A Metaphysics of the Christian Mystery

An Introduction to Jean Borella’s Work

Bruno Bérard

The Christian mysteries may all too easily seem so well traveled a terrain as to recede into a sort of commonplace backdrop in our lives. How often do we not unreflectingly assume that we already know exactly what lies under every theological rock. And yet, through the eyes of a vibrant, inspired metaphysician, this terrain proves to be still largely uncharted, rich in mysteries as yet undiscovered.


  1. Foreword
  2. Introduction
  3. Part One. GNOSIS & THEOLOGY

    1. One. Intelligence and Reason, the Psychic and the Spiritual
    2. Two. Gnosis and Gnosticism
    3. Three. The Four Modes of Theology
      1. Appendix: Two Illustrations of Symbolic Theology
      2. Appendix: The Analytics of the Symbol

    1. Four. Mysticism, an Integral Way
    2. Five. The Metaphysics of Analogy
    3. Six. The Sense of Reality
    4. Seven. Beyond Being
    5. Eight. Metaphysic of Christian Mystery


[The] distinction between the reason (dianoia, ratio) and the intellect (nous, intellectus) is not a “total separation, for ratio is the broken and fragmentary light of intellectus. But they should not be confused, nor should we deny either of these modes of cognitive activity.”

Surprisingly enough, though, such a confusion occurs in Descartes’ philosophy, as examplified in his second Meditation, where ratio and intellectus are said to be equivalent, while “prior philosophic tradition almost constantly had distinguished them.” (Borella)

As a logical consequence of this Cartesian confusion, next we come to the negation of intellectus (intuitive intellect) in the work of Kantian philosophy. “Endeavoring to assume a critical consciousness of reason, Kant did not perceive the power with which the Cartesian confusion still endowed intuitive knowledge (intellectus intuitivus). Without intellectus, no metaphysic is possible: ‘Intel­lectual intuition… is not ours, and [its] possibility… is precluded from our insight.” (The Critique of Pure Reason, trans. W. Schwarz, Aalen: Scientia, 1982, p. 98)

Making reason (Vernunft) the superior faculty of knowing, “Kant is led to reverse what the whole prior philosophic tradition had accepted and to call understanding (Verstand, intellectus) the inferior cognitive activity, i. e. the one that invests sensible knowledge with some conceptual or mental form.”

“From an initial confusion to negationist inversion: this is the way followed by Western intellectual decadence.” (Borella)

We will conclude with the paradox of the intellect: “The intellect can receive into itself the knowledge of every­thing only because it is none of the things it knows.… [T]his intellect indeed merits the name ‘speculative intellect’ because it is a mirror (speculum in Latin) that reflects the world. The price to be paid for its lucidity is a kind of distancing from reality, thanks to which reality as such is revealed to man, but also by which man is set apart from being in his very being. Knowledge is clearly an intelligible communion of the knowing and the known, but this is in some manner a communion at a distance. With cognitive activity, everything transpires as if man had retained the memory of an ontological communion between himself and the world, but he can achieve this—by his merely natural powers—only in speculative mode. Knowledge is this very possibility, this ultimate possibility, this memory of a lost paradise. It is an anticipated fusion of subject and object, but anticipated only because unrealized.” (Borella) [pp. 11-12]

Notice of publication

The English-speaking world owes Bruno Bérard a great debt of gratitude for this masterful overview of Jean Borella’s project of reminding a forgetful age of the true nature and scope of the human spirit. But Bérard offers far more than a summary of Borella’s ideas on this score; rather, he gives us an encounter with Borella himself, whom he allows to speak directly out of the heart of his own thought. In the pages of this book, one of the great philosophers of our time recalls to us, with exemplary rigor, lucidity, and depth, the core of our humanity—that is, the intellectual aspiration to sacred knowing that finds its graced fulfillment in a fully orthodox ‘Christ faith’ that is no other than the ‘narrow gate’ through which we enter into the one and only gnosis truly worthy of the name.

— Adrian Walker, Catholic University of America


No one, I dare say, understands Jean Borella better than Bruno Bérard…

No one, I dare say, understands Jean Borella better than Bruno Bérard, who in fact seems missioned to interpret this catholic philosopher—in my view the greatest of our age. Yet in fairness it should be said that despite the immense clarity achieved in Bérard’s Introduction, this book is not easy to read: how could it be, seeing that it deals with the ultimate questions of metaphysics and theology! Yet for those who truly seek ‘the “beyond” of things that is metaphysical reality,’ as Bérard so aptly puts it, this book stands without peer. It holds, moreover, a special challenge for both the post-Conciliar and the traditional Catholics: for the one, to deepen his outlook; and for the other, to broaden it. To which I would add that Borella’s opus strikes me as the non plus ultra in both respects.

— Wolfgang Smith

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