Christianity and Literature, Vol. 51, No. 2 (Winter 2002), 325-26.


Paul Ricoeur

What has Athens to do with Jerusalem? The work of Paul Ricoeur lets answer in our first Paul's words, "Much in every way" (Rom. 3:2). Since its beginnings Christianity has sometimes adopted and sometimes rejected elements of the Mediterranean cultures that surrounded it. Augustine used the example of the Israelites despoiling the Egyptians of their gold (Exod. 3:22,11: 12:35-36) for this work of cultural discernment. In our time no Christian thinker has carried forward this work more effectively than Paul Ricoeur. With a generosity and humility too rare in our era of monologues and monomanias, he has entered into a wholehearted dialogue with thinkers of every philosophical orientation. He could truly say with our first Paul, "I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. I do it for the sake of the gospel (1 Cor. 9:22-23). But if he shows how in all charity a Christian can be cosmopolitan, he also shows that cosmopolitanism need entail no relativism or yielding to fashion, that it can keep strict faith with the exhortation to "test everything; hold fast what is good [kalon]" (1 Thess.5:21).

Born in 1913, Paul Ricoeur pursues with unabated vigor his calling to address as a Christian and a philosopher the challenge to faith and reason that have been posed by a century of tumult. An unbroken line stretches back from his work of the past decade on memory, on justice, and on oneself as another to his first studies of our all-too-fallible will, of evil, and of suffering. A philosopher will rightly value the breadth of his themes and intellectual engagements, the coherence and rigor of his thought, the penetration of his analyses, and the richness of his insights. A Christian will prize something more—his spirit of generosity, his patient listening even to those who do not reciprocate, his undogmatic search for truth with confidence that all truth leads back to its one source, and his readiness to speak a word of faith in season and out. Nor has he been merely a hearer of the word. Despite his self-effacement, his actions testify to his convictions. As a socialist he stood with workers and the poor from his student days. As a prisoner of war, he studied philosophers who wrote in the language of his captors, including Edmund Husserl, proscribed by them for being Jewish. As a pacifist, he opposed his country's war to prolong its unjust hold on its colonies. In his life and in his thinking, despite the catastrophes of our time, he neither despairs nor succumbs to the temptation to imagine that a will by its resoluteness can create itself. From first to last his work radiates Christian hope.

As members of the Conference on Christianity and Literature, we cannot fail to take a special interest in and be specially thankful for his interpretation of biblical texts and Christian themes. Whether reflecting on the symbolism of evil in his great book of that title or deepening our understanding and appreciation of parable, metaphor, symbol, and story, whether elucidating themes of revelation, witness, and hope or joining with a scholar of Hebrew scriptures to read the biblical text in dialogue, Paul Ricoeur has enriched us and all who have ears to hear a word of light in a dark time.

With gratitude we present the Conference on Christianity and Literature's Lifetime Achievement Award to Paul Ricoeur.