Phenomenality or Revelation: Michel Henry’s Approach to Christianity

Karl Hefty


With uncommon humility, Michel Henry offered a new beginning to philosophy,
a new and adequate point of departure that changes everything. Over the course of
a philosophical career spanning the second half of the twentieth century, he
proposed a controversial definition of phenomenality, where “phenomenality”
means, or seems to mean, “Revelation” in the full theological sense of the term:
the self-revelation of God. This definition of phenomenality strikes some as
problematic not merely because it seems to bring phenomenology and theology
together in a way that many philosophers and theologians find surprising or
undesirable, nor merely because it purports to show in all phenomenological rigor
that revelation opens a way of access to God under the name of Life (a proposition
which would remain uncontroversial if its demonstration were not elaborated in
phenomenological terms, as a factum). Henry’s redefinition of phenomenality proposes further that humanity itself is at stake, for this same revelation or phenomenality antecedes each vivant, each “living being,” and bestows concrete character upon all finite life. Revelation or phenomenality, in Michel Henry’s sense of the term, arrives before and without reference to the world or its temporal horizon. Moreover, and more radically, the phenomenality of the world itself depends upon the prior work of revelation, and presupposes it constantly.

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