This pithy phrase from a friend of mine serves to remind us of several key elements concerning metaphysics.

On the one hand, the founders of science concluded from his observation of the physical world that there was a metaphysical first cause (Aristotle) and, on the other hand, gave philosophical form to the discovery that meaning is not created, but received – and recognized – in the intelligence (Plato).
In other words, we can distinguish, on the one hand, a “scientific metaphysics”, based on the observation of the external world and founded on rationality, and thus a rather conceptual metaphysics and, on the other hand, a more “intuitive” metaphysics, that of intellectual intuition, thus founded on the observation of the internal functioning of the intelligence-reception and the world of Ideas, knowledge of the semantic order, transcending the cosmic order.
In both cases, the time of this origin of metaphysics predates what we today call religions, but the cultural environment is “religious”, let’s say pious. In other words, “religion” or piety permeated all thought – even if it was formally a rational construct. Thus, an Aristotle would see the intellect as coming “from outside” or “through the gate” (as being even eternal) and would call “theology” that part of metaphysics dealing with the “first Motor”.

Since then, religions have been constituted – constituted as such after the advent of Christianity1 – but they were not immediately widely established. So, in Origen’s time, a century before the so-called “Edict of Milan”2 and Byzantine and Latin civilization became entirely Christian, there was still a somewhat decadent “pagan” climate, with a whole range of ideas and conceptions that needed to be corrected before the Christian faith could be taught. This is why Origen first proposed, as a means of purification, a long period of work including moral instruction, study of the arts, and of all the opinions conveyed by the schools of philosophy, “like a good ploughman makes of uncultivated land”3.

Later, metaphysicians such as Descartes or Leibniz could simply be Catholic Christians because of their cultural background.

On the other hand, this purification of the intellect, a prerequisite for teaching of a spiritual nature, proved indispensable in the 20th century, when religions became much less prominent in contemporary thought, let’s say in the average Western episteme of the time, under the blows of materialism and scientism in particular. It was thus Guénon’s function to offer a metaphysical perspective, whether in his critiques of the modern world and pseudo-esotericism or presenting the vedanta. But this is a prerequisite, and Guénon would recommend joining a religion.
So, unsurprisingly, contemporary metaphysicians are all professed believers, even converts, whether René Guénon, Frithjof Schuon, Titus Burckhardt, Leo Schaya (Islam), Léon Ashkenazi (Judaism), Ananda Coomaraswamy (Hinduism) or Jean Borella (Christianity).
Integral metaphysics necessarily requires religious roots. And, indeed, what is a speculative “beyond” – i.e., ignorant of all revelation – if not a mere conceptual game? It will always fail to recognize a “theophanic”, i.e. to cognize it in order to be able to speak about it.

Consequently, religion is not a practical metaphysics, insofar as one would understand that there could be a practical metaphysics that would not be religious. Religion, on the other hand, is both metaphysical and practical. Its praxis (rites, sacraments) refers directly – or even symbolically – to a metaphysics, which may be implicit or explicit, depending on each person’s capacity for expression and intellection; let’s even say that the metaphysical content of religion is explicit (opposition between Heaven and Earth, the Fall, redemption and salvation, etc.), even if it is not formulated in abstract, philosophical terms. In any case, the two dimensions converge: practice awakens metaphysical intelligence, and metaphysical awakening reinforces participation in practice. What is certain is that it is not necessary to be intelligent (in the sense of intellectual, of course) to be saved4. The Eastern Christian tradition is a good illustration of this, with Fathers such as Clement, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Dionysius the Areopagite and Maximus the Confessor, all advocating an allegorical exegesis of the structure of reality5 following a tradition that can be called “metaphysical” and, on the other hand, the so-called “Antiochian” school, restricting itself to a more literal reading of the Scriptures and refusing to get too involved in speculations of a metaphysical nature. Nevertheless, its ranks include most of the greatest spiritualists of the Eastern Church, starting with Isaac the Syrian and not forgetting St. John of Dalyatha.

If one is fortunate – or unfortunate – enough to be intelligent, a crucial question arises: is there a prerequisite for “entering” metaphysics?
Is it scientific, rational intelligence that leads us to God (à la Aristotle – admittedly, in a reductive way), or is it intuitive intelligence that recognizes a transcendent, a theophany of sorts (à la Plato)? In the first case, we run the risk of remaining with a purely intellectual speculative metaphysics, disconnected in advance from the particular metaphysics of religions, when, subscribing to the Guénonian recommendation, we join one of them, with the motivation of benefiting from a “spiritual influence”. There’s a kind of arrogance in this voluntarist “taking in hand” of one’s own spiritual destiny, even if it means “manipulating spiritual forces”, compared to the surrenders and renunciations essential to any spiritual station. Especially since the “Spirit blows where it wills” (Jn III, 8).
Fortunately, in both cases, we can assume that there is at the origin an effective capacity to “feel” the reality of the spiritual, through a supra-rational intuition.

  • Thus, the Hebrew term “fear” (yara), which is, according to Proverbs, “the beginning of wisdom” (Pr. I, 7), is sometimes associated with the verb “to see” (ra’a) and has always been understood in ancient tradition as a certain sensitivity to spiritual realities, opposed to the biblical expression “hardening of the heart”.
  • We can also, with Isaac the Syrian (Spiritual Works, II, 1, 2), call “hope” that vision, which is not the content of confessional and conceptual faith, but that hope without direct object, without mental content, apart from that certainty in the mere fact that there is salvation.
  • The same idea is present in the case of the monastic vocation, where the emergence of a profound desire to dedicate oneself totally to the spiritual is always correlated with a certain experience of God, since we can only desire what we have already tasted (an axiom well illustrated by certain Coptic communities, which make it a condition for candidates wishing to join them “to have felt God’s grace at least once in their hearts”, the only criterion for discerning the authenticity of a monastic vocation).
  • And we read in Pascal, quoting Bernard de Clairvaux: “You wouldn’t be looking for me, if you hadn’t already found me”.

All that remains, then, is to abandon all metaphysics – even the most sublime – and become almost nothing, “a zest of being perfumed with hope”6.


  1. see the paper: “Jean Borella, About the Analogical Unity of Religions”[]
  2. the name traditionally given to a rescript of 313, issued by the Roman co-emperors Licinius and Constantine, establishing freedom of worship and restitution of property, and marking the transition from pagan antiquity to the Christian era[]
  3. cf. Gregory the Thaumaturgist, Thanks to Origen, VII, 93[]
  4. “Faut-il être intelligent pour être sauvé?”/”Do you have to be intelligent to be saved?”, web journal Contrelittérature May 10 and October 15, 2009.[]
  5. For example, Maximus, in his Mystagogy, commenting on the symbolism of the Church (building) and the liturgy, superimposing, by analogy with man and cosmos, the three levels of reality[]
  6. Conclusion of Métaphysique pour tous (L’Harmattan, 2022), p. 145.[]