September 26, 2020

A trip to the geniuses | Babelia

When you drink water, remember the sources. It is taught by a Chinese proverb. Manuel Fraijó remembers it in the last of the portraits of this book, the one dedicated to Karl Rahner, the most important Catholic theologian of the second half of the 20th century. Fraijó was his student at the University of Münster (Germany) and both are more philosophers than theologians (what is theology theos logos: words about God but a philosophy, a desire to know about the Whole). Rahner left more than four thousand titles, between books and articles, at thirty pages a day, and all he did was to highlight the rational, and reasonable, dimension of the Christian faith. He is the great philosopher of religion, not always loved in the Vatican, where they tend to prefer what Unamuno called, in Agony of Christianity, the coalman’s faith.

Well, to the book. As happened to Kant when he received the Emilio by Rousseau, you start reading any of the twenty-two portraits and you can no longer stop, until late in the morning, because they intertwine, like the cherries in the basket, with each other, Kant with Rousseau, this one with Voltaire, the two with Diderot, or with Pascal, with Nietzsche, with Kierkegaard and Schopenhauer, or Spinoza and Leibniz, not to mention Descartes, or Giordano Bruno on Nicholas of Cusa, or Luther with all. I mean: this is a book about the greatest thinkers of humanity. They are all who are, without a doubt; although, obviously, not all of them are there (the book stems from a series of conferences commissioned by Fraijó by the Politeia and Juan March foundations). For example, Marx is not there, despite being widely cited, but Feuerbach is, and there is no Spanish, although Ortega y Gasset, who studied in Germany and was noted. I’m not saying that he deserved a biographical sketch, because we are talking about giants of thought, and Ortega never believed he was, but Unamuno would have deserved a place, as he had in the famous history of European literature that he wrote in the 60s of the last century Belgian Charles Moeller.

All selected thinkers, with the exception of Confucius, the Chinese Aristotle, are European, and they all deserve a profile because they rejected the obvious

All the selected thinkers, except for Confucius, the Chinese Aristotle, are European, and they all deserve a profile because they rejected the obvious. “From its beginnings, philosophy started from the fact that in everything that surrounds us there is a strangeness and perplexity”, warns the author. He himself is overwhelmed by his characters: Luther and the Reformation; Bruno at the stake for staying true to his “beloved philosophy”; Pascal, radical to despair (radical comes from the roots); the unfortunate suicide of Walter Benjamin, “the dead that Europe needed at that time“; the infected Europe of Hitler, Franco, Mussolini, Petain…; Voltaire and the enormity of the Encyclopedia that Diderot carried on his shoulders (35 volumes, 12 of illustrations, and years in prison or persecution for wanting to set her free, accused of “intellectual debauchery” by the Jesuits).

Umberto Eco compares the Encyclopedia of the French Enlightenment with the pyramids of Egypt and the Sistine Chapel; Savater has it for “one of the greatest achievements of the western spiritSapere aude, dare to know, Kant would summarize. He never left his hometown, Königsberg (now Kaliningrad), and his fellow citizens knew him from the methodical regularity of his life and from his punctuality. When they saw him start his daily walk, they put their clocks on time. Fraijó collects the legend of his two exceptions: the first, the day he received the Emilio Rousseau (he was left reading it, fascinated); the second, the day he hurriedly went to the post office to find out about the latest events of the French Revolution.

'Immanuel Kant' (1768), by Johann Gottlieb Becker.
‘Immanuel Kant’ (1768), by Johann Gottlieb Becker.

I resist the temptation to make a report, rather than a criticism. The philosopher Fraijó is profound and rigorous in all his portraits, but he does not skimp on anecdotes that make this book a delicacy. There are in the 22 chapters. I stop at Voltaire, as an example: How “the most vital of all men”, according to Dilthey, left no less than twenty thousand letters (his complete works span sixty volumes); why it changed its name; their loves and riches; how he ridiculed the Jesuits, with whom he studied (at the Louis le Grand school, which only received young people of the nobility, who had single rooms, or from the upper middle class, five schoolboys in each sleeping room); his stays in prison, the famous and terrible Bastille; exile in London, at age 32, fascinated by religious tolerance; and, finally, his triumphal entry into Paris at age 83, to the surprising praise of crowds.

Fraijó stops in the last days of who in life, despite not being an atheist, the Vatican has considered one of the great enemies of the Church. “If there was no God, it would have to be invented.” Said. A group of priests rushed into his room and Voltaire, who seemed to be dying, ended up choosing one of them to dispatch, he said, “a little matter.” He wanted to confess, but refused to take communion. A friend later asked him if he had really confessed. “Depending on how it is considered, you already know what the situation is. There is no choice but to howl a little at the wolves. ” Weeks later, he wrote this letter to Frederick of Prussia, who protected him so much: “I am not afraid of death, but I feel an invincible aversion against the way of dying within the Catholic Church. I find it ridiculous that they give one the holy oil paintings to go to the other world, like when the axles of the car are greased to go on a trip ”.


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