“The proper way to interpret the epoché is to see it as involving not an exclusion of reality, but rather a suspension of a particular dogmatic attitude towards reality, an attitude that is operative not only in the positive sciences, but also permeates our daily pre-theoretical life.” ~ Zahavi, Dan. Phenomenology: The Basics (p. 36). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
Not long ago, an online acquaintance asked me a question for which I was ill-prepared to answer. Over the past decade and more, I have developed a working, systematized model based on the the interrelationship between the phenomenology of Traditional French Catholic spirituality and that of general, universal Catholic theology. The starting point was my perceived, life-changing influence of St. Joan of Arc, the national heroine of France. The phenomenon of Joan of Arc’s “give-ness” at a particular point in my life, led me to “seek first the Kingdom,” a Kingdom I could not fully comprehend at the time but one that I had already accepted in faith many years prior. I was motivated by the possibilities and animated by Joan’s mysterious and mystical world. I constructed the model by seeking first the Kingdom through the lens of Joan of Arc.
The question asked of me in relation to all of this was, “How”? We had corresponded about what I was developing and why. However, the question of How caught me off-guard. I realized that this was the question representing my life’s mission. Using descriptive phenomenology, I had written down what I perceived as I sought this Kingdom with St. Joan and St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Joan’s spiritual sister and co-secondary patroness of France. I called it walking the Trail of the Dogmatic Creed with St. Joan and St. Thérèse. The metaphor of walking the trail developed into a full allegorical expression as the experiences along the way merged into a system which became a narrative with substantive, core ontological and epistemological meaning. Martin Heidegger, an assistant to the founder of modern day phenomenology, Edmund Husserl, proposed that true ontology required phenomenology, a proposition demonstrated through my own life experience. I came to understand my own being through this system of knowing. It now was the “how” of the system that remained to be explained. This is what my acquaintance wanted to know and that is what I sought to answer.
I knew that in order to answer the How, I needed to understand the philosophy behind my metaphor of the Trail with its allegorical narrative in addition to its theology. I therefore reinterpreted my descriptive model through the lens of Edith Stein, Edmund Husserl’s second assistant alongside Heidegger, who, though being born Jewish, converted to the Catholic faith and later became a Carmelite nun. Through Edith Stein and with the assistance of other phenomenological writers such as demonstrated at the beginning of this writing, I began to piece together the How. The answer brought me full circle back to one of the earliest influences on me from Edith Stein years ago. I realized that Edith both initiated this important element of my model as well as concluded it. At it’s core was Husserl’s phenomenological method of epoché, or bracketing, combined with Stein’s work on empathy.
The result is a methodology I term “empathic devotion” which leads to the bracketing, the suspension, of pre-existing attitudes and dogmatic beliefs in order to see the world through another’s vantage point. My devotion to Joan of Arc was empathic in that I sought more than simply to be inspired by her life; I sought to see the world as she saw it, to understand Heaven and earth the way she understood them. This empathic devotion relied on a pre-existing Platonic, Augustinian Holy Realism I had acquired two decades previously and that now animated my will to move with it, journey toward its destination, and to form my intellect along the way according to what I knew to be true rather than vice-versa.
The How can be systematized as follows:
1. Holy Realism as best described through Plato, St. Augustine, and the Carmelite mystics St. Thérèse of Lisieux, St. John of the Cross, and St. Teresa of Avila.
2. Empathic devotion to St. Joan of Arc, such that we seek to know the world as she knew it on earth and now knows it in Heaven.
3. Goodwill, the animation of our will to move with the saints according to their world-view.
4. Passive intellectual ideation whereby we suspend in “epoché” our existing understanding of the world that we might come to a new understanding based on the phenomenological experience with St. Joan, St. Thérèse, and the mystical Kingdom of France on earth as it is in Heaven. We come to understand through the lens of Abel’s City of God as opposed to Cain’s City of Man.
How does this phenomenological system then integrate with universal, general Catholic theology, the second part of the model? Is not Catholic theology dogmatic itself? Should Catholic dogma itself be “bracketed”?
Here we find the most subtle element of the model and its key. This integration of philosophy and theology turns upside down not the dogmas of the faith, but the most deeply ingrained dogmas of “the world” and the City of Man. Every rational deduction requires the constancy of an un-proven, assumed foundational premise. Through the open-minded epoché, or bracketing, of Catholic theology itself, we understand not to hold constant the premises of the world making relative those of the faith, but rather to hold constant those of the faith making relative those of the world. Through bracketing the faith, we see it more clearly as it truly is. We see it as truth leading us to freedom.
Whereas we have been indoctrinated by the world to believe that “freedom from Catholic dogma” is the revolutionary pathway to freedom for the human soul (a proposition held in common by Protestants, the “spiritual but not religious,” and pagan New Agers alike in a unified rejection of Catholic dogma), we breathtakingly counter this worldly system itself, we flip it on its head, in what best can be described as a “counterrevolutionary” path of “freedom from ‘human’ dogma” as the pathway to freedom through Catholic dogmatic truth. Truth and freedom now revealed as what they truly are, we understand that truth comes before freedom, not the other way around. The world has it backward, thus our need to counter its prevailing spirit. Only truth leads to freedom. This model holds true for the individual as well as for society as a whole.
Through this integration of phenomenological, empathic devotion to St. Joan of Arc and in accord with the divine will, we understand that our dogma is the guardrail on the path to freedom. Phenomenology is the philosophical instrument in the hands of God leading us in freedom to the Kingdom. Dogmatic Catholic theology is the guardrail ensuring we arrive safely.
That Truth comes before “freedom” is not simply an individual order; it has significant implications for the ordering of society as a whole. Thus, we have Légitimite French Catholic social order as a model for society as well as a model of spirituality. Our devotion to St. Joan and the Kingdom of Catholic France is nothing less than a pathway leading to Jesus and Mary in the Kingdom of God by bringing that Kingdom “on earth as it is in Heaven.”