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The Word and the Cross (Perspectives in Continental Philosophy)
Fordham University Press, 2002
154 pp., $40.00
by Bruce Ellis Benson
Not only is Stanislas Breton's The Word and the Cross about a fundamental contradiction that lies at the heart of the gospel, but Breton himself seems a kind of contradiction, at least when juxtaposed with the usual American image of "le philosophe français." Born in 1912 and orphaned as a child, Breton was educated in the Thomistic tradition as a novice in the Passionist order. During World War II he found himself in a German prison camp with three beloved texts: Bochenski's Elements of Mathematical Logic, Brunschwig's Modality of Judgment, and Hamelin's The Principle Elements of Representation—hardly the sort of stuff American philosophers associate with contemporary "French philosophy." Although Breton moved away from a strict Thomism—becoming influenced by phenomenology, Neoplatonism, and Marxism—even his later philosophy bears a Thomistic influence and a continuing concern with logical relations, such as the "being-in" and "being-towards" of the persons of the Trinity. As he so charmingly puts it (in an interview appended to the text), such prepositions and conjunctions are "little servants of the Lord." Much of the fascinating history of Breton's intellectual development can be found in that appendix and the fine introduction by the translator, Jacquelyn Porter, to whom we can be grateful for a beautiful, flowing translation.
Of course, there is another at least seeming contradiction here. With the notable exception of Paul Ricur and (more recently) Emmanuel Levinas, phenomenology has never been particularly associated with religious reflection. Not that phenomenology ever ruled that out in principle (as Husserl's assistant Edith Stein made clear). But, at least in France, phenomenology was more associated with the atheism of, say, Jean-Paul Sartre. All that has significantly changed in the past few decades. As Dominique Janicaud points out in his "report" on the state of French philosophy from 1975 to 1990, phenomenology in France has become almost dominated ...