Dissertation Project - P. Albert-Henri Kühlem O.P.

Topic of the planned dissertation:

La foi et ses fondements dans la nature de l’homme chez Josef Pieper (Faith and its Foundations in the Nature of Man according to Josef Pieper)



Prof. P. Dr. Luc-Thomas Somme O.P.



Université de Fribourg/Suisse - Faculté de Théologie - Département de Théologie morale et d’Ethique


Abstract of the project:

My dissertation project intends to ask from Josef Pieper’s perspective what religious faith means in its true sense and how it is grounded, performed and actualized in human existence. Even though the difficulty in believing is not a new phenomenon, “the difficulty of our time has a special appearance as well as novel reasons.”1 If one analyzes the possibilities, conditions and foundations of religious faith, people disagree owing to their diverging philosophical attitudes.

How an act of religious faith is understood depends on the relationship between reason and faith. There are contrasting tendencies in the current theological discussion: On the one hand, human reason is given a superior role over faith (ultimate justification); on the other hand, it is devalued through a religious pragmatism (fideism). However, these attempts to justify faith miss religious faith in its truest sense, because one’s faith in God’s promise of salvation in Jesus Christ will necessarily remain vague as long as it comes from a purely intellectual source bar the personal witness of faith and apart from the community of believers. It is mainly the underestimation of this personal element which causes the disagreement in the current debate on faith.

Pieper considers the current difficulty in believing to be an effect of a prejudiced anthropology (Taylor: closed world structures). Consequently, it is important to illuminate the limits and possibilities of human reason, which are grounded in the creatural structure of man and the world: the human spirit is open, yet dependent on experience. This openness of the human spirit is the basis for the capability of hearing divine speech and of partaking in the word and life of the divine witness. Up to now all attempts to overcome the “nastily wide ditch” (Lessing) and to justify religious faith by means of other certainties have emptied its substance and reduced it to a moral attitude. This way, the longing for the eternal, which man himself cannot satisfy, will not be satisfied or will prompt (political) compensatory religiosity.

By turning to the anthropological foundation of religious faith, Pieper recognizes its quality of being a gift (divine virtue) and reveals the demands concerning the individual believer. Only he who is ready to open himself down to the depth of his existence will be able to apprehend the light that is his happiness, namely by trusting the testimony of the first witnesses as well as the community of believers. In conformation with the occidental tradition, an approach to a concept of faith is disclosed which corresponds to man’s nature and dignity. This dissertation intends to explicate Pieper’s contribution to the possibility of a renewed access to faith and to analyze it critically.


1Pieper, J., "Über die Schwierigkeit, heute zu glauben (1969)", Werke, volume 7, p. 177.

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About Pieper:

Josef Pieper (1904-1997) was professor of philosophical anthropology at the University of Münster/Germany; he was a member of several academies and received numerous awards and distinctions, among them the International Balzan Prize for outstanding achievements in the field of humanities. [more...]


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Philosophical studies are among the main institutional focuses of the Faculty of Theology in Paderborn in cooperation with the University of Paderborn. [more...]