Posted on: July 23rd, 2013 Rainbows & Light (Nyssa & Desmond)

Gregory of Nyssa and quantum physics (about which I know almost nothing) agree: the rational mind cannot fully grasp the nature of light.

William Desmond might say that it is “overdetermined:” the problem is not that light manifests too little to our souls (mind, sense perception, imagination), but rather that it manifests too much. We cannot stare directly at the sun. Light is both wave and particle at the same time (which makes little sense rationally).

This “overdeterminedness,” Gregory argues, characterizes the Christian God who manifests himself (“godself” if you like) by revelation and who is apprehended by faith.

In Gregory’s words, in the context of his rainbow analogy for the Trinity,

… for just as in the case of things which appear to our eyes experience seems better than a theory of causation, so too in the case of dogmas which transcend our comprehension faith is better than apprehension through processes of reasoning, for faith teaches us to understand that which is separated in person [in the three persons of the Trinity], but at the same time united in substance. – St. Gregory of Nyssa, Epistula XXXVIII, quoted in Adrian Pabst, Metaphysics 71.

What is the relationship between nature and grace, between philosophy and theology, between reason and faith? Here we find a clue: faith apprehends that which overwhelms and transcends reason. Against virtually all modern thought beginning with late medieval nominalism, faith is more than reason, not less.  Which is what John Milbank is trying to get at with his language of “intensities.”

Question: how does Desmond‘s “overdeterminedness” differ from Marion’s “saturated phenomenon?”

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5 Responses to “Rainbows & Light (Nyssa & Desmond)”

  1. David Russell Mosley Says:
    July 23rd, 2013 at 11:57 am


    First, great post and juxtaposition of sources. Not having read Desmond, only having heard him, it does seem that he and Nyssen make good playmates.

    In answer to the question, and I don’t pretend to know much about Marion, it would seem to me at least possible that Marion’s saturated phenomenon is still bound to a kind of immanentism by virtue of its being a phenomenon. Desmond’s overdeterminedness, may not have such limits and therefore be capable of going beyond the purely phenomenological, no matter how saturated. That is, however, my rather uninformed supposition.


  2. matt Says:
    July 23rd, 2013 at 8:41 pm


    Thanks very much for your comment.

    I hope to look into this later, but I’m pretty sure that Marion’s saturated phenomenon itself does not imply an unorthodox immanentism.

    Marion is, as I read him, implicated in a nominalistic, Paschalian separation of faith and reason … but it seems to me that his saturated phenomenon is a kind of attempt to allow that separation, presupposed by phenomenology of the Heideggerian type, to be relativized.

    And we should keep in mind that, as you I’m sure agree, revelation is always-already mediated by the natural phenomena of this world, which in turn are always-already mediated by our sense perception.



  3. David Russell Mosley Says:
    July 24th, 2013 at 11:29 am


    It’s even necessarily an unorthodox immanentism, but simply the project of phenomenology which brackets out the transcendent.

    Anyway, I think your reading is probably correct. And yes, I do agree that revelation is mediated through phenomena, hence the non-separation of nature and grace.


  4. matt Says:
    July 24th, 2013 at 2:15 pm

    Right on, David. Phenomenology’s bracketing out the transcendent is necessarily unorthodox; Agreed. What is intriguing about Marion is that he seems to realize this and to want to remedy the situation somehow.

    Intriguing … and confusing, given his phenomenological commitments.



    PS I linked to your blog from mine.

  5. David Russell Mosley Says:
    July 29th, 2013 at 11:59 am


    I think you’re right. I think my, limited, reading of Marion has led me to say, he hasn’t gone far enough. But perhaps if he did, he would no longer be in the discipline of phenomenology.


    P.S. Thanks for the link. I’ve returned the favour. Feel free to stop by leave angry comments on my blog. It’s all the rage, or at least would be if they’d actually do it.