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God and Reason

Angelo Bottone
 Philosopher of Christianity, by Kurt Flasch, Yale University Press, 344 pp, £25, ISBN: 978-0300204865 In traditional accounts of the history of philosophy, Meister Eckhart has usually been presented as a mystic. In opposition to more intellectual schools of the Middle Ages, he was often portrayed as the promoter of an anti-scholastic approach privileging religious experience or as the defender of negative theology, according to which the only meaningful discourse about God is about what He is not. In this work, Kurt Flasch aims at rebutting what he believes to be misleading interpretations of Eckhart: “There is nothing authentic about the label ‘mystic’ in Eckhart’s case.” Flasch proposes instead to consider him a “philosopher of Christianity”, that is someone who explains Christian beliefs through pure reason. Flasch devotes an entire chapter of his book to the explanation of what he claims to be a forgotten concept that has been abandoned by theologians and philosophers. A philosophy of Christianity is “an attempt to prove Christian ideas rationally in such a way that believers and unbelievers alike would come to recognize them as true, and not merely as culturally contingent constructs of Christian communities of faith”. He admits that our understanding of reason has not been the same everywhere. Purely rational proofs have changed through time and this approach has been rejected both by those who are Christian, because it would reduce faith to a series of philosophical tenets, and by those who aim to use a completely rational method, because this method would disprove Christian beliefs as illogical or untenable. Flasch instead suggests that this is precisely what Eckhart attempted to do with his works and, even without agreeing with the results, he presents a detailed account of his “philosophy of Christianity”. Before considering what Christianity is, the author discusses what philosophy should be: “the habit to justify one’s statements, to argue most precisely according to a set of common rules”. The book is an invitation to read Meister Eckhart in his historical context. Eckhart thought of himself as a philosopher but perception of him changed throughout the centuries. He had immediate influence on some of his contemporaries, such as Henry Suso and Johannes Tuler. Nicholas of Cusa studied Eckhart when young but with time, due to the condemnation of the Church, his works became less available and only a distorted version of his thought survived. Nevertheless, he had a strong impact…



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