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©2010 By Steven Schultz. All Rights Reserved. May Not be Reproduced or Reposted in Any Form without Permission.

     For centuries, faith and reason enjoyed a close, complimentary, mutually supportive relationship.  However, the rise of modern philosophy, with its bad metaphysics, resulted in a growing rift in this relationship.  Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical Fides et Ratio, called for a return to unity in the relationship between faith and reason, and offered his thoughts on how this reunion might be achieved.

     Early Christianity found a ready ally in ancient Greek philosophy, particularly the thought of Plato.  The reason for this alliance rested on the commons goals of Christianity and ancient Greek philosophy, namely a quest for understanding of being.  Both sought to understand ultimate purposes.  Because man’s ultimate purpose is fulfilled in God’s plan of salvation, both streams flowed toward the same final source.  The Greeks did not have perfect answers; however their quest for ultimate understanding and truth at least guided them in the right direction.  The Greek focus on seeking truth allowed early Christians to adopt Greek thought in giving fuller understanding to the message of Jesus and the salvation of mankind.[i]

     This unity of faith and reason reached its zenith with St. Thomas Aquinas.  St. Thomas synthesized the philosophy of Aristotle into Christian theology, providing the best demonstration before or since of the great unity between faith and reason.  As Pope Benedict XVI recently put it:

            In short, Thomas Aquinas showed there is a natural harmony between Christian faith and reason. And this was the great work of Thomas, who in that moment of encounter between two cultures — that moment in which it seemed that faith should surrender before reason — showed that they go together, that what seemed to be reason incompatible with faith was not reason, and what seemed to be faith was not faith, in so far as it was opposed to true rationality; thus he created a new synthesis, which shaped   the culture of the following centuries.[ii]

For a brief, shining moment, thanks to St. Thomas’s insightful demonstration of unity between faith and reason, harmony between theology and philosophy reigned supreme.  Unfortunately, this was not to last.

     The upheaval brought about by the Protestant Reformation introduced a spark of doubt which steadily grew into the full-fledged conflagration of modern thought.  René Descartes, with his institutionalization of doubt, became the father of modern philosophy.  Descartes began with the notion that certitude does not come from knowledge obtained through sense data, but only through innate ideas.  Cogito Ergo Sum – the only thing we know with certitude is our own thought.  This “turn to the subject” led to greater skepticism and deconstructionism and has permeated all modern philosophy since.[iii]

     Immanuel Kant developed idealism in an attempt to save natural science and the validity of human reason.  As a spiritualist, he claimed that while we cannot know the material world through sense data, we can form hypotheses which meet our experiences.  In other words, Kant argued truth is merely the consistency of the model of reality which our mind creates.  Our sense experience tells us nothing about absolute truth, so “truth” becomes more about consistency and is therefore completely subjective.[iv]

     Likewise building on Descartes, David Hume adopted an extreme empiricist position.  Hume’s radical skepticism reduced knowledge to nothing more than sense description.  His extreme position even rejected the notion of causality as understood in natural scenes.  Hume claimed we only know one thing happens after the other, which, according to Hume, does not mean one thing caused the other.[v]

     As modern philosophy stopped concentrating on being and instead focused on human knowing, a growing rift developed between theology and philosophy.  Instead of pondering the human capacity for knowing, modern philosophy has emphasized the ways in which it is limited and conditioned.  Modern philosophy’s rejection of meaningfulness of being has led to a general conception of nihilism and a rejection of all objective truth.  Theology’s insistence on the existence of the greatest absolute Truth places it in direct conflict with modern philosophy.[vi]

     However, Pope John Paul II tells us faith and reason cannot be separated without diminishing the capacity of man to know himself, the world and God in an appropriate way.  Since theology engages philosophy to help man know the truth, the study of philosophy is fundamental and indispensable to the study of theology.  While there should be no barriers to dialogue, there should also not be indiscriminate acceptance of any kind of philosophy.  Consequently, the Magisterium has a right and a duty to discern and promote philosophy not at odds with the faith.[vii]

     In Fides et Ratio, the Pope outlines three requirements.  First, to be consonant with the Word of God, philosophy must return to its classical roots as a method of searching for the ultimate and overarching meaning of life.  Second, philosophy must “verify the human capacity to know the truth, to come to a knowledge which can reach objective truth by means of that adaequatio rei et intellectus to which the Scholastic Doctors referred.”  Consequently, radically phenomenologist or relativist philosophies are ill-adapted to help with deeper exploration of the riches found in the Word of God.  Third, philosophy needs a “genuinely metaphysical range, capable…of transcending empirical data in order to attain something absolute, ultimate and foundational in its search for the truth.”[viii]

      Through this method, philosophy, as “the mirror which reflects the culture of a people,” can serve the new evangelization in its ability “to explore more comprehensively the dimensions of the true, the good and the beautiful to which the word of God gives access…Reflecting in the light of reason and in keeping with its rules, guided always by the deeper understanding given them by the word of God, Christian philosophers can develop a reflection which will be both comprehensible and appealing to those who do not yet grasp the full truth which divine revelation declares;” thereby returning unity to faith and reason.[ix]


Endnotes

[i] P. De Letter, “Theology, Influence of Greek Philosophy On,” New Catholic Encyclopedia, 2nd Edition, Volume 13 (Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, 2003), 918.

[ii] Pope Benedict XVI, On St. Thomas Aquinas, Zenit.org, http://www.zenit.org/article-29447?l=english, accessed 3 July 2010.

[iii] Benedict M. Ashley, OP, “Lecture 3: Why Theology Has Difficulty with Modern Philosophy,” Philosophy for Theologians, DVD, International Catholic University, 2005; Benedict M. Ashley, OP, “Lesson 3: The Intellectual Ambiguities of Contemporary Culture,” Philosophy for Theologians, Lecture Notes, International Catholic University, http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c02803.htm, accessed 10 May 2010.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Pope John Paul II, Fides et Ratio (Boston, MA: Pauline, 1998), 14, 111.

[vii] Ibid., 30, 49, 81, 82.

[viii] Ibid., 102-104.

[ix] Ibid., 125-126.

Bibliography

Ashley, Benedict M.  “Lecture 3: Why Theology Has Difficulty with Modern Philosophy,” Philosophy for Theologians, DVD, International Catholic University, 2005.

——.  “Lesson 3: The Intellectual Ambiguities of Contemporary Culture,” Philosophy for Theologians, Lecture Notes, International Catholic University, http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c02803.htm, accessed 10 May 2010.

Benedict XVI, On St. Thomas Aquinas, Zenit.org, http://www.zenit.org/article-29447?l=english, accessed 2 June 2010.

De Letter, P.  “Theology, Influence of Greek Philosophy On.”  New Catholic Encyclopedia, 2nd Edition, Volume 13.  Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, 2003.

John Paul II.  Fides et Ratio.  Boston, MA: Pauline, 1998.

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In response to my re-posting of Archbishop Carlson’s article, “Before the Cross: Good Catholics cannot be Pro-Choice,” which, quite correctly, states that one cannot hold positions in opposition to fundamental Catholic teaching and still remain Catholic, I received the following comment from Dave, who seems to be exactly the type of  “Catholic” the Archbishop addressed:

“Most Catholics disagree with you on this. Just because the priests are with you doesn’t mean anything. Look who they are.”

While the comment is sadly uninformed and misguided, it unfortunately represents the view of many “Catholics” today who’ve been indoctrinated by a small, but vocal, group of dissenting theologians, Bishops and priests who worked (and unfortunately, a few still work) to undermine the true Church by claiming a false “Spirit of Vatican II” for the authority of their “teaching,” which wrongly claims Vatican II called for a complete break with established Tradition.  As a result, many “Catholics” today have been lead to the false belief that Catholicism is merely one religious sect among many, no better and no worse than any other, and that man determines the “doctrine of the day” by nothing more than a majority opinion poll on a certain topic at a certain time – further they believe that doctrine can (and must) change whenever the whims of man decide so.

Such false positions of relativism are very dangerous as they put one’s soul on the path to eternal damnation.  Consequently it becomes very important to counter these dissenting beliefs and, God willing, do something to help get these people back on the “small and narrow” path which leads to eternal salvation.  Instead of having my response buried in the comments, I decided to highlight this comment and my response in a post of its own.

It’s critically important for Catholics to understand Church authorities do not just “make up” doctrine as they go along.  Church doctrine, Church teachings and the authority of the Magisterium do not come from man.  Instead, Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, the Catechism and centuries worth of ecumenical councils and papal encyclicals all very clearly state that what the Church teaches infallibly (which includes teachings on faith and morals) comes from the divine revelation of God, not from man, and is therefore Truth not subject to the changing whims of man.  Individuals might not like the Truth, yet it remains the Truth to which we are called and to which we are held accountable, whether we like it or not.  Therefore, when “Catholics” dissent from fundamental Church teaching, they no longer freely and obediently submit their will to the will of God – they are no longer in unity or communion with the Trinity through Jesus Christ and thereby no longer members of His Church, which means they are no longer Catholics no matter how loudly they might proclaim otherwise.  To claim you’re a member of a certain group and to then reject the fundamental teachings of that group is an absurdity.

May God have mercy on your soul for believing in and propagating such rubbish!  “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  If you reject the Magisterium of the Church because you don’t like what the Catholic Church teaches and you find yourself incapable of surrendering your will to the will of God since you believe you know better what’s best for your soul than does God (which is what it means when you refuse to freely submit yourself to Church teaching), you are completely free to leave the Church and “worship” whatever you chose.  Donum Veritatis (On the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian), issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on May 24, 1990, states the Church has always held “nobody is to be forced to embrace the faith against his will.”  You do in fact, thanks to the infinite love of the Father, have the complete free will to absolutely reject His gift of salvation and instead chose the path of eternal damnation.

The Church has been quite clear from the time of Jesus to the present day that rejecting the defense of life is to choose death.  Just like the prodigal son, the Father gives you complete freedom to walk away from everything He lovingly offers you.  As Jesus tells us in His parable, the Father stands ready to joyfully welcome you back into the fold, but He will not go looking for you.  It’s up to you to return to Him of your own free will or to remain on the path of destruction.  “Catholics” who reject the Magisterium reject the Lord and thereby choose their own path and their own judgment.

Finally, your comment implies condemnation of the entire priesthood based on the heinous actions of a few (who, by the way, would not have been ordained to the priesthood had orthodox Catholic teaching been followed regarding the unsuitability of actively homosexual men to the priesthood – Ordination is a privilege, not a “right” – however that’s another blog post – funny how following the Magisterium can keep us on the right path and out of trouble).  While even one case of sexual abuse is unacceptable, in reality of the tens of thousands of active priests from the 1950s to today, only 1% have been accused of sexual abuse (in fact, children are one hundred times more likely to be abused at the hands of a public school employee than a Catholic priest).  In addition, in many cases, accusations are only coming out years after the accused died, which makes it rather difficult for the accused to present his side of the story.  Along with that, the vast majority of abuse cases in the United States are being filed by one attorney, who has a record of going on “fishing expeditions” in order to find “victims.”  While there are certainly legitimate cases which need to be severally dealt with (and the post-Vatican II Church is far from innocent in not taking the issue seriously – however, I suspect many complaining about Rome today would have accused it of acting “harshly” has it done what it should, when it had should), the fact remains that the vast majority of priests and Bishops stand accused of nothing and more importantly most of them are good, honorable and holy men.

Additionally, Ordination does not create saints.  It creates an instrument, the priest’s hands, through which God works by way of the Holy Spirit to being you the sanctifying grace of the Sacraments.  It’s our job to take care of our priests.  If you know a priest who needs help, it’s your job as a faithful Catholic to help that man.  You will be held accountable by God for doing nothing and will be judged even more harshly for loudly complaining and libeling the entire priesthood.  My friend, I must warn you, as a Christian concerned about the salvation of your soul, your comments give me great concern regarding the path you’re on.

Any Catholic who takes such issue with the entire priesthood needs to enter into serious prayerful reflection instead of condemning the entire priesthood in the “court of public opinion!”  Only God knows what’s in the hearts of these men and it’s up to Him to judge their souls.  St. Peter denied Jesus, his very savior, three times, yet Jesus forgave him – and not only forgave St. Peter, but built His entire Church upon the “rock” of St. Peter, telling us that even the gates of hell will not prevail against His Church.  Instead of looking for ways to dissent from the Truth, I suggest you instead prayerfully seek God’s grace to help you freely surrender your will to His will and seek to live a life of Christian perfection through Jesus Christ in unity with His Church.

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On the Function of the Theologian

© 2010 by Steven Schultz

     The theologian’s vocation fulfills a critically important role within the life of the Church.  Pope John Paul II taught, “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth…”  By helping provide reason for faith, the theologian assists the People of God, again as John Paul II put it, “…so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.”  One of the most important documents explaining the role of the theologian is Donum Veritatis.  We shall use this document as our guide in exploring the function of the theologian, as well as showing how dissent from the Magisterium impedes the true function of the theologian.[1]

An important point to contemplate at the outset is the fact, in Donum Veritatis, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith teaches that the role of theologian is a vocation.[2]  The work of a theologian is not simply a “job” or ordinary labor.  Our Sunday Visitor’s Catholic Encyclopedia defines vocation thus: “In the Christian life, the divine calling to follow a certain course of action in life…”[3]  By evoking the term vocation, the Congregation sets apart the work of a theologian as something special.

Donum Veritatis teaches us that “the truth which sets us free is a gift of Jesus Christ (cf. Jn 8:32).  Man’s nature calls him to seek the truth while ignorance keeps him in a condition of servitude… In the Christian faith, knowledge and life, truth and existence are intrinsically connected.  Assuredly, the truth given in God’s revelation exceeds the capacity of human knowledge, but it is not opposed to human reason.”[4]  The Sacrament of Baptism serves as the initiation into the mystery of Christ and sets the believer on a search for deeper understanding, or as St. Paul puts it, “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness” (Rom. 6:17-18).[5]  Theology is the method by which believers “search for an understanding of the faith” and “is therefore something indispensable for the Church.”[6]

This indispensable role of theology has always been important for the Church, particularly “in times of great spiritual and cultural change,” so that She may carry out God’s plan, “Who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4).  In this mission, theology is exposed to risks “since it must strive to ‘abide’ in the truth (cf. Jn 8:31), while at the same time taking into account the new problems which confront the human spirit.”  As we shall see, these risks are greatest when theologians dissent from the Magisterium, but mitigated when theologians operate with reverence and respect for the Magisterium.[7]

The vocation of the theologian is “to pursue in particular way ever deeper understanding of the Word of God found in Sacred Scriptures and handed on by the living Tradition of the Church.”  Fr. Aidan Nichols sums up this function by stating, “The task of theology is the disciplined exploration of what is contained in revelation.”[8]  In order to fulfill their vocation, theologians must operate in communion with the Magisterium, which has the responsibility to safeguard the deposit of faith.  In providing a deeper understanding of the faith, the theologian also “aids the People of God in fulfilling the Apostle’s command (cf. 1 Pet 3:15) to give an accounting for their hope to those who ask it.”[9]

Theology “seeks ‘reasons of faith’ and offers these reasons as a response to those seeking them.”  Through this process, theology becomes obedient to Christ’s command to make “disciples” of all nations and teach them, “for men cannot become disciples if the truth found in the word of faith is not presented to them (cf. Rom 10:14f).”  Theology contributes to the faith by enabling it to be communicated.  By the act of faith, man begins to love God.  This love leads him to seek deeper understanding of the beloved – theology helps satisfy this desire.[10]

The theologian is called to a high standard.  “Since the object of theology is the Truth, which is the living God and His plan for salvation revealed in Jesus Christ, the theologian is called to deepen his own life of faith and continuously unite his scientific research with prayer.”[11]  Similarly, while theology has developed into a true and proper science, and must hold to rigorous critical standards, it must not succumb to a critical spirit of feeling or prejudice.  Commitment to theology requires a spiritual effort to grow in virtue and holiness.[12]  Theologians must also recognize the human ability to know truth.  Divine revelation evaluates other sciences, not vice versa.[13]

A theologian must remember he is part of the People of God and must show respect for them by presenting only “teaching which in no way does harm to the doctrine of the faith” — which is Truth.[14]  Likewise, “the freedom proper to a theological research is exercised within the Church’s faith.”[15]  Consequently, theology, rightly done, “entails in essence an objective discussion, a fraternal dialogue, an openness and willingness to modify one’s own opinions.”[16]  While enjoying academic freedom, the theologian must accept as principles the object of theology as being given by divine Revelation, handed on and interpreted in the Church under the authority of the Magisterium.[17]

The Magisterium has a pastoral role of vigilance over the Faith.  “It seeks to ensure the People of God remain in the truth which sets free.”[18]  Theologians must understand this “proper mission of the Magisterium and collaborate with it.”[19]  The nature of the task to religiously guard and loyally teach the faith (Revelation) “implies the Magisterium can make pronouncements ‘in a definitive way’ on propositions which, even if not contained among the truths of the faith,” derive necessarily from Revelation itself.[20]  Therefore, morality can also be an object of the authentic Magisterium.  “Moral teachings [contained in Revelation] which per se could be known by natural reason” can be infallibly taught by the Magisterium.[21]

The Magisterium and theology “while having different gifts and functions, ultimately share the same goal: preserving the People of God in the Truth which sets free and thereby making them ‘a light to the nations’.”[22]  The Magisterium authentically teaches the doctrine of Jesus and the Apostles; theology provides a deeper meaning to this doctrine.[23]  In obedience to the faith, whatever the Magisterium proclaims, even if not infallible, must be firmly accepted and held.[24]  With this in mind, the theologian is charged with aiding future understanding of the Magisterium’s pronouncements, not refuting them.

Dissent is public opposition to the Magisterium.  Among the factors fostering dissent is growth of the ideology of philosophical liberalism, which places greater credence on individual thought than authority of tradition.  Dissent also comes about when public opinion is manipulated by “mass media” and people are pressured to conform.  However, we must remember the Church has always held “nobody is to be forced to embrace the faith against his will.”[25]

Some believe theologians are not bound to any Magisterial teaching unless it is proclaimed infallibly, especially with regard to specific moral norms, believing it’s largely up to the individual to accept or reject teachings as he sees fit.[26]  Two arguments are often put forth to defend dissent.  The first is a hermeneutical argument which claims the Magisterium is nothing more than debatable theology.  The second is a theological pluralism/relativism which calls the integrity of the faith into question.[27]  Another form of dissent says “truth” is determined only by a majority opinion of a large number of Christians at a particular time on a particular issue.[28]

However, “the freedom of the act of faith cannot justify dissent.”[29]  It is a voluntary act to live in the faith and submit one’s will to the will of God.  Being subjects to the Law of God, we cannot appeal to the rights of man in order to oppose the Magisterium.[30]  Likewise, appealing to the so-called “obligation” to follow one’s conscience is not a justification for dissent since “conscience is not an independent and infallible faculty.”[31]

The mission and responsibility of the Magisterium with regards the Word of God gives it the power to pronounce against the work of theologians who harm the faith.   The Church is organized on a hierarchical structure instituted by Christ; not a democracy or poll for consensus of public opinion.  Therefore, theologians must operate in a spirit of communion to build Christ’s Body in unity and truth.[32]  As Cardinal Avery Dulles writes, “room must be made for responsible dissent [disagreement] in the Church, but dissent must not be glorified as though church authorities were generally ignorant, self-serving, and narrow-minded.”[33]

Bishops and theologians must remember “Christ is the definitive Word of the Father (cf. Heb 1:2)…He is the Truth who sets us free (cf. Jn 8:36; 14:6).”[34]  Consequently, our response to His Word is one of selfless, willing obedience.  The Virgin Mary, in her free and complete surrender of her will to the will of God, serves as our model of accepting and serving the Word of God.[35]

This article is copyright and may not be reporduced or reposted in any form without express written permission of the author.


Endnotes

[1] Pope John Paul II, Fides et Ratio (Boston, MA: Pauline, 1998), 7.

[2] Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Donum Veritatis – On the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian (May 24, 1990), 6.

[3] Rev Peter M. J. Stravinskas, Ed., Our Sunday Visitor’s Catholic Encyclopedia, Revised Edition (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 1998), 996.

[4] Donum Veritatis (DV), 1.

[5] DV, 1

[6] DV, 1.

[7] DV, 1.

[8] Aidan Nichols, The Shape of Catholic Theology (Collegville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1991), 32.

[9] DV, 6.

[10] DV, 7.

[11] DV, 8.

[12] DV, 9.

[13] DV, 10.

[14] DV, 11.

[15] DV, 11.

[16] DV, 11.

[17] DV, 12.

[18] DV, 20.

[19] DV, 20.

[20] DV, 16.

[21] DV, 16.

[22] DV, 21.

[23] DV, 21.

[24] DV, 23.

[25] DV, 32.

[26] DV, 33.

[27] DV, 34.

[28] DV, 35.

[29] DV, 36.

[30] DV, 36.

[31] DV, 38.

[32] DV, 37, 39, 40.

[33] Avery Dulles, Craft of Theology (New York: Crossroad, 1992), 14.

[34] DV, 41.

[35] DV, 42.

Bibliography

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  Donum Veritatis – On the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian.  May 24, 1990.

Dulles, Avery.  The Craft of Theology.  New York: Crossroad, 1992.

Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, New Testament, Second Catholic Edition RSV.  San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2010.

John Paul II.  Fides et Ratio.  Boston, MA: Pauline, 1998.

Nichols, Aidan.  The Shape of Catholic Theology.  Collegville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1991.

Stravinskas, Rev Peter M. J., Ed.  Our Sunday Visitor’s Catholic Encyclopedia, Revised Edition.  Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 1998.

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G. K. Chesterton

“The obvious effect of frivolous divorce will be frivolous marriage.  If people can be separated for no reason they will feel it all the easier to be united for no reason.” — G. K. Chesterton, The Superstition of Divorce, 1920  [Ed. Note: Going even further today, they feel it all the easier to not be united at all for any reason.]

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