The background of these
apologetic efforts is a belief in a divinely ordered creation. At a time
when the natural sciences were transgressing their borders, as Heidegger
thought, and putting into question the traditional truths of Christianity,
he saw his task as an apologetic defence of Christianity through an
exposition of the limits of the sciences.24 Heidegger’s first interest in
philosophy, logic, mathematics, and natural science was thus religiously
While Heidegger’s study of the natural sciences made it possible
for him to criticize the presuppositions and the limits of evolutionary
10 Zaborowski

theory, he found in mathematics, philosophy, and modern logic ways to

counter modernistic relativism. On this basis, he attempted to defend the
traditional concept of truth as eternal and independent of human beings
and thus also as independent of empirical sciences. Philosophy,
according to Heidegger at this time, is “in truth a mirror of eternity”
(Heidegger 1991: 11). In his doctoral dissertation, Die Lehre vom Urteil
im Psychologismus (GA1: 59-188), Heidegger targets the naturalization
of human consciousness and the concept of truth and criticizes what he
calls the “non-philosophy (Unphilosophy) of psychologism” (GA1:
147). In his essay ‘On a Philosophical Orientation for Academics’ (Zur
philosophischen Orientierung der Akademiker), Heidegger holds that
the student of his time is in danger of an “unlogical, unhealthy
condition”, and demands that “a justified egoism must be once again
strongly emphasized, one which ranks intellectual and ethical
consolidation and development of one’s own personality as a basic
requirement over any remaining projects and occupations” (Heidegger
1991: 12). At this early point in his career Heidegger puts himself at the
service of the “justified egoism” that he demands of Catholic
There are more explicit sources that show the extent to which
Heidegger’s interest in logic has a religious and apologetic foundation.
In a newspaper article published in the Heuberger Volksblatt, Heidegger
remarks that the author of the article ‘Ultramontanism, Science, and
Freedom of the Mind’, published in the liberal Old Catholic
Oberbadische Grenzboten, thus the ideological opponent of the
Heuberger Volksblatt, is “not trained in logical thinking and cannot
differentiate” (Heidegger 1911). Heidegger calls for “more logical
acumen” (Heidegger 1911b). In studying logic, Heidegger claims to
develop a critical distance to the modernistic tendencies of his time. For
“[a] strict, ice-cold logic is inimical to the refined feelings of the modern
soul. ‘Thinking’ can no longer let itself be constrained in the
unshakeable eternal limits of fundamental logical propositions”
(Heidegger 1991: 11). For what reason? Heidegger’s answer is
unambiguous. The modern human being is ethically incapable of
trusting in the eternal principles of logic. The modern character is too
weak to follow logic. “To strictly logical thought, which hermetically
seals itself off against any affective influence of the soul, to each truly
presuppositionless scientific work there belongs a certain base of ethical
A “Genuinely Religiously Orientated Personality” 11

power, the art of getting hold of oneself and externalizing

oneself”(Heidegger 1991: 11).26

5. Heidegger’s Discovery of Historicity and His “Break with the System

of Catholicism”

My interpretation of Heidegger’s early poems has shown that there is a

significant change in Heidegger’s religious attitude. This change is also
mirrored in Heidegger’s Habilitationsschrift, his qualifying dissertation,
Die Kategorien- und Bedeutungslehre des Duns Scotus (GA1: 131-354).
Heidegger not only deals with historical questions, he also follows a
systematic trajectory, as early commentators noticed.27 This trajectory
shows signs of what will become his “break with the ‘system of
Catholicism’”.28 In a word, Heidegger discovers the problem of the
relation “between time and eternity” (GA1: 410) and thus the problem
of historicity. The reference to Hegel and the use of a partly Hegelian
language in the final chapter of Die Kategorien- und Bedeutungslehre
des Duns Scotus shows that historicity has emerged as the central
problem of his thought, one which would occupy him for the rest of his
life (GA1: 410f).
The famous letter to Engelbert Krebs, written in January 1919,
also shows neatly Heidegger’s turn towards history and the problem of
the relation of history to philosophy. Heidegger writes that
“epistemological insights extending to a theory of historical knowledge
have made the system of Catholicism problematic and unacceptable to
me, but not Christianity and metaphysics – these, though, in a new
sense” (LEK: 69). Why does the “theory of historical knowledge” make
the system of Catholicism problematic to Heidegger? The answer to this
question is relatively clear. Heidegger could not reconcile the insight
into the fundamental significance and problem of history and of
“historical knowledge” with the presumption of neo-Scholasticism to
attain eternal truths.
This change in Heidegger’s religious attitudes did not go
unnoticed. In 1919, in a private letter to Rudolf Otto, Edmund Husserl
speaks of a “radical change” in Heidegger’s “key religious persuasions”
(Husserl, 1969: 139, 141).29 It is less a radical and utterly unexpected
break, but rather a continuous departure from key principles of his
Roman Catholic past. Already in February 1917, to provide another
example, Heidegger wrote to his teacher Heinrich Rickert that he never
12 Zaborowski

held the narrow Catholic standpoint and that he would follow his own
free and personal search for the truth (Denker 2002b: 42).30 Although
Heidegger, as we have seen, once held an anti-modernistic position, he
did not exactly lie in his letter to Rickert. For there is evidence of a
criticism of neo-Scholasticism as early as 1915. In his 1915 curriculum
vitae, Heidegger writes that the philosophical lectures that were
prescribed for theology students did not satisfy him, so he studied neo-
Scholastic textbooks himself. But even the reading of these texts failed
to satisfy. They gave him a certain formal logical training, but
philosophically left him dry. He found more in the apologetic works of
Hermann Schell.31 With Schell, Heidegger not only names a theologian
who was influenced by Brentano (like Edmund Husserl and himself),
but also a key figure of the Catholic renewal in the beginning of the
twentieth century whose dogmatics and apologetics had been put on the
index of forbidden books.32 Heidegger had also already given public
expression to his criticism of neo-Scholastic textbook philosophy. In his
review of the second edition of Joseph Gredt’s influential Elementa
philosophiae Aristotelico-Thomisticae, Heidegger attacks the
understanding of the sciences and of philosophy presupposed by Gredt.
He argues that one cannot but make critical remarks from a scientific
standpoint, for philosophy is not a sum of theorems, but an unwavering
striving for truth (GA16: 29).
A further sign that Heidegger increasingly turned away from the
system of Catholicism is his interpretation of Immanuel Kant’s
philosophy. Kant, Catholic philosophers and theologians agreed in the
beginning of the 20th century, was indeed the philosopher of modern
subjectivism who abandoned any claim of objectivity of knowledge and
the whole area of supersensual transcendental truth. So Kant’s
philosophy appeared deeply erroneous and was strictly condemned
(Hertling 1891: 97f). In the beginning of his intellectual career,
Heidegger shared the dismissive Catholic interpretation of Kant.33 But
he gradually warmed to Kant’s thought. So we find rather eulogistic
remarks on Kant, particularly on the person of Immanuel Kant, in a
review of a selection of Kant’s letters, published in 1913. Heidegger
argues that a “high ethical power” is revealed in Kant’s self-discipline.
Heidegger, however, immediately relativizes his praise in saying that
one must also not overlook the weaknesses of Kant’s character (GA1:
45). It is noteworthy that Heidegger’s comments on Kant become less
ambiguous and increasingly more positive as he matures. In his review
A “Genuinely Religiously Orientated Personality” 13

of Charles Sentroul’s Kant und Aristoteles,34 Heidegger argues that

Catholicism is lacking in a responsible interpretation of Kant (GA1: 53).
In another review of an anthology of texts by Kant, also published in
1914, he calls the mind of the lonely man of Königsberg “fit as a fiddle”
(kerngesund) (GA1: 54). Thus exactly at the time when Heidegger
gradually develops a critical distance to the system of Catholicism and
the faith of his childhood, his interpretation of Kant, one of the key
figures of modern liberal cultural Protestantism, changes significantly
towards a more affirmative reading and interpretation of Kant.

6. “Without This Theological Origin, I Would Not Have Reached the

Way of Thinking”

In this essay I have briefly examined important dimensions of

Heidegger’s religious and theological development until 1919. Due to
the scope and limits of this essay, I cannot examine the impact of
Heidegger’s religious and theological background and of its
development on his later way of life and thought. It goes without saying,
though, that there is such an impact. Heidegger’s way of thought cannot
properly be understood without also taking into account his religious
and theological origins. As far as this is concerned, Heidegger scholars
would do well to follow his autobiographical self-interpretations, which
stress the significance of his origins, more closely. They would then see
that his “break with the system of Catholicism” was not as radical a
break as it may appear. Even before 1919, Heidegger showed a
proximity to, or interest in, religious and theological concepts and
writers that were not fully reconcilable, if not even at odds with the
“system of Catholicism” and also to philosophers such as Kant and
Nietzsche who were condemned by Catholic theologians. So
Heidegger’s way of thought, it is plausible to argue, develops rather
organically. This also means that his origins continue to be important for
his thinking, or as he puts it, one’s origins always remain one’s future.
Whoever takes the historicity of human life seriously cannot but
acknowledge that we cannot dismiss our past. This is one of the most
important lessons that Heidegger has to teach us, one that needs to be
taken more seriously in the study of his own life and work.
14 Zaborowski

For Heidegger’s reference to this text see GA16 (558-561, 561).
All translations from the German are my own unless otherwise indicated. For other
references to his origins and to the importance of one’s origins for one’s way of life see
GA13 (1-3, 3), and Heidegger (2003a: 40). For the significance of Heidegger’s origins
see also Harries (1996: 41-64).
For Heidegger’s relation to his hometown Meßkirch see Denker (2000), (2001a),
(2002a), (2004b), (2005).
For a similar interpretation see Casper (2001: 20).
For Heidegger’s interpretation of Luther see also PSL; Pöggeler (2004); Riedel (2003);
McGrath (2004).
For a more detailed essay on Heidegger’s religious and theological background see
Zaborowski (2004).
See LEK (68). For Heidegger’s “vocation” to be a philosopher see Denker (2004b);
also Fritz Heidegger (1969: 60).
Casper (2001: 12).
For general research in Heidegger’s early thought (including a comprehensive
bibliography) see Denker (2004a).
Ott (1992: 45-119); Safranski (2000: 15-88).
See Denker (2003); Schaber (2002); Schaber (2003); Ott (1990: 442f.); Ott (1992:
350f). Ott speaks of a ‘Beuron profile’ and ‘Beuron syndrome of the early Heidegger’.
See Casper (1980: 534-541); Sheehan (1977); Sheehan (1988); Casper (2001); Denker
(2001b); Denker (2004b); Zaborowski (2004); Schaber (2004).
See Lehmann (1963/64); Lehmann (1966/67); Schaeffler (1978): 3-34; Pöggeler
(1983: 77-89).
In this context, one should also mention Heidegger’s early reading of Friedrich
Hölderlin. See Heidegger (2000: 132f). For Hedegger’s later view of the problematic
Nietzsche interpretations of these years see GA6.1 (222).
This is also true of the poem ‘Abendgang auf der Reichenau’ (GA13: 7), first
published in 1917. For the relation of this poem to the work of Meister Eckhardt see
Pöggeler (2004: 193).
For Hugo Ott’s interpretation of ‘Gethsemane Hours’, ‘On Still Paths’, and ‘July
Night’, see Ott (1992: 71f). For other interpretations of these poems see also Thomä
(1990: 32-35); Grotz (2003: 92).
For the ideological orientation of the Heuberger Volksblatt and the “newspaper war”
between the Heuberger Volksblattes and the liberal and Old Catholic Oberbadische
Grenzbote see Vonberg (2003: 153-187).
English translation by John Protevi (Heidegger 1991: 490-493).
Heuberger Volksblatt, 14, n. 33, 20th March 1912 in Denker (2005).
Heuberger Volksblatt, 15, n. 31, 14th March 1913, in Denker (2005).
Heuberger Volksblatt, 15, n. 101, 29th August 1913 in Denker (2005). For Heidegger’s
‘interest’ in “thinking horses” see also Denker (2002b: 39).
For this early interest in the natural sciences see Martin Heidegger, ‘Lebenslauf (Zur
Habilitation 1915)’, in GA16 (37-39, at 37).
For the time of Kulturkampf in Meßkirch see Weber (2003: 189-202). For a brief
description of the tolerant atmosphere in their parental home see Fritz Heidegger (1969:
61). For a contemporary description and analysis of the situation of Meßkirch during the
Kulturkampf see Gröber (1912).
A “Genuinely Religiously Orientated Personality” 15

See Ernst Laslowski’s letter to Heidegger from January 20, 1913, in Denker (2004a:
36). Heidegger’s future significance as an apologetic philosopher and Laslowski’s
concern for Heidegger’s career is a recurrent motif in Laslowski’s letters to Heidegger.
See also Heidegger’s letter from December 6, 1913 in (Denker 2004a: 38-40).
For his view of apologetics see Heidegger (1991: 496-501).
For a similar view see Klimke (1911: 162).
See also Heinrich Rickert, ‘Gutachten über die Habilitationsschrift des Herrn Dr.
Heidegger’, in Denker (2002b: 95f). For early reviews of Heidegger’s
Habilitationsschrift see Denker (2004a: 79-91).
See Ott (1992: 106-119).
For an assessment of the religious dimension of Heidegger’s personality see also
Löwith (1986: 42-45).
This corresponds to what Heidegger writes in his 1922 curriculum vitae. Heidegger’s
reading of early Christian sources was also important for the development of this
position. See GA16 (43).
Heidegger, ‘Lebenslauf (Zur Habilitation 1915)’ (GA16:37-39).
On Hermann Schell’s life and thought see Berning (1964), (1978); Hausberger (1999).
There is still further research to be done on Schell’s influence on Heidegger.
See for example Heidegger’s ‘Das Realitätsproblem in der modernen Philosophie’
(GA1: 1-15, particularly 2f).
See Sentroul (1911).


Berning, Vincent. 1978. Gott, Geist und Welt. Hermann Schell als
Philosoph und Theologe. Einführung in die spekulativen
Grundlinien seines Werkes (Abhandlungen zur Philosophie,
Psychologie, Soziologie der Religion und Ökumenik 37).
München, Paderborn, and Wien: Schoeningh.
– 1964. Das Denken Hermann Schells. Die philosophische Systematik
seiner Theologie genetisch entfaltet (Beiträge zur neueren
Geschichte der katholischen Theologie 8). Essen: Ludgerus.
Casper, Bernhard. 2001. ‘Das theologisch-scholastische Umfeld und
der anti-idolische Grundzug des Denkens des jungen
Heidegger’ in Esposito, Constantino, and Pasquale Porro (eds)
Heidegger und das mittelalterliche Denken. Turnhout and Bari:
Brepols. Quaestio (1): 11-22.
– 1980. ‘Martin Heidegger und die theologische Fakultät Freiburg 1909-
1923’ in Freiburger Diözesan-Archiv (100): 534-541.
Denker, Alfred and Elisabeth Büchin (eds). 2005. Martin Heidegger
und seine Heimat. Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta.
16 Zaborowski

– With Hans-Helmuth Gander and Holger Zaborowski (eds). 2004a.

Heidegger und die Anfänge seines Denkens (Heidegger-
Jahrbuch 1). Freiburg: Karl Alber.
– 2004b. ‘Heideggers Lebens- und Denkweg 1909-1919’ in Denker
(2004a): 97-122.
– 2004c. ‘Heideggers frühe Veröffentlichungen (1909-1919). Ein
Forschungsbericht’ in Denker (2004a): 373-387.
– 2004d. ‘Martin Heidegger und die Herkunft seines Denkens.
Bausteine zur Biographie Martin Heideggers, Teil 4’ in
Meßkircher Heimathefte (10): 91-110.
– 2003. ‘’Ein Samenkorn für etwas Wesentliches’. Martin Heidegger
und die Erzabtei Beuron’ in Erbe und Auftrag (79): 91-106.
– 2002a. ‘Martin Heidegger und die Herkunft seines Denkens.
Bausteine zur Biographie Martin Heideggers, Teil 3’ in
Meßkircher Heimathefte (9): 25-38.
– (ed.). 2002b. Martin Heidegger/Heinrich Rickert. Briefe 1912 bis
1933 und andere Dokumente. Frankfurt a. M.: Vittorio
– 2001a. ‘Martin Heidegger und die Herkunft seines Denkens.
Bausteine zur Biographie Martin Heideggers, Teil 2’ in
Meßkircher Heimathefte (8): 25-38.
– 2001b. ‘Martin Heidegger: Zwischen Herkunft und Zukunft. Die
Anfänge seines Denkweges’ in Studia Phaenomenologica 1 (3):
– 2000. ‘Martin Heidegger und die Herkunft seines Denkens. Bausteine
zur Biographie Martin Heideggers, Teil 1’ in Meßkircher
Heimathefte (7): 5-16.
Gadamer, Hans-Georg. 2003. ‘Heideggers “theologische” Jugendschrift’
in Heidegger (2003b): 76-86.
Gröber, Conrad. 1912. ‘Der Altkatholizismus in Meßkirch. Die
Geschichte seiner Entwicklung und Bekämpfung’ in Freiburger
Diözesan-Archiv (40): 135-198.
Grotz, Stephan. ‘Erläuterungen zu Heideggers Dichtung’ in
Philosophisches Jahrbuch (110): 92-111.
Hausberger, Karl. 1999. Hermann Schell (1850-1906). Ein
Theologenschicksal im Bannkreis der Modernismuskontroverse
(Quellen und Studien zur neueren Theologiegeschichte 3).
Regensburg: Pustet.
A “Genuinely Religiously Orientated Personality” 17

Heidegger, Fritz. 1969. ‘Ein Geburtstagsbrief des Bruders’ in Martin

Heidegger zum 80. Geburtstag von seiner Heimatstadt
Meßkirch. Frankfurt a. M.: Klostermann. 58-63.
Harries, Karsten. 1996. ‘Herkunft als Zukunft’ in Schäfer, Hermann
(ed.) Annäherungen an Martin Heidegger, Festschrift Hugo Ott.
Frankfurt a. M., New York: Campus. 41-64.
Heidegger, Martin and Bernhard Welte. 2003a. Briefe und Begegnungen
(ed. Alfred Denker and Holger Zaborowski). Stuttgart: Klett-
– 2003b. Phänomenologische Interpretationen zu Aristoteles.
Ausarbeitung für die Marburger und die Göttinger
Philosophische Fakultät (1922). Mit einem Essay von Hans-
Georg Gadamer (ed. Neumann, Günther). Stuttgart: Reclam.
– With Imma von Bodmershof. 2000. Briefwechsel 1959-1976 (ed.
Bruno Pieger). Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta.
– 1991. ‘Contributions to Der Akademiker, 1910–1913’ (tr. John
Protevi) in Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal (14-15):
– With Elisabeth Blochmann. 1989. Briefwechsel 1918-1969 (ed.
Joachim W. Storck). Marbach a. N.: Deutsche
– 1911a. ‘Dem Grenzbot-Philosophen zur Antwort’ in Heuberger
Volksblatt 13, no. 42 (April 7, 1911).
– 1911b. ‘Was hat der “junge unerfahrene Student” auf die
oberflächlichen Ausführungen des römisch-katholischen Laien
im Grenzboten zu sagen?’ in Heuberger Volksblatt, 13, no. 64
(May 31, 1911).
– 1910. ‘Friedrich Willhelm Förster. Autorität und Freiheit’ in Der
Akademiker 2 (May): 7-8.
Hertling, Georg von. 1891. ‘Kant, Immanuel’ in Wetzer und Welte’s
Kirchenlexikon (2nd ed.), vol. 7. Freiburg i.Br.: Verlag Herder.
Hölderlin, Friedrich. 2004. ‘Der Rhein’/‘The Rhine’ in Hölderlin,
Friedrich, Poems and Fragments (tr. Michael Hamburger) (4th
edition). London: Anvil Press Poetry. 498-511.
Husserl, Edmund. 1969. Letter to Rudolf Otto from March 5, 1919, in
Schütte (1969): 139-142.
18 Zaborowski

Jörgensen, Johannes. 1903. Lebenslüge und Lebenswahrheit (2nd

edition). Mainz: Kirchheim.
Klimke, Friedrich. 1911. Die Hauptprobleme der Weltanschauung.
Kempten and München: Kösel.
Lehmann, Karl. 1966/67. ‘Christliche Geschichtserfahrung und
ontologische Frage beim jungen Heidegger’ in Philosophisches
Jahrbuch (74): 126-153.
– 1963/64. ‘Metaphysik, Transzendentalphilosophie und
Phänomenologie in den ersten Schriften Martin Heideggers
(1912-1916)’ in Philosophisches Jahrbuch (71): 331-357.
Löwith, Karl. 1986. Mein Leben in Deutschland vor und nach 1933. Ein
Bericht. Stuttgart: Metzler.
McGrath, Sean. 2004. ‘Das verborgene Anliegen von Sein und Zeit.
Heideggers frühe Luther-Lektüre’ in Enders, Markus and
Holger Zaborowski (eds) Phänomenologie der Religion.
Zugänge und Grundfragen. Freiburg and München: Verlag Karl
Alber. 271-278.
Ott, Hugo. 1992. Martin Heidegger. Unterwegs zu seiner Biographie.
Frankfurt a. M., New York: Campus. English: 1993. Martin
Heidegger: A Political Life (tr. Allan Blunden). London: Basic
– 1990. ‘Martin Heidegger – Mentalität der Zerrissenheit’ in Freiburger
Diözesan-Archiv (110): 427-448.
Papenfuss, Dietrich and Otto Pöggeler (eds). 1990. Zur philosophischen
Aktualität Heideggers (Symposium der Alexander von
Humboldt-Stiftung vom 24.-28. April 1989 in Bonn-Bad
Godesberg 2). Frankfurt a. M.: Vittorio Klostermann.
Pöggeler, Otto. 2004. ‘Heideggers Luther-Lektüre im Freiburger
Theologenkonvikt’ in Denker (2004a): 185-86.
– 1983. ‘Sein als Ereignis’ in Pöggeler, Otto. Heideger und die
hermeneutische Philosophie. Freiburg i. Br. and München:
Verlag Karl Alber. 71-138.
Riedel, Manfred. 2003. ‘Reformation und deutscher Idealismus. Martin
Heidegger zwischen Luther und Melanchthon’ in Seubert,
Harald (ed.) Heideggers Zwiegespräch mit dem deutschen
Idealismus (Collegium Hermeneuticum 7). Köln, Weimar und
Wien: Böhlau Verlag. 15-24.
A “Genuinely Religiously Orientated Personality” 19

Safranski, Rüdiger. 2000. Ein Meister aus Deutschland. Heidegger und

seine Zeit (3rd edition). Frankfurt a. M.: Fischer Taschenbuch
Schaber, Johannes, OSB. 2004. ‘Martin Heideggers “Herkunft” im
Spiegel der Theologie- und Kirchengeschichte des 19. und
beginnenden 20. Jahrhunderts’ in Denker (2004a): 159-184.
– 2003. ‘Phänomenologie und Mönchtum. Max Scheler, Martin
Heidegger, Edith Stein und die Erzabtei Beuron’ in Loos,
Stephan and Holger Zaborowski (eds) Leben, Tod und
Entscheidung. Studien zur Geistesgeschichte der Weimarer
Republik (Beiträge zur Politischen Wissenschaft 127). Berlin:
Duncker und Humblot. 71-100.
– 2002. ‘Te lucis ante terminum. Martin Heidegger und das
benediktinische Mönchtum’ in Edith Stein Jahrbuch (8): 281-
Schaeffler, Richard. 1978. Frömmigkeit des Denkens? Martin
Heidegger und die katholische Theologie. Darmstadt:
Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.
Schütte, Hans-Walter. 1969. Religion und Christentum in der Theologie
Rudolf Ottos. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.
Sentroul, Charles. 1911. Kant und Aristoteles. Kempten: Kösel.
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Giuseppina Moneta and Jacques Taminiaux (eds) The
Collegium Phaenomenologicum. The First Ten Years
(Phaenomenologica 108). Dordrecht: Kluwer. 77-137.
– (ed.). 1981. Heidegger. The Man and the Thinker. Chicago: Precedent.
– 1977. ‘Heidegger’s Early Years. Fragments for a Philosophical
Biography’ in Listening 3 (12): 3-20.
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“Oberbadischer Grenzbote” und “Heuberger Volksblatt” im
liberal-ultramontanen Streit’ in Weber (2003): 153-187.
Weber, Edwin Ernst (ed.). 2003. Renitenz und Genie. Meßkirch und der
badische Seekreis zwischen 1848/49 und dem Kulturkampf
(Heimatkundliche Schriftenreihe des Landkreises Sigmaringen
8). Konstanz: UVK.
Zaborowski, Holger. 2004. ‘“Herkunft aber bleibt stets Zukunft”.
Anmerkungen zur religiösen und theologischen Dimension des
Denkweges Martin Heideggers bis 1919’ in Denker (2004a):
Traces of Heidegger’s Religious Struggle in his
Phenomenology of Religious Life

Alfred Denker

With its saying,

thinking lays inconspicuous furrows in language.
They are still more inconspicuous than the furrows
that the farmer, slow of step,
draws through the fields.

Martin Heidegger

The different manuscripts and student notes of lecture courses that are
published in volume 60 of the collected edition of Heidegger’s works,
the Gesamtausgabe, document five decisive years of Heidegger’s
philosophical development in general, and of his work in the field of the
phenomenology of religion in particular. Later we will take a closer look
at these papers and see how Heidegger’s struggle with religion surfaces
repeatedly. After a brief sketch of his early years, we will discuss key
elements in Heidegger’s life and intellectual development until 1922.
This first part should give us some idea as to what kind of evidence of
his struggle we should look for in the text of GA60. In the second part
of the paper, we will take a closer look at some of this evidence.
Martin Heidegger was born on September 26, 1889, in the south
German town of Meßkirch.1 His father was a cooper, and the sexton of
Saint Martin’s church, where Heidegger occasionally served as an altar
boy. His mother was born and raised on a farm in nearby Göggingen,
where Heidegger spent most of his holidays as a boy. His devout Roman
Catholic parents were neither poor nor rich. When he was 14 years old,
Heidegger left Meßkirch to continue his education at the Gymnasium in
Constance. For boys from modest families, the financial support of
Roman Catholic endowments was necessary to allow them to finish their
high school educations. In return they were expected to study theology,
and later become priests. While visiting the Gymnasium, Heidegger
lived from 1903 until 1906 at the Konradihaus, the seminary where
Conrad Gröber was rector. Gröber, a father-figure to Heidegger and the
22 Denker

later Archbishop of Freiburg, gave the boy a copy of Brentano’s

dissertation on Aristotle as a birthday present in 1907. From 1906 until
1909 Heidegger lived in Freiburg, graduating from the Berthold’s
Gymnasium in the summer of 1909. As planned, he began his novitiate
with the Jesuits of Tisis in September. After two weeks, however, he
was dismissed for health reasons. He subsequently moved to the
seminary in Freiburg and continued his theological studies at the
university there.
In February 1911 a deteriorating heart condition forced
Heidegger to abandon all plans to become a priest. In October 1911 he
registered in the new department of mathematics and physics, where he
took courses in mathematics, history, physics and philosophy. In
philosophy Professor Heinrich Rickert became his most influential
teacher.2 On July 26, 1913, Heidegger received a doctorate in
philosophy with his first dissertation, entitled ‘The Doctrine of
Judgment in Psychologism’. His future looked promising; philosophy
professor Arthur Schneider and history professor Heinrich Finke began
grooming the talented young scholar for the Freiburg University’s chair
of Catholic philosophy. A grant from the Catholic Church enabled
Heidegger to start work on his qualifying dissertation. On the advice of
his mentors Heidegger decided to write on Duns Scotus’s doctrine of
categories and meaning. At this time he still thought his lifework would
be taken up with a comprehensive presentation of psychology and
medieval logic in the light of modern phenomenology. It therefore came
as a great shock and bitter disappointment when, a year after he had
successfully completed his qualifying dissertation and obtained his veni
legendi on July 26, 1915, the department of philosophy awarded the
chair to Josef Geyser.
This has all become common knowledge within the field of
Heidegger studies, and we do not need to linger any longer on these
well-trodden pathways. For our present purposes it suffices to establish
that Heidegger came from a solid and devout Roman Catholic
background, from which he slowly distanced himself from 1914

1. From “Italian Salad” to a New Understanding of Christianity

When discussing Heidegger’s intellectual biography in his student years,

it is important to remember that there was a strong Protestant and liberal
Traces of Heidegger’s Religious Struggle 23

influence at Freiburg University. After his decision to give up theology,

and consequently the priesthood, Heidegger was no longer under
obligation to attend specific lecture courses and seminars; students of
theology were not allowed to attend any courses outside the department
of theology. Now, as a student of mathematics, history, physics and
philosophy, Heidegger had his first real taste of academic freedom.
Heinrich Rickert and Edmund Husserl, the two people who exerted the
greatest influence on his philosophical development, were a Protestant
and a non-denominational Christian respectively.3 In a letter that
Heidegger wrote to his friend and colleague Father Engelbert Krebs on
July 19, 1914, we find the first clear sign that he is moving beyond the
strict anti-modernist world-view that he had defended in his earliest
writings. “The motu proprio was all we needed. Perhaps you as an
‘academic’ could seek a better way, whereby those who have fallen
away can correct their thinking by having their brains removed and
replaced with ‘italian salad’”.4 The obvious question is, why did this
decree by Pope Pius X upset Heidegger so much?
In the summer of 1914 Heidegger was still working on his
qualifying dissertation on Duns Scotus’s theory of categories and
meaning. In this book he followed a two-way strategy: on the one hand
he used modern logic (developed by Emil Lask, Rickert and Husserl) to
deconstruct the petrified tradition of medieval scholasticism, while on
the other he searched within that same tradition for solutions to modern
philosophical problems. Here we find already the famous structure of
Being and Time: the systematic analytic of Being-there in the first part,
followed by a destruction of the history of ontology. If the restriction
imposed on theologians by the Motu proprio were extended to Roman
Catholic philosophers, Heidegger would no longer have been allowed
to pursue this line of thought, since he was financially dependent on
grants from Roman Catholic foundations that would have had to take the
papal guidelines into account. This would have considerably diminished
his chances of obtaining further endowments and put his continued
existence as a philosopher at risk.
The notion of “deconstructing” shows how far Heidegger has
come, and how strong the influence of life philosophy on his thought has
become. In his 1911 review of Friedrich Wilhelm Förster’s book
Authority and Freedom, he still celebrated “the eternal treasure of truth”
(GA16: 7). The Roman Catholic Church’s authority is the guarantee of
this treasure’s immutability and eternity, so that there can be neither
24 Denker

development nor progress. In 1914 Heidegger had discovered that

human life in all its facets is an on-going everyday transformation, a
continued re-appropriation of times past and an ever-new re-projecting
of the future. Even logic and mathematics are not completed and
finished sciences; they too have their history. From here it is a small but
decisive step to the insight that religion in general, and Christianity in
particular, are historical phenomena. As such, they bring to light the
fundamental historicity (Geschichtlichkeit) of human life, demonstrating
that there cannot be an eternal and immutable truth. God’s Word is not
only spoken to all times, it is also spoken in time. Thus each generation
must breathe new life into the Word of God and find its own
understanding of its meaning. I cannot go into all the details of this slow
but sustained development of Heidegger’s basic beliefs and
philosophical convictions.5 Suffice it to say that this transformation was
accelerated by the most decisive event in Heidegger’s life.
On March 20, 1917, he married a young Protestant woman by
the name of Elfride Petri, to whom he would dedicate the
Gesamtausgabe almost sixty years later. She was a student of national
economics who had a strong interest in philosophy, attending
Heidegger’s first lecture course, on the history of medieval and
scholastic philosophy, and his seminar on Kant’s Prolegomena in the
1915-1916 winter semester. An old German saying teaches us that
“where two confessions share a pillow, the devil sleeps between”. The
long and intense discussions between the couple did not bring Elfride
into the fold of the Roman Catholic Church; on the contrary, they
ultimately led to Heidegger’s break with “the system of Catholicism”
(LEK 67). On December 23, 1918, Elfride visited Father Krebs, who
had mediated between Heidegger and his parents concerning his
marriage to a Protestant, and had celebrated the marriage in the
University chapel at Freiburg cathedral. At the time of the visit Elfride
was pregnant with her first child, Jörg, who was later born on January
21, 1919. She and her husband had decided that they would not fulfil the
promise, made in their wedding vows, to baptize their first-born son.
After her visit Krebs jotted down the gist of their conversation:

My husband no longer has his Catholic faith, and I have not found mine. At
our wedding his faith was already undermined by doubts. Nevertheless, I
insisted on a Catholic marriage, and hoped to find faith with his help. We read,
discussed, thought, and prayed a lot together, but the result is that we both
now think chiefly in a Protestant way; that is to say, we believe in a personal
Traces of Heidegger’s Religious Struggle 25

God without any fixed dogmatic ties, and we pray to Him in the spirit of
Christ, but without Protestant or Catholic orthodoxy.6

There are no grounds for doubting the sincerity of Elfride’s

statement. From other sources we know also that Heidegger studied
Protestant theology (Troeltsch, von Harnack, Overbeck, and
Schleiermacher, among others) from 1915 onwards. At the same time he
pursued his interest in mysticism, and also studied Nietzsche,
Kierkegaard, Simmel and Bergson. Evidence of all these interests can
be found in GA60.
One of Heidegger’s first students, Heinrich Ochsner, who was
to be his life-long friend, provides us with an important clue in a letter
written to an unnamed woman on August 5, 1917. “It is such a pity that
you could not hear Heidegger’s exposition of the problem of the
religious life. I have been impressed by it all week. But perhaps we will
read the second speech of Schleiermacher’s On Religion together. It
contains the essence of Heidegger’s exposition” (Ochwadt 1981: 92).
This is our first clear piece of evidence that Heidegger was studying
Protestant theology at the time.
In his philosophical autobiography, Jaspers reminisces about his
first meeting with Heidegger, in the spring of 1920. After attending a
birthday party, he visited Heidegger’s study and was impressed by the
intensity of the latter’s Luther studies (Jaspers 1995: 93). In the summer
of 1918, during his training as a meteorologist in Berlin, Heidegger had
enough free time to attend lectures at the university and socialize with
the theologian Deißmann and the phenomenologist Stumpf. All of these
different and apparently unrelated biographical fragments will fall into
place when we add the missing piece of the puzzle. On April 1, 1916,
Husserl came to Freiburg as Rickert’s successor. Husserl and Heidegger
had been corresponding since 1914, and from May 1916 onwards,
Heidegger would learn daily through his close association and joint
philosophizing with Husserl.7 During his apprenticeship in Husserl’s
phenomenological “school”, Heidegger acquired the necessary tools
with which to develop a phenomenology of religious life.
Heidegger returned to Freiburg in December 1918, after
Armistice had been declared. On January 9, 1919, he wrote his famous
letter to Father Krebs: “Epistemological insights extending to a theory
of historical knowledge have made the system of Catholicism
problematic and unacceptable to me, but not Christianity and
metaphysics – these, though, in a new sense” (Van Buren 2002: 69).8 It
26 Denker

is important not to overestimate the importance of this sentence.

Heidegger is breaking with the system of Catholicism, not with Catholic
faith. This distinction explains why, throughout his life, he remained so
attached to the Benedictine Monastery in Beuron. Here he could still
experience authentic religious life, in one of the places where people
still cared for the inner life and preserved a milieu in which the divine
and the Holy could be present. The last sentence of his letter to Krebs
is noteworthy: “I believe that I have the inner calling to philosophy and,
through my research and teaching, to do what stands in my power for the
sake of the eternal vocation of the inner man, and to do it for this alone,
and so justify my existence [Dasein] and work ultimately before God”
(LEK 68). Heidegger did not become a philosopher because he needed
to earn a living, but because philosophy was his vocation. It would
perhaps not be an exaggeration to say that he felt that God had called
him to philosophy. His need to justify his existence and his work before
God clearly shows the influence of Luther.
Heidegger started teaching again in the so-called “war
emergency semester” of 1919. If we take a closer look at the lecture
courses that he taught between 1919 and 1923, it becomes evident that
he was working out his phenomenological method through his
development of a phenomenology of religious life.9 As we have seen
above, Heidegger had lost faith in institutional religion, be it of the
Roman Catholic variety or one of the many different Protestant types.
Dogmatism, obsessed with clear and final answers, goes against the
natural movement of life by offering an unchanging interpretation of
religious experience. Instead of opening up the vista of immediate
experiences of the divine and the Holy, dogmatism locks the door on
any possible lived experience and throws away the key. To break
through this barrier, Heidegger needs to scrape off layer after layer of
solidified dogmatic statement to get to the beating heart of the
underlying lived and immediate experience of the divine and the Holy.
For all his shouting, the dogmatist cannot hear the gentle call of God’s
voice. Heidegger is searching for those pivotal moments in the history
of Christianity when lived experience of the divine irrupts and is
expressed immediately.10 However tremendous these irruptions may be,
dogmatism, orthodoxy, and scholasticism soon absorb and, therefore,
deform them. Heidegger is using the religious life as a vehicle for the
development of his phenomenological method. This should not blind us
to the fact that his ultimate goal is a phenomenology of human life as it
Traces of Heidegger’s Religious Struggle 27

is lived and as it expresses itself; we could say that he is trying to come

to grips with his own religious life. At the same time, his focus on
religious life betrays the strong influence of Jaspers and his psychology
of limit situations. Heidegger and Jaspers share the conviction that
human existence shows itself most clearly in the extremes of the limit
situations (death, love, faith, and sickness). In the years that followed,
Heidegger would free himself from this presupposition. In Being and
Time Dasein no longer shows itself first and foremost in limit situations,
but in the averageness of everyday life. Human life has a tendency to
fall away from itself and follow in the clear and familiar footsteps of the
One, instead of proceeding along its own course.
It has now become obvious why Heidegger focussed on
primordial Christianity, Augustine, medieval mysticism, Luther, and
Kierkegaard. Hard work taught him that it is not enough to move beyond
dogmatism, nor does this suffice to clarify our own hermeneutic
situation. Even reading the New Testament or the works of Kierkegaard
does not help much. Human life, language and thought are historical to
the core. No text is wholly neutral, because every expression of
immediate lived experience mediates and thus transforms the
experience. A phenomenological description of lived experience that
keeps the experience alive is the proverbial needle that Heidegger tries
to find in the hay-stack of phenomenology. What makes a
phenomenology of religious lived experience so difficult is its double
movement, of which the first step is the clarification of our hermeneutic
situation and the second step is the destruction of the author’s
hermeneutic situation. Heidegger’s phenomenological method, which
took him some six years to work out, is specifically designed to meet
these requirements. The key elements of his method (hermeneutic
situation, formal indication, content-sense, relational-sense, enactment-
sense, deconstruction and lived experience) are discussed in other essays
in this volume. For our purposes, we can confine ourselves to a
description of the traces left by Heidegger’s religious struggle.
Heidegger is convinced that the phenomenological method can be
learned only through concrete phenomenological descriptions of
phenomena. Only by doing phenomenology can we learn what it is. At
the same time, however, phenomenology is not a method; it is
philosophy itself.11 This means that philosophy as Heidegger
understands it is only possible as phenomenology, and is a way of living
one’s life. Philosophy should do justice to the fundamental historicity
28 Denker

of human existence, which means that it must follow the two-way

strategy mentioned above: it must clarify its own hermeneutic situation
through a deconstruction of a tradition, and simultaneously clarify the
hermeneutic situation of that tradition through a deconstruction of the
present. In other words, in phenomenology and philosophy we circle the
truth ever more closely, but we never touch it; thus these disciplines
reflect the finitude of human existence.
In GA60 we should look for three different kinds of traces. As
a teacher, Heidegger will have to explain to his students what the
phenomenological method is, both through abstract preparatory remarks
on how to do phenomenology and through concrete examples of how
phenomenology is done. Before throwing a child learning to swim into
the deep end of the pool, we explain to them what swimming is and how
one goes about it. Secondly, Heidegger will have to emphasize pivotal
figures in the history of Christianity; he is, after all, searching for
immediate lived experiences of the divine and the Holy. Thirdly, since
his religious struggle was also an appropriation of Protestantism, we
should expect to find evidence of his reading of Protestant theology. In
the second part of this paper, we will take a closer look at the writings
that make up GA60.

2. From Schleiermacher to the Piety of Thinking

GA60 is divided into three parts: ‘Introduction to the Phenomenology

of Religion’; ‘Augustine and Neo-Platonism’; and ‘The Philosophical
Foundations of Medieval Mysticism’. The first part contains
Heidegger’s lecture course from the 1920-21 winter semester, the
second part the course from the 1921 summer semester, and the third
part notes for a lecture course planned for the 1919-1920 winter
semester but never given. In order to follow the inner movement of
Heidegger’s thought and the development of his phenomenology of
religion, we should first study the third part. When reading the first part,
however, we should keep in mind that the text of the lecture course is
based on student transcripts, and not on a Heidegger manuscript.
Heidegger’s own notes and drafts are published in the appendix to the
course (GA60: 127-156). The fragments collected in the third part under
the general heading ‘The Philosophical Foundations of Medieval
Mysticism’ pose other problems. Some fragments from the same folder
were not published in this volume, and not all of them belong to the
Traces of Heidegger’s Religious Struggle 29

notes for the planned course on mysticism. In fact, there are references
in Ochner’s letter to Heidegger’s talk on Schleiermacher’s ‘Second
Speech’ On Religion. In my Historical Dictionary of Heidegger’s
Philosophy, I dated the published fragments more precisely:12

‘On Schleiermacher’s Second Address “On the Essence of Religion”’
(GA60: 319-322).
‘The Religious a priori’ (GA60: 312-315).
‘Irrationality in Meister Eckhart’ (GA60: 315-318).
‘Religious Phenomena’ (GA60: 312).
‘Phenomenology of Religious Experience and of Religion’ (GA60:

‘On the Sermones Bernardi in canticum canticorum (Serm III)’ (GA60:
‘Zu: Theresia von Jesu. Die Seelenburg’ (GA60: 336-337).
‘The Absolute’ (GA60: 324-327).
‘The Holy (Preparations for the review of Rudolph Otto, Das Heilige
[The Holy], 1917)’ (GA60: 332-334).
‘Faith’ (GA60: 329).
‘Hegel’s Original, Earliest Position on Religion – and Consequences’
(GA60: 328).
‘On Schleiermacher, “The Christian Faith” [Der christliche Glaube] –
and Phenomenology of Religion in General’ (GA60: 330-332).
‘Problems’ (GA60: 328).

‘The Philosophical Foundations of Medieval Mysticism’ (GA60:
‘Mysticism in the Middle Ages’ (GA60: 306-307).
‘Mysticism (Directives)’ (GA60: 308).
‘Construction (Starting Points)’ (GA60: 309).
‘Faith and Knowledge’ (GA60: 310).
‘Irrationalism’ (GA60: 311).
‘Historical Pre-givenness [Vorgegebenheit] and the Finding of Essence’
(GA60: 311-312).
‘Piety–Faith’ (GA60: 329-330).
30 Denker

One other important piece of evidence is provided by one of the

editors in his ‘Afterword’ (GA60: 345).13 Heidegger titled his collection
of fragments from his course on medieval mysticism ‘Phenomenology
of Religious Consciousness’. Later, probably as he was preparing his
course on the phenomenology of religion for the 1920/1921 winter
semester, he crossed out “consciousness” and replaced it with “life”. We
can draw two conclusions from this change. First of all, Heidegger
originally developed his phenomenology of religion from a Husserlian
point of view: all phenomena are phenomena of consciousness. In other
words, Heidegger still shared Husserl’s supposition that all reality is
based on consciousness. What makes a phenomenology of religious
consciousness so difficult to attain is the fact that religious
consciousness is pre-theoretical. How can we access the pre-theoretical,
immediate lived experience of the divine and the Holy without un-living
it? This fundamental problem also explains why methodological
questions and problems play such a dominant part in Heidegger’s
phenomenology of religion. Secondly, by replacing “consciousness”
with “life”, Heidegger distances himself from Husserl. As Heidegger
worked out his own phenomenological method, he had the insight that
consciousness is not the fundamental phenomenon that Husserl had
made it out to be.
As we have seen above, we should expect to find three different
kinds of evidence of Heidegger’s religious struggle in GA60. The first
two are more superficial, and show themselves in the works and authors
that Heidegger is studying and commenting on. On the one hand we find
signs of his confrontation with Protestant theology (that of
Schleiermacher, Troeltsch, Otto, and von Harnack), on the other traces
of his reading of pivotal developments in the history of Christianity
(primordial Christianity, Augustine, mysticism, Luther, and
Kierkegaard). The third kind of evidence is perhaps the most interesting,
since it shows how Heidegger understands the immediate religious lived
experience, and how it can be described phenomenologically.
In the third part of GA60 we find a fragment on
Schleiermacher’s Speeches on Religion, a relic of the talk on
Schleiermacher that Ochsner had heard on August 1, 1917. It presents
some interesting features. Lived religious experience demands a
phenomenological approach. Since Heidegger is convinced that
philosophy is only possible as phenomenology, he tries to show that
Schleiermacher’s reflections on the essence of religion are, in a
Traces of Heidegger’s Religious Struggle 31

profound sense, phenomenological descriptions. Religion is not just “a

kind of thinking”, a belief; it is also “a way of acting” (GA60: 319).
Thus, a purely theoretical approach to religion will distort the
phenomenon. We must, therefore, “get down into the innermost holiness
of life” (GA60: 321). The most important goal of the phenomenology of
religion is the discovery of an original domain of consciousness (or
feeling) in which religion as a distinct form of lived experience is
actualized. Heidegger is chiefly interested in this innermost movement
of conscious life itself, not in its historical objectification in religious
forms. Feeling is the inner unity of life and personal consciousness.
Even if this fragment is still merely rhapsodic – Heidegger clearly lacks
the phenomenological tools for his difficult task – it shows him trying
to get to the lived experience that is at the base of institutionalized
In 1918 Heidegger was working on a review of Rudolf Otto’s
book The Holy, which he and Husserl read as a phenomenology of our
consciousness of God. He also closely examined a fragment by Adolf
Reinach on the Absolute that was made available to him by Husserl.
Here we find two basic ideas that will guide all of Heidegger’s work on
the phenomenology of religion and, in a sense, direct his own religious
life. One is that living consciousness actualizes itself in different life-
worlds, all of which are intertwined and rooted in genuine personal
existence. There is a path that leads from this primordial lived
experience of religion to theology, but it does not follow from this that
theology as such leads us back to this primordial lived experience. The
other idea is Reinach’s distinction between explicit knowledge and
experientially immanent knowledge; Heidegger copied the entire
passage in which Reinach makes this distinction (GA60: 326-327).
There is an essential difference between the immediate feeling of
security in God’s love, and the knowledge that we feel secure in the love
of God and that God, therefore, must exist. This distinction points
towards Heidegger’s hermeneutic transformation of Husserl’s
phenomenology of pure consciousness.14 Life is always expressing
itself, and can always be understood.
Heidegger’s preparatory notes for his planned course on the
philosophical foundations of medieval mysticism continue in the same
vein. He is still struggling with methodological problems of
phenomenology and its primordial understanding. As a kind of
introduction to the course, Heidegger defines his objective. His course
32 Denker

has nothing to do with the then popular forms of “constructive

philosophy of religion”, neither is he going to provide an historical
overview of medieval mysticism (GA60: 303).15 His real objective is
systematic: the living structures of lived religious experience must be
described and clarified in their essence, from the concrete fullness of
their historical situations. Then these essences must be reduced to pure
consciousness, so that their motivation and genesis become clear.
Heidegger is using both genetic and eidetic phenomenology, forcing the
possibilities of phenomenological primordial understanding
(Urverstehen) to their limits. Phenomenology is systematic because it
describes pure consciousness and attempts to show how it develops into
concrete situations and life-worlds. It is historical because it can only
get at pure consciousness through the latter’s concrete historical
actualizations. By examining the mystic’s written expressions of the
lived experience of mysticism, Heidegger intends to investigate the
pre-theoretical foundation in pure consciousness from which it sprang.
In order to phenomenologically describe and understand mystical
phenomena, Heidegger and his students need to become, in a very real
sense, mystics themselves: “only a religious person can understand
religious life” (GA60: 304). Heidegger, who had lost faith in
institutionalized religion, is searching for immediate lived experiences
of the divine and the Holy. He is moving away from Catholicism, while
keeping his distance from Protestantism. In an interesting note he
remarks upon the differences between Catholic belief (fides) and
Protestant faith (fiducia) (GA60: 310).
Methodological problems dominate the first half of his 1920-21
course on the phenomenology of religion, and to such an extent that
students complained to the Dean of the Philosophy Department about
the lack of religious content. After the Christmas break Heidegger
embarks upon a thorough interpretation of Pauline letters. He is
exploring the biblical roots of his own drive toward questioning. In
Christian life there can be no certainty, because the Second Coming of
Christ will come like a thief in the night (GA60, 105). Christian life
draws it meaning from the necessity of this fundamental uncertainty; all
we can do is try to be ready when Christ comes again. The way the
Parousia stands in our lives determines their full temporal actualization.
Christian religiosity lives temporality as such. Heidegger is using Paul’s
apostolic proclamation to question his own Christianity. At the same
time he is trying to find out how Christian life in its actualization is
Traces of Heidegger’s Religious Struggle 33

grounded in primordial factical life as such. In other words, his

phenomenology of religion reflects his own existential and religious
In his next lecture course, on Augustine and neo-Platonism,
Heidegger focuses his attention on the clash between Christianity and
Hellenism. Not only was Augustine a Neo-Platonist before he became
a Christian, we find in his work a tension inherent in his attempt to
express his lived Christian experience in a vocabulary drawn mainly
from Greek philosophy. The meeting of these two worlds was to
dominate Western history and medieval scholasticism. It is precisely
because Augustine stands only on the threshold of scholasticism, his feet
still firmly planted in neo-Platonism and primordial Christianity, that
Luther was able to draw so heavily on his work in an attempt to
overthrow the “system” of Catholicism of his era. Naturally, Heidegger
also has much sympathy for Augustine’s famous remark “I have become
a question to myself”. With Augustine, he can once again attempt to
understand authentic Christian life in its actualization before the face of
For a complete overview of Heidegger’s student years, see Ott (1988: 45-105).
See also Denker (2002).
According to his ‘Vita’, Heidegger attended lecture courses given by two Protestant
professors, Richard August Reitzenstein (on Christianity and Hellenism) and Eduard
Schwarz (on the Gospel of St. John). See Heidegger, ‘Vita’, in GA16 (41-42). For a
complete list of the lecture courses and seminars that Heidegger attended, see Denker
(2004b: 13-17).
Denker (2004b: 62), my translation. See also Sheehan (1988).
For a full-scale interpretation of Heidegger’s life and work from 1909 until 1919, see
Denker (2004a).
Cited after Ott (1992: 108), my translation.
See for instance his letter to Elisabeth Blochmann of May 1, 1919, in Heidegger (1989:
For a penetrating exposition of the system of Catholicism, see Schabert (2004:
For a complete overview of Heidegger’s writings, lectures, courses, and seminars, see
Chris Bremmers’s listing of his works in Denker (2004b: 419-598).
See, for instance, GA58 (205): “The ancient Christian achievement was distorted and
buried through the infiltration of classical science into Christianity. From time to time
it reasserted itself in violent eruptions (as in Augustine, in Luther, in Kierkegaard)”.
See, for instance, GA59 (7); GA60 (22).
Denker (2000: 249-250).
See also his letter to Blochmann mentioned on the same page.
In the fragment on Bernard of Clairvaux, Heidegger calls his phenomenological
analysis “hermeneutics” (GA60: 336).
34 Denker

Constructive philosophy of religion formed an integral part of neo-Kantian philosophy
in the early twentieth century; Heidegger refers to Otto, Troeltsch, and Fries.


Buren, John van (ed.). 2002. Supplements: From the Earliest Essays to
Being and Time and Beyond. Albany, N.Y.: State University of
New York Press.
Denker, Alfred. 2004a. ‘Heideggers Lebens- und Denkweg 1909-1919’
in Denker (2004b): 97-122.
– With Hans-Helmuth Gander and Holger Zaborowski (eds). 2004b.
Heidegger und die Anfänge seines Denkens (Heidegger-
Jahrbuch 1). Freiburg: Herder.
– (ed.). 2002. Martin Heidegger and Heinrich Rickert, Briefe
1912-1933. Frankfurt a.M.: Vittorio Klostermann.
– 2000. Historical Dictionary of Heidegger’s Philosophy. Lanham:
Scarecrow Press.
Heidegger, Martin, and Elisabeth Blochmann. 1989. Briefwechsel 1918-
1969 (ed. Joachim W. Storck). Marbach a.N.: Deutsche
Jaspers, Karl. 1995. Philosophische Autobiographie. München/Zürich:
Piper Verlag GmbH.
Ochwadt, Curd and Erwin Tecklenborg (eds). 1981. Das Maß des
Verborgenen. Heinrich Ochsner zum Gedächtnis. Hannover:
Ott, Hugo. 1988. Martin Heidegger: Unterwegs zu seiner Biographie.
Frankfurt a.M.: Campus Verlag.
Schabert, Johannes. 2004. ‘Martin Heideggers “Herkunft” im Spiegel
der Theologie- und Kirchengeschichte des 19. und beginnenden
20. Jahrhunderts’, in Denker (2004b): 159-184.
Sheehan, Thomas. 1988. ‘Heideggers Lehrjahre’, in John Sallis,
Giuseppina Moneta and Jacques Taminiaux (eds) The
Collegium Phaenomenologicum: The First Ten Years.
Dordrecht: Kluwer.
Religion, Theology and Philosophy
on the Way to Being and Time:
Heidegger, Dilthey and Early Christianity

István M. Fehér

Martin Heidegger’s thinking has had a durable and powerful influence

not only upon the philosophy of the Twentieth Century, but upon a
number of disciplines within the humanities as well. Arguably, the
discipline that Heidegger has most impacted is theology – both Catholic
and Protestant.1 Protestant theologians have tended to draw upon the
early Heidegger’s analysis of human existence and the later Heidegger’s
philosophy of the language-event. Catholic theologians, or theologically
interested Catholic philosophers, have been primarily attracted by
Heidegger’s coupling of ontology with transcendental philosophy and
his incessant investigation of the question of being (Schaeffler 1978: X;
Jäger 1978: 84).
It is important to recognize a reciprocal influence operating
here: the question of how Heidegger’s thought influenced theology
should be asked in the light of the import of theology for Heidegger’s
path of thinking. This latter influence was openly acknowledged by
Heidegger himself in the fifties in Unterwegs zur Sprache. He states that
without his theological origins he would never have come onto his path of
thought, a remark which echoes a recently published autobiographical
passage from the late thirties (US: 96; GA66: 415). But even earlier, in a
letter to Karl Löwith on August 19, 1921, Heidegger made reference to
his “intellectual and wholly factic origin” as a “Christian theologian”
(Papenfuss 1990: 29). His theological origins might then be, on a first
approach, the reason for (and the cause of) Heidegger’s subsequent
impact on theology.
In Unterwegs zur Sprache Heidegger makes a further point,
which is equally important for the purposes of the present paper. He
mentions that it was also in the course of his early theological studies
that he first came across and grew familiar with the term “hermeneutics”
– a term he found somewhat later in Dilthey too, who, in a like manner,
36 Fehér

discovered it in his own theological studies, especially in the work of

Heidegger’s theological origins are then relevant not only for his
becoming a philosopher in general, but also, more especially, for the
specific kind of hermeneutic attitude he was to adopt in philosophy.
Seen in the perspective suggested by his Catholic theological influences,
the provisional end point of his youthful itinerary, Being and Time might
even be claimed to attempt to bring together the Catholic and the
Protestant traditions – the ontological perspective of neo-Scholasticism
(Brentano’s dissertation, Von der mannigfachen Bedeutung des
Seienden nach Aristoteles as well as Carl Braig’s Vom Sein: Abriß der
Ontologie), with Luther’s critique of Scholasticism, the shift in focus
from an ontological perspective upon the divine order to individually
enacted faith (drawing upon Paul, Augustine, Pascal, Schleiermacher,
Kierkegaard, and Dilthey). Indeed, the explicit program of Being and
Time, the elaboration of a fundamental ontology in terms of an
existential analytic of the human being, may be construed as an attempt
to unite and forge both traditions. Fundamental ontology as the
elaboration of the question of Being may be seen as Catholic in origin,
whereas the existential analytic (a continuation and radicalization of his
early hermeneutics of facticity) may be traced back to the Lutheran-
Kierkegaardian theology of subjectively enacted faith.
My aim in this paper is to show the significance of Heidegger’s
phenomenology of religion as an important step on his way to his
magnum opus. In particular, I wish to exhibit traits decisive for
Heidegger’s path of thinking and his confrontation with the leading
philosophical tendencies of the age, especially phenomenology,
historicism, hermeneutics, and Lebensphilosophie. Specifically, I will
argue that it is with an eye to his previous understanding of religion and
religious life, as well as the relation between faith and theology, that
Heidegger conceives of philosophy and its relation to human existence
in Being and Time.
I will elaborate my argument in two steps. First, I will sketch an
outline of Heidegger’s development in the postwar years; second,
against the background of this sketch I will focus more specifically on
his 1920/21 course on the Phenomenology of Religion by selecting and
highlighting some of the features I think are salient for Heidegger’s
Religion, Theology and Philosophy on the way to Being and Time 37

1. Heidegger’s Philosophical Development After World War I

It was due to a radical re-orientation – a veritable turn, as it were – in

Heidegger’s thinking after World War I that he found his own voice and
his way toward Being and Time. Educated in the Scholastic tradition,
but responsive to new logical-epistemological ways of philosophizing,
Heidegger started out as a talented young student. In his academic
writings he showed a commitment first and foremost to the anti-
psychologism characteristic of neo-Kantianism and phenomenology.
Although anti-psychologism rested on purely logical grounds, it was
harmonious with the Scholastic defence of the objectivity of truth and
the apologetic tendency of anti-modernist Catholic thinking.
Heidegger’s early interest in the critique of psychologism can be
connected to his interest in apologetics (Zaborowski 2004: 149). While
we can identify several proto-hermeneutic motifs in Heidegger’s early
academic writings (e.g., Heidegger’s appreciation of Duns Scotus’s
concept of haecceitas as indicative of a “proximity to real life”, a
“primal determination of living reality”, which clearly suggests a
growing sense for individuality, from the thematization of factical life
and the Selbstwelt in the postwar years to Dasein’s Jemeinigkeit in
Being and Time), the prevailing atmosphere of the early writings is
nonetheless Platonic-wissenschaftstheoretisch (GA1: 203, 253).3
This outlook fades away soon after the war and gives way to a
radical re-orientation. Rather than continue to work as a devoted
follower of contemporary philosophical tendencies – relying with
confidence on their presuppositions and striving, at best, at contributing
to their further advancement – Heidegger embarks upon a radical re-
examination of the roots of those tendencies. He begins a life-long
engagement with the whole Western philosophical tradition. This move
marks the point of his becoming an original thinker: Heidegger ceases
to be dependent on prior (and, by necessity, naive) acceptance of
philosophical positions whatsoever. Instead, his efforts are directed at
a re-appropriation of the fundamental presuppositions underlying the
most varied, even conflicting philosophical positions. This operation is
given the name of destruction; “a critical process in which the traditional
concepts, which at first must necessarily be employed, are deconstructed
down to the sources from which they were drawn”. It is “not a negation
of the tradition or a condemnation of it as worthless; quite the contrary,
it signifies precisely a positive appropriation of tradition” (GA24: 31).4
38 Fehér

With the strategy of destruction Heidegger re-appropriated the

philosophical trend he felt most close and committed to from the very
beginning, that is, Husserlian phenomenology. In a sense it might be
said that the strategy of destruction itself is a radicalization of
phenomenology’s innermost claim: Back to the things themselves! It
turned out to be a tool which Heidegger turned against phenomenology
itself. This point is worth developing in some detail.

2. The Hermeneutic Transformation of Phenomenology: A Reciprocal

Radicalization of Phenomenology and Life-Philosophy

Heidegger’s appropriation of Husserl’s phenomenology is far from a

neutral assimilation; rather, it shows from the very beginning a highly
critical attitude prompted by the simultaneous assimilation of some
leading motifs of life-philosophy. Appropriation and transformation are
apparently going on hand in hand – which fits Heidegger’s theory of the
fore-structure of understanding in Being and Time. Heidegger strives to
uncover what he perceives to be the common deficiencies inherent in the
philosophical positions of the day – positions that often stand in sharpest
opposition to each other. Epistemologically oriented scientific
philosophy is criticized for not being scientific enough; life philosophy
is accused of failing to grasp life itself; existential philosophy is charged
with not seizing upon existence; historicism is called to account for
losing sight of history; and, last but not least, phenomenology is accused
of not being phenomenological enough – indeed, of being
“unphenomenological”. Heidegger’s devastating critique of contemporary
trends of philosophizing first takes them seriously, at their word, as it were,
and then uncovers the extent to which they can be shown to fail to do
justice to their own claims.
While Heidegger’s remarks on phenomenology in his academic
writings scarcely amount to more than a faithful recapitulation,
exposition, or adherence to its basic tenets the postwar observations
display a tendency toward a comprehensive confrontation with its basic
concepts and theoretical fundaments. The winter semester course of
1919/20, The Fundamental Problems of Phenomenology, begins with
the following characteristic statement: “The fundamental problem of
phenomenology its most acute problem, a problem that can never be
extinguished, its most original and decisive problem – is
phenomenology itself” (GA58: 1).5 Phenomenology should, for
Religion, Theology and Philosophy on the way to Being and Time 39

Heidegger, not just occasionally be concerned with itself. On the

contrary: if it is to be radical enough it should bring to bear its criticism
also upon itself – indeed, primarily against itself (GA58: 6, 145, 237).
Heidegger heartily welcomes the innermost effort of
phenomenology to return to “the things themselves”, as well as what it
implies: the suspension of traditional philosophical strategies, the
dismissal of authorities, the preference of description over construction,
in short: the effort to bring out the phenomena by going back to the
original sources of intuition. Indeed, phenomenology thus conceived
becomes for Heidegger identical with philosophy. From the earliest
postwar period up to his latest years he repeatedly maintains that
phenomenology is not just a philosophical “trend”, one “standpoint”
among many possible others, but is equivalent with the innermost
possibility of philosophy itself.6 It is important to see that
phenomenology, for Heidegger, is a possibility rather than an actuality,
that he thereby sharply distinguishes between phenomenology as a way
of doing philosophical research, and phenomenology as practised by
Husserl. This is one of the reasons why he claims in Being and Time:
“Higher than actuality stands possibility. We can understand
phenomenology only by seizing upon it as a possibility” (SZ: 38).7
It was precisely this character of open possibility, characteristic
of and indeed indispensable for any kind of serious and autonomous
philosophical inquiry, that Heidegger found fascinating in
phenomenology after the war. From the very beginning, however, he had
serious doubts about Husserl’s transcendental approach. In the
emergency war semester course of 1919 (KNS = Kriegsnotsemester), he
shows some important reservations about Husserl’s actual
phenomenology (and together with it the outlines of another possible
phenomenology). These remarks are woven into a criticism of
epistemologically oriented neo-Kantian philosophy, and appear in the
form of an attack against the primacy of the theoretical (an attack that
is motivated by Dilthey, life-philosophy and historicism, and brought to
bear upon the whole metaphysical-ontological tradition back to
Aristotle). Heidegger observes that the distortive representations of life
and the environing world are due not simply to the prevalence of
naturalism, as Husserl thinks, but to the domination of the theoretical in
general (GA56/57: 87). Heidegger here interprets Husserl’s “principle
of all principles”, not as a theoretical principle, but as expressive of the
most original attitude (Urhaltung) of life itself, that of remaining close
40 Fehér

to its own experiencing (GA56/57: 109).8 The principle of all principles

expresses a fundamental attitude (Grundhaltung) rather than a scientific
method. To claim that phenomenology is a standpoint would be to
restrict its possibilities. But, Heidegger immediately asks, is it not
already a deviation, of the character of a hidden theory, to turn the
sphere of living experience into something given (GA56/57: 111)?9 This
doubt is one of the very first signs of Heidegger’s fundamental
dissatisfaction with Husserlian phenomenology, which will lead up to
the 1925 critique in which Husserl will be charged with dogmatism (an
unphenomenological attitude) regarding nothing less than the
delimitation of the proper research field of phenomenology itself, i.e.,
transcendental consciousness (GA20: 159, 178).10 The world of lived
experience knows of no such duality as that between object and
If we leap forward to Heidegger’s 1925 critique of Husserl’s
phenomenology, we see that its central theme is, once again, the
delimitation of the specific research field of phenomenology itself, in
other words, the self-concretization of phenomenological philosophy out
of its own initial principle or maxim. The basic issue is whether and
how phenomenology gets access to its own research field, whether the
procedure thereby employed is phenomenologically coherent or not.
Over against the charges of dogmatism, as formulated by Rickert,
Heidegger comes to the conclusion that it is not the notion of
intentionality as such that is dogmatic, but rather that to which
intentionality gets tacitly bound, that which is built into the structure –
in other words, that of which intentionality is claimed to be the specific
structure. In fact, intentionality is held to be the specific structure of the
psyche, reason, consciousness, etc. (rather than, say, nature), all of
which are ontological regions that are naively, i.e., traditionally and
therefore dogmatically assumed rather than phenomenologically
discussed and delimited. Rather than an ultimate explanation of psychic
reality, Heidegger observes that intentionality is a way to overcome such
traditional ontological realities as psyche, consciousness, reason.11
The question is whether access to that of which intentionality is
declared to be the structure is attained in a phenomenological way. The
issue concerns the phenomenological delimitation of the “thing itself”,
the question of whether the linking of intentionality to pure
consciousness, or to the transcendental ego, is carried out
phenomenologically, and not simply by taking over the leading idea of
Religion, Theology and Philosophy on the way to Being and Time 41

modern Cartesian-Kantian philosophy – a doubt that proves to be well-

founded (GA20: 147). Although Husserl claims to suspend “assertions
concerning being” and thereby leaves the being of intentionality
obscure, he nevertheless tacitly links intentionality to an ontological
region called transcendental consciousness. Moreover, he re-inscribes
traditional distinctions, for example, between being as consciousness
and transcendent being, which he calls, symptomatically, “the most
radical of all distinctions of being” (GA20: 155, 157ff., 178).12
Remarkably enough, while prohibiting ontological assertions,
phenomenology tacitly commits itself to certain ontological positions –
i.e., without thematizing the access to those positions
phenomenologically (GA20: 140, 157ff., 178).13 That phenomenology
may be shown to be intrinsically incoherent or inconsistent, i.e.,
“unphenomenological”, affected with metaphysical bias, is significant
enough. Insofar as the principle of phenomenology (“to the things
themselves!”) requires suspension of every unwarranted construction,
and a critical examination of the unquestioned domination of
philosophical theories, as well as the return to the original sources of
intuition, Heidegger’s objection strikes home – it is preeminently
phenomenological (GA20: 159, 178).14
The access to the transcendental region of pure consciousness,
as erecting itself upon and replacing the experience of empirical reality
is characterized by Husserl in terms of a change in attitude. In the
natural attitude, the world is present as a spatio-temporal sequence of
events, including the psychic processes going on in the minds of
empirically existing people. As opposed to the new realm, i.e., the pure
region of consciousness that we are about to enter, humans appear here
merely as living beings, zoological objects among others. However,
Heidegger objects, we may legitimately ask: does one really experience
oneself in the manner described here in this alleged “natural attitude”?
In other words, is this attitude indeed so natural? Is it not rather artificial
or, in any case, theoretical? Do I really experience myself “naturally” as
a living being, a zoological object, out there, present-at-hand as any
other (GA20: 131ff., 155ff., 162, 172; SZ: 120)?15 It would indeed be
hard to deny that it is not as zoological objects that we primarily do
experience ourselves in the natural attitude. In order to experience
ourselves in that way we must previously have shifted over into an
attitude of a particular theory.
42 Fehér

The (phenomenological) implications of this most

phenomenological criticism of phenomenology are simple enough: an
attempt should be made to experience the intentional being more
originally, in a more unprejudiced way, in its “natural” setting, thereby
no longer taking the traditional definition of man as animal rationale for
granted. What is required is to experience the natural attitude more
naturally, thereby making the distinctions empirical–transcendental,
ideal–real, etc., not only superfluous, but indeed unphenomenological
and empty. And, when we look at the matter more closely, this is
precisely what Being and Time will do with the title of existential
Heidegger’s transformation and radicalization of Husserlian
phenomenology rests on eminently phenomenological grounds; it is as
immanent a criticism as one may ever be claimed to be. Nevertheless,
it could never have been carried out had Heidegger previously not
assimilated some basic motives of life-philosophy. These were indeed
very much in play in his confronting Husserlian transcendental
phenomenology and contributed decisively to its hermeneutic
Heidegger’s postwar turn may comprehensively be
characterized as an overall attempt at appropriation and re-
appropriation, i.e., as an effort to come to terms with the significant
tendencies of contemporary philosophy and, more importantly, with
what philosophy is really about, i.e., life. Whatever the underlying
motivation may be that catalysed this turn, his postwar motto is, Back
to life in its originality! This was the way Heidegger came to understand
Husserl’s principle of principles. The 1919/20 lecture course, The
Fundamental Problems of Phenomenology, starts with the call for
phenomenology’s self-renewal and self-criticism. That to which
philosophy had to find its way back, the origin of all meaning, is, for
Heidegger, not transcendental consciousness, but life in its originality.
In the course of this lecture Heidegger designates life as the “primal
phenomenon” (Urphänomen) for phenomenology in general (GA59: 15,
18, 23, 39, 40, 176). Phenomenology thus conceived is repeatedly called
pre-theoretical “primal science” or “science of the origins”
(Urwissenschaft, Ursprungswissenschaft).
In a sense, the tendency to gain a new access to life was
widespread at the time and reflected the efforts of the age, so Heidegger
may be simply taking Natorp, Dilthey, Bergson, Simmel, Jaspers,
Religion, Theology and Philosophy on the way to Being and Time 43

Scheler, and James seriously.16 In the midst of various devastating

criticisms, more often than not Heidegger takes great pains to note that
there is an original impulse inherent in life-philosophy – that he indeed
does appreciate the impulse, while what he is rejecting is its insufficient
(parasitic) realization. When he speaks of the positive tendencies of life-
philosophy he usually has Dilthey in mind.17 We can hardly conceive of
Heidegger’s historicist opposition to Husserl’s transcendental ego
without Dilthey’s influence.18 Heidegger suggests that the basic effort
of life-philosophy is correct. He shares the view that the object primarily
to be approached and investigated is “life” (GA17: 112).19 What he
objects to is the failure of life-philosophy to develop conceptual means
adequate to its subject matter, i.e., “life”. Life-philosophy relies upon
the tools of the adversary for its own concepts.20 That is also the reason
why, having realized that the tools are not equal to the task, life-
philosophers tend to come inevitably to the conclusion that life, history,
and existence are irrational.21 The point Heidegger makes could be put
as follows: irrationalist philosophy is really too rational. In claiming its
objects to be irrational, it uncritically borrows the measure or concept
of rationality from the adversary rather than elaborating a rationality or
conceptuality of its own, one that conforms to its object.22
The traditional concept of rationality stems from the theoretical
attitude, a conception of the human as the rational being – one more
reason why Heidegger strives to disengage himself from the notion of
rational animal, and together with it from the rational–irrational
distinction, so as to explore dimensions of human being underlying the
theoretical comportment. Phenomenologically seen, the theoretical
comportment has indeed gained mastery over the entire Western
philosophical tradition. The domination of it has been undisputed even
where it has been bitterly opposed. As he puts it in an early lecture, “this
hegemony of the theoretical must be broken”.23
It is in the course of his destructive efforts to penetrate behind
the theoretical comportment and gain a fresh access to life that the
hermeneutic problematic emerges in Heidegger’s early lecture courses.
The young Heidegger offers an alternative to rational concepts and
theoretical knowing, what he calls “hermeneutic concepts”, or – over
against pure or theoretical intuition – “hermeneutic intuition” (GA9: 32;
GA56/57: 117). “Hermeneutics”, “hermeneutic”, emerge as rival
concepts to “theory”, “theoretical”, understood in terms of “theoretically
neutral”.24 The description of life, or “facticity”, becomes hermeneutic
44 Fehér

precisely in virtue of the realization that interpretation cannot be

regarded as something added on, a kind of extension or annex, as it
were, to some theoretically neutral (and, as such, allegedly “objective”)
description of a state of affairs: rather, preliminary “interpretedness” is
inherent in all kinds of description, in all kinds of seeing, saying, and
experiencing.25 If there is no “pure” theory (for “theory” is a derivative
mode of being or comportment of one particular being called human),
there is no pure description either. What this insight implies for an
adequate description of life or facticity is that theoretical concepts, as
well as the language that theory speaks, should be abandoned in favour
of a language growing out of everyday life and able to let things be seen
in their interpretedness, that is, exactly the way we encounter and have
to do with them (a hammer is primarily encountered as a tool for hitting
nails into the wall rather than as a neutral thing out there having the
property of weight). Theoretically (and a-historically) neutral knowledge
is opposed to, and gives way to, existentially (and historically) involved
understanding (or pre-understanding) and interpreting – whereby
knowledge becomes at best a subdivision of understanding.26 All these
efforts are in the service of seizing upon “life”. The main character of
the latter is claimed to be concern (Sorge) rather than knowledge
(GA61: 89; PIA: 240).
The science which is destined to provide access to life in its
originality is intrinsically interpretive, i.e., hermeneutic – an insight
which explicitly crops up in a note of the 1919/20 lecture course: “The
science of the origins is ultimately the hermeneutic science” (GA58:
55). And in Oskar Becker’s lecture note of the course SS 1919 we read:
“phenomenology, the primal science of philosophy, is an understanding
science” (GA56/57: 216).
To sum up: the radicalization of phenomenology leads
Heidegger to the thematization of factical life (to a kind of life-
phenomenology) whereas the description of the latter, in its turn,
requires a conceptuality of its own, a hermeneutic perspective, a
disposition to remain as close to life in its originality as possible (since
theoretical comportment means having distanced oneself from genuine
life, having displaced oneself into a derivative attitude).27 This proximity
to genuine life, as well as the willingness to accompany it, to come
along with it all the way (Mitgehen), to be achieved by a hermeneutic
attitude and conceptuality, is a disposition Heidegger semi-religiously
calls humilitas animi (GA58: 23).28
Religion, Theology and Philosophy on the way to Being and Time 45

Both phenomenology and life-philosophy are accused of

illegitimate prejudice. With respect to phenomenology, when viewed
more closely, the thing itself is not consciousness, but life. With respect
to life-philosophy, the approach to life is not life as it is being lived and
enacted, in a living manner, as it were, but life falsified by measures and
conceptual tools alien to it.

3. Religious Life As a Paradigm of Facticity

We are now in a position to assess the significance of Heidegger’s

religion courses for his philosophical development. This significance
may be spelled out in a concise way by summing up his path of thinking
from the postwar years up to the early twenties as follows. Under the
influence of life-philosophy Heidegger radicalizes Husserlian
transcendental phenomenology and transforms it into a (hermeneutic)
phenomenology of life. The phenomenology of life, however, which
Heidegger comes to elaborate understands itself, and reveals itself, when
looked at more closely, as a phenomenology of religious life.29
In this formulation two points must be stressed. First, religion
is for Heidegger, in accordance with his distancing himself from the
Scholastic tradition and embracing the Protestant problematic, primarily
life, that is, praxis, not theory, doctrine or speculation. To put it bluntly:
religion is religious life, or it is none. Religion can meaningfully be
conceived of only in terms of religious life.30 Therefore it was entirely
appropriate that Heidegger collected his papers and notes pertaining to
this problematic under the designation ‘Phenomenology of Religious
Life’, and it was equally a happy decision that the editor chose this title
for GA60. It is also important to note that Heidegger’s original title was
‘Phenomenology of Religious Consciousness’, but that he later changed
the last word with ‘Life’ (GA60: 345). The substitution of this single
word alone characteristically exhibits Heidegger’s appropriation of and
attitude to Husserl’s phenomenology: rather than consciousness, it is life
that should be the matter for philosophy.
Second: it must be noted that in this formulation life is, for
Heidegger, primarily religious life; the two phenomena, life and
religious life, are not to be sharply distinguished. Nor are the two
disciplines, phenomenology of life and phenomenology of religious life.
With regard to Heidegger’s repeated rejection of conceiving either of
life or of consciousness in regional terms – as object fields cut off from
46 Fehér

the whole of being – it would be misleading to think of a

phenomenology of religious life as a kind of subdivision, or
specification, of some allegedly comprehensive, all-embracing
phenomenology of life. To say that, for Heidegger, life is primarily
religious life, amounts rather to saying that religious life displays for
him in a concentrated way the characters of life – that it serves as a sort
of paradigm for life. Thereby Heidegger understands life, inclusive of
religious life, in wholly this-worldly terms. Something such as eternal
life or the immortality of the soul remain out of the question. Life is
always already factical life, or facticity. That is one of the reasons why
he focuses his investigations upon Paul’s letters, that is, the factical life
of the earliest Christian communities and the inner dynamics inherent
in the (this-worldly) life of the believers belonging to them. The
dialectics thereby in play is a kind of inverse movement, or – to borrow
Gadamer’s term – a fusion of horizons. Religious life does become a
paradigm of life for Heidegger on the one hand, but it is approached and
viewed with an eye to factical life, as a concentration of it, wholly
exempt from any other-worldly character. It is the this-worldly living
and enacting of faith, the way one becomes a Christian and lives it all
the way through, that Heidegger is interested in and concentrates upon.
Religion is, in this perspective, an “object” of study for
phenomenological philosophy much like death becomes one in his main
work. Philosophy centering on facticity (and its hermeneutics) must, as
long as it is to remain philosophy, prohibit itself to detach itself from
that which shows itself in intuition. In this respect Heidegger remained
for ever committed to Husserl’s “principle of all principles” – more
specifically, to the prohibitive character inherent in it: everything
“offered to us in ‘intuition’ is to be accepted […] but […] only within
the limits in which it is presented there”. The term ‘description’ has in
phenomenology, Heidegger argues in Being and Time, “a sense of a
prohibition – the avoidance of characterizing anything without […]
demonstration” (SZ: 35). In full accordance with this principle he claims
further in the work that his “analysis of death remains purely ‘this-
worldly’”, and that it decides, accordingly, nothing (either positive or
negative) about the “other-worldly”. Moreover, it remains even
undecided whether any question concerning what comes after death can,
as a “theoretical” (that is, as a phenomenologically meaningful
philosophical) question, ever be formulated at all (SZ: 248).
Religion, Theology and Philosophy on the way to Being and Time 47

It is worth quoting Heidegger in more detail: “our analysis of

death remains purely ‘this-worldly’ in so far as it interprets that
phenomenon merely in the way in which it enters into any particular
Dasein as a possibility of its being” (SZ: 248).31 (“Being” should be read
here, in terms of his conceptuality of the early twenties, as “factical
Being”, “facticity”). Now we should realize that his approach to religion
in the early 1920s is quite analogous; his concern is with the
phenomenological description of how faith is factically being lived, with
one’s becoming (having become) and remaining (becoming again and
again) a believer; in short, how one in fact lives one’s faith (whereby
faith is a possibility of one’s factical being). The way one does coincides
with the way one lives. Living the faith is in no way separable from
living life. By acknowledging this we are brought back to the first point,
namely, that religion is, first and foremost, a matter of praxis, living
enactment, rather than theory or doctrine. Indeed faith as practical
enactment remains forever the fundament of theology (more on this
later) (GA60: 95, 145, 310; GA95: 59, 61; SZ: 10).
But to justify the claim that religion is primarily religious life
is not to justify the claim that it is a paradigm of life. So it is still not
clear why, in precisely what sense, religious life is a paradigm of life –
why, in other words, religious life (characteristic of, and as experienced
in, primal Christianity) provides us with the key – or, more
terminologically put, with a phenomenological access – to factical life,
or factical life experience; why, as Heidegger states, Christian religiosity
not only lies (is rooted or grounded or to be found) in factical life
experience, but is declared to coincide with it. For Heidegger’s more
radical claim comes down to this: Christian religiosity is factical life
The recognition that religion is primarily praxis, life, is clearly
not sufficient to make the case that religious life is a paradigm of
factical life, for there may obviously be sorts of practices other than the
religious. An explicit consideration of this question is, as far as I can
see, nowhere provided by Heidegger, although this is, admittedly, one
of the most central theses of the whole Phenomenology of Religion
course. In view of his elucidations of Paul’s letters, as well as his
previous fusion of phenomenology and life-philosophy, I propose the
following explanation.
In transforming phenomenology by shifting its focus from
transcendental consciousness to life Heidegger repeatedly confronts the
48 Fehér

problem of appropriate access to the new subject matter. Life is however

a phenomenon which is not at all easy to access. Precisely in virtue of
its all-embracing character, it seems to exclude all appropriate access to
it, such that will not reduce it to a regional object. This much is clearly
said by Heidegger. Indeed, one way to understand his repeated claim
that life is characterized by self-sufficiency is that it does without
philosophy (GA58: 29, 30ff., 35, 41, 63). Life is so self-sufficient that
it is incapable of even seeing that very self-sufficiency (GA58: 41, 61).33
After this preliminary remark we should call to mind some of the basic
features by which Heidegger characterizes Christian life experience,
first of all, the character of having-become.
What is characteristic of Christian life is indeed its having-
become one (GA60: 93ff). Christian life experience is such that it owes
its being to its having become, i.e., to its having superseded its previous
(sinful, a-theistic) state and been born to new life.34 The (so to speak)
transcendental past of always already having become, in other words,
the rebirth – a complete shift in one’s being – is entirely constitutive for
Christian experience of life.35 It is a shift in being which, at the very
moment of becoming aware of itself, gains awareness of itself in terms
of a being that has become what it actually is. It is solely because it has
become what it is that it is what it is – and it does also have a specific
awareness of it. Indeed, Christian experience of life is not only
characterized by the fact that it has become what it is, but also, and with
equal primordiality, by the fact that the event of having become is
accompanied by some kind of a consciousness of having become, no
less than of the fact that this having-become has not been initiated and
performed by itself (GA60: 121ff). By all means, its having-become
belongs in an indispensable and irrevocable way to its present being.36
Now it is my claim that it is because it is not possible to be a
Christian without having this specific kind of “knowledge” (indeed, a
hermeneutic pre-understanding) – namely, of having become or been
reborn by divine grace, of standing presently before God and reaching
eschatologically forward toward the imminent future, running ahead
against it – that Christian life experience may reasonably be claimed to
experience life in its facticity, to be factical life experience. Christian
religiosity, or Christian life experience, in terms of an experience of
having become, opens up (a perspective or the perspective upon) factical
life for the first time, therefore it is factical life experience. Factical life
gets thereby disclosed and becomes accessible for the first time as such
Religion, Theology and Philosophy on the way to Being and Time 49

– that is, as factical life, a specifically and definitely this-worldly life.

It is due to this having become (and, inseparably from it, the awareness
which accompanies it) that factical life is opened up. Indeed, Christian
life experience does experience the whole of life – past, present and
future – and thus lives temporality. It is not only in time but it is time
(GA60: 80, 82, 104, 116). It focuses on and centres around its having
become.37 The state it has overcome remains, although fundamentally
changed, forever included in it.38 Those who find themselves in a pre-
Christian state are not “awake”, have no awareness of themselves, do
not possess life experience because they simply do not experience life
in its factical totality. Only the rebirth, as it were, opens up access to the
first birth. The case is similar to what it will be with respect to the
authentic-inauthentic distinction in Being and Time (which may be seen
to be a specific subsequent elaboration on this state of affairs):
inauthentic being always already precedes authentic being, which in its
turn erects itself upon, and has as its fundament, the inauthentic. It is
only after having performed the passage from the inauthentic to the
authentic that inauthentic being as such – and together with it, the very
distinction itself – becomes first disclosed and accessible. For to be
inauthentic means having no awareness of being inauthentic (just like
the self-sufficiency of life works against its own becoming aware of it).
And vice versa: to be authentic means gaining awareness of, and
assuming consciously, one’s inauthenticity as a past that has always
already preceded it, and which therefore – in its specific quality as a past
always already surpassed and overcome – belongs intrinsically and
inextricably for ever to authenticity.

4. Facticity, Historicity, Christianity

A point that is worth special attention in this context is Heidegger’s

repeated claim that factical life or life experience is intrinsically
historical. As has been noted, one of the contemporary tendencies with
which Heidegger engaged in in-depth confrontation from the very
beginning was historicism. The idea that life and history belong
intimately together – that life should primarily be seen as historical life
– was central to Dilthey and life-philosophy in general. Heidegger
appreciated Dilthey’s attempt to approach historical life very much
indeed, but criticized him for reasons analogous to those he formulated
about his approach to life – that is, the inadequate conceptuality rooted
50 Fehér

in a one-sidedly theoretical comportment. Although Dilthey did tend to

grasp historical life, his endeavour came under the influence of neo-
Kantianism and the erkenntnistheoretisch atmosphere of the age, so that
he ultimately misunderstood his own undertaking: the attempt at a new
and fresh access to historical life was reduced to, and replaced by, the
attempt to attain possibly objective historical knowledge, and thus to
elevate history to the rank of science (GA17: 301).39 History – or rather,
the historical world – became for Dilthey an object of science,
something that in its embarrassing richness of types and figures one
takes pleasure in contemplating. What mattered, was no more historical
being, but historical knowledge, together with its claim to objective
validity, whereby the subject of that knowledge was a de-situated
timeless observer rather than historically rooted and existentially
involved finite existence. In summary, Heidegger works out his all
important concept of “das Historische” in his early lecture courses in
sheer opposition to historicism, the main critical suggestion being that
historicism strives for an “objective” knowledge of history (an
impossible aim), rather than for an authentic historical “being” of
humans – and that the first not so much promotes the second but instead
suppresses it.40
Against the background of this criticism Heidegger endeavours
to re-appropriate the ontological dimension of historicism and to gain
access to history in terms of historical being. Thereby he does not fail
to acknowledge his indebtedness to Dilthey and to claim, eventually,
that his conception of history grew out of an appropriation of Dilthey’s
work (SZ: 397). In his postwar lecture courses he notes frequently that
by stressing the importance of history, he has history primarily not as a
matter of scholarship in mind. To put it bluntly: our knowing relation to
history is only a derivative one, the primary relation is one of being – we
are history. The way we live history, or are history, is dependent upon
how we live temporality. History is primarily historicity, that is,
Geschehen, of a specific being called Dasein – it is the movement of its
erstrecktes Sicherstrecken, its stretching along between birth and death
(SZ: 19ff, 375, 374ff).41 The way history becomes object for scientific
investigation is decided from time to time by the primordial historicity
of Dasein. This position is clearly anticipated in the early lecture
courses. History, Heidegger says for example in 1919/20, is not a
critique of the sources, but rather, living along with life (mitlebendes
Leben), life’s familiarity with itself, or – as he puts it in the
Religion, Theology and Philosophy on the way to Being and Time 51

Phenomenology of Religion course in 1920/21 – “immediate liveliness”

(unmittelbare Lebendigkeit) (GA58: 159ff; GA60: 33). Heidegger
repeatedly warns against the widespread habit of having access to the
phenomenon of history as it is delivered to us by historical science
(GA60: 32, 47, 51ff). But, what is particularly important for us, he tends
to identify the factical with the historical. The historical, he says, is
inherent in, and intrinsic to, the meaning of the factical.42 The sense of
the factical points to, and leads up to, the historical.
Since, as has been seen, religious life offers a paradigm of
facticity, it is no wonder that the historical is thus ultimately brought
back to religious life experience as well. “The entire task of a
phenomenology of religion […] is permeated by the problem of the
historical” (GA60: 34). To understand this point, we should bear in
mind that it is not because Dasein is historical that it is temporal, but the
other way round. Dasein’s temporality is the fundament of its historicity
(SZ: 376). Although formulated in explicit terms in Being and Time, this
thesis is already present at the religion courses.43 The fact that, by virtue
of its having become, Christian life experience becomes uniquely
temporal, that is, it lives time, it is time, accounts for, and is the
fundament of, its entering into, and partaking most intimately of, the
innermost event that constitutes Christianity.
Heidegger’s gradual disengaging and distancing himself from
neo-Scholastic thinking during the war and his concurrent turn to the
Protestant tradition had obviously, to a large extent, predisposed him
favourably toward the theme of history in terms of a domain which –
over against its dismissal by neo-Scholasticism – was very much
pertinent to religion and religiosity. In fact, as he put it in his letter to
Engelbert Krebs written on January 9, 1919, it was “epistemological
insights, extending as far as the theory of historical knowledge”, that
“have made the system of Catholicism problematic and unacceptable”to
him.44 Thereby the system he had in mind was most plausibly the official
doctrine of neo-Thomistic Scholasticism, exempt and immune from all
historicity. This is confirmed by the fact that, much in this vein, the
system is referred to in a highly negative tone in the lecture course on
the Phenomenology of Religion, namely in terms of a kind of “pseudo-
philosophy”, whereby Heidegger mentions parenthetically
“Catholicism” as an example; what is characteristic of the system is that
access to its living sense must be attained by working one’s way through
a complicated, anorganic, wholly unclear and dogmatic complex of
52 Fehér

theses and proofs, sanctioned by policy constraint of the church and

oppressing the subject.45 The “theory of historical knowledge”, on the
other hand, obviously points to Dilthey’s efforts to elaborate what he
called a critique of historical reason (Dilthey 1979: 191ff). In precisely
what sense (or the extent to which) the “theory of historical knowledge”
– and the orientation towards the historical in general – though in sharp
contrast to a-historical Scholasticism, was nevertheless able to preserve
and even embrace and reinforce Heidegger’s religious impulse is shown
by the following notes from Dilthey’s diary: “It is my vocation to grasp
the inner essence of religious life in history”; “Christianity is not a
system, but a life-view” (Misch 1933: 140, 144).46 And in
Schleiermacher, to whom Dilthey dedicated no small portion of his life-
work, and who attracted also Heidegger’s attention during the war, we
can read the following remark: “History, understood in the most
appropriate sense, is the highest object of religion; it is with history that
religion begins and it ends up with it as well” (Schleiermacher 1920:
It is certainly no mere incident, but plausibly a sign of approval,
that Heidegger literally excerpted this passage in his notes on
Schleiermacher (GA60: 322).47 And somewhat later he notes: “The
historical is one of the most significant founding elements in religious
experience” (GA60: 323). If we add to these remarks Heidegger’s
central claim concerning the mutual identification of historicity and
facticity (“history applies to/affects us, and we are history itself”
[GA60: 173]) – then we arrive ultimately at a threefold identification.
From this perspective, facticity, history, and religion, in other words, to
be factical, to be historical, and to be religious, become mutually
dependent upon, and grow intimately fused with, each other. Thereby
the historical, as it were, unites in itself the religious and the
Lebensphilosophische – a tribute paid to the memory of Dilthey.

5. Philosophy, Facticity of Hermeneutics, Religion, Faith, Theology

Shortly after Heidegger had accepted the call to Marburg, Gadamer

recalls a remark Heidegger made during an evening discussion: “In
order to come back to itself, it is the true task of theology to look for the
word capable of calling one to faith and of preserving one in it”
(Gadamer 1987: 197). This formulation sounded, for Gadamer, like a
real assignment for theology. Gadamer thinks that the real questions that
Religion, Theology and Philosophy on the way to Being and Time 53

were stirring in Heidegger from the very beginning were theological

questions (Gadamer 1977: 37).
The analogous view is expressed by Gadamer’s choice of the
very title of his accompanying essay to the publication of Heidegger’s
so called Natorp Report (or Aristotle Introduction), discovered at the
end of the 1980s: ‘Heidegger’s Early “Theological” Writing’ (Gadamer
2002: 76). This title, together with his explanatory remark that it (no less
than Hermann Nohl’s title for what he called Hegel’s Early Theological
Writings) is both appropriate and inappropriate, might well characterize,
in addition to this particular manuscript, no small portion of the young
Heidegger’s work. As a matter of fact, the understanding of philosophy
Heidegger is working out right after the war is interwoven with theological
motives, while (parallel with it) he embarks on an overall re-examination of
theology too, including its task, function, and relation to religion. The self-
interpretation and self-identification as a philosopher, which he comes to
adopt, is conditional upon an understanding of philosophy which is
permeated by theological motives, or, may even be said to emerge owing to
the radicalization of theological or religious motives. The other side of this
process is that Heidegger puts into question the traditional self-
understanding of theology too, inclusive of its relation to philosophy. The
extent to which Heidegger views philosophy and theology in proximity of,
and as mutually permeating, one another is characteristically shown by his
urge, in his course on the Phenomenology of Religion, to submit both of
them to his central operation of destruction; in connection with the
interpretation of Paul’s letters he speaks about elaborating the standards for
“the destruction of Christian theology and Western philosophy” (GA60:
In his above cited letter to Karl Löwith on August 19, 1921,
Heidegger claimed to be, rather than a philosopher, a “Christian
theologian”. It is precisely Gadamer’s story that may provide us with a
key to understand the peculiar italicization. In fact, it should be taken to
mean someone searching for the proper logos, that is, word, of the
Christian message. I think that Gadamer’s recollection concerning
Heidegger’s understanding of the “task of theology” in terms of
“looking for the word capable of calling one to faith and of preserving
one in it” is highly creditable and is, indeed, a fairly precise formulation.
As a final consideration I propose to show this by a short interpretive
reconstruction of how Heidegger came to view the relation of religion,
54 Fehér

faith, and theology and of how these are related to philosophy and
Against the background of his distancing himself from neo-
Scholasticism and of his assimilation of decisive motives of life-
philosophy and historicism, inclusive of his overall attack against the
theoretical (GA56/57: 59), Heidegger no longer views theology in terms
of an objective theoretical science destined to provide a conceptual
elaboration for religion by occasionally borrowing its conceptuality
from philosophy. Theology is not a scientifically neutral and a-historical
theory of Christianity; what has been developed and come to be known
as theology during the centuries is a reified mixture of dead formulae of
the most heterogeneous origin, alienated from what it once belonged to
and incapable of containing in itself and conveying living religiosity.
The comportment it originates from is theoretical, rather than religious.
Theoretical comportment, in its turn, goes back to the Greeks. Primal
Christianity was thus fused with and indeed distorted by the
conceptuality of Greek philosophy, and that is how what we know in
terms of theology today had come into being (GA59: 91). Thereby
Heidegger seems to subscribe to and join in with the then widespread
thesis concerning the fateful hellenization of Christianity, suggested,
e.g., by Adolf von Harnack and maintained decisively by Franz
Overbeck.48 What is needed is a theology liberated from the conceptual
schemes of Greek philosophy (GA59: 91). Therefore, Heidegger urges
in his course on the Phenomenology of Religion “to sharply distinguish
the problem of theology from that of religion”.49 What it comes down to
is – much along the lines of Dilthey’s linking of Erleben and Ausdruck
– to find a proper logos, a conceptuality adequate to, and conforming to,
the “object”, that is, genuine religious experience and faith as a living
We find an important follow-up observation in Being and Time.
Theology, Heidegger claims, “is slowly beginning to understand once
more Luther’s insight, that the ‘foundation’ on which its system of
dogma rests has not arisen from an inquiry in which faith is primary, and
that conceptually this ‘foundation’ not only is inadequate for the
problematic of theology, but conceals and distorts it” (SZ: 10).50 In his
lecture ‘Phenomenology and Theology’, held in the same year of the
publication of Being and Time, Heidegger interprets theology, much in
the same vein, as the “science of faith”, where faith is conceived of in
terms of a specific way of being of Dasein (GA9: 52) encompassing, as
Religion, Theology and Philosophy on the way to Being and Time 55

it were, the whole domain, or horizon, within which alone, the specific
“objects” of faith, for example, God, can appear (GA9: 55).51 Faith is
thus prior to God, and it would be a serious mistake or a vulgarization
to define theology, naively, as the “science of God”, or the “speculative
knowledge of God” (GA9: 59) – wherein God would be an object of the
respective science in the same way as the animals are the objects of
zoology. Theology originates from faith (GA9: 55), has its roots in faith,
and, in general, makes sense only for faith (GA9: 61), i.e, the believer.
In this sense, faith anticipates and founds theology (GA9: 60). The
sufficient motives of theology, as well as its justification, may lie only
in faith itself (GA9: 54, 55), and they lie in faith’s attempt at a
conceptual interpretation of itself (begriffliche Auslegung [GA9: 54],
begriffliche Selbstinterpretation der gläubigen Existenz [GA9: 56]). The
believing comportment (Gläubigkeit) can never originate from theology,
but only through faith itself (GA9: 56). Now, the task of theology is to
find a conceptuality adequate to faith, the believing comportment and
existence, and to contribute to developing and strengthening this attitude
(GA9: 60) – a formulation which confirms and justifies to a great extent
Gadamer’s interpretive recollection of Heidegger’s contribution to the
discussion on theology in the postwar years.52
The relation between faith and theology, within the
encompassing phenomenon of religion, bears conspicuous similarities
to, and may be seen as a development or a radicalization of, Dilthey’s
linking Erlebnis with Ausdruck or with Heidegger’s subsequent
characterization of the relation between understanding and interpretation
in Being and Time (§32) (GA9: 55, 61). This may be summed up as
follows: only what is understood can be interpreted; understanding
constitutes the fundament and the starting point of every interpretation.
In this sense, faith is the fundament of theology, and the latter is but a
conceptual articulation of the former, erecting itself upon and remaining
forever grounded in it. Theological knowledge must arise from faith and
return to it.
The way theology relates itself to faith exhibits structural
analogies to the way philosophy relates itself to facticity. Both theology
and philosophy offer a conceptual elaboration of something previously
enacted or lived (a sort of having-been), and, in doing so, are at the same
time meant to refer back to and reinforce what they grow out of – faith
or factical life. Given this strict correlation, it is no wonder that we find
in Heidegger’s texts similarities between his characterization of
56 Fehér

theology and philosophy. The well-known definition of philosophy in

Being and Time goes like this: “Philosophie ist universale
phänomenologische Ontologie, ausgehend von der Hermeneutik des
Daseins, die […] das Ende des Leitfadens dort festgemacht hat, woraus
es entspringt und wohin es zurückschlägt” (SZ: 38); while
Phenomenology and Theology characterizes theology as follows: “Alle
theologische Erkenntnis ist […] auf den Glauben selbst gegründet, sie
entspringt aus ihm und springt in ihn zurück” (GA9: 61). Woraus es
entspringt und wohin es zurückschlägt and entspringt aus ihm und
springt in ihn zurück show obvious parallels both conceptually and with
regard to the matter itself. Both are Dasein’s ways of being, and both
move in a hermeneutic circle. They are a re-enacting accompaniment of
what they grow out of (factical life or rebirth by faith), helping to
interpretively illuminate, that is, appropriate and re-appropriate, that
from which they originate. And the bond that links philosophy’s and
theology’s self-interpretation together is a hermeneutic one: an always
already having understood what one has become as a starting point for
a subsequent interpretation.53
It may be of interest to note that in the Phenomenology of
Religion course we find an important anticipation of this definition:
“Bisher waren die Philosophen bemüht, gerade die faktische
Lebenserfahrung als selbstverständliche Nebensächlichkeit abzutun, obwohl
doch aus ihr gerade das Philosophieren entspringt, und in einer […] Umkehr
wieder in sie zurückspringt” (GA60: 15, my italics).54 This is an important
early anticipation of what Heidegger will come to develop in 1927,
which I take to be a further illustration of my thesis that Heidegger’s
understanding of philosophy is permeated by, and emerges as a
radicalization of, theological motives (whereby theology becomes re-
interpreted too). The self-interpretation of philosophy that Heidegger
provides may be regarded as relying for its emergence on the self-
interpretation of theological comportment as a model. Heidegger, as it
were, transposes the self-interpretation of the theological comportment
onto the level of philosophy in a specifically modified and formalized
form. Revelation is for Heidegger not just a matter of delivering or
collecting positive knowledge about real occurrences, past or future, but
it is a matter of participation, that is, taking part, in the content of what
the revelation is about. In this participation, that is, faith, Dasein gets
placed in front of God, and his existence, affected by the revelation,
becomes aware of itself, reveals itself to itself, in a state of forgottenness
Religion, Theology and Philosophy on the way to Being and Time 57

of God (“Gottvergessenheit” [GA9: 53]). In precisely the same manner

Dasein, effecting the passage from the inauthentic to the authentic, gains
awareness of itself for the first time and it does so in terms of existing
always already in an inauthentic way.
“Surely, theology was the discipline”, writes Otto Pöggeler, “in which the impulses
coming from Heidegger proved to have the most decisive effects”. Pöggeler (1983a:
As it turns out, Heidegger was registered as participant of a course of Gottfried Hoberg
on ‘Hermeneutik mit Geschichte der Exegese’ during the summer semester 1910; see
(Denker 2004: 14).
Dilthey was to exercise a long-lasting influence on Heidegger thinking. His turn to
“life” can be understood as a turn to “facticity” and to individuality; for an interesting
occurrence of the term haecceitas, used in the sense of facticity and Dasein, see (Dilthey
1982: 348): “In der Struktur des Lebens äußert sich eine individuelle Tatsächlichkeit,
eine haecceitas, welche vom Verstande nicht als notwendig aufgezeigt werden kann”.
Cf. GA24 (31); GA59 (35, 180f.); GA17 (117f.).
Cf. GA9 (36).
Cf. GA56/57 (110); GA61 (187); GA63 (72); PIA (247); GA20 (184); GA21 (32,
279f.); SZ (38); GA24 (3); GA29/30 (534); US (95); SD (90).
Cf. GA63 (107); GA17 (263).
On several occasions, Heidegger returns to interpret Husserl’s “principle of all
principles”. In retrospect, he says that he intended to rethink exactly this principle and,
together with it, the specific “matter” of phenomenology itself (cf. SD: 69f.). See
especially the following hints: “Die Phänomenologie bewußt und entschieden in die
Überlieferung der neuzeitlichen Philosophie einschwenkte”. “Die Phänomenologie
behielt die ‘Bewußtseinserlebnisse’ als ihren thematischen Bereich bei” (SD: 84). See
Husserl (1976: § 24): “No conceivable theory can make us err with respect to the
principle of all principles: that every originary presentive intuition is a legitimizing
source of cognition, that everything originally (so to speak, in its ‘personal’ actuality)
offered to us in ‘intuition’ is to be accepted simply as what it is presented as being, but
also only within the limits in which it is presented there”.
Zu einem Gegebenen zu stempeln. In English: to give it a stamp of something given, to
seal it, to reify it, as something given. See also GA58 (221).
For the same point in historical perspective going back to Descartes, see GA17 (105).
Cf. GA20 (62): “It is a question of understanding the subject on the basis of
intentionality, rather than understanding intentionality on the basis of preconceived
ideas about the subject”. See Bernet (1990: 143).
Cf. GA17 (264). On Husserl’s distinction, see Husserl (1976: 159).
Husserl’s claim concerning Voraussetzungslosigkeit should not be misinterpreted,
Herbert Spiegelberg writes: “In the sense of a total rejection of any beliefs whatsoever,
and of a program to start the philosophic enterprise from absolute zero […] [it] stands
for an attempt to eliminate merely presuppositions that have not been thoroughly
examined, or, at least in principle, been presented for such examination. It is thus not
freedom from all presuppositions, but merely freedom from phenomenologically
unclarified, unverified, and unverifiable presuppositions that is involved” (Spiegelberg
1984: 77). It is important to see that Heidegger’s above criticism does, however, apply
58 Fehér

to Husserl, and precisely in the sense in which Spiegelberg reconstructs Husserl’s claim.
The term unphänomenologisch crops up already in 1923 in a remark stating that it is
unphenomenological to hold mathematics to be an ideal of scientificity. See GA63 (72).
See Sheehan (1983: 294): “Husserl tended to see man in the natural attitude, e.g., the
empirical ego, simply in connection with psycho-physical and neurological processes,
hence as a thing-entity of nature. In that regard, Heidegger considered the ‘natural
attitude’ in Husserl not to be natural enough”.
This historical background is referred to by Heidegger several times in his early
lectures. See GA58 (1f.; 25f., 162); GA59 (12f., 15, 97); GA61 (117, 174, 189); GA63
(64, 69); GA9 (14): “So ist denn die Problematik der gegenwärtigen Philosophie
vorwiegend um das ‘Leben’ als das ‘Urphänomen’ zentriert”.
Cf. GA63 (42): “Die eigentliche Tendenz Dilthey ist nicht die, als die sie hier [sc. by
Spranger] angegeben ist”. See also GA61 (7); GA17 (301, 320); GA64 (7f.); SZ (46f.);
GA9 (13-14): “Die Lebensphilosophie, vor allem eine solche von der Höhenstufe
Diltheys […] muß auf ihre positiven Tendenzen befragt werden, daraufhin, ob in ihr
nicht doch […] eine radikale Tendenz des Philosophierens vorwagt. Im Absehen darauf
bewegt ich diese Kritik” [italics in original]. See also Heidegger’s retrospective remark
in GA66 (412).
For Heidegger’s stress on the historical see GA9 (31, 32f., 36, 38); GA56/57 (85, 88f.,
117, 206); GA61 (1, 76, 111, 159, 163); GA63 (83, 107); GA60 (31f. and passim).
Heidegger frequently spoke of Dilthey’s appreciation of Husserl. See, e.g., GA56/57
(165); GA20 (30); this may have led him to think that what he was called to do was to
unite the impulses of both thinkers.
That philosophy has life as its subject matter appears clearly in a passage of SZ also,
where Heidegger suggests that the expression “philosophy of life” amounts to nothing
more than “botany of plants” – really a pleonasm – and that in a genuine “philosophy
of life” “there lies an unexpressed tendency towards an understanding of Dasein”, that
is, existential analytic (SZ: 46). See also GA64 (40). For an anticipation of this see GA9
See Heidegger’s use of the term Begriffssurrogat in GA9: 10.
Cf. GA61 (82): “Kommt es nicht zur aneignenden Aufhebung der positiven Tendenzen
der modernen Lebensphilosophie”; GA61 (117): “Damit ist eine innerhalb der
Lebensphilosophie unausdrücklich lebendige Tendenz ergriffen”; GA9 (4, 13-14): “Die
Lebensphilosophie, vor allem eine solche von der Höhenstufe Diltheys […] muß auf
ihre positiven Tendenzen befragt werden, daraufhin, ob in ihr nicht doch, wenn auch ihr
selbst verdeckt und mit traditionell aufgerafften, statt ursprünglich geschöpften
Ausdrucksmitteln, eine radikale Tendenz des Philosophierens vorwagt. Im Absehen
darauf bewegt ich diese Kritik”; GA58 (3): “Was heißt: ‘Leben in Begriffe fassen’ […]
‘in Worte bringen’, wo doch die Worte als volle Ausdrücke zugeschnitten sein sollen
auf unsere Umwelt, auf den Raum”; GA9 (231-2): “Es ist ein in der gegenwärtigen
Philosophie viel vertretener Standpunkt, daß das faktische Leben dem Begriff gänzlich
unzugänglich sei. Aber das ist nur die Kehrseite des Rationalismus dieser Philosophie”;
GA59 (154): “Die Lebensphilosophie ist für uns eine notwendige Station auf dem Wege
der Philosophie, im Gegensatz zur leer formalen Transzendentalphilosophie”; GA60
(50): “Der Begriff des Lebens ist ein vieldeutiger und von diesem ganz allgemeinen,
formalen Gesichtspunkt aus hätte eine Kritik der heutigen Lebensphilosophie einen
Sinn. Nur wenn es gelingt, diesen Begriff ursprünglich positiv zu fassen, ist eine Kritik
berechtigt, in einem anderen Sinn aber nicht, sonst verkennt sie die eigentlichen Motive
Religion, Theology and Philosophy on the way to Being and Time 59

der Lebensphilosophie”; GA63 (69): “Die Tendenz der Lebensphilosophie muß aber
doch im positiven Sinne genommen werden als Durchbruch einer radikaleren Tendenz
des Philosophierens, obgleich die Grundlage ungenügend ist”; GA63 (108): “Die
Polemik gegen die Lebensphilosophie […] verfehlt alles, sieht den Gegenstand Lebens
überhaupt nicht ursprünglich […] Deshalb ist die Polemik gegen Begriffslosigkeit rein
negativ”. Heidegger has Rickert in mind.
Cf. GA63 (45): “Was heißt irrational? Das bestimmt sich doch nur an einer Idee von
Rationalität. Woraus erwächst deren Bestimmung?”. This view of Heidegger’s was to
be held through four decades up to the sixties. See SD (79). For a fuller discussion of
Heidegger’s treatment of rationalism and irrationalism see Fehér (1991: 43-70).
Cf. GA56/57 (59): “Diese Vorrherrschaft des Theoretischen muß gebrochen werden”.
See also GA56/57 (87, 89, 97). See also GA59 (142): “Beherrschtheit [des heutigen
Lebens] durch das Theoretische”. By centering his destructive strategy around an overall
confrontation with the theoretical Heidegger takes up once again, and gives a thorough
elaboration to, another basic impulse of contemporary philosophy, as represented
primarily by Emil Lask. What Lask called the “intellectualistic prejudice” gives
preference to “thinking” in gaining access to the non-sensible; “faith” is understood in
a negative sense mainly owing to the intellectualistic distinction between “knowledge”
and “faith”. The “theoretization of a-theoretical comportment” also further affects all
those distinctions we usually make between, e.g., “theoretical and practical”, “logical
and intuitive”, “theoretical and aesthetic”, and “scientific and religious” knowledge. See
Lask (1923, vol. 2: 204ff., 208; vol. 3: 235). Heidegger did not fail acknowledge that
Lask was “one of the most powerful [stärksten] philosophical personalities of the time”,
adding how much he owed to him. See GA56/57 (180). For more details see Fehér (1992:
“Kategorie ist interpretierend und ist nur interpretierend, und zwar das faktische
Leben, angeeignet in existenzieller Bekümmerung” (GA61: 86).
See explicitly GA17 (294): “Wir sehen die Welt immer in einem als”; further PIA
(241, 264). See also GA20 (75, 190, 416); SZ (169, 383).
See GA64 (32): “Das primäre Erkennen […] ist Auslegung”; Cf. SZ (147).
Heidegger was reported by contemporaries to have developed a “phenomenology of
life” in his post war lecture courses. Hajime Tanabe, presumably the first to write on
Heidegger abroad, gave an account of his encounter with Heidegger in Germany in 1924
under the title: ‘A New Turn in Phenomenology: Heidegger’s Phenomenology of Life’.
See Pöggeler (1982: 57; 1983b: 155).
On Mitgehen, see GA58 (23, 158, 162, 185, 255, 262); GA29/30 (296f.). The
proximity to life (Lebensnähe) was also an urge of the age which Heidegger has taken
up and reacted upon; see GA63 (64). It may be of some importance to note that the
semi-religious tone that occasionally permeates this lecture course may be partly due to
the fact that precisely in that semester (WS 1919/20) Heidegger had also announced, and
been preparing to deliver, a course on the Philosophical Foundations of Mediaeval
Mysticism. Although he had been working hard on it, due to lack of time he could not
get ready with the preparation, therefore in a letter to the faculty dated August 30, 1919,
he asked for permission to cancel it and to transform instead his course on Selected
Problems of Pure Phenomenology from a weekly one-hour into a two-hour course. See
GA60 (348); GA58 (265). It is plausible to assume that at least part of the material
Heidegger worked through and destined for the Mysticism course, infiltrated into the
phenomenology course. Indeed, the occasional semi-religious character that this course
60 Fehér

displays is not just vaguely religious; the course has a definite tendency toward
mysticism, as Heidegger understood it at the time, in terms of immediate religious
enactment and in opposition to the rigid conceptual schemes of Scholasticism. The tone
of this religiosity is submission, humble devotion. On humilitas, see also GA60 (309);
on Hingabe see GA60 (322). As such the tone is fairly different from the distress and
fight that permeates the phenomenology of religion course one year later. For a
characteristic occurrence of Mitgehen in the Phenomenology of Religion course, see
GA60 (72): “Die Explikation geht immer mit der religiösen Erfahrung mit und treibt
With an eye to Heidegger’s appropriation and transformation of Husserl’s
phenomenology, his concentration on religion may schematically be put as proceeding
along the following itinerary: phenomenology of transcendental consciousness à
phenomenology of life à phenomenology of religious life.
This was, again, a widespread tendency of the time. “Glaube ist nicht Lehre, sondern
Leben, die erlebte Tat-sache, der ‘Geburt Gottes’ in der Seele” (Natorp 1918: 87). On this
point see Fehér (2000: 200-223).
He also notes that something such as a “‘metaphysics of death’ lies outside the domain
of an existential analysis of death” (SZ: 248).
See GA60 (82): “Urchristliche Religiosität ist in der faktischen Lebenserfahrung.
Nachsatz: Sie ist eigentlich solche selbst”. The same point is made in an even more
accentuated manner in GA60 (131): “Christliche Religiosität ist in der faktischen
Lebenserfahrung, ist sie eigentlich selbst”.
Heidegger makes the point that Christianity is a historical paradigm for centering life
for the first time around the self-world. This accent on individuality, i.e., the
individually centred character of life, will lead up to Dasein’s Jemeinigkeit in Being and
Time, while the term Selbstwelt disappears.
See “Gottvergessenheit” at GA9 (53).
See GA60 (95): “absolute Umwendung”; “Hinwendung zu Gott und eine Wegwendung
von den Götzenbildern”; GA9 (53): “Glaube = Wiedergeburt”. See also GA9 (63).
See GA60 (94): “Das Wissen über das eigene Gewordensein stellt der Explikation eine
ganz besondere Aufgabe. Hieraus wird sich der Sinn einer Faktizität bestimmen, die von
einem bestimmten Wissen begleitet ist. Wir reißen die Faktizität und das Wissen
auseinander, aber sie ist ganz urspünglich miterfahren […] Das Gewordensein ist nun
nicht ein beliebiges Vorkommnis im Leben, sondern es wird ständig miterfahren und
zwar so, daß ihr jetziges Sein Gewordensein ist. Ihr Gewordensein ist ihr jetziges Sein”.
See also GA60 (145): “Faktizität, zu der ja das ‘Wissen’ gehört”; GA60 (93): “Wissen
von ihrem Gewordensein”.
See GA60 (120): “Das christliche Leben ist nicht geradelinig, sondern ist gebrochen:
Alle umweltlichen Bezüge müssen hindurchgehen durch den Vollzugszusammenhang
des Gewordenseins”.
See GA9 (63): “In der gläubigen Existenz das überwundene vorchristliche Dasein
existenzial-ontologisch mitbeschlossen bleibt”.
Dilthey fell victim to the traditional question, how is history of science as science
possible. See also GA17 (302).
The term “das Historische” will be replaced in Being and Time by “das
Geschichtliche”, or Geschichtlichkeit”. For later, see the distinction between
“geschichtliche und historische Wahrheit” in GA39 (144f.), viz., that between
“historische Betrachtung” and “geschichtliche Besinnung” in GA45 (34f., 49f., 88f.)
Religion, Theology and Philosophy on the way to Being and Time 61

Further see also GA45 (11f., 40, 201); GA65 (32f., 151f. 359, 421f., 493f.). See
especially GA65 (153): “Die Historie […] ist ein ständiges Ausweichen vor der
See SZ (375): “The locus of the problem of history […] is not to be sought in
historiology as the science of history”.
See GA61 (76): “Die Faktizität des Lebens […] ist in sich selbst historisch”; (159):
“Das Historische im Sinn der Faktizität liegt”.
See GA60 (65): “Was ist in der faktischen Lebenserfahrung ursprünglich die
Zeitlichkeit? […] unser Weg geht vom faktischen Leben aus, von dem aus der Sinn von
Zeit gewonnen wird. Damit ist das Problem des Historischen gekennzeichnet”. See also
GA60 (80): “Die faktische Lebenserfahrung ist historisch. Die christliche Religiosität
lebt die Zeitlichkeit als solche”.
He finishes his sentence: “But not Christianity and metaphysics (the latter, to be sure,
in a new sense)”. This addition is surely not insignificant, for it shows Heidegger’s
continuing to be in the proximity, although “in a new sense”, to Christianity and
metaphysics. The letter was first published in Casper (1980: 541); see Denker (2004:
67ff). I have adopted John D. Caputo’s translation in Caputo (1982: 56ff). To say that
the “system of Catholicism” has become “problematic and unacceptable” is to say that
the theological-philosophical foundation which underlies faith – the fundament, the
groundwork, upon which faith rests – has become obsolete and hollow, requiring, as it
does, being renewed and refreshed. To fulfil this task is in no way contrary to Christian
faith. For more detailed interpretation of this letter, see Fehér (1995: 189-228).
See GA60 (313): “Liegt es a priori in der Struktur des Systems, das selbst nicht einer
organischen Kulturtat entwachsen ist, daß der zu erlebende Wertgehalt der Religion als
solcher, ihre inhaltliche Sinnsphäre erst durch ein verwickeltes unorganisches,
theoretisch völlig ungeklärtes, dogmatisches Gehege von Sätzen und Beweisgängen
hindurch muß, um schließlich als kirchenrechtliche Satzung mit Polizeigewalt das
Subjekt zu überwältigen und dunkel zu belasten und zu erdrücken”.
See the same claim in Dilthey’s main work (1990: 138f,, 253f.). For the term Faktizität
in Dilthey, see Dilthey (1990: 141). The term Lebensanschauung (life-view) in the
above quotation is clearly of Schleiermacherian origin.
The only change is that Heidegger italicizes “history” and this, of course, gives to the
identification of history and religion more prominence. It may be of use to quote the full
sentence of Schleiermacher: “Geschichte im eigentlichsten Sinn ist der höchste
Gegenstand der Religion, mit ihr hebt sie an und endigt mit ihr – denn Weissagung ist
in ihren Augen auch Geschichte und beides gar nicht voneinander zu unterscheiden –
und alle wahre Geschichte hat überall zuerst einen religiösen Zweck gehabt und ist von
religiösen Ideen aus gegangen”. Schleiermacher (1920: 63).
See Harnack (1983: 20): “Das Dogma ist in seiner Conception und in seinem Ausbau
ein Werk des griechischen Geistes auf dem Boden des Evangeliums”. Heidegger refers
to Harnack in GA60 (72), claiming it is precisely the seemingly secondary problem of
“expression”, of “religious explication”, that is of decisive importance, for the
“explication” goes hand in hand with the religious experience. This is much in line with
Gadamer’s interpretation that theology has, for Heidegger, primarily to do with finding
the adequate “word, ” i.e., conceptuality, to express faith. Heidegger’s own subsequent
formulation of what dogma is shows Harnack’s obvious influence. See GA60 (112):
“Das Dogma als abgelöster Lehrgehalt in objektiv-erkenntnismäßiger Abhebung kann
niemals leitend für die christliche Religiosität gewesen sein, sondern umgekehrt, die
62 Fehér

Genesis des Dogmas ist nur verständlich aus dem Vollzug der christlichen
Lebenserfahrung”. See also Dilthey (1990: 25): “So war die Entwicklung dieses
Gehaltes im Dogma zugleich seine Veräußerlichung”; (274): “Hat sich die Entwicklung
der Formeln, welche die religiöse Erfahrung in einer Verknüpfung von Vorstellungen
abgrenzen und gegen andere Formeln innerhalb derselben Religion wie gegen andere
Religionen rechtfertigen sollten, nicht folgerecht aus der im Christentum gegebenen
Selbstgewißheit innerer Erfahrung vollzogen”. The thesis of the unhappy connection of
Christianity with Greek philosophy was far from unknown to the previous generation
of liberal theology, e.g., to Ritschl.
See GA60 (310): “Scharf zu trennen: das Problem der Theologie und das der
Religiosität”. And he adds significantly: “Die Theologie hat bis jetzt keine originäre
theoretische Grundhaltung der Ursprünglichkeit des Gegenstandes entsprechend
Cf. GA20 (6).
For a detailed reconstruction of this lecture, see Kockelmans (1984: 85-108).
Cf. Gethmann-Siefert (1974: 36): “Religion requires a way of treatment adequate to its
See GA60 (336): “Die Analyse, d.h. die Hermeneutik, arbeitet im historischen Ich […]
In allem ist die spezifische Sinnbestimmtheit herauszuhören”.
Cf. GA60 (8, 124).


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Being’ in Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology
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Caputo, John D. 1993. ‘Heidegger and Theology’ in Guignon, Charles
(ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Heidegger. Cambridge
University Press.
– 1982. Heidegger and Aquinas: An Essay on Overcoming Metaphysics.
New York, N.Y.: Fordham University Press.
Casper, Bernhard. 1980. ‘Martin Heidegger und die Theologische
Fakultät Freiburg 1909-1923’, in Bäumer, Remigius, Karl Suso
Frank, and Hugo Ott, (eds) Kirche am Oberrhein. Festschrift
für Wolfgang Müller, Freiburger Diözesan Archiv 100 (1980):
Denker, Alfred, Hans-Helmuth Gander and Holger Zaborowski (eds).
2004. Heidegger und die Anfänge seines Denkens
(Heidegger-Jahrbuch 1). Freiburg: Herder.
Dilthey, Wilhelm. 1990. Einleitung in die Geisteswissenschaften.
Versuch einer Grundlegung für das Studium der Gesellschaft
und der Geschichte (ed. Bernhard Groethuysen) (Wilhelm
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Dilthey Gesammelte Schriften 1). Stuttgart and Göttingen:

Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.
– 1982. Grundlegung der Wissenschaften vom Menschen, der
Gesellschaft und der Geschichte (ed. Hans Johach and Frithjof
Rodi) (Wilhelm Dilthey Gesammelte Schriften 19). Göttingen:
Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.
– 1979. Der Ausbau der geschichtlichen Welt in den
Geisteswissenschaften (ed. Bernhard Groethuysen) (Wilhelm
Dilthey Gesammelte Schriften 7). Stuttgart and Göttingen:
Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.
Fehér, István M. 2000. ‘Heideggers Kritik der Ontotheologie’ in Franz,
Albert and Wilhelm G. Jacobs (eds) Gottes- und
Religionsbegriff in der neuzeitlichen Philosophie. Paderborn:
– 1995. ‘Heidegger’s Understanding of the Atheism of Philosophy:
Philosophy, Theology, and Religion in his Early Lecture
Courses up to Being and Time’ in The American Catholic
Philosophical Quarterly 69 (2): 189-228.
– 1992. ‘Lask, Lukács, Heidegger: The Problem of Irrationality and the
Theory of Categories’ in Macann, Christopher (ed.) Martin
Heidegger: Critical Assessments. London: Routledge & Kegan
– (ed.). 1991. ‘Heidegger und Lukács. Eine Hundertjahresbilanz’ in
Wege und Irrwege des neueren Umganges mit Heideggers
Werk. Berlin: Duncker & Humblot.
Gadamer, Hans-Georg. 2003. ‘Heideggers “theologische” Jugendschrift’
in Heidegger, Martin, Phänomenologische Interpretationen zu
Aristoteles. Ausarbeitung für die Marburger und die Göttinger
Philosophische Fakultät (1922). Mit einem Essay von Hans-
Georg Gadamer (ed. Neumann, Günther). Stuttgart: Reclam.
– 1987. ‘Die Marburger Theologie’ in Gadamer, Hans-Georg, Neuere
Philosophie. 1. Hegel, Husserl, Heidegger (Hans-Georg
Gadamer Gesammelte Werke 3). Tübingen: Mohr.
– 1977. Philosophische Lehrjahre. Frankfurt a. M.: Klostermann.
Gethmann-Siefert, Annemarie. 1974. Das Verhältnis von Philosophie
und Theologie im Denken Martin Heideggers. Freiburg and
Munich: Alber.
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Harnack, Adolf von. 1983. Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte (3

volumes). Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.
Husserl, Edmund. 1976. Ideen zu einer reinen Phänomenologie und
phänomenologischen Philosophie. I. Allgemeine Einführung in
die reine Phänomenologie (ed. Karl Schuhmann) (Husserliana
III/1). The Hague: Nijhoff.
Jäger, Alfred. 1978. Gott. Nochmals Martin Heidegger Tübingen: Mohr.
Kockelmans, Joseph J. 1984. ‘Heidegger on Theology’ in Shahan,
Robert W. and Jitendranath N. Mohanty (eds) Thinking About
Being: Aspects of Heidegger’s Thought. Norman, Okla.:
University of Oklahoma Press.
Lask, Emil. 1923. Gesammelte Schriften (ed. Eugen Herrigel).
Tübingen: Mohr.
Misch, Clara (ed.). 1933. Der Junge Dilthey. Ein Lebensbild in Briefen
und Tagebüchern 1852-1870. Leipzig, Berlin: Teubner.
Natorp, Paul. 1918. Deutscher Weltberuf. Geschichtsphilosophische
Richtlinien. I. Buch. Die Weltalter des Geistes. Jena: Eugen
Pöggeler, Otto. 1983a. Heidegger und die hermeneutische Philosophie.
Freiburg and Munich: Alber.
– 1983b. ‘Zeit und Sein bei Heidegger’ in Orth, Ernst W. (ed.) Zeit und
Zeitlichkeit bei Husserl und Heidegger (Phänomenologische
Forschungen 14). 152-191.
– 1982. ‘Neue Wege mit Heidegger?’ in Philosophische Rundschau
(29): 39-71.
Schaeffler, Richard. 1978. Frömmigkeit des Denkens? Martin
Heidegger und die katholische Theologie. Darmstadt:
Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.
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der Offenbarung (ed. Walter E. Ehrhardt). Hamburg: Meiner.
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an die Gebildeten unter ihren Verächtern (ed. Rudolf Otto) (4th
revised edition). Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.
Sheehan, Thomas. 1983. ‘Heidegger’s Philosophy of Mind’ in Fløistad,
Guttorm (ed.) Philosophy of Mind (Contemporary Philosophy:
A New Survey 4). The Hague: Nijhoff.
Spiegelberg, Herbert. 1984. The Phenomenological Movement: A
Historical Introduction (3rd edition). The Hague: Nijhoff.
Religion, Theology and Philosophy on the way to Being and Time 65

Papenfuss, Dietrich and Otto Pöggeler (eds). 1990. Zur philosophischen

Aktualität Heideggers (Symposium der Alexander von
Humboldt-Stiftung vom 24.-28. April 1989 in Bonn-Bad
Godesberg 2). Frankfurt a.M.: Vittorio Klostermann.
Zaborowski, Holger. 2004. ‘“Herkunft aber bleibt stets Zukunft”.
Anmerkungen zurreligiösen und theologischen Dimension des
Denkweges Martin Heideggers bis 1919’ in Denker (2004a):
Heidegger and the Ascesis of Thought

Franco Volpi

A discussion of the relationship between philosophy and religion in our

time cannot leave Heidegger out of consideration. In his thought, the
problems associated with the sacred and the divine in the Twentieth
Century are concentrated in a paradigmatic way. On the one hand, the
Heideggerian interrogation of metaphysical categories and concepts
ended by disputing the possibility of talking about God and the religious
in traditional terms. Heidegger applied, with systematic coherence, the
logic of philosophical questioning even to the subjects of faith and
revelation, without being concerned that he might be precipitating an
acceleration of the decline. As a matter of fact, his thought opened the
door to the most corrosive form of nihilism. For Heidegger, however, it
is not a question of a cupio dissolvi – of an inclination to decadence. On
the contrary, his acceleration of nihilism is directed towards an
overcoming of such a movement, to the point where it is reversed in the
opposite extreme of the inspired vision and of the reopening to the
sacred and the divine. Therefore, his questioning ceases to be a simple
disputing of every pre-constituted meaning and becomes a “piety of
thinking” which sets itself to wait for an “other beginning” of history.
The following paper seeks to bring to light the strange
interactions of Heideggerian thought with religion (particularly with
theology, mysticism and gnosis) in order to emphasize Heidegger’s
strong inclination toward the Greek idea of philosophizing.

1. Coincidentia oppositorum: After Hegel, After Nietzsche

Heidegger’s attitude toward the philosophical tradition is torn by a

profound ambivalence: on the one hand, his work forms the most
significant context in which the Twentieth Century received the classical
philosophical inheritance, while on the other, by taking the Greek-
Western idea of philosophy to its final and most extreme implications,
Heidegger reverses it, transforming it into anti-metaphysical, anti-
traditional and anti-humanistic thought. The idea of philosophy as a
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question of presupposition is seldom realized as radically as in

Heidegger. At the same time, the mirage of the ineffable, thought
without any filter of theological or mystical categories, rarely appears
so near as in the Heideggerian reflection.
In considering the beginnings of Heidegger’s thought on the
sacred and the divine, we do not have to lose sight of such ambiguities.
In fact, Heidegger’s theological, mystical and gnostic conclusions are
only apparently the outcomes of a contiguity of his thought with these
traditions. The same evidence calls for another interpretative key – that
of nihilism. And the more we cling to the former reading, the more we
find ourselves obliged to interrogate the problems involved in the latter.
How are we to explain the fact that Heideggerian thought can
be associated with two opposing traditions, religion and nihilism? The
outlook opened up by Heidegger is interpretable neither in exclusively
religious terms, nor as a simple apology for nihilism. Rather, what
Heidegger practices is a “rigorous exercise”, an “ascesis” of thought, in
which the extremes of disenchanted deconstruction and abandon to
inspired vision meet. An alchemy of opposites enlivens his work
generally, not only with regard to the problems of the sacred and the
divine. Nobody more than the young Heidegger, for example,
emphasized the practical-moral character of human life and the necessity
to live life in accordance with the modes of authenticity. On the other
hand, nobody did more to neutralize the moral determinations of
existence, depriving them of their specific ethical meanings. Equally,
nobody more than the later Heidegger pointed out the responsibility
associated with thought. And no one did more to revive the
preoccupation with the existential task of making concrete choices – as
a preoccupation of man, but at first as a preoccupation of Being. In fact,
according to Heidegger, every human intention to escape the nihilism of
technology is condemned to become increasingly entangled in such a
destiny. If with regard to the ultimate realities of our time, lingering on
research into possible virtues or writing an ethics no longer makes sense,
then “only a God can save us”, and nothing is of value anymore, except
the attitude of “abandon” and of “letting be”.
Analogously, it is indisputable that an incomparable lesson with
regard to lucidity, an invitation to critical vigilance which cannot be
refused, is derivable from his deconstruction of the foundational
structures of metaphysics. But his insistent interrogation of the
categories of the metaphysical and humanistic tradition ended by
Heidegger and the Ascesis of Thought 69

disputing and dissolving them of every content and value, and led to the
most dismal nihilism. In this sense, Heidegger is the thinker who, better
than others, interpreted the role of thought in the crisis of philosophy in
the face of the issues raised in the “post-Hegel” and “post-Nietzsche”
periods. Heidegger confronted the problems of the “post-Hegel” era not
only by confronting the dialectical thought of the Absolute and its
claims to attain the whole, but also by developing, as an alternative to
it – out of an awareness of its impracticability and the exigency of
preserving some of its gains all the same – a thinking of Being which
assumed, as its point of departure, the finitude of existence in its
unavoidable facticity. As for Nietzsche, the Twentieth Century filled his
visions and prophecies with real life and pains, and it is not by chance
that his name has been raised on the banners of all kinds of anti-
dialectical thought. But he so tenaciously and furiously criticized
metaphysical certainties that he sapped the foundations, not only of
dialectics, but of every formulation of meaning. Nietzsche diagnosed the
crisis of the traditional values of God, truth, good and evil, contributing
with his diagnosis to their decline. The Nietzschian consideration of this
crisis is not a neutral description, but an acceleration of the process
which it describes. In answering the questions of the “post-Hegel”
period, Heidegger succeeded in also examining these questions from the
“post-Nietzsche” point of view, confronting problems that still
characterize and trouble the self-representation of our time.

2. The Passion of Disenchantment

Heidegger is not alone in this situation. His reflections must be placed

in the historical-cultural context of the early twentieth-century crisis in
which they matured. Despite differences of style, subjects, strategies,
and goals, Heidegger is most comparable to Max Weber. The
autobiography of an illustrious witness to the experiences of those years,
Karl Löwith, associates the two names in this historical perspective,
reviving this comparison, surprising at first sight in view of its
paradoxical nature (Löwith 1986). Moreover, the comparison receives
a confirmation in Heidegger’s writings of the period, in which his
acknowledgments of Weber contrasts with his criticisms of philosophers
such as Karl Jaspers or Heinrich Rickert.1 The passion of
disenchantment, embodied by Weber, corresponds to the mood in which
70 Volpi

Heidegger’s deconstruction is stubbornly carried out in the 1920s, and

subsequently radicalized in his plan for an overcoming of metaphysics.
Max Weber was among the first to lucidly outline the new
historical-cultural situation which was looming, and to clearly identify
the“heroism of reason” necessary in such a predicament. At the end of
a vast reconstruction of modern rationalism, he offered an illuminating
diagnosis of the new conditions in two famous lectures given during the
severe crisis that followed the First World War.2 He succeeded in
grasping and describing, with a few brush-strokes, how the rationalism
determining the historical development of modernity had produced
decisive consequences for every formulation of meaning. Rationalism
had begun a process of secularization of the ancient perspective on life
originating in mythology and religion, a secularization which was
producing what he called the “disenchantment of the world”. Humanity,
eating at the tree of knowledge, loses its original innocence and
becomes, from the point of view of reason alone, immune to every faith
and incapable of developing a rational foundation for the meaning of
life. Under the “iron grip” of nihilism, this is possible only as a personal,
subjective choice. “The fate of our time”, Weber wrote, “is
characterized by rationalism and intellectualization and, above all, by
the disenchantment of the world. Precisely the ultimate and most
sublime values have retreated from public life, either into the
transcendental realm of mystic life or into the brotherliness of direct and
personal human relations” (Weber 1982: 612). Reason alone is possible
only as a polytheism of values, a conflicting presence of opposite
demands which, precisely as they clash in their truth claims, invalidate
their capacity to be meaningful in a rational, shared, universal way. This
simultaneous clashing of several values causes the devaluation of all
values, eventually producing a cacophony of options and decisions.
In this situation of crisis, a situation which offered the prospect
of “a polar night of icy darkness and hardness” rather than a “summer’s
bloom”, Weber summoned up the idea of the intellectual’s responsibility
to vigorously live their destined confrontation with this diversity of
conflicting values, with the cultural relativism and nihilism of our age,
without irrationally indulging in eschatological expectations or in
romantic nostalgia. Instead he must follow, in his dedication to his
everyday tasks, the daemon which guides his existence (Weber 1980:
559). The ones unable to do so would leave behind the “sacrifice of the
intellect” and return to the ever mercifully-opened arms of the ancient
Heidegger and the Ascesis of Thought 71

churches: let the disciple come back to the prophet and the believer to
the redeemer – soWeber concluded – but this is the age of science and
reason, which are inevitably detached from the values of religious
Now, the only virtue possible in a world of disenchantment is,
in fact, the rational sobriety which withstands the assimilation of any
content and is as lucid as long as it remains empty: the power of the
rational consists in dissolving everything substantial. The virtue of a
worldly asceticism lies in its value as an explicative paradigm for the
cultural self-representation of the disenchanted world; it legitimates the
renunciation of every transcendental value (in spite of its recognition of
creatureliness) because it presupposes worldliness as the only dimension
in which the success or the failure of existence is measured.3

3. The Sacrificium Intellectus

What was the atmosphere in which Heidegger thought and elaborated

his destruction of the history of ontology during the 20s, if not this
passion of disenchantment? In what context was his hermeneutics of
facticity developed, if not that of this renunciation of any positive
transcendence, and, notwithstanding this, of the recognition of Dasein’s
radical finitude? The world-view, in other words, which considers
existence itself as the only dimension in which the success or failure of
existence is measured? From where, if not from here, did the conviction,
professed by the young Heidegger, that philosophy is “in principal,
atheism” originate? (GA61: 197-198). Where, if not here, is the
foundation of Heidegger’s insistence on underlining, in his early
university courses, the distinction later included in the lecture
‘Phenomenology and Theology’ between philosophy as “critical”
knowledge, that is, knowledge able to dispute every positum, and the
sciences as positive knowledge, inclined towards the presupposition and
“uncritical” assumption of their object?
An eloquent document written in 1919, and thus
contemporaneous with Weber’s lectures, illustrates the young
Heidegger’s anguished but resolute conversion to philosophy, and his
accompanying detachment from theology and Catholic faith. In the 1919
letter addressed to Engelbert Krebs, his father confessor, he expresses
the conviction that his renunciation of Catholicism’s doctrinal system
is inevitable if he is to follow his philosophical vocation.
72 Volpi

Throughout his work, Heidegger always refused the

“sacrificium intellectus” with rigorous coherent argumentation,
remaining faithful to a philosophical interrogation of the tradition’s
representations, categories, concepts and presuppositions. The project
of a phenomenological destruction of the history of ontology, which he
carried out during the 20s, through a monumental and in-depth reading
of the pivotal moments in the history of metaphysics (Aristotle, Kant,
Hegel and Husserl, but also Descartes and Leibniz), is permeated by this
critical coherence. During the 30s this endeavour was further
radicalized, at least from the philosophical point of view, until even the
“fundamental ontology” of Being and Time, and the “metaphysics of
Dasein” of the 1929 Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics became
impossible.4 The confrontation with Nietzsche was decisive in this
regard, together with the attempt to think the historical-epochal
conditions of nihilism, which, in Heidegger’s view, begins with Plato
and extends across the history of the European thought as its hidden
cipher, until it is realized in the essence of modern technology. With the
idea of the overstepping (Überwindung) and overcoming (Verwindung)
of metaphysics, Heidegger intended to depart from traditional
philosophy, which he saw as handicapped by oblivion of Being (Sein)
in favour of Being (das Seiende), an oblivion which restrains and
prevents the possibility of an “other beginning” for history. From this
point on he devotes his criticism to the two archetypal structures of
metaphysics: “subjectivity”, which originates with “Platonism” and is
fulfilled in the will to power of modern technology, and “onto-
theology”, of which Aristotelian First Philosophy represents the
The tenacity with which Heidegger disputed the contents of
traditional metaphysics shows the features of a real asceticism of
thinking, of a rigorous exercise of questioning which consciously
precludes itself from any “positive” result. Even when, as in Being and
Time, an analysis of existence is shaped and proposed alongside the
deconstruction of traditional ontology, the obtained “positive”
determinations always have the features of “formal indications”. In other
words, they are quasi-transcendental structures; they are “empty”, and
Heidegger does not pronounce, consciously and deliberately, on the
subject of filling them. And wherever the impression of a positive
meaning creeps in – as in the case of the qualification, in a moral sense,
Heidegger and the Ascesis of Thought 73

of the conceptual pair authentic/inauthentic – he meticulously makes

sure that it is rejected as an ontic misinterpretation.
The outcome of this procedure, as the listeners of the inaugural
lecture ‘What is Metaphysics?’ certainly understood, is clear: it is a real
itinerarium mentis in nihilum. But if nothingness is where Heidegger’s
analysis leads him, must we also think that it remains his final
destination? Must we conclude that his speculation, following the
dynamics of philosophical questioning which he himself implemented,
has the most complete form of nihilism as its outcome?
This would probably be the state of affairs, if the passion of
disenchantment and the refusal of the sacrificium intellectus, from
which the Heideggerian itinerary starts, were characterized by mere
intellectualism and rationalism, as the comparison with Max Weber
might incline us to think. But this is not the case with Heidegger, as it
is shown in primis by his impassioned interpretive appropriation of the
primordial Christian experience of existence, in the course ‘Introduction
to the Phenomenology of Religion’ of 1920-21. On the contrary,
Heidegger thinks and writes against empty rationalism and
intellectualism, which, immanent to a being (Seiende), precludes the
possibility of the opening to Being (Sein). The ascesis of thinking, and
renunciation of any positive content, do not imply either the pure and
simple presumption of the negative, or an apology for nihilism.5
This is the reason why the Heideggerian destruction of the
tradition does not leave nothingness behind itself, but a vacuum, an
absence, and therefore an uneasiness and a need. Is this the reason why
Heidegger’s “nihilism” in the end approximates a theism? Is this the
reason why his itinerarium mentis in nihilum resembles, to an
impressive extent, an itinerarium mentis in Deum? And why his
meditations suggest analogies with theology, mysticism and gnosis? We
can say tentatively, yes. In the Beiträge zur Philosophie (1936-1938),
there is the first realization of a project which, after the work of
deconstruction of Being and Time, is totally committed to a propositive
thought based on the idea of Being (Sein) as Ereignis, and on its
destining itself to man, a thought founded upon the co-belonging of
Earth and Sky, Divinities and Mortals in das Geviert, together with all
the themes which spring from this, such as the view of language as the
“house of Being”, the function of remembering thought (Andenken), and
the diagnosis of the essence of modern technology as Gestell.
74 Volpi

At this point, we are reaching the heart of our examination: is

it possible to interpret Heidegger’s speculative itinerary, which leads to
a nihil, as an itinerarium mentis in Deum, as an approximation to the
sacred and the divine?
There are some powerful arguments to legitimize this reading
of Heidegger:
1) The close connection between Heidegger’s thought and
theological questioning, which led to a vast and fruitful reception both
in the Catholic and in the Protestant world;
2) The convergences between Heidegger’s thought and certain
types of mysticism with regard to fundamental themes;
3) The structural analogies between Heidegger and gnosis.

4. Theology

The relationship between theology and Heideggerian thought has been

so continuous and deep that we could not illustrate it here in a sufficient
way even if we wanted to. To do so, we would have to examine the
different ways in which theological problems manifest themselves in
Heidegger’s work, and the various points at which they appear in it. The
years of his early education would provide enough material for a
separate study, since they are marked by the influence of the theologian
Carl Braig (who taught Heidegger the importance of Hegel and
Schelling for speculative theology), by the in-depth reading of
Schleiermacher’s Discourses on Religion, by the analysis of Rudolf
Otto’s book on The Idea of the Holy, by the study of medieval
mysticism, and by impassioned interpretations of Paul, Augustine and
Martin Luther. All these influences explain why Heidegger, during this
period, claimed to be a “Christian theologian”. It would then be
necessary to investigate the role played by Heidegger’s relationship with
Rudolf Bultmann in the elaboration of the analysis of existence and, in
turn, the influence of this existential analysis on Bultmann himself.
Finally, we would have to explore the vast topic of Heidegger’s
reception by both Protestant and Catholic theology, which, by following
the Heideggerian example, freed themselves, in their reflection on the
divine, from the passive and uncritical acceptance of metaphysical
categories. This and many other aspects of the influence of Heidegger’s
thought on theology have been widely investigated.6
Heidegger and the Ascesis of Thought 75

Now, without questioning the fruitfulness of the historically

established or possible relationships between Heidegger’s thought and
theology, we are here interested solely in the principled attitude which,
according to Heidegger, philosophy must assume towards theology. In
the lecture ‘Phenomenology and Theology’, this attitude is
unequivocally defined as a critical disposition, as against the positive
disposition of theology.7 The tasks of philosophy and theology are
therefore clearly separate, and it is only on this basis that a relationship
and a hierarchy between the two is possible. The relationship is indeed
possible: philosophy must not pass judgement on the truths and the
contents of faith, such as the existence of God or the immortality of the
soul, but it alone must indicate the conditions of possibility of religious
phenomena, such as belief in God itself or in the immortality of the
individual soul. The reason for this hierarchical subordination lies in the
different kinds of knowledge which philosophy and theology
respectively realize. By presupposing its own object as a given, without
questioning it, theology is, for Heidegger, a positive science like any
other. Philosophy is, on the other hand, a form of critical knowledge
because it calls everything into question, and therefore, cannot
presuppose anything. Consequently, Heidegger assigns to philosophy a
“corrective” task with regard to the positive concepts of theology. The
fact that he underlines the scientific nature of theology, rather than the
confessional aspect emphasized by Franz Overbeck’s Christian
skepticism, does not weaken Heidegger’s criticism: theology’s scientific
nature is of a positive kind, i.e., neither philosophical nor critical.8
Notwithstanding this clear subordination of theology to
philosophy, in the 20s Heidegger kept open the possibility of a fruitful
relationship between philosophical and theological work. In the 30s and
40s he adopted instead a more rigid attitude. The presupposition of faith,
which he had previously considered a specific component of theology’s
positive scientific nature, he now stigmatized as a behaviour requiring
the renunciation of thinking. His severe criticism of the idea of
“Christian philosophy”, implying that it is oxymoronic by comparing it
to a “wooden iron” during the 1935 course Introduction to Metaphysics,
is founded on an intense affection for the Greek idea of philosophizing
as total questioning, and nurtures a definitely anti-Catholic attitude. In
line with this criticism, Heidegger attacks the book Was ist der Mensch?
written by Theodor Haecker, one of the leaders of the Catholic
76 Volpi

opposition to National Socialism.9 Without ever mentioning Haecker,

Heidegger writes:

To be sure, there are books today entitled: What is man? But the title merely
stands in letters on the cover. There is no questioning. Not only because
people have been so busy writing books that they have forgotten how to
question, but because the writers already posses an answer and what is more
an answer that forbids questioning. If a man believes the propositions of
Catholic dogma, that is his individual concern; we shall not discuss it here.
But how can we be expected to take a man seriously who writes ‘What is
man?’ on the cover of his book although he does not inquire, because he is
unwilling and unable to inquire. And when the Frankfurter Zeitung, among
others, praises such a book, which question merely on its cover, as ‘an
extraordinary, magnificent and courageous work’, even the blindest among us
know where we stand (GA40: 151).10

But after the war, and in the final phase of his thought,
Heidegger re-opened his dialogue with theology on a larger scale, to the
point that, recalling his theological education, he affirmed that “without
this theological background I should never have come upon the path of
thinking. But the origin always comes to meet us from the future” (GA12:
91). Nevertheless, he has not abandoned the clear demarcation between
philosophy and theology. We can cite as examples two statements made
at the beginning of the 1950s, one during a discussion with students in
Zurich, the other during a colloquium at the Evangelical Academy in
In the first statement, made in the conciliatory tone of one who
wants to have a dialogue, Heidegger clearly separates Being (Sein),
which is the “thing of thought” (die Sache des Denkens), and God, who
is the object of theology. To the question of whether it is licit to identify
Being (Sein) with God, he answers:

I am asked this question at least twice a month, because (understandably) it

worries the theologians […] Being and God are not identical and I would
never be tempted to think the essence of God through the concept of Being.
Some people know, perhaps, that I come from theology, that I have retained
an old love for it and that I know a little about it. If I had to write a theology
(and sometimes I am tempted to do that), the word “Being” should not appear
in any way. Faith does not need to think Being. If it needed to do so, it would
not be faith anymore. Luther understood this […] I believe that Being cannot
ever be thought as the foundation and the essence of God. Nevertheless, I
believe that the experience of God and of its revealing (as this revealing deals
with man) happens in the dimension of Being. This does not ever mean that
Heidegger and the Ascesis of Thought 77

Being can count as a possible predicate of God. Here, distinctions and

demarcations completely new would be needed (GA15: 436).

The other statement, from 1953, quoted by Hermann Noack, is

so clear that it leaves no doubt at all: “In thinking, it is impossible to
carry out anything which can prepare for, or contribute to, what happens
in faith and grace. If faith ever touched me in this way, I would close up
shop” (Noack 1954: 30-37).

5. Mysticism

Mysticism contains an approximation to the subject of the divine more

consonant with Heidegger’s thought. As an attempt to approach the
transcendence by overcoming any conceptual mediation, mysticism
avoids the metaphysical categories on the basis of which God is thought,
each time, as substance, pure act, person, spirit, etc. Seemingly, it
evades the Heideggerian deconstruction. It is possible to establish a
relationship between Heidegger’s thought and mysticism, finding holds
both in Heidegger’s intellectual biography and in his writings.
Since his early years, Heidegger had a lively interest in
medieval mysticism, especially Meister Eckhart, Heinrich Suso, and
Johannes Tauler, the reading of which he was directed to by Engelbert
Krebs, a well-known scholar of the topic.11 At the end of his
Habilitationsschrift, Duns Scotus’s Doctrine of Categories and Meaning
(1915), Heidegger announces a study (never published) on the
philosophical meaning of the Eckhartian mysticism in relation to the
“metaphysics of truth” (GA1: 402, n. 2). In the ex ergo to the opening
lecture for the university teaching qualification, ‘The Concept of Time
in the Science of History’, he placed a quotation, drawn from Meister
Eckhart’s German sermon Consideravit domum (Quint, n. 30): “Time
is what changes and multiplies, eternity keeps simple” (GA1: 415).
Again: for the winter semester 1919-20, he announces a course on ‘The
Philosophical Foundation of Medieval Mysticism’, notes to which can
be found in GA60. In private, he meditates again and again on the
Imitatio Christi.12
An important reference to Meister Eckhart is found in the course
for the summer semester 1927, Basic Problems of Phenomenology.
Heidegger praises Eckhart’s ontological awareness in the definition of
the transcendent principle as “deity” (Gottheit, deitas) rather than
“God”. According to Heidegger, this distinction is the sign of an
78 Volpi

attention for the difference between the plane of the merely ontic, to
which the divine principle is relegated when it is designated with the
term “God”, and the plane of ontological awareness, in virtue of which
Eckhart refers first to the mode of being of God, and only then to God
itself, using precisely the term Gottheit, deitas. Heidegger writes:

It is the characteristic quality of medieval mysticism that it tries to lay hold of

Being ontologically rated as the properly essential being, God, in His very
essence. In this attempt mysticism arrives at a peculiar speculation, peculiar
because it transforms the idea of essence in general, which is an ontological
determination of a being, the essentia entis, into a being and makes the
ontological ground of a being, its possibility, its essence, into what is properly
actual. This remarkable alteration of essence into a being is the presupposition
for what is called mystical speculation (GA24: 127-128).

Another significant remark on Meister Eckhart appears in the

lectures of the summer semester 1931, which are dedicated to the
analysis of the early chapters of book Nine of Aristotle’s Metaphysics.
To introduce the topic of the course, Heidegger carries out an exhaustive
analysis of the question of the multiplicity of the meanings of Being and
of their unity, and therefore discusses the medieval solution of the
problem through the doctrine of analogia entis. In this regard, he notes:
“They rescued themselves from this dilemma with the help of analogy,
which is not a solution but a formula. Meister Eckhart, the only one who
sought a solution, says: ‘God “is” not at all, because “being” is a finite
predicate and absolutely cannot be said of God’ (This was admittedly
only a beginning which disappeared in Eckhart’s later development,
although it remained alive in his thinking in another respect)” (GA33:
A few years later, in the lecture course of the Winter Semester
1934-35 on Hölderlin, taking the Eckhartian conception of Being as a
starting point, Heidegger includes the German mystic in the history of
the problem, in an ideal line from Heraclitus to Hölderlin (GA34: 123).
A last noteworthy judgment, among the many which should be quoted,
is the reference to the Eckhartian concept of “thing” (dinc) in Vorträge
und Aufsätze (GA7: 175).
To conclude this list, we cannot forget how in The Principle of
Reason, Heidegger rejoices to find a confirmation of his own criticism
of the founding thought of modern metaphysics – which is based on the
Leibnizian principle of sufficient reason, which affirms that “nothing is
without reason” (nihil est sine ratione) – in the Swabian mystic
Heidegger and the Ascesis of Thought 79

Johannes Scheffler, alias Angelus Silesius. Heidegger comments upon

the couplet, praised also by Hegel, “Without why” of the Cherubinic
Wanderer (GA10: 68-69):

The rose is without why.

She blooms because she blooms. She pays herself no heed,
asks not if one can see her.

These and other aspects of the relationship between Heidegger

and mysticism have already been investigated.13 Yet these analogies and
similarities, however revealing and interesting, do not touch the inner
core of Heidegger’s thought. On the contrary, such analogies and
similarities risk binding that thought to a dimension which, as far as it
represents the declared renunciation of thinking (therefore, the
sacrificium intellectus in an eminent sense, and the invocation of a more
radical experience of the divine), is heterogeneous to the philosophical
questioning which Heidegger never ceases to claim and to practice.
Precisely on this basis it is necessary to underline the deep differences
which separate Heidegger’s thought from mysticism.
First, in comparison with mysticism, which, in its peculiar
experience of the divine, privileges the non-conceptual and the non-
linguistic, thought is for Heidegger indissolubly bound to the experience
of language, and only in it, is the possibility of corresponding to Being
and “bringing it to language” given. It is true that, in his mature
reflections, particularly in the Beiträge zur Philosophie, Heidegger
mentions a “sigetic”, i.e., a doctrine of silence. Such “silence”, however,
must not be interpreted as a “mutism”, but rather as an exhortation to
meditation and reserve (Verhaltenheit).
Second, according to Heidegger, thought has to be placed in the
dimension of historicity and of epochality, corresponding to the way in
which Being gives itself as an “event” (Ereignis). Mysticism, instead,
aspires to escape from time, into an ultra-temporal ecstasy, the eternal
instant. Of course, Heidegger himself considers the problem of eternity,
but in order to grasp its connection with temporality. In the conclusion
of his Habilitationsschrift, he declares the necessity of thoroughly
analysing the relationship between “time and eternity, variation and
absolute validity, world and God”, therefore between “history
(configuration of values)” and “philosophy (validity of values)” (GA1:
410). He does not want to overstep the temporal dimension, but intends,
80 Volpi

on the contrary, to show how the conditions for the mystical experience
are given in it.
Third, whereas Heidegger is interested in deconstructing every
metaphysical element and remaining in thought, mysticism, particularly
in its speculative variety, remains bound to metaphysical categories and
concepts, mostly originating from neo-Platonism, such as the hierarchy
of Being, the fundamental opposition between the creatureliness of the
being (Seiende), and the absoluteness of God, and the idea that the
divine transcendence can be grasped and, so to speak, touched in a pure
If one wants, nevertheless, to make a comparison between
Heidegger’s thought and mysticism, it is perhaps possible to say, using
an expression coined by Fritz Mauthner, that Heidegger was a “mystic
without God”. But this is a slogan, not a solution.

6. Gnosis

The subject of Gnosticism in Heidegger’s thought, in spite of the lack

of explicit references to gnosis in his work, was identified early on, and
yet only recently, with the revival of gnostic positions, has it been given
the importance which it deserves.14 Of course, Heidegger’s gnosis would
be too generic and devoid of interest, if it was reduced to the simple fact
that he could have drawn on the three gnostic questions par excellence:
“Who are we? Where do we come from? Where do we go?” in
accordance with the famous Valentinian slogan quoted by Clement of
Alexandria.15 If Heidegger’s gnosis consisted in this only, every
philosopher worthy of this name could be defined as gnostic.
The establishment of a relationship between Heidegger and
gnosis has its roots in the development of the debate on gnosis
originating in the 30s, especially on Carl Gustav Jung’s initiative. Jung,
attracted by such movement, promoted in Ascona a famous series of
meetings among the greatest experts in the field, later published in the
Eranos-Jahrbuch. In such readings, gnosis was disconnected from its
historical location in late antiquity and used as a palimpsest for an
interpretation of modernity. The debate came to a head after the Second
Word War, and has recently shown further developments.16 In the 1950s,
particularly Eric Voegelin, attacking the legitimacy of the modern
epoch, interpreted its genesis and its historical evolution as the triumph
of gnosis. Modernity, Voegelin argued, accomplished the
Heidegger and the Ascesis of Thought 81

immanentization of the Christian eschaton in a nihilistic view, in which

God and the spiritual life are sacrificed to civilization and all human
energies are devoted to the task of salvation through the immanent
action in the world.17 This thesis provoked the reaction of Hans
Blumenberg who, a decade later, published a passionate defence of
modernity, in which he asserted that it is characterized not so much
(though also) by the secularization of Christianity, but rather by the self-
affirmation of man in anti-thesis to the late medieval speculation.
Modernity would question instead the gnostic dualism, still present in
the late medieval theological absolutism, which radically separates
world and God, and it would tend to an absolutization of the world.
Consequently, it would represent the second defeat and the definitive
overcoming of gnosis (Blumenberg, 1966).18
Without going deeply into an interpretation of the modern
transformations of gnosis, one should remember that the connection
between Heidegger and gnosis was initially suggested by Hans Jonas,
a student of Heidegger’s and Bultmann’s in Marburg.19 In his work on
Gnosis and the Late Ancient Spirit, Jonas assumes the existential
analysis developed by Heidegger in Being and Time as an hermeneutic
key to interpret Gnosticism, suggesting the existence of a latent
structural (though not historical) affinity between the tragic outlook on
existence peculiar to ancient Gnosticism (particularly its acosmism and
its metaphysical and moral negation of the world) and the question
raised by Heidegger’s “existentialism” (Jonas 1934; 1954).20 The theme
of an affinity between these two philosophical views, distant in time
from each other and apparently incommensurable, was taken up by
Jonas after the war, establishing an explicit connection among
Gnosticism, modern nihilism and Heideggerian “existentialism”. Gnosis
would be an ancient anticipation of nihilism and existentialism, whereas
these would be modern forms of gnosis.21 Following such a hypothesis,
it is possible to discover surprising gnostic themes in Heidegger’s
thought: for example, the privilege granted to the “pearl” of Dasein,
whose mode of being is crossed by a dualistic tension between
inauthenticity and authenticity. Moreover, the realization of the
authentic existence only occurs with the conquest of the true Self, and
this conquest implies in Heidegger, as in gnosis, the annihilatio mundi
and the negation of the quotidian.22
Focussing more on the late Heidegger, Karl Jaspers also
meditated on the structural analogies between Heidegger’s thought and
82 Volpi

gnosis. In his critical notes on Heidegger, published posthumously in

1978, he underlines (ever since 1949) that the coherent development of
the existential analysis inevitably leads to a gnostic conception of the
“happening” and “falling” of Being which gives rise to history (Jaspers
(1978). Referring to a passage from the ‘Letter on Humanism’, on the
history of Being and its epochal destinations, Jaspers asks, “What lies
behind? A gnostic tale? The man thrown from Being to be guardian of
Being, shepherd of Being?” (Jaspers 1978: 52). Referring to another
passage from the Letter, he notes: “To be studied in Schelling, in grand
style, all the reversals returning in Heidegger. The fact that Heidegger
defends himself saying: “The idle talk about the truth of Being and the
history of Being” is not of much use. – If he dares to carry out the
project, the outcome is the gnosis, as in Schelling” (Jaspers 1978: 53).
Again, “The interpretation of the ‘modern epoch’, then of the
West, moving from the roots of metaphysics, and drawing it from the
history of Being, coherently leads to a kind of gnosis” (Jaspers 1978:
60). A subsequent note is entitled “What can be said about Heidegger’s
gnosis?” with the following program:

1) It is necessary to show it, to bring it to light; 2) it is necessary to indicate its

consequences: God or daemon and also God or gnosis; 3) our own position:
what is shown as decision of existence and perhaps is shown inadequately in
thinking and in what is thought (Jaspers 1978: 62).

In another note, underlying the differences between Heidegger

and himself, Jaspers writes: “He pretends something completely new, he
recognizes in a gnostic way a historical process of Being; I live in the
assimilation of a philosophia perennis, I do not assign any value to the
innovation, to a progress and to earnings” (Jaspers 1978: 72). And again,
about the late Heidegger: “It is an analogon of the Christian faith – it
should be described in detail – not an analogon of the content of faith,
but of the reference to transcendence to the speculation which remains
(devoid of content) gnostic” (Jaspers 1978: 209).
We could continue ad libitum the list of passages, but Jaspers’s
criticism is clear: more than in the “early” Heidegger’s existential
analysis, the structural affinity with gnosis has to be sought in the “late”
Heidegger’s attempt to think Being as “event” (Ereignis) and “history”
(Geschichte) as epochs and destinations (Geschick) of Being.
In passing, we can note that Voegelin is instead convinced of
the contrary, i.e., that the early and not the late Heidegger’s thought
Heidegger and the Ascesis of Thought 83

presents gnostic features. Expressing his opinion on this topic in a side-

note to a letter addressed to his friend Alfred Schütz in 1953, he

The gnostic variants are concretely characterized by the need to prevent

conceptually the differentiation of experiences and concepts; in particular they
are designed to make it socially impossible to raise transcendent questions,
without yet returning to the compactness of experiences. The result is a
singular case of thought prevention. Heidegger, who in his work of recent
years has moved far away from existentialist beginnings and from
Romanticism, formulates this problem with astounding intransigence: ‘He who
does not believe cannot think’. This is a striking formula for the problem
which I discussed in my preceding letter under the title of sacrificium
intellectus. Immanent speculation on being has for Heidegger come to prevent
the knowledge of being; ‘rationalism’, as he calls it, is the obstacle to

But the subtlest remarks on Heidegger’s gnosis are found in a

review, written by Émile Bréhier in 1942-43 in Revue philosophique de
la France et de l’Étranger, of Alphonse De Waelhens’s book La
philosophie de Martin Heidegger (Bréhier 1942-43: 165-169). Bréhier
suggests reading Being and Time as a gnostic novel. In Bréhier’s view,
Heidegger’s analysis of existence has a structure analogous to the
gnostic tale of the fall of the soul in the most unfathomable finitude,
with the difference that in Heidegger the tale is deprived of its
antecedent and conclusion.

As many other works in German philosophy, from Eckhart onwards, Sein und
Zeit presents the form of a gnostic novel (here is the profound sense of the
“historicity” of existence in Heidegger); but in him the novel is deprived, on
the one hand, of its origin and, on the other hand, of the final episode. This
confers to the romanticized life described there its dramatic feature, as if a
member of the audience arrived too late to the theatre and left too early, grasps
only the tragic anguish of the characters; then, he watches a tragedy without
origin or solution and which, nevertheless, is known as such only by the
philosopher. Let us remember the outline of the gnostic novel, numbering the
1) From the primordial abyss, hypostases emerge. They remain
attached to their origin and are oriented towards it;
2) One of them wants to become independent, and here is the
mistake and the sin;
3) Subsequently, and because of such a fall, the creation of the world
happens and then the creation of time, to which the declined being is closely
connected; it forgets its origin; it clings to the world because of the curiosity
(the polypragmosyne, which seems to correspond well to Heidegger’s Sorge);
84 Volpi

4) Nevertheless, some of these beings overcome the forgetfulness

through reminiscence;
5) They become aware of their own origin and of the reason why
they are in the world.
Remove from this novel the first, the second and then the fifth
episode: the remaining episodes furnish, with a surprising exactness, the
succession of inauthentic and authentic life, which constitutes the destiny of
the human existence. One could probably say that such remaining episodes
form precisely the datum, susceptible of a phenomenological description,
arbitrarily prolonging the gnostic novel; but it is also necessary to admit that
this explanation does not assign to the different modes of existence the value
they assume for the philosopher, if not as he maintains, in the background,
something of the origin and of the end of the novel. We even say that […] this
something is expressly present in Heidegger: it is the “being” (das Seyende)
irreducible to Being (das Sein): this mysterious Being is indifferently the abyss
(Abgrund), the origin (Urgrund), the non-foundation (Ungrund): moreover,
insisting on the finitude of existence, Heidegger, whether he likes it or not,
suggests this dimension beyond the world. As many people think, Sein und
Zeit belongs, precisely, to the history of religious thought (Bréhier 1942-43:

On account of the chosen point of departure, that is, the

assumption of finitude and facticity as an insurmountable horizon, we
could indeed compare Heidegger’s existential analysis with an
eschatological history, deprived of the transcendent which provides it
with sense and intelligibility. In the absence of a theological-religious
light illuminating fallenness and promising the possibility of liberation,
thus deprived of God and redemption, the analysis of finitude assumes
a dramatic and desperate tone.
The connection of Heidegger with gnosis, although based on
structural analysis only, emphasizes an important theme in Heidegger’s
thought. And yet, like the theological, the mystical, and the nihilistic
reading, the gnostic reading of Heidegger does not go far enough to
grasp the inner spirit of Heidegger’s thought. The strength and life
animating Heidegger’s thought lies elsewhere.

7. Questioning as the “Piety of Thinking”

The spirit of Heidegger’s speculation comes directly from the Greek

idea of philosophizing, from Heidegger’s stubborn and obstinate will to
“think in a more Greek way than the Greeks”. In this sense, Heidegger
is neither a theologian, nor a gnostic, nor a theorist of nihilism, but a
radical and rigorous interpreter of the exercise of philosophical thought,
Heidegger and the Ascesis of Thought 85

of the interrogation which questions everything. In other words, he

wants the greatest coherence and radicalism in combatting
presuppositions and getting to the root of every pre-constituted
conceptual horizon to try to reach that formally perfect coherence of the
philosophical discourse, which consists in the removal of every
presupposition, in rising to that point of view which allows us to see
what lies as the ground of all points of view. In short, Heidegger looks
for that “ascesis”, in the sense of the Greek askein, that exercise so
rigorous and caustic, which makes him refractory to the assumption of
every positum and of every content, similar to the exercise of looking
through the glass trying to look at the glass itself.
One could say, of course, that even this attitude is a
presupposition, and precisely the presupposition of Western philosophy
as it was born among the Greeks. This cannot be denied. Heidegger is
on the same wave-length as the tradition of Western thought: he shows
himself everywhere to belong to it and he contributes to keeping it alive
precisely when he criticizes it. He is, after all, the most Western of
Western thinkers, in a double sense: because he intends to remain
faithful to the original (i.e., Greek) form of philosophical interrogation,
freeing it from the subsequent minglings, even from the Christian one;
and because he strives to practice and to carry to extremes the exercise,
that is the “ascesis”, of that form of thought inaugurated by the Greeks.
In this horizon, more than in a theological, mystic or nihilistic
sense, we should read Heidegger’s theorization of the “virtues” of
thinking, Gelassenheit or Verhaltenheit, suitable to the epoch “of the
fled gods and of the new god to come”. Demanding these attitudes, even
in the awareness that in the age of technology there are no possible
virtues or morals anymore, means calling attention to the necessity of a
new heroism of thought in the face of impending nihilism. We know, of
course, to what this askein, this “ascesis” or exercise of thought leads:
it leads to the consumption of every traditional image, the demand that
every revealed God flee, for the realization of the potency of this
thinking lies in questioning every positum and in dissolving every
substantial image. It leads, therefore, to an acceleration of nihilism.
Thus it is not by chance that, in Heidegger’s work, the two extremes of
nihilism and mysticism coexist and come to meet.
Nevertheless, Heidegger’s thought is not an apology for
nihilism. If on the one hand the ascetic exercise of thinking and
questioning can only produce a further erosion of the tradition, on the
other hand the fulfilment of this process issues in the opening of thought
86 Volpi

to a radically different expectation. The criticism of the metaphysical

concepts and categories opens the possibility of experimenting with new
words and symbolical resources, such as those actually invented by
Heidegger, first of all das Geviert, “the whole of the four”, by which he
signifies the co-belonging of Earth and Sky, Divines and Mortals.
Analogously, the flight of the gods prepares the space for the possibility
of the last God, which Heidegger treats in the last part of the Beiträge
zur Philosophie.
In carrying out the ascesis of thought, Heidegger’s work spans
two opposite extremes: dragging with him large cohorts of
contemporaries, it reaches that nothingness which, on the one hand, is
the negation of every determination and every content, but, on the other
hand, is that absolute point which Meister Eckhart called (with almost
blasphemous description) the point “where the angel, the fly and the
soul are the same thing”. In this divarication, the substance vivifying
Heidegger’s thought is the questioning which is the “piety of

Translated by Paolo Diego Bubbio

For example, there is a significant contrast between the positive tenor of the
consideration of Max Weber in the review of Jaspers (1919-1922) and the severe
criticism of Jaspers’s Psychology of World Views. The latter work was influenced by
Weber but did not testify to a similar critical awareness. See GA9. Cf. Heidegger (1987:
Cf. Max Weber, ‘Wissenschaft als Beruf’, in Weber (1982: 582-613); Max Weber
‘Politik als Beruf’, in Weber (1980: 505-560). Both lectures are published in English
in Weber (1946).
The famous quotation from the Bible with which Weber concluded his first lecture in
Munich emblematically illustrates this conviction: “One is calling to me from Seir,
‘Sentinel, what of the night? Sentinel, what of the night?’ The sentinel says: ‘Morning
comes, and also the night. If you will inquire, inquire; come back again’” (Isa. 21:11-12,
New Revised Standard Version; cited in Weber [1982: 613]).
The fact that Heidegger fatally focussed his critical attention on political matters when
he joined the National Socialist Movement does not imply that his thought, as pure
speculation, was also debased on the philosophical plane. Without going too deeply into
this sensitive question, we can affirm that, just as Being and Time is not a political work,
likewise joining the National Socialist Movement was not a philosophical act. In any
case, the real substance of Heidegger’s thought is to be found elsewhere, and not in the
possible relationship with National Socialism.
Cf. Martin Heidegger, ‘Post-Scriptum’ to ‘What is Metaphysics?’ and ‘Letter on
Humanism’, in GA9. In this last passage, Heidegger defends his criticism of the
traditional concepts of “humanism”, “logic”, “value”, “world”, and “God”, rejecting the
idea that the criticism of a certain position means eo ipso the assumption of the opposite
Heidegger and the Ascesis of Thought 87

position: “What’s going on here? People hear talk about ‘humanism’, of ‘logic’, of
‘values’, of ‘world’, and ‘God’. They hear something about opposition to these. They
recognize and accept these things as positive. But with hearsay – in a way that is not
exactly deliberative – they immediately assume that this is “negative” in the sense of
destructive […] With the assistance of logic and ratio often invoked, people come to
believe that whatever is not positive is negative and thus that it seeks to degrade reason
and therefore deserves to be branded as depravity. We are so wiled with ‘logic’ that
anything that disturbs the habitual somnolence of prevailing opinion is automatically
registered as a despicable contradiction. We pitch everything that does not stay close to
the familiar and beloved positive into the previously excavated pit of pure negation,
which negates everything, ends in nothing, and so consummates nihilism. Following this
logical course we let everything expire in a nihilism we invented for ourselves with the
aid of logic. But does the ‘against’ which a thinking advances against ordinary opinion
necessarily point toward pure negation and the negative?” (GA9: 264).
For a general introduction to the problem, see Robinson (1963); Noller (1967);
Gethmann-Siefert (1974); Coriando (1998). From the perspective of Protestant theology,
see Jäger (1978). From the perspective of Catholic theology, see Schaeffler (1978). For
a philosophical introduction to the problem, see Ruggenini (1997). For an in-depth
bibliography, see Volpi (2005).
The lecture was held in Tübingen on March 9, 1927, and repeated in Marburg on
February 14, 1928. It was published for the first time in Archives de Philosophie 32
(1969): 355-415. The lecture was republished as a booklet with the significant
dedication ‘To Rudolf Bultmann, with happy memories of the Marburg years 1923-
1928’ in 1970, and finally in GA9: 45-78.
Heidegger cites Overbeck’s famous essay ‘On the Christianity of Theology’, together
with the first of Nietzsche’s Untimely Meditations.
See Haecker (1933).
The judgments expressed by Heidegger in these years on the works of his Catholic
disciples, such as Johannes B. Lotz and Gustav Siewerth, imply that someone who is
bound to a faith cannot develop philosophical interrogation in a really radical way, free
from presuppositions. Cf. Ott (1988: 255-267).
See, for example, Krebs (1921).
Löwith remembers: “He [Heidegger] gave me The Imitation by Thomas à Kempis as
a Christmas present in 1920. Even in 1925, he saw spiritual substance in theology alone,
in Barth and Gogarten”. Löwith (1986: 29/30-31).
See particularly Caputo (1977); Pöggeler (1982: 65-92); Moretto (1987: 147-178). For
a general introduction, see Vannini (1999).
One of Heidegger’s rare references to the Valentinian Gnosis can be found in GA63
Clement of Alexandria, Excerpta ex Theodoto, 78, 2.
As a first introduction, see Sloterdijk (1991).
Cf. Voegelin (1952), and Voegelin (1959). Cf. Sebba (1981: 190-241).
Cf. Faber (1984).
Hans Jonas graduated in 1928 from Marburg, where Heidegger and Rudolf Bultmann
had acted as supervisors on a dissertation which Jonas presented on Augustin und das
paulinische Freiheitsproblem. Eine philosophische Studie zum pelagianischen Streit
(Jonas 1965).
Some significant opinions of the work are collected in Rudolph (1975). Cf. Culianu
88 Volpi

Cf. Jonas (1960: 155-171), republished with the title ‘Gnosis, Existentialismus und
Nihilismus’, in Jonas (1963: 3-25).
Among those who have developed these considerations, see Taubes (1954: 155-172);
and Baum (1997).
The letter is published in Opitz (1981: 460-462). Voegelin also views Husserlian
phenomenology as a modern form of gnosis. Also in the correspondence with Alfred
Schütz, he acknowledges that The Crisis of the European Sciences is “the most
important epistemological achievement of our times”, and yet, even as it follows an
epistemological direction, it remains “a preface to philosophy, but it is not a radical
philosophical enterprise yet” (from a letter dated September 17, 1943). Voegelin
criticizes in particular the Husserlian reconstruction of history, which he sees as based
on a premise that, according to him, is “a case of Averroistic speculation”, presupposing
the existence of a world-soul. The individual soul is a part of the world-soul, but, in the
end, it cannot grasp either “the objectivity of the philosophical knowledge of the world”
or “the fundamental subjectivity of the ego”. Husserl’s thought, continues Voegelin, is
“a philosophy of progress” the proclamation of which overflows with “messianic
elements” that make phenomenologists the “last sect”. In a letter dated 31 May 1957,
he wonders: “Why has Husserl stubbornly maintained this mistake? Why has he
continuously relapsed into this with his new attempts at construction?” The “theme of
construction” seemed to him to be the following: “The annihilatio mundi and its re-
creation in the solitude of the philosopher and, in the best of cases, in the meditation of
the sect community. But this is precisely gnosis”.
“Denn das Fragen ist die Frömmigkeit des Denkens” (“Therefore questioning is the
piety of thinking”) – Heidegger’s conclusion to his famous lecture in Munich
(November 18, 1953), ‘The Question Concerning Technology’ (GA7: 40). The much-
debated passage of Unterwegs zur Sprache (now in GA12: 169) in which Heidegger
puts listening before questioning does not, in my opinion, constitute a retraction of this
pronouncement. It is rather a necessary addition to it.


Baum, Wolfgang. 1997. Gnostische Elemente im Denken Martin

Heideggers? Eine Studie auf der Grundlage der
Religionsphilosophie von Hans Jonas. Neuried: Ars Una.
Blumenberg, Hans. 1966. Die Legitimität der Neuzeit. Frankfurt a. M.:
Suhrkamp Verlag.
Bréhier, Émile. 1942-43. ‘Review of La philosophie de Martin
Heidegger, by Alphonse de Waelhens’ in Revue philosophique
de la France et de l’étranger 133.
Caputo, John D. 1977. The Mystical Element in Heidegger’s Thought.
Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press.
Coriando, Paola-Ludovika (ed.). 1998. Herkunft aber bleibt stets
Zukunft. Martin Heidegger und die Gottesfrage. Frankfurt a.
M.: Klostermann.
Heidegger and the Ascesis of Thought 89

Culianu, Ioan P. 1985. Gnosticismo e pensiero moderno: Hans Jonas.

Rome: “L’Erma” di Bretschneider.
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und Theologie im Denken Martin Heideggers. Freiburg i. Br:
Verlag Karl Alber.
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Eine philosophische Studie zum pelagianischen Streit.
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– 1963. ‘Gnosis, Existentialismus und Nihilismus’ in Hans Jonas,
Zwischen Nichts und Ewigkeit. Zur Lehre vom Menschen.
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– 1960. ‘Gnosis und moderner Nihilismus’ Kerygma und Dogma.
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Guida Editore.
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Fortgang der Diskussion. München: Kaiser.
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Heidegger and the Ascesis of Thought 91

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Gerth and C. Wright Mills). Oxford University Press.
Theology and the Historicity of Faith in the Perspective
of the Young Martin Heidegger 1

Jeffrey Andrew Barash

In an article originally published in 1953, Rudolf Bultmann expressed

the opinion that the theologian might legitimately profit from the
analysis of existence (Existenz-Analyse) elaborated by Martin Heidegger
insofar as, in his words, it is “through the latter that the same problem
that has occupied and motivated theology is grasped, especially since
Troeltsch; that is, the problem of history, which became particularly
acute after the emergence of historical understanding of the Bible”
(Bultmann 1966: 49-50).
At a time when Heidegger himself, in the decades following the
publication of Sein und Zeit (1927), had ceased to employ the term
“Existenzanalyse” (or the related term Daseinsanalyse – analysis of
human finitude), Bultmann’s reference to this concept is highly
significant. His appeal to Heidegger, in a context in which he mentions
Ernst Troeltsch, is still more revelatory since it evokes a lively debate
in which both Bultmann and Heidegger were engaged during the 1920s.
In this period in particular, Bultmann examined theological themes in
light of Heidegger’s contemporary analysis of the “problem of history”
which, in its manner of interpretation, called into question the approach
to the past proposed by contemporary theorists of history such as Ernst
In Troeltsch’s writings, and more generally in the contemporary
field of the human sciences (whether defined as Geistesgeschichte or
Kulturgeschichte, “history of spirit” or “history of culture”), the
“problem of history” corresponded to the weighty methodological
difficulty of attaining coherent criteria of judgment in view of the
radical historicity of truth. And, Heidegger’s analysis of Dasein – as
Bultmann also comprehended it – attributed the emergence of this
problem to the absence in contemporary theory of a proper foundation
for historical understanding.
If Heidegger’s approach to the “problem of history” was
significant for the reflection of theologians – Bultmann in particular –
94 Barash

this was also because it was nourished by Heideggger’s lively interest

in theology, which began well before the period of his direct
collaboration with Bultmann following Heidegger’s appointment in
1923 to the position of associate professor (Extraordinarius) at the
University of Marburg, where Bultmann also taught. Previously, during
the period of World War I, Heidegger had distanced himself from the
Catholic theological circles in which he had moved as a student at the
University of Freiburg im Breisgau (1909-16). During his time teaching
as an assistant at Freiburg (1919-23), he began an intensive study of
Luther’s works along with critiques of recent forms of Protestantism as
they came to expression in university life, emanating from the different
perspectives of Sören Kierkegaard and Franz Overbeck. During these
years prior to the elaboration of the Daseinsanalyse in Sein und Zeit, the
principal aspects of historical interpretation that came to light in this
work were adumbrated in the young Martin Heidegger’s investigation
of theology.
This relationship between the young Heidegger’s theological
and historical reflection is particularly evident in a course taught at
Freiburg in 1921, entitled ‘Augustinus und der Neuplatonismus’
(‘Augustine and Neo-Platonism’), which was first published in
Heidegger’s collected works (or Gesamtausgabe) in 1995. In this
course, Heidegger engaged in an open critique of Ernst Troeltsch and of
two other authors whose theories of history were particularly influential
in Germany: the theologian Adolf von Harnack and the philosopher
Wilhelm Dilthey.
Taking the young Heidegger’s course lectures on St. Augustine
and neo-Platonism as our point of departure, this study will examine the
relationship between historical thought and theological interpretation in
Heidegger. We will briefly deal with three themes:
1) We will first examine the presuppositions of theologians such
as Harnack and Troeltsch concerning the purpose of historical
reflection. This will enable us to set in relief the common ground which
these presuppositions shared with the broader current of “historical” or
“liberal” theology, as it was commonly termed, and to show the relation
between these presuppositions and the general theory of history
presented in Wilhelm Dilthey’s conception of Geisteswissenschaft, as
in theories of the Kulturwissenschaften proposed by Wilhelm
Windelband and Heinrich Rickert.
2) We will then focus on the critical reception of the
presuppositions concerning history common to liberal theologians and
Theology and the Historicity of Faith 95

historical theorists by the movement of post-World War I neo-orthodox

or “dialectical” theology, to which the young Rudolf Bultmann lent his
3) Finally, we will examine the theological implications of
Heidegger’s conception of history which, beginning with his
interpretation of the ontological roots of finite human existence, placed
the significance of all theology ever more radically in question.

1. The Historicity of Religion and the Secularization of Religious


The presuppositions of the theological current generally designated as

“liberal Protestantism”, which became particularly influential at the end
of the nineteenth century, may be placed in a clear light when they are
set in the context of German academia beginning roughly in the middle
of the nineteenth century. At this time, the powerful earlier fascination
with metaphysical idealism was on the wane among the German
intelligentsia. The vigorous authority of Hegel or Schelling, and the
controversies which their philosophies had fueled in theology, as in
other disciplines, had begun to fade. At the same time, empirical
research and inductive methodologies rose to preeminence in the natural
and human sciences. Corresponding to this tendency, theology, like
other disciplines, shifted its focus towards investigation of the historical
manifestations of culture. Without abandoning the idea of a transcendent
source of faith, liberal theology emphasized the necessity of an objective
analysis of religion, based in history. As Adolf von Harnack wrote in his
celebrated work Das Wesen des Christentums (1900) [The Essence of

What is Christianity? - Here we want to attempt to answer this question only

in its historical sense: that is, by means of historical science (Wissenschaft),
and with the life-experience (Lebenserfahrung) that has been acquired from
lived history (von Harnack 1977: 16).

In this work Harnack asserted the possibility of an inductive discovery

of the essence of Christianity through empirical investigation of its
progression in history from the first Christian communities up until
modern Protestantism. As a means of systematizing this Christian
essence, Harnack attributed the status of normative truth to Jesus’
teaching in the Gospel, which constituted for him the veritable prism
96 Barash

defining Christianity throughout its history. If Harnack continually

argued for the existence of a supernatural and supra-historical origin of
this norm, he nevertheless excluded any extra-scientific or apologetic
motive from an investigation bearing on religion, insofar as the latter
was the object of historical study (von Harnack 1977: 16).
In the same way Ernst Troeltsch, like the members of the
religionsgeschichtliche Schule, such as W. Bousset, J. Weiss and W.
Wrede, sought to study Christianity principally as an historical
movement. These authors centered their interest on its expression within
a given cultural context, instead of approaching it in terms of what they
took to be its purely transcendent source.
Nevertheless, as Troeltsch was ready to admit, the application
of historical methods to the study of religious phenomena, however
fruitful it might be, was also fraught with difficulties. Historical
investigation, animated by the search for a Christian “essence”, took into
account a panoply of heterogeneous perspectives that had come to
expression over the course of its development. But as Troeltsch
stipulated in his commentary on Harnack’s Das Wesen des
Christentums, a comparative analysis of the different stages of
Christianity could not succeed in distilling its essence on the sole basis
of a univocal message presented in the Gospel. In different periods,
Christianity had changed in relation to its ways of interpreting this
message, and historical analysis (as Harnack himself admitted), far from
discerning a uniform continuity in interpretation, encounters a
multiplicity of interpretations and of historical forms of Christianity,
which may at times contradict each other. That is why, in order to render
systematic the varieties of historical interpretation of the Gospel,
Harnack saw himself obliged to emphasize a particular kind of
interpretation – that of modern Protestantism – by means of which he
was then able to define a Christian essence. Troeltsch, for his part,
subjected this choice to sharp criticism, by insisting on the fact that the
objectivity claimed by such a procedure requires on the contrary a more
elaborate appreciation of the polyvalence of possible interpretations of
the Gospel’s normative message (Troeltsch 1903: 386-451).
It is true that Harnack never went so far as to assert that
historical methods of research might verify the absolute meaning of the
Christian faith (von Harnack 1977: 22). Troeltsch, however, was more
radical in this regard than Harnack, since he attributed a more
fundamental significance to the historicity of theological interpretation;
in so doing, he recognized the paradox inherent in the methodology of
Theology and the Historicity of Faith 97

liberal theology itself: if, indeed, the Christian faith requires an absolute
foundation which historical knowledge is not capable of providing, what
purpose might historical methods then serve for theological reflection?
The answer to this question places in relief the key
presupposition common to liberal theologians, while also highlighting
an affinity they shared with certain contemporary philosophical
orientations during the decades prior to the First World War: the Baden
school of neo-Kantianism of Wilhelm Windelband and Heinrich Rickert,
and also – in spite of his disagreement with neo-Kantian-inspired
epistemology – Wilhelm Dilthey. This presupposition is revealed in
their common conviction that the diversity of values and standards that
emerge over the course of human development express an inner
continuity and cohesion (Zusammenhang) underlying human history,
which confer meaning on the particular moments of cultural and
national development, even if the deeper sources of this cohesion remain
obscure. Where Dilthey, in keeping with an epistemology anchored in
the human sciences, shied away from any attempt to attribute an
absolute foundation to this source, Windelband and Rickert, in
conformity with the Kantian inspiration of their orientation, postulated
its ultimately transcendent origin. This accounts for the particular
importance of the neo-Kantian philosophy for liberal theology, since the
theologians were able to argue on this basis that the plurality of religious
norms of truth, rather than expressing a limited validity entirely relative
to the periods in which they emerged, pointed toward an absolute
foundation. This absolute basis might be postulated even if it could
never be made fully apparent.
This presupposition inspired Harnack’s firmest theological
convictions, according to which the Christian religion signifies “eternal
life within time, under the eyes of God and by the power of God”
(Harnack 1977: 16). It also supported his assumption concerning the
permanence of Christianity, since the search for its essence reveals a
continuity in the Gospel’s reception that “runs throughout like a red
thread in the cloth [which] at times [...] reappears and manifests the
links which retain it” (Harnack 1977: 174). If, for Troeltsch, the essence
of Christianity was more obscure than for Harnack, there could be no
question in his eyes of denying its source in the ultimate cohesion of
history (Zusammenhang der Geschichte) as an objective process
(Troeltsch 1902: 52-3). Troeltsch subsequently submitted this
conviction to increasing doubt, accentuated through his historical
research, and corroborated by the investigations of the secularization of
98 Barash

religious culture conjointly undertaken by his colleague and friend Max

Weber. However, Troeltsch never abandoned his initial conviction: in
his 1910 essay on the future of Christianity – to take an example from
this pre-World War I context – he reaffirmed his belief in an absolute
foundation for history, stipulating that the cohesion of history emerges
in the continuity situated at the junction (Zusammenschmeltzung) of
belief in God in Christ, and “the belief in logos in the world” (Troeltsch
1910: 862).

2. Historical and Dialectical Theologies

Following the catastrophe of World War I, a number of young thinkers

of various intellectual orientations reexamined the presupposition that
the objective cohesion of values and standards manifested in different
periods of cultural, religious or national development constituted the
source of meaning in history. For many thinkers of the younger
generation, this broad assumption shared by earlier historical theorists,
and above all the idea that the norms of historical truth emanate from an
opaque absolute foundation, lost all plausibility.
The questioning of such assumptions in the years after World
War I was vigorously advanced in the universities by the movement of
Protestant theology known as “dialectical” theology. This movement,
concurrently with Heidegger, launched a renewed inquiry into the
meaning of history, and into the possibility of identifying objective
processes of development of culture or of world history as its
fundamental source.
Theologians such as Rudolf Bultmann (in company with Karl
Barth, Friedrich Gogarten and Eduard Thurneysan) sharply attacked
attempts to associate the significance of the Christian faith with history
as an objective process of development. In applying to Christianity
theoretical models borrowed from the human sciences, with their focus
on human cultural and national development, liberal theologians such
as Harnack and Troeltsch had, in their eyes, forsaken the transcendent
aim of theology for what proved to be mere anthropomorphism. Inspired
by Karl Barth’s epoch-making work, Epistle to the Romans (Römerbrief,
1919), this new “dialectical” orthodoxy re-asserted the conviction that
theology was principally concerned with the theme of God’s radical
transcendence of this world. This then accounts for their refusal of what
they took to be a glorification of religious works in the field of cultural
Theology and the Historicity of Faith 99

or national development and of any quest for the meaning of the

Christian faith in the cohesion of history as a process.
In line with this conviction Rudolf Bultmann, in a polemic
directed against Troeltsch, denounced what seemed to him to be a
vindication of the objective manifestations of faith in history as an
expression of the “historical pantheism of liberal theology”
(Geschichtspantheismus der liberalen Theologie) (Bultmann 1933b:5).
Bultmann did not deny that empirical methods might legitimately
investigate religious phenomena as they appear in the field of history.
But he also stressed that this should not overshadow the essential
character of theological inquiry, which concerns the irreducible essence
of faith that cannot possibly be made an object of empirical verification.
The question concerning Heidegger’s reception of this
neo-orthodox current of Protestant theology has been a topic of much
interest. We will set aside this question, however, to examine the
profound affinity between the respective positions of the philosopher
Heidegger and the theologian Bultmann. This affinity becomes apparent
even before the period of their direct collaboration as colleagues at the
University of Marburg, and it may be traced to their concurrent critical
examinations of the assumption that the meaning of Christianity might
be found in historical expressions of the Christian faith. The
identification of this affinity, however, should not obscure important
divergences in their respective positions, which we will have occasion
to examine further on.
In his course ‘Augustine and Neo-Platonism’ (1921), Heidegger
explicitly questioned the assumption that an objective analysis of
Christianity’s various periods of historical development might provide
the key to understanding the Christian faith. At the beginning of this
course, Heidegger’s rebuttal of this assumption took to task the works
of Ernst Troeltsch, Adolf von Harnack and Wilhelm Dilthey as
representative of the methodology of the historical sciences in its
application to the study of religion; his analysis centers on the respective
ways in which each of these authors interpreted St. Augustine. Each of
them ascribed to historical analysis the task of unearthing the manifest
significance of the Augustinian heritage for the subsequent development
of Western culture. Thus Troeltsch’s book, Augustin, die christiche
Antike und das Mittelalter (Augustine, Christian Antiquity and the
Middle Ages, 1915), emphasized Augustine’s achievement in
harmonizing the religious fervor of the primitive Church with the
requirements of secular life. On the basis of this harmony, Augustine
100 Barash

was able to erect a powerful ethical system, which contributed in an

exemplary manner to the cultural survival of Christianity beyond the
limits of the Hellenistic world. Harnack’s investigation of Augustine in
the third volume of his Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte (Treatise on
the History of Dogma, 1886-92), focused on the saint’s role in the
establishment of a dogmatic system for the Church. Here St. Augustine
accomplished one of his most singular achievements: the reinforcement
and systematization of the dogmatic basis of the Christian faith, which
permitted the primitive Christian community to adapt religiosity to its
practical needs within the Hellenistic context. Dilthey, in the Einleitung
in die Geisteswissenschaften (Introduction to the Human Sciences,
1883), insisted on the epistemological innovation contributed by
Augustine’s interpretation of Christianity. For Dilthey, Augustine’s
profound reflection on the unique conception of history inspired by the
historical articulation of revelation, redemption and last judgment gave
birth to a new idea of the historicity of sacred truth, and to a wholly
original kind of historical awareness unknown to Antiquity. With this
breakthrough, Augustine opened the way to the advent of historical
consciousness in its modern sense (GA60:159-166).
Troeltsch’s idea of the role of Augustine in the constitution of
a specifically Christian ethics, Harnack’s conception of the saint’s
importance for the historical development of Christian dogma, and
Dilthey’s interpretation of Augustine’s contribution to the emergence of
historical consciousness, represent three kinds of argument which, from
Heidegger’s standpoint, all depend upon an identical presupposition:
each of these thinkers assumed that the meaning of history lies in its
cohesion as an objective order of development (objektiver, historischer,
ordnungsmässiger Entwicklungszusammenhang). In his critical
treatment of this assumption, Heidegger no longer sought to comprehend
the reasons for the saint’s objective influence, but to test the soundness
of the Augustinian conceptual system which, on the basis of
philosophical ideas predominant in late Antiquity, attempted to interpret
and to reinforce the Christian experience of faith (Glaubenserfahrung)
(GA60:168-72; GA59: 90-91). As the touchstone of this analysis,
Heidegger emphasized the exemplary role of the apostle Paul’s message
to the original Christian communities, and later its interpretation by
Martin Luther.3
This exemplarity of Paul’s epistle, for Heidegger, does not
derive from its value as a theoretical norm, but from a wholly different
source: its fidelity to “factical life-experience” (faktische
Theology and the Historicity of Faith 101

Lebenserfahrung), the experience of life in its constant movement

(Bewegung) which is radically irreducible to any speculative system of
conceptualization. Precisely this experience, conveyed by a series of
themes proposed in Paul’s epistle (GA60: 67-156; GA58: 61, 205),
reveals the impotence of all forms of metaphysical speculation when
faced with fundamental questions concerning God and the meaning of
human existence (“Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the
world?”) (1 Cor. 1:20; Cf. Pöggeler 1963: 36-45). This original insight,
for Heidegger, also inspired the theology of Luther.
In his elaboration of this theme in ‘Augustine and
neo-Platonism’, Heidegger not only intermingled theological and
philosophical themes, he explicitly refrained from making a distinction
between philosophy and theology.4 While his analysis stepped well
beyond the boundaries of theology, his way of drawing on Paul’s and
Luther’s distrust of metaphysical speculation parallelled a comparable
interpretation of the teachings of the Apostle and the Reformer,
following the publication of Karl Barth’s Epistle to the Romans, by the
proponents of “dialectical theology”. Bultmann in particular, and in
spite of other divergences in their respective orientations, evinced a
similar suspicion regarding the claims of metaphysical speculation
which placed God and man in the same conceptual realm. Arguing on
the basis of a parallel critique, Heidegger examined the ancient
philosophical traditions that inspired Augustine’s metaphysics to draw
from this examination implications for a critique of historical
methodology in contemporary theology. As we will illustrate more
closely in what follows, even if contemporary theology distrusted all
claims of metaphysics in the name of empirical investigation, its quest
for the meaning of the Christian faith in an opaque cohesion of the
historical process betrayed a speculative motif which, no less than
traditional speculative metaphysics, tended toward a similar inclusion
of sacred and human phenomena in the same field of inquiry.
In ‘Augustine and Neo-Platonism’, Heidegger set in relief what
he took to be the weakness inherent in Augustinian metaphysics: the
speculative idea – borrowed from neo-Platonism – of the fruitio Dei
conceived as delight in the eternal and immutable considered as
summum bonum (GA60: 270-72; Pöggeler 1963: 38-45). If, according
to Heidegger, one indeed finds in Augustine’s work a powerful
inspiration drawn from “factical” life-experience, an experience which
fulfills itself (sich vollzieht) in the intrinsically disquieting movement
(Bewegung) of existence, which can never fully grasp or “have” itself
102 Barash

as it possesses a thing, Augustine’s speculative system at the same time

betrays a very different tendency. In presupposing a hierarchy of values
culminating in the speculative idea of the summum bonum, Augustine
imposed on the “unrest” (Unruhe) of factical existence a set of fixed and
static categories (GA61:110-119, 192-99). This hierarchy of values
encloses God and man within the same speculative system, which
proposes to “grasp” the sense of existence by fixing it in terms of a
predetermined definition. The attempt to deflect the disquiet at the heart
of factical life-experience becomes clearly evident where Augustine
conceived of its ultimate aim as a quest for “beatitude” (vita beata) and
“quietude” (quies) in the light of the eternal Divinity (GA60: 192-202,
214-215, 272; Pöggeler 1963 38-45).5
Augustine’s reception of Platonic and neo-Platonic metaphysics,
as Heidegger indicated, played a preponderant role in the constitution
of Western intellectual traditions, reaching well beyond the theological
framework in which it originated. The young Luther, in launching his
polemic against the speculative metaphysics that found a particularly
elaborate expression in scholastic theology, was able to retrieve the
pristine sense of early Christianity as revealed, for example, in his
interpretation of a passage drawn from Paul’s Epistle to the Romans:
“Ever since the creation of the world His invisible nature, namely, His
eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that
have been created” (GA60: 281-8; Rom. 1:20). Here, as Heidegger
noted, Luther examined the sense of this statement and decided in favor
of a reinterpretation of Paul, going on the contrary in the direction of an
assertion of divine transcendence manifested, not in worldly creations,
but in “the Cross and the Passion” (GA60: 282; Pöggeler 1963: 41). If
Luther strongly opposed any attempts to comprehend God on the basis
of the phenomena of a created world, which found powerful expression
in the claims of speculative metaphysics, this aspect of his teaching – as
Heidegger emphasized – had most often been forgotten, especially in the
contemporary era.
Heidegger’s emphasis on Luther’s critique of the theological
claims of speculative metaphysics revealed the deeper motives for his
implacable hostility toward contemporary historical methods in the
study of religious phenomena. In the first part of the course on St.
Augustine, Heidegger, as we have seen, vehemently took to task a
central presupposition shared by Harnack and Troeltsch: the idea that
historical research in the field of theology brings to light religious values
which incarnate, in however limited and opaque a form, an aspect of the
Theology and the Historicity of Faith 103

eternal and the absolute. From Heidegger’s perspective, however, such

values draw their meaning not from the restless disquiet of factical
life-experience, but from a source beyond all experience, postulated in
terms of an ultimate cohesion (Zusammenhang) of the historical process.
Besides his lectures on Augustine, other texts and course lectures of this
period illustrate Heidegger’s conviction that such presuppositions
ultimately originate in the same Platonic and neo-Platonic heritage
which initially nourished Augustine’s speculation (GA9: 3-4).6
Moreover, even Dilthey’s theoretical approach, which
steadfastly rejected the presupposition that the cohesion of history might
admit of an absolute foundation, was hardly able to appreciate the
fundamental rootedness of all theory in the facticity of life-experience
(Lebenserfahrung). Dilthey, indeed, diverted historical reflection from
this genuine basis in his identification of the meaning of history with its
cohesion as an objective process. Against this general tendency in the
contemporary human sciences, Heidegger aimed to radically reconsider
the meaning of historical understanding and historical existence,
anticipating in this manner a central theme of Sein und Zeit. Dilthey and
Troeltsch had each proposed accounts of the development of historical
consciousness in the broad field of culture. For each of these thinkers,
the emergence of historical consciousness involved insight into the
radical historicity of all values and all truths that human understanding
might apprehend. From different standpoints, each of them had charted
out the relation between this new awareness and the historical
perspective in which it emerged. Its development depended on a whole
network of conceptual attitudes and assumptions which were themselves
relative to a given cultural context, involving specific ways of
understanding temporality, continuity, and the interplay between
consciousness and world. For Heidegger, however, such questions
concerning the cultural prerequisites for the emergence of historical
consciousness had little bearing on genuine reflection on the originary
experience of the “historical” (das Historische). Such reflection aimed
toward self-fulfilment (Vollzug) in the movement of a factical
experience; it set out to burst the framework of conceptual structures
inherited from the past in their ready-made ways of leading the self to
overlook the radical implications of its own life-experience.7
If one can therefore, with Heidegger, speak of a “historicity of
truth”, such truth could no longer find objective anchorage in the
cohesion of general forms of cultural, intellectual or national
development, but called rather for illumination of factical
104 Barash

life-experience through a retrieval and “repetition” (Wiederholung) of

meaning implicit in the past: this is what Heidegger found in primordial
Christian faith.8

3. Heidegger’s Transformation of Theology

In Sein und Zeit Heidegger’s polemic against Western intellectual

traditions and, conjointly, against the methodology of contemporary
historical reflection, shifted its focus: in this later framework, primitive
Christianity no longer served to guide interpretation of factical
life-experience, for explicit theological themes receded into the
background as the ontology of finite human existence – Dasein –
became the basis of analysis. In the wake of this shift, the celebrated
argument of Sein und Zeit brought into question what Heidegger took to
be the central presupposition of Western intellectual traditions: rather
than consider that the finite being of Dasein, who raises the question of
being, is intrinsically related to an understanding of being, this tradition
presupposed that Dasein – as well as every being it may encounter – is
to the extent that it is transposable into what is most alien to finitude,
that is, into ongoing presence or permanent subsistence.
This “diversion from finitude” (Wegsehen von der Endlichkeit)
expressed itself not only in the determination of being in terms of an
immutable idea or permanent substance, derived from the Platonic and
Aristotelian traditions – and transmitted through the various currents
inspired by these traditions during the Middle Ages – but it also molded
the great modern metaphysical systems as well as contemporary
theoretical movements. Indeed, these modern and contemporary currents
have also thoroughly neglected the problem of the finitude of Dasein
which, as a basis of questioning of the sense of being, all theoretical
pursuits nevertheless presuppose:

In the course of this history certain distinctive domains of being have come
into view and served as the primary guides for subsequent problems: the ego
cogito of Descartes, the subject, the ‘I’, reason, spirit, person. But these all
remain uninterrogated as to their being and its structure, in accordance with
the thoroughgoing way in which the question of being has been neglected. It
is rather the case that the categorical content of the traditional ontology has
been carried over to these entities with corresponding formulations and purely
negative restrictions, or else dialectic has been called in for the purpose of
interpreting the substantiality of the subject ontologically (SZ: 22).
Theology and the Historicity of Faith 105

Each time, from the Cartesian cogito to the Kantian ‘I think’, up until
the modern attempt in the human sciences to locate an objective
cohesion in the historicity of life, of spirit, or of culture, the finite
meaning of Dasein “each time my own” (je meines) was excluded by
systems of conceptualization which tacitly effaced any implication of
finitude. And, at the very heart of his analyses, it is this traditional
forgetting of the finite foundation of Dasein’s temporal and historical
existence that Heidegger proposed to bring to the fore.
In emphasizing the fundamental role of finitude in Sein und Zeit,
Heidegger’s celebrated argument aimed to exhibit the manner in which
Dasein’s mode of temporal and historical existence, and therefore its
possibilities of comprehending the past, depend upon the way in which
it chooses to be. The choice of a finite mode of being makes possible a
given way of approaching the past – and of situating finite existence in
the context of culture and world history. According to Heidegger’s
well-known conception, authentic choice seeks to unveil, in light of
finitude, originary possibilities implicit in the past, which a petrified
tradition has most often set aside. And tradition, in invoking eternal
truth, incarnates inauthenticity: it maintains the belief in Dasein’s
participation in an undying continuity, and thereby masks the radically
provisory character of any meaning which may emerge before Dasein’s
mortal eyes. In the final analysis, the “cohesion of history”
(Zusammenhang der Geschichte), far from emanating from what
tradition considered to be a self-sustaining realm of cultural or national
continuity, finds its ultimate source nowhere else than in a continuity
interwoven in the perspective of finite existence.
Heidegger’s articulation of a more elaborate philosophical
argument in Sein und Zeit than that presented in his earlier course
lectures thus brought into question a whole range of intellectual
expressions of the forgetting of Dasein’s finitude, which the age-old
speculative affirmation of eternal, absolute truths had steadfastly
maintained. And, as Heidegger asserted in Sein und Zeit, the authority
of traditional theology served as a formidable bulwark to sustain this
age-old assumption:

But the contention that there are ‘eternal truths’, and the confusion of Dasein’s
phenomenally grounded ‘ideality’ with an idealized absolute subject, belong
to those residues of Christian theology within the philosophical problematic
which have not as yet been radically eliminated (SZ: 229).
106 Barash

Such ‘elimination’ concerned not only the residues of

metaphysics within theology but questioned, as Heidegger explained
elsewhere (GA9: 49), the claim of Christian theology itself. And in view
of this critique, it is clear that Heidegger could no longer appeal to the
model of primitive Christianity in Sein und Zeit. For Heidegger at this
later date, philosophy as the fundamental discipline intended to
disengage theology from an age-old tradition that had obscured its
authentic concern; the re-elaboration of theology as a positive science
thus depended on the Daseinsanalyse which was to provide a
preliminary analysis of the existential possibilities of interpretation in
all ontic disciplines as such.
In his discourse ‘Phänomenologie und Theologie’ (1927)
(‘Phenomenology and Theology’), dedicated to Rudolf Bultmann,
Heidegger attempted to sketch a possible link between philosophy and
theology, while arguing that the ontology of finite Dasein must play the
fundamental role as it is presupposed by the different ontic disciplines.
It is on the basis of fundamental ontology that the positive or ontic
disciplines must proceed in their interpretative work. In a letter to
Bultmann sent in the same year as his presentation of this lecture and the
publication of Sein und Zeit, Heidegger summarized the relation
between their approaches in the following terms:

We can only make matters finally move when we work forward from the most
extreme positions: you from the theological side – positive and ontic –
whereby ontological themes by no means disappear but, while remaining
unthematic, are only in this regard punctuated by a question mark; me from the
philosophical side – ontological and critical – whereby the ontic, in the sense
of the positivity of Christianity, is left unthematic and followed by a question
mark. To toss around in the intermediary zone without a solid basis on which
to stand, here or there, in dealing with concrete and comprehensive
knowledge, leads – if anywhere at all – to confusion.9

For his part, Bultmann acknowledged the distinction between

fundamental ontology and the positive disciplines in his use of the
Daseinsanalyse in the field of theology, particularly in his essay ‘Die
Geschichtlichkeit des Daseins und der Glaube’ (1928) (‘The Historicity
of Dasein and Faith’). In spite of Karl Barth’s intransigent refusal of
what he took to be an illegitimate intrusion of philosophy into the
domain of theology, and of the heated controversies that Bultmann’s
existential orientation provoked in theological circles, Heidegger’s
Theology and the Historicity of Faith 107

philosophy might at first glance seem to harmonize with Bultmann’s

theological aims.10
Indeed, during this period of his work in the late 1920s,
Bultmann not only reiterated the protest, running parallel to that of
Heidegger, against the methods of the historical sciences voiced in his
earlier critique of liberal theology; like Heidegger, Bultmann also
rejected traditional Christian theology, which liberal theology had
hardly brought into question, for its manner of invoking the ‘absolute
subject’ and ‘eternal truths’. In an article dating from 1928, entitled ‘Die
Bedeutung der “dialektischen Theologie” für die Wissenschaft des
neuen Testaments’ (‘The Significance of “Dialectical Theology” for
New Testament Science’), Bultmann criticized these presuppositions,
which derived, according to him, from an idealist theology, in which

The being of man is constituted by logos, reason, the eternal and the absolute.
An idealist theology believes itself to speak simultaneously of God and man
because it is accustomed, in conformity with ancient and classical traditions,
to think God and the absolute together. In reality, it only speaks of man
(Bultmann 1933c: 118).

Bultmann thus refused the traditional connotation of terms such

as the “absolute” and the “eternal”. Yet, it is also crucial to stress that,
as a theologian, he did not hesitate to refer to the “eternity of God”,
while specifying that “the eternal God absolutely does not form a part
of the domain of the possibilities of seeing” (Bultmann 1931: 8;
Bultmann 1928: 143).
In his critical approach to the idea of “absolute” and “eternal”
being, Heidegger’s position was more radical than that of Bultmann, and
its relation to Christian theology was therefore wholly ambiguous. This
ambiguity could hardly be resolved by the claim of setting theological
concerns aside in ontological interpretation, for such concepts as
‘absolute’ and ‘eternal’ came directly into question in the ontological
analysis of the modes of existence of finite Dasein. Indeed, ideas of the
‘eternal’ and the ‘absolute’ became for Heidegger ontological symptoms
of Dasein’s inauthentic quest to neglect the finitude of its existence.
Thus, in the framework of Sein und Zeit, the claim of eternal and
absolute truth could indicate nothing beyond Dasein’s tacit everyday
need to mask its finite temporality as being-toward-death (Sein zum
108 Barash

On the face of his analysis, Heidegger’s interpretation of the

tacit inauthentic motives behind Dasein’s quest for eternal and absolute
truth concern the all too unproblematic way in which an age-old
tradition had presupposed the possibility of bringing them into the realm
of human thought. Nonetheless, could such a “destruction” of these
modes of conceptualization simply extract them from a pristine
Christian religiosity without demolishing, not only Christian theology,
but Christianity as such? Might one shake the presuppositions of
traditional metaphysics in which Christianity had been rooted without
overturning the very foundation of the Christian faith itself?11
In the decade following the publication of Sein und Zeit, during
which Heidegger’s orientation again shifted its focus, his reflection on
Christianity overcame its initial ambiguity. At this time, he left behind
the investigation of the temporality and historicity of Dasein in light of
its finite existence. Daseinsanalyse thus no longer served as a point of
departure for his critique of traditional notions of being and truth, and
he subsequently articulated this critique less in terms of the being of
Dasein, than in reflection on the different epochs in the “history of
Being” (Seinsgeschichte). Here the question of truth was posed at a
different level: following initial analysis of the modes in which Dasein,
in its decision concerning the meaning of being, unveils truth in a finite
temporal and historical horizon, Heidegger’s concern changed
perspective to center on the historicity of truth that Being elicits in its
movement through the diversity of its epochs. Beyond his earlier
interpretation of Dasein’s existential choices in light of possibilities
discerned in the past, Heidegger’s subsequent shift in focus, the
so-called Kehre, involved a “stepping back” (Schritt zurück) of
reflection toward the unified historical cohesion (Geschichtlicher
Zusammenhang) linking together the epochs of Being, in view of
overcoming metaphysics (Überwindung der Metaphysik) (ID: 40). In
Heidegger’s later perspective, “metaphysics” designated not only the
explicit ways in which Being is named by a metaphysical tradition, but
also the tacit conceptions of what ‘is’ that predominate in the
intervening epochs no longer ostensibly concerned with ‘metaphysical’
issues. In this regard, science and technology in the broad sense are
contemporary expressions of metaphysics. For Heidegger, indeed, they
extend and deepen the principle tendency of traditional metaphysics in
that, like this earlier theory of Being, they place man and Being in the
same universe of discourse in assuming that all that ‘is’ may be
adequately grasped on the basis of human representations. Even more
Theology and the Historicity of Faith 109

radically than traditional metaphysics, contemporary science and

technology leave out of consideration all that is beyond the purview of
human representation which, indeed, is the province of Being as
Heidegger interpreted it.
In his reflection on the articulation of the epochs of Being,
Heidegger returned to the theme of sacred truth that had intensely
preoccupied him in his early course lectures, and which Sein und Zeit
had held at a distance. Throughout the movement of the history of
Being, sacred truth, like all expressions of truth, is open to a radical
historicity. In its different periods, faith engenders profound religiosity,
which is transformed and weakened in the succession of Being’s epochs.
Where pristine religiosity and, in spite of its speculative bent, traditional
theology, conceived of a transcendent God beyond the purview of
human representation, the movement of the history of Being in the
technological era no longer has recourse to such conceptions of
transcendence, as all that truly ‘is’ is equated with what conforms to
human representations and can be mastered by technical means.
Heidegger cites the eloquent words of Hölderlin to evoke this movement
in the historicity of faith: “Only at times can man bear the fullness of the
sacred” (Nur zu Zeiten erträgt der Mensch göttliche Fülle) (Hölderlin,
‘Brot und Wein’, cited in GA4: 48). In the history of Being, theology
occupies an exemplary place. As Heidegger writes: “Wherever theology
emerges, God has already begun to depart” (GA52: 132).12
If the elaboration of Heidegger’s later conception of the eclipse
of the Christian faith in the technological epoch overcame its earlier
ambiguity concerning the status of religious truth, the resolution of this
ambiguity nonetheless opened the way to a still deeper paradox. In this
later period, the historicity of truth amid the diversity of the epochs of
Being articulates a unity, which he designated by the word “historical
cohesion” (Geschichtlicher Zusammenhang). Truth thus reveals itself
according to the epoch in which it is configured, and the cohesion of
epochs brings together the manifestations of truth in a unified historical
movement. And herein lies the paradox, for Seinsgeschichte might only
seem to redeploy the idea of a revelation of truth mediated by an
historical context, thus identifying meaning in history with the
“objective” cohesion of a process which, as we have seen, Heidegger so
resolutely criticized in his earlier work of the 1920s.13
Heidegger, however, did not renew the presuppositions
entertained by earlier historical theory in company with liberal theology.
For him, indeed, manifestations of the sacred in the history of Being are
110 Barash

hardly to be sought where earlier historical theory had located them: in

cultural and world history. As in his earlier work, the later Heidegger
rejected the anthropocentric focus of the human sciences, directed at the
tangible dimension of religious phenomena as they appear in the human
world. Being, which elicits the historicity of truth and elaborates the
cohesion of its different epochs, lies beyond the possibilities of human
representation, and of any form of “objectification”.
This having been acknowledged, the paradox nevertheless
abides when his thought is considered in view of his earlier critique of
liberal theology. It is paradoxical, indeed, that Heidegger’s later
interpretation of the “cohesion” of history led him to face a dilemma
anticipated by theologians like Ernst Troeltsch, even if, after the Kehre,
Heidegger never seems to have reconsidered Troeltsch’s penetrating
insight. Thirty years after the investigations of Troeltsch and of Max
Weber on the problem of the historicity of religion, Heidegger began to
evoke the theme of Entgötterung, of the “withdrawal of the gods”
which, in the essay ‘Die Zeit des Weltbildes’ (1938) (‘The Age of the
World-Image’), he perceived to be an essential characteristic of
modernity (GA5: 70). Although this notion does not imply the
disappearance of the sacred as such, it does point toward the waning of
its specifically Christian expression. In Heidegger’s interpretation of the
poem of Hölderlin previously cited, Christ does not permanently
incarnate the sacred, for he is only the brother of Heracles and Dionysus
who, previous to Christ himself, have “left the world” (GA5: 248).
Heidegger, it must be said, never denigrated individual belief in
the Christian religion. Yet the fact that Christianity, regarded as a world
historical phenomenon, should have, in his words, “lost its capacity to
constitute history” (GA6.2: 144) could not but generate a certain unease
with regard to its “future possibility” (Zukunftsmöglichkeit), to use a
term brought into currency by Ernst Troeltsch.

Translated by Isabel Taylor and reviewed by the author.

This article is a translation of the revised version of chapter 4 of Barash (1995: 71-90).
Cf. Gadamer (1983: 146): “In the friendship between Heidegger and Bultmann during
the Marburg years it was above all a matter of settling accounts with ‘historical’
theology, and to this end of elaborating a more radical conception of the historicity and
the finitude of human Dasein”. As we shall see further on, Ernst Troeltsch was one of
the principal proponents of “historical” theology. For a more detailed discussion of
liberal theology and of Heidegger’s relation to this movement, see chapter 4 of Barash
Theology and the Historicity of Faith 111

This notion, which is evoked in Heidegger’s lectures on Augustine, for example in
GA60 (281-82), is elucidated above all in the course given by Heidegger the preceding
term, ‘Introduction to the Phenomenology of Religion’ (GA60: 97-105).
In a letter addressed to Karl Löwith, dated 19 August 1921, Heidegger described
himself as “factically a Christian theologian” (Heidegger 1990: 28-29). In the 1921-22
lecture course ‘Phänomenologische Interpretationen zu Aristoteles’, Heidegger asserted
that philosophy can only be atheistic (GA61: 197). However, philosophy can only be
resolutely atheistic to the extent that it remains open to the question of God.
In his course on Augustine, Heidegger observed that one cannot simply extract
neo-Platonic ideas from the Augustinian edifice in order to obtain a purely Christian
message. He added (unfortunately without developing his analysis) that neo-Platonism
is interwoven into the fundamental structure of Christianity (GA60: 281).
Heidegger criticized contemporary historical theorists of history, above all Windelband,
Rickert, and Troeltsch, for what he took to be residual Platonism in their thought; see
in this regard, GA60 (38-49).
Cf. GA61 (73-78).
Cf. GA61 (80); GA58 (61-64); GA59 (19-23).
“Wir bringen die Sachen nur von der Stelle, wenn wir von den extremsten Positionen
her endlich arbeiten. Sie von der theolog[ischen] Seite – positiv – ontisch [,] wobei das
Ontologische gar nicht verschwindet, aber unthematisch u[nd] nur jeweils mit
Fragezeichen versehen abgehandelt wird – ich von der philosoph[ischen] Seite –
ontologisch-kritisch –, wobei das Ontische im Sinne der Positivität des Christlichen
unthematisch bleibt u[nd] seine Fragezeichen hat. Im Zwischenfeld sich
herumtummeln[,] ohne dort – noch hier fest zu stehen u[nd] konkrete, umfassende
Kentnisse zu haben, bringt, wenn überhaupt etwas – lediglich Verwirrung” (Bultmann
2009: 23). In another letter written in the same year, Heidegger writes: “Meine Arbeit
hat weder weltanschauliche noch gar theologische Absichten. Wohl aber liegen Ansätze
u[nd] Absichten in ihr auf einer ontologischen Grundlegung der chr[i]stl[ichen]
Theologie als Wissenschaft” (“My work finds its purpose neither in the area of a
world-view or even of theology. But there are starting points and aims in it toward an
ontological foundation of Christian theology as a science”) (Bultmann 2009: 48).
Cf. Barth (1971: 118); Noller (1967). If, following the period of Sein und Zeit,
Heidegger explicitly took a certain distance from dialectical theology, in a letter
addressed to Karl Löwith two years prior to the publication of this work, he nonetheless
had still affirmed his nuanced support of it: “What still shows some ‘life’ is the
Barth-Gogarten movement, which is represented in a prudent and independent way by
Bultmann – and since I am always subject to being counted among theologians, I permit
myself also to accompany this movement, although during a recent debate I expressed
my skepticism in a sufficiently clear manner” (Heidegger 1925).
Heidegger considered this problem in a footnote in Being and Time, where he writes:
“That the traditional concept of eternity, grasped in the sense of the abiding now (nunc
stans), is produced by an everyday comprehension of time and is circumscribed by the
orientation toward an ‘abiding’ presence, requires no detailed commentary. If the
eternity of God can be philosophically ‘constructed’, then this could only be understood
as a more primary and ‘infinite’ temporality” (SZ: 427n). However, these comments
hardly attenuate the ambiguity of Being and Time with regard to Christianity, since
Heidegger could also write: “Inauthentic temporality of fallen-everyday Dasein must,
as such distraction from finitude [Wegsehen von der Endlichkeit], mistake authentic
futurity and with it temporality as such. And when indeed everyday understanding of
112 Barash

Dasein is oriented by das Man, then the self-forgetful ‘representation’ of ‘infinity’ of

public time can first gain its hold” (SZ: 424).
Cf. Birault (2005: 513-550).
On this point see especially Krüger (1950: 157).


Barash, Jeffrey Andrew. 2003. Martin Heidegger and the Problem of

Historical Meaning. New York: Fordham University Press.
– 1995. Heidegger et son siècle: Temps de l’Être, temps de l’histoire.
Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
Barth, Karl. 1971. Letter to Rudolf Bultmann, 27 May 1931, in Jaspert,
Berndt (ed.) Barth-Bultmann Briefwechsel (Karl Barth
Gesamtausgabe 5.1). Zürich: Theologischer Verlag.
Birault, Henri. 2005. ‘De l’être, du Divin, des dieux chez Heidegger’ in
De l’être, du divin et des dieux. Paris: Cerf. 513-550.
Bultmann, Rudolf. Rudolf and Martin Heidegger. 2009. Briefwechsel.
1925-1975. Andreas Grossmann and Christof Landmesser
(eds). Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck and Frankfurt am Main:
– 1966. ‘Zur Frage der Entmythologisierung: Antwort auf Karl Jaspers’
in Bartsch, Hans-Werner (ed) Kerygma und Mythos Vol. 3: Das
Gespräch mit der Philosophie. 49-59.
– 1958. Glauben und Verstehen. Gesammelte Aufsätze (vol. 2).
Tübingen: Mohr Verlag.
– 1933a. Glauben und Verstehen. Gesammelte Aufsätze (vol. 1).
Tübingen: Mohr.
– 1933b. ‘Die liberale Theologie und die jüngste theologische
Bewegung’ in Bultmann (1933a): 1-25.
– 1933c. ‘Die Bedeutung der “dialektischen Theologie” für die
neutestamentliche Wissenschaft’ in Bultman (1933a): 114-133.
– 1931. ‘Krisis des Glaubens’ in Bultmann (1958): 1-19.
– 1928. ‘Die Eschatologie des Johannes-Evangeliums’ in Bultmann
(1933a): 134-152.
Gadamer, Hans-Georg. 1983. Heidegger’s Wege: Studien zum
Spätwerk. Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr.
Harnack, Adolf von. 1977. Das Wesen des Christentums. Gütersloh:
Heidegger, Martin. 1925. Letter to Karl Löwith, 25 August 1925.
Unpublished. Property of Madam Ada Löwith.
Theology and the Historicity of Faith 113

– 1990. ‘Drei Briefe Martin Heideggers an Karl Löwith’ in Zur

philosophischen Aktualität Martin Heideggers, Im Gespräch
der Zeit (vol. 2). Frankfurt a. M.: Klostermann. 27-39.
Krüger, Gerhard. 1950. ‘Martin Heidegger und der Humanismus’ in
Theologische Rundschau 18 (1): 148-178.
Noller, Gerhard (ed.). 1967. Heidegger und die Theologie. Munich:
Kaiser Verlag.
Pöggeler, Otto. 1963. Der Denkweg Martin Heideggers. Pfullingen:
Troeltsch, Ernst. 1913. Zur religiösen Lage, Religionsphilosophie und
Ethik (Gesammelte Schriften 2). Tübingen: Mohr Verlag.
– 1910. ‘Die Zukunftsmöglichkeiten des Christentums im Verhältnis zur
modernen Philosophie’ in Troeltsch (1913): 837-862.
– 1903. ‘Was heisst “Wesen des Christentums?”’ in Troeltsch (1913):
– 1902. Die Absolutheit des Christentums und die Religionsgeschichte.
Reprinted in 1969. Munich and Hamburg: Siebenstern
Taschenbuch Verlag.
A Historical Note on Heidegger’s Relationship to
Ernst Troeltsch

Sylvain Camilleri

After a brief period of time in a Jesuit seminary, Heidegger entered the

Faculty of Theology at the Catholic University of Freiburg in 1909.
Here, while familiarizing himself with the canon of medieval theology
(Bonaventure, Thomas Aquinas, and Eckhart) and becoming formed in
systematic theology, exegesis, and the history of Christian dogma, he
encountered, for the first time, phenomenology (Brentano and Husserl),
hermeneutics (Dilthey), and neo-Kantianism (Lotze and Rickert). Hence,
the beginning of the Denkweg was never exclusively theological; rather,
it found itself in a continuous discussion with the philosophy of its time.
It is clear that, as a student, Heidegger was aware of the contemporary
theological debates. His interest in two atypical Catholic theologians,
Carl Braig and Hermann Schell, both of which offer alternative
approaches to the then-contemporary conservative neo-scholasticism,
attests to this fact (Vigliotti 2001: 323-350). Starting from 1911,
Heidegger abandoned his theological studies and turned definitively
toward philosophy. His Habilitationsschrift on Duns Scotus, defended
in 1915 and published in 1916 (GA1), is tantamount to a final attempt
of reconciling his respect for Catholic theology with his ever-growing
attraction to the liberty offered to him by philosophy. Nevertheless, the
rupture between Heidegger and the Catholic Church with its anti-
modernist theology (formally recognized in the 1919 letter to Krebs1 )
seemed already inevitable.
Even so, Heidegger’s interest in theology did not completely
disappear. In 1916, he was still studying medieval theology, particularly
mysticism (in which he would remain interested), as is shown by his
phenomenological analyses of Bernard of Clairvaux, Eckhart, and
Teresa of Ávila. In tandem with this renewed attention to medieval
thought, Heidegger immersed himself in the major works of Protestant
theology. He especially absorbed himself in Luther (GA63: 5), whose
theology of the cross (theologia crucis) seemed to Heidegger to be an
116 Camilleri

authentic reiteration the core values of primitive Christianity. But

Heidegger was also interested in Luther’s posterity and assimilated, not
without exercising a certain deconstruction, aspects of the theology of
Schleiermacher, Kierkegaard, and above all of the so-called “liberal”
evangelical theology of the nineteenth-century. Among the
representatives of this last movement, we find the systematic theologian
Albrecht Ritschl and two of his most famous disciples, the historian of
dogma Adolf von Harnack and the dogmatic theologian Wilhelm
Herrmann. Nonetheless, it is Ernst Troeltsch who appears to most retain
Heidegger’s attention. Although a student of Ritschl at the University of
Göttingen, Troeltsch set out on his own path in order to devote himself
to two directions of fundamental research that the teacher never fully
explored: the philosophy of religion (Religionsphilosophie) on the one
hand, and the history of religions (Religionsgeschichte) on the other.
From the perspective of theology, these are autonomous disciplines.
Nevertheless both are animated by a similar problematic which serves
as a stimulus to theology.
This essay aims to (1) set out some already established facts
concerning Heidegger’s relation to Troeltsch and his work; (2) unfold
and develop the sketch of the intellectual biography of Troeltsch
proposed by Heidegger at the start of §5 of his Einleitung in die
Phänomenologie der Religion; and (3) outline the contours of a
confrontation between the two thinkers on the question of the ‘goal’ of
the philosophy of religion. The paper approaches these three aspects in
an essentially historical manner: the point is to show, by way of an
overview, the extent to which Heidegger not only knew well the path of
Troeltsch, but also how, against every expectation, it is possible to
uncover a certain parallel between their respective trajectories – and this
notwithstanding the severe critique to which Heidegger subjects
Troeltsch, both implicitly and explicitly, in several parts of the textual
corpus attached to the first of the Freiburg courses.

1. Heidegger – Troeltsch: The Facts

It is hard to pin down the precise date when Heidegger discovered

Troeltsch’s work. If one is to believe his curriculum vitae of 1922,
written to obtain a position at the University of Marburg, Heidegger
would have very early – probably during his studies of Catholic
theology – become aware of the work of the School of the History of
Religions (Religionsgeschichtliche Schule) of which Troeltsch was
A Historical Note on Heidegger’s Relationship to Ernst Troeltsch 117

recognized as the leading ‘systematic’ or ‘dogmatic’ theologian.2 It is

difficult to imagine that while discovering the works of Hermann
Gunkel, Wilhelm Bousset, Paul Wendland, or Richard Reitzenstein
(GA16: 41), Heidegger could have avoided stumbling across Troeltsch,
a thinker already well-known amongst academic circles for quite some
time. Moreover, it had not escaped anybody’s attention that from the
start of the 1910s Troelstch had somewhat moved away from systematic
theology in favour of, on the one hand, the sociology of religions –
which would inspire him to produce a significant number of works,
since become classics, on the history of Protestantism (including the
monumental Soziallehren der christlichen Kirchen und Gruppen of 1912
[Troeltsch 1912]) –, and, on the other hand, philosophy, notably the
philosophy of history – the inspiration for the final opus of 1922, left
unfinished, Der Historismus und seine Probleme (Troeltsch 1922). He
was thus led to accept the Chair of Philosophy at the University of
Berlin, destined to facilitate his work on a ‘philosophy of religion’, a
work that he would never write but of which one can find the traces
scattered among diverse publications of the 1910s and 1920s. The
evidence indicates that Heidegger followed the development of this
thought closely, but this does not reveal what it is he found in the work
and how he judged it. What is undeniable is that he was intrigued by
Troeltsch’s trajectory, which bore a strange ressemblance to his own:
from theology to philosophy, without renouncing one’s first loves.
It is remarkable that in 1917 Heidegger, expressing himself on
his turn toward philosophy after his break with Catholicism and
confessing his uneasiness regarding his academic future, wrote to his
Doktorvater Rickert that he had not abandonned his religious studies,
but that he henceforth envisaged developping “a truly living and free
understanding of Christianity in the sense of Troeltsch” (Heidegger
2002: 42) This simple formula shows that the young philosopher felt
himself close to the freien Christentum proposed by Troeltsch since
1910,3 toward which Husserl himself was also drawn.4 Troeltsch defines
this free Christianity as a kind of ‘personalism’ in which philosophy and
religion reunite with each other through a single belief in the ‘Logos’
(Troeltsch 1913c: 862).
The observation of a parallel trajectory is very likely that which
pushed Heidegger to make contact with Troeltsch. Mobilized during
World War I, he found himself working as a meteorologist in Berlin,
where in July 1918 he managed to find enough free time to visit several
local professors, including the phenomenologist Carl Stumpf, the
118 Camilleri

theologian Adolf Deissmann, and Ernst Troeltsch, with whom, it would

seem, he got along quite nicely.5 According to the most up-to-date
research, it appears that Troeltsch and Heidegger corresponded by post
since at least Februrary 1918, several months before their meeting in
Berlin. It is presumed that this correspondence began on the initiative of
the young philosopher who, since 1917, was debating one of the most
famous axioms of Troeltschian thought in a note entitled ‘Das religiöse
Apriori’ (GA60: 312-315). This first confrontation would be followed
by another note, dated 20 July 1918 and formulated under the influence
of courses taken under Troeltsch in Berlin6 : ‘Frömmigkeit – Glaube’
(GA60: 329-330). Heidegger was particularly interested in sections III
(‘Dogmatisch’) and IV (‘Glaube und Geschichte’) of the article
‘Glaube’, written by Troeltsch for the second edition of the famous
encyclopedia Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, and he
questioned the personalism mentioned above (Troeltsch 1910a). The
tone is all around critical, just, as we will see, it would equally be in the
course of WS 1920-1921.
It is a different story concerning the fragments of their
correspondence that have been preserved and recently published.
Unfortunately, only two documents remain: two letter-responses from
Troeltsch to Heidegger, respectively dated the 4th and 23rd of Februrary
19187 . Troeltsch’s tone reveals more than mere formality. In the first
letter, Heidegger is thanked for having sent his Scotusbuch, described
as ‘enlightening’ (klärend) and ‘instructive’ (belehrend) (Denker 2004a:
75). Troeltsch emphasizes that he finds Heidegger’s work on medieval
spirituality from the perspective of modern philosophy important, and
he encourages him to continue on this path.
The tone of the second letter is even warmer and Troeltsch goes
so far as to remark upon a closeness of thought: “I would like to tell you
that your analyses touch me deeply. I think similarly to you on all these
matters, as you will see in the work which I am currently penning, ‘Über
historisch Dialektik’” (Denker 2004a: 75). He is alluding to a study
published in two parts in the Historische Zeitschrift essentially devoted
to neo-Kantianism, to Hegel, as well as to Marxism (Troeltsch 1919a:
373-426; 1919b: 393-451). From this information, one can deduce that
the two thinkers conversed on the subject of the philosophy of history,
which was at once the Schwerpunkt of Troeltsch, who, drawing
inspiration most notably from Rickert, was working on a
Religionsphilosophie auf religionsgeschichtlicher Grundlage, and that
of Heidegger, who was then very close to Dilthey. From what follows
A Historical Note on Heidegger’s Relationship to Ernst Troeltsch 119

in the letter, we learn that phenomenology was equally up for

discussion: “With phenomenology I am not yet up to date. I have not yet
studied enough. I have the impression that here in many respects is
something allied to my work. I must look into it. This should happen
shortly” (Denker 2004a: 75-76). In reality, Troeltsch would never fully
invest himself in the study of phenomenology, but was satisfied to say
a word on it in his Der Historismus und seine Probleme, citing Husserl
and Scheler, but not once Heidegger (Troeltsch 1922: 596-617).
Nevertheless, Heidegger did not miss the opportunity to put Troeltsch’s
presentiment to the test in his course of WS 1920-1921 and to ask the
question whether his thought has some link or another with the
phenomenological enterprise, more particularly with the hermeneutical
phenomenology that he had been sketching since the conclusion of his
Did the two men continue to meet after the war? There is no
way to know. Did they continue to correspond? It is more likely, but
there is nothing to confirm it one way or the other. It is however certain
that Heidegger did not cease to read Troeltsch and that, entrusted by
Husserl in 1918 to take possession of the terrain of the phenomenology
of religion, he made use of the thinker as his privileged interlocutor.

2. The Intellectual Biography of Troeltsch as Told by Heidegger

Heidegger occupied himself seriously with Troeltsch’s thought since at

least 1917, yet it goes without saying that he did not restrict himself to
the output of this period. At the moment of the two thinkers’
correspondence, Troeltsch had already written the majority of his œuvre.
Presuming that Troeltsch is the most emblematic representative of
contemporary philosophy of religion, Heidegger took it upon himself to
begin his report with a kind of ‘intellectual biography’, such that his
students might understand the evolution of this complex thought from
its diverse influences. It was not until 1921 that Troeltsch would
examine his own path and explain the different phases of his
development (Troeltsch 1921: 161-173). At this time, no real historical
synthesis existed; nevertheless, numerous studies endeavoured to note
how Troeltsch passed from theology to philosophy8. Did Heidegger
draw inspiration from this? It is possible, although we tend to think that
he read much more of Troeltsch through the first-hand text.
Ritschl, Kant, Schleiermacher, and Lotze. In the first moment
of this intellectual biography, Heidegger starts by attaching Troeltsch’s
120 Camilleri

initial philosophical stance to the school of Ritschl, which in turn

implies the stamp of Kant, Schleiermacher, and Lotze.
Troeltsch had been a student of Ritschl at Göttingen University
between 1886 and 1888. With him, Troeltsch encountered for the first
time the problem that would occupy him throughout his entire career:
how to think the relation between Christian tradition and modern
science, and, above all, how to think them together? At this time, Ritschl
taught that science is ‘knowledge’ (Erkenntnis) of reality, while faith is
the ‘religious comprehension’ (religiöse Deutung) of reality.
Nevertheless, Ritschl argues that the concept of knowledge as such
should not be reserved for science and that it can be imported into
theology, so long as one admits, as Troeltsch explains in 1908-1909
whilst speaking of Ritschl, ‘the impossibility of exact and adequate
knowledge in the religious sphere’ and hence the practical-confessional
(praktisch-bekenntnisartig) nature of what one can accordingly call
‘religious knowledge’ (Troeltsch 1913c: 200). This practical-
confessional nature, that Troeltsch also describes as ‘practice-
conforming-to-feeling’ (praktisch-gefühlsmäßig), is what prepares us for
an ‘access to the real foundations of life’ (Troeltsch 1913c: 200). One
can here recognize two fundamental influences: Kant and
Kant’s importance for Troeltsch’s philosophical position was
constant. It is in the works of 1904-1905 that his significance is most
noticeable. In Das Historische in Kants Religionsphilosophie (1904),
Troeltsch emphasizes the epistemologic framework of Kantian thought,
which, according to him, should serve as the prolegomena to any future
philosophy of religion (Troeltsch 1904: 21). He notes nevertheless that
this epistemological framework goes part and parcel with a psychology
of religion, and, to unite epistemology and psychology, he relies
precisely on the notion of history. This idea would be expanded upon in
Psychologie und Erkenntnistheorie (1905), a study devoted to the
possibility of a contribution from Kant to religious science. Troeltsch
underlines the perfect equilibrium in Kantian philosophy between
empiricism and rationalism (Troeltsch 1905: 25). The equilibrium in
question must allow the philosophy of religion, just as religious science,
to accomplish the most perilous but equally the most authentic
operation: to find a priori laws in phenomena and lived experiences
(Troeltsch 1905: 26). In these two works of 1904 and 1905, Kant is
praised for numerous philosophical qualities to which Troeltsch
unabashedly makes claim. But one equally sees that Kant is in points of
A Historical Note on Heidegger’s Relationship to Ernst Troeltsch 121

fact surpassed. The question is: toward what? Or, more precisely,
toward whom?
Toward Schleiermacher, who allowed Troeltsch to glimpse the
stakes of an actualization and extension of the Kantian heritage.
Schleiermacher showed how it is possible to incorporate this heritage
into a theological framework and bring it to fruition, all the while
preserving its own nature and philosophical potential. To Troeltsch,
Schleiermacher first represented the link between Kant and Ritschl. But
he of course had his own role in the intellectual development of
Troeltsch. Among all the representatives of German Idealism, Troeltsch
effectively considered him as the most capable to develop the Kantian
program and to offer a strong philosophical response to the demands of
modern thought (Troeltsch 1913c: 480). He was undoubtedly impressed
by the finess that Schleiermacher displayed in linking the idea of a
religious a priori to a historical theology. Schleiermacher’s
dismantlement of the primacy of the theologico-theoretical pushed
Troeltsch to discriminate between spheres more elaborately than had
done his teacher. Schleiermacher had separated religion and piety (two
synonymous terms) from metaphysics and morality. It was now
necessary to strictly separate history and religion in order to rethink and
rejuvenate their relationship. On this point, Schleiermacher had not been
radical enough. Troeltsch’s evaluation of Schleiermacher is in many
ways similar to Heidegger’s. Both simultaneously found good and bad
parts of the Rede as well as the Glaubenslehre, and they would have
perhaps not refused to sign a joint-declaration stipulating exactly these
points. But all things considered, how could it be otherwise when we
know that they were both reading and admiring the same literature on
Schleiermacher, in particular the biography by Dilthey, but also the
works of Hermann Süskind (Christentum und Geschichte bei
Schleiermacher, 1911) and Georg Wehrung (Die geschichts-
philosophische Standpunkt Schleiermachers, 1907)? All of this indicates
that the vital point of contention between Heidegger and Troeltsch is
situated elsewhere than in their respective receptions of Schleiermacher.
The fourth central figure of this first series established by
Heidegger is Rudolf Hermann Lotze. Lotze is a philosopher who, like
Ritschl in theology, attached himself to Kant. The question regarding the
extent to which the two thinkers influenced one another had not been
well elaborated. It is probably because Ritschl, in his Die christliche
Lehre von der Rechtfertigung und Versöhnung (1870), spoke of Lotze
as his philosophical mentor (they had taught together for 16 years at
122 Camilleri

Göttingen University9) that Troeltsch became very seriously interested

in him. Nevertheless, it is through the neo-Kantians that he would in due
course be led to rediscover him. Troeltsch would use Lotze in order to
show that the philosophy of religion, or, more precisely, the philosophy
of religious values, must be the means of attainment of the
Selbständigkeit of religion. Reading Lotze ignited some spark in
Troeltsch, leading him to construct for the very first time his own
philosophico-theological position. Let us conclude on this point by
saying that Lotze’s Metaphysik and Religionsphilosophie played for the
young Troeltsch the role that Lotze’s Logik played for the young
Heidegger (GA1: 23). From this we may in turn infer that the link
binding Troeltsch to Lotze does not reveal itself as the crux of the
Heideggerian critique of Troeltsch, but rather as the mark of a partially
shared heritage.
Dilthey and the philosophy of history. From the point of view
of the Geschichtsphilosophie, Heidegger maintains that Troeltsch held
himself under Dilthey’s influence. Since 1909, Troeltsch spoke of
Dilthey as his ‘master’ (Lehrer) (Troeltsch 1913c: 754). Troeltsch
marshalls Dilthey’s works on the history of philosophy in one of his first
theological articles: ‘Die christliche Weltanschauung und die
wissenschaftliche Gegenströmungen’ (1893-1894). But it is not until
around 1900 that he became acquainted with Dilthey’s philosophy of
history. Troeltsch’s interest in Dilthey cristalized around the latter’s
psychology since, in a manner almost identical to that of Lotze, it takes
into account the individual as well as psychic creation. With his
psychological analyses, Dilthey is as such considered as an ally in the
quest for understanding the facticity of historical events. On this matter,
the impression that the Einleitung in die Geisteswissenschaften (1883)
made on Troeltsch should not be neglected – another point in common
with the young Heidegger. Troeltsch saw in Dilthey’s Einleitung a
theory which simultaneously allowed one to escape the disasterous
consequences of naturalism and of positivism, both of which were
seriously threatening the independence of spiritual life and accordingly
the core of all religion.
Despite this proximity, we cannot ignore a fundamental point of
disagreement. Since 1897, Troeltsch reproached Dilthey for “his
antimetaphysical point of view” (Troeltsch 1897: 526), as found in the
Einleitung in die Geisteswissenschaften (Dilthey 1914: 386-408), but
equally in his writings on psychology and on individuality, respectively
dated 1894 and 1895.10 Troeltsch applauds in each of these texts ’a
A Historical Note on Heidegger’s Relationship to Ernst Troeltsch 123

contribution to the foundation of the method equally capable of

servicing religious science’ (Troeltsch 1897: 527), but he also stresses
that they represent to him something else than they do for Dilthey,
namely the possibility to confront metaphysical questions equipped with
an at last adequate philosophical arsenal. This disagreement taken into
account, can one still imagine a geschichtsphilosophisch connection?
Heidegger’s assessment reveals itself to be at once true and
false. It is true because the two thinkers held, without citing one another,
positions regarding the necessity of a historical method in theology
which prove to be very similar. Dilthey did it in the capacity of a
historian and a philosopher while Troeltsch did it in the capacity of a
theologian, but by way of a certain idea of the philosophy of history
(Troeltsch 1913c: 739). Moreover, it is evident that Troeltsch owes a
debt to Dilthey’s historiographic works. The Heideggerian assessment
is equally false however because, when closely examined, Troeltsch no
longer directly refers to Dilthey when he positively constructs his own
philosophy of history and his own history of religions. Heidegger
simplified this fact. Did he do it intentionally? In our opinion, this
alternative is not to be foreclosed. To attach the meaning of history at
work in Troeltsch’s philosophy to Dilthey, without further explanation,
allowed Heidegger to pass over the form that this same meaning of
history was taking in Troeltsch’s system of the history of religions.
Indeed, Heidegger specifies that he limits himself to Troeltsch’s
philosophy of religion. But it is no secret that this philosophy only
acquires its full meaning when brought together with theology and the
history of religions.
Windelband, Rickert, and value philosophy. The next moment
of Heidegger’s reconstruction concerns the influence that Windelband
and Rickert’s value philosophy had exerted on Troeltsch’s thought since
the start of the 1890s. Heidegger somewhat antedates this encounter.
Indeed, Troeltsch had been consulting Windelband’s work since his
1891 thesis on Melanchthon, but until 1895 at the earliest the systematic
framework had still been constructed around Lotze and Dilthey.
Windelband and Rickert openly pick up Dilthey’s project of the
valorization of the ‘sciences of spirit’ (Geisteswissenschaften), which
they prefer to call the ‘cultural sciences’ (Kulturwissenschaften). They
intend to thereby establish a part of their value philosophy. But they
reject the leftovers of positivism which in Dilthey still accompany the
understanding and study of these sciences. The methodological and
philosophical controversies between the neo-Kantians and Dilthey bring
124 Camilleri

us directly to the heart of Troeltschian thought and notably of his

treatment of the question of history.
In the 1898 study ‘Geschichte und Metaphysik’, Troeltsch
alligned himself with Dilthey’s camp in order to consider Christianity
as a historical phenomenon, against Julius Kaftan (his earlier professor,
an orthodox follower of Ritschl) who thought it of vital importance to
accord to it an ad hoc status in virtue of a certain supernaturalism
(Troeltsch 1898: 52). But when closely examined, it is possible that the
debate with Kaftan already integrates elements inherited from neo-
Kantianism, notably the need to displace the study of Christianity and,
more generally, the history of religions, in favour of that which
Windelband calls the science of the necessary and universal
determinations of values, a science operative in the sphere of culture
where it finds the meaning of historical phenomena of which religion is
an integral part. This, at least, is what a letter from Toeltsch to Adolf
Jülicher dated 4 November 1901 leads us to believe11, in which the
former returns to his essay ‘Geschichte und Metaphysik’ and implicitly
specifies that it is at this moment that he fully commits himself to the
neo-Kantian path. This becomes even clearer in the 1900 essay ‘Über
historische und dogmatische Methode der Theologie’, this time directed
toward Niebergall, who had rallied Kaftan in his critique of Troeltschian
positions, in particular on the necessity to historicize theology, and this
on the basis of essentially philosophical postulates (Troeltsch 1913c:
It is certainly not by mere chance that when reworking the text
for the second volume of the Complete Works Troeltsch flouted the
chronology of his own works and inserted an updated version of his
‘anti-Niebergall’ (the name given to his 1900 essay on the historical and
dogmatic method of theology) after the long study ‘Moderne
Geschichtsphilosophie’ (1903) devoted almost exclusively to Rickert’s
philosophy of history. In the eyes of Troeltsch, Rickert’s works
constitute a major breakthrough, as they cast new light on a multitude
of notions that philosophy and theology must necessarily rediscover in
order to continue to progress: individuality, value, the notion of
development, causality, the notion of Typus, etc. But Troeltsch does not
satisfy himself with a passive reading; he repeats in several spots that
Rickert’s endeavours must be ‘enlarged and completed’ (Troeltsch
1913c: 719) in order to become truly beneficial.
Let us conclude this general survey of Troeltsch’s link to the neo-
Kantianism of Heidelberg by saying that his appraisal, in spite of a few
A Historical Note on Heidegger’s Relationship to Ernst Troeltsch 125

reservations, was to a great extent positive. Indeed, Troeltsch does not

hesitate to express his ‘lively approval’ (lebhaft Zustimmung) of
Rickert’s work (Troeltsch 1913c: 719), nor to characterize the effect of
the Windelband-Rickert duo on the philosophico-theological thought of
the time as a ‘redemption and deliverance’ (Erlösung und Befreiung)
(Troeltsch 1913c: 714). Ultimately, it is not insignificant that, in a letter
to Rickert dated 22 November 1915, Troeltsch goes so far as to consider
himself as an integral part of the School of Windelband and Rickert by
speaking of ‘our group of Heidelberg’,12 for which he wishes a long and
fertile prosperity.
Bergson, Simmel, and Hegel. Let us finally evoke the last moment of
Heidegger’s reconstruction, that is to say that which, at the end of the
1910s, linked Troeltsch to Simmel—Bergson and equally entailed a
certain proximity to Hegel. The first time that the names of Simmel and
Bergson are found next to each other in Troeltsch’s writings is in a
review of Oswald Spengler’s Der Untergang des Abendlandes, of
which the first volume appeared in 191813 . This recension, published in
1919, is the only document to which there is no doubt that Heidegger
had access. He certainly consulted it while preparing his lectures on
Spengler held at Wiesbaden in April 1920. This hypothesis is
furthermore supported by the fact that he will himself linger on the first
volume of Spengler’s book in the chapter devoted to the historical which
follows his introduction to the phenomeology of religion – a chapter in
which Spengler is brought closer to Simmel for motives that ressemble
those developed in Troeltsch’s recension (GA60: 38, 43-44, 46-47, 49-
51). Nevertheless, this review still does not indicate anything concerning
Simmel and Bergson’s influence on Troeltsch’s thought, and still less
concerning Hegel’s role in the matter.
With regards to Bergson, the scenario is practically the same in
each instance: he is most often brought up within a note in order to
illustrate latest developments in philosophy, and Troeltsch refers almost
exlcusively to the same works. Matter and Memory (1896), Time and
Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness (1901),
and Creative Evolution (1907) are those privileged by Troeltsch, and the
concepts of which he makes the most use are none other than those
which made Bergsonian thought so successful in France, namely the
personally experienced flow of time, the concept of intuition, and the
concept of the élan vital. Contrary to what is affirmed by Heidegger,
Troeltsch’s attachment to Bergson seems to have been partially
motivated by a certain anti-Hegelianism (Troeltsch 1922: 290 –
126 Camilleri

Troeltsch speaks of Bergson as a ‘counterweight’ to Hegel). In effect,

Bergson appears as one of the viable alternatives to the rationalist
schemata presented in Hegel’s historical monism. Through his
conception of duration, he helped complicate the problem of history
according to new exigencies of modern thought. The ‘thrust of life’
(Auftrieb des Lebens) (Troeltsch 1913c: 726) is in word and concept that
which allows Troeltsch to see Bergson as possessing ‘a most penetrating
and discerning mind’ (Troeltsch 1913c: 364) and accordingly as an ally
in the construction of his historical method. Indeed, Bergson is not the
first to make this observation, but if it is his formulation of the question
that ultimately seduced Troeltsch, it is probably because with him the
motives are no longer speculative (Hegel) or logical (Rickert), but are
in a real sense intuituve and metaphysical (Troeltsch 1913c: 822, 832),
which is to say that they are in a sense ‘incontestably religious’
(Troeltsch 1922: 638).
Simmel is without doubt more important than Bergson for
Troeltsch’s intellectual development. If their mutual scientific exchange,
notably with regards to sociology, began in earnest from 1910 onwards,
Troeltsch had already been reading, reviewing, and discussing Simmel
for several years. Troeltsch found in Simmel a support for his thesis on
the independence of religion. The objective is to discover the inherent
laws of development in religious life, just as they exist elsewhere in
other cultural spheres, such as art, law, science, etc. These laws, to
which Troeltsch gives the generic name of ‘dialectic’, are precisely
those which Simmel labours to bring to work in his essays.
There is certainly something of Hegel in Simmel, since the
chaotic richness of historical events finds itself thought according to its
necessary order. Even so, Troeltsch criticizes Simmel and thereby Hegel
in that the highest moment of their respective thought is not the
Christian religion as such but is rather a super-confessional mysticism
for the first and an absolute knowing for the the second. What must be
retained here is that, perhaps without realizing it, Simmel effectuates a
kind of recovery of the Hegelian principle of reason in history.
Nevertheless, as Troeltsch remarks, from a universal law he makes an
individual law (Troeltsch 1922: 463). The question thus becomes
whether we can still say that the historical dynamic elaborated by
Simmel can be categorized as Hegelian on the one hand – which
Heidegger seems to say – and if, on the other hand, Troeltsch himself
detected traces of Hegel in this same dynamic. Given that Simmel never
openly laid claim to Hegel and that Troeltsch never made inventory of
A Historical Note on Heidegger’s Relationship to Ernst Troeltsch 127

an understanding of Simmel through or starting from Hegel, these two

questions remain without answer.
This brief overview of Heidegger’s intellectual biography of
Troeltsch suffices to show the extent to which the former knew the latter
well. One cannot reasonably believe that he would have had first-hand
knowledge of all the Troeltschian texts on which we have commented,
but he clearly knew enough to situate the decisive turns in Troeltsch’s
development. This is all the more true given that each period of the
Troeltschian œuvre finds an echo in the proto-Heideggerrian œuvre,
although in a much more compact way. We know the young Heidegger’s
interest in Lotze’s Logik, his lectures on Ritschl (GA58: 61), his diverse
works on Kant (GA1: 49-54, an exercise during WS 1915/16, and a
seminar on Religion innerhalb der Grenzen der blossen Vernunft with
Ebbinghaus in 1923) and Schleiermacher (his notes and presentations
of 1917-1919), just as we know his engagement first for and then against
the Wertphilosophie, his frustrated affection for Dilthey, and finally his
flirtations with Simmel, Bergson, and Hegel. The evidence is adding up:
the philosophical and theological references intersect in part those that
shapped the Troeltschian œuvre (GA56/57; GA58; GA59; GA60). It is
not however necessary to conclude on a hidden ancestory; one must,
more simply, be content to note that Heidegger found in Troeltsch one
of the most learned and open of both philosophers and theologians of his
time. It is for this reason that Heidegger made him his target, an act that
retrospectively can be interpreted as an honour. On this subject, we can
remind ourselves of what Heidegger says of Troeltsch in a 1921 letter
to Rickert: he is a “formidable adversary” (Heidegger 2002: 54)! Is this
not an obvious sign of an undeniable respect, of admiration?

3. The Goal of a Philosophy of Religion

At the end of his intellectual biography, Heidegger asks: ‘What goal

does Troeltsch give the philosophy of religion’? To this question, he
offers this terse response – supposed to encapsulate the response of
Troeltsch himself: ‘the working out of an academically valid
determination of the essence of religion’ (GA60: 20). In all evidence,
this answer makes reference to two of Troeltsch’s well-known writings:
‘Was heisst “Wesen des Christentums”’ (1903) (Troeltsch 1903) and
above all ‘Wesen der Religion und der Religionswissenschaft’ (1906)
(Troeltsch 1906: 461-491).
128 Camilleri

The first text, we know, is born in response to Das Wesen des

Christentums, the famous work of Harnack published in 1900 (Harnack
1900). It would however be false to say that the article in question is
nothing but reactive. On the contrary, the study is just as much
programmatic in nature. Heidegger saw clearly that the
Wesenbestimmung thought by Troeltsch was no longer drawn from
theology, as it is in Harnack, but instead from the philosophy of religion.
It must accordingly be admitted that Troeltsch has asked a decisive,
quasi-phenomenological question, at least one that revealed itself as
essential to the phenomenology of religion – that of Heidegger, but
equally those of Scheler and Reinach and even of Husserl. But if
Heidegger in the end remains on the defensive regarding the
Troeltschian question, it is because Troeltsch makes use of the different
significations of ‘essence’ in a careless manner. When Troeltsch writes
that the “concept [of essence] is not only an abstraction from
phenomena, but is at the same time a critique of these phenomena”
(Troeltsch 1913c: 407), Heidegger has nothing to add. But things
become more complicated once Troeltsch begins to present “the concept
of essence as ideal concept” (Troeltsch 1913c: 423-432). In this debate,
Heidegger seems to have chosen his camp: he incontestably aligns
himself on the side of Wilhelm Herrmann and this latter’s severe
assessment of Troeltsch. In effect, Herrmann criticizes the fact that
Troeltsch ‘returns religion to the realm of Ideas (Herrschaft von
Gedanken)’ and that he in the end does not know how to apprehend “the
insight according to which religion is an act of living (Erleben)”
(Herrmann 1912: 245-246; 1967: 282-283)14 . It is on very similar terms
that Heidegger evokes the Platonic path and refers to the holders of the
‘Reich der Ideen’ for which the ‘historical’ has finally ‘become
secondary’ (GA60: 39-40).
Let us now move to the 1906 text ‘Wesen der Religion und der
Religionswissenschaft’. Between the lines one again finds the debate
between Troeltsch and Herrmann. In the eyes of Heidegger, Troeltsch
thinks a realm of scientifically valid ideas under the notion of religious
life, while Herrmann, in line with the most pure religious tradition and
in particular with Ritschl, refers to the kingdom of God. Yet Heidegger
had never hid the fact that this dimension was dear to him and that it had
an unforeseen phenomenological potential insofar as it recalled the way
in which the first Christians, notably Saint Paul, lived time and history
(GA58: 61). Troeltschian thought on the essence of religion was not as
dramatic and dangerous as Herrmann and Heidegger made it out to be.
A Historical Note on Heidegger’s Relationship to Ernst Troeltsch 129

In the 1906 text, Troeltsch insists that we may so understand the


We habitually define religious science as a search for the essence of religion.

The expression is fair and pertinent if we at the same time convey the
deplacement of the method of a metaphysical observation of religious objects
or of concepts of God by a search for religion as a phenomenon of
consciousness (Troetlsch 1913c: 488).

These sentences lead us to believe that Troetlsch, in a manner exactly

analogous to Herrmann and Heidegger, was aware of the dangers of
confusing metaphysics and philosophico-theolgical thought15. All the
same, he would not have been radical enough in a double sense: on the
one hand, he was still too complaisant toward metaphysics as the
structure of history, and, on the other, he maintained an approach that
was not religious enough. In summary, between Troeltsch and
Herrmann, Heidegger chose he who was more religious, that is to say
Herrmann, and thus in the end proved himself to be more of a theologian
than Troeltsch himself.
The other point of interest of the 1906 text on the essence of
religion and religious science is that it is to the best of our knowledge
the only text to methodologically detail Troeltsch’s four directions of
the philosophy of religion which Heidegger examines point by point in
his commentary. Psychology, theory of knowledge, the philosophy of
history, and metaphysics are as such succintly ordered and detailed in
an effort to respond to the crucial prerogatives of the philosophy of
religion, which are none other than the question of the essence of
religion (Troeltsch 1913c: 492). It is easily verifiable that Heidegger
refers to this text (in its first version of 1906, but also in the reworked
text of 1909 and the bibliographically expanded version of 1913). In
addition, his commentary in places approaches paraphrase. Even so, this
does not keep him from delving into the other fundamental writings,
notably those cited above; but the 1906 text remains a reference for the
articulation of the four complementary dimensions or directions of the
philosophy of religion.
The Troeltschian partition and articulation of psychology,
epistemology, the philosophy of history, and metaphysics is
accomplished according to a certain logic, but this logic is not exempt
from presuppositions. This is why Heidegger reviews each of these
dimensions in order to bring to light the preunderstandings that guide
130 Camilleri

Troeltsch’s path. It goes without saying that behind his analysis hides a
will to critique or destruct.
We may go no further here, but we may nevertheless point out
that we have reached the end of the task of the historico-critical
presentation and the beginning of the task of a systematico-comparitive
analysis. Once completed, this analysis will allow us to clearly delimit:
(1) the role that Troeltsch played in the Denkweg of the young
Heidegger and, more globally; (2) the impact of Protestant theology on
his phenomenology of religion.

Translated by Steven Joseph Woodworth

See the letter to Engelbert Krebs dated 9 January 1919 (Heidegger 2004: 67-68).
Cf. Troeltsch (1913a: 1-21) The text was slightly modified for another volume of the
same year, see Troeltsch (1913b: 500-524, especially 500).
Cf. the conference ‘Über die Möglichkeiten eines freien Christentums’ delivered in
1910 to the 5. Weltkongress für freies Christentum und religiösen Fortschritt, of which
the final text was published in the journal under Rickert’s direction as Troeltsch
(1910b). It is found in its definitive version by the same title in Troeltsch (1913c: 837-
862). The first version of the conference was published in English as ‘On the Possibility
of Free Christianity’ (Troeltsch 1911). ‘Free Christianity’ began as a trans-confessional
and ecumenical movement, gathering together a very diverse cast of personalities. It is
Troeltsch’s merit to have sought to rationally structure its principles and tenets.
Cf. Husserl (1969: 141): “Ich habe auf den Übergang Heidegger und Oxners auf den
Boden des Protestantismus nicht den leisten Einfluss geübt, obschon er mir als freiem
Christen (wenn sich Jemand, der bei diesem Wort ein ideales Ziel religiöser Sehnsucht
vor Augen hat und es für sich im Sinne einer unendlichen Aufgabe versteht, so nennen
darf) und als ‘undogmatischen Protestanten’ nur sehr lieb sein kann”. It should be
remembered that Troeltsch and Otto were close colleagues; they both belonged to the
Religionsgeschichtliche Schule. Husserl's letter to Otto was republished in Husserl
(1994: 204).
As reported by Denker (2004b: 121).
In the summer semester of 1918, Troeltsch, then teaching in the Faculty of Philosophy,
gave only one course: Einleitung in die Philosophie (privatissime). He also intended to
offer one seminar: Über Geschichtstheorie Wilhelm Wundts (privatissime and
gratissime) – the slot was reserved as an office hour, in addition to Tuesday morning.
Teaching in this same Faculty at the University of Berlin this semester were such other
notables as Erdmann (a course on psychology), Cassirer (a course on the Greeks),
Stumpf (a course on modern philosophy), Dessoir (a course on the philosophy of art),
and Riehl (a course on Kant). There were equally big names to be found in the Faculty
of Theology: Adolf Deissmann (courses on Erklärung des Römerbriefes and on
Neutestamentliche Theologie, as well as a seminar on 2 Peter and a cursory reading of
the Letters of Paul), Hugo Gressmann (a course on the Old Testament), Harnack (a
course on Einleitung in das Neue Testament, and another on Alte Kirchengeschichte),
but also Hans von Soden (a course on the New Testament), Karol Holl (a course on the
history of dogma), Leopold Zscharnack (a course on the Reformation) and, last but not
A Historical Note on Heidegger’s Relationship to Ernst Troeltsch 131

least, Julius Kaftan, the sworn enermy of Troeltsch, then charged with the course on
Dogmatik (Apologetik). Heidegger could neither have attended all these courses nor met
all of these men, but he was conscious of passing through a Berlin still aglow with
philosophy and theology. All of this information may be found in the Verzeichnis der
Vorlesungen, Sommer-Semester 1918, Königliche Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität zu
Cf. Troeltsch (1997): 279-281; republished in Denker (2004a): 75-76.
See for example Günther (1914), not to mention studies in specialized journals too
numerous to count.
From 1864, when Ritschl was named to the University of Göttingen, – Lotze had been
there since 1844, having succeeed Herbart –, to 1880, when Lotze accepted the Ruf of
the University of Berlin (upon suggestions from both Zeller and von Helmholtz), just
one year before his death.
See Dilthey’s ‘Ideen über eine beschreibende und zergliedernde Psychologie’ (1894)
and ‘Beiträge zum Studium der Individualität’ (1895/1896), both of which are
republished in Dilthey (1924).
This letter is mentioned in Apfelbacher (1978: 211).
See the letter from Troeltsch to Rickert dated 22 November 1915, in Graf (1991: 113).
Our italics.
Cf. Troeltsch (1919c); republished in Troeltsch (1913c: 677-684).
On the debate between Troeltsch and Herrmann, see the thoroughly absorbing work
of Sockness (1998).
On this point, cf. Herrmann (1876); republished in Herrmann, (1966: 1-80).


Apfelbacher, Karl-Ernst. 1978. Frömmigkeit und Wissenschaft: Ernst

Troeltsch und sein theologisches Programm. München, Wien
and Paderborn: Schöningh.
Denker, Alfred, Hans-Helmuth Gander and Holger Zaborowski (eds).
2004a. Heidegger und die Anfänge seines Denkens
(Heidegger-Jahrbuch 1). Freiburg: Karl Alber.
– 2004b. ‘Heidegger Lebens- und Denkweg 1909-1919’ in Denker
(2004a): 97-122.
Dilthey, Wilhelm. 1924. Gesammelte Schriften, Bd. V, Die geistige
Welt: Einleitung in die Philosophie des Lebens. Leipzig &
Berlin: Teubner.
– 1914. Gesammelte Schriften, Bd. II, Weltanschauung und Analyse des
Menschen seit Renaissance und Reformation: Abhandlungen
zur Geschichte der Philosophie und Religion. Leipzig & Berlin:
Graf, Friedrich-Wilhelm. 1991. Mitteilung der Ernst-Troeltsch-
Gesellschaft, Vol. 6.
132 Camilleri

Günther, Walter. 1914. Die Grundlagen der Religionsphilosophie Ernst

Troeltsch. Jena: Dissertation.
Harnack, Adolf von. 1900. Das Wesen des Christentums. Sechzehn
Vorlesungen vor Studenten aller Facultäten im Wintersemester
1899/1900 an der Universität Berlin. Leipzig: Hinrichs.
Heidegger, Martin and Engelbert Krebs. 2004. ‘Briefe Martin
Heideggers and Engelbert Krebs (1914-1919)’ in Denker,
Alfred, Hans-Helmuth Gander and Holger Zaborowski (eds)
Heidegger und die Anfänge seines Denkens (Heidegger-
Jahrbuch 1). Freiburg: Karl Alber. 61-68.
– and Heinrich Rickert. 2002. ‘Briefe Heidegger an Rickert vom 27. II.
1917’ in Martin Heidegger, Heinrich Rickert, Briefe 1912 bis
1933 und andere Dokumente (ed. Alfred Denker). Frankfurt
a.M.: Klostermann.41-42.
Herrmann, Wilhelm. 1967. Schriften zur Grundlegung der Theologie,
Bd. II, (ed. Peter Fischer-Appelt). München: Kaiser.
– 1966. Schriften zur Grundlegung der Theologie, Bd. I. München:
– 1912. ‘Die Bedeutung der Geschichtlichkeit Jesu für den Glauben.
Eine Besprechung des gleichnamigen Vortrags von Ernst
Troeltsch’ in Theologische Literaturzeitung 37(8): 245-249.
– 1876. Die Metaphysik in der Theologie. Halle: Niemeyer.
Husserl, Edmund. 1994. Husserliana-Briefwechsel, Bd. III/7,
Wissenschaftlerkorrespondenz. Dordrecht: Kluwer.
– and Rudolf Otto. 1969. ‘Briefe Edmund Husserl an Rudolf Otto vom
5. 3. 1919’ in Schutz, Hans-Walter, Religion und Christentum
in der Theologie Rudolf Ottos. Berlin: De Gruyter.
Sockness, Brent. 1998. Against False Apologetics: Wilhelm Herrmann
and Ernst Troeltsch in Conflict. Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck.
Troeltsch, Ernst. 1925. Aufsätze zur Geistesgeschichte und
Religionssoziologie. Tübingen: Mohr.
– 1922. Gesammelte Schriften, Bd. III, Der Historismus und seine
Probleme, Erstes Buch, Das logische Problem der
Geschichtsphilosophie. Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck.
– 1921. ‘Mein Bücher’ in Schmidt, Raymund (ed.) Die deutsche
Philosophie der Gegenwart in Selbstdarstellungen. Bd. II,
Hamburg: Meiner. 161-173. Republished in Gesammelte
Schriften, Bd. IV. 2-18.
– 1919a. ‘Über den Begriff einer historischen Dialektik. I. Windelband-
Rickert und Hegel’ in Historische Zeitschrift, vol. 119. 373-426.
A Historical Note on Heidegger’s Relationship to Ernst Troeltsch 133

– 1919b. ‘Über den Begriff einer historischen Dialektik. II. Der

Marxismus’ in Historische Zeitschrift, vol. 120. 393-451.
– 1919c. ‘Rezension von Oswald Spengler, Der Untergang des
Abendlandes. Umrisse eine Morphologie der Weltgeschichte,
Bd. I.: Gestalt und Wirklichkeit, Wien & Leipzig: Wilh.
Braumüller, 1918, XVI + 639 p.’ in Historische Zeitschrift, vol.
– 1913a. ‘The Dogmatics of the “Religionsgeschichtliche Schule”’ in
The American Journal of Theology 17(1).
– 1913b. ‘Die Dogmatik der “religionsgeschichtlichen Schule”’ in
Gesammelte Schriften, Bd. I, Zur religiöse Lage,
Religionsphilosophie und Ethik. Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck. 500-
– 1913c. Gesammelte Schriften, Bd. II, Zur religiösen Lage,
Religionsphilosophie und Ethik. Tübingen: Mohr.
– 1912. Gesammelte Schriften, Bd. III, Die Soziallehren der christlichen
Kirchen und Gruppen, Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck.
– 1911. ‘On the Possibility of Free Christianity’ in Proceedings and
Papers. Fifth International Congress of Free Christianity and
Religious Progress, Berlin, August 5-10 1910 (ed. C. W.
Wendte). Berlin-Schönberg/London: Protestantischer
Schriftenvertrieb/Williams and Norgate. 233-249.
– 1910a. ‘Glaube: III. Dogmatisch; IV. Glaube und Geschichte’ in
Schiele, Friedrich Michael and Leopold Zscharnack (eds), Die
Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, Bd. II. Tübingen: Mohr-
Siebeck. 1447-1456.
– 1910b. ‘Die Zukunftsmöglichkeiten des Christentums im Verhältnis
zur modernen Philosophie’ in Logos. Internationale Zeitschrift
für Philosophie der Kultur, Bd. I, Heft 2. 165-185
– 1906. ‘Wesen der Religion und der Religionswissenschaft’ in
Hinneberg, Paul (ed.), Die Kultur der Gegenwart, Bd. I/IV, Die
christliche Religion mit Einschluss der israelitisch-jüdischen
Religion, Teil 2, Systematische christliche Theologie,
Berlin/Leipzig: Teubner. 461-491. Reworked and republished
in Troeltsch (1913c): 452-499.
– 1905. Psychologie und Erkenntnistheorie in der
Religionswissenschaft: eine Untersuchung über die Bedeutung
der Kantischen Religionslehre für die heutige
Religionswissenschaft. Tübingen: Mohr.
134 Camilleri

– 1904. Das Historische in Kants Religionsphilosophie: zugleich ein

Beitrag zu den Untersuchungen über Kants Philosophie der
Geschichte. Berlin: Reuther & Reichard.
– 1903. ‘Was heisst “Wesen des Christentums”?’ in Die Christliche
Welt 17 (19): 443-446; 17 (21):. 483-488; 17 (23): 532-536; 17
(25): 578-584; 17 (28): 650-654; 17 (29): 678-683. Reworked
and republished in Troelsch (1913c): 386-451.
– 1898. ‘Geschichte und Metaphysik’ in Zeitschrift für Theologie und
Kirche, vol. 8 (1898): 1-69.
– 1897. ‘Religionsphilosophie und theologisches Principienlehre’ in
Theologisches Jahresbericht (6): 498-557.
– and Martin Heidegger. 1997. ‘Briefe Ernst Troeltsch an Martin
Heidegger’ in Graf, Friedrich Wilhelm (ed.), Mitteilungen der
Ernst-Troeltsch-Gesellschaft, Bd. VIII. 279-281.
Vigliotti, Robert. 2001. ‘The Young Heidegger’s Ambitions for the
Chair of Catholic Philosophy and Hugo Ott’s Charge of
Opportunism’, in Studia Phaenomenologica, Vol. I, (3-4): 323-
II. Phenomenological Method in the
Early Heidegger
Heidegger’s Methodological Principles for
Understanding Religious Phenomena 1

Jean Greisch

The methodological preoccupations and guiding intuitions that underlie

the ‘Working Papers and Notes for a Cancelled Lecture Course’ (GA60:
301ff) are evident in the only courses on the phenomenology of religion
that Heidegger actually gave, the ‘Introduction to the Phenomenology
of Religion’ (1920-1921), and ‘Augustine and Neo-Platonism’ (1921),
which was entirely dedicated to Book X of St Augustine’s Confessions
(GA60: 3-156; GA60: 157-299). The title of the first course confirms
the programmatic aim of the Heideggerian endeavour: it is to “the
phenomenology of religion” as such that he wants to introduce to his
listeners. To do this he elaborates at length (and in a way far too tedious
for the taste of some of his listeners) his revolutionary idea of
philosophy and of the relation between philosophical concepts and
factical life. So long as the self-understanding of philosophy is not
clarified, philosophy will only be able to ask false questions of religious
From the very beginning Heidegger introduces us to a circle, of
which we will again find echoes in two key passages of Being and Time:
philosophy is “hermeneutical” not because it interests itself in the
problem of interpretation, but because it “arises from factical life
experience. And within factical life experience philosophy returns back
into factical life experience” (GA60: 8). This statement constitutes the
“proto-circle” which includes all the versions of the “hermeneutical
circle” that we will find in Heidegger’s later writings. What is true of
philosophy in general is equally true of the philosophy of religion: it too
must arise from factical religious life and return back into it. Everything
depends on the meaning that one gives to the term “experience” in the
construction “factical life experience”. For Heidegger it is necessary at
whatever cost to maintain the dynamic, in some sense “interactive”,
meaning of this notion, which forbids us to separate “knowing subject”
and “known object”. Life experience is never reducible to what
Heidegger calls a process of “taking-cognizance-of”, that is to say, the
138 Greisch

accumulation of a certain number of items of information that can be

integrated into a knowledge structure (GA60: 14). “To experience”
means to confront and perceive that which comes towards us. Far from
being reducible to a simple ‘taking-cognizance-of’, factical life
experience ‘designates the whole active and passive pose of the human
being toward the world’ (GA60: 11).
In the same context, Heidegger warns against any
epistemological reduction of the concept of “facticity”. Instead of
bringing us back to causal explication, the term connotes an innate and
irreducible historicity. But, paradoxically, lived experience renders the
manner in which we react to that which comes towards us opaque. This
singular “indifference” attests to the innate self-sufficiency and
significance of life, prior to any cognitive activity (GA60: 12). The
relationship of “I” to “myself” does not constitute an exception to this
fundamental rule: experience of self could not possibly be confused with
a “reflexive action” – we are in complete opposition to Nabert here –
nor with an internal perception (GA60: 13).
All these indications converge towards an expression as central
as it is difficult: “self-sufficient concern for significance”
(selbstgenügsame Bedeutungsbekümmerung) (GA60: 16). The term
Bekümmerung, which I propose to translate by “concern”, forms the
leading thread of the phenomenology of religion that Heidegger seeks
to elaborate. The self-sufficiency of factical life – at whatever concrete
level that it manifests itself – explains why the subject does not care
about anything other than the “significances” with which he has to do.
What retains his interest are particular contents, and not the way in
which he relates to them. This confirms the manner in which Heidegger
places the phenomenon of history at the centre of his approach, while
distancing himself from the different “philosophies of history” of his
era. Recognizing that “the historical” (das Historische) is a “core
phenomenon” in no way means a return to the presuppositions of
“historicism” (GA60: 31). Historical knowledge can be an effective
means of taking refuge in the concretely real influence that history
exerts upon us, that is to say, Wirkungsgseschichte, in the Gadamerian
sense. The concrete experience of our historical being is characterized
by an innate “disquietude” (Beunruhigung), which no historical
knowledge can fathom (GA60: 42). Heidegger does not pronounce in
detail on the sources of this disquietude. No doubt this escaped
commentary at a time when the traumatism of the Great War was still
in all minds. But he reproaches the philosophers of history of his era
Heidegger’s Methodological Principles 139

(Spengler, Simmel, and Rickert), with “fighting with”, arguing that,

“they fight with weapons that they themselves do not understand and
which belong exactly to that which they are fighting against” (GA60:
In view of his very severe judgement of Troeltsch, the only
philosopher of religion whose positions he explains in detail, one could
ask oneself whether this suspicion could not equally be applied to the
philosophy of religion of Heidegger’s era (GA60: 19-30). The idea of
philosophy of religion that Troeltsch constructs is phenomenologically
inadmissible, because the theory of the religious a priori, faithful to the
spirit of neo-Kantiansm, avoids the most fundamental task: to describe
religious phenomena in order to elucidate their original meaning.
Troeltsch nevertheless obliges Heidegger to ask himself the question of
the recourse to the history of religion as phenomenology of religion. But
hermeneutical phenomenology will have to deconstruct the “objectivist”
categories with which the historian of religion works. Concerning the
interpretation of religious phenomena, the decisive question is: “How
does the living Dasein as distressed by history conduct itself to history
itself?” (GA60: 53) The difficulty of determining the exact meaning of
the term “historical” in the sphere of factical life leads Heidegger to
introduce the key concept of “formal indication”.
Convinced that the self-understanding of philosophy has its
source in the factical experience of life, and that this revolutionary
conception of philosophy alone succeeds in clarifying the tasks of a
phenomenology of religion which would be at the same time
authentically philosophical, Heidegger sketches in the rest of the course,
a “phenomenological explication of concrete religious phenomena”
(GA60: 34; GA60: 67). This is a question, in the present case, of
primordial Christian experience, which found its literary expression in
the Pauline letters. The Heideggerian interpretation concentrates
principally on the Letter to the Galatians and the two Letters to the
How can phenomenological understanding be directed in order
to comprehend religious life? Heidegger establishes from the start that
it is not a matter of an elaborate phenomenology of religion but of a
simple Anleitung, a kind of Regulae ad dirigendum ingenium
phaenomenologicum. It is within this “methodological” optic, inspired
by the Regulae of Descartes, that I will approach this first course on the
phenomenology of religion, an inchoative expression of an attempt to
understand primordial Christianity as it understood itself. To those who
140 Greisch

would suspect such a more Cartesian reading of not doing justice to

Heidegger’s intentions, I will cite his own declaration: “All questions of
philosophy are, at bottom, questions about the How – strictly
understood, questions of method” (GA60: 88).
The method that Heidegger advocates in his phenomenology of
primordial Christianity, which is in reality simply a “phenomenology of
Pauline proclamation”, can, it seems to me, be characterized by means
of the fourteen following rules (GA60: 137):
Rule I: “Factical life experience has its own genuine explication,
co-determined by fundamental experiences”, which it is important not
to reduce to “doctrinal” contents (GA60: 145).
Elucidation of the phenomenon of primordial Christianity takes
place within a triple perspective: it describes the “contents” which
convey Christian religious consciousness; it identifies the “things” to
which it relates; and it analyses its own modes of enactment. Gehalt-,
Bezugs- and Vollzugssinn: these three dimensions of intentionality,
which guide all Heidegger’s analyses, must equally prove their
fruitfulness for interpretation of the first Christians’s religious
experience. Here too, the main accent bears on the “meaning of
enactment”. “Going to the things themselves” of religious life does not
equal a “historical interpretation”, which would seek, for example, to
reconstruct the “historical […] context” of the Letter to the Galatians
(GA60: 78). It is, on the contrary, a matter of explicating the latter’s
own meaning. This requires that one take into consideration the
“situation” of Paul and his readers. Understood in the phenomenological
sense, this term is not a synonym for “context” or “objective situation”.
Rather it is a matter, as Heidegger makes clear, of the phenomenological
equivalent of the durée concrête in Bergson: “something that belongs to
understanding in the manner of enactment” (GA60: 90). Such an
understanding transcends the opposition of the “static” and the
“dynamic”. A situation can be in turn “stable”, “grave”, and even
“explosive”. Everything depends on the relationship that factical life
maintains with time. In the case of the anticipation of the imminent
Parousia to which the Letter to the Thessalonians attests, it is evidently
the latter aspect which prevails.
Rule II: The phenomenology of religion must clarify the pre-
understanding which renders possible access to phenomena. This
implies a critical, but indispensable, relation to the history of religion.
In dialogue with the religious historian, it is important to return
from Bezug (which, if isolated, would correspond to the
Heidegger’s Methodological Principles 141

referential-objective approach of the historical sciences) to Vollzug, to

the enactment that, far from betraying history, seizes the latter in its
centre. Whoever says Vollzug says self-enactment and re-enactment. It
is a matter of following the movement of self-enactment of life itself; in
the present case, the manner in which primordial Christian experience
constituted itself as an ensemble of distinctive elements contributing to
the functioning of a unit.
Heidegger devotes a whole paragraph to a discussion of the
difficulties posed by the coincidence of the phenomenology of religion
and the history of religion (GA60: 76-78). In opposition to
non-phenomenological philosophies of religion, which give the
impression that philosophy can draw its “material” and “illustrations”
from the works of historians, he asks himself, “Is then the material of the
history of religion usable for phenomenology?” – a question which
comprehends equally my reading of the “classics” of phenomenology of
religion (GA60: 77; Greisch 2002b: 163-240). The fact that Heidegger
requires that the history of religion be subjected to a “phenomenological
destruction” does not mean that this is a case of condemnation without
appeal (GA60: 78). The important thing is to pay attention to the tacit
presuppositions which underlie the works of historians of religion.
Rule III: Hermeneutical explication of religious phenomena
necessarily has recourse to formal indication, without which it is
impossible to discover “the basic determination of primordial Christian
religiosity” (GA60: 78).
One can place under the aegis of this rule the fundamental thesis
around which all of Heidegger’s reflections in this course revolve:
“Christian religiosity is in factical life experience, it actually is this
itself” (GA60: 131). He proposes two, more explicit formulations of it:
“1. Primordial Christian religiosity is in primordial Christian life
experience and is itself such. 2. Factical life experience is historical.
Christian religiosity lives temporality as such” (GA60: 80). Or again: “1.
Primordial Christian religiosity is in factical life experience. Postscript:
It is such experience itself. 2. Factical life experience is historical.
Postscript: Christian experience lives time itself (‘to live’ understood as
verbum transitivum)” (GA60: 82).
Nothing shows better what is at stake in these abrupt theses than
the way in which Paul, in the Letters to the Thessalonians, does not
cease to remind the latter of their “having-become” (genesthai). They
are what they have become solely through the proclamation of the Good
News, which they have welcomed “in spite of persecution […] with joy
142 Greisch

inspired by the Holy Spirit” (1 Thess.1:6). They have adopted a whole

“standard of living” (peripatein) in “turning-toward God”, “in great
despair” and “joy” (GA60: 94-95).
The relation to the time of primordial Christianity is marked by
the two vocables “tribulation” (tlipsis, a term which Heidegger
translates as Bekümmerung) and “hope”, understood in the radical sense
of anticipation of the Parousia. The first term emphasizes that the
Christian is not securus adversus Deum, as pagan philosophers were
able to be. “There is no security for Christian life; the constant
insecurity is also characteristic for what is fundamentally significant in
factical life. The uncertainty is not coincidental; rather it is necessary”
(GA60: 105).
Regarding anticipation of the Parousia, it relates to an event
which does not let itself be circumscribed by the question: “When will
it happen?” Here, one is dealing with a time which does not pertain to
the linear order of succession and objective chronology. Not only would
it be impossible for Christian hope to be reduced to a particular form of
belief in immortality, furthermore, it could not be described as
expectation turned towards the future. For Heidegger, “the
eschatological problem is the centre of Christian life” (GA60: 151).
In holding that it is not only decisive for factical Christian life,
but also “for problems such as that of the eternity of God”, Heidegger
poses a problem which one will also recognize in his subsequent
writings (GA60: 104).“The meaning of temporality determines itself out
of the fundamental relationship to God – however, in such a way that
only those who live temporality in the manner of enactment understand
eternity. The sense of the Being of God can be determined first only out
of these complexes of enactment” (GA60: 117). This is the seed of a
problem that Heidegger will later seek to resolve by invoking
Hölderlin’s “God of Time.”
Rule IV: The phenomenologist must remain conscious of the
limits of phenomenological explication developed under the aegis of
formal indication. This means two things. On the one hand,
phenomenology must put its own life experience in parentheses; on the
other hand, it renounces “the last understanding that can only be given
in genuine religious experience” (GA60: 84; GA60: 67).
Phenomenological understanding, far from substituting itself for the
intellectus fidei, fully respects the rights and specificity of the latter.
Heidegger’s Methodological Principles 143

Rule V: All the concepts must be understood with reference to

the fundamental attitude of nascent Christian faith, while avoiding
projecting modern or contemporary problematics on to it.
Phenomenological interpretation is constantly exposed to the
double peril of Hineindeuten and Wegverstehen, of false actualization
and historicizing reconstruction (GA60: 130). In the first case, the
Pauline text becomes a pretext; in the second, it becomes an object of
study which no longer touches me in my existence itself. For Heidegger,
the phenomenologist has more to fear from the second temptation than
from the first. To those who accuse him of “modernizing”, he retorts
that “every understanding modernizes insofar as it, in the explication,
uncovers something new that lies ‘in the sense’” of the phenomenon
(GA60: 135).
Rule VI: It is necessary to totally renounce the categorical pair
“rational-irrational”, inherited from Rudolf Otto, for the following

Phenomenological understanding, according to its basic meaning, lies entirely

outside of this opposition, which has only a very limited authority, if at all.
Everything that is said of the indissoluble residue that supposedly remains for
reason in all religions, is merely an aesthetic play with things that are not
understood (GA60: 79).

Otto gravely deceived himself in supposing that the best way of

respecting religious phenomena is to insist upon their irrational aspects,
so that he would have had to ask himself what idea of the “rational” is
presupposed in the concept of the “irrational”. For Heidegger,
phenomenological understanding succeeds in understanding even “the
incomprehensible, precisely in that it radically lets the latter be in its
incomprehensibility” (GA60: 131).2 This thesis supposes that one
accepts that philosophy has nothing in common with the scientific
consideration of an object or a subject.
Rule VII: Do not separate the phenomenon from its expressions.
Expression is not “a technical problem, separate from religious
experience; rather the explication goes along with, and drives, the
religious experience” (GA60: 72).
If, for example, Paul speaks a language which evokes in the
minds of the Athenians the Stoic and Cynic itinerant preachers, one
must not infer that his mode of presentation then has nothing to do with
the Christian phenomenon (Acts 17:18). The link between the Apostle’s
vocation, his proclamation, his doctrinal teaching and his moral
144 Greisch

admonishments has its original source in Christian religiosity itself, to

the point of being constitutive of its meaning. For Heidegger,
proclamation is “a religious phenomenon, which is to be analysed in all
phenomenological directions of sense” (GA60: 79).
In this respect, the phenomenologist must surmount the narrow
pass between two symmetrical pitfalls. The first is that of overestimating
the semantic innovations produced by primordial Christianity. It would
not be possible to be unaware of the fact that “Religiosity and religion
grow into a factical life-world, grow up in the language that belongs to
it” (GA60: 128). The second is that of forgetting that a new
understanding can express itself within conceptual frameworks inherited
from an obsolete tradition. For Heidegger, the founding fathers of
Formgeschichte Biblical scholarship explored a path of indisputable
fruitfulness. Although it has not finished producing results, it works
with a methodology which does not do justice either to the requirements
of historical science, or to those of phenomenology. Instead of applying
to New Testament texts a typology borrowed from literary analyses of
world literature, one must depart directly from their very form, for
example from Paul’s particular epistolatory style, viewing his letters as
the expression of “the basic phenomenon of proclamation” (GA60: 81).
To elucidate the Pauline proclamation means to ask oneself questions of
the type: “Who proclaims? How is proclamation done? What is
proclaimed? etc”, or, expressed more technically, to show how, in this
phenomenon, the “self-world” of Paul enters into a relationship with the
“surrounding world” and the “communal world” of the communities to
whom he addresses himself (GA60: 80).
Rule VIII: The phenomenological approach to the Pauline
corpus must avoid a double temptation: assembling a catalogue of its
“fundamental concepts”, or crediting it with a cut and dried “theological
system”. “Rather, the fundamental religious experience must be
explicated, and, remaining in this fundamental experience, one must
seek to understand the connection to it of all original religious
phenomena” (GA60: 73). In other words, the phenomenological
interpretation must draw “out an understanding [Herausverstehen] of
the direction of sense” of the experience, while respecting its “arch-ontic
[…] fundamental phenomenological dynamic!” (GA60: 127) This
supposes that one credits Christianity with a power of self-explication
and of existential self-appropriation. The term “drawing out an
understanding” (Herausverstehen) shows that, according to Heidegger,
phenomenological description and hermeneutical interpretation are
Heidegger’s Methodological Principles 145

inseparable, the description necessarily being accompanied by an

Rule IX: The religiosity belonging to primordial Christianity
constitutes an historical fact sui generis which is not a simple
exemplification of a more general typology. One must not at any price
allow “dissipation of historical facticity”, by treating it as a simple
example serving to construct “general religious phenomenological
assertions” (GA60: 88). “It is not the ideal of a theoretical construction
that is aimed for, but the originality of the absolute-historical in its
absolute unrepeatability” (GA60: 88).
Example: the Christian anticipation of the Parousia is not a
particular case of a “protentional consciousness” turned towards the
future. “The structure of Christian hope, which in truth is the relational
sense of Parousia, is radically different from all expectation” (GA60:
Rule X: The phenomenologist must resist the temptation to
reduce phenomenon to a particular form of “consciousness”.
Understanding is not authentically phenomenological unless it takes into
consideration the ensemble of the phenomenon’s modes of giving,
instead of only interesting itself in the “states of soul” of religious
The “mystical” interpretation of Paul, citing his ecstasies and
raptures, ignores the real “situation” of the Apostle.

The extraordinary in his life plays no role for him. Only when he is weak,
when he withstands the anguish of his life, can he enter into a close connection
with God. This fundamental requirement of having-God is the opposite of all
false mysticism. Not mystical absorption and special exertion, rather
withstanding the weakness of life is decisive. Life for Paul is not a mere flow
of events; it is only insofar as he has it. His life hangs between God and his
vocation (GA60: 100).

Rule XI: Any phenomenological approach is guided by some

“foreconceptions”. (Vorgriffe) (GA60: 81) In contrast to the
“foreconceptions” with which the religious historian works,
phenomenological foreconceptions are determined by the “enactment”
of phenomenology itself (GA60: 82). Compared with “objective” study,
the phenomenological approach involves some increased risks, to the
extent that it requires “a familiarity with the phenomenon” which easily
exposes itself to mistakes (GA60: 82).
146 Greisch

One of these mistakes is the excessive recourse to the concept

of empathy (Einfühlung). Instead of reducing the latter to a question of
“psychological intuition” (similar to the divinatory hermeneutics of
Schlegel and Schleiermacher), Heidegger postulates that “empathy
arises in factical life experience, that is to say, it involves an original-
historical phenomenon that cannot be resolved without the phenomenon
of tradition in its original sense” (GA60: 85). It is not a matter of
projecting one’s self into an individual psyche, but of familiarizing
oneself with a “tradition”, that is to say with “historical-factical life
experience” (GA60: 89). For Heidegger, “articulating the phenomena
gives rise to the necessity of setting aside any psychological schema.
One must allow the phenomena to present themselves in their
originality” (GA60: 121). In this way he avoids imprisoning himself
within the following alternative: either to “re-actuate” a tradition (re-
enact in Collingwood’s sense) by identifying himself with the past, or
to distantiate himself from the past (Foucault). Of course, we must
recognise that “today the environment of Paul is totally foreign to us”
(GA60: 85). But the radical impossibility of becoming the Apostle’s
contemporaries does not mean that Paul has become totally
incomprehensible to us. We can always understand the situation that
was his, that is to say the manner in which he relates to his
“environment”. This is also true of the relationship to the “communal
world”. The important point is not so much to collect information
relating to this or that community, for example that of the
Thessalonians, but of understanding Paul’s situation of enactment,
writing to this community.
Rule XII: Phenomenological explication effects itself by stages.
It starts with facts provided by history, before taking into view the
“situation” in which the phenomenon arises, as well as the accentuations
of meaning that characterize this situation. Finally, it will have to
pronounce on what, in an originary way constitutes phenomenon. “Step
by step, the explication becomes more and more individual and grows
ever nearer to the peculiar historical facticity” (GA60: 84).
Rule XIII: “The enactment of the explication is not a separated
succession of acts, grasping determinations. It is to be gained only in a
concrete life-context. One can thereby also, at the same time, have the
directions of sense that are ‘not seen’” (GA60: 86). The enactment of
the explication is a dynamic process, which does not allow itself to be
mechanically undertaken. It opens onto horizons of meaning which only
unveil themselves progressively.
Heidegger’s Methodological Principles 147

Rule XIV: The phenomenologist is not concerned with

“representations” or “concepts”, but with expressions which form a
“‘cluster’ of relations, of sense-complexes” that are inseparable from the
factical experience of life in which they inscribe themselves (GA60:
134). A certain “mood” (Stimmung) equally forms part of this context,
playing a decisive role in understanding, from the phenomenological
point of view (GA60: 134-135). In relation to primordial Christianity,
the key word of this tonality is “tribulation”.
These fourteen rules sum up the first course on the
phenomenology of religion, which concludes with a brief sketch of
“characteristics of early Christian life experience” (GA60: 116-125).
Here, too, it is more a programme of research than a detailed
investigation that unfolds under the reader’s eyes. It is directed by the
“Pauline” thesis, according to which “Christian factical life experience
is historically determined by its emergence with the proclamation that
hits the people in a moment, and then is unceasingly also alive in the
enactment of life” (GA60: 116-117).
Far from projecting the Christian into “another world”,
Christian facticity does not at all abolish worldly facticity and the
constitutive structures of the surrounding world. But the imminence of
the Parousia introduces a decisive rupture in factical life, a rupture not
without analogy with messianic temporality, such as that described by
Benjamin and Derrida.

Christian life is not straightforward, but is rather broken up: all surrounding-
world relations must pass through the complex of enactment of having-
become, so that this complex is then co-present, but the relations themselves,
and that to which they refer, are in no way touched. Who can grasp it, should
grasp it (GA60: 120).

This determination of the “relational sense” of Christian life

anticipates Heidegger’s conclusive thesis: “The conversion to Christian
life experience concerns the enactment” (GA60: 121). One of the
“Pauline” characteristics of this Christian enactment of life is that it
“exceeds human strength” (GA60: 122). Since the Pauline Christian “is
conscious that this facticity cannot be won out of his own strength, but
rather originates from God”, the phenomenologist must equally occupy
himself with the “phenomenon of the effects of grace” (GA60: 121).
This will perhaps lead him to wonder, with Jean-Luc Marion, if it is not
a question of “saturated phenomenon” (Greisch 2002a: 324-330).
148 Greisch

Translated by Isabel Taylor.

Originally published in Greisch (2002c: 540-552).
For more on this, see Greisch (2000: 135-154).


Greisch, Jean. 2000. L’arbre de vie et l’arbre du savoir: Le chemin

phénoménologique de l’herméneutique heideggérienne,
1919-1923. Paris: Cerf.
– 2002a. Le Buisson ardent et les lumières de la raison: L’invention de
la philosophie de la religion. Vol. 1. Héritiers et Héritages du
19e siècle. Paris: Cerf.
– 2002b. Le Buisson ardent et les lumières de la raison: L’invention de
la philosophie de la religion. Vol. 2. Les approches
phénoménologiques et analytiques. Paris: Cerf.
– 2002c. Le Buisson ardent et les lumières de la raison: L’invention de
la philosophie de la religion. Vol. 3. Vers un paradigme
herméneutique. Paris: Cerf.
Heidegger’s Atheology:
The Possibility of Unbelief

Andrzej Wierciñski

And who would want to conceal that on the whole of my previously travelled
path the argument with Christianity continued silently, an argument, which is
not and was never an abstract problem, but a question about the appropriation
of one’s origins – the parents’s house, the homeland and the youth – and the
painful separation from it all. Only he who is as deeply rooted in a truly lived
catholic world can imagine something of the necessity of my interrogations,
which to this day affect my way like underground earthquakes (GA66: 415).

1. The Onto-Theological Context

The question of God in Heidegger has been a subject of passionate

debate from the first critical examinations of the author who was born
as a son of a sexton in the conservative Catholic farmlands of the Black
Forest and became the thinker of Being (Coreth 1955: 153-56; Coreth
1954: 107-16; Richardson 1965a: 13-40; Richardson 1965b: 86-100;
Bultmann 1967: 72-94; Schaeffler 1978; Ozankom 1994). The young
Heidegger’s hermeneutics of facticity and the late Heidegger’s
fundamental ontology address the question of the divine as a decisive
philosophical topic. Heidegger’s companions on his way to the nearness
of the divine were Paul, Augustine, Duns Scotus, Meister Eckhart and
the German Mystics, Martin Luther, and later Nietzsche, Schleiermacher
and Hölderlin, a poet standing bareheaded in the storms of the divine.
Heidegger has effectively questioned the totalitarian thinking of
metaphysics and onto-theology. Nevertheless he has neglected the
thinking that thinks back to its own origins which in turn could allow for
a new proximity of philosophy and theology. With the growing literature
on the subject of Heidegger’s relationship to theology and the
philosophy of religion we have an elaborated variety of interpretations
of the relationship between metaphysics and theology, onto-theology
and Christian theology, theology and faith, and Being and God
(Prudhomme 1997; Weber 1997; Baum 1997; Capelle 1998; Greisch
2000; Savarino 2001; Thomä 2003; Denker 2003). What Lawrence
150 Wierciñski

Hemming calls “Heidegger’s refusal of a theological voice” is a

destruction of the metaphysical God, and thus an anticipation of a
“divine God”. The archives reveal new aspects of Heidegger’s
relationship to theology, especially the young Heidegger’s interest in the
phenomenology of religious life. The 1995 publication of the 1920/21
lectures on the phenomenology of religion, ‘Einleitung in die
Phänomenologie der Religion’, and ‘Augustinus und der
Neuplatonismus’ has substantially changed the understanding of
Heidegger’s transition from the neo-Scotistic phenomenology of his
Habilitationsschrift to the hermeneutics of facticity of Sein und Zeit.1
The development of Heidegger’s understanding of the question of God
is the theme of two major publications: Heidegger et la question de
Dieu (Kearney 1980), a result of a 1979 international symposium at
Collège des Irlandais in Paris, and “Herkunft aber bleibt stets Zukunft”.
Martin Heidegger und die Gottesfrage (Coriando 1998a), a 1997
Martin-Heidegger-Gesellschaft conference in Meßkirch (Greisch 1998).
The onto-theological nature of metaphysics is based on the
experience of being as being.2 As such it is a proper inquiry into Being,
but Being itself remains concealed in the search for a-letheia. Christian
theology utilized Greek philosophy for the interpretation of the original
experience of the first community of believers, acting somehow against
the admonition of the Apostle Paul: “Where is the wise man? Where is
the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made
foolish the wisdom of the world?” (1 Cor. 1:20). The wisdom of the
world - óïößá ôïØ êüóìïõ - the essence of philosophy, is foolishness
that exalts itself against God (2 Cor. 10:15): “Jews demand miraculous
signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a
stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom
God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the
wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s
wisdom” (1 Cor. 1: 22-25). Is Heidegger supporting New Testament
humility or ridiculing the Christian intellectual tradition when he states:
“Christian theology, the philosophical ‘speculation’ standing under its
influence, and the anthropology always also growing out of these
contexts all speak in borrowed categories that are foreign to their own
domains of being” (PIA in S: 139). Or is Heidegger’s rejection of
metaphysics as onto-theology a regression into gnosticism (Sacchi
Heidegger’s Atheology 151

2. “Our Origins Always Lie Before Us”

Heidegger spent six years as a high school seminarian, followed by a

short Jesuit novitiate, from which he was dismissed for health reasons.
Already as a high school student, Heidegger was fascinated by the
ontological questioning discovered in Franz Brentano’s On the Several
Senses of Being in Aristotle (Brentano 1981). Heidegger’s intellectual
career began with his enthusiasm for Scholastic ontology and thinking,
which attempts to uncover the ontological ground of any philosophical
question. Marking himself as a Catholic philosopher, whose life goal
was to develop the enormous intellectual and spiritual potential of
Scholasticism, Heidegger set his sights on the hermeneutic-
phenomenological retrieval of the Middle Ages.3 Seeing Catholicism as
a legitimate synthesis of metaphysics and religion, Heidegger was
originally faithful to the faith of his upbringing. His academic
development began in philosophical theology, yet with time he
disengaged himself from theology. Hugo Ott claims that this detachment
was primarily biographically motivated.4 Others see essentially
intellectual motives (Kettering 1987; 1991: 9-22). Heidegger himself
says in On the Way to Language, “Without this theological start, I would
never have come onto the path of thought. But our origins always lie
before us (Herkunft aber bleibt stets Zukunft) (GA12: 91). Heidegger’s
fundamental training in theology allowed him to appropriate speculative
theological tools into philosophical discourse. His theological origins
doubtlessly determined his philosophy. Heidegger’s essential
development is to a large extent not understandable without a reference
to Christian experience as a sui generis genus loci, however complex
and problematic.5 Thematizing the problem of addressing the Christian
experience Heidegger admits:

Genuine philosophy of religion does not arise from preconceived concepts

concerning philosophy and religion. It is rather from a determinate religious
devotion – for us Christian devotion – that the possibility of its philosophical
comprehension emerges. Why precisely Christian devotion lies at the centre
of our consideration is a difficult question; it is only answerable through the
resolution of the problem of historical coherences [der geschichtlichen
Zusammenhänge]. The task is to achieve a genuine [echtes] and original
relation to history, which is to be explicated through our own historical
situation and facticity. It is a question of understanding what the sense of
history can mean for us [was der Sinn der Geschichte für uns bedeuten kann],
so that the “objectivity” of the historical “in itself [an sich]” disappears.
152 Wierciñski

History emerges only out of the present. Only as such is it possible to

comprehend the possibility of a philosophy of religion (GA60: 124-125).

The contradictory relationship between Heidegger’s thinking and his

religious roots has been often noted. Heidegger’s polemic against the
Catholic dogma, against the mixture of faith and thinking, philosophy
and theology, against a Christian philosophy, which he called a total
misunderstanding, “a square circle”, seems to contradict his view of
thinking as a “way” and “being on the way”. This contradiction is
highlighted by Heidegger’s lasting proximity to the Catholic rite.
Whenever Heidegger visited his native Meßkirch, he apparently
attended the Mass in the parish church, St. Martin: nomen est omen.
With the monks in the monastery in Beuron he always prayed the
liturgical “Night Prayer”. He used holy water, adhered to the practice of
bending knee, participated in the first Mass celebrated by his nephew.
The ambivalent judgment of Max Müller seems convincing, given the
ups and downs of their relationship. According to Müller, Heidegger
was tremendously deep, but an internally tormented and disrupted
human being, who never succeeded to overcome the faith he received in
baptism and his pious education: he hated the church just as much and
just as often as he loved her. Müller never doubted that Heidegger was
a deeply religious man, but always hesitated to classify him as a
Christian or a Catholic (Heidegger 2003).
In the secondary literature there is a dominating conviction that
Heidegger’s Catholic roots were critical in the development of his a-
theology.6 Yet some recent interpretations claim that Heidegger’s
denominational convictions had no substantial influence on the
development of his phenomenology.7 At the beginning of his 1923
lecture course Ontology: The Hermeneutics of Facticity Heidegger
writes: “Young Luther has been my companion through my search.
Aristotle, whom Luther hated, was my model. Kierkegaard spurred me
on and Husserl gave me eyes to see” (GA63: 5). In this statement
Heidegger summarizes the intellectual heritage of his concept of
facticity. Through Luther Heidegger reads Paul, Augustine and
Kierkegaard. Bultmann’s note on Heidegger’s religious outlook offers
the insight of an insider:

This time the Seminar is especially instructive for me, due to the participation
of our new philosopher, Heidegger, a student of Husserl. He comes from
Catholicism, but is entirely Protestant. This he demonstrated recently during
a debate after one of Hermelink’s lectures on Luther and the Middle Ages. He
Heidegger’s Atheology 153

not only has an extraordinary knowledge of Scholasticism, but also of Luther,

and he somewhat embarrassed Hermelink by conceiving the question more
profoundly than this latter thinker. It is of interest that Heidegger – also
familiar with modern theology and having special respect for Herrmann –
knows Gogarten and Barth as well. The former, above all, he values exactly
as I do. You can imagine how important it is for me that you come here to join
in on the discussion. The older generation is unable to participate because its
members no longer even understand the problem to which we are lending our
efforts (Bultmann Lemke 1984: 202).

In the Paul and Augustine Lectures, Heidegger examines early

Christian experience in terms of the attachment to life as facticity,
discovering structures of the soul which do not originate in itself.8
Puzzled to clarify the relationship between theology and philosophy,
Heidegger is concerned with the possibility of establishing a necessary
correspondence between theological conceptualization and the specific
contents of the New Testament. In the lecture on Luther given in
Bultmann’s seminar, Heidegger argues that:

Protestantism is only a corrective to Catholicism and cannot stand alone as

normative, just as Luther is Luther only on the spiritual basis of Catholicism.
If Catholicism degenerates, then “surface sanctity” arises – if Protestantism
degenerates, then “spiritless worldliness” arises. In the process, what would
appear in Protestantism is a refinement that cannot develop in Catholicism.
For in the latter, when a representative of its principle degenerates into
worldliness, then he brings upon himself the odium of worldliness – when a
representative of Protestantism degenerates into worldliness, then he is praised
for his godliness and frankness. And this is the case, because in Catholicism
the universal presupposition exists “that we human beings are really
scoundrels”; “the principle of Protestantism has a special presupposition: a
human being who sits there in mortal anxiety – in fear and trembling and great
spiritual trial” (S: 110).9

It is this “disgrace of worldliness”, which prompts Heidegger to re-think

the fundamental relationship between philosophy and theology, as well
as the even more essential relationship between human beings and God.

3. Diatribes of an Apostate: Against a “System of Catholicism”

Karl Löwith summed up Heidegger’s shift from Catholicism to

Protestantism in these dramatic words, “A Jesuit by education, he
became a Protestant through indignation; a scholastic dogmatician by
training, he became an existential pragmatist through experience; a
theologian by tradition, he became an atheist in his research, a renegade
154 Wierciñski

to his tradition cloaked in the mantle of its historian” (Ott 1993:120).

The chronologically first known statement regarding Heidegger’s
problems with Catholicism comes from his wife Elfride. In a
conversation on December 23, 1918, with Engelbert Krebs, a friend and
professor of Catholic dogmatic theology in Freiburg, who also married
them, Elfride said that they would not baptize the child as promised
(even though it was she who pushed for a Catholic wedding) because
her husband had lost his institutional faith and she still has not found it.
“We have both ended up thinking along Protestant lines, i.e., with no
fixed dogmatic ties, believing in a personal God, praying to him in the
spirit of Christ, but outside any Protestant or Catholic orthodoxy” (Ott
1988: 108).
Early in 1919 Heidegger wrote a letter to Krebs announcing that
the “system of Catholicism” had become problematic and unacceptable
to him.

Dear Professor,
The past two years, in which I have sought to clarify my basic philosophical
position, putting aside every special academic assignment in order to do so,
have led me to conclusions for which, had I been constrained by extra-
philosophical allegiances, I could not have guaranteed the necessary
independence of conviction and doctrine. Epistemological insights applied to
the theory of historical knowledge have made the system of Catholicism
problematic and unacceptable for me – but not Christianity per se or
metaphysics, the latter albeit in a new sense.
I believe I have felt too keenly – more so, perhaps, than its official historians
– what values are enshrined in medieval Catholicism, and we are still a long
way removed from any true assessment or interpretation. I think that my
phenomenological studies in religion, which will draw heavily on the Middle
Ages, will do more than any argument to demonstrate that in modifying my
fundamental position I have not allowed myself to sacrifice objectivity of
judgment, or the high regard in which I hold the Catholic tradition, to the
peevish and intemperate diatribes of an apostate.
That being so, I shall continue to seek out the company of Catholic scholars
who are aware of problems and capable of empathizing with different points
of view.
It therefore means a very great deal to me – and I want to thank you most
warmly for this – that I do not have to forsake the precious gift of your
friendship. My wife (who has informed you correctly) and myself are anxious
to maintain our very special relationship with you. It is hard to live the life of
a philosopher; the inner truthfulness towards oneself and those for whom one
is supposed to be a teacher demands sacrifices and struggles that the academic
toiler can never know.
I believe that I have an inner calling for philosophy, and that by answering the
call through research and teaching I am doing everything in my power to
Heidegger’s Atheology 155

further the spiritual life of man – that and only that – thereby justifying my life
and work in the sight of God. Your deeply grateful friend, Martin Heidegger.
My wife sends her warmest regards (Ott 1988: 106-107).

The “system of Catholicism” is an ersatz religion. It is a deterioration

from an authentic religious life into an organized religion based on the
legal and dogmatic rules. Heidegger, in a true Lutheran spirit, objects to
the authoritarian governance of the Church, which suppresses the
original factic sources of religious life and prevents an original and
genuine experience of religious value.
In a letter to Rudolf Otto from March 5, 1919, Edmund Husserl
referred to the possibility of his influence in Heidegger’s changed
religious views:

My philosophical effect does have something revolutionary about it:

Protestants become Catholic, Catholics become Protestant. But I do not think
about Catholicizing and Protestantizing; I want nothing more than to educate
the youth to a radical honesty of thought, to a thinking which guards against
obscuring and violating by verbal constructions and conceptual illusions the
primordial intuitions which necessarily determine the sense of all rational
thinking. In arch-Catholic Freiburg I do not want to stand out as a corrupter
of the youth, as a proselytizer, as an enemy of the Catholic Church. That I am
not. I have not exercised the least influence on Heidegger’s and Oxner’s
migration over to the ground of Protestantism, even though it can only be very
pleasing to me as a “non-dogmatic Protestant” and a free Christian (if one may
call himself a “free Christian” when by that he envisages an ideal goal of
religious longing and understands it, for his part, as an infinite task). For the
rest, I am happy to have an effect on all sincere whether Catholic, Protestant
or Jewish (Sheehan 1981: 25).

Heidegger’s departure from his Scholastic formation was inspired by his

conviction that the heart and soul of the Scholastic tradition was the
inscription of the divine into metaphysics, God becoming the first
principal of thinking. At that point he rejected neither Christianity nor
metaphysics. His motives were purely philosophical: he wanted to be a
philosopher unrestrained by outside influences (Sheehan 1993: 70-96).
Scholasticism had two effects: on the one hand, reason presumed the
power to access divinity; on the other hand, theoretical science, scientia,
assumed a divine and absolute legitimacy. Heidegger’s counter position
redresses both aberrations: Divinity is strictly a topic for theologians;
where and how the theologian accesses the divine is not for philosophy
to judge. Secondly, science is historical, provisional, and relative, one
particular way of relating to beings, never absolute or divine. The “God
156 Wierciñski

of the philosophers” is the God of metaphysics, a causa sui, which is a

causa prima (in the sense of Leibniz’s first cause which metaphysically
grounds every ontological proposition). In Identity and Difference
Heidegger argues that dogmatic theology is inseparable from the whole
tradition of Western ontology. Theology has departed from its
existential origins in the New Testament (hence Heidegger’s fascination
with St. Paul’s letters). Patristic theology perpetuated the metaphysical
tradition of the Greeks. Onto-theology treats God as the efficient and
knowable foundation, a univocal concept contained within and
grounding metaphysical speculation. As a mode of thinking it privileges
the activity of human subjects in objectifying knowledge and temporal
presencing over alternative categories of Being and ecstatic time.

4. The Task of Thinking God and The Relationship Between

Philosophy, Theology, and Christianity

Heidegger’s preoccupation with the relationship between philosophy

and theology has been interpreted in a variety of ways.10 His views on
the subject range from the critique of secularized theology, through the
theological deconstruction within Christian theology, the
epistemological delimitation of the two disciplines, to the preparedness
for the appearing of the last god, which describes a new proximity to the
After 1917, Heidegger vehemently criticized Scholasticism for
confining philosophy and theology to the region of prevailing theoretical
consciousness. “Scholasticism, within the totality of the medieval
Christian lifeworld, severely jeopardized the immediacy of religious life
and forgot religion for theology and dogmas. This theorizing and
dogmatizing influence was exercised by church authorities in their
institutions and statutes already in the time of early Christianity” (Kisiel
1993: 74).12
To understand time in terms of temporality means to think time
temporally, not in relation to eternity (Di Vitiis 1995; 1998: 309- 322).
In his 1924 lecture The Concept of Time to theologians in Marburg,
Heidegger said: “The philosopher does not believe. If the philosopher
asks about time, then he has resolved to understand time in terms of
time” (CT: 1). Within the philosophia crucis a philosopher is not
concerned with God, eternity or the transcendent.13 Only faith has
eternity given to it in advance. At a different occasion Heidegger makes
his position even more explicit: “Within thinking nothing can be
Heidegger’s Atheology 157

achieved which would be a preparation or a confirmation for that which

occurs in faith and in grace … Within faithfulness one still thinks, of
course; but thinking as such no longer has a task. Philosophy engages in
a kind of thinking of which man is capable on his own. This stops when
he is addressed by revelation” (Noack 1976: 64).
Heidegger specifically encourages theologians to “abide in the
exclusiveness of revelation” (Noack 1976: 64). Faith must be alert to the
claims of thinking and the danger of possibly “watering down its own
claims. Faith and thinking cannot be made to coincide” (Noack 1976:
In 1970 Heidegger republished his 1927 lecture,
Phenomenology and Theology, in which he thematizes the relationship
between philosophy and theology. John Caputo calls Phenomenology
and Theology “Heidegger’s farewell to Christian theology as a matter
of explicit and personal concern” (Caputo 1993: 276). Philosophy can
be genuinely helpful for theology as science, though not in the sense of
being a science of faith (Wissenschaft vom Glauben). Heidegger writes,
“Philosophy is the possible, formally indicative ontological corrective
of the ontic and, in particular, of the pre-Christian content of basic
theological concepts. But philosophy can be what it is without
functioning factically as this corrective” (GA9: 65). On the other hand,
theology is for philosophy anything else but a help. “This peculiar
relationship does not exclude but rather includes the fact that faith, as
a specific possibility of existence, is in its innermost core the mortal
enemy of the form of existence that is an essential part of philosophy
and that is factically ever-changing. Faith is so absolutely the mortal
enemy that philosophy does not even begin to want in any way to do
battle with it” (GA9: 66).
The existentiell opposition between faithfulness and the free
appropriation of one’s whole Dasein means that theology must be the
“mortal enemy” of philosophy. This brings Heidegger to the now
famous metaphor of Christian philosophy as a “square circle”:

There is no such thing as a Christian philosophy; that is an absolute “square

circle”. On the other hand, there is likewise no such thing as a neo-Kantian,
or axiological, or phenomenological theology, just as there is no
phenomenological mathematics. Phenomenology is always only the name for
the procedure of ontology, a procedure that essentially distinguishes itself
from that of all other, positive sciences (GA9: 66).
158 Wierciñski

Heidegger defines his understanding of theology as an academic


As conceptual interpretation of itself on the part of faithful existence, that is,

as historical knowledge, theology aims solely at that transparency of the
Christian occurrence that is revealed in, and delimited by, faithfulness itself.
Thus the goal of this historical science is concrete Christian existence itself …
To grasp the substantive content and the specific mode of being of the
Christian occurrence, and to grasp it solely as it is testified to in faith and for
faith, is the task of systematic theology” (GA9: 56-57).

As a self-interpretation of faith, “theology is not speculative knowledge

of God … Theology itself is founded primarily by faith, even though its
statements and procedures of proof formally derive from free operations
of reason” (GA9: 59-60). According to Heidegger, theology needs to
return to its origins in New Testament faith. “The Christian experience
is something so completely different that it has no need to enter into
competition with philosophy. When theology holds fast to the view that
philosophy is foolishness, the mystery-character of revelation will be
much better preserved. Therefore, in the face of the final decision, the
ways part” (Noack 1976: 65).
After returning to Freiburg in 1928 as Husserl’s successor,
Heidegger was deeply antagonistic to Christianity in general and to
Catholicism in particular (Caputo 1993: 270-288). Among Catholics
who experienced a hostile treatment were two talented students of
Martin Honecker, Heidegger’s colleague at the University of Freiburg,
Gustav Siewerth and Max Müller. Heidegger’s philosophical critique of
Christianity is based on his distinction between faith and metaphysics.
In the Introduction to Metaphysics he writes:

Anyone for whom the Bible is divine revelation and truth already has the
answer to the question ‘why is there anything at all and not rather nothing?’
before even asking the question, insofar as everything that is not itself God, is
created through him. God himself ‘is’ as the uncreated creator … Anyone who
stands in the soil of such faith … can only act ‘as if’… but on the other hand
that faith, if it does not remain constantly in the possibility of unfaith, is no
faith, but only a convenience and a set-up to hold fast to a commonly accepted
doctrine. That is neither faith nor questioning, but an indifference which can
busy itself with everything, perhaps with a great show of interest even with
faith as in much the same way they do with questioning (GA40: 8-9).

Striving for God does not mean reaching Him. To take God seriously
means to be called from out of the divine essence:
Heidegger’s Atheology 159

It is possible, thinking crudely, to believe that Nietzsche’s word mastery over

beings passes from God to man, or, even more crudely that, Nietzsche sets
man in the place of God. Those who take it that way, however, are not
thinking very divinely about the essence of the divinity. Man can never be set
in God’s place because the essence of man never attains the essential realm of
God. On the contrary, compared with that impossibility, something far eerier
happens, the essence of which we have scarcely begun to reflect upon. The
place which, metaphysically thought, is proper to God is the region of causal
effectivity and the preservation of beings as created beings. This region for
God can remain empty (GA5: 255).

The Catholic notion of faith and the fundamental presuppositions of

Christianity embrace the theoretical formulations of the divine in a
metaphysical conceptualization. The divine is not Being. This
speculative appropriation of philosophy in theology endangers the
experience of personal faith. In ‘Building Dwelling Thinking’,
Heidegger describes mortals as they save the earth, receive heaven as
heaven, await the divinities as divinities and are capable of death as
death. Heidegger’s divinity is a god of hope and anticipation. “Mortals
dwell in that they await the divinities as divinities. In hope they hold up
to the divinities what is unhoped for. They wait for intimations of their
coming and do not mistake the signs of their absence. They do not make
their gods for themselves and do not worship idols. In the very depth of
misfortune they wait for the weal that has been withdrawn” (GA7: 152).
Heidegger rejects the divinity of the Christian God, at least as
He has been conceptualized in the history of metaphysics. “A divine
god”, cannot be the theoretical subject of metaphysics (Welte 1964:
177-192; Welte 1975: 258-280; Welte 1977: 249-252; Siewerth 1971a:
280-293; Siewerth 1971b: 264-279; Kušar 1985: 2-5).14 “A divine god”
is a god “beyond” the god of Christian philosophical theology. Is
biblical theology, nurtured by the New Testament, a chance for theology
to become theology, i.e., an acknowledgment of the reality of God in His
voluntary disposition toward the world and of a religious experience of
reality as such? Would a reflection based primarily on the act of faith
satisfy a philosopher? Can theology be completely free of any
metaphysical distortions? Heidegger demands “a more divine god”, a
possibility for an encounter more genuine than a theological reflection:
“Man can neither pray nor sacrifice to this god. Before the god of
philosophy, god as causa sui, man can neither fall to his knees in awe
nor can he play music and dance before this god” (ID: 72).15
160 Wierciñski

5. The Necessity of Atheism in Philosophy

In his 1922 “Phenomenological Interpretations in Connection with

Aristotle: An Indication of the Hermeneutical Situation”, Heidegger
clearly rejects the possibility of any synthesis of Christianity and
philosophy. This position is understandable in the context of the early
Heidegger’s antagonism regarding natural theology. Philosophy’s
preoccupation with God stands in a clear opposition to its own true
vocation to question knowledge by following reason alone. Committed
to research and not to generalities and worldviews, philosophy is a
hermeneutics of facticity; its spontaneous self-interpretation of life
cannot be theistic.

If in the first place philosophy is not an artificial occupation that merely

accompanies life and deals with “universals” of one sort or another and
arbitrarily posited principles but rather is as a knowing that questions, that is,
as research, simply the explicit and genuine actualizing of the tendency
toward interpretation that belongs to the basic movements of life in which
what is at issue is this life itself and its being; and if secondly philosophy is set
on bringing into view and conceptually grasping factical life in terms of the
decisive possibilities of its being, i.e., if relying upon its own resources and
not looking to the hustle and bustle of worldviews, it has radically and clearly
resolved to throw factical life back on itself as this is possible in this factical
life itself and to let it fend for itself in terms of its own factical possibilities,
i.e., if philosophy is in principle atheistic and understands such about itself –
then it has resolutely chosen factical life with a view to its facticity and, in
acquiring it as an object for itself, it has preserved it in its facticity (PIA in S:

In a footnote to the word “atheistic” we are given a following

explanation, which clarifies that “atheism” is meant here, not as a
personal belief system, but as a fundamental hermeneutic principle:
“Atheistic” not in the sense of a theory such as materialism or the like. Any
philosophy that understands itself in terms of what it is, that is, as the factical
how of the interpretation of life, must know – and know it precisely if it also
has an “intimation” of God – that this throwing of life back upon itself which
gets actualized in philosophy is something that in religious terms amounts to
raising one’s hand against God. But philosophy is thereby only being honest
with itself and standing firm on this, that is, it is comporting itself in a manner
that is fitting to the only possibility of standing before God that is available to
it as such. And here, “atheistic” means: keeping itself free from the
temptations of that kind of concern and apprehension that only talks glibly
about religiosity. Could it be that the very idea of a philosophy of religion, and
Heidegger’s Atheology 161

especially if it does not take into account the facticity of human being, is pure
nonsense (PIA in S: 121, 193-4)?

Philosophy cannot seriously engage faith, since faith cannot ask

philosophical questions. According to Heidegger, the fundamental
definitions of human being are dogmatically theological and as such
they have to be excluded from a philosophical reflection on the human
being, who has no natural experience of God. Therefore, faith as the
disposition of a human being who already has his answers, hinders
radical philosophical inquiry. Pre-philosophical belief in a God disturbs
the authenticity and radicality of thinking, abandoning factic life, which
is philosophy’s proper datum. A philosophy of religion based on a
theological presupposition is a pure nonsense: factic life experience is
non-theistic. “In the sense of a theory”, atheism is not a method but a
substantive philosophical position. Genuine philosophical thinking is
atheistic thinking:

As long as phenomenology understands itself, it will adhere to this course of

investigation against any sort of prophetism within philosophy and against any
inclination to provide guidelines for life. Philosophical research is and remains
atheism, which is why philosophy can allow itself ‘the arrogance of thinking’.
Not only will it allow itself as much; this arrogance is the inner necessity of
philosophy and its true strength. Precisely in this atheism, philosophy becomes
what a great man once called the ‘joyful science’ (GA20: 109-110).

Philosophy being concerned with the question of Being is true thinking,

whereas theology, though giving thought to faith, cannot be authentic
thinking. In a philosophical theology, the theological uncertainty implies
a circular movement from the unknown to the known: God is the
beginning and end of that circle:

What we have said about security in faith as one position in regard to the truth
does not imply that the biblical ‘In the beginning God created heaven and
earth’ is an answer to our question. Quite aside from whether these words from
the Bible are true or false for faith, they can supply no answer to our question
because they are in no way related to it. Indeed, they cannot even be brought
into relation with our question. From the standpoint of faith our question is
‘foolishness’. Philosophy is this very foolishness. A ‘Christian philosophy’ is
a round square and a misunderstanding (GA40: 9; Polt 1999: 130-134).

In the 1946 ‘Letter on Humanism’ Heidegger summarizes his

philosophy of religion and gives us a hint of his personal religious
convictions. Responding to Sartre’s atheistic appropriation of his
162 Wierciñski

phenomenology, Heidegger positions his Being and Time beyond the

description of atheistic or theistic:

The thinking that thinks from the question concerning the truth of Being
questions more primordially than metaphysics can. Only from the truth of
Being can the essence of the holy be thought. Only from the essence of the
holy is the essence of divinity to be thought. Only in the light of the essence
of divinity can it be thought or said what the word ‘God’ is to signify. Or
should we not first be able to hear and understand all these words carefully if
we are to be permitted as men, that is, as eksistent creatures, to experience a
relation of God to man? How can man at the present stage of world history ask
at all seriously and rigorously whether the god nears or withdraws, when he
has above all neglected to think into the dimension in which alone that
question can be asked? But this is the dimension of the holy, which indeed
remains closed as a dimension if the open region of Being is not lighted and
in its lighting is near man. Perhaps what is distinctive about this world-epoch
consists in the closure of the dimension of the hale [des Heilen]. Perhaps that
is the sole malignancy [Unheil] (GA9: 352).

Further in the letter Heidegger argues that a thinker can be neither

theistic nor atheistic:

But with this reference the thinking that points toward the truth of Being as
what is to be thought has in no way decided in favor of theism. It can be
theistic as little as atheistic. Not, however, because of an indifferent attitude,
but out of respect for the boundaries that have been set for thinking as such,
indeed set by what gives itself to thinking as what is to be thought, by the truth
of Being. Insofar as thinking limits itself to its task it directs man at the present
moment of the world’s destiny into the primordial dimension of his historical
abode. When thinking of this kind speaks the truth of Being it has entrusted
itself to what is more essential than all values and all types of beings. Thinking
does not overcome metaphysics by climbing still higher, surmounting it,
transcending it somehow or other; thinking overcomes metaphysics by
climbing back down into the nearness of the nearest (GA9: 352).

The thinker cannot call God by His name. With respect to God, thinking
reaches its limits. With that the question of God remains a question, yet
the answer is clearly determined by the unpassable limit. The
contemplation of the Holy is an essential prerequisite for Heidegger for
elaborating the question of God and the relationship between the Holy,
Being and God. Heidegger’s question of God is situated in his
seinsgeschichtlichem thinking. The concept of the Holy is for Heidegger
a central-category for his phenomenology of religion.
Heidegger’s a-theological philosophy is a philosophy that does
not philosophize about faith. The negation of the possibility of Christian
Heidegger’s Atheology 163

philosophy and a philosophical theology does not necessary lead into

atheism.17 The negation of a philosophical concept of God does not
exclude the possibility of the existence of God. Heidegger’s critique
does not question the possibility of a theology within the realm of
Revelation and authentic religious experience within the Church. A
philosopher is not concerned with personal faith; this is not his topic.
Heidegger’s atheology is a careful way of preparing a space for a
“divine God”. The possibility of a divine god beyond Christian
reference can be thought only in the disclosure of Being. The divine god
does not reveal itself as a revelation of the Revelation, of the God, who
is ipsum esse per se subsistens: ex quo oportet quod totam perfectionem
essendi in se contineat (Aquinas, Sum. theol. 1a, q. 4, a. 2). The divine
god discloses itself as the ever present transcendence of Being and the
diffusion of Ereignis. Heidegger’s silence of God is often interpreted as
the best way to address the unspeakable God.18 One of Heidegger’s
Marburg students remembers Heidegger saying, “We honor theology by
keeping silent about it” (Die Theologie ehren wir, indem wir von ihr
schweigen) (Vetter 1995: 65-80).
Silence on the topic of theology is what Heidegger meant by the
methodological stricture that philosophy must be atheistic:

Questioning is not religious, but can lead to a situation of religious decision.

In philosophizing, I am not religious, even though as a philosopher I may be
a religious man. “The art lies in this”, philosophizing and, at the same time,
remaining genuinely religious, that is, in philosophizing, factically taking up
one’s worldly historical work in conduct and a concrete context of action, not
in religious ideology and fantasy. In its radical self-directed questioning,
philosophy must in principle be a-theistic. It cannot presume to have and to
define God. More radically and determinately, philosophy is a way from God,
and in its radical enactment of its “way”, a “being-near” God, with its own
difficulties. Incidentally, philosophy is not on that account poorer in
speculation; it has its own work to do (GA61: 197).

A methodologically atheistic philosophy does not refer to a personal

conviction of an atheist philosopher. A philosopher can lead a Christian
existence. He can legitimately talk about his faith; nevertheless, his
philosophy has to be in principle atheistic. Being exposed to the
theological context, he remains open for religious experience which
eludes philosophical formalization.
Heidegger reads Nietzsche’s thesis “God is dead” as the
preparation for a new arrival of the God Hölderlin speaks of:
164 Wierciñski

The last god has its most unique uniqueness and stands outside those
calculating determinations meant by titles such as “mono-theism”, “pan-
theism”, and “a-theism”. “Monotheism” and all types of “theism” exist only
since Judaeo-Christian “apologetics”, which has metaphysics as its intellectual
presupposition. With the death of this god, all theisms collapse. The multitude
of gods cannot be quantified but rather is subjected to the inner richness of the
grounds and abgrounds in the site for the moment of the shining and
sheltering-concealing of the hint of the last god. The last god is not the end but
the other beginning of immeasurable possibilities for our history. For its sake
history up to now should not terminate but rather must be brought to its end.
We must bring about the transfiguration of its essential and basic positions in
crossing and in preparedness. Preparation for the appearing of the last god is
the utmost venture of the truth of being, by virtue of which alone man
succeeds in restoring beings (GA65: 411).19

Deciding whether or not Heidegger’s analysis is to be deemed

“atheistic” requires an elaboration of such texts. If it is decided that God
is necessarily an all-powerful and ultimate entity, then the question of
whether or not Heidegger’s thought is atheistic will have to ask whether
that which is ultimate and single for Heidegger, namely, Being or the
event, is an existent entity. If God need not be single, and if believing in
the existence of God can mean believing in the existence of gods, the
question might be asked whether the “gods” which the event sends can
be said to “exist”, and in what way. This means asking about the way in
which these gods are. In case both of these questions are answered in the
negative, which I believe they must be unless the terms existence and
entity are being used in an extraordinary way, then the conclusion that
Heidegger’s thought is atheistic follows if and only if it is decided that
“atheism” is equivalent to “not believing in the existence of an
omnipotent entity called God”, so that a sense of the Holy as the
overpowering which does not lead to belief in the existence of an
omnipotent entity in any ordinary sense amounts to atheism.20
How are we to balance this sense of atheism with an early letter
to Karl Löwith, in which Heidegger describes himself as “a Christian
theologian ?”21 Gadamer interprets this statement as a genuine attempt
to tackle the true call of theology: “to find a word, which can call to
faith and preserve in fath”.22 Such a personal vocation is the highest
challenge for a thinker.

6. The Holy as the Object of Poetry

Shall I name the High One then? No god loves what is unseemly;
To grasp him, our joy is scarcely large enough.
Heidegger’s Atheology 165

Often we must keep silence; holy names are lacking,

Hearts beat and yet does speech still hold back? (Hölderlin, Heimkunft)23

For Heidegger the Holy emerges in poetic language. In the conversation

with poetry the Holy discloses itself to thinking. The relationship
between thinking and poetry is particularly emphasized in Heidegger’s
engagement with Hölderlin’s poetry. In the 1943 published postscript to
his inaugural lecture at the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität at Freiburg,
‘What is Metaphysics?’ Heidegger writes:

The thinker says being. The poet names the holy. And yet the manner in which
– thought from out of the essence of being – poetizing, thanking, and thinking
are directed toward one another and are at this same time different, must be
left open here. Presumably thanking and poetizing each in their own way
spring from originary thinking, which they need, without themselves being
able to be a thinking (GA9: 312).

In his 1946 essay ‘Why Poets?’ Heidegger grapples with the

question of the Holy in Hölderlin’s elegy ‘Brott und Wein’. “And what
is the use of poets in an impoverished age?” An impoverished age is for
Hölderlin the night of the world determined by the absence of God. If
God has withdrawn Himself from the world, the poet attempts:

[…] to grasp the Father’s lightening-flash

And to pass on, wrapped in song
The divine gift to the people. (Hölderlin)

“Dwelling poetically on the earth” is the universal vocation of every

human being. Our duty is to “name the Holy, thus creating space for
God’s return: “It is the time of the gods that have fled and of the god
that is coming. It is the time of need because it lies under a double Not:
the No-more of the gods that have fled and Not-yet of the god that is
coming” (Heidegger 1967: 289).
Heidegger’s statements on God, the Holy, and the relationship
of philosophy and theology are multilayered, disparate, and subject to
important changes in the course of the development of his philosophy.
The later Heidegger no longer addresses the question by thematizing the
relationship of faith and knowledge but by turning to the Holy and the
flight of the gods. The now famous statement, which is also the title of
Heidegger’s 1966 Der Spiegel interview, ‘Only a God Can Save Us’
166 Wierciñski

(published some ten years later) addresses a “god”, who is yet to be

revealed. We are here in the vicinity of Hölderlin.

Philosophy will be unable to effect any immediate change in the current state
of the world. This is true not only of philosophy but of all purely human
reflection and endeavor. Only a god can save us. The only possibility available
to us is that by thinking and poetizing we prepare a readiness for the
appearance of a god, or for the absence of the god in [our] decline, insofar as
in view of the absent god we are in a state of decline (cited in Sheehan 1981:

We need a footpath, some kind of directional inspiration.

Heidegger’s last remark in this interview was, “For us today, the
greatness of what is to be thought is [all] too great. Perhaps the best we
can do is strive to break a passage through it – along the narrow paths
that do not stretch too far” (cited in Sheehan 1981: 65).

7. Between Homelessness and Home-Coming

Overcoming metaphysics means opening up new avenues to a deeper

nearness to Being. A human being experiences the alienation from
Being and is on a constant search for Being. Throughout the history of
Being’s concealment and disclosure a human being is on the path away
from home. Calculative thinking is a mode of being in the realm of
homelessness in a world devoid of God. Heidegger understands the
human being as being essentially underway, on a journey home, in
search of the essence of dwelling. A homesickness that is never satisfied
is part of our essence. Heidegger echoes the question addressed by
Novalis: “Where are we going?” For Novalis philosophy is
homesickness, the wish to establish one’s home in the Absolute. We are
always going home, but we cannot deceive ourselves that we have
finally arrived. Homesickness is the absolute determination of
philosophy. In the ‘Letter on Humanism’, Heidegger describes
homelessness as the symptom of oblivion of Being. Homecoming means
rediscovering our essence in our primordial relationship to Being:

The homeland of this historical dwelling is nearness to Being. In such

nearness, if at all, a decision may be made as to whether and how God and the
gods withhold their presence and the night remains, whether and how the day
of the holy dawns, whether and how in the upsurgence of the holy an epiphany
of God and the gods can begin anew. But the holy, which alone is the essential
sphere of divinity, which in turn alone affords a dimension for the gods and
Heidegger’s Atheology 167

for God, comes to radiate only when Being itself beforehand and after
extensive preparation has been illuminated and is experienced in its truth.
Only thus does the overcoming of homelessness begin from Being, a
homelessness in which not only man but the essence of man stumbles
aimlessly about. Homelessness so understood consists in the abandonment of
Being by beings. Homelessness is the symptom of oblivion of Being. Because
of it the truth of Being remains unthought. The oblivion of Being makes itself
known indirectly through the fact that man always observes and handles only
beings. Even so, because man cannot avoid having some notion of Being, it
is explained merely as what is “most general” and therefore as something that
encompasses beings, or as a creation of the infinite being, or as the product of
a finite subject. At the same time “Being” has long stood for “beings” and,
inversely, the latter for the former, the two of them caught in a curious and still
unravelled confusion. As the destiny that sends truth, Being remains concealed
(GA9: 338-9).

Only as true “shepherds of Being” do we reduce our distance to Being,

thus restoring our essence and our dignity. Homelessness is for
Heidegger the condition of a human being painfully exposed to the
Wirkungsgeschichte of the forgetfulness of Being. Homelessness is a
call to dwelling. Heidegger’s purpose as a thinker, rather than a
philosopher, is to overcome metaphysics itself because it failed in the
history of its forgetfulness of Being to address Being, and questioned
only the beings in the world. Heidegger replaces the traditional
philosophical discourse with a poetic meditation on Being, the ultimate
ground of all beings.

Paths of thought, going by themselves,
vanishing. When they turn again,
what do they show us?
Paths, going by themselves,
formerly open, suddenly closed,
later on. Once pointing out the way,
never attained, destined to renunciation --
slackening the pace
from out of the harmony of trustworthy fate.
And again the need
for a lingering darkness
within the waiting light (Heidegger 1976b: 287).

In this poem written in 1971, Heidegger meditates on the paths

of thought, which manifest themselves in the poetic. Poetic thinking
uses the metaphoric path: the path of responding that examines as it
168 Wierciñski

listens. Responding is always risky, but the mere fear of going astray can
not stop us from practising our responsibility. The path to Being is the
path to aletheia, unconcealment. Poetry allows truth to happen (GA5:
1-74). “The lingering darkness” is the existential context of the lyrical
subject, who is waiting for the light. This darkness can be perceived as
the absence of God, who is light (1 Jn 1:5).24 The lyric subject can only
listen to this self-revealing and disclosing path. In its attentiveness it can
recognize the nature of its true vocation: to think what calls for thinking.
In the inter-play between listening and responding the essence of human
being in its relationship to Being is disclosed. The voice of conscience,
the call (Ruf), “has the character of an appeal (Anruf) to Dasein by
calling it to its ownmost potentiality-for-Being-its-Self” (SZ: 269). This
call, which is a mode of discourse, breaks through the noise of the
inauthentic self’s chatter and recalls Dasein to the self whose voice
Dasein has failed to hear because of its “listening away” to the they (das
Man). “That which, by calling in this manner, gives us to understand, is
the conscience” (SZ: 315-316).
Heidegger’s reverence for “the Holy” determines his religious
duty: clearing “the clearing of Being”. In his poetic meditation
Heidegger overcomes the traditional sense of homelessness as a lost
relationship with God. He admits, “I came out of theology, and that I
harbor an old love for it and that I have a certain understanding of it. If
I were yet to write a theology – to which I sometimes feel inclined –
then the word ‘being’ would not be allowed to occur in it” (cited in
Hemming 2002: 292).
Heidegger never pursued writing a theology, yet he remained
interested in the idea of divinity.25 Particularly in an apophatic style in
his Contributions to Philosophy, Heidegger calls God neither a Being
nor a non-Being, but a unique and indescribable divinity who needs
Being in order to be God. In the language of Meister Eckhart and Jacob
Böhme, Heidegger postulates emptying human hearts and minds and
awaiting to be filled with a God understood as an ecstatic event.26
Heidegger’s thinking of God does not fit into the traditional discourse
of the confessional Christian faith nor into the Western tradition of
metaphysical speculation. While theology and philosophy belong to
different domains with distinctively different kinds of discourse,
Heidegger preserves the possibility of thinking religion, which thinks
meditatively rather than calculatively. The religion thought by thinking
is a religion determined by the radically indeterminate and
undeterminable. Metaphysics has ended, since it has exhausted its
Heidegger’s Atheology 169

possibilities. Heidegger’s post metaphysical thinking was concerned

with opening the question of Being, thus making room for the “divine
god”. By appropriating the language of negative and mystical theology
Heidegger deconstructs the onto-theological tradition and initiates a
theology that is still to come (Volpi 1989: 239-264).
Heidegger surprised many of his followers and critics when near
the end of his life he confessed that he had never left the Church, despite
the widespread conviction that he became Protestant or even an atheist
(Sheehan 1993: 72). On May 28, 1976 Heidegger was buried in his
native Meßkirch with a Christian burial. A close friend from the
University of Freiburg, a fellow countryman and a honorary citizen of
Meßkirch, Professor Bernhard Welte was asked by Heidegger to hold
the speech at the burial. Heidegger’s early mentor and promoter, the
Freiburg Archbishop Conrad Gröber had never failed to hope that the
promising motto of his pupil, “origins always lie before us”, would one
day come to fulfilment. But Heidegger’s question about the relationship
between faith and thinking remained the old crux. There is no cross on
Heidegger’s gravestone, rather a star. The message: that the goal is still
before us, we are to move toward the star. However true it is that the
origin is our future, it is quite clear that Heidegger never intended to
make a future arrival his final goal. Welte, who was Gröber’s personal
secretary from 1934 to 1948, summed up Heidegger’s way as:

[…] anxiously awaiting the epiphany of the divine God […][Heidegger]

walked his own path and had to go his own way and follow his call. And in the
usual sense of the term one could not call this path Christian without some
qualifications. But it was the path of perhaps the greatest seeker in our century
(Welte 1981: 74-75).27
For an elaboration of the development of Heidegger’s understanding of the concept of
transcendence and the world prior to Being and Time see Enders (1999), particularly 59-
See Westphal (2001); Robbins (2003). Robbins argues that ontotheology is the very
condition of Being and thought, not a discourse to be overcome. He calls for a radical
rethinking of contemporary philosophical theology, suggesting an alternative
relationship between faith and thought.
On the relationship of Heidegger to Scotus see McGrath (2006: 88-119).
Hugo Ott argues that the Catholic roots of Heidegger’s thinking remain to be fully
uncovered in Ott (1988). See also Ott (1992a); von Balthasar (1940: 1-8).
See Schalow (2001), especially chapter two: ‘At the Crossroads Between Hermeneutics
and Religious Experience’, 23-51.
See for example, Gudopp (1983), 102f.; Fehér (1991); Ott (1995: 137-156); Ott
(1992b: 87-115).
170 Wierciñski

See Ruff (1997: 14): “Der in der Auseinandersetzung mit Heidegger immer wieder mit
grossem Elan nachgegangenen Frage nach den ‘katholischen’ Wurzeln oder der
Verwendbarkeit seines Denkens im Rahmen fundamentaltheologischer Überlegungen
der ein oder anderen Konfession soll hier kein eigener Raum gegeben werden. Am Ende
eines Jahrhunderts, das nicht nur umfangreiche Einsichten in die Entwicklung der
christlichen Konfessionen vermittelt hat, sondern diese selbst erheblich zu wandeln
vermochte und sich zugleich der Vielfalt christlicher Lebensformen in den
unterschiedlichen Kulturen immer bewusster wird, sind Attribute wie ‘katholisch’ oder
‘protestantisch’ in solchem Umfang einer kritischen Neuaneignung ausgesetzt, dass sie
vorläufig wenig zur Bezeichnung phänomenologischen Denkens beitragen können”.
For a development of the notion of temporality in the Freiburg lectures on Paul and
Augustine see Ardovino (1998), especially 195-198.
Here Heidegger refers to a passage from Kierkegaard. See Kierkegaard (1975: 669-
672). On Heidegger and Luther see van Buren (1994: 159-74); McGrath (2006: 151-
184). McGrath regards Heidegger’s Lutheran assumptions as a “hidden theological
agenda” that determines the Daseinanalytik of Being and Time.
For a summary of the literature on the problem prior to 1972 see Gethmann-Siefert
(1974). For the development in later discussions see Jung (1990); Jung (1999). See also
Jung (2000).
See Figal (2001: 210): “Viewed from this perspective, with his theology of the last
god, Heidegger has not grasped a possibility that would have lent itself from an earlier
work and that at the same time could be understood as a correction of the earlier
conception. This correction would show the ‘understanding of being’ (Seinsverständnis)
that occurs in religious experience and theological conceptualization, and it would point
to the religious dimension of the ‘understanding of being’ (GA9: 63) instead of claiming
that with this theology of the last god a ‘purely rationally conceivable content’ is
brought to bear. But in principle there is no impediment to reading the philosophical
theology in Contributions in this sense. When one orients oneself less according to the
historical ‘situation’ of the book than according to the structures revealed in it,
Heidegger’s investigation may be understood as a clarification of the ‘between’ of god
and humans, and this is a contribution to the hermeneutic task that, according to Plato’s
‘Symposium’, philosophy has to accomplish according to the demon that enlivens it: to
mediate between gods and humans”.
See also O’Meara (1986: 205-226); and O’Meara’s commentary on Heidegger in his
new book O’Meara (2002).
Brejdak interprets Heidegger’s preoccupation with St. Paul as a meeting point between
philosophy and theology. For a short commentary on The Concept of Time see Brejdak
(1996: 124-127).
See also Seop Shim (1990).
See Casper (1968/69: 315-331); Casper (1980: 534-541).
According to Gadamer, an understanding of Heidegger as an atheistic thinker can be
based only on a superficial appropriation of his work (Gadamer 1987: 308-319).
Gadamer emphasizes that not with the help of theology, but in renouncing theology and
onto-theology Heidegger was seeking for the new language for the religious dimension.
He found real support in Nietzsche and Hölderlin. See also Helting (1999).
The variety of interpretations of Heidegger’s atheism would require a separate study.
In his recent book, Hemming reads Heidegger’s pious atheism as a vibrant pedagogy.
He fails to address other interpretations that include the Wirkungsgeschichte of the
problem. See Hemming (2002). For an alternative reading see Jüngel (1977: 37-45).
Heidegger’s Atheology 171

Cf. Hemming (2002: 290): “To say nothing, that God might speak. To say nothing,
that no objects, no thing, nothing intervenes between God and me, God and the soul
(understanding soul here in no supersensory, but an entirely immaterial, sense). Every
entry into this silence collapses, into words, into the speaking, the babbling that being
is. This silence is therefore one to which I must return again and again. What I describe
are not techniques of saying something, or even nothing, of God, but a way, a path,
which, God-given, is a being underway to God. To come to myself means I both
discover my separation from God, and I become open to who the God is. To come to
myself requires that I exceed myself: to come to myself means to seek union with God,
to abandon the self I have become for the sake of what else I might divinely myself
become. To come to my-self and seek union with God demands, at every step along the
path, that I say nothing of God. This could be taken within Heidegger’s atheism: indeed,
this would be a holy atheism”. Cf. Thurnher (1998: 183-197).
See also Gall (1987: 70); Figal (1994: 89-107); Pöggeler (1994); Paola-Ludovica
Coriando (1998c); Gadamer (2001).
Cf. Sikka (1997: 269).
In the letter to Karl Löwith, August 19, 1921, Heidegger writes: “I work concretely
and factically out of my ‘I am’, out of my intellectual and wholly factic origin, milieu,
life-contexts, and whatever is available to me from these as a vital experience in which
I live … To this facticity of mine belongs what I would in brief call the fact that I am a
‘Christian theologian’. This involves a particular radical personal concern, a particular
radical scientificity, a strict objectivity in the facticity; in it is to be found the historical
consciousness, the consciousness of ‘intellectual and cultural history’. And I am all this
in the life-context of the university” (Papenfuss 1990: 29). See Kisiel (1993: 78); Kisiel
(2002: 1-35).
Cf. Gadamer (1987: 315).
Cited in Heidegger (1967: 241).
Cf. Jn 1:1-5, 3:17-21; 1 Jn 1:1-10.
John Caputo has consistently argued that while we must respect Heidegger’s claim that
he is not writing an onto-theology, we must nevertheless demythologize Heidegger. See
Caputo (2000: 85-100).
According to Heidegger’s biographer, Safranski, Contributions to Philosophy were
written during the late 1930s when Heidegger became disillusioned with the Nazi Party.
Heidegger asked his brother to publish it only after his death. Creating a new language
to address the relationship between the human and the divine, Heidegger let himself be
inspired by poetry, believing that poets know more about Being than philosophers.
Nevertheless, Heidegger was afraid that his critics would dismiss the book as pure
mythology. For the elaboration of similarities and differences in addressing the question
of God by Eckhart and Heidegger see Helting (1997: 66-78).
A few days before his death, Heidegger composed a motto for his collected edition:
“Ways, not works”. He chose ‘collected edition’ over ‘collected works’
(Gesamtausgabe versus Gesammelte Werke) explaining: “The collected edition should
indicate various ways: it is underway in the field of paths of the self-transforming asking
of the many-sided question of Being […] The point is to awaken the confrontation about
the question concerning the topic of thinking […] and not to communicate the opinion
of the author, and not to characterize the standpoint of the writer, and not to fit it into
the series of other historically determinable philosophical standpoints. Of course, such
a thing is always possible, especially in the information age, but for preparing the
questioning access to the topic of thinking, it is completely useless” (GA1: 437-438).
172 Wierciñski


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Formal Indication, Irony,
and the Risk of Saying Nothing

S. J. McGrath

The reason I speak to them in parables is that seeing they do not perceive, and
hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.

Mt. 13:13 NRSV

Long overlooked as an apparently tangential term in Sein und Zeit, the

notion of formale Anzeige (“formal indication”, hereafter FI) has
emerged as the most important methodological principle in Heidegger’s
early work.1 With the publication of the frühe Freiburger Vorlesungen
(the lectures Heidegger gave at Freiburg between 1919 and 1923), the
centrality of FI for Heidegger’s phenomenology can no longer be
denied. The most sustained discussion of the notion is a few pages in the
1920 ‘Introduction to the Phenomenology of Religious Life’ (GA60: 58-
64), a presentation as elliptical and under-determined as FI itself.2 Like
irony, FI is a deliberately deflective way of speaking, an under-
determined, semantically impoverished and existentially charged
discourse. The speaker/writer renounces a certain degree of control of
meaning in the interest of maieutically exhorting the recipient to
discover the theme for himself. Of course, the invitation may be
declined. Because it makes the meaning of the expression contingent
upon the way it is received, FI risks saying nothing. Heidegger was
forced to cut the 1920 discussion short when the students complained to
the Dean that their Privatdozent was holding a lecture course on religion
that appeared to have nothing to do with religion (GA60: 65; Kisiel
1993: 171-3).
From the terse and sketchy nature of Heidegger’s
methodological discussion of FI in GA60, and the virtual disappearance
of the concept in Sein und Zeit, we can conclude one of two things:
Either (1) Heidegger is reaching for an understanding of method
that is still eluding him. When he finally figures out what he is doing he
drops the language of FI. The early methodological discussions in the
frühe Freiburger Vorlesungen would then be merely significant for
180 McGrath

understanding Heidegger’s development; they would not change our

understanding of Sein und Zeit;
Or (2) Heidegger is articulating the basic methodological
principle which governs his mature philosophy, on the fly, as it were,
while working it out for himself. He never again returns to the topic
because henceforth he assumes the method without adverting to it.
Indeed, he comes to conclude (perhaps wrongly) that some
methodological issues are better left undiscussed S shown rather than
said. Hence these early discussions are an indispensable key to
understanding Heidegger’s phenomenology. Prior to the publication of
the frühe Freiburger Vorlesungen, we were in the dark about how to
understand the key existentiellen of Sein und Zeit, such as Dasein, Zu-
Sein, Existenz, Jemeinigkeit, etc.
I follow the second of these alternatives. With Theodore Kisiel,
I believe that FI is “the very heart and soul of the early Heidegger”
(Kisiel 1993: 172).3 Context is crucial here: FI emerges as a technique
whereby the young Heidegger hopes to correct the theoretical and
objectifying nature of Husserl’s phenomenology, an effort he
understands as continuous with phenomenology’s maxim, to stay with
the things themselves. However, context alone is not enough. Here,
more than anywhere else in Heidegger, some light is required from
outside the texts. FI has an important resonance with a well-known (if
not always well-understood) rhetorical structure, which has, since
Kierkegaard, come to be known as indirect communication. Irony is the
most common example of this structure. In irony a strategic tension
between form and content is built into the discourse. Meaning is
deferred when an initial, common understanding of the speech act is
deflected by an incongruous tone or some other surprising gesture of the
speaker. The recipient is left with no information, a crisis that drives
him into performative comprehension. An elaboration of this analogy
between FI and irony can help us see the risk Heidegger took in
introducing FI into phenomenology, the risk of saying nothing.


At work in the frühe Freiburger Vorlesungen is a not-so subtle polemic

with Husserl, although it will be years before Husserl realized that
Heidegger was diametrically opposed to him on many essential points.
Husserl’s phenomenology is oriented towards Evidenz. Intentions are
characterized as empty or filled on the grounds of the absence or
Formal Indication, Irony, and the Risk of Saying Nothing 181

presence of “intuitional fulfilment”. I can think about the Freiburg train

station without being there; the intention is filled when the train station
is before me bodily. For Heidegger, this emphasis on the concrete is
correct; however, Husserl’s way of setting up the phenomenological
paradigm restricts experience to a certain intentional mode, the subject’s
intending a physical object. The presence of the object to the indifferent
gaze of the subject – the theoretical attitude (Vorhandenheit in Sein und
Zeit) – is privileged as the criterion of phenomenological truth. For
Heidegger, the intuition of physical objects is still a derivative mode of
experience. Life as we live it is not made up of ‘intuitions’ of physical
things; it enacts itself in a fore-theoretical understanding of the whole,
an understanding which is contemporaneous with living.
In order to do justice to what Heidegger believed Husserl had
overlooked (facticity), Heidegger elaborates three moments in every
intention: content-sense, the what of an intention, or as Heidegger
describes it, a life-tendency (Gehaltssinn), relational-sense, the how or
form of a tendency (Bezugssinn), and the enactment-sense, the
actualization of the tendency in a concrete situation (Vollzugssinn).4
These three moments have analogies in Husserl (noesis, noema, and
intuitional fulfilment, respectively). However, Husserl’s
intuition–intention relation is reversed in Heidegger’s
enactment–content. Where for Husserl intuition does not alter the
intention it fulfills, for Heidegger the enactment differentiates the
structure in a decisive way. Enactment-sense is the difference history
makes (Risser 2002), anchoring meaning in factical life. Heidegger’s
structure of intentionality is circular: the how and the what are re-
configured by the enactment.5 More exactly, enactment-sense is as
determinative of the how of the intentional act, as the how is
determinative of the what of an intention. Husserl’s intentionality
analysis begins with the subject, the a priori constitutive noesis, which
determines the noema and is fulfilled in the intuition; Heidegger’s
analysis begins with the situation, the enactment-sense, which
determines both the relational and content-senses. The result of this
crucial shift of emphasis is a radical de-centring of intentionality, a
dislodging of the ego from its constitutive transcendentality. Noemata
not only vary with noeses, they vary according to every historical
application or enactment. Time determines the shape and structure of all
experience.6 Husserl aims to lift noetic structures out of their factual
situation in order to isolate a priori essences, define them in categorical
terms and express them scientifically; Heidegger does the opposite:
182 McGrath

through FI, he attempts to restore the factical context of the act of

FI achieves this by exacerbating the living and fore-theoretical
meaning of philosophical terms. Primordial meaning is hidden by
theoretical talk; it only emerges out of enactment. FI invites us to live
the subject-matter for ourselves, to think it through in terms native to
our own lived experience, and thus to allow it to be historically refracted
by the facticity of our situation S haecceitized, as it were. Relational-
sense is questioned not prescribed, in such a way that any suppression,
suspension or neutralization of enactment-sense, such as is typical for
the two principle modes of theoretical discourse, generalization and
formalisation, will disfigure the intended meaning of the statement. FI
is thus a reversal of the directional flow of theoretical thinking. The
theoretical intention moves with the native tendency of language toward
generalization, from the singular to the universal, the concrete to the
abstract, existence to essence. FI uses language in such a way as to
thwart the de-worlding typical of theory; it is a deliberate and strategic
restoration of the factical roots of thinking. Formally indicative
discourse must be applied to our own individualized, and to that degree,
incommunicable experience of being-in-the-world, if it is to be
understood. FI requires context, a context which can only be supplied by
the recipient in an unforeseeable and indefinable way.
Paul Natorp’s critique of what he thought was a fatal flaw in
phenomenology spurred Heidegger’s re-thinking of phenomenological
method. The phenomenologist presumes to express immediate
experience without objectification or distortion, Natorp notes. Yet the
instant immediacy is expressed, it is no longer immediate but mediated
by language. The phenomenologist “stills the stream” of life that he or
she intends to describe (GA56/57: 100-101).7 Heidegger’s response to
this critique was twofold. First, Natorp mistakenly assumes that factical
life prior to objectification is originally wordless. Not all language is
objectifying. Before life is objectified in theoretical language, it is
primordially expressed. Experience always already has the structure we
associate with language – that is what it means to be ‘in a world’.
Secondly, the fore-theoretical may never be defined, but its structure can
be indicated in indirect language, shown rather than said, in language
that de-constructs itself, points away from any objectified meaning
towards a non-objectifiable fore-theoretical factical-sense. The
hermeneutics of facticity does not need to invent words to articulate that
which has never before been said. Rather, it listens to the way things
Formal Indication, Irony, and the Risk of Saying Nothing 183

originally express their sense, the primordial words arising from the
original expressedness of life.
In the 1922 text written at Paul Natorp’s request,
‘Phenomenological Interpretations with Respect to Aristotle (Indication
of the Hermeneutic Situation)’, the so-called Natorp Bericht (PIA),
Heidegger writes:

The how of its [philosophy’s] research is the interpretation of the sense of this
being with respect to its basic categorial structures, i.e., the modes in which
factical life temporalizes itself, unfolds itself, and speaks with itself
(êáôçãïñåÃí) in such temporalizing (PIA: 246/121).

Facticity is not ineffable in the sense of unexpressed or unstructured.

This is a position that Heidegger maintained as early as his 1916
Habilitationsschrift, Die Kategorien- und Bedeutungslehre des Duns
Scotus (GA1: 189-401).8 In 1919, Heidegger put it thus:
“Phenomenology is the explication of the meaningful whole, it gives the
logos of the phenomenon, logos in the sense of verbum internum, not in
the sense of logicification” (GA60: 63). In 1925 he repeated the

It is also a matter of fact that our simplest perceptions and constitutive states
are already expressed, even more, are interpreted in a certain way. What is
primary and original here? It is not so much that we see the objects and things
but rather that we first talk about them. To put it more precisely we do not say
what we see, but rather the reverse, we see what one says about the matter
(GA20: 75/56).

The primordial logos is never to be disengaged theoretically or

in universal terms. It only shows itself when facticity itself is thrown
into question.

Insight into existence itself can be gained only through that kind of actualizing
in which facticity is rendered questionable, i.e., through a concrete destruction
of facticity at some particular time with respect to the motives of its
movement, its directions, and what is available to it (PIA: 245/120).

What does it mean “to make facticity questionable”? Heidegger wishes

to break the theoretical glass that encases the philosophical thinker, the
wall that renders him or her personally invulnerable to the matter in
question. We, the questioners, are the ones who are put into question
when facticity is questioned. The questioner experiences a re-direction
184 McGrath

of inquiry; the impartiality of a theoretical inspection is no longer

possible. To make facticity questionable is to resist the substitution of
general ideas for concrete experience. Rather than substitute some
generic concept in its place, we are called to think Existenz.
As Husserl’s assistant Heidegger was intent upon finding a
solution to the dichotomy of historical experience and knowledge, which
he had already, to some degree, begun to question in the
Habilitationsschrift. The Aristotelian-Scholastic problem of the
ineffability of the singular was a central concern, which Heidegger
carried forward from his seminary days, through his neo-Kantian
revisionary readings of Scotus and Erfurt, to his apprenticeship to
Husserl. According to the Aristotelian tradition, the term of intellection
was universal essence, while sensation grasped only singular existence.
We never cognized the singular as such, for as singular it was
unintelligible; we cognized the singular only insofar as it was an
instance of an intelligible and universal essence.9 Heidegger was
disturbed to see that Husserl’s phenomenology (the Husserl of Ideas)
failed to question this traditional view. To pursue phenomenology as an
‘apriori science of universal essences’ (Husserl, 1976, §1) only
complied with the prejudice against history. That the “understandable
oneness and onceness of life” (GA1: 42) eluded a certain kind of
universal analysis did not therefore mean that it was in itself
unintelligible. It meant that the mode of thinking constituted by defining
and judging – the theoretical – had definite limits. Where definitions
were not possible, language could performatively and exhortatively
point to that which could not be defined.
The hermeneutics of facticity aims at nothing less than that
which has always eluded philosophy, historical life, Existenz, in all of
its ‘ineffable’ singularity. It is “primal science” (Urwissenschaft) in both
the objective and subjective genitive senses. It thematizes the primal, the
fore-theoretical, the historical, and it does so in a primal way. The
thematization should match the subject matter. Primal language is used
to evoke the fore-theoretical sense of things. In ‘Die Idee der
Philosophie’ Heidegger lays the groundwork for such a phenomenology
by arguing that the subject matter of genuine philosophical research, life
as it is lived by us, is hidden and inaccessible to theoretical
understanding. Primordial truth is distorted by the objectifications of
theoretical science. Life has not been comprehended by theoretical
philosophy. The region of objectified essences isolated in Husserl’s
phenomenological epoché is a founded phenomenon: it presumes
Formal Indication, Irony, and the Risk of Saying Nothing 185

‘something’ that cannot be expressed on the level of theory, a primal

ground that “motivates” and enlivens thinking. Heidegger, borrowing
from Lask, names this unnameable ground “the fore-theoretical
something” (das vortheoretische Etwas). Philosophy as primordial
science thematizes the hidden ground by tracing its contours in the
grounded, uncovering that which does not show itself by interpreting
that which does. “The objectified something” (das objektartige Etwas),
contains a “formal” or structural moment, which points to the
“foundational moment of life as such”, the “primal something” (das Ur-
etwas).10 The Etwas indicates pre-categorial structure, a specific, fore-
theoretically determined and historically situated something, without
presuming to describe and delimit it in analysis.
In the 1919-1920 ‘Basic Problems of Phenomenology’
Heidegger’s simmering critique of Husserl bubbled up into a full scale
revision of the notion of intentionality. No longer understood as the
convergence of subjective acts with intended objects, intentionality is
now understood to be itself indicative of life and its motivational
tendencies. The historical self is not a “transcendental subject”; it does
not reflectively possess itself, but enacts itself in living. Every life-
tendency is directed towards a certain content, but this is not originally
an object, a thing with a distinct essence. Rather the term of a tendency
is a concretely determined, historically singularized life-world, a
meaningful-whole. By 1921 Heidegger had introduced the notion of
“comportment” (Verhalten) into his lectures as a term for the fore-
theoretical directedness of care, underscoring the factical involvement
of the self with its world. The situational connotation of the German
word Verhalten corrects the worldlessness of Husserl’s intentionality.
Verhalten is an attitude, a behaviour adopted under particular
circumstances. A comportment occurs in a determinate life-context; it
is always en-worlded:

The intransitive-verbal meaning of ‘to live’ explicates itself […] always as

living ‘in’ something, living ‘out of’ something, living ‘for’ something, living
‘with’ something, living ‘against’, living ‘towards’ something, living ‘from’
something. We define the ‘something’ […] with the term ‘world’” (GA61: 53,

FI is structured by a threefold logic of affirmation, deflection

and a deferral. Something is affirmed of something. The affirmation
presumes the recipient’s initial understanding of the affirmation. This
initial affirmation is then deflected, for it inevitably leads understanding
186 McGrath

away from the factical enactment-sense of the term, to which the formal
indicator gestures. The deflection, however, does not lead to another
affirmation; rather the factical meaning of the term is deferred to an
existential act of fulfilment which can only happen beyond theoretical
discourse. Certain phenomena cannot be directly spoken of but must be
lived or understood existentially. To speak of them at all entails using
an expression with a provisional and derivative sense of significance, an
intention necessary in the first moment but necessarily deflected in the
second. In the third moment, the term is relocated in a realm of
primordial experience, which is deferred to as the ground from which
the derivative sense first emerged. As in medieval negative theology (for
instance Aquinas’s), FI is not a license to say anything whatsoever: FI
is dependent upon a rigorous adherence to the rules of the theoretical
discourse that is being transcended.11 Heidegger leaves his reader in
crisis, forced to abandon the safety of the theoretical structure which
brought them that far if they are to progress further into the subject-
matter. The revision of meaning built into Aquinas’s act of naming the
divine, the way in which the claim doubles back unto itself and takes
back with one hand what it offered with the other (‘God is good’/‘God
is not good’), is also distinctive of FI.12
Let us give an example. When Heidegger says, Dasein is a
“being-in-the-world”, he first of all affirms something of Dasein. One
is tempted to say he uses a metaphor: Dasein is ‘contained’ by its world
as a body is ‘contained’ by a room. But FI is more precise than a
metaphor. Unlike a metaphor, FI is characterized not by a juxtaposition
of content but by a withholding of content. Heidegger’s second move is
to deflect us from understanding the ‘in’ in spatial terms, the
understanding which in fact initially animates the claim, which, like all
claims are proximately determined by ordinary sense (SZ § 12). The
third move is not to provide an alternative concept of ‘in’ which can be
theoretically grasped but to defer the meaning of the term to an
existential context. The primordial sense of ‘in’ is derived from the fore-
theoretical experience of the care-structure of Dasein; it is the ground of
all other senses of ‘in’, including the spatial sense. We defer to the
primordial sense of existence, postponing our understanding of the term
“being-in-the-world” until the ineluctably singular (Jemeinig) enactment
of sense becomes possible. The FI “being-in-the-world” summons the
thinker to a performance of thought that would engage the phenomenon
of in-ness in a more original way, a way that cannot be directly
expressed. The deflection and deferral of the affirmed meaning
Formal Indication, Irony, and the Risk of Saying Nothing 187

generates a triangulation of intentions: the expression, “Dasein is being-

in” (1) directs us to the spatial sense of ‘in’ (2); the deflection of the
spatial sense of ‘in’ at (2) (“Dasein is not a thing that could be inside
another thing”) redirects us to a primordial sense of ‘in’ (3); the
existential enactment of the primordial sense of ‘in’ at (3) retroactively
determines the authentic meaning of “being in”.

(3) existential ‘in’

(primordial sense—deferred)

(1) ‘Being-in’ (affirmed) 8
(2) spatial ‘in’
(derivative sense—deflected)

Notwithstanding the radical lack of determination structured

into FI, Heidegger intends to exert some kind of semantic control over
the direction of thinking evoked by FI. He does not simply confront the
reader with koans, that could turn out random interpretations; with each
FI he frames a specific kind of semantic puzzle, which is to be solved in
a specific way. Like the Aristotelian ethicist, the formal indicator must
know something about the subject-matter at issue, if only “roughly and
in outline”.13 FI projects a silhouette of content, outlining without
defining the range of possibilities of meaning. In the analytic of Dasein,
Heidegger is endeavouring to speak precisely without saying anything
precise, and to say precise things without speaking precisely. Upon the
risk of this venture, the whole of Being and Time depends.
It would be false to suggest that Husserl knew nothing of FI.
The early Husserl, whom Heidegger studied carefully, the Husserl of the
Logische Untersuchungen, is indeed aware of the phenomenon of fore-
theoretical formal structure. The phenomenon of “categorial intuition”
proves the need for formally indicative language. If the given is
structured prior to categorial objectification then a level of meaning that
188 McGrath

eludes objectification announces itself.14 Husserl touches upon the

possibility of FI when he draws a distinction between the “objective
expressions” of science and the “essentially subjective and occasional
expressions” of ordinary life (Husserl 1970, vol. 1: § 26-27).15 The
former have a universal validity that can be grasped independent of the
occasion of their use. One needs no factical context to understand the
phrase, “water boils at 100 degrees Celsius at sea level”. The essentially
occasional expression is inextricably bound up with the speaker’s
situation. The expressions ‘I am’, ‘this’, ‘that’, ‘here’, ‘now’, do not
communicate content that can be fully grasped independent of the
situation of the speaker. Essentially occasional expressions are
inextricably contextual; their significance is bound up with a factical
situation, a context which necessarily exceeds the signifier. The
essentially occasional expression is an everyday speech act, which
draws thinking into what Heidegger calls a circumspect (umsichtich)
overview of a whole situation. For example, I arrive home in the
evening, my wife greets me from the living room, without getting up, by
calling out ‘there is beer in the fridge’.16 The expression cannot be
understood in the abstract; it is nested in the context of my home at the
moment. When I understand what she means, I grasp that at this
moment, the fridge in fact contains beer, which I may therefore drink,
if I would like. The expression is economical, it leaves much
unexpressed. It is an invitation into a situation, which lies before me to
explore further. It has a personal context, which she and I alone can
understand. The expression draws me into a fore-theoretical context,
which although left unexpressed, is essential to the meaning. I cannot
understand the expression in abstraction from the situation, for what
could it mean? In which fridge is there beer? Am I to understand that the
beer is always there? The expression arises out of the situation and
gestures obliquely toward it; the situation is the unstated supposition of
the expression. The essentially occasional expression does not say
everything that theoretically can be said, for the totality of details are
redundant to the purpose of the expression. I am drawn to consider the
situation in which the expression has arisen in its immediate and
unsurveyable contextuality.


In the methodological section of the ‘Introduction to the Phenomenology

of Religion’, Heidegger begins by distinguishing FI from the central
Formal Indication, Irony, and the Risk of Saying Nothing 189

methodological feature of Husserl’s language, if not all philosophical

language, formalisation (GA60: 57-62; Husserl 1976: § 13).
Formalisations are universalisations of formal structure. They are to be
distinguished from generalizations. Where the generalization proceeds
by way of defining and delimiting content-sense, formalisation suspends
content-sense and defines relational-sense. Generalization orders things
according to genera and species. It is bound to a particular content-
sense. The subjective relation to the subject matter, the relational-sense
or attitude, the how of the phenomenon, is assumed, without being
defined or thematized. The enactment-sense is entirely hidden – of no
apparent relevance to the constitution of meaning. In the 1920 religion
lecture Heidegger gives the following example: “The stone is red”. “Red
is a colour”. “Colour is a sense quality” (GA60: 58). With each step in
the progression of generality, the object is subsumed into a wider
context of things. But the formal structure of thinghood in general is not
in any way brought out by the classification.
Formalisation, by contrast, breaks with the order of
generalization. It suspends content and defines the how or relational-
sense, which founds the intentional act. When we move from the above
generalizations to the formal claim, “The stone is an object”, we have
left the order of generalization behind. An ‘object’ is not a species of the
genus ‘thing’. We can continue further into more formal levels of
universality, for example, “sense quality is an essence”. Heidegger
points out that sense quality does not determine ‘essence’ the way ‘red’
determines ‘colour’. ‘Sense quality’ is not a member of the class
‘essence’. Rather, it is a way of being an essence (GA60: 58). Heidegger
agrees with Husserl that formalisation has an important role to play in
phenomenology; by bringing the relational-sense into relief, even if it
assumes an over-arching relational-sense of subject/object, it brings the
phenomenon of intentionality into view. Because it is content-free
(sachhaltig frei), it shows how every content is intentionally structured.
The determination of meaning comes, not from content but from the
attitude (relational-sense).17 The whatness of the predication is not
content-determined but attitudinally determined.18
The strength of formalisation, its indifference to content, is also
its weakness: formalisation obstructs the disclosure of the factic. The
relational-sense assumed in formalisation neutralizes the enactment-
sense precisely to better determine and define the relational-sense. It is
for this reason that enactment-sense is not an issue for Husserl. In
generalization, the semantic weight falls on the content-sense; the
190 McGrath

relational-sense is assumed, unconsciously as it were, and therefore,

intentionality remains hidden. In formalisation the meaning-
determinative structure of intentionality itself becomes explicit. The
semantic weight falls on the relational-sense. The enactment-sense is
neutralized by virtue of the assumption of the relational-sense of
content-indifference (the theoretical attitude). Formalisation neutralizes
enactment by prescribing the way of viewing the matter, defining
precisely how the phenomena is to be experienced. As a formalising
phenomenology, Husserlian phenomenology articulates the multiplicity
of ways in which the theoretical attitude can determine an object, the
varieties of ways of intending a thing, by suspending content,
highlighting relation, and neutralizing enactment. It makes no difference
where, when and by whom the intention is fulfilled; the formalisation
holds for all possible acts. Husserl never places the basic relational-
sense of the theoretical attitude itself into question. This could only be
done by re-thinking intentionality from the ground up, breaking with the
language of subject / object and bringing the enactment-sense to the fore
as the factical root of meaning.
By distinction from both generalization and formalisation, FI
does not progress in the order of universalization. Its strength is its
under-determination, which allows for a concreteness not possible in
either generalization or formalisation. It does not describe content or
prescribe a relational-sense. Its ambiguity on both fronts serves to
highlight the enactment-sense (overlooked in generalization, neutralized
in formalisation) as the locus of meaning. The functional differences
between generalization, formalisation, and FI hinge on the enactment-
sense. Only in FI is the enactment-sense permitted to be determinative
of meaning. The following chart shows how FI highlights relation, but
differently than formalisation, not to define it and thereby neutralize
enactment, but to leave it open in such a way as to activate the
Formal Indication, Irony, and the Risk of Saying Nothing 191

mode of content-sense relational- enactment-

discourse sense sense
generalization defined and assumed overlooked
determinative without being
formalisation suspended defined and neutralized
FI suspended left-open, determinative
highlighted as but not
locus of defined

Where formalisation determines relational-sense by suspending content,

FI puts relational-sense into question by under-determination. FI is a
negative indication of relational-sense, a withdrawal of relational-
determination that exacerbates enactment and forces it into the open as
the determinative-sense.19 FI is neither indifferent to content, nor is it
content-determined. It says only as much as must be said in order to
direct thinking to the site where the event of meaning can occur, the
enactment which alone anchors it in the factic. FI aims to be the most
non-invasive use of terms possible, language that has enough
determination to prevent it from dissolving into merely rhetorical
suggestion, and which yet remains under-determined enough to allow
things to show themselves as they are in themselves. The fulness of
meaning is in some way withheld and factical contextuality (what
Heidegger calls Umsicht or “circumspection” in Sein und Zeit)
highlighted as the locus of significance. To understand a FI, I must break
out of the self-forgetfulness of theoretical speculation and enact it. A
formal indication is not a complete statement but “a way of approach
toward bringing to fruition the original fulfilment of what is indicated”
(GA60: 58-59). The enactment-sense, which must be infinitely variable,
can neither be assumed, nor suspended if the expression is to be
fulfilled, for everything now hinges upon it.

What the formally indicative meaning bears within itself is the way of viewing
the phenomena. It must be understood in a methodological sense how the
formal indicator, although it guides the consideration, brings no predetermined
opinion into the problem […] The formal predication is not bound to any
192 McGrath

content, however it must be motivated somehow. How is it motivated? It arises

from the meaning of the attitudinal relation itself. I do not look from the what
determination to the object, rather I view the object in a manner of speaking
in its determinateness. I must look away from the given what-content, and
instead see that the given content is given, attitudinally determined (GA60: 55,

We must do something with FI if we are to understand it. The

hermeneutics of facticity does not indifferently reference a realm of
objects that are similarly accessed by all thinkers, like the objects of
mathematics or physics, but my life in its incommunicable uniqueness.
By rendering relational-sense questionable, FI highlights enactment-
sense. But both are left undefined. What remains, then, of the
expression? A pointing to an enactment of meaning, which one must
perform for oneself if one is to understand. FI has no meaning to give
apart from the meaning given it in enactment; it is senseless without a
performance, a performance, which does not re-incarnate an intended
meaning, but brings about something new.
Where is FI in Sein und Zeit? In short, everywhere. All of the
existentiallen can be regarded as formally indicative. Take, for example,
the existential of Jemeinigkeit, “being in each case mine”. “The being
of this being [Dasein] is in each case mine” (Das Sein dieses Seienden
ist je meines) (SZ: 41). The way of thinking the phrase je meines (the
relational-sense) is both under-determined or suspended (how are we to
understand it?) and highlighted as essential to understanding the
expression. The phrase cannot be thought in an indifferent manner. The
theoretical attitude, with its existential neutrality and methodological
detachment, cannot access this relational-sense. The je in jemeinigkeit
resists theoretical consideration in much the same way that poetry
demands an affective and personal response in order to be appreciated.
The existential “jemeinigkeit” delivers no information about Dasein’s
being, other than negative claims, that it is not generic, theoretical, etc.
It requires appropriation, a fore-theoretical and performative
comprehension, in order to be understood. Everyone who would make
sense of it must apply it to themselves in such a way that the ‘mine’
becomes their own. Jemeinigkeit is neither a generalization nor a
formalisation. It is not a universalization of formal structure, within
which a variety of whats could be given. It is rather an indicator of
‘something’ which itself has no whatness to disclose, which therefore
always slips under the theoretical radar. Jemeinigkeit draws attention to
Formal Indication, Irony, and the Risk of Saying Nothing 193

the how without determining or disclosing the character of the

Notwithstanding the ubiquity of FI in Sein und Zeit, the
methodological discussion of FI seems to have dropped from
Heidegger’s agenda by 1927. Why? The failure of the 1921 religion
lectures may have led Heidegger to conclude that methodological
discussions are best kept to a minimum. Methodology is no longer
regarded as an effective entrance into phenomenology; even the method
of FI must be formally indicated. Yet traces of the early methodology of
FI remain scattered throughout the text of Sein und Zeit. For example,
what Heidegger means by “appearance” in SZ is at least structurally
related to FI (SZ: 28-31). A phenomenon that indicates the appearance
of something points to that which, by means of the appearance, hides
itself. Heidegger speaks of the symptoms of illness, “occurrences in the
body that show themselves and in this self-showing as such ‘indicate’
something that does not show itself” (SZ: 29). Appearance means that
“something makes itself known which does not show itself. It makes
itself known through something that does show itself” (SZ: 29). The
withholding of the being of the phenomenon in appearance is to be
distinguished from seeming, for the withheld does not seem to be other
than it is; rather the withheld is what does not appear in the appearance.
This is the structure of signs and symbols: “All indications,
presentations, symptoms, and symbols have this fundamental formal
structure of appearing” (SZ: 29). In the discussion of “reference and
signs” in chapter three, Heidegger further develops the way of being of
indication. The sign interests him because it points without defining, it
gestures towards a whole that is not itself comprehended. “The sign
applies to the circumspection of heedful association in such a way that
the circumspection following its direction brings the actual aroundness
of the surrounding world into an explicit ‘overview’ in that compliance”
(SZ: 79). The sign allows for a non-invasive access to the world. It
gestures to the whole without transposing it into a theoretical
configuration of objects. “Circumspect overseeing does not comprehend
what is at hand. Instead it acquires an orientation within the surrounding
world” (SZ: 79).
A further residue of FI in SZ is Heidegger’s two meanings of
logos (SZ § 32-34). The logos apophansis, propositional judgment,
presupposes a more primordially logos, the original aletheic
understandability of a being. This original showing is not grasped in a
wordless seeing. On the contrary, it is fundamentally worded. In a
194 McGrath

similar way FI is language that belongs essentially to the thing that it

indicates, as a scent belongs to the animal that leaves it on the ground
where it passed. Facticity cannot show itself directly in expressed
language; it can only send forth appearances of itself. For those who can
read the signs, the appearances are replete with suggestions of
primordial experience. As an appearance of life, FI gives expression to
the thing by allowing language to be shaped and determined by the thing
rather than some preconceived notion.
Kisiel describes FI as “a distributive universal” by distinction
from a “generic universal” (Kisiel 2002a: 67). The meaning of a
distributive universal varies according to context; the generic universal
is indifferent to context. On this reading FI is universal in the sense that
it is multi-applicable, in much the same way that pronouns and proper
names are in some sense universal. I can point to anything I like with the
pronoun ‘that’. Countless men answer to the name ‘John’. FI, according
to Kisiel, has this minimum universal structure. Even if one concedes
this point, one must still distinguish the universal that communicates
essential content from the universality of FI. The former is the generic,
‘man’, ‘animal’, ‘death’, which in an Aristotelian model of abstraction,
has isolated the essential content communicated among a variety of
individuals. This is precisely what the FI seeks to preclude: abstraction.
It is a use of language that can only be grasped concretely. It gives
nothing for the theoretical gaze to consider in indifference to concrete
content and context. As a sign, FI is multi-applicable, to be sure. But as
a symbol, it has no content apart from these applications. It means only
what it can mean in a given situation.
Much light can be shed on the structure of FI by retracing some
of the steps Heidegger took towards articulating the concept. In his 1916
Habilitationsschrift Heidegger examines a grammatical structure in
Thomas of Erfurt’s fourteenth-century Grammatica Speculativa, which
is in fact a medieval forerunner to FI (GA1: 353-4). Erfurt distinguishes
the intention of the generic, the mode of the universal (modus
communis), from the intention of the individual, the mode of the proper
name (modus appropriati). The mode of the universal is the intention of
a thing as an instance of a class, that which is denoted by common
names and definitions. The mode of the proper name is the intention of
a thing as a singular. Heidegger points out that the modus appropriati
does not express the content of an individual essence; it does not define
this singular in its singularity, but rather, expresses the mode of
singularity as such. The proper name displays the thing “sub ratione
Formal Indication, Irony, and the Risk of Saying Nothing 195

propria, that is, with the consciousness that its content belongs to this
and only this individual” (GA1: 364). Proper names do not define but
Heidegger’s early interest in indexical language motivated his
study of medieval mysticism, to which he turned in the years
immediately following the publication of the Habilitationsschrift.
Heidegger discerns a mode of indirect communication in the mystic’s
effort to communicate the incommunicable unio mystica.20 The mystic
wishes to share her experience of God with others, primarily to guide
them in the mystical life. Yet it was a central tenet of medieval theology
from Augustine, through Maimonides, to Eckhart, that God is
unnameable and undefinable. As absolute being, free of all
determination, transcending every genus and species, God is without
The medieval mystic’s experience of God does not consist in
sensations and visions (although these may accompany it); there is no
object here that could be either generalized or formalised. The unio
mystica is a fusion of the will with the divine at a level of experience so
interior and private that any effort to theorize it is in some sense a
distortion. Therefore, the mystic uses language, not to define, but to
elicit a change of view in those who have ears to hear. He seeks to
express that which is closest to his life. From a theoretical perspective,
the effort is doomed to fail. However, the what content of the mystical
treatise is secondary to the way of understanding, the how, indicated by
the text. The mystical treatise withholds both content and relational-
senses, frustrating the intellect’s craving for information, and driving the
neophyte into enactment.22 The mystic wishes to experience, in a mode
of experiencing beyond objectification, the how of God’s goodness. She
achieves this by becoming herself free of attachment and distraction, as
simple as the absolute being (simplicitas Dei), in whom there is no
distinction.23 FI is an analogous via negativa. It, too, connotes by
withdrawing rather than applying predicates. The negative way is
required in medieval theology because of the trans-categorical and
infinite nature of the subject-matter. It is equally necessary to the
hermeneutics of facticity, not only because of the non-definable and
historical nature of life, but also because of the tendency of language to
FI emerges in Heidegger’s early phenomenology as a promise
– perhaps unfulfilled and unfulfillable – that philosophical thinking can
overcome the abstractions of the theoretical attitude and return to the
196 McGrath

primordial origin of thought in factical life. The promise held Heidegger

accountable to the end of his career. While he will abandon the technical
language of FI, his later work manifests an even more resolute
determination to remain faithful to the primordial origin of thinking,
iconized as Ereignis.


While the terminology is new, the idea of problematising the concrete

meaning of an expression, drawing attention to it, making enactment-
sense unignorable, through contradiction, double-meaning, under-
determination, etc., is not. The relational-sense of every ironic statement
is held in suspense. Is the ironist serious or is he joking? The
understanding of irony is only achieved by self-transposition: we see the
expression through the eyes of the one who uses it and only then grasp
its meaning. But to ‘see something through the eyes of another’ is to see
it through our own eyes, that is, to enact the meaning in a certain way.
The ambiguity in the ironic statement, like the semantic gap in FI,
startles us into application.
Irony was for Kierkegaard the only possible way of
communicating existence.25 Philosophy, in particular, modern
(Hegelian) philosophy, presumed to translate the richness of existence
into a system of terms. Kierkegaard regarded himself as a maverick in
the modern context, not a philosopher, but a religious poet (Kierkegaard
1991: 289). Kierkegaardian irony is a self-abnegating mode of
discourse; it risks trying to mean something while saying nothing
meaningful. Irony is a mirror, Kierkegaard tells us: by framing a
contradiction between form and content, irony reflects the recipient back
into himself, driving him into self-disclosure:

A communication that is the unity of jest and earnestness is thus a sign of

contradiction. It is no direct communication; it is impossible for the recipient
to say directly which is which, simply because the one communicating does
not directly communicate either jest or earnestness. Therefore the earnestness
in this communication lies in another place, or somewhere else, lies in making
the recipient self-active […] A contradiction placed squarely in front of a
person – if one can get him to look at it – is a mirror; as he is forming a
judgment, what dwells within him must be disclosed. It is a riddle, but as he
is guessing the riddle, what dwells within him is disclosed by the way he
guesses. The contradiction confronts him with a choice, and as he is choosing,
together with what he chooses, he himself is disclosed (Kierkegaard 1991:
Formal Indication, Irony, and the Risk of Saying Nothing 197

I emerge from the barber shop newly shorn, and an acquaintance

flashes me a greasy smile, saying “Hey! Nice Haircut!” He seems to be
complimenting me, but the way he expresses himself puts me in doubt,
suggesting to my discomfort that he means exactly the opposite. But to
grasp his point in this way, I must try out a less than pleasant
perspective, enacting the possibility that my ironical acquaintance is
ridiculing me. The tension between the form and content of the ironic
speech act (he says something earnest in a jesting way) nullifies both the
content and relational-senses, precipitating a crisis of meaning, which
drives me to enact the relational-sense for myself.
The whole of Kierkegaard’s Philosophical Fragments is
structured by the contradiction between form and content typical of
ironic speech acts. The form of the Fragments is speculative philosophy.
Yet the content is the Gospel narrative. The impossibility of this
situation places the relational-sense of the text in question. How is the
text to be understood? Is this yet another transcendental deduction of
Christianity? Is this another crypto-theology masquerading as
philosophy? Climacus’s annoyed interlocutor interjects at various points
in the text to remind the narrator that he sees through his game, accusing
him of plagiarism, and of boring plagiarism at that. The contradiction
between form and content results in a nullification of both, or more
precisely, a suspension of both, analogous to the suspension of content
and relational-senses in FI. When content and relational-senses are
suspended, the enactment-sense emerges as the ground of meaning. The
Fragments are meant to elicit a radical change in view in the reader, but
the change could only be brought about by the reader himself. The
heterogeneity of philosophy and Christianity is indirectly demonstrated
by the absurdity of Climacus feigning a transcendental deduction of the
Christian notion of truth (“revelation”) through an apriori reversal of the
Socratic model of truth (“recollection”). It is not only that the Socratic
and the Christian are diametrically opposed; Christianity could not
possibly be ‘deduced’ a-historically (as Climacus himself pretends to
deduce it). If it could be deduced a priori by reversing the Socratic,
revelation would not at all contest recollection; rather, it would confirm
it. If it truly breaks with the Socratic, the Christian model must come
from outside subjectivity, from an experience of rupture. The self-
sufficiency of recollection must be disturbed, placed into a state of
radical self-questioning through an event that annuls its anticipations.
Climacus finds himself in a situation in which the Gospel cannot
be preached, not because of unbelief and heathenism, but because
198 McGrath

everyone already ‘knows’ too much about it.26 Christianity has been
fully assimilated into the system of speculative idealism, neutralized into
a theoretical content, an “objective truth”. As such, it no longer has the
power to incite faith or offence; it is, therefore, no longer the Gospel.
Climacus sets about making the understanding of Christianity difficult
again. In an analogous sense FI does not inform the recipient of features
of his life to which he has hitherto not adverted. Rather, FI disburdens
the recipient of traditional concepts, which disallow Existenz in all its
factical richness to come to thought.
The meaning of FI does not lie behind the expression but in
front of it. It does not await detective work on the part of the recipient,
who must divine the speaker’s/ writer’s intention, but a performative act
which applies the expression to life and thereby brings new meaning
into existence.27 The recipient understands himself in front of the
expression, not by projecting his beliefs onto the expression, but by
allowing the expression to enlarge the horizon of his self-understanding.
FI deflects the natural tendency of thinking to exchange the abstract for
the factical, the essential for the existential, and restores language to its
fore-theoretical context. Heidegger must use FI in his analysis of Dasein
because the singularity (Jemeinigkeit) of the being that we are is never
theoretically thematised, it is only disclosed in living. I only ‘know’ the
factic in living the factic (GA63: 5). The task for the hermeneutician of
facticity is to find a way of using language that allows the fore-
theoretical intelligibility of historical life, what Heidegger calls “primal
understanding”, to show itself. We will not abstract from our historical
existence, quite the reverse. We must reach for a language that expresses
the factic or better, a language that is so intimately bound up with the
factic that it brings it to appearance through the mediation of a sign.
Where Husserl struggles to arrive at a language transparent enough to
serve as a lexicon of universals for his community of phenomenologists,
who formalise common human experiences, while Heidegger frustrates
the anticipation of common meaning and thrusts his hearers back upon
themselves, demanding that they apply the expressions to their lives and
thus enact their meanings in singular, unprecedented, and ultimately un-
shareable ways. Husserl invites the thinker to abstract from the
haecceity of existence and participate in a communion of meaning,
Heidegger forbids any such self-abstraction, driving the thinker back
into the factical. In Husserl, the phenomenological analysis downplays
difference and highlights sameness in order to unite the community of
researchers; in Heidegger, the phenomenological analysis, while not
Formal Indication, Irony, and the Risk of Saying Nothing 199

ignoring common meanings, drives the researchers apart, by

emphasizing their existential isolation. The goal of the hermeneutics of
facticity is to jump into life, mid-stream as it were, to live
phenomenologically, which can only happen in the first person. The
method is FI.


The contemporary master of indirection, Derrida, notices that the ironist

in fact does not say anything. Irony is speaking not to say anything, a
deflective deferral of meaning, which always leaves the recipient
groping for meanings that have not been given:

Speaking in order not to say anything or to say something other than what one
thinks, speaking in such a way as to intrigue, disconcert, question, or have
someone or something else speak […] means speaking ironically. Irony, in
particular Socratic irony, consists of not saying anything, declaring that one
doesn’t have any knowledge of something, but doing that in order to
interrogate, to have someone or something […] speak or think. Eironeia
dissimulates, it is the act of questioning by feigning ignorance, by pretending
(Derrida 1995: 76).

Heidegger speaks without saying in FI, ostensibly renouncing

a claim to knowledge of what the phenomenon in question actually
means to whoever it is who might be listening to him or reading him. He
pretends not to know. But like Socratic irony, FI is a specific and
focussed ignorance. FI cannot mean just anything. If one FI is
discernible from another, they must be to some degree semantically
determined prior to enactment. If they were not, all existentials would
converge, according to the principle of the identity of indiscernibles.
Dasein would be the only existential; whenever a thematisation of some
dimension of existence was called for, it would be repeated inscrutably
and cryptically, like a mystical icon of an unspeakable truth.
Kierkegaard was frustrated that the public did not understand
the point of the pseudonymous writings. They did not get the joke. The
first review of The Philosophical Fragments (under the pseudonym
Johannes Climacus) assumed that the text was nothing more than what
it appeared to be, a didactic treatise in anti-Hegelian, ‘positive’
philosophy. Climacus’s response to the review appeared in the sequel,
The Concluding Unscientific Postscript. He notes with some
consternation that the irony of the Fragments was entirely missed. The
200 McGrath

learned reader missed that the didactic tone is a pretense, a joke: the text
is saying something entirely non-didactic in a didactic way. Philosophy
is preaching the Gospel, but under the pretext of exploring the logical
limits of Platonism.28
It is in light of the intrinsic emptiness of FI that we should
interpret the dramatic interruption of Heidegger’s only developed
methodological treatment of FI, the few pages in the 1920 religion
lecture. A residue of this embarrassment has survived the student
transcription and editorial work. Heidegger concludes the first half of
the lecture course, his discussion of methodology, with a bitter remark
to his students, pointing out how little information or product
philosophy has to offer its paying customers, the students:

Philosophy, as I understand it , is in a difficulty. The listener in other lectures

is assured, from the beginning on: in art history lectures he can see pictures;
in others he gets his money’s worth for his exams. In philosophy, it is
otherwise, and I cannot change that, for I did not invent philosophy. I would,
however, like to save myself from this calamity [the complaints to the Dean]
and thus break off these so abstract considerations, and lecture to you,
beginning in the next session, on history; and indeed I will without further
consideration for the starting-point and method, take a particular concrete
phenomenon as the point of departure, however for me under the
presupposition that you will misunderstand the entire study from beginning to
end (GA60: 65).

Heidegger had been outlining the necessity for a formally

indicative approach to phenomenology, only to have his students
clamour for more direct communication. He was using religion as a
springboard into methodological issues of much wider significance, yet
the students wanted information about religion. Within a few years of
the 1920 lecture course, Heidegger became the kind of lecturer no one
dares to complain about, let alone interrupt. Students flocked to him
from all over Germany. They came to sit at the feet of the new master
whose revolutionary neologisms and violent readings of the canonical
authors of the history of philosophy bespoke a rare courage to create
meaning in the wake of the post-war collapse of philosophical and
theological traditions. But at that delicate moment in the Winter
Semester of 1920, when he was still struggling to find his footing in
academia, Heidegger was not yet there. Not only can FI not preclude
misconstrual, it invites it. Since it deliberately forgoes final control of
meaning in the interest of inciting a performance of the enactment-sense,
it must in some, if not most cases fail to communicate anything at all.
Formal Indication, Irony, and the Risk of Saying Nothing 201

Heidegger cannot preclude his students from either misunderstanding

his FIs in a theoretical way, or from failing to grasp the factical meaning
of his discourse. Did he discover in this collapse of the house of cards,
which he was painstakingly building up in the preceding hours of the
lecture course, that his way of presenting FI, as a modification and
deepening of intentionality analysis, encouraged this misunderstanding?
Is this the real reason why the discussion of the methodology of FI
disappears in Sein und Zeit? FI may be a method that cannot be
theoretically disclosed without betrayal, a path that is not mappable but
can only be understood by being followed, a secret way of speaking,
which can only appear as nonsense to those without eyes to see and ears
to hear.
On formal indication see Kisiel (1993: 50-56, 160-70; 2006:49-64); Dahlstrom (1994);
van Buren (1995); Streeter (1997); Risser (2002).
Other references to the notion include SZ (116, 231, 313), GA56/57 (100-101), GA58
(85), GA61 (19-25, 56-61, 168-9).
See GA9 (10-11): “Formal indication […] should be seen to make up the fundamental
methodological sense of all philosophical concepts”.
Later he adds a fourth, “temporalizing sense” (Zeitigungssinn), the temporal
significance which gathers the previous three together and makes the whole tripartite
structure possible (GA58: 260-61; GA61: 52-53).
This is one of Heidegger’s earliest insights. In the Habilitationsschrift, Heidegger refers
to this principle as “the material determination of form”. Later it becomes “the
hermeneutic circle”. See McGrath (2006: 93-95; 2003: 323-43).
I can isolate a particular memory as a noetically structured meaning. Every time I call
up this memory, I enact the meaning. Yet every enactment is different, for the situation
of the enactment changes in time.
On Natorp’s critique of phenomenology see Kisiel (1993: 48).
On the relationship between Heidegger’s Habilitationsschrift and the early Freiburg
lectures, see McGrath (2006: 88-119; 2003); Kisiel (1993: 25-38).
Scotus differs from Aquinas and mainstream medieval Aristotelianism on this point,
holding that the singular has its own inconceivable mode of intelligibility, which he
designates haecceitas. Heidegger makes the Scotistic theory of singularity a point of
focus in the Habilitationsschrift. See McGrath (2002).
Kisiel’s reconstruction of this course has drawn on important material not published
in the Gesamtausgabe edition. See Kisiel (1993: 21-25).
See Dahlstrom (1994: 785): “Philosophical concepts are clearly not understood by him
as being so devoid of content that they are unable to preclude errant presumptive
determinations of their meaning. A philosophical concept’s referring (Hinweis) is, as he
puts it, a ‘binding’ and ‘principled’ one”.
See ST (1a, q. 13, a. 5). John Deely calls this the “Dionysian trick” which Aquinas first
elaborates in his Commentary on the Divine Names. See Deely (2002).
N.E. 1094b 20. Heidegger studied Aristotle’s ethics in numerous lecture courses in the
early 20s. He was particularly interested in how the fluid and ever-changing nature of
the ethical situation drives Aristotle to use under-determined language.
202 McGrath

“Categorial intuition” was Husserl’s discovery that the Kantian disjunction between
intuited contents of consciousness (sense data) and spontaneously generated formal
structures (the categories) has no warrant in pure experience. The subjectivism that
assumes that categories, ideas, and expressions are imposed on the given by a
synthesizing consciousness is phenomenologically unjustified. We have no intuition of
raw data. Rather we intuit pre-categorially structured data, which elicits a category. The
categories are not filters that we place upon the data of sensation; they do not constitute
the ‘hard wiring’ of subjectivity. Rather, categories are derivations from a fore-
theoretical structure integral to the given. See Husserl (1970, vol. 2: § 40-48). For
Heidegger’s interpretation of the significance of categorial intuition see GA20 (63-99).
Husserl’s “essentially occasional expressions” are the indexicals spoken of in analytic
philosophy, for example, in the work of Richard Montague and David Kaplan.
Husserl’s example is “there is cake” (Husserl 1970, vol. 2: § 27).
See GA60 (61): “Die Bestimmung biegt sofort ab von der Sachhaltigkeit des
See GA60 (58-9): “Ich sehe nicht die Wasbetimmtheit aus dem Gegenstand heraus,
sondern ich sehe ihm seine Bestimmtheit gewissermassen ‘an’. Ich muss vom Wasgehalt
wegsehen und nur darauf sehen, dass der Gegenstand ein gegebener, einstellungsmässig
erfasster ist. So entspringt die Formalisierund aus dem Bezugssinn des reinen
Einstellungsbezugs selbst, nicht etwa aus dem ‘wasgehalt ueberhaupt’”.
“The formal indication is intended primarily as an advance indication of the relational
sense of the phenomenon, in a negative sense at the same time as a warning! A
phenomenon must be pre-given in such a way that its relational sense is held in
suspense. One must guard against assuming that its relational sense is originally
theoretical. This is a position that opposes the sciences in the extreme. There is no
insertion into a content-domain, rather the opposite: the formal indication is a warding
off, a preliminary protection, so that the enactment character remains free. The necessity
of this precaution lies in the decadent tendency of factical life experience, which forces
us into the objective, from which we must nevertheless draw the phenomena” (GA60:
Some record of these studies appear in GA60 under the title ‘Philosophical
Foundations of Medieval Mysticism’ (GA60: 301-337). For the complete file of
Heidegger’s ‘medieval mysticism’ notes, see Kisiel’s contribution to this volume.
Aquinas will distinguish analogous names from metaphors, arguing that we can be
certain that some names, such as ‘goodness’, ‘truth’, ‘wisdom’, are less inappropriate
to God than others, even if the ways of signifying these names (the modi significandi)
remain obscure to us. For the created intellect, all ways of signifying are finite, bound
to the experience of creatures. While we know what goodness is in a creature, we cannot
in this life know what it could be in the Creator. Yet we know, because of the analogy
of being (analogia entis), that such names are predicable of God. The res significata is
certain, the modus significandi unknown (ST 1a, q. 13). Hence the theologian can judge
‘that God is good’ without knowing what this claim exactly means. We know what it
means for a meal to be ‘good’, or a friend to be ‘good’, but we do not know what it
means for God to be ‘good’. Hence the highest theological knowledge is achieved by
remotion, removing predicates from the divine.
In The Book of Privy Counseling, an anonymous 14th century English monk advises
his disciple to empty his mind of thought and yet, somehow, in this empty state, stretch
his will toward God: “See that nothing remains in your conscious mind save a naked
intent stretching out toward God. Leave it stripped of every particular idea about God
Formal Indication, Irony, and the Risk of Saying Nothing 203

(what he is like in himself or in his works) and keep only the simple awareness that he
is as he is […] This awareness, stripped of ideas and deliberately bound and anchored
in faith, shall leave your thought and affection in emptiness except for a naked thought
and blind feeling of your own being […] Go no further, but rest in this naked, stark,
elemental awareness that you are as you are” (Johnston 1973: 149-51).
For Eckhart, only the soul who practices detachment (Abgeschiedenheit), who quiets
the appetites, and withdraws the will from the world, experiences God. She becomes like
a pool of still water, which can now reflect the gaze of the One who created her and
holds her forever in His gaze (Eckhart 1986: 289).
Cf. Kisiel (2002c: 178): “Deriving expressive concepts from the concrete formations
of life must first proceed by way of negations. For factic life tends to give itself in a
peculiar deformation, that of objectification, which must be cancelled in order to move
from ordering concepts to expressive concepts, from the objectifying pitfalls of intuition
to dynamic yields of pure understanding”.
From Heidegger’s review of Karl Jasper’s Psychologie der Weltanschauungen, we
know that Kierkegaard had a major influence on Heidegger’s understanding of formally
indicative method. See GA9 (36): “It must indeed be pointed out that it is not often in
philosophy or theology […] such a height of rigorous consciousness of method has been
achieved”. Beyond this review Heidegger has left us only scattered references to
“Because everyone knows the Christian truth, it has gradually become such a triviality
that a primitive impression of it is acquired with difficulty. When this is the case, the art
of being able to communicate eventually becomes the art of being able to take away or
to trick something away from someone […] When a man is very knowledgeable but his
knowledge is meaningless or virtually meaningless to him, does sensible communication
consist in giving him more to know, even if he loudly proclaims that this is what he
needs, or does it consist, instead, in taking something away from him?” (Kierkegaard
1985: xxi).
I have borrowed the notion of a meaning that stands ‘in front’ of an expression from
Paul Ricoeur. See Ricoeur (1981).
“The report [the review of the Fragments] is didactic, purely and simply didactic;
consequently the reader will receive the impression that the pamphlet is also didactic.
As I see it, this is the most mistaken impression one can have of it. The contrast of form,
the teasing resistance of the imaginary construction to the content, the inventive audacity
(which even invents Christianity), the only attempt made to go further (that is, further
than the so-called speculative constructing), the indefatigable activity of irony, the
parody of speculative thought in the entire plan, the satire in making efforts as if
something ganz Auszerordentliches und zwar Neues were to come of them, whereas
what always emerges is old-fashioned orthodoxy in its rightful severity – of all this the
reader finds no hint in the report” (Kierkegaard 1985: xx-xxi).
204 McGrath


Buren, John van. 1995. ‘The Ethics of Formale Anzeige in Heidegger’

in American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 69(2): 157-70.
Dahlstrom, Daniel. 1994. ‘Heidegger’s Method: Philosophical Concepts
as Formal Indications’ in Review of Metaphysics 47(4): 775-95.
Deely, John. 2002. ‘The Absence of Analogy’ in The Review of
Metaphysics 55(3): 521-550.
Derrida, Jacques. 1995. The Gift of Death (tr. David Wills). University
of Chicago Press.
Eckhart, Meister. 1986. Meister Eckhart. Teacher and Preacher (ed.
Bernard McGinn). New York, NY: Paulist Press.
Husserl, Edmund. 1976. Ideen zu einer reinen Phänomenologie und
phänomenologischen Philosophie. I. Allgemeine Einführung in
die reine Phänomenologie (ed. Karl Schuhmann) (Husserliana
III/1). The Hague: Nijhoff.
– 1970. Logical Investigations (tr. J.N. Findlay). London: Routledge &
Kegan Paul.
Johnston, William (ed.). 1973. ‘The Book of Privy Counseling’ (tr.
William Johnston) in The Cloud of Unknowing and the Book of
Privy Counseling. New York: Doubleday. 149-51.
Kierkegaard, Søren. 1991. Practice in Christianity (tr. Howard V. Hong
and Edna H. Hong). Princeton University Press.
– 1985. Philosophical Fragments. Johannes Climacus (tr. Howard V.
Hong and Edna H. Hong). Princeton University Press.
Kisiel, Theodore. 2006. ‘Die formale Anzeige als Schlüssel zu
Heideggers Logik der philosophischen Begriffsbildung’ in
Zaborowski, Holger and Alfred Denker (eds) Heidegger und die
Logik. Amsterdam and New York, NY: Rodopi. 49-64.
– 2002. Heidegger’s Way of Thought (ed. Alfred Denker and Marion
Heinz). New York, NY: Continuum.
– 2002a. ‘The New Translation of Sein und Zeit: A Grammatological
Lexicographer’s Commentary’ in Kisiel (2002): 64-83.
– 2002b. ‘Why Students of Heidegger will Have to Read Emil Lask’ in
Kisiel (2002): 101-136.
– 2002c. ‘From Intuition to Understanding. On Heidegger’s
Transposition of Husserl’s Phenomenology’ in Kisiel (2002):
– 1993. The Genesis of Heidegger’s Being and Time. Berkeley:
University of California Press.
Formal Indication, Irony, and the Risk of Saying Nothing 205

McGrath, S.J. 2006. The Early Heidegger and Medieval Philosophy.

Phenomenology for the Godforsaken. Washington D.C:
Catholic University of America Press.
– 2003. ‘Heidegger and Duns Scotus on Truth and Language’ in Review
of Metaphysics 57(2): 323-43.
– 2002. ‘The Forgetting of Haecceitas: Heidegger’s 1915-1916
Habilitationsschrift’ in Wierciñski (2002): 355-77.
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the Creation of Meaning in Language. Toronto: University of
Toronto Press.
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Truth that Strikes Back’ in Wierciñski (2002): 428-33.
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30(4): 413-30.
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Philosophical and Theological Hermeneutics. Toronto:
Hermeneutic Press.
III. Reading Heidegger on Paul, Augustine, and
Christian Mysticism
Philosophia Crucis: The Influence of Paul on
Heidegger’s Phenomenology

Jaromir Brejdak

Heidegger’s reflection on religion is inscribed into the context of the

theology of experience, which was established by Luther,
Schleiermacher, and Kierkegaard. Heidegger calls it a “phenomenology
of religion”. This phenomenology searches after an origin and finds it
in the phenomenon of a living experience of God. Our conscious attitude
and knowledge about God are not the origin; on the contrary, our
experiential attitude sets the direction of a specific religious constituting
of God as a “phenomenological object” (GA60: 324). A methodic
safeguard of that sphere of experience is the phenomenal aspect called
“the enactment-sense” (Vollzugssinn) (Brejdak 1996: Section 11). The
originality (Ursprünglichkeit) of religious experience is inspired by the
tradition, by reading mediaeval mystics, Augustine’s Confessions or
Paul’s Letters, which show the development of religiousness from
experience. Heidegger directly identifies the religiousness of early
Christians with life experience: “Primordial Christian religiosity is in
primordial Christian life experience and is itself such” (GA60: 80). That
experience is historical, that means it happens as time. The happening
of time is not an escape from time to eternity, as it was in Plato. The
happening of time is a return from eternity to time. In this context, Gerd
Haeffner describes two forms of such return, which we have described
as forms of eternity (Haeffner 1996). For Paul that return is the second
arrival of Jesus Christ (parousia), for Augustine it is illumination; for
Heidegger it is the proper future, encroaching upon facticity and
disrupting the plans of inauthentic Dasein.
“Factical life experience is historical. Christian religiosity lives
temporality as such” (GA60: 80). By directing attention to experience,
the self discovers God as the origin of life, as vita vitae: Cum inhaesero
tibi ex omni me … et viva erit vita mea [“When I will have adhered to
you with my whole self … and my life shall be truly alive”]. My life is
authentic life, I exist. When I adhere to you, with the last part of myself,
when I put everything radically onto you – vita erit tota plena te [‘my
210 Brejdak

entire life will be full of you’] – all relations of life, the whole of
facticity becomes permeated by you, enacted in such a way that all
enactment is enacted before you” (GA60: 249). The experience of God
is always endangered by temptation and oblivion. Resentment is a form
of oblivion.
The Heideggerian hierarchy “truth of being/the
Holy/divinity/Gods” (‘Brief über den Humanismus’) does not deny the
importance of experience, but shows the primordial from the perspective
of general genealogy, that which is first, not for us, but in itself. The full
experience of the self (Eigentlichkeit) – so-called authenticity – is a
necessary condition for God’s presence. Forgetting God means
forgetting oneself. The authentic experience of the self is threatened,
and when authentic selfhood (Selbstheit), which is the bursting origin of
life, is forgotten, then God is also forgotten. In the tenth book of the
Confessions Augustine discusses forgetting – oblivio. Its opposite is
memoria. Going further, we can say that the death of God is the death
of authentic Dasein. Therefore the phenomenology of religion is the
fundamental phenomenology of Dasein. In ‘Grundprobleme der
Phänomenologie’ (1919-1920), Heidegger writes: “We must return to a
specific phenomenology of the self. We ask here about last possibilities
of intimacy (Vertrautheit) with oneself (‘vocation’, ‘destiny’
[Schicksal], ‘grace’)” (GA58: 258).
The experience of a living encounter with God is a fundamental
phenomenon for religion. This experience is the primordial irruption of
grace. Its origin lies in experience, but the experience is not its
beginning. Heidegger corrected the interpretation of the phenomenon by
enlarging it in the light of enactment and freeing it from the theoretical
attitude of Husserl’s analyses. Heidegger, whose methodological
consciousness was honed by Husserl, but directed by Kierkegaard,
highlights the maieutical character of phenomenology, which
concentrates on the How of experience and distances itself from the
content-sense (Gehaltssinn). The experience of the self, which is the
motive of true Christianity, remains the main motive of Heidegger’s
early philosophy. The source of intense experience of the self is
Augustine’s Confessions and the oldest letters of St. Paul.
In Sein und Zeit Heidegger inquires whether or not a certain
ontical notion of proper existence, a factual ideal of Dasein, is a root for
the ontological interpretation undertaken with regard to the existence of
Dasein (SZ: 310). He confirms it without further consideration for
ontical examples. Max Scheler misunderstands the factual ideal, because
Philosophia Crucis 211

the usual proceeding of phenomenology is based on ideals reaching the

essential What and its correlated How-to. In contrast to this Heidegger
proposes a closed system of the ways of being which makes possible a
formulation of content (Gehalt) within the “enactment theory of
meaning”. Scheler accuses Heidegger of a prior theological
commitment, assuming an influence of the apostle Paul behind it
(Scheler 1973: 292). Indeed, Sein und Zeit, among other works, does not
give a full explanation of its ontical examples and the hermeneutic work
behind it. Perhaps this hidden theological origin was not mentioned in
order to avoid invoking Christian terminology. As Kierkegaard said,
allow it a day of rest, because it will lose its teeth to bite as an older
This paper is guided by the hope of breaking the silence
surrounding Heidegger’s “factical ideal of Dasein” in order to make
visible the struggle of the phenomenologist, thus setting these closed
analyses into a new tension with their ontical background. To this end,
I reconstruct the ontic ideal, showing the influence of Paul’s
anthropology behind the existential structures of Sein und Zeit. The
discovery of the early Christian experience of time renders Heidegger
a critic of both the Greek notion of substance and of the metaphysics of
essence. This discovery further shaped his philosophical path, because
it consequently led him to a solution of the problem of transcendental

1. “Towards God without God”

In order to understand Heidegger’s initial way of thinking, it is

necessary to set it in the context of the full range of phenomenological
research, which aimed at a universal ontology. Phenomenology could
not shut itself from any sphere of experience, including the religious.
Husserl admitted in a letter that he wanted to “find the way to God and
to a truthful life by means of a strict philosophical science” (Gerlach
1994: 103).
As we know, a phenomenological search for God must not make
assumptions of any kind; it must not be guilty of accepting theological
dogmas and opinions, it can draw from only one source – original
experience. We can glean the beginnings of a phenomenology of
religion from Husserl’s talks with his disciple, the Benedictine nun
Adelgundis Jaegerschmidt:
212 Brejdak

The life of a man is nothing but a way towards God. I try to attain this goal
without a foundation of theological proofs and methods, namely to reach God
without God. I had to remove God from my scientific existence in order to
pave the way towards God for the people who … do not have the certainty of
faith through the Church. I know that this intention would be dangerous for
myself if I were not a deeply pious man who believes in Christ … precisely my
phenomenology, and only it, is the philosophy which the Church needs
because it is united with Thomism and continues the Thomistic philosophy
(Gerlach 1994: 106).

Thomism and phenomenology pursue the same goal, the search for an
intellectual access to God. But then phenomenology, which was rising
against historicism, was methodologically closer to history than Husserl
was ready to admit. For a phenomenologist does not simply become a
Thomist without sacrificing himself; he must pave a new way always
from his concrete historical situation, from his most intimate contact
with his own experience, in order to make this way accessible for other
It was with exactly this most difficult task, the task of probing
a strictly scientific way towards God, that Husserl entrusted his young
assistant, Martin Heidegger. Yet for Heidegger, it was clear that for the
phenomenologist, “philosophy is atheistic in principle” (PIA: 246). God
is only given in original religious experience. “Crede, ut intelligas: live
your self – and first on this ground of experience, on your last and
fullest self-experience, the insight (Erkennen) builds up” (GA58: 20).
Drawing from the original religious occurrence (Erlebnis),
phenomenology has to master three levels of experience: the
spontaneous comprehension of the appearing phenomenon (ideation),
the suitable formalization of this ideation, and the transfer of the
formalized phenomenon into a logical web of language (the

2. The Influence of Heidegger’s Reading of Paul on Sein und Zeit

By contrast with Husserl’s theoretical phenomenology, Heidegger’s

interest is directed at the original enactment process which is always
sacrificed in favour of content. His search for a specimen of existence
founded on the enactment process instead of content led him to the
primeval Christian experience of life. Heidegger takes great pains to
demonstrate that Husserl’s method of “formalization and generalization”
are “attitudinally or theoretically motivated” (GA60: 64). Thus does
Philosophia Crucis 213

Husserl preclude any access to the phenomenon of temporality. As a

consequence, in his phenomenology of religious life, Heidegger
approaches the factual experience of life as presented in the earliest
letters of Paul. Heidegger does not simply take possession of the new
paradigm of time in the light of the philosophy of life; rather he tries to
extract it in a new way from the explication of the Christian factual
experience of life. Here the phenomenological way leaves the field of
theoretical construction and strives toward a hermeneutics of factual life
or a hermeneutics of facticity. Heidegger sought to dissolve Pauline
theology in an anthropology. Pauline eschatology is referred exclusively
to anthropology; the cosmic-natural events associated with the
apocalypse are disregarded. The following moments can be discerned in
Heidegger’s re-construction of Pauline anthropology:

a. The futurity (Zukünftigkeit) of the spirit and the presentness

of the flesh
b. Becoming from faith
c. Phases of becoming
d. The world in the perspective of the self against the
background of the eschaton
e. Time as a way of conduct of early Christians
f. The motivation of existence by God and the world
g. The elimination of worldly motivations in the Cross
h. Paul’s proclamation as an explication of the enactment

Let us sum up the method of Sein und Zeit in the light of these
moments. Heidegger asks about the sense of being at the beginning of
his investigations. The sense, the toward-which (Woraufhin) of the
primary project means a horizontality (Horizontalität) where the human
Dasein can encounter the world. Hence this question can only be asked
on the basis of the analysis of Dasein. Therefore this question is not
possible without first announcing a formal hermeneutics of facticity.
Because the Dasein was disclosed as enactment, it will be
experienced in its own particular enactment only in an understanding
(Nachvollzug) and that means ‘filled’ with its own content. Heidegger
found the rudiments of this method of a formally indicative
hermeneutics in the unique structure of the Pauline proclamation. In
order to grasp Dasein in its wholeness, one must participate in the
understanding of individual ways of being from everydayness up to the
214 Brejdak

resolute openness (Entschlossenheit). Statements about transcendence

must be founded in statements about Dasein.
Heidegger’s analysis of Dasein begins with everydayness. In its
indifferent mode Dasein has not yet been determined. Owing to the
initial indifference that burdens it, everydayness can be compared with
the Pauline enactment of “the flesh”, inasmuch as the flesh is not in an
opposition to the spirit, but is a description of a “normal state” of being.
This point was affirmed by Luther in his 1519 commentary on Galatians
(Luther 1996).
Heidegger saw a way of self-possession (Selbsthabe) behind
everydayness, which he called inauthenticity (Uneigentlichkeit).
Inauthenticity as a positive way of enactment results from the fact that
the self-enactment allows itself to be motivated by the world. The self
appropriates itself in an interpretative tendency in which the being of the
proper self is reduced to the sphere of the present (Vorhandene) and the
instrumental (Zuhandene). According to Heidegger, this comprehension
of being (Seinsverständnis) was adopted both by the sciences and
Western philosophy.
The inauthentic self-enactment is constantly threatened by
anxiety. In anxiety the world loses its relevance. Because of the absence
of relevance the self does not experience itself as a substance or as a
centre of acts; it experiences itself as an original, adrift openness. This
nothingness, experienced through a mood (Stimmung), is the corner
stone of the self. The conscience restrains inauthentic self-enactment.
However, the experience of the self as a whole happens only in
being-towards-death. The only place where the self reaches itself, as for
Paul and Luther, is in the nothingness of death. Being-towards-death is
a concrete form of the teleological character of the ahead-of-itself
(Sichvorweg) of care (Sorge). Being-towards-death differs greatly from
a concerned being-out for a possibility: “In concernfully Being out for
something possible, there is a tendency to annihilate the possibility of
the possible by making it available to us” (SZ: 261). On the other hand,
possibility must be constantly understood in its being-towards-death.
Expecting (Erwarten) is out of the question. “To expect something
possible is always to understand it and to ‘have’ it with regard to
whether and when and how it will be actually present-at-hand … Even
in expecting, one leaps away from the possible and gets a foothold in the
actual” (SZ: 262).
As an inadequate attitude, expecting is countered by Heidegger
with the advance into possibility. Heidegger had presented this notion
Philosophia Crucis 215

in detail in his interpretation of the Thessalonians’s attitude towards the

Second Coming. Death discloses a new horizontality, in which the self
no longer appears in a present perspective, but in its futurity. Death does
for Dasein what “the Cross” did for both Paul and Luther. Dasein gains
insight into authentic self-enactment, resolute openness, only in death.
That insight discloses at the same time that Dasein will never master its
authentic self-enactment. Dasein can choose its possibilities within its
enactment, but not the self-enactment itself. This experience of
powerlessness shows man in his essential nullity and thrownness
(Geworfenheit). “We are so finite that we are simply not able to bring
ourselves before the nothingness in an original way by means of our
own will and decision” (GA9: 38; cf. GA60: 122). Because Dasein
cannot wilfully accomplish its proper self-enactment, it is asked to be
awake and ready (GA29/30: 510).
The projected whole of Dasein corresponds to the anthropology
of religious existence, sketched out by Paul and continued by Luther.
For Luther, as well as for Paul, the centre of human existence is the
heart or the conscience, where the entire man is gathered and driven
beyond himself. Luther continues Pauline thought of justification in the
characterization of existence as a borderline between the grandeur of
human reason and the willpower in the scope of possibilities assigned
by God, and the powerlessness of these possibilities in the horizon of
our existence in front of God. In this sense Heidegger speaks about the
powerlessness of abandonment (Überlassenheit) and about the
supremacy of contingent freedom.
As for both Paul and for Luther the message of salvation is
received by hearing; in an analogical way the existential hearing of the
voice of conscience becomes an important approach to the proper
self-enactment for Heidegger.
Existence in Pauline and Lutheran thought divides into three
structural moments, which also underlie the analysis of Dasein:
Extrinsic: in Paul and Luther, because it is assigned for God’s
justification; in Heidegger, because it is assigned to the thrown
possibility of the world and primordially assigned to the self-enactment,
which existence does not have at its disposal.
Responsive: in Paul and Luther man was created from an eternal
self-conversation (Selbstgespräch), a mobility between granting of sense
and formation of sense appertains only to him; in Heidegger Dasein
becomes a mobility between the encouragement (Zuspruch) of being and
human response (Entspruch).
216 Brejdak

Eschatological: in both cases existence is directed towards the

future and opened by the future.
The phenomenon of world in Heidegger’s philosophy includes
two contrasting moments of relevance and of that-for-the-sake-of-which.
This double horizon of the authentic and inauthentic self is grounded in
Heidegger’s establishment of relevance respectively in one of both
selves as in the last what-for (Wozu). According to Heidegger, the
worldhood of the world was primordially experienced in Christianity.
In the lecture ‘Die Grundprobleme der Phänomenologie’ Heidegger
writes: “Not only a directing-at (Sich-richten-auf) belongs to
intentionality and not only a comprehension of the being of the entity,
at which it directs itself, but so too does the being-unveiled-with
(Mit-enthüllt-sein) of the self, which conducts” (GA24: 225).
With Pauline eschatological time, and Augustine’s distentio
animi in mind, Heidegger defines temporality as an ecstatic event which
can be defined authentically by the future or inauthentically by the
present. In accordance with the event the notion of being is either
limited to the sphere of presence (Anwesenheit), and thus levelled, or it
is interpreted in its full range as historicity. This critique of the levelled
interpretation of being was already used by Luther against Aristotle. The
fundamental happening of temporality opens up the possibility of
self-enactment. Dasein was already approached by the thrown
possibilities of the world in a certain way in openness
(Aufgeschlossenheit) and interpretedness (Ausgelegtheit). Thus
temporality makes possible an “entrance to the world”.

3. Philosophia Crucis

The open resolution as the proper self-enactment proves that the ways
of givenness (Gegebenheit) of the authentic self – anxiety, conscience,
death – have a common denominator: transcendence, nothingness. The
open resolution reveals the corner stone of the self as nothingness. But
do we not have to say something contrary, that nothingness reveals us
as a radical openness, that is, as the open resolution? The philosophia
crucis is an occurrence whose beginning is the expected death and
whose other side is birth. A philosophy which wants to think the end-
things must become a philosophy of the cross in a twofold sense,
methodological and existential. Its method should be “ways, not works”.
It must lead to a hermeneutics of facticity, as Paul had demonstrated it.
The self-enactment must not perish under an accumulation of content,
Philosophia Crucis 217

but enact an ongoing destruction of the deformed liveliness

(Lebendigkeit) and a return to the origin (Urspung).
That philosophy requires a readiness, not only to suspend
content, but to receive nothingness, means a fading of the significance
of the world. Our authentic self is no more at our power of disposal –
this is the crucial insight of Heidegger’s philosophia crucis. It opens a
horizon of meaning only for those with the courage to feel anxiety and
persevere in front of nothingness. Only in this way can we be authentic.
The philosophia crucis cannot be completed without the most radical
metanoia. As Luther’s theologia crucis had failed to prepare a
philosophical ground for a dispute with Aristotle, Heidegger undertook
the project. He appropriated theological motifs from Paul, Augustine,
Luther and Kierkegaard, in order to create a new philosophical
beginning. Heidegger’s philosophia crucis can be read as a radical
reform of the phenomenological position. As Husserl understood,
phenomenology requires a transformed perspective akin to a religious
conversion (Husserl 1954: 140). With the cheerless sobriety of his
Protestant teachers Heidegger realized the powerlessness of the
phenomenological reduction as a technique for the cancellation
(Aufhebung) of curvatio in se ipsum. In this way this phenomenological
position is beyond Dasein’s disposal; it is a grace more than a technique,
and can never be received without a cancellation of everyday
Heidegger’s project, strongly influenced by Paul’s notion of the
Cross, surpasses it to a degree by overlooking such phenomena as
confidence and longing (Romans 5: 1-11; 8: 14-39). Heidegger’s anxiety
is no longer Christian in character. As Metzger noticed, it has become
an attribute of an isolated subject “that does not understand itself
because of its attitude toward the infinite (Unendliche), but because of
its appropriation of the thrownness into the There” (Metzger 1972: 205).


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mit dem Apostel Paulus. Frankfurt a. M.: Peter Lang.
Bultmann, Rudolf and Martin Heidegger. 2009. Briefwechsel 1925-
1975. Frankfurt, Tübingen: Klostermann.
Finkelde, Dominik. 2007. Politische Eschatologie nach Paulus. Badiou,
Agamben, Zizek, Santer. Wien: Turia & Kant.
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Fischer, Norbert and Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann (eds). 2007.

Heidegger und die christliche Tradition. Hamburg: Meiner.
Hans-Martin Gerlach and Hans Rainer Sepp (eds). 1994. Husserl in
Halle. Spurensuche in der Phänomenologie. Frankfurt a. M.:
Peter Lang.
Haeffner, Gerd. 1996. In der Gegenwart leben. Auf der Spur eines
Urphänomens. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer.
Husserl, Edmund. 1954. Die Krisis der europäischen Wissenschaften
und die transzendentale Phänomenologie (ed. Walter Biemel).
The Hague: Kluwer.
Jüngel, Eberhard. 1969. ‘Die Welt als Möglichkeit und Wirklichkeit’ in
Evangelische Theologie (29): 417 f.
Luther, Martin. 1996. Kommentar über den Galaterbrief 1519.
Neuhausen-Stuttgart: Hänssler.
Metzger, Arnold. 1972. Freiheit und Tod. Freiburg: Rombach.
Moltmann, Jürgen. 1987. Der gekreuzigte Gott. Das Kreuz Christi als
Grund und Kritik christlischer Theologie, 5. Auflage, München
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Katholische Zeitschrift (15): 515-533.
Scheler, Max. 1973. Wesen und Formen der Sympathie. Die deutsche
Philosophie der Gegenwart, ed. Manfred S. Frings. Tübingen:
A. Francke.
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Fink (Wilhelm).
The End of Time:
Temporality in Paul’s Letters to the Thessalonians

Graeme Nicholson

At the heart of Heidegger’s 1920-1921 ‘Introduction to the

Phenomenology of Religion’ is the exposition of the temporality that
characterizes the life of Paul. In 1916, Heidegger had already published
an essay on the concept of time, which left a few traces on the account
of historicity in Being and Time (GA1: 355-375). However, the major
treatment of human temporality that fills up the second division of Being
and Time first arises in the course of these lectures on the early
Christian apocalyptic. It was further developed in the 1924 lecture The
Concept of Time (BZ), and the 1925 lecture History of the Concept of
Time (CT). While it cannot be denied that the treatments of time in
Aristotle’s Physics, Augustine’s Confessions, and Kant’s Critique of
Pure Reason exercised great influence on Heidegger’s study of time, his
special interest in human temporality would not have taken shape in the
way that it did without his early exposure to Paul.
Central to all apocalyptic texts is the belief that one is living at
the time of the world’s end. In early Christian apocalyptic, these last
days are inaugurated by the earthly life of Christ, and his death and
resurrection. The end times would be consummated by his return. The
early Pauline apocalyptic was revised and re-interpreted not only in later
theology, but even in the New Testament. The later letters of Paul show
no certainty about the immediate coming of Christ, while The Gospel of
John substitutes for the Second Coming the sending of the Holy Spirit.
Both Eastern and Western liturgies came to enshrine Christ’s coming in
Eucharistic ceremonies, while foreseeing a much delayed Second
Coming at the end of history. Today, millions of American
fundamentalists anticipate an imminent “end of the world”. But
Heidegger’s reading of the Letters to the Thessalonians differs from all
these theological initiatives. He undertakes a philosophical explication
of the text, that is, he focuses on Paul himself, seeking to understand a
life that is lived in extremis, thrust forward into the coming end of time.
Heidegger’s Paul is an existential hero. But he is not a lonely hero, for
in his intense communication with his congregation in Thessalonika he
220 Nicholson

invites them to share in his torments and his joys. Heidegger’s own text
is certainly not apocalyptic in tone, but he wants to learn something
about time from Paul’s apocalypticism.
Paul’s existence is lived in relation to Christ. Heidegger’s
philosophical interpretation of that experience leads him to focus on
something that is usually overlooked in a devotional or theological
reading of Paul. In Paul’s own vocation as a prophet and apostle, he
must live through all his relationships within some definite form of
temporality: his life makes itself temporal in one definite way. This is
a re-direction of attention to the ontological conditions of experience,
attention to something that Heidegger called, at this period, the formal,
the how of life. And in the case of Paul, this re-direction was justified,
according to Heidegger, because time and temporality were evoked in
the religious life: “Christian religiosity lives temporality as such”
(GA60: 80). In itself, a philosophical study of Paul that highlights
temporality need not occlude Paul’s central relationships to Christ and
to God, the Father, and Heidegger does not ignore them here.
Nevertheless, with the passing years, as Heidegger continued his work
on the theme of human temporality in general, the themes of the
apostle’s religion receded more and more into the background. Being
and Time’s thought, though indebted to Paul, cannot be called Christian
in any conventional sense.
Phenomenology as Heidegger presents it is a kind of philosophy
that is able to understand what is singular or individual, not approaching
it through universal concepts – for instance, a type of the “religious”.
The lengthy methodological sections of the lecture (Sections 17 to 23)
show how we can understand a single life, or a single community
(GA60: sections 17-23). The maxim of interpretation is that, since our
early Christians accomplished an understanding of their lives, we can
attempt an analogous comprehending accomplishment. Paul’s own
understanding of his life, and the Thessalonians’s understanding of their
lives, are not achieved through general ideas and concepts but through
lived experience, the very conduct of life, which Heidegger calls an
enacting or accomplishing-understanding (Vollziehen, Vollzug) of life
through the daily practice of faith and works. Witness and proclamation
belong within that religious enactment. Although it is text that we must
study, the text itself is not the object of our understanding, but, through
the text, what Heidegger calls the early Christian experience of life
(Lebenserfahrung). This is not an empiricist notion of experience, as if
the lives of the early Christians were in some way objects of their
The End of Time 221

experience. Rather, the life that they experience is accomplished in their

experience: in a way, these two words have the same meaning. But
Heidegger adds the word “experience” to the word “life” in order to
describe the activity of accomplishing a life. As Heidegger says, Paul
wants to have his life. In his vocation as an apostle he accomplishes his
life. The main concepts that he uses in writing to his congregation
signify what holds his life together, what lets him “have” his life. Thus
his words at 1 Thess. 2:20, “you are our glory and joy”, mean that Paul
is putting himself entirely at the mercy of the Thessalonians’s destiny
(GA60: 96). It is only by turning to the basic continuity of Paul’s own
life that we can grasp the sense of these concepts: hope, glory, and joy.
Thus Heidegger, who wants us to co-experience Paul’s experience, can
use these concepts to point to the “life-experience” of the Christian
This is the burden of Heidegger’s treatment of the principle of
meaning or sense (Sinn). The “content-sense” of the gospel
(Gehaltssinn) resides entirely within the lived-accomplishment of the
believer (Vollzugssinn), which for its part resides entirely within the
relationship that the believer has to that content (Bezugssinn) (GA60:
62). Such an undertaking can achieve authentic understanding, which
most systematic theologies and rationalist philosophies fail to achieve.
But this same contrast between authentic and inauthentic understanding
also pertains to the sources. Paul reproaches many of his Thessalonians,
who have not understood his message properly: “They cannot save
themselves, because they do not have themselves, because they have
forgotten their own self, because they do not have themselves in the
clarity of authentic knowledge” (GA60: 103). The term “life
experience” that Heidegger uses in this text is the prototype for the term
“existence” that became standard in Being and Time. Heidegger lays
great stress on the point that the life experience that is to be understood
is factical (faktisch).
In Thessalonians Chapter 4, Paul proclaims the parousia of
Christ. As Chapter 5 opens, Paul is urging his congregation to adopt an
appropriate bearing towards the great coming event. Heidegger’s
reading of the chapter is especially alert to the bearing which the
Christian must have towards the future, which brings with it a special
bearing towards the past. Thereupon, Heidegger is ready to interpret
what Paul thinks about the knowledge of the future that the Christian
possesses. This text already embraces some central claims made in
Being and Time about human temporality: the ecstatic inter-involvement
222 Nicholson

of the future with the past and the present, and the role of facticity
within the grounds of the possibility of knowledge. There is also here a
close anticipation of being-towards-death. Does Heidegger’s treatment
of Paul’s view of history also anticipate the view of history presented in
Being and Time and some of Heidegger’s later works? Let us look at
Heidegger’s comments on specific texts.
1 Thess. 4:16-17: “For the Lord himself, with a cry of
command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s
trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first.
Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds
together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with
the Lord for ever”. Life lived in the present age, for Paul and his
congregation, is life after the death and resurrection of Christ. And this
age is governed by the promise of his coming again in glory (parousia).
Paul expects the parousia in his own life-time, a point that already raises
a number of problems. For instance, some members have already died
since Paul’s visit, and more will likely do so soon enough. What will
happen to them at the coming of Christ? The citation above is Paul’s
answer to that question. Heidegger comments on what is novel here:
“The expression ðáñïõóßá has in its conceptual history a sense we do
not intend here; the expression changes its entire conceptual structure,
not only its sense, in the progress of its history. Christian life
experience, different in kind, is evident in ths conceptual transformation.
In classical Greek ðáñïõóßá means arrival (presence); in the Old
Testament (for instance in the Septuaginta ) ‘the arrival of the Lord on
the Day of Judgement’; in late Judaism ‘the arrival of the Messiah as
representative of God’. For the Christian, however, ðáñïõóßá means ‘the
appearing again of the already appeared Messiah’, which, to begin with,
does not lie in the literal expression. With that, however, the entire
structure of the concept is at once changed” (GA60: 102).
Since the one who is to come has already come, the future
parousia is related back to the earlier event. Now it is known who will
come. There is likewise a bond between the earlier event and the second
coming, for the true meaning of the first event will be made manifest in
the second one. And so the existence of Paul and his congregation lies
stretched out between the first and the second coming. The proclamation
of the resurrection initiates the new Christian life, but this life is also
stretched out towards the parousia in awaiting.
This referring of the future backwards and the forward reach of
the past into the future is our first foreshadowing of the mature account
The End of Time 223

of temporality in Heidegger: it is the ecstatic reach which is constitutive

of human temporality. And if, as I think, Heidegger finds in Paul the
idea that the one who has come was originally destined to be the one
who will be coming in the climactic parousia, then we have in this
lecture-text the anticipation of the thesis that is primary and fundamental
to Being and Time: pastness is constituted by the backward reaching,
ecstasis, of the future.
1 Thess. 5:1: “Now concerning the times and the seasons,
brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you”.
Here the two plural words, ÷ñüíùí (chronoi, “the times”) and
êáéñäí (kairoi, “the seasons” or “moments”), are rendered Zeit and
Augenblick, “Time and moment” (both in the singular) by Heidegger,
with no particular explanation (GA60: 102). In context, it is clear
enough that either term would refer to the time at which the parousia
will take place: i.e., how long will the interval be from now? This “now”
is the contemporary time in which the Thessalonians are a believing
congregation engaged in serving God. There will follow, then, the
immediate future in which a life similar to the present one will be
carried on. Then, finally, will come the time of fulfilment, the coming
of Christ. It becomes important to Paul, in the second letter, to stress the
time of waiting, the near future, the separation between the now and the
parousia, because some of the congregation had come to believe that the
gospel of Paul meant that the parousia had already taken place.
Consequently they ceased to work, forcing other members of the
community to support them. Three differentiated times emerge from the
letter: the now, the immediate duration, and the parousia which
constitutes the end.
The further complexity of the Zeit und Augenblick (time and
moment) is that the present state of the congregation, its own “now”, is
far from being straightforward and self-explanatory. Formerly they had
been pagans in the world, worshippers of idols (Paul is not addressing
the Jewish Thessalonians in these letters). The fact that they are
Christians in the contemporary time is the outcome of a conversion, so
that there were two prior times that formed the background for their
present life: (a) their former pagan life, and (b) their conversion.
Paul is saying that he does not intend to answer the question that
has been put to him: When will Christ come again? And the reason for
this, as Heidegger explains, is not that there is no answer (i.e., that such
matters are vague and indeterminate), nor that Paul himself does not
224 Nicholson

know it. It is because they do not need his answer. As we shall see, Paul
tells them that they already know the answer.
To imagine that Paul wishes to supply information, answer
questions or forecast the future would be to mistake the whole point of
his letter-writing. Heidegger stresses that Paul writes his letters as part
of his proclamation (Verkündigung) and that, just as their contents
cannot be understood by a method of distantiation and objectification (a
purely historical method), neither can the character and “form” of
writing be understood according to philological analysis, as if, for
instance, the “epistle” were one genre within the range of possible types
of world-literature (GA60: 81). To grasp the letter as proclamation is to
hear it speaking as an inward accomplishment of Paul himself, and of
his life-experience. “The content proclaimed, and its material and
conceptual character, is then to be analysed from out of the basic
phenomenon of proclamation” (GA60: 81). For that reason, Heidegger
says, in order to accomplish the letter inwardly, “we … see the situation
such that we write the letter along with Paul. We perform the letter-
writing, or its dictation, with him” (GA60: 87). That means to
recapitulate within ourselves Paul’s way of belonging with the
The congregation came into being when they received the word
that Paul brought to them. At that point he entered their lives and
became numbered among them as they set out to serve God. Paul knows
that they still preserve the memory both of their former pagan life and
of their conversion. Their new status is constituted by conversion, by
their “having-become” a congregation (Gewordensein). And Heidegger
underlines this point with repetition: “Having-become is not, in life, any
incident you like. Rather, it is incessantly co-experienced, and indeed
such that their Being [Sein] now is their having-become
[Gewordensein]” (GA60: 94). Still, they exist now only in the work of
serving God and awaiting Christ, so that their being is never restful, but
urgently extended, with an openness to a fulfilment.
Here we see a further anticipation of Heidegger’s mature
treatment of human temporality. In Being and Time the present is
constituted by the interplay of pastness (here, having-become) and
forward extendedness (what is later called Vorlaufen, translated as
“anticipation” [SZ: 326-329]). We will call this the ecstatic constitution
of the present. The present is opened up to the future, just as the past is.
This future is a retrieval of the past. In Paul’s letter, the future of the
The End of Time 225

Thessalonians is their welcome into the eschatological community.

Because they continue to re-live their having-become, their present
opens up upon their past (and vice-versa), and it also opens up upon the
promised future.
1 Thess. 5:2a: “For you yourselves know very well that …”
Heidegger opens his study of First Thessalonians by showing that Paul
has a double relationship to his congregation: (1) He experiences their
having-become; (2) He is aware that they have knowledge of their
having-become. Heidegger goes on directly to attribute this double
relationship to a kind of identity between Paul and the congregation, that
is to say, their having-become is also Paul’s having-become. Paul
himself is implicated in their having-become. For these reasons, not easy
to follow, the circumstance of their having-become gives grounds to the
broad scope of the knowledge that Paul can now attribute to his
congregation (GA60: 94-95). This is a very special kind of knowing,
quite different from any other knowing and remembering. Heidegger
returns to this, showing that the Thessalonians’s knowledge of their
having-become is connected to other sorts of knowledge. Therefore,
Paul can say that the Thessalonians also know very well the “time and
moment” of the parousia. Memory of their conversion brings them
knowledge of their future as well. What sort of knowledge springs up
within an inwardly accomplished life-experience?
The Pauline apocalyptic is not essentially a visionary
representation of the dramatic events that herald the end of the world.
Heidegger calls attention to a well-known passage in Second
Corinthians 12 in which Paul speaks of the ecstatic experiences that he
has enjoyed, but dismisses them, diminishing their importance: “Paul
wants to be seen only in his weakness and distress”; earlier, “Paul lives
in a peculiar distress, one that is, as apostle, his own, in expectation of
the second coming of the Lord” (GA60: 98). This distress constitutes
Paul’s actual situation. Every moment of his life is determined in terms
of it. He is constantly suffering despite his joy as an apostle. Twice we
see in the text: “we cannot take it anymore” (GA60: 98). The fusion of
suffering and joy in the apostle’s lived experience is an element that sets
a severe limitation on any claims to wisdom, visions and knowledge.
This is the aspect that Heidegger qualifies throughout as the facticity of
the early Christian experience of life. The expectation of the parousia
is not visionary but lived-through, not a representation of future glory
but a quality infusing the present, lived experience. It is firmly bound to
226 Nicholson

the lived experience of the “now” and can be regarded simply as the
meaning of this “now”. This is in accord with the role of the “relation-
sense” (Bezugssinn) in constituting the “content-sense” (Gehaltssinn)
(GA60: 62).
This entire lecture-course is pervaded by a phenomenological
critique of our inherited views concerning knowledge. Heidegger’s own
method of study – the understanding that achieves inward
accomplishment – is contrasted repeatedly with the philosophy and
social science that subsume the particular beneath the universal
(classifying, for example, Paul’s proclamation as one species of
“religion”). The elaboration of apocalyptic into “eschatology” within
systematic theology has also lost hold of the phenomenon. But this
destruction or critique reaches as well into the life and understanding of
the originals: Paul himself appears as a proto-phenomenologist,
imploring the Thessalonians to stop asking inappropriate questions, stop
supposing that the parousia is essentially some future event whose date
we would like to know. This knowing arises only out of the total
situation of the Christian experience of life. Paul’s own life, lived
through in facticity, is to be the emblem of the life experience of his
All this appears in modified form in Being and Time. The
principle of facticity is central to the constitution of the being of Dasein,
and, through its special reference to pastness, is an element in the
constitution of temporality. A second point that anticipates Being and
Time is the phenomenological destruction or critique of the views about
knowledge that are commonplace in modern philosophy (SZ: 68-69).
Furthermore, both in these lectures and in Being and Time, the account
of the temporality of human existence is intimately tied up with that
phenomenological critique of epistemology. In the lectures, Heidegger
is bringing out a form of temporality that is fused with the stretching and
reaching-out that belong to the experience of life. This is something
quite different from any representation of a sequence of now-points, in
which a future event can be pinpointed according to its “when”. Paul is
working to free the Thessalonians from commonplace ideas about time.
The future parousia is implicit in the Thessalonians’s own outward
stretch of faith, their inward accomplishment. In Being and Time, the
principal burden of the second division is the doctrine of an existential
temporality in which futural ecstasis and past ecstasis are constitutive
of the present. This temporality is explicitly distinguished from the
The End of Time 227

commonplace representation of a series of now-points, and Heidegger

undertakes to show, in Section 81, that this commonplace representation
is derivative from existential temporality.
The reader of Being and Time may well be tempted by a
psychological interpretation, in which the future means “something we
expect or hope for” and the past means “something we remember”. On
that basis it would be natural to suppose that, in our minds, we run
together what we expect or hope for with what we remember. And so we
might suppose that the combined backward reaching of the future and
forward reaching of the past actually takes place as an activity our
minds. Now, it is very plain that Heidegger rejected such an
interpretation, but whether his reader will be able to follow him is
another matter. For Heidegger, ecstatic temporality is not in any way an
accomplishment of the human mind or consciousness. This was already
clear to him in 1920-21, when he changed the title of the present
manuscript-collection from ‘Phenomenology of Religious
Consciousness’ to ‘Phenomenology of Religious Life’. What he was
calling “life” and “experience” in those days eventually became
“existence”. For him, the phenomenon of mind or consciousness was
derivative from existential temporality.1 It certainly requires a major
effort from the reader to see why the temporality of existence is not a
phenomenon of consciousness. I cannot treat this point here, but I can
perhaps throw some light on it, by looking back again to Paul for an
analogy. If the reader began to suppose that the parousia was just
something in Paul’s mind, that Christ’s earthly life was only a
psychological presence in Paul’s memory, then the urgency of Paul’s
striving towards the end and persevering in the faith would be
psychologically re-interpreted as some kind of hang-up. Such
psychologizing of Paul would have a trivializing effect. I believe that,
in a similar way, a psychological reading of the temporality of existence
would drain away its real import.
1 Thess. 5:2b: “The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the
night”. In Paul’s proclamation, it is the event that is to come which
overshadows everything else, both in the past and in the present. But in
his proclamation, he seems to see this event in two different ways. Most
of the passages in the first letter emphasize the suddenness of the
coming event, breaking into history without warning and without
preparation, so that it would irrupt in the midst of peace and security.
However, there seems at first glance to be a different narrative in the
228 Nicholson

second letter. Heidegger summarizes a traditional line of interpretation:

according to the second letter, the parousia is supposedly preceded by
the advent of the Anti-Christ in war and confusion (GA60: 106). The
role of the Anti-Christ is to foment chaos – here he is called “the
adversary”, the “son of ruin”, “the god of this world” (GA60: 107-108,
109).2 Heidegger also calls attention to another role of the Anti-Christ:
to be a deceiver (GA60: 113). Putting himself forward as God, he enlists
an unworthy devotion. It is the benefit of genuine faith to enable the
Christian to see through the Anti-Christ. Indeed, to be able to make that
discernment is a “test for the faithful”; others will be deceived. To
radiate deception round about him, then, is a positive effect of the Anti-
A difference between the sudden, unprepared arrival of Christ,
and an arrival that is preceded by turbulence and a malicious Anti-
Christ, is a difference in the temporal mode of the event itself. The
difference is not reducible merely to a question of what stock of
information we might have. It is not that in the first reading the arrival
will be sudden because we did not know of the signs, or were
unprepared to read them. Nor in the second reading is it that the arrival
is well-signalled with signs that we could read because we were well-
informed. The difference lies in the temporal constitution of the event
itself. Being shot is a sudden death; dying of a lingering disease involves
a very different quality of temporality. The question that we are
discussing is like that. It is not that Paul is distinguishing between those
who know how to read the signs of the times and those who do not, for
what he said was this: you know very well that the Day will come like
a thief in the night.
Thus in some way both aspects are true of the parousia in its
temporal aspect: it will be sudden like a thief in the night and it will be
prepared for. This is covered in the next two verses, which seem to
depict separating two groups of people who are living through the time
of the ending. 1 Thess. 5:3: “When they say, ‘There is peace and
security’, then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labour pains
come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape!” Thus there
is one way of living that, in principle, evades all threat and certainly
evades the looming shadow of the coming end, and that is the sense of
living in security. Paul foresees a savage fate for those who live now in
peace and security (though Heidegger stresses that there is no picture of
hell in Paul, only outright annihilation). Heidegger writes: “‘Peace and
The End of Time 229

security’ in factical life: this expression represents the How of self-

comportment to that which encounters me in factical life. That which
encounters me in my worldly comportment carries no reason for
disturbance. Those who find rest and security in this world are those
who cling to this world because it provides peace and security” (GA60:
103). The others are addressed in the following lines: “But you, beloved,
are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are
all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of
darkness” (1 Thess. 5:4-5). Here we may be reminded of Heidegger’s
use of the two words Zeit und Augenblick to translate “time and
moment” (chronoi kai kairoi). Let the word “time” (Zeit) stand for the
idea of an extended period of preparation, and the word “moment”
(Augenblick) for that which is sudden; does one of these have some
priority over the other?
The Christian congregation enacts or accomplishes a being-
towards-the-end. That end is a moment, or an Augenblick. But the
conduct of the experience pulls that end into the extended expectation
and practice of life aimed towards the end. The Thessalonians have the
lengthening being-towards the arrival of the Thief in the Night. That
extended scope of the waiting, however, is in principle finite because its
primary definition is to be the tending-towards-the-end. I believe that the
structure that we see here anticipates the treatment of being-towards-
death in Being and Time. We know that death is certainly coming,
though the “when” is indeterminate. The being-towards-the-end is the
actual existential phenomenon, an extension governed by the future
finitizing event: death itself. There are the comfortable evasions that
Heidegger sketches so brilliantly, whereby in everyday discourse we rob
death of its true existential meaning, aiming at a kind of peace and
security. On the other hand, the analytic in Being and Time would not
accept a parallel between being-towards-death and a natural growth,
such as pregnancy. The early sections of the chapter on death distinguish
sharply between an existence towards-the-end and natural processes
such as growth and ripening.
Paul is telling his congregation that they are well prepared for
the event, that they will not surprised by that Day, for they are already
children of the day; they are not of the night, not of darkness. Heidegger
calls attention to two meanings of “day” here: “ºìÝñá has a double
meaning: (1) opposite the darkness is the ‘brightness’ of knowledge of
oneself (5:5 [for you are all children of light]); (2) ºìÝñá means ‘day of
230 Nicholson

the Lord’, that is, ‘day of the ðáñïõóßá’. This then is the kind and mode
of Paul’s answer. Through this (“let us keep awake”) we see: the
question of the “When” leads back to my comportment. How the
ðáñïõóßá stands in my life, that refers back to the enactment of life
itself” (GA60: 104).
The essential issue raised in these remarks is the relationship of
the coming parousia to the present life of the Thessalonians. How does
Heidegger understand these counsels of Paul? He is emphasizing the
forward tie of this congregation to the great coming event, and likewise
the backward tie of that event to them. If the future is tied back to them,
it is made dependent on them. But in this context it is not as if a human
posture or behaviour (e.g., faith) were made into a sufficient cause or
condition for that which is to come about in the future. After all, the
parousia is ordained by God. What is the relationship, then, that the
Thessalonians have to the future? First, there is that which is ordained
and is to be. And yet this event radiates backwards into the present: it
solicits faith from the present congregation, and makes itself dependent
upon them. The Thessalonians are needed in the agenda of God. The
content-meaning of the parousia is connected to them in such a way that
the meaning of it is equally a Bezugssinn, highlighted because a
relational sense, a meaning that claims the believers and is completed
only through the relationship that they have to it. Thus Paul’s criticism
of the lazy Thessalonians is not only that they believe the coming event
to have already occurred, but more than that, that it has nothing
particularly to do with them. They mistake it for an entirely pre-
determined drama, thereby cutting themselves out of the story.
Why would this idea serve to augment the anxiety of the
believers, to the point that it threatened to turn into despair? This needs
some further explanation. If the consequences of my own weakness
were that I should be annihilated and lost, my decisions would certainly
be made in fear and trembling. But if it were my fate in history to be
required for the purposes of God, or indeed even for the goals of history,
the gravity would be infinitely augmented. Thus we can understand the
words of encouragement and challenge which follow upon that account:
“So then, let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be
sober” (1 Thess. 5:6).
There looms before us here a huge and dangerous curve in the
argument. I will point to it, but it is one that I cannot negotiate in this
paper: the curve is the transition from the problem of human temporality
The End of Time 231

to that of history. The tale told in Paul’s letters did not have to do
mainly with the solitary individual in confrontation with death. It had to
do with the end of the world, the end of the age (aiôn, olam), that is, the
end of history, the end of time. Paul’s perspective is that of a macro-
history for which the antecedent events were not only the coming of
Christ, but also the creation of the world. In the treatment of temporality
that we have looked at so far, Heidegger turns to the subject of death,
but, in contrast to Paul’s perspective, this is a micro-history, the death
of a single human being. Could Heidegger proceed in some way from
the temporality of existence to a comparable macro-history? I believe
that it was his intention to do so, for another thesis of Being and Time
is that it is through human temporality that we are able to comprehend
time itself. There are several dimensions to such a comprehension.
Heidegger must consider everyday pragmatic phenomena such as the use
of clocks and calendars; he must deal with language and the signifiers
of time that it encodes, e.g., the tenses of verbs, and he must examine the
role of time in physics. He seeks to show that human history is a
superstructure that can be comprehended from human temporality.
These investigations of time were intended to lead us deeper into the
question of being. Certainly he could never bring his treatment of either
theme to any completion, but in his later work I do detect a recurrent
theme of the end of history and the end of time, encapsulated in the
mysterious idea that he called Ereignis. Because of some of the ocular
overtones of that word, I would hazard to suggest that one of its
meanings is Apocalypse.
William Blattner argues that there cannot be any explanation of the ecstatic structure
of temporality other than the psychological one that I am speaking of here. See Blattner
Paul himself never uses the term “Anti-Christ”. In the New Testament, the term is used
only in the Johannine letters.


Blattner, William. 1996. Heidegger’s Temporal Idealism. Cambridge

University Press.
Present History: Reflections on
Martin Heidegger’s Approach to Early Christianity

Gerhard Ruff

What led the young Heidegger to interpret the Christian life as a

phenomenological paradigm in his 1920-1921 lecture course,
‘Introduction to the Phenomenology of Religion’? The following essay
points modestly in the direction of an answer: a preoccupation with the
problem of reconciling history and logic, which Heidegger inherited
from Wilhelm Dilthey and Heinrich Rickert, and an early dissatisfaction
with Husserl’s approach to phenomenology. Heidegger was not
interested in Christianity for its own sake, but because of
methodological reasons native to phenomenology. Nonetheless, in the
course of his research into early Christianity he offers the philosophy of
religion an interesting alternative to the pervasive theoretically-
disengaged approach to religious phenomena.
In his early philosophical work, Heidegger was already occupied
with the question of the accurate understanding of “history”. His
habilitation supervisor Rickert distinguishes historical understanding in
the strict sense from definition-bound scientific thinking. In Rickert’s
view, history could never achieve the common meanings or strict
definitions necessary to a science. Dilthey’s more generous
understanding of history as an alternative way of thinking presented
Heidegger with a way out of this neo-Kantian dichotomy between
science and history (Dilthey 1959: 253ff). Dilthey points out that any
philosophical investigation of the question of history must start with the
Christian belief in the Incarnation of God. The destruction of the ancient
concept of God as an eternal substance represents for Dilthey the origin
of Western “historical consciousness”.
Approaching history through Dilthey, Heidegger turns from the
neo-Kantian preoccupation with definitions to the prior question of the
origin of historical consciousness. It is in the light of this change in
direction that Heidegger’s first lectures show their inner coherence.
Heidegger’s assumption that philosophy as a science depends on a
234 Ruff

generic understanding – objectivity – repeats the neo-Kantian science-

history dichotomy. While Heidegger draws inspiration from thinkers
like Dilthey and Schleiermacher, he does not find any method in either
thinker with which to rigorously examine the genesis of “historical
consciousness”. Nonetheless, he takes a key assumption from Dilthey
and carries it through Husserlian phenomenology into his own way of
thinking: whatever else history might mean to philosophy, it could never
become an “object” of thinking. Philosophical rigor in history cannot be
achieved by objectification, but rather by strictness of understanding.
This entails a rejection of any idealistic approach to an understanding
of the origin of Christian historical consciousness.
Dilthey’s Introduction to the Human Sciences gave Heidegger
a direction, but it was the formal logic of Emil Lask that led Heidegger
away from his first teacher, Rickert, toward phenomenology and his new
teacher, Edmund Husserl. In his “transcendental-empiricist” system of
logic, Lask develops a non-dualistic view of form and matter which
allows for a philosophically adequate doctrine of meaning. It is worth
noting that Lask is one of the few of Heidegger’s early philosophical
influences whom he cites with high esteem in Being and Time.
Heidegger’s first two published works, ‘Die Lehre vom Urteil
im Psychologismus’ (‘The Doctrine of Judgment in Psychologism’) and
Die Kategorien- und Bedeutungslehre des Duns Scotus (The Doctrine
of Categories and Meaning in Duns Scotus) may be read as already
overcoming, through a focus on judgment and formal logic, the neo-
Kantian question of validity. Although Heidegger first made the
acquaintance of Franz Brentano’s thought during his school-years, it
was the phenomenology of Brentano’s pupil Husserl that gave him
access to a strictly philosophical elaboration of consciousness and
history. Heidegger’s famous “break-through” lecture, ‘Die Idee der
Philosophie und das Weltanschauungsproblem’ (‘The Idea of
Philosophy and the Problem of Worldviews’) demotes the neo-Kantian
notions of subjectivity and objectivity to the status of secondary,
derivative phenomena. At the same time, Heidegger undermines the
implicit idealism of Husserl’s phenomenology through a new emphasis
on the non-objectifiability of “world” (Husserl 1976: 51). While
objectivity results from the theoretical attitude, Heidegger’s notion of
“world” is intended to prevent thinking from taking this turn into de-
vivification (Entlebung). To emphasize the inner coherence of pre-
theoretical experience, he introduces the neologism “to world”. More
Present History 235

than this, however, any experiential given is rooted in the primordial

richness of life. There is no plain and naive givenness in thinking that
has not been already reduced through a theoretical process (GA56/57:
89). Heidegger questions Husserl’s principle of principles. He also does
not agree with the Husserlian noetic-noematic reduction. Already in
1919, Heidegger is transforming phenomenological intuition into
hermeneutical intuition:

The empowering experiencing of living experience that takes itself along is the
understanding intuition, the hermeneutical intuition, the originary
phenomenological back-and-forth formation of the recepts and precepts from
which all theoretical objectification, indeed every transcendent positing, fall[s]
out. Universality of word meaning primarily indicates something originary:
worldliness of experienced experiencing (GA56/57: 117).

With breathtaking rigor, Heidegger overturns the basics of Husserlian

phenomenology and presents his students with a new way of doing
phenomenology. His following lecture, ‘Phänomenologie und
transcendental Wertphilosophie’ (‘Phenomenology and Transcendental
Philosophy of Value’), held in the summer of 1919, tracks Heidegger’s
departure from Rickert. By this time Heidegger had broken entirely with
neo-Kantianism. As is typical of him, he declares his departure from one
way of thinking only after his arrival on new territory, in this case his
own version of phenomenology: hermeneutical phenomenology.
Heidegger replaces the Husserlian “given” (Datum) by the more
“worldly” and phronetic “facticity of life”. Retrieving Dilthey’s
appreciation of the significance of Christianity for the question of
history, Heidegger now outlines Christianity’s epochal character.
Christianity signifies the turn toward factical life, and the life-world and
inner experience of the self. He finds examples of this new experience
of life in Augustine, Bernard of Clairvaux, Bonaventure, Eckhart,
Tauler, and Luther. “World” is elaborated in a tripartite structure as
surrounding-world (Umwelt), with-world (Mitwelt) and self-world
(Selbstwelt). Original access to each of these is only given with the
explication of the self. The original expression of the Christian self-
world is given only through faith (pistis).
It is not the transcendental ego posited by Husserl that grants
philosophy its inner coherence, but the re-awakened “world” of factical
life-experience. There is no understanding outside the
phenomenological, i.e., existential, explication. No theory or technique
236 Ruff

could ever explain the self if the latter did not express itself. Heidegger
develops a tripartite meaning of explication according to his tripartite
understanding of “world”. Content-sense (Gehaltssinn) provides the
material meaning of something in the surrounding-world (Umwelt);
relational-sense (Bezugssinn) refers to the interdependent meanings
active in with-world [active within the communal world] [(Mitwelt)];
while performative-sense (Vollzugssinn) references the inner word
(verbum internum) of meaning as it is enacted in factical historical life
(GA60: 63).1 A hermeneutics that focuses solely on content-sense is
merely an aesthetic technique. Hermeneutical thinking in a
phenomenological sense must be attentive to all three modes of the basic
phenomenon, and thus break through the text into the vital explication
of the inner possibilities of the self.
The 1920-21 Religion lecture represents the culmination of
Heidegger’s innovations in phenomenological methodology. His
examination of Christian life is entirely motivated by his search for a
new way of thinking the question of history. We should keep in mind
that Heidegger never attempts a phenomenology of intercultural
religious phenomena. Religion, to him, means his own religious
facticity, the only one he has been given to explain: Christianity. The
first part of the lecture surveys traditional approaches to religious
phenomena and culminates in Heidegger’s central methodological
concept: formal indication. Only a properly formal description will lead
to a hermeneutical understanding. Phenomenology should be an original
consideration of the “formal” itself, according to content, relation, and
performance. Heidegger insists on philosophy as an “Einstellung”, an
attitude, comportment, or way of approach. The first challenge for
phenomenological research, therefore, is to find the adequate
“Einstellung”, “an advance understanding for an original way of
access” (GA60: 67). Heidegger begins with the earliest historical
personage associated with Christianity who gave witness to his life in
letters from his own hand: Paul. Much has been written about the
influence of Protestant theology, and Luther in particular, on
Heidegger’s early thought. Heidegger himself claims that there is a link
between Protestantism and Paul. But an original access to historical
consciousness is not a confessional matter, from Heidegger’s point of
view; rather, it has to be taken up from factical life. Heidegger is
attempting a performative phenomenology, one that overcomes
methodological considerations by means of hermeneutics. The
Present History 237

‘Introduction to the Phenomenology of Religion’ begins with

Christianity because it has to begin somewhere. Consequently it
discloses the logos of Christian factical life, and, without intending to,
offers Christianity an alternative fundamental theology. In Paul’s
proclamation, Heidegger finds a non-theoretical performance of
Christian meaning, which was able to touch the factical life of Paul’s

All primary complexes of performance lead together toward God, are

performed before God. At the same time, the •õáìÝõåéõ [waiting] is an
obstinate waiting before God. The obstinate waiting does not wait for the
significances of a future content, but for God. The meaning of temporality
determines itself out of the fundamental relationship to God – however, in
such a way that only those who live temporality in the manner of performance
understand eternity. The sense of the Being of God can be determined first
only out of these complexes of performance (GA60, 117).

Illuminating the phenomenon of factical historicity, Christian

life experience temporalizes traditional metaphysical concepts, for
example “eternity” and “divinity”. The neo-Platonic eclipse of the
factical could now be overcome by a non-objectifying phenomenology.
Thus Heidegger can leave philosophy and theology with their traditional
meanings because phenomenology negotiates its way around them. With
the elaboration of an access to the question of history, he can show
“what lies ‘behind’ both” (GA60: 173). His lecture on ‘Augustine and
Neo-Platonism’ continues in this vein, at the same time inaugurating the
project of a deconstruction of metaphysics.
What can contemporary phenomenology learn from Heidegger’s
early religious research? First, we are not obliged to follow the
interpretation of the editors of Gesamtausgabe 60, who read the lectures
of 1920-21 as preliminary work on the way to Being and Time. No doubt
there is a straight line from formal indication and performative-historical
thinking to the ontology of Dasein. However, Heidegger’s first
genuinely hermeneutical lecture is also a milestone and turning-point in
his project of understanding the historical. Heidegger’s hermeneutics of
Christian life re-opens the question that Dilthey had raised and Rickert
had failed to answer: How can history enter into philosophy? From this
point on he develops his sustained critique of the concealment of
temporality within the history of metaphysics. One could read Being and
Time as a breathtaking and ingenious deepening of the
238 Ruff

phenomenological method that Heidegger first refined in this lecture

Second, Heidegger’s elaboration of hermeneutical intuition in
the tripartite structure of content-, relation-, and performative-senses,
which cannot be worked out without existential engagement, shows his
sharp divergence from hermeneutical philosophy as it has developed
from Dilthey to Gadamer. The hermeneutics of facticity cannot remain
in the field of intra-textual interpretation. It requires something
analogous to early Christian faith: decision and commitment.
Third, the 1920-21 Religion lectures not only open up access to
the question of history, but also offer a philosophically rigorous and
non-reductionistic way of interpreting primordial Christianity. The
“having-become” of the early Christians is enacted in the understanding
believer. Heidegger ends the lecture course with clear methodological
advice for theology. “Real philosophy of religion arises not from
preconceived concepts of philosophy and religion … The task is to gain
a real and original relationship to history, which is to be explicated from
out of our own historical situation and facticity. At issue is what the
sense of history can signify for us, so that the ‘objectivity’ of the
historical ‘in itself’ disappears. History exists only from out of a present
(GA60: 125).
I suggest “perfomative-sense” rather than “actualizing-sense” or “enactment-sense”
because of the reference to the form of an action.


Dilthey, Wilhelm. 1959. Einleitung in die Geisteswissenschaften.

Versuch einer Grundlegung für das Studium der Gesellschaft
und Geschichte. (ed. Bernhard Groethuysen) (Wilhelm Dilthey
Gesammelte Schriften 1). Stuttgart and Göttingen:
Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.
Husserl, Edmund. 1976. Ideen zu einer reinen Phänomenologie und
phänomenologischen Philosophie. I. Allgemeine Einführung in
die reine Phänomenologie (ed. Karl Schuhmann) (Husserliana
III/1). The Hague: Nijhoff.
The Poetics of World:
Origins of Poetic Theory in Heidegger’s
Phenomenology of Religious Life

Jennifer Anna Gosetti-Ferencei

If poetic language is held by Heidegger to be the language of Being, the

attempt to relate this to any real poetic dwelling or, in Heidegger’s
earlier terminology, to factical life, must be contextualized in terms of
the world as a structure of disclosure and manifestation. The world,
poetically speaking, is neither an object of cognition nor a positive
spatio-temporal determination, but that original structure of disclosure
in which relational meaning, and therefore, dwelling, in Heidegger’s
sense of the word (wohnen), is possible. The origins of Heidegger’s
poetic understanding of world, along with other concepts of his poetic
theory, can be traced back to the phenomenological reflections on
religious life that comprise volume sixty of the collected works. For the
notion of “world” (die Welt), an essential category within Heidegger’s
later theory of poetic language, has origins not only in Sein und Zeit but
in earlier texts, including Heidegger’s discussion of factical life
experience in Phenomenology of Religious Life, of which I will focus
primarily on the first lecture course of Winter Semester 1920-1921,
‘Introduction to the Phenomenology of Religion’. Moreover, while the
connection between the early Heidegger and poetic theory has not
received much scholarly attention,1 it is in this early period of
Heidegger’s thinking that other seeds of the later theory of poetic
dwelling are sewn. Formal indication anticipates poetic thinking;
authentic everydayness anticipates dwelling; the structure of Pauline
proclamation anticipates poetic calling. The interrelatedness of these
notions become accessible by addressing the primary concept of
In the 1920-1921 lecture course world is articulated according
to dual possibilities in factical life experience which will later become
characteristic of the artwork or poetic language, as will be outlined in
the first section of this essay. These possibilities are, firstly,
240 Gosetti-Ferencei

concealment in significance that tends toward a logic of objects, wherein

the manner or the how of experience remains unnoticed; and, secondly,
being subject to a turning-around, such that the comportmental relation
itself comes to the fore, a factor that is essential in a poetic relationship
to world as Heidegger later describes it. Poetic language will be
characterized principally by this second feature attributed to factical life,
in contradistinction to technological comportment, wherein the world is
reduced, borrowing a term from the early lecture-course, to a “logic” of
the surrounding world as a logic of objects. In poetic language and
factical life, the tendency toward concealment is recoiled within it.
Heidegger’s notion of poetic language as a dual enactment of concealing
and unconcealing involves, as will be shown in the second section of
this essay, a structure that owes an original formulation to Heidegger’s
thesis on factical life experience. While this essay is assigned primarily
to the scholarly task of recovering these origins, in the concluding
section questions of a more critical nature arise: in particular, whether
there are resources here for poetic theory – for instance in the notion of
an authentic self-world distinct from the rejected metaphysical-
transcendental subject – that Heidegger later overlooks.

1. World As a Realm of Poetic Language

Before turning to Heidegger’s early discussion of world in ‘Introduction

to the Phenomenology of Religion’, the notion of “world” must be
shown to be a reigning thematic element of Heidegger’s theory of poetic
language. The most prominent appearance of the notion of “world” with
respect to his developing poetic theory arises in Heidegger’s ‘Der
Ursprung des Kunstwerkes’, the 1935-36 essay-lecture which introduced
the major shift of Heidegger’s concern toward poetic language. While
Sein und Zeit, as well as several earlier texts such as, to name only one,
the lecture-course ‘Ontologie’ (‘Hermeutik der Faktizität’), had
articulated “being-in-the-world” (in-der-Welt-sein) as the fundamental
ontological situation for Dasein, ‘Der Ursprung der Kunstwerkes’ treats
world in tension with another concept, “earth” (die Erde). This latter
concept had received scant consideration in Heidegger’s previous
thought, in part at least due to Heidegger’s efforts to displace
epistemological considerations of the natural substrate of beings in favor
of their more original significance in relation to Dasein’s concerns
(GA63: 65-70). In ‘Der Ursprung der Kunstwerkes’, the notion of world
The Poetics of World 241

is introduced not as the nexus of meaning opened up by Dasein’s

concerns in general – although such concerns do make an appearance,
such as in the “world” of the peasant woman indicated by the shoes in
van Gogh’s painting – but according to a discussion of the ontological
structure of the work of art itself, which according to Heidegger owes
its structure to that of poetic language. The work of art, and in fact
world in tension with earth, are seen as an event of aletheia, Heidegger’s
term for truth as unconcealment (Unverborgenheit) (GA5: 21).
This task requires that the concept of “world” undergo several
transformations in Heidegger’s essay. The concept appears first in
Heidegger’s much-discussed interpretation of a painting by van Gogh,
wherein the peasant shoes are equipmentally revealed in terms of their
belonging to earth and protection by the “world of the peasant woman”
(GA5: 19). Here, in a transmuting echo of the categories of matter and
form, the world is conceived as (1) ‘in’ the work as the sheltering space
of the peasant’s concerns that maintains this earthly belonging. World
pertains to that which is opened up by the painting. But in the ensuing
meditation, it becomes clear that the concept of world is more deeply
related to the coming out of concealment, the Unverborgenheit, of
phenomena. The work of art as the happening of such becomes the
subject of Heidegger’s study, and Heidegger turns to the world in which
the work of art itself abides. The world, Heidegger now proposes, is (2)
the native sphere (Wesensraum) where a work of art emerges – such as
the cultural life of Greek antiquity within which Sophocles situated his
Antigone – and from which it can be displaced (GA5: 26). But world is
not restricted here to the local geographical and cultural nexus that
surrounds the work in its original moment of creation. As a native
sphere or essential space (Raum), world is not merely a spatio-temporal
nexus or even a nexus of meanings but a possibility of manifestation
grounded in what he called, in ‘Introduction to the Phenomenology of
Religion’, an existential-historical “situation”. This manifestation will
be further conceived as (3) event. For as would pertain to the work of art
as a happening of truth, the world of the work is opened up by the work
itself: “the work belongs, as work, uniquely within the realm that is
opened up by itself”. World, as this “realm” (Bereich) is then an
“opening up” (Eröffnung) (GA5: 27). Heidegger’s example here is that
of the world of the Greek temple: the “world of this historical people”
for whom the gods are present in their temple is the “all-governing
expanse of this open relational context” (die waltende Weite dieser
242 Gosetti-Ferencei

offenen Bezüge) (GA5: 28). This all-governing expanse is not a

determinable spatiality but a context of revealing-comportment; thus the
“temple, in its standing there, first gives to things their look and to men
their outlook on themselves” (GA5: 29).
World, then, is not the sum total of objects or historical
meanings, but the event of opening-up which makes such meanings
possible, which gives origin for truth as Heidegger conceives it. This
event maintains a strife-ful tension with the “earth” as that into which
this opening up sinks back, that which continually harbors concealment.
The work of art – and most especially poetic language as the origin of
revelation – “holds open [stellt … auf] the Open of the world” (GA5:
31). The work of art “opens up a world and keeps it abidingly in force”
(GA5: 30). Two points must be highlighted here. Firstly, the world is
never positively present – an insight that was already articulated in
Heidegger’s 1920-21 lecture course; moreover, world is also not an
“imaginative framework” posited as the “sum of such given things”. The
world is not, as for Husserl, an ideational totality to be grounded in
transcendental subjectivity.2 Secondly, despite the accusative position
of world in the formulations I have just cited, Heidegger insists also
upon its nominative status and, at the same time, its status as verb. Thus
“world worlds” (Welt weltet) (GA5: 30). This statement is to be taken
as non-redundant: the world is (substantive noun) as worlding (verb).
This verbal employment (as in ‘Welt weltet’ and ‘es weltet’) connects
the poetic-linguistic later writings with Heidegger’s earliest lecture-
courses.3 If, as suggested above, the earth is as the element which is
brought to appearance by world, but which continually tends toward
concealment and seclusion, world as verb means an opening and
bringing forth by the structure of the work. It is not the artist and his/her
intentions or ideas that appear in the work of art, but the inner tension
caused by the thrust and movement of world worlding. That this thrust
of worlding is associated with such movements as the setting up of a
political state, indeed with the “essential decisions in the destiny of an
historical people”, namely the German people, and is associated with
fighting and battle, is certainly highly problematic considering the
political context in which Heidegger is writing; as this has been
discussed at length in the scholarship, I shall leave aside consideration
of this problem here (GA5: 35). While with the notion of a ‘people’
Heidegger’s close association, in earlier texts, between surrounding
world and communal or shared world is apparent, the absence here of
The Poetics of World 243

anything like a “self-world”, a notion that is prominent in Heidegger’s

earlier lecture-courses, allows for the referral of such establishments and
their consequences to the movements of destiny (Geschick).4
Before turning to another of Heidegger’s treatments of world in
his essays on poetic language, a further transformation of the notion of
world in ‘Der Ursprung der Kunstwerkes’ must be noted: world as (4)
a clearing or a lighting, a space of illumination for beings which
otherwise “refuse themselves to us” (Seiendes versagt sich uns) (GA5:
40). The idea that world opens up what otherwise refuses manifestation
leads to Heidegger’s view that the world of the human being, wrought
as it is by tension with concealment, is an uncanny situation, for the
clearing of manifestation is a site of primal conflict. World as verb is the
“clearing of paths” by way of enacting this conflict which the work of
art maintains; world is thus involved in the “battle” of winning truth
(GA5: 42). World is a site of manifestation that is never without
struggle. This emphasis on struggle is, as will be seen in the next section
of this essay, foreshadowed by the struggle Heidegger attributes to
factical life, with its corresponding anxiety, for which there, too, is a
struggle, albeit in other terms, between concealment and reversal of that
concealment. Heidegger turns to Paul’s letters in the context of this
anxiety, which is seen as necessary to maintain an authentic temporality
with respect to the second coming of Christ. What is in ‘Der Ursprung
der Kunstwerkes’ the struggle for unconcealment is foreshadowed by
the tendency attributed to factical life – a tendency inherent in
worldliness as Heidegger discusses it in the first, largely methodological
part of the lecture course – to recoil within a logic of significance with
its tendency toward objectification, and with respect to concrete
historicality to hide in safety and security, to tarry with idols. In factical
life a turning-around is needed to address the manner rather than content
of experience; in authentic religious experience the “how” of
comportment toward the parousia is manifest.
In the wake of Heidegger’s establishment of poetic language as
the site of the event of Being, and after significant interpretations of
Hölderlin, Rilke, Trakl, Zweig, and other German poets, a few later
essays engage the notion of world within a framework largely derived
from Hölderlin’s poetic terminology, in particular the notion of poetic
dwelling, but which also owes a great deal to Heidegger’s attention to
Rilke. In the later essays the tone of struggle has for the most part
disappeared, but the sense of world as revealing illumination remains,
244 Gosetti-Ferencei

as does the uncanniness or Unheimlichkeit of the one who operates

within the interplay and interstice between revealing and concealing.
The world is that in which we dwell, incompatible with a modern
scientific-technological determination of space and time; but it is also
given stay in things which gather together what Heidegger calls the
‘fourfold’ as a region of poetic thinking – earth, sky, mortals and
divinities brought together in the meaningful event of a thing’s
withstanding within a unity or “onefold”. “This appropriating mirror-
play of the simple onefold […] we call the world” (GA7: 181).
Here the world is an event of gathering-together in nearness and
distance – of both spatial and spiritual significance – in and through the
things that matter to human beings. Here, too, the world is regarded as
a self-emerging event of manifestation, the world “worlding”. As he
writes in ‘Das Ding’ (1950), rather than a strife with the self-concealing
nature of earth, world is a mirror-play that is gathered in the ‘thing’,
while earth is the nourishing bearer of that from which we build. As in
‘Der Ursprung der Kunstwerkes’, Heidegger relies upon a contrast
between the thing as metaphysically disclosed in terms of an object
(Gegenstand) that stands before representational consciousness, as a
world-less, mass-produced object of modern technological intervention,
such as were scorned by Rilke, and the thing as a site of world, such as
attended to by Rilke in his ‘Dinggedichte’ and in his poetic treatment of
things generally (both natural and made things, fruit and flowers,
animals, artworks, toys, etcetera) as sites of mystery, of a recession into
the unknown which the poet is to preserve. In the 1923 ‘Ontologie’, a
text developing the treatment of facticity from the earlier lecture-course,
Heidegger had introduced world there, too, in terms of the thing; the
thing localizes the surrounding-world (Umwelt),5 and so Heidegger there
considers how a table, for example, encounters us most originally as a
locus of various factical-life concerns, perhaps a richer indication of
those concerns than that provided by the famous hammer example in
Sein und Zeit, with its emphasis on labour.6 But here the material
substrate is displaced; there is here little sense of the thing as an earthly
and material thing, since Heidegger is trying to displace scientific
conceptions of things in favour of their significance, here meaning
relevance for concernful dealings. What is important about the later
treatment of the thing is its availability, at the most original level, to
poetic revelation or disclosure. Poetry, like other artworks such as
temples and paintings, brings into appearance that about the thing which
The Poetics of World 245

usually recedes from notice; but it does so in such a way as to always

already manifest the non-total character of this revelation; poetic
language manifests that a thing as focal-point of our concerns belongs
to a horizonal situation (such as indicated by the play of the four
elements in the four-fold); that horizons are always recessive horizons;
and that world can never be positively totalized as might be suggested
by the formulas of space, time, matter, and so on of modern (but perhaps
not all contemporary) science and technology. Poetically addressed,
both thing and world do indeed resist the absolute power of cognition
that Hegel announced as inviolable. To be a thing means to advance the
nearness of world, or, more succinctly, to ‘world’ world. But this is
possible only within the comportment of dwelling: world is attained in
human dwelling because we are mortal; and “only what conjoins itself
out of world becomes a thing” in the sense of not being a mere
Gegenstand (GA7: 184). Thus while Heidegger has left the
configurations of Dasein’s concerns in Sein und Zeit, the human element
is maintained in the comportment toward things – like jugs and bridges,
footbridges and plows – that ‘gather’ world through their being things
in the richest and most ontologically playful sense of gathering and
revealing at once. If in the phenomenology of religious life the authentic
concern in the worldly relation to factical life is not the what of
experience but the how, this is felt here in that the comportmental
possibility of dwelling has here to do with the rejection of
representational thinking: a rejection of thinking about what the thing is,
in favour of how it “gathers” and brings-together, how it “worlds”. But
here, disclosure is coupled by concealment, though of another kind: a
withdrawal from cognition which we must associate with the earthly
counterpart of world. Thus Heidegger argues for the “inexplicable and
unfathomable character of the world’s worlding. As soon as human
cognition here calls for an explanation, it fails to transcend the world’s
nature, and falls short of it” (GA7: 180).
In these poetic treatments world is essentially a structure of
disclosive tension that emerges as the event of truth unique to human
dwelling. The connection between human mortality and world is also
expressed treatments in the 1940s of Hölderlin and Rilke. World is that
in which we are at home, yet a situation, given our finitude, which ever
harbors the possibility of being not at home, given the Unheimlichkeit
of the structure of disclosure and concealment which marks our relation
to Being and conditions our experience of anxiety. This sense of anxiety
246 Gosetti-Ferencei

pervades much of the eschatological treatment of world in the writings

on poetry. In ‘What are Poets For?’ (‘Wozu Dichter?’of 1946), a text
that profoundly echoes themes from The Phenomenology of Religious
Life, Heidegger meditates on world as abandoned by the gods, via
Hölderlin’s references to Heracles, Dionysos, and Christ. Citing
Hölderlin’s ‘Brot und Wein’, Heidegger questions the Weltalter, the
world-age, in which we live, as one of a declining illumination, where
the world’s “evening” is, by virtue of the gods’s failure to arrive,
descending into ‘night’. Referring now to a Weltnacht, the destitute time
of the current age harbors danger, a saving from which only poetic
language can indicate (GA5: 269). Introducing Heidegger’s
thematization of technology as accelerating the world’s night, world, in
its abandonment by the gods, is groundless, “hangs in the abyss” (hängt
im Abgrund) (GA5: 270). As in The Phenomenology of Religious Life,
world is considered here according to the themes of: the holy and its
absence, eschatological temporality, and the oscillation of illumination
and darkness. While for the early Christians Paul is the figure who
makes possible an authentic awaiting of the parousia, an authenticity
which marks factical life in its “turning-around” from fallenness, here
the poet is the one who remains on the trail of the fugitive gods and
teaches us of a turning (den Weg spuren zur Wende) from world’s
destitution (GA5: 272). This turning around will be thought in Rilkean
terms, too, as an inversion (Umkehrung) of our tendency to turn against
the wholeness of what is (GA5: 300).

2. The Notion of “World” in ‘Introduction to the Phenomenology of


The lecture course ‘Introduction to the Phenomenology of Religion’ can

now be seen as a source for the earliest formulation of some of the
thematic and conceptual concerns surrounding the notion of world in the
poetic theory. Long before the treatment of world as disclosive tension
in poetic language with its profound reference to temporality, the notion
belongs to Heidegger’s attempts to formulate the nature of factical life
as the primary point of departure for phenomenological investigation,
indeed for philosophy itself.
Tracing the development of the notion of “world” in
‘Introduction to the Phenomenology of Religion’, the lecture course
which comprises Part I of GA60, it can be seen that an affirmative
The Poetics of World 247

conception of “world” as pertaining to factical life experience is

introduced in the wake of Heidegger’s rejection of some prejudices
concerning the nature of philosophy as “world-view”. The first section
of Heidegger’s lecture-course being methodological in its concerns,
Heidegger outlines these prejudices that pertain to philosophy’s relation
to the sciences and to the notion of scientific rigour that modern
philosophy in particular has adopted. But it is not only the question of
rigorousness, or of method, that distinguishes philosophy from science,
but rather also its object of investigation, its “material domain” or
Sachgebiet. Philosophy, in its originality, will differ from science in
both respects. But what are the method and the subject-matter of
philosophy’s concern? For philosophy to understand itself originally, it
must be liberated from “a scientific doctrine of world-views”, to its
“secularization” as such doctrine (GA60: 10). Thus it is not a scientific
doctrine; and its object is not determinable scientifically. Heidegger
aims to provide an alternative to understanding philosophy as a
“cognitive dealing with the world” (erkenntnismäßigen Befassung mit
der Welt) (GA60: 6). Thus its method is not a cognitive dealing, and the
world is not its object. Further, Heidegger suggests that, unlike science,
“philosophy, perhaps, does not deal with an object at all” (GA60: 10).
But Heidegger does not leave the notion of “world” behind;
rather, world will be a concern for philosophy in a mode other than that
of an object of cognition. The notion of “world” is soon re-introduced
according to the notion of “factical life experience”, which Heidegger
has named as the point of departure both for his investigation of the
nature of philosophy and for philosophy itself. Factical life experience
will be the essential term in Heidegger’s lecture-course; but it is also the
foundation for his understanding of the notion of “world” which is of
interest here.7 Factical life experience is described as a kind of original
experience which has been left behind by philosophy when it has been
caught within a scientific self-determination. Factical life experience is,
in fact, pre-philosophical, pre-theoretical experience: experience which
cannot be torn asunder into subject and object; here the experience, that
is, both the activity of experiencing – the self who experiences, das
erfahrendes Selbst – and that which is experienced through the activity,
are essentially interconnected. This inseparability, that they “are not torn
apart like things […] expresses what is essential in factical life
experience” (GA60: 9). This essential interconnectedness between the
experiencing self and that which is experienced already indicates why
248 Gosetti-Ferencei

factical life experience will be a matter, not for philosophy in its usual
methods, but for phenomenological investigation in particular. While
Heidegger does not maintain the language of “self”, continuity between
this and the later position is suggested by a common structure of
relational meaning.
How is factical life experience foundational for the notion of
“world”? Just as factical life experience cannot be regarded as an object
of scientific inquiry, world is not the object of the experiencing self
within factical life. Heidegger aims to indicate a far richer and more
nuanced nexus of relations within factical life toward world which, as
in his later poetic theory, will not be reducible to cognition. For “life
experience is more than mere experience which takes cognizance of. It
designates the whole active and passive pose of the human being toward
the world”. Returning to the notion that factical life is essentially
expressed in the inseparability between experiencing self and the
content of experience, Heidegger now defines “world” as “what is lived
as experience” (das Erlebte). It is decidedly not an object but “that in
which one can live (one cannot live in an object)”. The world is not an
object of cognition, and thus philosophy, understood originally, is not
going to be a study of world-views, or of the world as cognized (GA60:
10). Heidegger will formulate again in the 1923 ‘Ontologie’ lecture-
course that world is the “wherefrom, out of which, and on the basis of
which factical life is lived” (GA63: 86). If world is to be understood, it
cannot be reified according to the demands of ordinary philosophical
cognition; rather, it can only be formally articulated in its structures,
characterizing that toward which the active and passive poses are taken,
keeping in mind the essential inseparability of what is experienced from
experiencing. World is centred in a “how” of Being (GA63: 86). In these
early writings world already manifests aspects which will be taken up
in the poetic theory. For world, as treated above, appears in ‘Der
Ursprung der Kunstwerkes’ in first involving concern, as in these early
writings; then in terms of the further articulation of a native sphere
(Wesensraum) of belonging; as having an event-character; and a verbal
quality of clearing, of bringing into illumination, which is also related
to the uncanniness or distress of the human being as one who
participates in this clearing. The first pair of aspects of world will be
discussed in this subsection; the second pair in the next. The first of
these aspects, concern, is formulated in ‘Introduction to the
Phenomenology of Religion’ in terms of these active and passive poses
The Poetics of World 249

toward world and explicitly as concernful significance in the

‘Ontologie’ lecture-course. Yet here – and this difference from the later
thought will be touched upon again in the conclusion – the concept of
world, like that of factical life experience, depends upon the
inseparability of experiencing (self) and that which is experienced,
though the concept of “world” itself pertains to the latter. World
presumably would indicate the total nexus of das Erlebte, of what is
lived as experience, that toward which active and passive poses of life
are taken. It is the content of that which is lived as experience, and thus
only theoretically separable from the activity of experiencing and from
the self who experiences.
Heidegger’s further articulation of the notion of “world”,
however, complicates this designation of world as the only theoretically
separable content, theoretically separable from self or the activity of
experiencing. There is a further structural articulation of the relation
between self and world as the experiencing activity and that which is
experienced in the experiencing activity. This becomes apparent within
Heidegger’s demarcation of regions within the world which, he cautions,
are not to be abruptly demarcated from each other. One can speak of
life-worlds and regions of the life-world, a notion familiar to readers of
Husserlian phenomenology. One can also point to, within the notion of
world, a tripartite configuration consisting of: the surrounding world;
and within it, the communal world; and finally the I- or self-world
(Umwelt; Mitwelt; Selbstwelt). In terms of Paul’s description of his
religious experience, there is an indication, in both surrounding- and
communal- worlds and their relation to the self-world, of the “situation”,
which Heidegger will later call the Wesensraum, a sphere which, as in
the later writings, is not reducible to a geographical specificity but an
existential situation with its unique historicality. Heidegger will
approach the letters of Paul by first contextualizing his situation, which,
he argues, cannot be taken as an object of ordinary historical cognition;
thus Heidegger refuses its reduction to an objectively determinable
historical period or epoch which can become an object of study (GA60:
91). Rather, the approach to genuine historicity must be an enactmental
one, as it were, seeing “the situation such that we write the letter along
with Paul”, gaining “an original way of access” to its content (what is
experienced), relation (how it is experienced), and enactment (how the
relational meaning is enacted) (GA60: 87, 67). The interpretation will
be drawn from a non-cognitive empathy with the Pauline situation: a
250 Gosetti-Ferencei

vivid sense of the relation of self-world to communal- and surrounding-

worlds, which Heidegger characterizes in terms of struggle.
Cautioning against any kind of epistemological stratification of
the aforementioned regions, Heidegger does not give an indication of the
specific relations among these regions of and within the world; he aims
only to point out that and how they become accessible to factical life
experience. But he does argue in the interpretation of the Pauline letters
that Paul’s situation must be understood according to all three – self-
worldly, communal-worldly, and surrounding-worldly relations. It must
be noted that the world as the inalienable content of factical life
experience also includes the possibility that the self will experience
itself in terms of world, as distinct from the world as surrounding world
or communal world, and even in struggle with them. Thus an
articulation of some specific relationships between or among these
worlds must be in principle possible, notwithstanding Heidegger’s
warning against stratification. And in fact, when Heidegger turns to the
factical life experience of early Christianity as expressed in Paul’s
letters, he will indeed point to these specific relations – for instance,
struggle between Paul’s self-world and the communal world; and then
again between Paul’s self-world and the surrounding world – as part of
the historical-factical content to be accessed by a phenomenology of
religious life. These aspects of world will be seen to be inseparable, and
thus they can be only formally indicated in a manner which allows other
aspects of world to be co-indicated.
Yet Heidegger does articulate further this relationship between
self and world as one of inseparability, though this is to be differentiated
from the philosophy of consciousness and the latter’s transcendental
position with regard to the object. The way in which I experience myself
is through the world; and the world is experienced through the self. Thus
Heidegger already insists on the non-isolation of the self. Since
experience is always-already worldly, to experience oneself is a “self-
worldly experience”. Thus while Heidegger insists in the case of Paul’s
situation described in the letter to the Galatians on the struggle between
self- and surrounding- worlds, self-world “no longer stands out from the
surrounding world” (GA60: 13). This inseparability of self and world
will correspond to two possible modes of comportment to world: the
non-objectification of world as opposed to self, which is in accord with
Heidegger’s later critique of Cartesian and post-Cartesian formulations
of subjectivity and in line with the address to things of poetic dwelling,
The Poetics of World 251

as described above; and the tendency toward fallenness of self into a

worldly significance, an absorption in the world that buries over or
conceals an authentic relation. In ‘Augustine and Neo-Platonism’, the
second of the three lecture courses in GA60, this not standing-out is
illuminated in terms of the temptation (tentatio), discussed in
Augustine’s Confessions, of curious absorption in the world, the self as
“this being lived by the world” (dieses Gelebtwerden) and so is lost
(GA60: 228). This of course reappears throughout Heidegger’s works
in the 1920s: among other texts, in the ‘Ontologie’ lecture-course; and
in the critique of curiosity in Sein und Zeit; and it recalls Kierkegaard’s
analysis of the same. Yet one form of explicit self-articulation in
worldly ambition is likewise a temptation: here the self becomes
explicit, but only “entirely in the eyes and tendencies of others”, a
formulation that will be clearly echoed in Heidegger’s concept of “das
Man” in Sein und Zeit (GA60: 261). Here the self or self-world is
absorbed most precisely not into the surrounding world in general, but
into the communal world. Yet this connection, as in Paul’s situation, can
also be an authentic one. This emphasis on self-world, again, will recede
in much of Heidegger’s treatment of poetic language, but it appears in
some form through the treatment of the poet-figure, based on Hölderlin,
and a conception of his vocation or calling. At risk of drawing the
analogy too explicitly: Paul is to authentic religiosity within factical life
experience what Hölderlin is to poetic dwelling and its manifestation of
the holy. In both cases the sense of world is transformed through the
relational stance of one in and by whom it is experienced. That in the
latter case the self is nonetheless explicitly rejected, however – and in
my view problematically – I will address in the conclusion.
Absorption in world, along with a further tendency of life in its
indifference to the how of experience and in its self-sufficiency to
articulate the world according to an objective logic, characterizes the
non-poetic nature of a major tendency of factical life experience. There
are deep connections between the methodological preliminary part of
the lecture course and its concrete application in the second half of the
lecture course, despite the abrupt break that is said to take place between
them both in the course itself and its content.8 For the early Christians
this means a submergence into the world at hand, or presence, rather
than being-awake to what is not present, to the second coming at the end
of time. For factical life experience is characterized by what Heidegger
will call its “falling tendency”: factical life experience tends to fall into
252 Gosetti-Ferencei

a logic of significance that tends toward objectification by virtue of its

indifference to the ‘how’ of experience. The manner of experiencing
disappears in fixation on the content of the experience. This means that
life experience “puts all its weight on its content”, and so the manner of
experiencing, insofar as it can appear at all, “merges into its content”
(Gehalt) (GA60: 12). Likewise, a non-poetic relation to the world will
address it in terms of a definable, even quantifiable, positive presence.
Thus the relation of the experiencing self to world – the relation of
revealing itself to what is revealed, to put it in the later terms – fails to
be noticed at this level of factical life experience, for the manner of
experiencing is neglected by a fundamental indifference. This is an
indifference of experience to the ‘how’ or the mode of experience: what
is of concern is the content of experience, that to which one has taken
active and passive pose. Engaged in the concerns of life, the
surrounding-, communal-, and self-worlds will be encountered in
factical life as already having some “significance”. How does this
significance arise? Heidegger explains that it belongs to one tendency
of factical life experience: to objectify itself into a logic of objects: “A
relating, a grouping-together, manifests itself now; therein, a
connectedness of objects that bears a specific logic, a material logic, a
structure peculiar to the specific material states of affairs, is formed”
(GA60: 14). This falling-into-significance “constantly strives for an
articulation in science and ultimately for a ‘scientific culture’” (GA60:
15). To readers of Heidegger’s later writings, it is obvious how far such
culture is from a poetic apprehension of the world, either in a nurturing
Gelassenheit or a strife-ful revelation, both of which oppose the
scientific determination of objects. Scientific culture, on the other hand,
forms itself as a totality of revealed presence. Early Christian religiosity,
with its unique sense of time, will oppose this kind of tendency that is
nevertheless part of factical life itself; in the poetic theory the absence
of the gods in the increasing of the world’s night – the withdrawal of a
genuine relation to Being in the technological determination of the
world as positive presence – is described as part of the destiny itself. In
some significant way this Seinsgeschichte has its structural origins, if
not also thematic origins, in the early treatment of factical life. In “the
falling tendency of factical life experience”, Heidegger writes, “a
connectedness of objects increasingly forms and stabilizes itself. In this
way one arrives at a logic of the surrounding world”. Science and
scientific philosophy only render this logic more rigorous. The tendency
The Poetics of World 253

toward scientific culture, as well as the possibility of turning in the

opposed direction, both belong to factical life experience. But in the first
case the same indifference to the how of experiencing, the same self-
sufficiency of factical life as its own absorbing content, is enacted. Thus
the falling tendency of factical life, which “conditions a tendency of
factically lived life toward the attitudinal determination and regulation
of objects”, is profoundly opposed both to a genuine religiosity as Paul
urges of his followers, and to the later articulation of a poetic
engagement with the world (GA60: 18). What phenomenology must
here overcome is the tendency within factical life experience of
significance to increasingly stabilize itself in univocal concepts. Thus
Heidegger’s task is to revive the potential ‘appearance’ of the relation
between experiencing and experienced, and so to revive the existential-
phenomenological relation to world, rather than being caught up within
Just as Heidegger will later say that poetic language offers
within its own disclosive structure and temporal significance a tendency
of opposition to the scientific-technological culture, Heidegger
announces here the necessity of locating a motive within factical life
itself for a “turning around” of this tendency to objectify life experience
and world according to a logic of objects or, at the level of
everydayness, a satisfaction with present worldly things. Here early
Christian religious experience, particularly Paul’s reference to the
parousia in his epistolary proclamations, is engaged as the occasion of
a motive for “turning-around”, for manifestation of a more authentic
possible engagement wherein the “how” of life becomes manifest along
with that toward which it is concerned. The relation to world will thus
be transformed by an event that is wound up with Paul’s illuminating
proclamation, manifesting the second pair of aspects of world that will
appear in ‘Der Ursprung der Kunstwerkes’. Heidegger turns in the
second part of this lecture course to the concrete experience of facticity
within primal Christianity as expressed in three of Paul’s letters to his
communities. Specifically, it will be seen that Christian enactment
involves a different experience of temporality than one of the positive
presence, since it is characterized both by “having-become” and by the
awaiting of the parousia, or the second coming, which could arrive like
a thief in the night. Such, Heidegger thinks, is an original temporality,
one which motivates a pulling out of the falling tendency of factical life,
a dramatic, kairological break from everydayness with its absorption in
254 Gosetti-Ferencei

the content of experience. Here awaiting the second coming of Christ at

the end of time will be characterized as a situation of anxiety or distress.
In either case the situation is profoundly marked by temporality in terms
of past and future, and this pertains both to self-world and communal-
world: the community of the Thessalonians in their “having become” is
also, since Paul is “co-included in the state of the congregation […] of
those who fell to him”, a sense of his own temporality, for in them “he
necessarily co-experiences himself” (GA60: 93). Paul’s entrance into
the life of the Thessalonians marks the initiation of their turning-around;
it is itself conceived of as an “event-complex”: their having-become
Christians, having given themselves over, now determines their situation
in awaiting what is to come.
This unyielding attention to the ways in which temporality must
mark the experience of existence as “event” is threaded, then, through
the entire range of Heidegger’s works, appearing not only as the axis of
an authentic grasp of Being in his major work, but later in the poetic
theory under his adoption of the Hölderlinian motif of awaiting the new
gods and standing out into the dangerous abyss of their withdrawal, as
indicated in the previous section. The early Christians must be
awakened to a temporality where not presence is prioritized, but the past
– their having-become – is taken up in the present, itself charged by the
future which is undetermined. And if for the early Christians
“temporality is the mode in which God is ‘given’”,9 this same
transformation of present as awakened by the past in light of the future
is effected in the poetic theory. Thus the fateful destiny announced by
Hölderlin is said to arrive out of that already-sent future which “is
present only in the arrival of his words” (GA5: 320). Temporality
grounds these differing formulations of our possible modes of existence,
wherein an authentic one involves a present heightened by a radically
primary past and future. Just as Paul’s self-world is determined by the
arrival of the second coming at the end of time, Hölderlin awaits the
coming gods in the night of their withdrawal from the world. In the
poetic motif of destitute time, there is an apocalyptic echo of the letters
of Paul in their concern for the danger of his followers being caught
unprepared at the second coming, or being tempted by the anti-Christ
(GA60: 98). In both the early and the late thought of Heidegger,
temporality is related both to existential illumination and darkness: the
Thessalonians’ inauthentic conception of time (as in asking when will
Christ come again) signifies their living in darkness, just as non-poetic,
The Poetics of World 255

technological dwelling involves reduction to presence that characterizes

the darkness of the Weltnacht.
In the treatment of primal Christianity, the letters of Paul are
brought into Heidegger’s discussion after a meditation on the concept
of the historical and the tendency within factical life to manage itself, to
secure itself, in the face of the historical. In contrast, early Christianity
faces the historical by living temporality rather than securing itself
against it. It is dependent upon its complex of enactment, its how, as
opposed to being stuck in the worldly (GA60: 105). Of the parousia,
Heidegger argues that the “When is determined through the How of the
self-comportment, which is determined through the enactment of factical
life experience in each of its moments”. The parousia as event is not an
event of arrival as simple presence but a manifestation of the truth of
awaiting by the proper comportment, such that the when is transformed
through the manner of awaiting. The first and second letters of Paul to
the Thessalonians, of course, could render this determination quite
differently; Heidegger contrasts two letters to the Thessalonians with
regard to their treatment of the parousia, only to dismiss some “playing
off of different […] views against one another” (GA60: 106). The
parousia, the arrival, “whether preceded by the arrival of the Antichrist
with its war and turmoil” or arriving unexpectedly in a reign of peace
and security (oddly foreshadowing the articulation of poetic address to
world in terms of battle and strife, on the one hand, and then
Gelassenheit on the other), is determined by the How of the awaiting.
Much more could be made of the difference between these two letters
than Heidegger allows. But in Christian awaiting, in either case, the
How “arises from the sense of the surrounding world, that the world
does not just happen to be there”. The world is here illuminated;
indifference is banished in the enactment of religiosity. “The
significance of the world – also that of one’s own world – is given and
experienced in a peculiar way through the retrieval of the relational
complexes in the authentic enactment” (GA60: 122). This retrieval of
relationality – of how something is manifest to that to whom it is so
manifest – is itself a moment of disclosure, an event that is non-
identifiable in terms of a ‘when’, a point that Paul must stress in his
letters to the community. This awaiting or hope is not ordinary
expectation. But as Heidegger points out, Paul himself is beset by
distress about the awaiting, a distress or anxiety which “determines each
moment of his life” (GA60: 98).
256 Gosetti-Ferencei

This sense of authentic anxiety, linked thematically to the later

emphasis on Unheimlichkeit – not being able to settle into a world
locked down in its significance but rather, in the self’s state of
unknowing, open to manifestation and disclosure – appears in
Heidegger’s later works. This suggests an analogy between Pauline
proclamation – particularly in responding to the distress and impatience
of his followers – and the poet whose role, albeit in a much more
isolated mission, is to step into the uncanny place of Being’s
withdrawal. In both cases an authentic receptivity is manifested in
language. Heidegger’s stress upon the phenomenon of proclamation
suggests that the expression or the explication of authentic, kairological
awaiting of the parousia is an intrinsic aspect of Paul’s self-world, of his
experience. Proclamation is not incidental or external to the experience
of Paul with respect to his mission; rather, as Sheehan put it, “the basic
religious experience is to be exposed”.10 Verkündigung or proclamation
through the writing of the letter and its wording is a necessary
manifesting, an expressing, that establishes the vital relation to the
surrounding- and communal-worlds which characterizes Paul’s
situation. Like proclamation, the task of the poet in the age of the
world’s night is articulated in terms of the poetry of Hölderlin, which
enacts a futural anticipation that, also in memory or Andenken,
determines the poet’s vocation or being-called. In both cases language
is not primarily cognitive. The question of the second coming is for Paul
“not a cognitive question” and it cannot be answered by any rational
speculation: it is outside “reasonable human understanding”. Thus
proclamation – how it expresses and what it expresses – can itself not
be described within a reifying use of language. If the poet will have to
abide in the dangerous abyss, for Paul the how of awaiting is essential
and it must be, to borrow the later language, unheimlich, since the world
cannot be securely determined, cannot be homey. Moreover, the
insecurity is not to be put to rest; it is “not coincidental; rather it is
necessary” (GA60: 105). Authentic Christian relationality, in this
context, counters darkness by an event of illumination: Paul’s
proclamation that what is awaited, is made possible by the manner or the
how of awaiting.
While Heidegger focuses largely on the self- and communal-
worlds in his treatment of Paul, there is an explicit acknowledgment of
the transformation of surrounding-world by the primordial experience
of Christianity: “all surrounding-worldly relations must pass through the
The Poetics of World 257

complex of having-become, so that this complex is then co-present”

(GA60: 120). Thus the surrounding-world is interpreted through the
manner of lived temporality: having-become as awaiting, such that this
surrounding-world, and world in general, cannot be accounted for in a
static concept. If here the tendency of factical life is to “gain a foothold”
through the “over-intensification of a significance”, authentic religiosity
denies this foothold. Heidegger later attributes this tendency toward the
over-intensification of significance to the linguistic relation to a world
dominated by cognitive ordering and its attendant technological
ordering. In contrast to the “over-intensification of a significance” of
factical life, the world can be addressed in other terms. At the
methodological level, Heidegger had offered the ‘formal indication’ as
the phenomenological approach to world and factical life experience,
under the auspices of which concepts are fluxuating, vague, vacillating,
and polysemous. This methodological approach now seems to have been
anticipating the content of the second half of the lecture-course with its
discussion of opening up of the “over-significance” of the world in light
of the parousia. Although the formal indication for the most part
disappears in Heidegger’s thought, it is the seed that will later come to
fruition through poetic ‘thinking’, since Heidegger, soon after these
lecture courses, will encounter the necessity of “liberating language
from logic” (SZ: 209).
At the end of Heidegger’s reflections on primal Christianity, he
argues that, in authentic awaiting of the parousia, with respect to the
world both nothing and everything has changed. While the “self-world”
has been radically transformed by authentic temporality, this
transformation does not entail a divorce from surrounding- and
communal- worldly relations. The world is not left behind; its
significance has not disappeared; and yet the possibility of an authentic
everydayness is manifest. This authenticity will then be a matter of how
the world is lived in a kairologically-defined temporality, from which
the world does not recede, but is illuminated by the kairos as situating
an authentic possibility for factical life in contrast to the darkness of

3. Reading Between Early and Late Heidegger

Many transformations, of course, take place between this early lecture

course and Heidegger’s later works. The two most prominent for this
258 Gosetti-Ferencei

context involve a critical turn against Christianity, and against

anthropocentrism or humanism and thus against the self. Heidegger’s
later critique of onto-theology no longer looks to Christian experience
as a site of authentic facticity, regarding Christianity along with
Platonism as part of the reduction of Being to presence that will situate
the rise of modern science and technology and its neglect of the world
as a shelter of Being. Moreover, the emphasis on self-world, however
differentiated from transcendental subjectivity in this lecture course,
disappears from Heidegger’s concerns more or less after Sein und Zeit,
given Heidegger’s increasing distance from anthropocentric
formulations of Being.
Nonetheless, given the thematic and structural resonances
outlined above between this early lecture course and the later poetic
theory, it is justified to ask why the early Heidegger did not render his
interpretations of factical life experience with the kind of poetic pre-
occupations of the later works, since he was already a reader of
poetry?11 The notion of a formal indication, perhaps the richest
methodological contribution of Heidegger’s lecture courses at the time
of ‘Introduction to the Phenomenology of Religion’, certainly
foreshadows Heidegger’s attempt to draw from language radically
different possibilities of expression than that of the scientific concept.
Given the displacement of what is experienced in favor of the ‘how’ of
comportment, the seeds are here sewn for Heidegger’s later turn to
poetic language, since that will be understood as unconcealment wherein
the manner of address is intrinsic to the possibilities of what can be
disclosed. Most interestingly, both language and factical life are seen to
harbor tendency toward scientific seizure of that with which it is
concerned: the tendency of factical life, on the one hand, and language,
on the other, to bury this ‘how’ within significance such that a turning-
around from the falling tendency is needed. Poetic language will
become, in fact, the primary mode of this turning.
Pertaining to the nature of poetic unconcealment or revealing of
beings in their Being is the withholding of the earthly element. Thus
from the perspective of the later writings, the absence in “life” of this
earthly element which would resist fixation in a logic of objects is
apparent. Retrospectively one can say that what is still missing in the
reflections on factical life – as has been argued of Sein und Zeit – is a
formulation of earth, for the notion of “earth” as the sheltering agent of
resistance to concealment has profound implications for that of world.
The Poetics of World 259

Not only in Sein und Zeit but earlier, for instance in the ‘Ontologie’
lecture-course, the natural substrate of things seems to be displaced in
favor of concernful dealing. In order to evade the scientific-
epistemological reduction of the thing to the status of object, Heidegger
emphasizes its relational significance to human concerns. In this sense,
any “life” that can be attributed to non-human beings – their organic
basis – is overlooked in the formulation of life as a tendency toward
worldliness.12 To account for world as disclosive tension implies the
necessity of addressing that which resists disclosure. Yet while it is
doubtful whether Heidegger’s concept of “life”, with its countering
tendencies, adequately accounts for the latter, there is certainly the
template here of the structure of unconcealment that will later emerge
as the tension between world and earth. While in ‘Der Ursprung der
Kunstwerkes’, as discussed in the first section of this essay, world is
presented as in tension with earth, only in the much later notion of the
fourfold, albeit with its attendant mysticism, does Heidegger begin to
formulate this concernful significance as relation to the non-worldly,
earthly, origins of beings in a way which also cultivates a reverence for
the holy, in the Hölderlinian sense of the word. Whether authentic
temporality as Heidegger argues was lived by the early Christians could
be at all compatible with such is probably beside the point, since one
would not also look to a Hölderlinian model of kairological time to find
real solutions to the technological crisis his poetry is said to have
foreshadowed at the deepest ontological level, although one might be
inspired by its sense of urgency.
While the poetics of world in Heidegger’s later thought thus
profits from the development of the concept of earth, Heidegger leaves
behind some rich insights that might have been useful for his later
thinking. These include not only the idea of the formal indication, which
would give some methodological clarity to readers of his meditations
upon poetic language, but more substantially, but also the notion of a
“self-world” in its authentic relation to the how of factical life
experience. In Heidegger’s poetics of world, the notion of poetic
dwelling, and in general his readings of what he very hesitatingly refers
to as poetic experience, any real account of the self of poetic language
is lacking, given the vigour of Heidegger’s aim to overcome the
metaphysics of subjectivity. While the emphasis on self-world and even
on the self’s experience is severely diminished in the later Heidegger,
it is possible that the notion of poetic dwelling as enactmental
260 Gosetti-Ferencei

relationship could retrieve this notion of self without succumbing to the

metaphysics of subjectivity Heidegger criticizes in the intervening
In Heidegger’s reading of Paul’s letters an early notion of “self-
world” is instrumental in understanding an authentic relation to both
communal- and surrounding-worlds, and thus is an intrinsic element –
though not an egocentric one – of the situation of factical life
experience. This is by no means to say that the figure of Paul serves as
an ideal model of such a self, but simply that Heidegger had seen the
possibility of a structural indication of the self without that being caught
up in the metaphysics of representational consciousness. Heidegger’s
notes on Augustine, too, show that Heidegger was already aware of a
model of self that does not conform to the Cartesian model: “self-
certainty and self-possession in the sense of Augustine are entirely
different from the Cartesian evidence of the ‘cogito’” (GA60: 298).
Heidegger gives here a reading of personal existence that “integrates
itself into the primordial constituting element of historical consciousness
as such”. Again the “personally existing being” is not “an empty page,
no empty ‘I’, no point-like self”, but can be described according to its
capacity for being affected by the world, an “essential openness to
values” and a “primary love of meaning” (GA60: 330-31). Attention to
the “self-world” of Hölderlin, for instance in supplementing, or, more
critically, countering, Heidegger’s reading of ‘Andenken’, would
preclude Heidegger’s explicit rejections of the experience of the poet,
and render less problematic Heidegger’s thesis about the poet’s relation
to Being as one of destiny13 – which leaves, so to speak, the self
absorbed by history and its inner tensions and without recourse to speak
for itself. An inclusion of “self-world” would certainly open up the
theory of poetic language to a more nuanced phenomenological analysis,
when it is asked what phenomenological traction could be given to an
account of language that relies on the poet as a vessel of Being’s
sending, and is thus bereft of any kind of self or subject who could be
speaking, and thus, who could be said to poetically dwell within the
world as “the whole of all beings”. In order to draw this out further one
would want to take up the glimpses of a possible authentic self-world
Heidegger acknowledges in the ‘Wozu Dichter?’ essay discussed in the
first section. There Heidegger acknowledges a notion drawn from Pascal
and Rilke of the “inner space” of the heart that corresponds to Rilke’s
notion of the “world’s inner space” (der Weltinnenraum) wherein world,
The Poetics of World 261

in the authentic sense of the word, is sheltered (GA5: 306-7). If this

world of Gelassenheit dwelling can be addressed in terms of the self-
world of an authentic everydayness, this would be an earthly
transformation, even if radical, of the self-world presented in
‘Introduction to the Phenomenology of Religion’.
The scholarly discussion up to the publication of this volume has focussed rather on the
relationship between this lecture-course and Sein und Zeit. For example, before the
publication of GA60 the relation of this lecture-course to both Sein und Zeit and the
notion of Ereignis was given by Sheehan (1979: 312-324). Theodore Kisiel gives a
lengthy account of the relation of GA60 to Sein und Zeit in Kisiel (1993: 151-191).
Sheehan makes brief reference to late Heidegger and to Gelassenheit but not to the
theory of poetic language as such.
Husserl (1993: 18, 26).
On the earliest use of Heidegger’s verbal employment of this notion in the 1919
Kriegsnotsemester, see Gadamer (1994: 26).
Cf. Bernstein (1992: 66-135).
Van Buren, in his translation of GA63, renders Umwelt, “environing world”, whereas
we have chosen “surrounding world” for the same term in our translation (Fritsch and
Gosetti-Ferencei) of GA60.
See GA63 (85-88).
David Farrell Krell criticizes Heidegger’s tendency to reduce “life” to “world”. See
Krell (1994: 361-379).
Kisiel describes this in Kisiel (1993: 170-73).
See Sheehan (1979: 321).
Kisiel (1993: 175).
Pöggeler (1987: 16).
See Krell (1994: 369).
Accounts of this are given, for example, in Henrich (1997); Corngold (1994); Gosetti-
Ferencei (2004), Chapters 2 and 3.


Bernstein, Jay M. 1992. The Fate of Art: Aesthetic Alienation from Kant
to Derrida and Adorno. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania
State University Press.
Corngold, Stanley. 1994. The Fate of the Self: German Writers and
French Theory. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Gadamer, Hans-Georg. 1994. ‘Martin Heidegger’s One Path’ in Kisiel
(1994): 19-34.
Gosetti-Ferencei, Jennifer Anna. 2004. Heidegger, Hölderlin, and the
Subject of Poetic Language. New York: Fordham University
262 Gosetti-Ferencei

Henrich, Dieter. 1997. The Course of Remembrance and Other Essays

on Hölderlin (ed. Eckhart Förster). Stanford University Press.
Husserl, Edmund. 1993. Cartesian Meditations (tr. Dorion Cairns).
Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Kisiel, Theodore. 1993. The Genesis of Heidegger’s Being and Time.
Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
– and John van Buren (eds). 1994. Reading Heidegger From the Start:
Essays in His Earliest Thought. Albany, NY: State University
of New York Press.
Krell, David Farrell. 1994. ‘The “Factical Life” of Dasein: From the
Early Freiburg Courses to Being and Time’ in Kisiel (1994):
Pöggeler, Otto. 1987. Martin Heidegger’s Path of Thinking (tr. Daniel
Margurshak and Sigmund Barber). Atlantic Highlands, NJ:
Humanities Press International.
Sheehan, Thomas. 1979. ‘Heidegger’s “Introduction to the
Phenomenology of Religion” 1920-21’ in Personalist 60 (July):
Truth and Temptation:
Confessions and Existential Analysis

Daniel Dahlstrom

Numquid non tentatio est vita humana

super terram sine ullo interstitio?

Augustine (Conf. 10. 28)

Das In-der-Welt-sein ist

an ihm selbst versucherisch.

Martin Heidegger (SZ: 177)

Heidegger’s lectures in the summer semester of 1921 contain several

unmistakable, even literal anticipations of themes of the existential
analysis undertaken in Being and Time, as he expands on such notions
as facticity and curiosity in the course of interpreting the tenth book of
Augustine’s Confessions. Overlap in the case of other themes (e.g.,
resoluteness, authenticity) is not as literal but no less evident. In light of
the many common notes struck in the lectures and Being and Time, the
discordances and omissions are also important. To be sure, these
lectures present a substantial hermeneutic challenge. In the first place,
confessions are one thing, existential analysis another, and commentary
on the Confessions yet another. Moreover, Heidegger did not himself
prepare the lecture notes for publication and they often take the form of
incomplete sentences that, while perhaps sufficient as reminders to
Heidegger when lecturing, or to a student (Oskar Becker) when
reviewing them, are less than able guides to interpretation. There are
also the perils of anachronism, of reading themes of the existential
analysis back into the commentary on the Confessions or, for that
matter, into lectures given five years before the final draft of Being and
Yet the promise of navigating among these difficulties is
considerable. Review of the respective congruencies and incongruencies
between the lectures and the existential analysis in Being and Time can
264 Dahlstrom

help us to understand Heidegger’s development as a thinker. They can

also amplify aspects of the existential analysis, filling out what
occasionally is, by Heidegger’s own admission, a mere profile of the
phenomenon in question. There are also potential benefits for rethinking
the form and content of Augustine’s Confessions themselves. Finally,
particularly when set against the background of Augustine’s
confessions, the exercise facilitates critical evaluation of the adequacy
of Heidegger’s existential analysis itself.

1. The Life of Temptation and the Sense of Historical Experience

The lectures instructively begin with a review of standard approaches to

Augustine. In the course of the review Heidegger mentions the
theoretical concept of truth, only to emphasize that it has no application
to the sort of historical experience and knowledge in question here
(GA60: 165f). Why it does not apply can be gleaned, he suggests, from
the sense of the access [Zugangssinn] to Augustine, evident in the
otherwise different interpretations given by Troeltsch, Harnack, and
Dilthey. For all their differences, these interpreters share “an objective
historical attitude” towards Augustine, i.e., as someone “standing in an
objectively posited, ordered historical context [geschichtlicher
Ordnungszusammenhang]” (GA60: 167).1 Heidegger accordingly warns
his students that “insofar as, in the following consideration, seemingly
with the same slant, the talk is of an object, an understanding in this
direction does not get at its sense [i.e., the sense of what is being
considered]” (GA60: 170). 2
For clues to the sense of historical experience that Heidegger’s
interpretation aims to convey, one need look no further than its
immediate object, Augustine’s Confessions themselves. Whatever else
Augustine is doing by writing his Confessions, it is not theorizing,
gazing from a safe distance. Nothing like this is possible in a confession,
especially by a confessor who finds himself vulnerable and questionable
(quaestio mihi sum) in the deepest recesses of his own heart. A
confession, after all, is an admission of failure, and in Book X
Augustine admits to his beloved Truth that he continues to be tempted
by other loves. Indeed, for Augustine, life on earth is a constant, daily
trial (tentatio), tribulation (tribulatio), and trouble (molestia). This
notion of temptation and the breakdown that it signals provides a key to
the historical experience that Heidegger aims to introduce to his students
Truth and Temptation 265

in his lectures. The notion of life as a trial “everyday […] without any
interruption” (cotidie […] sine cessatione) is, he asserts, “the basic
sense of experience of the self as historical” (GA60: 263; Conf. 10. 37).
Heidegger accordingly cites with particular approval Augustine’s
observation that “a human being does not know himself unless he finds
out about himself in temptation”.3
Heidegger thus focuses on a non-theoretical way of knowing
yielded by historical experience – not just any historical experience, to
be sure, but the sort that Augustine himself calls temptation. In the
experience of temptation sans répit, we experience ourselves making
and remaking choices. In this way the problem of temptation provides
the context of enacting my experience of myself. Heidegger accordingly
infers that “we come to the basic sense of the experience of the self as
an historical experience” by approaching it from the standpoint of the
problem of this trial (GA60: 280). Cognizant that his own glosses might
suggest an objective characterization, he insists that it is of decisive
importance to approach the problem from the outset in accordance with
this basic sense of historical experience as a trial – something that, in his
opinion, Augustine did not always manage to do (GA60: 230f).
But why does life take the form of a relentless trial? For
Augustine the key to an answer lies in his relationship to God, the Ipsa
Veritas to whom he is making this confession. Aiming to confess only
what he knows of himself, he notes that he is at least certain that he
loves God and that when he seeks God, he seeks a blessed life, even
though it remains unclear how it found its way into his memory. At issue
is how, without “having” had a blessed life, we have sufficient
acquaintance with it to seek it (Conf. 10. 20). Augustine then
immediately and repeatedly identifies this blessed life with a “joy about
truth” (gaudium de veritate). The identification is important because it
helps explain why this truth is, nevertheless, not enjoyed. “The authentic
truth is not loved” because people become immersed in surrogate loves
that are themselves mistakenly construed as the truth, as “providing
fulfilment for the concern for truth” (GA60: 199f).4

“Hoc quod amant velint esse veritatem” [what they love they want to be the
truth] – what is loved at the moment, a loving into which one grows through
tradition, fashion, convenience, the anxiety of disquiet, the anxiety of suddenly
standing in vacuity; precisely this becomes the “truth” itself, in and with this
process of falling. The truth and its meaning are taken even into this
modification – that is, one does not only retreat from the vacuity, but even
more, and primarily, from the “movement” toward it (GA60: 200).
266 Dahlstrom

‘Process of falling’ (Vollzugsabfall) is a translation of a variant on the

term ‘Abfall’ which typically means ‘rubbish’ or ‘trash’ but in its verbal
form means to ‘fall off’ and, in a connection particularly pertinent, and
probably intended here, to ‘fall away from or desert the faith’ (vom
Glauben abfallen). Just as we have some acquaintance with what we
seek without having it, so, too, a “residuum” of the truth that we seek,
the God that we love, remains as a source of bonds to something that is
less than what we genuinely seek. God is truth in the primary sense of
the term, and truth is instructively linked here in that primary sense with
the object and motivation of love. We “know” the truth only as a
function of loving it. Love is not primarily (as it seems to be for
Aristotle, Brentano, and Husserl) a function of a distinct act of knowing,
a “pre-amorous truth” which is an oxymoron from an Augustinian
But there is also a sense of truth in a lapsed or even decadent
direction (Abfallsrichtung), as Heidegger also puts it, further
anticipating the analysis of fallenness (Verfallensein) in Being and
Time.5 As in that later analysis, his emphasis on the way one “grows up
into these loves”, and why one does, suggests that those who fall are not
fully responsible for it. Nevertheless, he adds, what keeps them in error,
clinging to this ‘truth’ (placed by Heidegger in scare quotes to designate
its surrogate status), is the fact that they do not have a genuine concern
for truth, that they have not radically made that concern their own
(GA60: 200). The result is a life of cares and worries, scattered and
conflicted (zerstreut und zwiespältig) because – and this, Heidegger
adds, is what alone must be understood – even in walling themselves off
from the truth, they continue to love the truth more than error and to be
concerned about the blessed, happy life (GA60: 201). Heidegger
describes this relentless life of temptation as the troublesomeness
(molestia) of human existence, “an endangering of the process of
having-oneself that, as factical […] enacts this endangering itself”
(GA60: 244). “The selfly Dasein, the existence, bears in different ways
a molestia, is attached to it, and thus determines itself in its facticity”
(GA60: 230).6
Augustine makes an analogous point about the trials and
tribulations of loving when he confesses: “Late have I loved You”,
acknowledging how, in a deformed state, he flung himself headlong into
created beauties and became dispersed among so many things (Conf. 10.
27). Augustine knows what is necessary for him to be brought back to
Truth and Temptation 267

the One, to become “collected” (colligimur). After acknowledging that

continence is both a divine command and a divine gift, he observes that,
“indeed, through continence we are gathered back and redirected to the
one from whom we flowed away, down into the many” (Per
continentiam quippe colligimur et redigimur in unum, a quo in multa
defluximus) (Conf. 10. 29). Heidegger calls particular attention to the
contrast that Augustine is drawing here between being collected into the
divine One and having flowed away from it into the many. With this
contrast in mind, Heidegger urges that continentia be understood not as
abstinence (Enthaltsamkeit), but as “keeping together
[Zusammenhalten], tearing away from defluxio, standing in mistrust
towards it” (GA60: 205).7
Augustine thus conceives continentia as at once a command,
and a gift of restoring human existence to the unity from which it lapses.
Heidegger couches his existential analysis of fallenness and authenticity
in an analogous conception. Inasmuch as falling is typically not
something that one does deliberately, the fallen state of being-here,
though clearly something that we embody and enact, need not involve
our complicity. Nevertheless, Heidegger also often characterizes
fallenness as a flight, requiring our initiative. Nor is this flight or, for
that matter, its overturning the work of a single, isolated decision.8 Not
a single decision but resoluteness is called for, while conscience is
certain, all the while, of the necessity of the call and the ongoing
contingency of the response.
One of the unambiguous messages of Augustine’s Confessions
is the ineliminability of this ambiguity, the troublesomeness (molestia)
that informs the facticity of existence. The fact that we need to exercise
self-restraint or self-control (continentia) is as certain as the fact that
this self-restraint is God’s gift (imperas nobis continentiam […] nemo
potest esse continens, nisi deus det). In Heideggerian terms, the fact that
we need to project our possibilities authentically and resolutely is as
certain as the fact that, as thrown into the world, we are not the ground
of those possibilities and the projection, as ours, is groundless.
Existential analysis is confessional in this sense, an acknowledgment of
our existential questionableness, made transparent by the constant trials
that confront us with our fallen nature as long as we live – the facticity
of existence itself. In this way “confession” discloses our existential
finitude, our fallibility and frailty.9
268 Dahlstrom

Following 1 John 2:15-17, Augustine singles out three specific

forms of these trials, each emerging from natural desires yet with the
potential to distance him from God and, in the process, from his genuine
self (GA60: 248, 283; Conf. 10. 30). Heidegger reads Augustine’s
accounts of these specific temptations, as I hope to show in the
following sections, with an eye to incorporating them into a different
sort of analysis (later called ‘existential analysis’), demonstrating how
these trials keep truth at a distance, albeit not the Divine Truth, but,
allegedly, the truth of existence itself.

2. The First Form of Temptation: Keeping Truth at an Aesthetic


Heidegger stresses that Augustine, in confessing the first temptation

(concupiscentia carnis, craving of the flesh), does not speak from “a
biological-psychological theoretical attitude”, but instead relates
precisely how he “factically” experiences it. This ‘facticity’ of the
confession is arguably its most remarkable feature for Heidegger. What
he means by the confession’s ‘facticity’ includes the way that Augustine
portrays his experiences of himself in transitions that underscore both
the lack of full self-possession and the inevitability of the ways that life
(daily, incarnate life) pulls and tugs us in other directions, such that we
fall away from our (authentic) pursuits. Thus, in the course of
experiencing the hold that “the life of the sexual drive” (das sexuelle
Triebleben) has on us, precisely in the transition from a chaste
wakefulness to lustful dreams, we experience something quite
remarkable about ourselves, namely, “that there is something […] which
is not done by us […] but still takes place in us, indeed, such that we are
somehow distressed about it”. As I make the transition to sleep (ad
soporem transeo), I find myself divided against myself (interest inter me
ipsum et me ipsum), plagued in dreams by the temptations of the flesh.
In this transition, “I experience that I behaved […] in such and such a
way that I was not actually [authentically/eigentlich] myself there”.
Heidegger notes approvingly Augustine’s manner of depicting this
molestia, this troubled way that “I have and am my life and world”,
without appeal to theoretically established distinctions like soul and
body” (GA60: 212f.; 241-246).
Augustine also employs the term transitus to characterize the
pleasure that inevitably accompanies the passage from the pangs of
Truth and Temptation 269

hunger and thirst to the repose of satiety (ad quietem satietatis ex

indigentiae molestia). “In this transition”, Augustine adds, “the snare of
concupiscence lies in ambush” (Conf. 10. 31). Moreover, the fact that
it is often unclear how much food or drink is healthy provides the
unhappy soul with an excuse to indulge. Our neediness in this case, as
Heidegger puts it, becomes a source of pleasure, and the pleasure of the
transition (genitivus appositivus) to the fulfilment of those needs itself
becomes the purpose itself. Satisfying the very necessities of life invites
this all-too-human confusion of means and ends. Heidegger associates
this tempting invitation of everyday carnal existence with its “facticity”.
His use of ‘facticity’ here lends the notion a carnal dimension otherwise
barely visible in the existential analysis of Being and Time, despite the
otherwise considerable congruence between the uses of the term in the
two contexts. There is perhaps no clearer indication of that congruence
than the following remark, made by Heidegger after noting how various
uncertainties provide an all too convenient excuse to indulge: “It is the
facticity in which I maintain myself and give [myself] ‘existence’ which
pushes itself into my ‘authentic’ existing” (GA60: 215).
Heidegger’s gloss on the first temptation anticipates the role
played not only by facticity but also by fallenness in the later existential
analysis. The link between these two notions in the context of the first
temptation is patent. The facticity of human existence is such that, in the
course of securing the daily necessities of food and drink, the possibility
constantly lurks of pursuing not the fulfilment of those necessities as
such but instead the pleasure of the transition (the medium, the passage)
to their fulfilment. Pursuing this possibility amounts to falling prey to
something that is a necessary part of our facticity but not to be confused
with what is actually, genuinely (eigentlich) at stake in our existence.
When the pursuit of the transition’s pleasures themselves, the medium
by which human needs are met, becomes paramount, then we can speak
of a fallen, inauthentic existence. Heidegger links such an existence to
a kind of aestheticism, toward which he shares with Augustine a patent
antipathy (GA60: 201, 204, 219-222, 260). Augustine notes how
“people go outside themselves following what they have made” and how
“those who make and seek external beauties” endlessly pursue new
fulfilment in their degenerate state. In an obvious criticism of the
aestheticism of l’art pour l’art, Heidegger adds that what is significant
is experienced as though it is satisfying of itself and thus takes over the
role of providing a sense for facticity, where the appeal made to the
270 Dahlstrom

sense (meaning, value) of a superordinate beauty as a measure is a ruse,

since it is put in service of the business at hand (Geschäftigkeit). Those
who pursue external beauties, aestheticized or not, “do not preserve the
security and liveliness of the enactment of concern and of engagement
for themselves in their relation to You, but they dissipate it and spend
it easily in an amusing slackness and a delightful laziness” (GA60: 221).
The similarity of this gloss to what Heidegger calls the sedating
character (Beruhigung) of life in the crowd is patent (SZ: 177f). “It
[concern] is no longer at their disposal for an authentic decision”
(GA60: 221). Instead they are fakes, posing as though they had a clue to
the sense of the world and the secrets of life.
Yet Augustine himself falls prey, in Heidegger’s opinion, to an
aesthetic beguilement in an even profounder sense. Heidegger notes that
caring (curare) is the basic characteristic of life for Augustine and,
indeed, by way of use (uti) and enjoyment (frui). Since “the basic
characteristic of the Augustinian basic stance towards life itself is frui
[to enjoy]” and the object of enjoyment is “pulchritudo” or, better, God
Himself as “the Beauty so old and so new”, it contains an aesthetic
component. However, “the fruitio Dei”, Heidegger claims, “ultimately
stands in opposition to having oneself” (GA60: 271).10 It stands in
opposition presumably because it subordinates the Truth and the
experience of it to a subjective state, namely, the fulfilment of desires.
Heidegger finds this assessment corroborated by what he takes to be the
purpose of life for Augustine, namely, “repose” (quies) (GA60: 214,
272f). The suggestion is that Augustine construes the delight
(delectatio) that is the end of care (finis curae) in a way no less
tranquillizing and enervating than the aesthete, the addict of sensual
form, does. Preoccupation with the dynamics of enjoyment prevents
Augustine, Heidegger submits, from an adequate “breakthrough” to the
phenomena at hand (GA60: 256f).
This acquiescence to a fundamentally aesthetic view of life,
where the beauty is, of course, not even skin-deep, has a direct bearing
on Augustine’s theology. In this connection (after noting a certain
traditional reading of Romans 1:20 that plays into this theological
distortion), Heidegger cites Luther’s contrast of the theologus gloriae
with the theologus crucis. The theologian of glory, according to Luther,
calls the evil good and good evil, while the theologian of the cross calls
a thing what it is. Heidegger reads this distinction as the difference
between “the theologian of glory who marvels aesthetically at the
Truth and Temptation 271

world’s wonders” and the realistic “theologian of the cross who says
how things are” (GA60: 282).
Heidegger traces this impediment to the tradition that Augustine
inherits. Yet he also guards against equating the Augustinian approach
with the Greek. While stressing that this aesthetic feature is “the
specifically Greek conception” at work in medieval theology and
cultural history, he sharply distinguishes Augustine’s sense of this
fruitio, rooted as it is in the peculiarly Christian conception of factual
life, from the Plotininan notion that culminates in an intuition. Here we
find a common refrain of Heidegger’s reading of Augustine’s
Confessions: a respect for its distinctively Christian, existential
character, not identifiable with anything in the classical Greek
philosophical tradition, and yet criticism for the way Augustine allows
himself to be co-opted by Greek thought (GA60: 261, 279, 298).11
Indeed, shortly after warning against conflating Augustine’s sense of
fruitio with the Plotinian sense, Heidegger flags the danger of erring on
the other side: “One cannot simply dismiss the Platonic in Augustine;
and it is a misunderstanding to believe that in going back to Augustine,
one can gain the authentically Christian” (GA60: 281).
Signaling this Greek influence and, like aesthetics, evidencing
a fundamental kinship with theorizing, is the axiological character that
repeatedly intrudes on Augustine’s Confessions. That a specific order
of things underlies Augustine’s account of the phenomenon of
temptation is evident from a passage cited by Heidegger:

Know the order, seek the peace. You under God, the flesh under you. What is
more suitable? What is more lovely? That you are under the greater and the
lesser is under you. You serve Him who made you so that what was made on
account of you may serve you (in Psalm. 143. 6).

Thus, we belong to God, the more valuable, but the flesh, the less
valuable, belongs to us. After commenting that what matters here is not
only the relation to God, but the way in which the order unfolds,
Heidegger observes:

It is not natural that that which is experienced in the delectatio stands in a

ranking order of value. Rather, this is based on an “axiologization” which, in
the end, is on the same level as the “theorization”. This ranking order of values
is of Greek origin (GA60: 277).
272 Dahlstrom

Axiologizing, Heidegger continues, is more insidious or at least “more

difficult to grasp” than theorizing “because it is in fact preoccupied with
what is in question” (GA60: 277). We find a similar view expressed in
the first appendix: “The danger of axiologization of the connections of
the phenomenon is just as fatal as the elaboration along theoretical lines
for a regional domain; moreover, both [axiology and theory] go
together” (GA60: 256).12
Axiologizing is, Heidegger insists, fatally inadequate to
understanding facticity and existence. Among the more instructive
features of Heidegger’s reading of Augustine is the way in which he
articulates what he means by this inadequacy explicitly in terms of love:

Preferring – spurning – being indifferent. This is basically bustling activity

with God, which takes the easy path; and one only has to follow essential
insights. But here there is no trace at all of the authentic sense of the
enactment of love. What is precisely crucial is to constantly have a radical
confrontation with the factical, and not to flee. In order to attain existence, I
precisely must have it. This having precisely means living in it, but not giving
in, not even overcoming it comfortably and axiologically (GA60: 26).13

The absolute love of God and oneself in believing is, as Heidegger puts
it, “authentic existence”. However, the absoluteness of this manner of
being is not to be reduced to universal, law-governed being, but is
instead “the individual’s radical, concrete, historical being”. Heidegger
then adds that “orientation to the axiologized summum bonum and so
forth makes the entire comportment to a quasi-aestheticism in yet
another sense: not only as attitude, but as delectatio” (GA60: 260; 278f).
Once again Heidegger links axiologizing with the distance and
interruption demanded not only of an attitude, a Husserlian stoppage of
play, as it were, that is the hallmark of theorizing, but also with a certain
kind of delight taken in things, the sort of delight typical of the aesthete.

3. The Second Form of Temptation: Keeping Truth at a Curious


Augustine designates the second form of temptation as “concupiscence

of the eyes” (concupiscentia oculorum). Much like Aristotle and
Husserl, he defends this Johanine metaphor by appealing to its
customariness. We say that we “see” not only when sight is involved,
but also when any sense is involved in exploring something as a matter
of cognition. Within the soul there is “a vain and curious cupidity” that
Truth and Temptation 273

differs from concupiscence of the flesh by “not delighting in the body,

but experiencing through the body”, all the while cloaked under the
name of knowledge and science (vana et curiosa cupiditas nomine
cognitionis et scientiae palliata). Curiosity is a failing because it is a
desire for knowledge, not for the sake of salvation or for some good, but
for its own sake (Conf. 10. 35). This desire (cupiditas) explains the draw
of such things as magic, astrology, and seances or the delight that we
take in horrifying events – at a safe yet visible distance, to be sure (e.g.,
their theatrical re-enactment). Even religion is affected by the morbidity
of this desire (ex hoc morbo cupiditatis) when demands are made of
God, again, not for the sake of human salvation or welfare, but solely in
order to know. Augustine says that he has, by God’s grace, dispelled
many such desires from his heart and yet, testifying once again to his
clear appreciation of the fallibility and frailty of the human condition,
he cannot dare to say that he is no longer tempted by them, so pervasive
are these idle distractions in everyday life (cotidie), and so powerful
their allure.
Heidegger’s reading of this chapter is obviously significant,
since the theme of curiosity recurs explicitly in the existential analysis
of Being and Time. In the Augustine lecture Heidegger characterizes
curiosity as a desire to be ‘in the know’, “the appetite of looking-about-
oneself (not of dealing-with) in the various regions and fields, ‘what is
going on there’” (GA60: 223). Heidegger thus makes a distinction,
similar to one later at work in his existential analysis, between sheer
involvement with things in the world around one (thus, “dealing with
them”: Umgehen) and merely observing them (“looking around at
them”: Sichumsehen). Glossing Augustine’s own words, Heidegger
iterates that curiosity places on itself “the cloak of profundity and the
absolute cultural necessity of particular achievements” and that it is a
factical, enjoyable seeing and hearing and, indeed, “as enjoyable, so
self-evident that we no longer ‘see’ it” (GA60: 223). Heidegger
underscores how, in contrast to the “concupiscence of the flesh”, this
“concupiscence of the eyes” is a seeing and hearing that we enjoy, a
way of letting ourselves be moved on the basis of holding things at
arm’s length (literally: keeping them away from the body [Sich-vom-
Leibe-Halten]). This enjoyment at a distance suggests certain forms of
“amusement” or entertainment and, not surprisingly, after noting that
this basic stance towards objects takes many forms, Heidegger adds in
274 Dahlstrom

parentheses: “cinema”.14 So, too, in curiosity we “fall prey” (verfallen)

to magic, mysticism, and theosophy (GA60: 224).
Heidegger concludes his gloss on this second form of temptation
by making some suggestive remarks about the metaphorical use of
“seeing” in this connection, namely, as the use of a sensation for the
sake of becoming acquainted (Kenntnisnehmen) with an object.
Heidegger alludes to three dimensions of curiosity here, albeit with
scant elaboration: curiosity is a desire for the delight (1) not of knowing
but of acquaintance; (2) of acquaintance with objects as objects, or (3)
of acquaintance with objects as illuminated. He stresses that whenever
concrete factical experiencing intends an acquaintance that is offset in
some way, the delight at work can be a concupiscence. This manner of
relating can have a will of its own (eigenwillig), setting itself above “the
immanent act of interpretation, on the part of the self, of its existential
relevance” and determining all factical experiences: “in curiosity,
everything is in principle accessible; unconstrained” (GA60: 226). This
account of curiosity, while sketchy, resembles that in Being and Time,
insofar as curiosity is cast as a potential threat to coming to terms with
oneself, a threat that is deeply analogous to that posed by a purely
theoretical attitude.15 As such, curiosity is a desire that we have and give
into and that, in the process, keeps us from the truth.

4. The Third Form of Temptation: Keeping Truth at a Vain Distance

In the first two forms of temptation, what is at stake is a habit of keeping

truth at a distance or, equivalently, a habit of losing oneself in carnal
pleasures and idle disengagement. The third form of temptation is the
temptation of pride (superbia), and Augustine characterizes it, not as
concupiscentia like the others, but as an ambition of an age or a
generation (ambitio saeculi). The temptation of pride is the desire to be
feared and loved by men (specifically, a generation, one’s
contemporaries, the Mitwelt) for no other reason than the joy, albeit
false joy, that it brings – a characterization that makes him question
whether pride has ever taken leave of him (Conf. 10. 36).
Heidegger follows Augustine’s lead of introducing the
distinctiveness of pride by detailing its differences from lust and
curiosity. These first two temptations signal ways of behaving that are
dominated by the surrounding world (Umwelt) and, specifically, the
things within it that are sensually pleasing or gratifying to curiosity.
Truth and Temptation 275

These ways of behaving are not directed at the self as such, though each
implicates a distinctive way of being oneself and a distinctive sort of
shared world or intersubjectivity. In both temptations the self is swept
up, i.e., into dealing with things (Umgehen: a practical dimension with
an aesthetic proclivity) and into looking around (Sichumsehen: a
theoretical dimension). In both temptations the self is “lived by the
world” and, indeed, most intensely if the self thinks that it is living
authentically. In a state of curiosity, one is neither immersed in the
world as when one lusts, nor self-possessed; in fact, as Heidegger puts
it, the self in curiosity “is at bottom ‘not here’ [nicht ‘da ist’]” (GA60:
228). By contrast, in pride, the primary focus is one’s self and one’s
self-importance. The finis delectationis is one’s own significance
(Eigenbedeutsamkeit), but it is a significance that depends on the
opinions of others. Or at least it is a significance that depends on what
one thinks other’s opinions should be, when the love of praise is
explicitly suppressed yet sufficiently internalized that one takes credit
for what is God’s doing (sibi placentas […] de bonis tuis quasi suis).
Thus, while others serve as objects in facilitating our desires to immerse
ourselves lustfully or curiously in the world, they do not fade into the
objective landscape when it comes to pride, the validation of one’s self
in intersubjective contexts. The desire to be feared and loved can
express “a certain inner vehemence of existence”, but more often it is
motivated by “cowardly weakness and insecurity”, by a need to lean on
others and be allowed to accompany them, a “prophylactic against
confrontation” (GA60: 229). “In yielding to this temptation”, Heidegger
continues, “the self gets lost […] in a manner completely its own”. 16
Heidegger’s gloss on Augustine’s account of pride emphasizes
pride’s dependence on a shared world and, as a result, the false
preeminence attached by pride to the self-world. One pivotal
phenomenon revealed in the confession of this temptation, and later
occupying a prominent position in existential analysis, is human
discursiveness. Heidegger links Augustine’s account of pride as a desire
to be feared and loved with his observation that “our daily furnace is the
human tongue”, a play on Proverbs 27: 21: “As gold is probed in the
furnace, so a human being is probed in the mouth of praise” (Conf. 10.
37). In other words, the real test of the temptation of pride comes
through the ways that we concretely and daily talk to one another. It is
certainly worth pondering what relevance, if any, this connection
between pride and discursiveness has for Heidegger’s analysis of talk
276 Dahlstrom

(Rede) as an ‘existential’ and, in particular, to his discussion of

inauthentic talk, i.e., palaver or idle gossip (Gerede), and authentic,
solitary talk, i.e., conscience, in Being and Time. The closeness of the
terminology suggests a considerable relevance. For example, after
noting how Dasein in palaver presents itself with the possibility of
losing itself in the crowd and falling prey to uprootedness, Heidegger
adds, “this means that Dasein prepares for itself the constant temptation
to lapse [die ständige Versuchung zum Verfallen]” (SZ: 177). At the
same time it is clear that much of the content of the Augustine lectures
is, from the standpoint of the existential analysis, more existentiell than
existential, more a matter of “the ontic conception of authentic
existence, the factical ideal of being-here” than the fundamental
ontology that supposes that ideal (SZ: 310). Yet, precisely because the
existential analysis presupposes as much, there is reason to think that
Heidegger’s gloss in the Augustine lectures on the prideful connection
between inauthentic existence (being-in-the-world and being oneself)
and being with others provides an important clue to that presupposition.
A further, cognate parallel between the Confessions and the
existential analysis can be found in Augustine’s emphasis on the
inescapability of the temptation. There is a certain inevitability to the
test of pride, just as there is to das Man and the fallen state of human
existence generally, given the very institutional/hierarchical nature of
intersubjective life. Thus, Augustine writes, “because it is necessary for
certain stations (officia) of human society to be loved and feared by
men”, we find ourselves “avidly” relishing praise from others with the
result that we are “uncautiously” captivated by them and “place our joy
away from your truth and place it in the deceits of men” (et a veritate
tua gaudium nostrum deponamus atque in hominum fallacia ponamus)
(Conf. 10. 36). As Heidegger puts it, our concern (curare) here is to
“attain a specific position” relative to others (Mitwelt) (GA60: 229). The
operative concept, linking pride and society, is others’s praise for us,
praise out of love and fear of us, a bi-directionality not unlike the
concern for the distance (Abständigkeit) between ourselves and others,
discussed in Being and Time (SZ: 126). The world of the prideful self
is a world constituted by ambition, a desire for others’s praise or, more
precisely, a desire for the even greater delight the proud person takes in
that praise than in the things that are praiseworthy. As Augustine
observes in this connection, God blames the person who rejoices more
Truth and Temptation 277

in the praise that he receives from others than in the God-given gifts for
which he is praised.
Toward the end of Book 10 Augustine speaks of “the most
dangerous temptation”, stemming from love of praise (temptatio
periculosissima ab amore laudis). The danger is excessive due to the
insidious potency of pride, its ever-present capacity to pervert even the
noblest pursuit. The pursuit and attainment of a certain goodness are a
duty, but also praiseworthy, and, as a result, the danger always presents
itself of delighting in the praise rather than the good that is praised. As
Augustine notes, we can even find ourselves taking pride in condemning
pride (a sure sign that we do not really condemn it), so insidious and
perverse is this temptation (Conf. 10. 38). Indeed, it is, in Heidegger’s
words, that which is genuinely “satanical” about this temptation: “In the
ultimate and most decisive and purest concern for oneself lurks the
possibility of the most abysmal plunge and the genuine loss of oneself”
(GA60: 240). Further exacerbating the call for continentia when it
comes to pride is the difficulty of determining whether we genuinely
possess the self-restraint called for. In the case of lust or curiosity, how
continent I am becomes apparent “when I lack these things either
willfully or when they are absent. For then I ask myself how much more
or less difficult [molestum] it is for me not to have them” (Conf. 10. 37).
But since praise accompanies good works in one way or another, there
is no way to experience the absence of praise (even if praise of one’s
self), short of abandoning a good life itself.
Augustine’s self-analysis in this regard includes an admission
that praise increases the joy that he has in any good that he possesses.
He offers love of neighbor (iustitia), i.e., rejoicing in his neighbor’s
competence, as a possible excuse. Yet he remains unsure since he could
be rejoicing merely in his neighbor’s agreement with him, and since
qualities that he finds pleasing are even more pleasing to him if they
please others as well. Moreover, if his neighbor’s praise is supposed to
move him because of the good that it reveals about his neighbor, why,
he asks, is he less moved when someone else is unjustly censured than
when he is? Speaking for Augustine at the conclusion of this tortured
self-analysis, Heidegger writes: “I am no longer certain about myself
and fall prey to the intersubjective world [verfalle der Mitwelt]” (GA60:
236). He characterizes Augustine’s search for an excuse as an attempt
to escape responsibility for “falling”.
278 Dahlstrom

Heidegger’s commentary here contains once again some

potentially quite revealing parallels with his impending existential
analysis. As just noted, he underscores Augustine’s acceptance of
responsibility for falling; in the jargon of Being and Time, it is an
existential not simply in the sense of something that I do (vollziehe) but
also in the sense of complicity or, better, a complicit projection on my
part. And this despite the quotidian inevitability of the fall and the
constancy of the temptation, even when and to the degree that I manage
to get up. But Heidegger also stresses that resisting temptation cannot
be a flight from the intersubjective world or a disavowal of what is

In this tentatio, the direction of overcoming is precisely a genuine giving-

oneself-over to the communal world, but a giving enacted from the clear
position of one’s own in the facticity of one’s own life; such giving can never
be proven in – even the most radical – mere giving-over to the objective in
every sense (GA60: 236).

This commitment to the intersubjective world, moreover, is

anything but a joyless exercise of duty. Heidegger takes Augustine’s
remark that it is better to praise than to be praised as an indication that
“behaving authentically”– or “authentic comportment” (eigentliches
Verhalten) – consists in enjoying one’s genuine ability to praise, and
then seeing a real gift (donum) of God, valuing it, and bringing it to
validation, concerned for the good (bonum) as such. Here we have a
positive account of resisting the temptation of pride, in terms central to
the looming existential analysis but with invocations conspicuously
absent from it, i.e., the invocations of gifts, goods, value, and, above all,
God. Finally, in this same connection, Heidegger stresses that
continentia – the key to resisting temptations, it bears recalling –
includes a demand for iustitia. Temptation, we now hear, is “a struggle
(certamen) between two directions of loving”, and in this struggle,
iustitia represents “the genuine direction of concern of love […] the
authentically and primordially meaningful directedness […] in the
whole of factical experience of significance” (GA60: 237).17 This talk
of authentic and primordial meaning once again seems to anticipate the
looming existential analysis, but if it does, it raises the question of
whether this context of loving in which it is introduced in the 1921
Augustine lectures is something more than a dispensable backdrop, or
Truth and Temptation 279

a silently ontic, at best sufficient, but hardly necessary presupposition

to existential analysis.

5. Conclusion

By way of conclusion, I would like to suggest briefly five parallels,

worthy of further study, between Heidegger’s early lectures on
Augustine’s Confessions and the existential analysis in Being and Time.
Perhaps the most tangential parallel is that between the three forms of
temptation, and the three modes of being that figure most prominently
in Being and Time, namely, being handy (zuhanden), on hand
(vorhanden), or being-here (Dasein). The first two temptations
correspond, as noted, to two ways of behaving (umgehen mit, sich
umsehen) that are directed, respectively, at what Heidegger dubs “the
handy” and “the on hand”. The first temptation, the temptations of the
flesh, use of the senses as Werkzeuge, defines things in terms of their
immediate, carnal utility. In the second temptation, the temptation
metaphorically considered a temptation of sight, things are at a distance
from the body or, more precisely, our vital, carnal existence. They are
not in use but merely on hand, and we are interested merely in the way
they appear to a speculative gaze.18 In the third temptation, what is at
stake is not the way things are used or regarded, but the way in which
we regard ourselves. This self-regard is the counterpart to the self-
disclosiveness that is the defining feature of being-here, as opposed to
being handy or on hand.
A second, more obvious parallel concerns the notion of care.
Even if Heidegger had not alerted us to this connection, we would have
been able to gather as much from the early Augustine lectures (SZ: 199,
n. 1). In them Heidegger characterizes experience, in particular
temptations, as caring (curare) and, indeed, a care to achieve a certain
delight.19 Yet, while Heidegger carefully unpacks Augustine’s account
of a life of temptations in terms of the delights that constitute their
respective ends, this aspect of Augustine’s account barely surfaces, if at
all, in the existential analysis. Thus, Heidegger observes that what is
also given in all experiencing of this sort is “the basic tendency
delectatio (uti – frui), a curare that is diversely characterized, hence,
always a definite appetitus, a striving towards something” (GA60: 222).
What is interesting about this observation is the fact that he takes up
curare, i.e., caring (Sorge), into the heart of the existential analysis as
280 Dahlstrom

well as the procuring, possession, and use (Besorgen – uti) entailed by

it, but without a comparably clear identification of the delight
(delectatio) or enjoyment (frui) that are no less entailed by care. Or, if
the analysis of the benumbed (benommen) character of an existence that
has fallen prey to the world appeals tacitly to inauthentic delights and
enjoyments, then there is at least no comparably clear identification of
the delights of authentic care.
A further parallel concerns the sort of necessity born of
faciticity and fallenness. In the Augustine lectures, as noted above,
Heidegger portrays falling prey to the world (in the sense of allowing
oneself to be lived by it) as a matter of facticity (GA60: 228; SZ: 56,
222, 231).20 In a revealing passage he adds that the direction of the
possibilities of temptation in each case “is also ‘here’ [da] in the
facticity of being-here”. This characterization of the site of the
“possibilities” of temptation is noteworthy, not only due to the use of
terms so central to the existential analysis (da, facticity), but also
because of the accompanying footnote which contains the two words “a
necessitas” (SZ: 230, n. 8). This footnote reinforces a crucial point made
in the entire passage about the sort of modality at work in Augustine’s
Confessions and enlisted in the existential analysis. The irreducibly
personal (today one might say “indexical”) character of the Confessions
abounds in a facticity that is anything but a contingent matter-of-
factness. Yet, at the same time, its necessitas or that of its being-here is
not logical or a priori in the sense of analytic or synthetic a priori
This necessity is instead the sort that one experiences in being
tempted and faced with a decision, a decision that no one else can make
for you. This character of the necessity introduces a fourth parallel
between the saint’s Confessions and the thinker’s analysis. In keeping
with the phenomena of religious solitude and silence, there is no
recourse in Augustine’s Confessions to help from any source external to
the human being herself and her love – or, alternatively, any source
other than the human being herself and the Truth. Heidegger includes a
version of this feature in his interpretation of the facticity of existence.
Referring to solitude as “a phenomenon of personal, historical existence
as such”, he seizes upon Augustine’s insight into the radically
individuated character of existence that is, nonetheless, concretely
historical, i.e., fully worldly and troubling, demanding in its facticity
(GA60: 336). In Being and Time discussion of the existential sense of
Truth and Temptation 281

solus ipse, of Dasein being utterly thrown back upon itself is meant to
capture the necessity of this solitude and the facticity of being-here
revealed in it.

Anxiety individualizes and thus discloses being-here as “solus ipse”. This

existential “solipsism”, however, hardly transports an isolated subject-thing
into the harmless void of a worldless occurrence, instead bringing it in an
extreme sense face to face with its world as world and thereby itself bringing
being-here face to face with itself as being-in-the-world (SZ: 188).21

Thus, this existential solipsism, not to be confused with epistemological

solipsism (something contradicted by the very trappings of being-here,
i.e., being-in-the-world), is also of Augustinian inspiration.
This existential solipsism has a direct bearing, finally, on a
methodological parallel between the Confessions and the existential
analysis in Being and Time. Just as Augustine must confess for himself,
so the existential analysis must be an analysis of being-here by being-
here itself and solely on the basis of it (SZ: 6). In Heidegger’s
interpretation of Book 10 of the Confessions, the individual face of
temptation is at the same time holistic. It is a seamless and, as Heidegger
puts it, a “decisive” weave of esse, nosse, amare (being, knowing,
loving), on the one hand, and Umwelt, Mitwelt, Selbstwelt (surrounding
world, intersubjective-world, and world of the self), on the other,
making up “the genuine prestructuring, forming fundamental experience
in advance” (GA60: 242). But while life is this weave, it is also a
troubled one, as the key notions of temptatio and molestia are meant to
convey. A sufficiently complete and fundamental, i.e., primordial
account of life must take into account this troubled web, troubled not
least because of its essential incompleteness as long as it is lived. Herein
lies a key source for the operative notions driving Heidegger’s later
existential analysis, the demand, namely, for completeness and
primordiality (Ganzheit and Ursprünglichkeit) (SZ: 231f).
Heidegger’s debt to Augustine is considerable, as should now
be clear. Yet that debt should also not obscure Heidegger’s disciplined
way – for better or for worse – of appropriating the insights provided by
Book 10 of the Confessions. Like Augustine, Heidegger identifies the
trial of human existence as a matter of coming to terms with the truth.
But the truth is understood in profoundly different ways in each case.
The truth of existence, at least in Heidegger’s existential analysis, is not
God, and a human being’s relation to the truth is not grounded, as it is
282 Dahlstrom

for Augustine, in God’s grace and the prospect of a beata vita. The truth
for Heidegger is not something fully present and integral, but instead
something saturated by the fallenness of factical existence and the
absence of completeness and authenticity. Whereas Divine Truth gives
us the continentia in temptation, existential truth is the temptation itself,
and the resoluteness required to grasp this existential truth is grounded
in a radical self-possession.
Not coincidentally, that same attitude supposes, together with this ordered context, a
chronology in which time functions as a specific object (an age) and a region for
determining different matters (GA60: 168, 246f). In what amounts to a criticism of the
alleged replacement of a bracketed natural attitude with the phenomenological attitude,
Heidegger links a theory to an attitude (Einstellung) throughout the lectures. “To what
extent is a human downfall (Abfall) construed objectively, corroboratively, normatively
(by way of theorizing, in an attitude)? To what extent is it factually, in terms of oneself,
existentielly, by way of the act itself” (GA60: 259)? Heidegger introduces existentials
as explications of a sense originating in existence and, as such, as hermeneutic
categories in contrast to categories that classify in keeping with an attitude
(einstellungshafte Ordnungskategorien). See GA60 (232).
The very title of the lectures (‘Augustine and Neo-Platonism’) belies, Heidegger
acknowledges, his efforts to differentiate his reading from interpretations that would
situate and explain Augustine in terms of an objective historical order. The title
suggests, not only the question of the neo-Platonic influence on Augustine, but also a
version of the problem of the relationship between Hellenism and Christianity.
Heidegger explains that the title merely signals a point of departure, and that the aim is
to work through this context to establish “certain decisive phenomena that decisively
determined themselves in the situation historically consummated at that time and that
in this determination still ‘carry’ us” (GA60: 171). Similarly, he observes at a later point
that the interpretation is not theological but phenomenological and, indeed, historically
phenomenological, not scientifically theoretical (GA60: 210). Yet Heidegger says little
to clarify or justify these qualifications and it is fairly easy to read the two qualifications
as inconsistent, e.g., where the historical interpretation implies the theological (the
factical illumination or revelation), or where the bracketing of the theological for the
sake of the phenomenological necessarily introduces the distance of a theoretical
See Serm. (2. 3. 3):“ Nescit se homo, nisi in tentatione discat se”; Tract. Jo. (46. 10): “In
tentatione apparet, qualis sit homo”.
See Conf. (10. 23): “Beata quippe vita est gaudium de veritate. Hoc est enim gaudium
de te, qui veritas es, deus, illuminatio mea, salus faciei meae, deus meus”.
Heidegger places Abfall in apposition to Verfall. See GA60 (272). See also GA60 (211
n. 2).
Heidegger places molestia in direct apposition to facticity. See GA60 (210).
On Heidegger’s reading, Augustine is drawing a contrast between authenticity and
inauthenticity, framed by the opposition, not so much of the one and the many, as of the
centred and de-centred. An obvious semblance of this contrast and its particular framing
resurfaces in Being and Time as Heidegger distinguishes an authentic self from a self
Truth and Temptation 283

lost to the crowd (SZ: 273). But there is an equally patent expression of its neo-Platonic
resonance in Heidegger’s remark: “Alles ‘Entspringen’ im ontologischen Felde ist
Degeneration” (SZ: 334). Moreover, in Being and Time resoluteness (Entschlossenheit)
appears to take the place of continentia. “Resoluteness means letting-oneself-be-called-
up from the state of being lost to the crowd” (SZ: 299; see, too, SZ: 296, 272f.; 296-
301). However, to the extent that the analysis of resoluteness in Being and Time appears
to exclude any relation to God and any role for grace, we are left to contemplate its
capacity to replace or appropriate the significance of continence in the Augustinian
scheme of things.
“The experience of God in Augustine’s sense is not to be found in an isolated act or in
a certain moment of such an act, but in an experiential complex of the historical facticity
of one’s own life. This facticity is what is authentically original” (GA60: 294).
One can sympathize with Dreyfus’s attempt to clarify Heidegger’s “confusion” by
distinguishing “falling” from “fleeing” (or a structural from a psychological account of
fallenness). Yet the analysis of temptation suggests that these alternatives ought not be
construed as forming a disjunctive dilemma. We are naturally disposed to flee anxiety,
and this flight is of a piece with our fallen state. That is to say, first, that we are not only
prone by our very make-up to undertake practices that deflect us from the anxiousness
of our existence but also, at any point, to find ourselves already “falling” into them;
second, that while we may indeed decide to flee anxiety, the flight is something that
need not take the form of a deliberate decision; and, third, the extent to which we can
manage to decide to do something about anxiety, resolutely or not, is limited and
tenuous. So, too, a resolute individual, far from removing the possibility of anxiety or
the flight from it, supposes them both, as long as he or she lives. See Dreyfus (1991:
226, 336).
Heidegger notes the link between the constancy of expectation (Erwartung) and the
“dominating direction of the delectatio on which everything depends” (GA60: 275).
Heidegger glosses Augustine’s De musica as stemming from “the neo-Platonic
aesthetics” (GA60: 286). See, too, the reference to the “Greek-Christian” character of
“Augustinian anthropology”(SZ: 199 n. 1).
According to Becker’s transcript (GA60: 281), the problem is deciding the extent to
which the basic orientation “in a specific axiological system” is the result of Augustine’s
own experience, and the extent to which it is determined by his historical situation.
See also GA60 (292, 259f, 281, 291f). Heidegger notes that the love meant here is not
sensual love (amor), but dilectio, referring to something higher.
See Collingwood (1958: 85).
On possible connections between curiosity and theorizing, see Dahlstrom (2001: 351-
It bears noting that Augustine does not equate the desire to be feared and loved with
the temptation of pride. There is a way of fearing chastely and loving maximally, each
directed at the summum bonum, but the care to do so is waylaid by pride, the care to
please others (GA60: 235). Heidegger’s discussion of genuine love anticipates his
account of authentic Mitsein (GA60: 292). See, also, his gloss on timor castus (GA60:
293-297; SZ: 190 n. 1).
Heidegger’s call for a life-affirming, loving stance militates against the charge that his
existential analysis is overdetermined by a gnostic-Pietist interiority that paves the way
for the Seiendesvergessenheit, the ontic obtuseness and lack of existentiell criteria that
might seem to plague that analysis.
284 Dahlstrom

Heidegger in fact characterizes objects of curiosity as vorhanden. See (GA60: 225).
See in Psalm. 7. 5. 10: “Finis enim curae delectatio est”. See GA60 (224, 232-234).
The trial that preoccupies care is, moreover, a permanent tension between authentic
and inauthentic ways of existing, that is to say, ways of living in which someone does
or does not come to herself (GA60: 236f). These formulations are echoed in the opening
paragraphs of Heidegger’s treatment of fallenness in Being and Time, as he observes that
“being-here has always already first fallen away from itself as authentic potential-to-be-
itself and fallen prey to the ‘world’. The fallenness to the ‘world’ means the absorption
in being-with-one-another, insofar as this is conducted by palaver, curiosity, and
ambiguity” (SZ: 175).
See also SZ (254f).


Collingwood, Robin G. 1958. The Principles of Art. Oxford University

Dahlstrom, Daniel. 2001. Heidegger’s Concept of Truth. Cambridge
University Press.
Dreyfus, Hubert. 1991. Being-in-the-World. Cambridge, Ma.: MIT
Memory and Temptation:
Heidegger Reads Book X of Augustine’s Confessions

Costantino Esposito

1. The Question of the Destiny of Being in the Age of Nihilism

A constant and ever more pressing problem manifests itself as one

follows the development of Heidegger’s thought through the various
stages of his philosophical enquiry, a problem that we could express
with the question: is nihilism to be understood as destiny, or, more
precisely, as our essential destiny? This problem is fundamental to the
whole of Heidegger’s enquiry, from his investigation of the
historico-ontological meaning of “existing” – that is, “being-there”
(Dasein) as the expression of the temporality of being in general – to his
philosophical meditations on the “event of appropriation” (Ereignis), as
the original and hidden truth underlying the history of Being itself.
This problem is not confined to discerning just one aspect or
one particular phase in the development of Heidegger’s thought, that
which we could locate roughly between the mid-1930s and the
mid-1950s, the period marked emblematically by the publication of
Beiträge zur Philosophie (GA65) and Nietzsche (GA6), as well as the
dialogues Über die Linie (1955) with Ernst Jünger. Naturally, this phase
of Heidegger’s thought was motivated by his intellectual experiences up
to the publication of Being and Time, and would in turn orient the
development and articulation of questions that would occupy his
research up to the 1960s. Moreover, the problem of nihilism as destiny
induces us to reread his philosophical endeavours of the 1920s
(concerning the hermeneutics of factical life), which would later
converge in the ontological-fundamental analytic of existence, and to
identify elements and motives already present in them, the full scope of
which, however, may only be evaluated by focussing on and radicalizing
the above problem.
It is well known that for Heidegger nihilism coincides with the
history of Being. The question is whether for us, his readers, this
286 Esposito

position is self-referential (which is apparently the general consensus

amongst his interpreters), or whether it can be verified from a standpoint
free of this presumed necessity. I would like to propose that we change
our approach and question the inescapability of nihilism by reopening
the question itself ab origine, for there is a way of posing the question
of nihilism so that it ceases to be a question and becomes a declaration
of impossibility, a kind of upside-down “transcendental”.1
We need, somehow, to give new life, dramaticism even, to
Heidegger’s question, without codifying it and thereby squeezing it into
the familiar perspective of Zeitgeist, or that of the dominating trends of
our age. Challenging the impossibilities decreed by the tragic destiny of
thought means recognizing that a given option persists beyond nihilism,
a decision in the very act of questioning, a basic disposition to see the
thing in question.
This option surfaces in Heidegger’s encounter with Augustine
in the early 1920s, and accompanies him at least up until the
composition of Being and Time. This encounter – and herein lies our
initial hypothesis – is the context, or better, the occasion for a decision
in which, as we shall see, the threads of Being, history and grace are all
woven together.

2. “Historical” Life as the Augustinian Question

I would like to pause for a moment over a central question which is

(re)discovered and posed afresh by Heidegger in his encounter with
Augustine, more especially the Augustine of the Confessions: the
question of life – in a radically ontological, not simply anthropological
or spiritual sense – as “unrest”, “questionability”, and “facticity”.2
Ego laboro in meipso: factus sum mihi terra difficultatis et
sudoris nimii recalls Heidegger at the beginning of Being and Time, thus
introducing the task of an interpretation of Dasein in its most immediate
and familiar mode: “average everydayness” (Conf. 10. 16. 25; SZ: 43-
44). Existing – and this is the sense of Heidegger’s interpretation – is
not objectifiable in terms of any actual determination, any real datum.
Life, existence, happens without ever being objectively
determined. Herein lies the sense of its original historicity (or better, its
being-historical); and this historicity is not to be taken as a “happening”,
but as an original enactment, and as such, ab-solute facticity, radical,
ontological self-assignment, remission of the self to itself. In this
Memory and Temptation 287

reading by Heidegger, life is not a given, even less is it given by a third

party, rather, it is the movement of giving itself (life) to itself.
Enactment is nothing other than the “how” of existing, that which is
realized in the endogenous motility of life, without requiring any other
factor – any factor that is “other”– to enact it, thereby denying relation
as a fundamental constituent of Being.3
This nexus of existence (unrest, questionability), facticity
(structural falling of life into itself) and historicity (non-objectifiable
happening), in which the being of life consists, is attained by Heidegger
through his reading and interpretation of that complex, yet profoundly
unified, phenomenon which Augustine introduces in Book 10 of the
Confessions, the discovery of memoria and the experience of tentatio.

3. Memoria: The Intrinsic Movement of Being-there as the Searching


One arrives at memoria through the movement of quaerere Deum, as the

self-referential movement of life, or as the self-transcendence of
existence in itself, from itself and towards itself. Indeed, Heidegger
asks: What does confiteri mean? The ‘knowledge of self’. However,
“there is something in a man that even the spirit in him does not know”
(Conf. 10. 5. 7).4 I shall confess, says Augustine, what I know and also
what I do not know. And what do I know with certainty? Domine, amo
te (Conf. 10. 6. 8).
“But what do I love when I love my God” (Quid ergo amo, cum
Deum meum amo)? “Who is He that is above my soul” (Quis est ille
super caput animae meae)? “It is through my soul that I shall ascend to
Him” (Per ipsam animam meam ascendam ad illum). “I shall transcend
that force with which I keep myself tied to my body and which fills my
organism with vitality” (Transibo vim meam, qua haereo corpori et
vitaliter compagem eius repleo) (Conf. 10. 7. 11). “And so I shall
transcend my natural strength too [i.e., my sensorial faculties],
ascending by degrees to Him that made me” (Transibo ergo et istam vim
naturae meae, gradibus ascendens ad eum, qui fecit me). “And I shall
reach the fields and vast quarters of the memory” (Et venio in campos
et lata praetoria memoriae) (Conf. 10. 8. 12). Heidegger comments:

In the progressing-transcending ascent, Augustine arrives in the wide field of

memoria […] (What phenomena Augustine brings forth, regarding the content
only, and, above all, how he explicates the phenomena and in what basic
288 Esposito

contexts and determinations – e.g., beata vita [the happy life] – shatters the
framework and the structure of the usual concept (GA60: 182).

Augustine continues: “The power of memory is great, too great, my

Lord, it is a vast and infinite sanctuary. Who has ever reached its end?
Nor can I myself grasp all that I am. And so I am struck by amazement”
(Magna ista vis est memoriae, magna nimis, Deus meus, penetrale
amplum et infinitum. Quis ad fundum eius pervenit? […] nec ego ipse
capio totum, quod sum. Stupore apprehendit me) (Conf. 10. 8. 15). In
the memory are present (praesto sunt) the images of all things: things
that are aware [sensuous], as well as those that are insensible [non-
sensuous] (mathematical propositions and rules, or those things learnt
from the liberal arts), and all the affectiones animi. Yet in memory I also
meet myself and I remember myself in the deeds I have done, in the time
and place in which I did them, in the emotions that I felt while doing
them (mihi et ipse occurro meque recolo, quid, quando et ubi egerim
quoque modo, cum agerem, affectus fuerim) (Conf. 10. 8. 14).
The being of life is thus identified with the comprehension of
the incomprehensible self, the enigma of having-oneself, as Heidegger
notes, commenting on what Augustine says about that ontologically
inexplicable experience which we all have when we make present the
affections stored in the memory in a situation which has changed
affectively; for example, when we joyfully make present a past sadness.
Being oneself, or rather the “being” of self, is here identified, and lived,
as the specific mode of having-oneself, that “having” which is a sort of
self-possession of what one cannot possess as “memory”: “Thus,
Augustine does see the having as something on its own after all” (GA60:
187). Heidegger identifies this as one of the “enigmas of enactment”
(Vollzugsrätseln), which recalls the co-original nexus set up in his other
Freiburg lecture courses between “being oneself” (Selbstsein) or the
“self-world” (Selbstwelt), on the one hand, and the fundamental factical
situation of “having oneself” (Sich-selbst-Haben) or “bringing the self
to possession” (Sich-selbst-zum-Haben-Bringen), on the other, as well
as between the latter and “having history” (Geschichte-Haben), which
consists in the self-enactment of life as existence (GA60: 182). History
is my being – the way in which I have myself – to the extent that having
something, a “content” (Gehaltsinn), manifests itself as pure relation to
the self (Bezugssinn), and through this self-reference attains enactment
Memory and Temptation 289

In a factical sense, the question of the enactment of life as

memory – we might say, as the history of the self – is revealed by what
Heidegger calls the “aporia of forgetfulness” (Die Aporie bezüglich der
oblivio). Forgetfulness – the not-having-present something in the
memory, or privatio memoriae – is itself present in the memory, just as
remembered contents are present (Conf. 10. 16. 24). Thus Augustine can
state that memory itself conserves forgetfulness (memoria retinetur
oblivio). The question appears particularly inviting for Heidegger:

Thus, forgetting itself must be present. When I represent oblivio to myself

(oblivio: the having-forgotten-something and what has been forgotten), is
praesto [present]: “memoria qua meminerim, oblivio quam meminerim” [the
memory which I have remembered, the forgetfulness which I have
remembered] (GA60: 188).

This presence of oblivio is not to be taken as the mere negation of a

capability, as the disappearance of the act of remembering, since it
possesses its own peculiar mode of being which is completely different
from a psychological dynamic, and may be connoted instead as an
original phenomenon: not something – an image, a notion, a feeling –
that is lost (no longer remembered), but a “thing” enacted in itself.

Now, oblivio is relational, a fact which we have not yet considered: not having
present to oneself – something which had been present to oneself and which
should be present now – as presently not having something at one’s disposal
– as the absence of memoria. Located in the relational sense, this being absent
is grasped – and, indeed, enactmentally – as non-presence in the
aforementioned sense of the not-being-praesto [present] – but for this, the
being-absent has to be itself seen. The antinomy stems from this: if memoria
is present – representation to myself – then oblivio cannot be present, and vice
versa. If the latter is present, then I cannot represent something to myself; in
terms of content, it itself is not present (GA60: 188).

The Augustinian question is then probed more deeply by Heidegger, and

the more it is seen as a genuine mode of self-possession by an existing
self, the more aporetic it becomes: “Present therefore it is lest we forget
what, when it is present, we do forget” (GA60: 189) (Adest ergo, ne
obliviscamur, quae cum adest, obliviscimur) (Conf. 10. 16. 24). Thus
one might suppose that what exists is not forgetfulness itself (since, if
it existed, it could not be remembered as such), but rather its image. Yet
this apparent solution redoubles the problem of the nexus between
memory and forgetfulness, by posing that of the relation between the
290 Esposito

impression, or trace – what is “already impressed” (iam notatum) in the

memory – and its cancellation:

But even if we admit that only the image of the representation were present,
it must still itself be present for me to get the image. But how can that be,
since precisely the forgetting, according to its sense, extinguishes that which
was to become available as notatum [known]? “Et tamen […] ipsam
oblivionem [the having-forgotten] meminisse me certus sum, qua id quod
meminerimus [what we want to represent to ourselves] obruitur”. And yet […]
I am certain that I remember forgetfulness itself [the having-forgotten], by
which what we remember [what we want to represent to ourselves] is
concealed (GA60: 189).

With the aporia of forgetfulness in memory, the question of how one

must search, or, better, “what searching means” (was heißt Suchen?), is
revived. And it is perhaps worth noting that this question is Heidegger’s
phenomenological translation – neutral, though ambiguous – of the
explicit question raised by Augustine himself before his divine
interlocutor: “How do I search for you, Lord” (Quomodo ergo te quaero,
Domine) (Conf. 10. 20. 29)? This means, for both: What is being-man?
In what does life-as-searching consist? And vice versa: In what way “is”
searching “existing”? Yet the ultimate meaning of the questioning is
different in each case.
Searching thus means transcending (and not only the vital force
and sensorial faculties, but memory too) in order to reach what, or rather
whom, one is searching for. Yet “If I find You outside my memory I am
forgetful of You” (Si praeter memoriam meam te invenio, immemor tui
sum). “And how could I have found You if I did not remember You” (Et
quomodo iam inveniam te, si memor non sum tui) (Conf. 10. 17. 26)?
Thus, in Heidegger’s reading, in order to find what I am searching for
– that is, the searching itself – I must already “have” it, like Augustine’s
example from Luke 15:8 of “The woman who searched for and found
the lost drachma – how could she search for and find it if she did not
somehow still have it present to herself” (GA60: 190)? The sense of the
enactment of “being” as “having” here finds its most explicit
manifestation: “‘being’ = having. – Really having = not having lost it;
having in relation to possibly losing it – in anxiety – possibility –
intentionality” (GA60: 190-1). Or even more precisely:

In searching for this something as God, I myself assume a completely different

role. I am not only the one from whose place the search proceeds and who
Memory and Temptation 291

moves toward some place, or the one in whom the search takes place; but the
enactment of the search itself is something of the self (GA60: 192).

And yet what do I search for when I search for God? “For when I seek
you, my God, I seek the happy life. I will seek you that my soul may
live” (GA60: 193) (Cum enim te, Deum meum, quaero, vitam beatam
quaero. Quaeram te, ut vivat anima mea) (Conf.: 10. 20. 29). Searching
for God means searching for life, and searching for life means having a
Bekümmerung um Leben, a “concern for life” or “unrest in living”, the
unrest that is living (GA60: 193). So, if searching for God implies the
way in which life has already had Him – in being sought – then how
does one “have” beata vita, in what way has the “I” already had this
life? If the “I” did not already have it (beata vita) in some way, then it
could not even desire it. “The happy life we have in our knowledge, and
so we love it, and yet we desire to attain it so that we may be happy”
(GA60: 194) (Vitam vero beatam habemus in notitia ideoque amamus
et tamen adhuc adipisci eam volumus, ut beati simus) (Conf. 10. 21. 30).
Indeed, we would not desire something so ardently if we did not know
it with certainty (Quod nisi certa notitia nossemus, non tam certa
voluntate vellemus) (Conf.: 10. 21. 31).
The notitia in question here is not merely sensible [aware or
sensuous], nor is it merely intellectual; rather, it has to do in some way
(fortasse ita) with the experience of delight (gaudium) (Expertus sum in
animo meo, quando laetatus sum, et adhaesit eius notitia memoriae
meae) (Conf. 10. 21. 30). It is through experiencing a joy in my soul that
my cognition of it is impressed in my memory.
Here Heidegger reveals a significant shift in the dynamic of
experiencing, since in this case experience would no longer be identified
with a specific content (what is experienced at a certain point in time),
but rather with the self that becomes expertus, and, more precisely, with
the self that experiences delight. The shift would come about in the
experience itself of delight, which is no longer to be taken as a content,
but as a mode, the “how” of enacting the life of the “I”. The question
“What is delight?” is enacted in the question of how it is had by the self.
And it is precisely in this “situation of enactment” (Vollzugssituation)
that “authentic existence” (eigentliche Existenz) manifests itself as a
“radical reference to the self, authentic facticity” (GA60: 195, 196).
Thus, having the beata vita as self-enactment is for everyone,
without exception, at least not wanting to be deceived, and, more
292 Esposito

radically, the delight or pleasure that truth brings: Beata quippe vita est
gaudium de veritate. Hoc est enim gaudium de te, qui veritas es (Conf.
10. 23. 33).6
Heidegger here emphasizes that truth (and the light with which
it illuminates the self) is not to be taken in a “metaphysical” (i.e. Greek)
sense, but in an “existential” sense. Rather than indicating a reified
property, or attribute, truth constitutes a life tendency or direction, as
Augustine testifies in describing that “direction of falling” or “decline”
– almost an existential gravitational force, as Heidegger would suggest
in his course on Aristotle the following semester – which consists in
hating truth (God) in the name of what one falsely believes to be true:
Itaque propter eam rem oderunt veritatem, quam pro veritate amant.
Amant eam lucentem, oderunt eam redarguentem (Conf. 10. 23. 34).7
Heidegger comments: “they hate it when it presses them forcefully.
When it concerns them themselves, and when it shakes them up and
questions their own facticity and existence” (GA60: 200). And yet even
in this misguided position what is loved is still the truth: “even in this
closing-himself-off against the truth, he loves the truth more than error”
(GA60: 201).
Where the “I” has found a truth, there it has found God. Yet it
is not possible to find God outside memory, extra memoriam, even
though He is not a psychic thing, but the Lord of Memory (Dominus
Deus animi), who remains immutable (incommutabilis) in contrast to the
mutability of states and acts of the soul or mind (Conf. 10. 24. 35,
25.36). God does not dwell in the memory in the sense of an
object-content, but in the sense of the self-enactment of the self: “Where
did I find You, in order to know You, if not in You far above myself”
(Ubi ergo te inveni, ut discerem te, nisi in te supra me) (Conf. 10. 26.
37)? Heidegger comments: “The question where I find God has turned
into a discussion of the conditions of experiencing God, and that comes
to a head in the problem of what I am myself – such that, in the end, the
same question still stands, but in a different form of enactment” (GA60:
When Augustine writes, Sero te amavi, pulchritudo tam antiqua
et tam nova, Heidegger translates it as follows: “late did I get to the
level of factical life where I put myself in the position to love You”
(Conf. 10. 27. 38; GA60: 204). In this last quotation we may glean a
kind of secret ambivalence (if not a latent, though increasingly evident,
aporia) in Heidegger’s interpretation of Augustine. On the one hand,
Memory and Temptation 293

Heidegger recognizes that a gift of God is at stake in Augustine’s

confiteri: the having-received as a condition of enactment. In other
words, grace coincides with a mode of Being and enacting of life itself.
And here we find once again, like a leitmotif in Heidegger’s
interpretation, the identification of being with having. Indeed,
Heidegger’s position is the exact opposite of that which judges being (a
neutral and impersonal reality) to be worth more than having (the
acquisition or extrinsic addition of something ultimately optional); in
other words, as the qualitative with respect to the quantitative.
Heidegger clearly demonstrates that being – as being-human or
“existence” – implies a structural relation: its true meaning is only given
in an experience of the self as relational. On the other hand, this
interpretation tends to pay too high a price with respect to Augustinian
intentionality. Of course, Heidegger himself seems perfectly aware of
this: it is the price of completely resolving the above relation in the
dynamic of self-possession. For Augustine, the self is the most eloquent
sign of divine grace: that it originally depends upon divine grace is a
fact, yet one which always requires excess in identification, as an
ontological possibility, and difference in identity. If the being of life
consists in having received life, the motive lies in the fact that life is
constituted by something other than the self, so that an “I” begins to
manifest itself only as the acceptance or reception of a “you”, the Tu,
Domine. For Augustine, having received oneself coincides with the
discovery that this self is for another, and it is precisely in the tension of
this relation that the unique sense of the historicity of being is to be
Heidegger, however, translates (and so perhaps reduces) the
Augustinian relation between the self and another self, between the “I”
and God – an intrinsically historical relation, since the “I” is itself only
insofar as it is for another – as an endogenous shift, a self-generated
inversion of life, when life is no longer directed towards specific
contents, but is turned towards itself and is enacted in its original and
necessary mode of having-oneself, in a dynamic of pure self-possession.
And I say “pure” since what comes to be possessed is not an individual,
personal, spiritual, or even psycho-biological identity; indeed, it is not
any determined thing, but is the very movement of receiving-oneself,
without a giver but also without a receiver. The dramatic tension
between the “I” and God tends to resolve itself here in the irreducible
nature of the how with respect to the what. In this sense, historicity can
294 Esposito

only be understood as self-reference, and the unrest of which Augustine

speaks must inevitably be re-translated in terms of a motility that finds
its ontological paradigm in the Aristotelian concept of physis: an entity
that contains within itself the principle of movement. In the end, for
Heidegger, Augustine’s “metaphysics” is none other than Aristotle’s

4. Tentatio as the Falling of Existence

In this sense the framework within which the Augustinian phenomenon

of tentatio is interpreted becomes clear. Tentatio, we should recall,
means both “temptation” and “trial”: “Is human life on earth not perhaps
a trial” (Numquid non temptatio [tentatio] est vita humana super
terram)? “Who would desire trouble and difficulty? You command us
to bear the burden, not to love it” (Quis velit molestias et difficultates?
Tolerari iubes ea, non amari) (Conf. 10. 28. 39). It is here that, for
Heidegger, the “basic character of factical life” manifests itself: that is,
the curare, the concern for self, shows itself as an unrest, a
preoccupation, or better, as a structural being-preoccupied
(Bekümmertsein) with oneself (GA60: 205-6). In this curare the “I”
manifests itself in all its original gravity: “Because I am not filled with
You, Lord, I am a burden to myself” (quoniam tui plenus non sum, oneri
mihi sum) (Conf. 10. 28. 39). Interestingly enough, however, Heidegger
says nothing about Augustine’s reference to God in this context; it is
instead the sheer, absolute “burdening” that emerges from Heidegger’s
reading, without, it seems, an account of the origins of this phenomenon
in Augustine’s case. The basic character of factical life is thus not to be
taken as an erstwhile state which becomes the object of an existential
preoccupation, to be faced and theorized as such. On the contrary, it is
only in this curare that the true burden of existence manifests itself, that
the two ultimately coincide, thereby constituting the intrinsic dynamic,
the real gravitational force of existing.
Indeed, the main tendency of life is what Augustine calls a
“scattering in the manifold” (defluxus in multa), which Heidegger reads
as a scattering into the objectivity of the specific contents of living. Yet,
together with this scattering, life is marked by that peculiar kind of
renewal which – through continence– gathers us back into the unity of
the “I”. And this alone lets us bear (tolerare) the trial which is life.
“Through continence we are gathered together and led back to the One
Memory and Temptation 295

from which we had strayed by losing ourselves in the multiplicity” (Per

continentiam quippe colligimur et redigimur in unum, a quo in multa
defluximus) (Conf. 10. 29. 40). Here Heidegger emphasizes that
continentia cannot be translated in the negative sense of “abstinence”
(Enthaltsamkeit), but rather in the positive, and literal, sense of “holding
oneself together” or “containment” (Zusammenhalten), an original
“tearing oneself away” (zurückreißen), “pulling back” from the
scattering (GA60: 205).
For Heidegger, it is in this movement that the intrinsic
historicity of factical existence becomes clear, in the sense of the
“dynamic” and “conflicted nature” (Dynamik und Zwiespältigkeit)
inhering in, indeed constituting, life as care (GA60: 207, note 14). “In
adversity I desire prosperity, in prosperity I fear adversity” (Prospera in
adversis desidero, adversa in prosperis timeo) (Conf. 10. 28. 39).
Heidegger comments: “The self – even if often only in a ‘weak’ manner
– is taken into a historical experiencing” (GA60: 208). This
preoccupation with self is not something that happens to me in
experience, but is itself the enactment of the experience of myself, with
the consequence (more Heideggerian than Augustinian) that “the
enactment of experience is always insecure about itself” (GA60: 208,
In the encounter with tentatio as a fundamental experience – and
enactment – of the self that seeks God, Heidegger reveals the major
difficulties of Augustine’s text, while excluding the possibility that such
difficulties are reducible to questions of a moralistic or psychological
nature, and insisting instead that they are the point at which his own
phenomenological, as opposed to theological, interpretation of
Augustine must halt (GA60: 209, 210). Heidegger’s methodological
“halt” at tentatio implies, even more than a respect for Augustine’s own
confiteri, which is always in relation to God and comes from the grace
in having met Him, a decision regarding the possibility (or
impossibility) of the enactment of life as trial. Heidegger identifies
confiteri with the way in which life interprets itself in the experience of
temptation, though he thereby runs the risk of resolving confiteri in a
hermeneutics immanent in life itself (not the contents of life, but its
internal dynamic), while leaving aside that “other”, that You before
whom the act of confession takes place. Heidegger, of course, does not
ignore this You in his interpretation, though in some ways he treats it as
ineffectual in terms of the meaning and experience of the trial itself.
296 Esposito

In the three forms of tentatio described by Augustine in Book

10 of his Confessions – concupiscentia carnis, concupiscentia
oculorum, and ambitio saeculi – tentatio reveals itself for Heidegger as
an absolutely insuperable condition, or, better, insuperable because
ab-solved from any relation, except that of the self with itself. Life,
Heidegger insists, is a burden to itself (moles); it is an experience of
molestia which, as such, is without redemption. Lived experience
(Erlebnis) takes place within this weight or burden (Beschwernis) of
life: “Molestia: a burden of life, something which pulls life down; and
what is peculiar to the burden lies precisely in the fact that molestia can
pull down. In this, the ‘can’ is formed by the enactment that belongs to
each experience itself” (GA60: 242).
Consider, for example, the reading proposed by Heidegger of a
particular form of carnal lust – the surfacing in dreams of illusory
images of sensual pleasure – that could lead to the dreamer’s
acquiescence in acts to which a “chaste conscience” would never
consent in a waking state. Augustine asks, “Perhaps in those moments
I am no longer myself, O my Lord” (Numquid tunc ego non sum,
Domine Deus meus) (Conf. 10. 30. 41)? And he continues: “Here I find
myself faced with so great a difference between sleeping and waking,
that I am forced to wonder whether it is the same ‘I’ in both cases”.
Heidegger concludes that the content of my “I” does not reside in
conscience (im Gewissen), but rather in the passage (im Übergang) from
the involuntary to the voluntary, from seduction in dreams to waking
decisions. It is precisely in this passage that an experience of facticity
manifests itself which is more radical than all the ontical situations in
which the “I” exists. In this experience, I fall into myself, I fall back into
the self-world (Selbstwelt). I “am” and at the same time “am not”
myself; my being comes to fall into – and is thus based on – a more
original non-Being (GA60: 212-4).
It is not by chance that Heidegger lists the series of phenomena
of which Augustine speaks under the “Problem of ‘I am’”. He connotes
the being-I as an experience of discrepancy, or conflict
(Zwiespältigkeit), between being and non-being. This is further
demonstrated by his reading of another case illustrated in the
Confessions, that of the illecebra odorum, the allurement of smell, about
which Augustine writes that one’s faculties can always be mistaken,
since they are obscured by “deplorable darkness” and are thus
unreliable. This signals the fact that what is in the spirit often remains
Memory and Temptation 297

hidden, unless experience reveals it (quod inest plerumque occultum est,

nisi experientia manifestetur) (Conf. 10. 32. 48). What experience
affirms is a permanent insecurity, so that life itself may be considered
as one long trial (tota temptatio [tentatio]): anyone who can go from
worse to better can also go from better to worse (Utrum qui fieri potuit
ex deteriore melior, non fiat etiam ex meliore deterior) (Conf. 10. 32.
48). And so Heidegger concludes:

Thus, the self is to be sought originally in this direction of experience. In this

direction, and only in this direction, does the tentatio encounter us. That is,
inasmuch as it is there, life, the ista vita, has to be experienced in this way
[inasmuch as a temptation is experienced, I attain this situation. But what is
“experiencing temptation”?] (GA60: 217)

“What is life?” means “What is the experience of oneself?”, as the

phenomenon of memory has shown. Yet “What is experience?” also
means “What is temptation?”, and temptation, for Heidegger, does not
only mean that the self gets lost in the different ontical possibilities
which now and again seduce it, but, more essentially, that life, existence,
is distinguished from all ontical contents in order to be experienced as
the “trial” of the nothing that life itself always is. In Heidegger’s
language in Being and Time, the possibilities of the “falling” (Verfallen)
of being-there are originally founded on its constitutive “thrownness”
(Geworfenheit) (SZ: 175f.). Scattering in multiplicity is not the cause of
the facticity of existing; on the contrary, it is hiddenly based on this
facticity. And so the experience of continentia does not consist in taking
a distance from the factical-being of the self, but rather in its stark
This would be affirmed by Augustine’s second form of
temptation, concupiscentia oculorum, defined as a vain and curious
longing hidden under the name of knowledge and science (vana et
curiosa cupiditas nomine cognitionis et scientiae palliata) (Conf. 10. 35.
54). Heidegger emphasizes that this concupiscence of the eye, this mere
desire to see, is to be taken as a looking around one’s “surrounding
world” (Umwelt), whereby looking means “to give an object as an
object” (einen Gegenstand als Gegenstand vorgeben), as a mere
“present-at-hand” (vorhanden) constituted and fixed in the very same
vision by which it is known (GA60: 224, 225). Augustine describes the
primacy of sight with the simple statement that even though seeing
belongs to the eyes, it is used – at least in linguistic expressions – for all
298 Esposito

the other senses as well: Dicimus autem non solum: vide quid luceat,
quod soli oculi sentire possunt, sed etiam: vide quid sonet, vide quid
oleat, vide quid sapiat, vide quantum durum sit (Conf. 10. 35. 54).
Heidegger extends this description and radicalizes it as the objectifying
tendency which accompanies and determines all factical experience.
This line of thought would be taken up again in Being and Time in the
analysis of the falling of being-there, considered in its everydayness, in
which, together with phenomena such as idle talk and ambiguity,
curiosity is a decisive factor.
Curiosity “concerns itself with seeing, not in order to understand
what is seen […] but just in order to see” (SZ: 172). Here, too,
Heidegger refers to Book 10 of the Confessions in order to draw from
Augustine’s description of the concupiscence of sight the paradoxical
phenomenon of a seeing in which not only does one not really
understand what one sees in one’s surrounding world (precisely because
one only wants to “see” it), but one is freed from oneself as
being-in-the-world, that is, as being-near the entity that one encounters
in the world and that is (pre)comprehended as “ready-to-hand”
We have a final, definitive confirmation of Heidegger’s
interpretative direction in 1921, in his commentary on the third form of
temptation, ambitio saeculi, worldly ambition. Augustine describes this
form in speaking of those who are complacent (qui placent sibi de se)
and thus displease you greatly (multum tibi displicent), since they
consider: (1) what is not good as if it were good (de non bonis quasi
bonis); (2) God’s goods as if they were their own (de bonis tuis quasi
suis); (3) the goods received from God as if received because of
personal merit (sicut de tuis, sed tamquam ex meritis suis); (4) the goods
received by the grace of God as if they were not to be enjoyed by all, but
jealously guarded for themselves (sicut ex tua gratia, non tamen
socialiter gaudentes, sed aliis invidentes eam) (Conf. 10. 39. 64).
Heidegger (re)translates this extreme phenomenon of tentatio,
this worldly ambition, as a mode of enacting the experience
(Erfahrungsvollzug) of being-there. Indeed, the bonum is not to be taken
as an “endowment” (Ausstattung) of the self, something that one
possesses and has to hand, as if it were an objectively present worldly
good, but as existence itself: “Self – as this singular self which I myself
am, and not according to the general What of objective properties as
Memory and Temptation 299

such an object, but the How of ‘am’” (“das Wie des ‘bin’”) (GA60:
In worldly temptation the “self-world”(eigene Selbstwelt) looms
before the self. What represents for Augustine a dramatic
incomprehension of one’s own being, as the loss of being-given and
being-received in complacency, is paradoxically, for Heidegger, the
phenomenologically neutral moment in which the most radical
self-understanding of “I am”, in its stark reference to itself, becomes
possible.8 Ambitio saeculi is thus no longer taken as incompleteness, but
as the full manifestation, indeed the realization, of the self. In
commenting on the second possibility of this temptation – that is,
considering the goods received from God as one’s own, as always
having belonged to and been due to oneself – Heidegger’s profile of
being-there emerges, almost like a watermark: no longer as creation or
generation (hence, relational), but as pure self-reference, absolute

“Verum etiam de bonis tuis quasi suis” […] even if genuine insight into the
character of the good exists, and if a genuine good belongs to the self (“being
good”: authentic existing!) – which, as such, can only be from God – it is, to
oneself, taken as self-appropriated, as having been given to the self by itself
(Dasein – existence), having elevated oneself to this position and this level of
existence (GA60: 238-9).

The radical falling of being-there into itself, which in Augustine is taken

as a falsification, if not a veritable loss, of the self, here becomes the
very enactment of facticity, through which molestia (“a burden of life,
something which pulls life down”) becomes the possibility itself of life,
the possibility that is life: “this possibility ‘grows’, the more life lives,
this possibility grows, the more life comes to itself” (GA60: 242).

5. Radicality and Ambiguity in Heidegger’s Interpretation of Augustine

The ambiguity of this interpretation with regard to Augustine’s

unequivocal intentionality in considering the ultimate significance of
temptation as sin – and thus as the interruption, or repudiation, of the
relation at the root of good that coincides with what is good for the self
– clearly emerges, as already suggested, in the methodological
delimitation imposed by Heidegger at a certain point in his enquiry. As
300 Esposito

we read in Oskar Becker’s notes taken during the lecture courses in


That our possibility of interpretation has its limits, for the problem of confiteri
arises from the consciousness of one’s own sin. The tendency toward vita
beata [the happy life] – not in re [in actuality] but in spe [in hope] – emerges
only from out of the remissio peccatorum [remission of sin], the reconciliation
with God. But we have to leave aside here these phenomena because they are
very difficult and require conditions of understanding that cannot be achieved
in this context. However, in our consideration, which is of the order of
understanding, we will gain what is basic for the access to those phenomena
of sin, grace, etc (GA60: 283).9

This is an interpretative gesture that Heidegger would explicitly propose

in other contexts in the 1920s, starting with his program for a
philosophy which – as the self’s interpretation of itself as pure
questionability and unrest – must be fundamentally a-theist in a
phenomenological, not an ideological, sense. Heidegger speaks of this
in his lecture courses on ‘Phenomenological Interpretations of Aristotle’
in 1922, as well as in his famous lecture on ‘Phenomenology and
Theology’ in 1927, in which the delimitation of an
ontological-existential hermeneutics with regard to theological concepts
in the Christian tradition is radicalized. He defines philosophy as a field
which not only puts such concepts aside, but “formally indicates [their]
ontical, that is, pre-Christian content”, thereby constituting a “possible
ontological corrective”.10 This is already clearly suggested in the lecture
courses of 1921, when, highlighting the real reason why the
phenomenon of the remission of sin and reconciliation with God – in
other words, grace – must be left aside, Heidegger adds (and I quote
again from Becker’s notes):

However, the consciousness of sin – and the manner in which God is present
in it – stands, in Augustine, in a peculiar interrelation to Neo-Platonism. (For
this reason, his conception of sin cannot […] guide the phenomenological
explication of the “genuine” phenomenon.) (GA60: 283-4)

Something unexpectedly manifests itself from this perspective: for

Heidegger, the neo-Platonic element in Augustine should not be read as
the latter’s inauthentic imposition of Greek categories on the original
Christian experience. On the contrary, for Heidegger, Augustine’s
neo-Platonism is a sign of the persistence of a conception of the self as
a relation with what is other than the self. Thus it is a sign of grace: that
Memory and Temptation 301

which in the Confessions is ascribed to the novelty of the historical

meeting of the “I” with God through Christ, as opposed to the wholly
“spiritual” and abstract conception of the divine logos proposed by
“neo-Platonic philosophers”.11
As a consequence, for Heidegger it is as if, paradoxically,
Augustine had to be freed from neo-Platonism in order to be interpreted
in an Aristotelean sense, since only in Aristotle would the
proto-Christian discovery of life be preserved. And facticity, once
stripped of the relation which, for Augustine, constitutes it – and
wherein, even for Heidegger, it was originally discovered for the first
time – needs to be purified and rendered absolute with respect to any
and all personal identity, of the “I” and God together. Yet even in this
case, we find ourselves faced with a countermove by Heidegger against
the contextual tendency of “Christian philosophy”, especially German
neo-Scholastic Christian philosophy (and the Freiburg school in
particular), which attempted to re-translate Thomistic thought in the
categories of Aristotelean metaphysics. Heidegger believes that one
should instead attempt to break the thread and tie the knot in another
way, in order to bind Augustine (once freed from neo-Platonism)
directly to Aristotelean physics.12
Thus from his reading of tentatio, too, as had already emerged
from his reflections on memoria, it becomes clear that this Augustinian
novelty is not something irreducible for Heidegger; or, better, while its
content – the experience of “You” discovered as such by the “I”– is
irreducible, it is then curved definitively in the centripetal, or
endogenous, mode with which life – pure kinesis – is in relation to itself
as radical self-reference. Later, in a crucial passage in Being and Time
in which the interpretation of being-there as “care” (Sorge) is
vindicated, Heidegger would announce his hermeneutic trajectory from
Augustine to Aristotle:

The way in which “care” is viewed in the foregoing existential analytic of

Dasein, is one which has grown upon the author in connection with his
attempts to interpret the Augustinian (i.e., Helleno-Christian) anthropology
with regard to the foundational principles reached in the ontology of Aristotle
(SZ: 199).

The most important consequence and, at the same time, condition of this
program is epitomized in the question of grace. That which began as
grace, in the fully historical sense, is identified as physis, though not as
302 Esposito

a simple return to the pre-Christian situation of the living, but rather in

the claim of offering a more radical and complete interpretation of the
Christian – that is, historical – discovery of life.
Certainly, Heidegger doesn’t fail to see that in the experience of
the early Christians – as both Paul and Augustine testify – grace
manifests itself in the discovery that enactment goes beyond human
strength, since it is not conceivable on the basis of one’s own capacities
and cannot even be resolved by turning to God (considered improperly,
indeed “blasphemously”, as something from which one “seeks relief”).
Such a situation would at most lead to a “Christian worldview”– that is,
to “a contradiction” – and would thus represent an arrest, or “foothold”
(Halt), rather than an enactment of factical life (GA60: 122). Yet,
according to Heidegger, in order to save the “received” being of one’s
self, and thus its facticity, one must show that the enactment of
existence is none other than the impossibility of the enactment of the
being of the self. This would mean that what one receives, and what is
enacted (one’s own being, therefore) is never a “given”, nor can it ever
be accepted as such. If grace is not within one’s own power, then it is
within its own impossibility.
Considered under the peculiar form that it assumes in Christian
experience, grace is here de-historicized at the very moment in which
Heidegger has it coincide with the original historicity of life itself. And
this means that existence is a non-objectifiable possibility, a being that
is never really “real” and that remains “unrealizable”, like the hidden
falling of life into itself, or, more definitively, like a dynamic of
self-generation that reabsorbs into itself any identifiable paternity or
progeny. Thus grace becomes the saving, not the being-saved, of life,
and its only history is the unstoppable falling and re-falling into its own
nothingness. With regard to tentatio, grace would thus no longer be that
which frees life from molestia, but, paradoxically, that which sanctions
molestia as insuperable and irredeemable. Grace saves finitude in –
indeed through – its very weightiness, without redeeming it. Can we not
perhaps recognize in this reading of Augustinian temptation the hidden
leitmotif of the existential analytic in Being and Time?

6. Recollection and the Withdrawal of Being: The “Saving” of Nihilism

Memory was to return in its constitutive nexus with grace in

Heidegger’s reflections on the truth of Being as the “event of
Memory and Temptation 303

appropriation” (Ereignis). And it would return more specifically in

Heidegger’s recognition that reflections on Ereignis – as
seynsgeschichtliches Denken, “the thought of the history of being” –
represent the ultimate attempt to save Being itself, not in spite, but
precisely because of the fact that Being is irredeemable. Once again,
though here even more radically, this salvation is not enacted through
a history, but is identified as history: no longer that of factical life or
being-there, but the original history of Being itself. If you like, the true
sense of the expression “history of being” may be construed as the
“history of salvation”: the saving of that which withdraws and the gift
of that which is withheld. Here the germane text is the Beiträge (GA65),
a veritable Book of Salvation in that “other beginning” of thought: “Only
the greatest happening, only the most intimate event can still save us
[uns noch retten kann] from our being-scattered and abandoned [aus der
Verlorenheit] in the bustle of mere circumstances and petty
machinations” (GA65: 57).
The recurring weave between the Augustinian motifs of
memoria and continentia (the latter as the gathering into a whole, as
opposed to the scattering into multiplicity) is significant here. Memory
is something which happens as a “leading back to” truth; more radically,
truth coincides with this very “leading back” of thought from
abandonment in entities to abandonment in being and of being. For this
reason Heidegger can continue:

What must happen as the event [of appropriation] is that which opens being
to us and takes us back to within being, and in this way leads us back to
ourselves and leads us to stand before [the] work and sacrifice. But the
greatest event is always the beginning, that is, the beginning of the last God.
The beginning is what is hidden, the not-yet-profaned and not-yet-utilised
origin, which in withdrawing already draws on the greatest breadth and thus
guards in itself the supreme mastery. This inviolate power, which contains
within itself the soul’s richest possibilities (of the will to event emotionally
accorded in its knowledge) is the only salvation and the only verification […]
Inceptual thought has the appearance of a total distance and futility.
Nevertheless, if we really want to think in terms of usefulness, what is more
useful than salvation in being (GA65: 57-8)?

This will to event (Willen zum Ereignis) is really a decision

(Entscheidung), but a decision “about what? About history or the loss
of history; that is, about belonging to being [Seyn] or abandonment in
non-entities” (GA65: 100). The decision is not simply a choice (just as
304 Esposito

the will to event is not to be taken as an arbitrary act): it is

Ent-scheidung, a reciprocal dis-junction, or severing, in the “clearing”
of event, between what is “cleared” and what is hidden. In other words,
it is a game of the essence of truth: is the withdrawal of Being to be
taken as the end of the first beginning, or the first truth of the other
beginning of thought? For this reason, the beginning for Heidegger is
inhabited by the “passing-by” (Vorbeigang) of the “last God”: He who
has not yet come and has always already passed by, a God who is last
because He is the denial to Himself of Being, while recognizing that He
still needs it, and who, in this permanent indigence, constitutes the
ultimate sign of finitude, the ontological irrecoverableness of Being
In Heidegger’s perspective, we are not called to return to the
origin in order to decide for or against Being, even less for or against
God; rather, we are called to that final decision which allows us to
accept the undecidable as destiny, and history as the impossibility of
event. The decision about history concerns hiddenness as the true
“happening”, the hidden movement of Being in its appropriation to man
and of man: “But why this decision? Because now only from the deepest
foundation of being itself can arise a salvation of entities; salvation as
the justifying preservation [Bewahrung] of the law and task of the West”
(GA65: 100).
This is an actual salvation, from the greatest danger of our era:
“the uprooting [the forgetting and abandonment of being] is about to
hide itself – the beginning of the loss of history is already here” (GA65:
100). Yet this decided salvation is not a redemption and, paradoxically,
it is not this precisely when it is configured in the traces of the last
God’s passing-by; that is, in the co-belonging and oscillation between
arrival and retreat, advent and concealment:

Here no redemption occurs [keine Er-lösung: no re-solution or ab-solution],

and so, in the end, no submission [Niederwerfung] by Man, but instead the
release [Einsetzung] of the most original essence (the foundation of Dasein)
in being itself: the recognition that Man belongs to being through God, the
admission by God that He needs being, without compromising Himself and
His greatness by such an admission (GA65: 413).

The salvation of Being and entity is thus not so much a saving from
nihilism as of nihilism itself, as Heidegger would write in his reply to
Ernst Jünger in 1955, stating that “The essence of nihilism is not
Memory and Temptation 305

something that is either savable [heilbar] or un-savable [unheilbar]”, but

it is simply “the without-salvation [Heil-lose]”, that which can only, in
turn, refer to “what is safe and sound [Heile]” (GA9: 388). The essence
of nihilism is something non-nihilistic, since it discloses the essence of
Being as subtraction (Entzug), which as such remains concealed and
dominates as forgetfulness. Here, recollecting thought is called upon to
not forget forgetfulness. The salvation of Andenken is to recollect, not
something forgotten, but forgetfulness itself. There is not nothing to
remember, there is nothing to remember.13
Here, together with traces of Augustine, Heidegger’s option
becomes clear. Memory is no longer the place of relation with the
mystery of origin, as a mystery present to the “I” (present, that is, as
mystery); rather, it becomes the place of the impossibility of any origin.
It is not the trace of the giver in the gift, but the gift, the pure giving
without giver and without what is given. As has already been mentioned,
grace does not redeem us from the falling, but coincides with its
movement. In the end, in its most radical implication, grace is for
Heidegger the gift of nothing, the silent happening of the unrealizable
history of Being.

Translated by Lisa Adams.

For a textual reconstruction of this position and the Heideggerian risk involved, I refer
the reader to my earlier publications: Esposito (1998: 199-223; 2003: 105-118, 368-383;
2004: 145-167; 2005:63-84).
For a brief account of this meeting, see von Herrmann (2001: 113-146). I myself have
already dealt with the question in Esposito (2000: 87-124).
Cf. GA61 (130); GA63 (15f.).
Translations from the Confessions are from Augustine (1991).
Cf. GA58 (59f., 253; GA59: 52-54; GA61: 171).
This self-enactment happens, according to Augustine, even through the specific
contents that have been enjoyed, with regard to which we always run the risk of
contenting ourselves with what we can do rather than what we want to do: omnes hoc
[beata vita] volunt, sed […] cadunt in id quod valent eoque contenti sunt, quia illud,
quod non valent, non tantam volunt, quantum sat est, ut valeant.
Cf. GA61 (131f.). See also PIA.
On the discovery of Selbstwelt by early Christianity (Urchristentum), in which
Augustine – after Paul, and followed by Bernard of Clairvaux, Bonaventure, Eckhart,
Tauler, Luther and Kierkegaard – is considered one of those “powerful eruptions” that
revolutionized the paradigm of “ancient science”, shifting “the centre of gravity of
factical life and the life-world to the self-world”, see GA58 (61-62, 205).
306 Esposito

A similar situation presented itself in the lecture course of 1920-21 with regard to the
proto-Christian experience of time, as found in the Pauline concept of kairòs concerning
the second coming of Christ (Thess. 5:2-3): “The Christian is conscious that this
facticity cannot be won out of his own strength, but rather originates from God – the
phenomenon of the effects of grace”(GA60: 121). Yet, on the other hand, in order to
follow to the full the Pauline enactment of life, one must put aside the “object of the
proclamation […] Jesus himself as Messiah” (GA60: 116).
Cf. GA61 (197); GA9 (66).
On Augustine’s discovery of and relation to the “neo-Platonic philosophers”, see
especially the passage in Augustine (Conf. 7. 9. 13f.). It is significant, in my opinion,
that Heidegger does not take this passage into account as relevant to his discussion of
Augustine and neo-Platonism.
Cf. PIA (250-251).
In this respect the theme of memory as taken up again by Heidegger in his 1952 lecture
course entitled ‘What is Called Thinking?’, and the Augustinian theme covertly present
in it, would merit especial attention: “Initially Gedächtnis does not mean the capacity
to remember. Gedächtnis indicates the whole soul in the sense of a constant inner
gathering near that which is directed essentially to every feeling. Gedächtnis originally
says the same thing as An-dacht: the ceaseless, gathered remaining near […] and not
only near what is past but in the same way near what is present and what is to come”
(GA7: 92). On the basis of this, “thinking” originally also meant “thanking”, given the
semantic link between Denken, Gedächtnis and Dank. And since thanking does not
concern something that comes from us but something that is given to us, for Heidegger
it originally means “gratitude towards oneself” (Sichverdanken) since in one’s own
“self” – and so ultimately in thought as “memory” – “that which is to-be-thought” is
preserved (GA7: 93-94). However, the “to-be-thought” is not to be taken as a reality or
a content that is preserved, but instead coincides with the act itself of preserving, what
Heidegger calls Verwahrnis (GA7: 97). But we shall return to this on another occasion.


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Notes for a Work on the ‘Phenomenology of
Religious Life’ (1916-19)

Theodore Kisiel

The above title is a proposed correction of the title given to the notes
published as a final appendix to Volume 60 of Heidegger’s
Gesamtausgabe. The co-editor of GA60, Claudius Strube, informs us
that this generic title bestowed on the collection of courses was in fact
borrowed from the coverfold sheet that bundled the notes which he then
presents in the appendix under the thoroughly misleading and erroneous
cover title, ‘Working Papers and Notes for a Cancelled Lecture Course’,
to which he then affixes the erroneous dates “1918-19”, while observing
that some works (and so presumably working notes) on medieval
mysticism had already been announced by Heidegger in the 1916
Conclusion to the Scotus Dissertation (GA60: 345, 348ff, 301).1
The cancelled course was announced for WS 1919-20 under the
title, ‘Philosophical Foundations of Medieval Mysticism’ – over three
years after the very first notes on “Eckhartian mysticism” were probably
written (GA1: 402n). If one examines the forty-five pages of twenty-five
handwritten notes (see Appendix 1) that are bundled together under the
cover title, ‘Phenomenology of Religious Consciousness/Life’ (where
“Consciousness” in the title is crossed out and replaced by “Life”), one
discovers that only about ten manuscript pages of notes in the fine and
miniscule penmanship of 1919 in fact constitute preparations for the
cancelled course on medieval mysticism (GA60: 303-312). The vast
majority of the notes are in the coarse and large handwriting that dates
back to Heidegger’s earliest student years circa 1910 and continues
through the war years until mid-April 1919 (the change in handwriting
is perceptible in the early weeks of the course-manuscript for SS 1919).
Evidence of Heidegger’s “preliminary work on a phenomenology of
religious consciousness” (Heidegger, letter to Blochmann 1 May 1919
[Heidegger 1989]) in point of fact can be traced back to the 1915
Introduction to the Scotus Dissertation.2 In order to establish the
thoroughly non-psychologistic character of medieval scholasticism’s
310 Kisiel

notion of intentionality, which anticipates modern phenomenology’s

central discovery, the young Heidegger concludes his ‘Introduction’ by
uncharacteristically reverting to the first person singular, as if to make
the task his own, in proclaiming that “I regard the philosophical, more
precisely, the phenomenological elaboration of the mystical, moral-
theological, and ascetic writings of medieval scholasticism to be of
special urgency” (GA1: 205). It is in this call for a phenomenological
examination of the full spectrum of documents on religious experience
in the lifeworld of the middle ages, I maintain, that the young
Heidegger’s project of a “phenomenology of religious
consciousness/life” is born, out of which we now have a selection of
extant notes appended to GA60 (303-337).
Our GA-editor, however, does not inform us that he is making
a selection from these surviving notes on the phenomenology of
religion, publishing only twenty of them and suppressing without
comment or annotation a full half-dozen of them. We thus are denied a
complete record of the full range of the relevant literature and topics that
the young Heidegger was considering in preparation for a monograph on
the phenomenology of religious consciousness/life.3
In Section 1 below I give an account of all twenty-five
handwritten notes (forty-six loose pages) contained in the file in the
Deutsches Literaturarchiv (DLA) in Marbach, from which the so-called
‘Working Papers and Notes for a Cancelled Lecture Course’, ‘Die
philosophischen Grundlagen der mittelalterlicher Mystik’, were drawn.4
I last consulted the file in June, 2004. I have provided the exact or
estimated dates of composition of each of the notes. Where the note has
been published in whole or in part, I include the pagination of GA60.
Where the note has been omitted, or cut, I include it in Section 2 below
along with my English translation. Among other sources, Heidegger
draws heavily upon Wilhelm Dilthey’s Einleitung in die
Geisteswissenschaften (Dilthey 1973/1988).5
The handwritten notes are divided into two groups, which at one
time were separated by blue notebook covers each bearing the insignia
‘Realschule Meßkirch’, which prompted me to identify, from the quality
of the covers, the first group of twenty-two pages of notes as the ‘neues
Heft’ and the second group of twenty-three pages as the ‘altes Heft’(1
titlepage + 22 +23 = 46 pages).6
Some of the notes are interna