THE PHILOSOPHICAL PROBLEM OF THE HISTORY OF RELIGIONS by Xavier Zubiri -------- Chapter 4 (197-203)




In a certain situation, I was pointing out above, different possibilities are adumbrated by man. But in a situation, which is not merely intellectual. That the adumbrated possibilities may refer to an internal situation —and, therefore, intellectual— of a reality, is one thing, but it is quite another that these possibilities be adumbrated only as an intellectual consideration. This is completely false, not only in religion, but in all the sciences. How many times a mathematical problem has suddenly appeared from things that have nothing to do with Mathematics itself or Physics. Man enlightens the religious possibilities in a full religious situation. Because divinities are not only things, which are there by themselves, but also have the dimension of ultimateness, of possibilitating, and of imposing destinies. To this unity is precisely what the religious situation of man refers, who does not limit himself to a few gods that are just there, but gods who can be requested for the dispensation of certain benefits or to whom he can appeal to decide his destiny. This is the integral religious situation. And the situation is the one that adumbrates the possibilities. Possibilities, which in many cases will have to be decided by purely intellectual ways. But it is not necessary that this decision be always through a purely intellectual way.

In this conception of the situation there is a factor, which cannot {198} be rejected, but also cannot be confused with religion. For it so happens that man is not only within certain particular religious situations, but in addition, by the fact of belonging to an objective body, has something, which is not essentially religious, but obviously cannot be alien to it: his mentality, his forma mentis. Indeed, mentality does not identify with religion at all. Animism, against what was promoted in early ethnology, is not a religion; it is purely and simply a mentality. One same mentality can accommodate very different gods and religions. There can be, and in these cases there is, a great analogy among the gods of the different religions. An analogy that, however, cannot erase the essential difference that perhaps separates them. Thus, for example, between the ’Elohim of the Patriarchs, and the gods of Babylon there is undeniably a great analogy, which is derived purely and simply from the common mentality of all the Semites. However, it would be absurd to attempt to erase the essential differences between the religion of the Patriarchs, and the Assyro-Babylonian religion. Not only this, but different mentalities may accommodate the same gods and the same religions. Then we might fall into the opposite error: to believe that it is the case of gods essentially different. Nevertheless, this is completely incorrect. If in the first case the difference of the gods may perish at the bottom of an analogy, here there is a different process, namely, homology, which may lead us to think the gods are different. That is not true: the Yahweh of Moses is the same as the ’Elohim of the priestly code. The same god can be conceived homologically in very different mentalities.


§ 3


Shall now start from the truth of monotheism, established already in reference to a purely philosophical intellection. But this does not dispense from the question, just the opposite, it aggravates it. When dealing with the diverse ideas about God the problem is, if there is only one God, What does it mean to have diverse ideas about Him? Here the problem is different, but intimately connected with the problem of diversity, i.e., if there is only one God, In what does the characteristic of being a way that leads to Him consist? Putting it differently, In what does the viability of these three ways consist? Here is where the problem resides: not the diversity of content, but the viability itself of the ways. The way becomes a problem of viability. And the accomplishment in which the religious truth consists is precisely an accomplishment in viability: the viability of the ideas of God.

In order to understand what viability is, it will be necessary to start from the supposition that there is actually a unique one God, personal, and transcendent who is not only real, but in addition is really and actually accessed by man in every hypothesis, and in every situation: that divinity is not only present in reality, but is accessed by man.

Therefore, the problem of the ways is not the problem of the ways to reach God, but the problem of how God has been reached, supposing that man has actually acceded to Him. If reaching God is terminus of a surrender by man to the personal reality, insofar as {200} true and real, the problem of the ways is purely and simply the how of this surrender, the mode of the same. And here is where the viability of the ways resides: in the mode of that surrender of faith. Then it is clear right from the start that the one God, personal, and transcendent is the possibility that there be several ways to reach Him. And I mention the one God, not monotheism. Monotheism does not oppose polytheism: we have already said that neither monotheism proceeds from polytheism, nor polytheism from monotheism. What I hold is that the reality of the one God, personal, and transcendent is the fundament of all the ways. And, therefore, kat’exochén (Tr. note: Gk., the prominent one), of the way of monotheism. Hence, assuming that monotheism moves towards that absolutely absolute reality —that personal, unique, absolute, and transcendent God—, What, then, do the other ways represent?

Since they are ideas, this means that in the sense that none of them is absolutely false each one of them does not fail to reflect some aspect of the divinity. However, we are here in a different dimension: it is not a problem of ideas, but of ways. What are then the other ways, the way of immanence and the way of dispersion? Granted, they are ways that reach God. This is inexorable. And they reach that unique God. Not an idea of God, but a real and actual God. Then, What do they represent with respect to the way of monotheism? Indeed, none of these two ways —and also monotheism— is exempt from an intrinsic historicity. In what refers to the other two ways, this historicity means what etymologically I would call ab-erration. It is not the case of aberrations in the colloquial sense of absurdities. I use that word in the sense of the astronomers: aberration is the apparent position a star has as a result of the combination of two movements, one from the light that comes from the star towards {201} the Earth, and the other the movement of the Earth on its orbit. With this movement, the star can appear displaced, and it is difficult to determine what its real position is. However, there is no doubt that with all of the aberration of the planet, man has reached the luminous source, which the star is. Still, it is the case of an aberration. Polytheism and immanence are in this etymological sense “ab-errations”: not in the sense of absurdities, but in the sense of circumjacent ways to reach God. From this follows that, when facing a polytheist, or a pantheist, the operation, which monotheism has to perform is very similar to the one that an astronomer has to perform, when he calculates the position of the stars: the correction of the aberration. This correction does not consist in ignoring the movement of the Earth, but in making the necessary correction taking into account the movement of the Earth, in order to determine the actual position instead of the apparent one of the star. It should be well understood that both the apparent position, and the actual position are based on the same stellar source. This is what occurs with the ways. It is all a question of making a correction to the aberration. This aberration is what makes possible the internal and external syncretism we have examined in the history of some religions. Needless to say, this syncretism is neither a mixture nor a krásis (Tr. note: Gk. for combination). Just the opposite. It is precisely the apparent position, the apparent type of the ways and of the positions of the divine reality, which appear precisely by the appropriations, which man makes by virtue of his own mentality, and of his own conditions.

The history of monotheism is not exempt from this. Certainly, history not only consists of aberrations in the etymological sense of the word. There are also histories, which consist in enlightenment, obturation, or deformation {202} of the perspective of a general direction. Man not only can get lost taking a way that leads to a final point through a longer course; it can also happen that he may travel on a direction apparently straight, but having ups-and-downs. Monotheism is not exempt from this condition: it has an intrinsic historicity in this latter dimension. If polytheism and pantheism are the historicity of religion from the ab-errant point of view, monotheism has an intrinsic historicity as a progradient historicity.

If we take at the same time the dimension of diffraction already examined previously, and the dimension of aberration, it will be readily understood that they constitute two aspects of one single phenomenon. The diversity of ideas and ways to God is not only the terminus of an individual or collective mentality, it is not also purely and simply a question of aberrant and progradient tracks, but that all constitute the real and positive surrender of man with all his conditions, and with all his ingredients to the personal reality of God. Because, when seen from the theologic point of view —and I will cover that in the Third Part—, the first will of God is not that man may have a religion, not even a true religion. The truth is that God has desired that man be humanly religious: not only that he may be the one to have a religion, but that he have it, and attain it humanly. And precisely in this “humanly” are the two ingredients of diffraction and aberration, which constitute the intrinsic historicity of each religion. Because of this not even monotheism is exempt from historicity.

It is now necessary to examine this intrinsic historicity of monotheism, which at least if one prescinds from the {203} primitive religions and the most rudimentary peoples, is incarnated in three religions: in the religion of Israel, in the Christian religion, and in Islam. It is all one same internal history, and it is necessary to conceptivize the fundamental steps of that history.

1 This appendix comes from the 1965 Madrid seminar.

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