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Von HÜgel: Philosophy and Spirituality

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 October 2008

Patrick Sherry
Lecturer in Religious Studies, University of Lancaster


One of the striking features of the last few years has been a re-awakening of interest in spirituality. Many new books on prayer have appeared, old classics of the spiritual life have been re-published, prayer groups have sprung up and the Charismatic Movement has become an important factor in many Christian communities. If the 1960s was the decade of secularism and ‘God is dead’, the 1970s may well go down in history as the decade of renascent spirituality. But this interest in spirituality has not, in general, gone hand in hand with a renewed interest in theology: indeed, in many cases I detect a positive hostility towards professional theologians (perhaps this is simply the latest exemplification of that separation of ascetical and mystical theology from dogmatics which has existed in Western Christianity since the Middle Ages). Still less has there been any link between this concern with spirituality and philosophy. And yet there are many important philosophical problems here: given that in a spiritual way of life men have certain experiences and are changed in various ways, what does this show?

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1981

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page 2 note 1 Among the exceptions to this judgement are: Green, Martin, Yeats' Blessing on von Hügel (London, 1967), chs. 13Google Scholar; Whelan, J. P., The Spirituality of Friedrich von Hügel (London, 1971).Google Scholar The latter considers that von Hügel's connection with Modernism was peripheral to his life's work, an opinion also expressed by T. M. Loome in his very interesting articles The Enigma of Baron Friedrich von Hügel as Modernist’, Downside Review, XCI, (1973), 1334, 123–40Google Scholar, 204–30, and his Liberal Catholicism, Reform Catholicism, Modernism (Mainz, 1979), I. ii. chs. 2–5.Google Scholar

page 2 note 2 I follow H.H. Price in understanding by this term, when used of theists, a concern to acquire holiness and a sense of the presence of God through prayer, meditation and other religious practices. See his Belief (London, 1969), pp. 474 ff.Google Scholar

page 2 note 3 The Religious Philosophy of Rudolf Eucken’, Hibbert Journal (1912), pp. 660–77.Google Scholar

page 2 note 4 I adopt the following abbreviations in this article: E.A.: Essays and Addresses on the Philosophy of Religion (Vol. 1, London, 1921Google Scholar; VOI. II, London, 1926); E.L.: Eternal Life (2nd ed. Edinburgh, 1913)Google Scholar; E.T.: ‘Experience and Transcendence’, Dublin Review (1906), pp. 357–79Google Scholar; M.E.: The Mystical Element of Religion (2nd ed. London, 1923)Google Scholar; L.N.: Letters to a Niece (London, 1928)Google Scholar; R.G.: The Reality of God (London, 1931)Google Scholar; S.L.: Selected Letters 1896–1924, ed. Holland, B. (London, 1927)Google Scholar; Scoppola: ‘Petite consultation sur les difficultés concernant Dieu’, in Scoppola, P., Crisi modernista e rinnovamento cattolico in Italia (Bologna, 1961), pp. 365–92.Google Scholar

page 3 note 1 Letter to Thorold, A., cited in M. Bedoyère, The Life of Baron Von Hügel (London, 1951), p. 338.Google Scholar

page 8 note 1 A Critical Examination of von Hügel's Philosophy of Religion (London, n.d.), pp. 139, 143Google Scholar.

page 8 note 2 See Martin, C. B., Religious Belief (Ithaca, N.Y. 1959)Google Scholar ch. 6 for a typical presentation of some of these difficulties.

page 9 note 1 One thinks for instance, of Plato's argument in Republic 11, 380 D–383 c for the unchangeability of God, or Aquinas' argument that since God is pure existence subsisting essentially, He must have every perfection (S.T. Ia. iv. 2). See also Pannenberg, W., Basic Questions in Theology, vol II (London, 1971), ch. 5Google Scholar, for a discussion of the way in which early Christian theologians took over arguments from Greek philosophy to deduce particular divine attributes, and also to attack popular polytheism.

page 9 note 2 Mémoires, III (Paris, 1931), 22, 161.Google Scholar

page 10 note 1 Petre, M. D., Alfred Loisy: His Religious Significance (London, 1944), p. 101.Google Scholar

page 11 note 1 See my article Philosophy and the Saints’, Heythrop Journal (1977), pp. 2337Google Scholar, for a fuller discussion of these problems.

page 12 note 1 See Ronald Hepburn's acute comments on much Existentialist theology in ‘Demythologizing and the Problem of Validity’, in Flew, A. and Maclntyre, A. (eds.), New Essays in Philosophical Theology, ch. xii, especially p. 240.Google Scholar

page 13 note 1 See Strawson, P. F., The Bounds of Sense (London, 1966), pt. IVGoogle Scholar, §5 for a recent discussion of Kant's ‘things in themselves’ and the difficulties involved in this aspect of his thought.

page 15 note 1 See The Grammar of Faith (San Francisco, 1978), especially chs. 4 and 9Google Scholar; and my article Learning how to be Religious’, Theology (1974), pp. 8190Google Scholar, for further details of Holmer's work and for a critique.

page 15 note 2 See, for instance, The Concept of Prayer (London, 1965), ch. 1.Google Scholar

page 16 note 1 This is not to deny that coming to know this reality may require appropriate moral dispositions and the participation in a religious way of life. See Price, H. H., loc. cit.Google Scholar, for the idea of a ‘devotional experiment’.

page 16 note 2 Death and Immortality (London, 1970), p. 55Google Scholar; Faith and Philosophical Enquiry (London, 1970), p. 209.Google Scholar (See my Religion, Truth and Language-games (London, 1977), chs. 2, 3Google Scholar and 6 for a critique.)

page 16 note 3 Religious Discourse and Theological Discourse’, Australasian Journal of Philosophy (1956), pp. 162–3.Google ScholarHügel's, Von remarks about worship in E.L. p. 162Google Scholar directly contradict such a view.

page 16 note 4 Jeffner, A., The Study of Religious Language (London, 1972), ch. v.Google Scholar See also Woods, G. F., The Theological Explanation (Welwyn, 1958), chs. xii–xvGoogle Scholar, for the role of all-embracing, personal explanation in theism, and Swinburne, R., The Existence of God (Oxford, 1979), pp. 32424550Google Scholar, 57–64, 102–6.

page 17 note 1 See my Are Spirits Bodiless Persons?’ in Neue Zeitschrift für Systematische Theologie und Religionsphilosophie (1981)Google Scholar (forthcoming) for such an examination.

page 18 note 1 See further my Religion, Truth and Language-games (London, 1977), pp. 109–16, 131–40.Google Scholar

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