A three-voice dialogue on Faith and Reason: A Study in Mediated Epistemology in Confucianism, Roman Catholicism and Reformed Theology

Paper presented at the Conference on Faith and Reason

held at Wuhan University, June 2009

To present a paper on the topic on “faith and reason” is difficult a difficult endeavor, especially when it involves Confucian philosophy or Christian theology—or both. The reasons for such arduousness are numerous. First, I am a Westerner and as such I confess being a neophyte in this field of study. To understand and gain a precise and decent grasp of the nature, content, and development of Confucian philosophy has always been a challenge. Tradition says that Confucius was followed by more than three thousand disciples, but that only seventy-two of these disciples actually understood the teachings of their Master. Among those, even fewer were able to proceed to faithfully practicing the teachings of Master Kong. The strength of this traditional account is in its clear representation of the complexity of Confucian philosophy. Furthermore, if the disciples of the Master themselves struggled with understanding and practicing the Way, this paper will necessitate a certain degree of simplification.

Secondly, Confucian philosophy is diverse, broad in scope, more diverse than many Westerners would think, and covers a long period of the history of Chinese philosophy. Confucian philosophy can be a misleading term and reinforces the idea that Confucian philosophy is a unified body.

Before beginning this presentation, it is necessary to say a few words regarding the use of the terms “faith” and “reason.” An initial difficulty is that philosophers and theologians alike have been tempted to separate and oppose faith to reason and to establish a dichotomy between them. For example reason is often defined as that which object is natural knowledge while faith is defined as that which object is divine knowledge or knowledge of Heaven and God. As a consequence, it is usually thought that Confucian philosophy is concerned mainly about the object of reason proper, that is man and his environment, thus concentrating exclusively on living a reasonable life at the expense of the necessity for divine knowledge and faith. On the other hand, it is often assumed that Christian theology is concerned mainly about knowledge of God and the divine with at the expense of the knowledge of man and nature. It would seem that in fact, both views are mistaken for, interestingly, both Confucian philosophy and Christian theology claim to hold them together and integrate faith and reason into one philosophy of religion, the knowledge of the Way of Heaven and man or the knowledge of God and man.

To precise the way they will be used in this paper will hopefully help me clarify the direction of our investigation today. To begin with, faith can be defined either by its content, either by its object. Thus we can either say that “faith is trust,” or that we “have faith in God.” In this paper “faith” will be used in the latter sense—by its object. In the same manner, “reason” can be used either as an abstract quality, either in the sense of “reasonable.” Here I will use the term “reason” in the latter sense.

The purpose of this paper is thus partly to answer these erroneous views and partly to relate and contrast Confucian philosophy and Christian theology on the topic of “Faith and Reason.” In order to do so, I will choose to investigate the theories explaining the relation between faith and reason especially as concerns metaphysical or divine knowledge. This—talking about faith and reason in a positive light as I propose to do—in  turn, demands to introduce the notion of mediated epistemology, which is one of the main aspect of this paper.

Self-Mediating Epistemology

It is impossible to explain the necessity for mediation in Confucian epistemology without first trying to approach the subject of the existence of faith and reason. I will actually take these two elements in the reverse order and present the import of Confucian reason for my topic today. Reason can be considered one of the most important principles of human life and actions. In fact, reason (Chih) as intelligence, intellect, wisdom, or again, knowledge is one of the main virtues of Confucianism. The explanation of the nature, function, and content of this virtue is an extremely complex one and I can touch here only the surface of the matter.

Modern Neo-Confucian philosophers have used Western terminology or concepts to present the relevance of the Confucian view of reason. The nature of reason has been explained using different categories. For example Hsiung Shih-li (Xiong Shili), has tried to “illuminate the fundamentals of benevolence and righteousness” through the description of Confucianism with modified Western categories. He described the category of reason as distinguished between hsing-chih and liang-chih; between the original wisdom and measuring wisdom; between the ontological mind and the reasoning intellect. Hsiung relates the former, the ontological mind to the original mind (pen-hsin), the ontological principle of human being, and in fact, of all being. This concept of the original mind can serve to explain further the importance of reason in its generic sense. Its main qualities are emptiness and silence; the former because the creative power of the original mind being inexhaustible, the latter because the original mind transcends all confusion and relativeness. In fact, the original mind, according to Hsiung, is the truly illuminating source of all knowledge. Here enters anthropological epistemology as broadly considered in Confucianism. The realization of Heaven—in any sense considered—is usually, if not always, connected to the inner realization of the human nature. As Mencius said, “we realize our mind in order to realize our nature as well as to realize Heaven.” Even Wang Fuzhi, the great opponent of the Sung-Ming Neo-Confucians, hold self-transformation to be one of the center of Confucianism. To come back to Hsiung, it appears that a sort of indeterminate, unformed substance, is in the background of his view of reason considered partly as the original mind: “The original mind is nothing, if we take a ‘thing’ to be a particular existent in time and space; time and space themselves are products of the ontological principle.” The ontological reasonable principle is thus an unformed absolute source of all that becomes incarnated in a phenomenal thing.

Liu makes the point that the Absolute, the original mind, is manifested through what is relative, but we could legitimately ask how that can be. If, as Liu explains of Hsiung’s epistemology, the original mind is absolute but the measuring mind can only know the scientific universe and only in its dynamic functions, the possibility of the manifestation of the Absolute must be tied to a mediating element between the absolute and the relative. Here comes into play the center of Confucian anthropology. Because the original mind is a means to realize both our human nature and the Way of Heaven, it will be mediated by the human nature itself. Man, in its generic sense, can’t know absolutely the phenomenal world but can realize Heaven. This seems to imply that anthropology is a necessary condition to the realization of the absolute in the relative. Indeed, metaphysical truth (the Way) is realized only through inner illumination, that is, though the internal working of the ontological mind within man. The human mind, therefore, is both absolute and relative, the mediating union of the macrocosm and the microcosm. This is also seen in Chu-Hsi’s Neo Confucianism and his emphasis of nature and principle, a development of Confucius’s emphasis on the reasonableness of life. In fact, Chu-Hsi remarked that Confucius “studied things on the lower level [mundane affairs] and then reached to the higher level [matters such as Heaven, nature, and destiny].” Master Kong quoted from the Book of Poetry: “The hawk flies up to heaven; the fishes leap in the deep,” [鳶飛戾天,魚躍于淵。] and commented: “This expresses how this way is seen above and below. The way of the superior man may be found, in its simple elements, in the intercourse of common men and women; but in its utmost reaches, it shines brightly through heaven and earth.” Truly, human nature carries within it the ontological principle of Heaven—and if not Heaven itself, the Way of Heaven engraved deeply within. Mou Tsung-san agrees with this basis conclusion and argues that tautological statement do not tell anything about a supposed rational structure of the universe but rather tell us something about the human mind itself.

When it comes to the nature of faith, the investigation becomes more arduous. The Master himself talked remarkably rarely about the Way of Heaven, or Heaven itself, thus leading many of the commentators to consider him a materialist. In fact the debate regarding the categorization of Confucius among the materialists or the idealists is a recurring debate that can be traced in the development of contemporary China—especially during the twentieth-century. However, this superficial observation does not mean that Master Kong never gave Heaven an important place, on the contrary. One of the most quoted saying of Master Kong on Heaven is the following:

The Master said, ‘I would prefer not speaking.’ Zi Gong said, ‘If you, Master, do not speak, what shall we, your disciples, have to record?’ The Master said, ‘Does Heaven speak? The four seasons pursue their courses, and all things are continually being produced, but does Heaven say anything?’

This particular saying has often been quoted, and maybe even misquoted to imply a sort of pragmatic agnosticism. However the issue here is not whether Heaven exists or whether one can know Heaven, but the visible manifestation of the Way. The manner of Heaven’s manifestation is through and in the way of man. Thus the realization of Heaven is really the realization of the way of man. The latter demands faith, that is, intimate conviction in the possibility of the inner realization of the Way of Heaven. Faith is made necessary to Confucian philosophy because of the negative aspect of human nature, that is, “to restrain oneself and return to propriety.” The real issue for Confucianism is not the human nature, which is held, by contrast to Chinese Buddhism, as benevolent from its beginning. The issue is then the dynamic approach to human nature.

This is precisely where the need for mediation in Confucian epistemology becomes clearer. The relations between absolute and relative, between the Way of Heaven and the way of man are solves through self-mediation, what we can also call self-transformation manifested externally by man. The necessity of mediation is also supported by the Neo Confucian view that “no phenomenon or function can be so called without being the phenomenon or function of a certain ontological principle.” Again, this type of mediation is self-mediation; it is the Way of Heaven realized in and only through the way of man.

I have said that the main element to introduce alongside faith and reason in this paper is that of mediation because it serves to explain how both faith and reason are related to knowledge of the divine. As far as Confucianism is concerned, in its more or less generic sense, such a knowledge is knowledge of the Way of Heaven realized within man. Therefore, this metaphysical knowledge is humanly mediated, self-mediated, because made visible almost exclusively through the phenomenal manifestation of internal self-transformation. The issue about mediation is not here about a precise dichotomy, even though they do exist in diverse forms in Confucianism, but the mediation between internal and external manifestations, that is between the Way of Heaven and man. The real issue is how knowledge is evidenced, not whether or not Heaven exists. Both the existence of reason and faith are assumed; both the existence of human nature and Heaven is assumed but the center of attention is the manifestation of their integration into one Way. A difficulty that remains, it seems to me, is the objective revelation of the rule for externally manifesting the Way of Heaven. If the Way of Heaven is manifested only through the realization of the way of man, it seem difficult to determine if the realization of the way of man is one or divers, that is, if the diverse external manifestations do not compromise the possibility of knowing how to realize the Way of Heaven.

As a conclusion here, we can say that from Confucius’ stress on the way of man as realization of the Way of Heaven to Mencius’ self-development (fulfillment of the mind); from the Neo-Confucian stress on the epistemological import of natural principles to the modern Neo-Confucian concern about epistemology and religious import of Confucianism, Confucian philosophy truly presents a self-mediating epistemology.

Externally Visible Mediation

In Christian theology, the importance of divine knowledge is probably clearer, if not more central, than in Confucianism; and that is not to say, as we have see, that it is absent from Confucianism. One of the reasons for this observation is the close connection established between God and man in Christian theology while still trying to maintain on ontological distinction between them. The relation object / subject in philosophy of religion is closely connected to the relation between God and man. On the basis of this initial statement, I will briefly present the views of Roman Catholic and Reformed theology regarding faith and reason, or more precisely, on divine knowledge and mediated epistemology.

As representative of Roman Catholicism on this question I will choose Pope Benedict XVI, because he is the official figure of Roman Catholicism. To begin with, Roman Catholicism seems to grant the separation between two spheres of reason or rather between two spheres of rationality. Reason proper is assigned the knowledge of phenomenal things, that is, of natural environment and of human nature. It is also granted the power to partly know God on the basis on the analogy between God and his creation. The other sphere of rationality is formed by the supplementation of reason by faith. Therefore, Roman Catholicism in fact holds to a separation of divine knowledge, one part accessible to human reason—similar to what Confucianism could call “original mind.”

Now to comment briefly on Benedict XVI’s view of reason, one can see the basic Thomist commitment to an analogy of being in his statement that “the reasonableness of creation derives from God’s Reason, and there is no other really convincing explanation […] The reasonableness of creation provides us with access to God’s Reason.” The proportional analogy between man’s reason and God’s Reason is one of the most stable theological approaches to Roman Catholic epistemology. In fact, human reason comes from the ontological nature of the Creator, an ontological category y transferred, so to speak, to human nature by God himself in his creative act. This analogical view is integrated into the doctrine of the creation of man as the image of God, the image of his Creator. It is certain that, even though Benedict XVI cannot be included among the Neo-Thomists, he would agree with this comment by one of the most significant Neo-Thomists, French theologian Etienne Gilson: “[…] the image of God in man is reason; that it is an honor from which we are bound to derive every possible benefit, all that is unshakably true even from the point of view of Augustine, of Peter Damiani, or of Bernard of Clairvaux,” that is, for Gilson, something true for all Roman Catholic tradition. Another Neo-Thomist of the middle of the twentieth-century, Jacques Maritain, relates the validity of reason to its object. To him, “the formal object of the intellect is being. What it apprehends of its very nature is what things are independently of us.” Even a metaphysical break cannot change the object of reason nor its function. This is in line with the traditional Roman Catholic understanding of the validity of human reasoning after the fall, and the epistemological import of reason is not altered by the metaphysical rupture in the relation between human nature and the Creator.

Now to move on to the other epistemological category, that of faith, we first need to note that faith for Benedict XVI is not in itself epistemological mediation but the disclosure of reality—it is a matter of trust, love and act. The necessity for faith in Benedict XVI’s theology is thus expressed by Aidan Nichols: “Reason is not absolute in the moral sphere; or rather, that reason which is absolute, since it manifests the reason of God, must be distinguished from apparent reason, the defective rational endeavours [sic.] of each age. For this reason needs faith, just as faith needs reason.” This last statement is telling for it relates to the Neo Thomists’s conviction that “it is not true that the human mind may see and know the truth as clearly and as limpidly as though it had never been darkened by that first prevarication. Neither is it true that our intelligence is so blinded, as a result of original sin, that it can know nothing at all about God and His divine plan.” Here we clearly see the necessity for the combination or supplementation of reason by and with faith in order to yield true divine knowledge. But one should make no mistake. Faith is not the mediating element in epistemology as if it could be independent from reason. Faith here considered is not a bridge between reason and divine knowledge, rather it is a necessary element, as much as reason is. As said, reason needs faith and faith needs reason.

One could consider that the epistemological issue is with reason itself, with the possibility of reason to yield divine knowledge. This is not so, since we have seen that reason can actually yield a reasonable degree of divine knowledge. If the epistemological issue is not reason itself, we still have to define what the issue really is for Roman Catholic theology. As we have seen, divine knowledge is gained through two different ratiocination processes, one by reason proper and the other one by supplemented reason. One difficulty remains however. Benedict XVI still has to provide for a clear explanation of the relation between divine knowledge yielded by reason or faith. If reason truly is of God’s Reason itself and can yield valid divine knowledge, Benedict XVI must explain the diversity of theological opinions and why such divine knowledge needs to be supplemented by faith. On the other hand, he also needs to precisely define the supplementative role of faith.  In fact, there seems to be an epistemological dichotomy between the two elements of divine knowledge and a mediating element needs to be introduced.

To maintain the unity of reason alone and reason supplemented by faith, Roman Catholic theology must introduce an external mediating element. That is, it must introduce an element that is at the same time external to individual judgment and external to faith itself, while comprising these two elements (individual judgment and faith). Benedict XVI clearly presents this issue when he affirms that truth, as processed by human reason, has to be deposited externally, that is, has to be mediated by an external and visible element. This mediating element is the Church. For Benedict XVI, truth is a divine deposit given to the Church. It is not a divine deposit accessible only through reason, nor is it a divine deposit accessible through faith. It is accessible to reason supplemented by faith only as it is epistemologically and metaphysically mediated by the Church. In this sense, reason in its most concrete form, the reasonableness of doctrine and the reason for faith and belief, is also a Church deposit. The reasonableness and truth of dogma is guarded and infallibly explained by the Church and we can wonder if there is a clear and definite epistemological access to it by the individual person.

The importance of the ontological nature of the Church as a mediating epistemological category has always been crucial to the Roman Catholic understanding of faith and reason. From Saint Augustine to Cardinal John Henry Newman, the Church has been considered ecclesia omnium gentium, the Church of all nations and universal deposit of reason and faith. In fact for Benedict XVI the Church serves as mediating between his theology of tradition (immanent epistemology), and his theology of revelation (transcendent epistemology), that is, between a theology of divine knowledge by reason and a theology of divine knowledge by reason and faith.

Divine Self-Mediated Epistemology

Now, and to move to the third part of this paper, by contrast to both Confucianism and Roman Catholicism, Reformed theology presents a mediated epistemology based upon and brought about by the divine himself, as we shall see in a brief moment. The basis for such an observation is the nature of the real concern for Reformed mediated epistemology, which is not primarily epistemology per se, but metaphysics.

In order to discuss the Reformed position on mediated epistemology, let us first dwell for a moment on the nature of reason and of divine knowledge. By contrast to Roman Catholic epistemology, the Reformed view does not consider that divine knowledge can be gained by reason or reason supplemented by faith. Divine knowledge is first a divine gift and is secondly the product of human reason regenerated or transformed by and through faith. There is no place in Reformed epistemology for reason alone, as it stands for the Confucian “original mind,” or as it is with the Roman Catholic “natural reason.” Further, it is of crucial importance to note that the main concern for Reformed theology is not whether or not human or natural reason can yield divine knowledge. The issue is the proper place and the proper, transformed, functioning of reason.

Let me try to present this more clearly by pointing to some of the main differences between Roman Catholic and Reformed theology is the view of knowledge and reason. While both consider the object of reason and knowledge to be God himself, the view of human reason and knowledge of God is somehow different. For Roman Catholicism, human reason can yield knowledge of God. By contrast to Roman Catholicism, Reformed theology considers knowledge of the divine, of God himself, to have been implanted in man in the creative act. While Roman Catholic epistemology locates original knowledge of God in human reason itself, Reformed epistemology locates this knowledge in the human nature. For Reformed epistemology, it is not reason that yields divine knowledge, but knowledge of the divine is an integrative part of what it is to be human. Even Neo-Thomist Etienne Gilson agrees that “Calvin made an innate knowledge of [the natural knowledge of God], not in order to confer on it an evidence not its own, but to deprive reason of any pretext for claiming the merit of it for itself.” For Calvin, divine knowledge is not so much something gained by reason as something that is part of our human nature, and here we can certainly relate to the Confucian search for intuitive knowledge. In fact, Calvin affirms that there is a seed of religion, a sense of deity, in man: “God himself, to prevent any man from pretending ignorance, has endued all men with some idea of his Godhead.” Some have argued that Calvin is actually presenting a theory of natural reason in this sense of deity. However, it is not really what Calvin is talking about here. Rather, he is relying on an innate knowledge of God, an immediate awareness of God, or again an implanted knowledge of God.

From this initial observation regarding the difference on original divine knowledge, we can move to the epistemological import of the Reformed metaphysical concern. In fact, when it comes to Reformed mediated epistemology, it is necessary to notice that it is build on a radical metaphysical claim about the difference between man and God. By contrast with Confucianism, Reformed epistemology does not present an anthropological mediation because it maintains a radical distinction between the Heaven, the personal God, and man. Reformed epistemology is founded upon the uncompromising conviction that the ontological quality of God is radically different from the ontological quality of man. Therefore, there is no Heaven within man, nor is there any analogy similar to that of Roman Catholicism. If this is so, one could ask how knowledge of the divine is gained. To this question, Reformed epistemology gives two answers. First, with respect to original divine knowledge, we have seen that the implanted sense of deity is the means for divine knowledge. But one should not forget that in Christian theology, the fall, a rupture in the relation between God and man, alters radically this original divine knowledge, thus leading to the necessity of another kind of mediation. When the theological category of the fall is introduced, faith and transformation is introduced as well.

For Reformed epistemology the need for mediation is not the consequence of the imperfection of one part of the human nature, like it is for Roman Catholicism and its view of reason that needs to be supplemented by faith. Rather, the need for mediation is itself a good thing, a necessity that is the consequence of human nature itself. The crucial point regarding Reformed mediated epistemology is that mediation is not made necessary because of a lack of original perfection, like it seems to be in Roman Catholicism, but because of the radical ontological distinction between the Heaven and man; between God and man. In fact, as Reformed epistemology understands it, “sin, which entered the world by the first human beings, brings about no change in the fact of revelation itself.” Revelation, that is, mediation in epistemology, is a created necessity, in the same manner as human nature was good and benevolent. Thus, one of the main differences between Reformed mediated epistemology and the Confucian and Roman Catholic view on this question is that mediated epistemology in Reformed philosophy is founded on the radical distinction between man and the personal Way of Heaven, God who himself mediates knowledge.

As I have said, Reformed mediated epistemology is founded upon a double conviction, a metaphysical one yielding an epistemological one. The first one is the radical distinction between the personal Heaven, that is, God, and man. This initial distinction leads to considering the possibility of divine knowledge being initiated by God himself. Nothing in itself, apart from God, can give man divine knowledge. Thus, reason never stands on its own to yield divine knowledge. In fact we can say here that all divine knowledge is divinely mediated. Here we can introduce the mediating element for all Reformed epistemology, both original and transformed.

The important point here is the nature of this mediated epistemology, and more precisely the nature of mediation. It is not anthropological nor is it ecclesial; it is not purely or mystically immanent but the coming of the transcendent and the immanent together in a person who mediates true reason and knowledge. According to Calvin, only a God-man can be such a mediator—a Mediator of both Creation and Transformation. In fact, it is noticeable that for Calvin mediation remains ontologically identical, and is located in the person of God himself, and more precisely in Christ. Moreover, to Calvin mediation is not merely a divine mediation, but a divine self-mediation, that is, a mediation which subject and object is God himself.

Mediated epistemology is the category in and through which the God-man is both the object and subject of divine mediated knowledge. It is here that faith and reason, knowledge and mediation are all brought together, when mediated epistemology is included into the whole field of metaphysics but also in history itself. The unity of epistemology and metaphysics in history is the realization of the God-man himself for the transformation of man and the revelation of Heaven.


In this brief presentation I have tried to present and contrast three different views on mediated epistemology. We have seen that, and keeping in mind the simplification required by this paper, Confucianism present a self-mediated epistemology that makes man himself the content and means of mediation, thus the label “self-mediation.” This is relatively consistent with the Confucian view of the correlative realization of the Way of Heaven and the way of man, that is, through the fulfillment of the virtues present in the original nature of man.

Moving to Roman Catholic epistemology, we have noted that the philosophy presented tries to maintain the divine mediation without intervening human element. However, in doing so, the Roman Catholic position introduces a mystical ecclesial mediation in making the Church, in its visible form, the external mediating epistemological element. Thus, Roman Catholicism, through its official leader Pope Benedict XVI, really presents a mediated epistemology that is available only within the limits of the ecclesia omnium gentium. Reason and knowledge are available to man, but true reason and knowledge is mediated through the dogma deposited to and in the Roman Catholic Church. The difficulty with this position is the validity of human reason and knowledge supplemented by faith but not as much mediated by faith. Faith is connected with reality but not with the epistemological mediation or access of reality. Therefore one could ask how the Roman Catholic view of mediated epistemology explains the diversity of the working of human reason regarding divine knowledge. The Roman Catholic view of mediated epistemology, in removing mediation from man himself, does not seem to do justice to the presence within man of the epistemological category.

Finally, Reformed mediated epistemology presents a view of mediation in which it is the divine, God, who holds the central place. He is the originator of divine knowledge, the transformer of divine knowledge after the fall is introduced. The mediation here considered is twofold, natural and transformative, but is always operated by the divine himself. As such Reformed epistemology defends a self-divine mediated epistemology and so tries to avoid the pitfalls of self-reference in matter of epistemology.

Of course there would be much more to say on this topic. Of special interest is the comparative approach to mediated epistemology. Here, clarification on the diverse Confucian positions would be necessary. The necessity for such a mediation in relation to the nature and content of faith for Neo-Confucianism and modern Confucianism would have to be more precisely defined. It is my conviction that the study of the importance of mediation in the field of epistemology can lead us to a comparative study of metaphysics in Confucian philosophy and Christian theology—especially in Reformed theology, my own field. Such an endeavor can bring about a better understanding of the way Confucianism and Christianity view the world, man, and their integration in a philosophy of religion. The resulting contrast can also lead us to defining the oppositions between these two philosophies of religion and point to the similarities or inconsistencies with respect to the relation between epistemology and metaphysics.

Endnotes :

[1] Confucius is the Latinicized name of Master Kong, or strictly K’ung-fu Tzu (孔夫子, Kǒng Fūzǐ).

[2] In fact it is possible to distinguish three main periods in the historical development of Confucian philosophy. The period of the foundation is that of Classical Confucianism and covers the times of Confucius, Mencius, during the Spring and Autumn period and during the Warring States period; the period of Neo-Confucianism is the period of the strengthening and dominating influence of Confucianism; finally modern Neo-Confucian philosophy is, which is still in formation, struggles with the heritage and relevance of Confucianism with respect to the history of Western philosophy and Chinese culture. On this latter point, see Kan Louie, Critiques of Confucius in Contemporary China (New York: St. Martin’s Press), 1980. For a brief presentation of the nature and relevance of Confucianism in the philosophy of religion, see for example Shu-hsien Liu, “The Religious Import of Confucian Philosophy: Its Traditional Outlook and Contemporary Significance.” Philosophy East and West 21/2 (1971):157-175.

[3] See for example: “The major theistic traditions draw a distinction between religious truths that can be discovered and even known by unaided human reason and those which humans have access only through a special divine disclosure or revelation. According to Aquinas, e.g., the existence of God and some things about the divine nature can be proved by unaided human reason, but such distinctively Christian doctrines as the Trinity and Incarnation cannot be thus proven and are known to humans only because God has revealed them.” Robert Audi, The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 607 from K. Scott Oliphint (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2006), 4.

[4] “There are many people who say that Chinese philosophy is a this-world philosophy. It is difficult to state that these people are entirely wrong. Taking a merely superficial view, people who hold this opinion cannot be said to be wrong, because according to their view, Chinese philosophy, regardless of its different schools of thought, it is directly or indirectly concerned with government and ethics […] This, however, is only a surface view of the matter. Chinese philosophy cannot be understood by oversimplification of this kind.” Fung Yu-Lan, A Short History of Chinese Philosophy (New York: MacMillan, 1953), 7. Moreover, this simplistic view of the essence of Confucianism forgets that the concerns of the founding philosophers of the Western tradition and that of the founders of Confucianism were more similar than one could think. For example Michael Loewe argues that “the principal problems that beset the Han mind were in all probability little different from those that were faced in other cultures such as those of Israel or Greece.” Michael Loewe, Faith, Myth, and Reason in Han China (Indianapolis, Cambridge: Hackett, 2005), 6.

[5] See for example Ivor A. Richards, Mencius on the Mind (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1932) 68-71. Mencius defined Four Beginnings in man: “The feeling of commiseration is found is what we call humanity; the feeling of shame and dislike is what we call righteousness; the feeling of respect and reverence is what we call propriety (li); and the feeling of right and wrong is what we call wisdom.” The Mencius 6.6.

[6] His goal to “reconstruct Confucianism was intended to assist in overcoming China’s social and cultural crisis […]”Cheng, Zhongying and Nicholas Bunnin, eds. Contemporary Chinese Philosophy (London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2002), 128. Further, we ca affirm that “Xiong’s [Hsiung] understanding of his own position in the long tradition of transmitting Confucianism has won general approval. The history of Confucianism is usually divided into three stages: Classical Confucianism, Neo Confucianism, and Contemporary or New Confucianism. Xiong [Hsiung] is widely regarded as the thinker who laid down the basis for the revival of Confucianism as Contemporary Confucianism in the twentieth century.” Contemporary Chinese Philosophy, 129. Hsiung Shih-li has also been labeled a “neo-Buddhist eclectic” by O. Brière in his Fifty Years of Chinese Philosophy (London, Allen & Unwin, 1956), 48. Brière also qualifies Hsiung’s version of Confucianism as a brand of positivistic rationalism. Ibid., 50.

[7] Some have pointed out the possible connection between Hsiung’s concept of the original mind in constant flux with the Bergsonian concept of élan vital. See Collinson, Diané, Kathryn Plant and Robert Wilkinson, eds., Fifty Eastern Thinkers (London: Routledge, 2000), 302. Others have seen parallels with the process metaphysics of A. N. Whitehead, see Contemporary Chinese Philosophy, 137.

[8] Shu-hsien Liu, “The Contemporary Development of a Neo-Confucian Epistemology.” [Inquiry 14 (1971):19-40], 22. I am well aware that to turn to Mencius directly from Confucius, without any further philosophical precision is a dangerous simplification, but considering the nature of this paper, I think it is a necessary one. Hopefully, I will be able to pursue the study in mediated epistemology and present the differences between Classical Confucianism, Neo-Confucianism, and modern Neo-Confucianism on this topic.

[9] “The formation of the mind of man results from the highest degree of activity of indeterminate substance. The existence of man therefore exhibits the most valuable potential of reality and yet is related to everything else in the process of change and transformation. This is a Confucian position which all Confucian philosophers, including Neo-Confucians of the Sung and Ming, hold in common.” W. Theodore De Bary, ed. The Unfolding of Neo-Confucianism (New York, London: Columbia University Press, 1975), 482.

[10] Hsiung also writes “We must realize that original substance has neither physical form nor character, is not physically obstructed by anything, is absolute, whole, pure, strong and vigorous.” Quoted in Fifty Eastern Thinkers, 303. For Hsiung, “the original substance is fundamentally immaterial. It is eternal, it is goodness and reason, and it is the basis of all existence.” Fifty Eastern Thinkers, 303.

[11] According to Chung-Ying Cheng’s evaluation, for Wang Fuzhi, “reason can now be considered a conscious understanding of the order and regularities of nature and mind. It is a matter of knowledge and a principle of reality. In fact, it is in regard to mind that reason can now be identified with reason in the proper sense.” De Bary, The Unfolding of Neo-Confucianism, 483. Reason here is defined somewhat differently from the Neo-Confucians such as Hsiung, and Wang presents the human mind as the embodiment of reason itself. However, while for many Sung-Ming Neo-Confucians a dichotomy eventually arises out of the distinction between reason and indeterminate substance, for Wang Fuzhi reason is opposed to desires. De Bary, The Unfolding of Neo-Confucianism, 485.

[12] For Hsiung, “Original reality is not separate from my mind.” Quoted in Contemporary Chinese Philosophy, 138.

[13] “Xiong [Hsiung] believed that we have an original mind, which is the shining light of humanity; Aristotle claimed that we have rationality, which is the essence of human beings. Xiong [Hsiung] suggested that virtue is the unceasing manifestation, that is the production and reproduction, of the original mind […]” Contemporary Chinese Philosophy, 143. Hsiung’s metaphysics of virtue could be evaluated as a metaphysics of anthropological mediation but such an evaluation would lead us too far from our topic and require a much precise background in Neo Confucianism.

[14] “With Confucius, the belief that any man might become a gentleman, regardless of his birth, did not remain a matter of theory.” Herrlee G. Creel, Chinese Thought from Confucius to Mao Tse-tung (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1973). One could of course debate the use of the term “gentleman” which lacks the spiritual connotation of the Confucian fulfillment of the Way. The virtue of li cannot be really expressed as “gentleman” because it lacks the connection to the other meaning of li, that is, rites. Chu-Hsi laid a great stress on the li of all things, using it as a category for describing the integration of the three classical elements of Confucian philosophy, Heaven, earth, and man. See Yung Sik Kim, The Natural Philosophy of Chu-Hsi (1130-1200) (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 2000), especially chapter 2, “Li and Ke-wu” pages 19-31.

[15] Quoted in De Bary, The Unfolding of Neo-Confucianism, 557. For further comments on the developing importance of the Ching-i, see Ibid., 543-579.

[16] Doctrine of the Mean 1.11. See also Analects 10.5: “When he was carrying the scepter of his ruler, he seemed to bend his body, as if he were not able to bear its weight. He did not hold it higher than the position of the hands in making a bow, nor lower than their position in giving anything to another. His countenance seemed to change, and look apprehensive, and he dragged his feet along as if they were held by something to the ground. In presenting the presents with which he was charged, he wore a placid appearance. At his private audience, he looked highly pleased.” [執圭,鞠躬如也,如不勝。上如揖,下如授。勃如戰色,足縮縮,如有循。享禮,有容色。私覿,愉愉如也。]

[17] Many of the sayings of Master Kong can be understood in such a light. When asked by one of his followers about serving spirits, he replied: “You are not yet able to serve men; how can you serve spirits?” and in another occasion, on death, he said “you do not yet understand life; how can you understand death?” Analects 11.11. This does not mean that Master Kong was not concerned by the Way of Heaven, or the spirit, but that this was preceded or implied in the way of man. In fact, the Way of Heaven can only be realized in the way of man. This, at the end, is in accord with the basis of Master Kong’s “reasonable” and wise life.

[18] Some scholars have pointed to the importance of Mencius and Chu Hsi’s roles in the development of the terminology of “Heaven,” the “Way of Heaven,” or even the “Great Ultimate.” Regarding the latter it can be said that “before Chu Hsi’s time, the concept of the Great Ultimate was not important. He made it the starting point of the whole Neo-Confucian metaphysics. He had to do so because it was necessary to account for its basic doctrine of principle, the relationship between universal principle and particular principles, the relationship between principle and material force, and the possibility of production and reproduction.” De Bary, The Unfolding of Neo-Confucianism, 561.

[19] Analects 17.19 [子曰:“予欲無言。”子貢曰:“子如不言,則小子何述焉?”子曰:“天何言哉?四時行焉,百物生焉,天何言哉?]

[20] Liu comments that “since Heaven does not speak to man in a literal sense, all we know about Heaven is that there is an objective order which is the manifestation of the work of Heaven; perhaps it would be more correct to conceive of Heaven in impersonal rather than personal terms.” Liu, “The Religious Import of Confucian Philosophy: Its Traditional Outlook and Contemporary Significance,” 158.

[21] Contemporary Chinese Philosophy, 131. That is, for Mencius, the problem of the relation between the bodily desire and the heart or mind. Hsiung probably builds on this Mencian insight and one can sense here the Buddhist upbringing of Hisung before his conversion to Confucianism.

[22] See the summary in Contemporary Chinese Philosophy, 131. For Hsiung, “the contrast between the learning of daily decrease and the learning of daily renovation is significant. It reveals not only how Confucianism is distinguished from Buddhism, but also how Confucianism is an alternative to the main tradition of Western ethics.” Ibid., 132. The ethical question in Confucianism is not so much about why being moral but how being moral.

[23] Liu, “The Contemporary Development of a Neo-Confucian Epistemology,” 24.

[24] “For Mencius the best way for man to serve Heaven is not to depart from the human way but to fulfill his human destiny. If one were able to exert and preserve his own mind, then he would be able to realize his true nature.” Liu, “The Religious Import of Confucian Philosophy: Its Traditional Outlook and Contemporary Significance,” 162. This is also seen in the Confucian on “sincerity” (ch’eng) and sincerity to one’s true nature which is correlative to sincerity to the Way of Heaven, because sincerity is the Way of Heaven. See The Doctrine of the Mean, 1.21: “Sincerity is the way of Heaven. The attainment of sincerity is the way of men. He who possesses sincerity is he who, without an effort, hits what is right, and apprehends, without the exercise of thought.”

[25] This dichotomy can be either between reason and indeterminate substance (as for Sung-Ming Neo-Confucianism); or between reason and desires (as for Wang Fuzhi).

[26] See The Doctrine of the Mean 1.24: “The way of Heaven and Earth may be completely declared in one sentence. They are without any doubleness, and so they produce things in a manner that is unfathomable. The way of Heaven and Earth is large and substantial, high and brilliant, far-reaching and long-enduring.” And the same passage to conclude: “The meaning is, that it is thus that Heaven is Heaven.” [蓋曰天之所以為天也]. As we will see, one remaining problem is the human epistemological access to such knowledge. To be more precise this wholistic integration is that of the three interrelated elements of Heaven, earth, and man, thus forming an organic unity for those achieving the realization of the Way. See for example Loewe, Faith, Myth, and Reason in Han China, 170 ff.

[27] Tran Van Doan affirmed that the main point for Confucius was the phenomenological description of how man becomes man [Tran Van Doan, Reason, Rationality, and Reasonableness (Washington: The Council for Research in Values and Philosophy, 2001), 197], but this also relates to the difficulty just mentioned. If the issue is how man becomes man, it is not difficult to see how this ethical issue becomes an epistemological issue as well. The problem is not merely how man becomes man but also how one know that one way of becoming man is the way. Self-mediated epistemology does not seem able to present a definite answer to this problem. Further, Kim affirms of Chu-Hsi that “the heavenly li is what the original human nature manifests in the form of such ethical virtues as humanness and righteousness: it is because the heavenly li is obstructed and blocked by ‘human desires’ (jen-yu) that man loses the virtues and shows evil traits. This dichotomy of ‘heavenly li’ versus ‘human desires,’ which can be traced back to the ancient times, became the basis of Chu Hsi’s moral philosophy; thus a state of mind free from human desires was for him the ultimate goal of man’s self-cultivation. When that goal is attained, man’s mind fully manifests the heavenly li.” Ibid., 20-21. Here again, the question of knowing the rule of the way is not resolved through self-mediation or integration of the Way in man.

[28] Benedict XVI, ‘In the Beginning’ A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 17.

[29] This sort of analogy is the basis of St. Thomas’ Five Ways, or proofs for the existence of God. It is also the basis of most of Roman Catholicism anthropology and scientific knowledge.

[30] Etienne Gilson, Christianity and Philosophy (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1939.), 6.

[31] Gilson of course supports this point when he affirms that “what Catholic theology does maintain is that reason by itself can discover a God, and that this God which it discovers is already the true God, precisely because there is no other, and that whatever truth we know about God can consequently apply to Him alone.” Christianity and Philosophy, 38.

[32] Aidan Nichols, The Thought of Benedict XVI (London: Burns and Oates, 2007), 169.

[33] Gilson, Christianity and Philosophy, xvii-xviii.

[34] Let me make a short excursus here. The necessity for mediation in Christian theology can be presented in a rather straightforward manner. This necessity is founded on a break in the nature of what Confucian philosophers would tend to call the “original mind.” While their view of the mind’s historical development is broadly a monistic one, Christian theology sees a significant break in the manner the mind, the human nature, apprehends the phenomenal and noumenal worlds. For both roman Catholicism and Reformed theology, the two traditions on which I will concentrate, there is a definite epistemological change in the history of ideas—a change that is called the fall. This paper does not intend to present the nature of this fall but I will to present briefly the relevance of this change with respect to divine knowledge.

[35] This is clearly seen in the relation Benedict XVI establishes between Christ as Mediator and the Church as mediating: “In consequence, the Church, insofar as she is ‘one in Christ Jesus,’ shares in his mediatorship. She is mediation with God because she is the form in which Christ remains present in history. The inner interpenetration of Christology and ecclesiology makes it possible thus to extend the concept of mediation without affecting the uniqueness of Christ’s mediatorship.” Benedict XVI, Principles of Catholic Theology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987), 272-273. Of course, this latter statement could be challenged. This is further supported by Benedict XVI’s mystical view of the origin of the Church as mediated by the third person of the Trinity: “the Church is understood as proceeding from the Holy Spirit, as the center of the Spirit’s activity in the world.” Benedict XVI, Introduction to Christianity (New York: Seabury Press, 1979), 259. In fact, communion with, and knowledge of, God is ultimately mediated by the Church.

[36] Aidan Nichols, The Thought of Benedict XVI (London: Burns and Oates, 2007), 161.

[37] The first element, Benedict XVI’s theology of revelation, is a past event constantly repeated for faith; while his theology of tradition represents the “explication, in the history of the Church’s faith, of the event of Christ witnessed to in Scripture.” Nichols, The Thought of Benedict XVI, 163.

[38] As Liu remarks, there is no fall or original sin involved in Confucian philosophy, only selfish desires in the human heart. Liu, “The Religious Import of Confucian Philosophy: Its Traditional Outlook and Contemporary Significance,” 168.

[39] “Reason’s finest hour can be realized only as it is nurtured and caused to grow and produced within the warmth of Reformed orthodoxy. Reasons for faith, then, are philosophical categories—categories, specifically, of metaphysics and epistemology—that are meant to flourish when they take their rightful place. They can develop, and develop deeply, only when the faith of Reformed theology gives them their raison d’être.” Oliphint, Reasons for Faith, 35.

[40] Gilson, Christianity and Philosophy, 40-41.

[41] Jean Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, translated by Henry Beveridge (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1844) I.3.i.

[42] “It might be thought, as Dowey implies, that since Calvin makes a distinction here between that which God implants and that which he reveals through his works, hen the way to God through the revelation in his works is by the right use of reason. The way to discover God in his works is by using reason properly […]” Oliphint, Reasons for Faith, 11-12.

[43] By contrast to the Roman Catholic position, the Reformed position considers “religion” to be of the whole person. The image of Heaven within man is not reason but the whole human nature. Moreover, “religion consistently implies a relation to God” [Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), I:285], and therefore always needs a divine mediation.

[44] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, I:310.

[45] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, I:340 ff.