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Posts Tagged ‘Pope John Paul II’

©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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Pope John Paul II

It is unfortunate so few Catholics read the Church’s own writings.  This is especially true in our age of great confusion and crisis of identity within the Church.  Far too many rely on what they think they know about the Church, which often comes from a childhood Catechism class, dimly remembered.  It is time to turn once again to the wealth of materials the Church presents us in order to truly know our faith and thereby come to love it even more.

Considering Pope Benedict XVI’s recent address on St. Thomas Aquinas and the harmony between faith and reason, it is particularly fitting to consider Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Fides et Ratio.  Released on September 14, 1998, this encyclical on the relationship between faith and reason was directed primarily toward the Bishops, philosophers, scientists and theologians, but is very profitable for any Catholic who desires to better understand his faith.

The fundamental theme of Pope John Paul II’s encyclical is the deep connection between faith and reason.  As the Pope puts it: “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth – in a word, to know himself – so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.”

Throughout human history, we find all cultures share a fundamental desire to seek answers to ultimate questions about existence and purpose.  We also find the more people know reality and the world, the more they know themselves in their uniqueness with the question of the meaning of things and their very existence becoming ever more pressing.  In other words, we are “programmed” to seek the truth.  This innate desire to discover the truth of things is one of the greatest aspects which define us as human beings. (1)

In Pope John Paul II’s first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis, he told us: “We have become sharers in this mission of the prophet Christ, and in virtue of that mission we together with him are serving divine truth in the Church.  Being responsible for the truth also means loving it and seeking the most exact understanding of it, in order to bring it closer to ourselves and others in all its saving power, its splendor and its profundity joined with simplicity.”

Philosophy, as the love of wisdom, shares with theology the search for answers to the ultimate questions of human existence and purpose.  From the early Church fathers to the present day, the Church has held philosophy in high regard as a means of increasing our knowledge of God and aiding in our understanding of divine Revelation.  Indeed, the Pope tells us, “She [the Church] sees in philosophy the way to come to know fundamental truths of human life.  At the same time, the Church considers philosophy an indispensable help for a deeper understanding of faith and for communicating the truth of the Gospel to those who don’t yet know it” (5).

The reason the Church so strongly supports philosophy is because philosophy (rightly done) and theology are mutually supportive endeavors.  Since both arrive at the truth, they cannot contradict one another.  As the First Vatican Council tells us, the truth obtained by philosophy and the truth of revelation are neither identical nor mutually exclusive. (9)

The problem arises, the Pope tells us, due to the state of modern philosophy:  “Abandoning the investigation of being, modern philosophical research has concentrated instead upon human knowing” (5).  Modern philosophy no longer ponders people’s ability for knowing the truth and instead emphasizes ways this ability is limited and conditioned.  Modern philosophy makes the fundamental error of assuming all positions are equally valid, a position which leads to agnosticism and relativism.

As various schools of modern philosophy have rejected the meaningfulness of being, this has led to society to a general, and dangerous, attitude of nihilism (90).  Nihilism is both a denial of all foundations and a negation of all objective truth.  Not only does Nihilism conflict with the demands and content of God’s word, it also denies humanity and the very identity of what it means to be human.

The Pope warns us, “Is should never be forgotten that the neglect of being inevitably leads to losing touch with objective truth and therefore with the very ground of human dignity.  This in turn makes it possible to erases from countenance of man and woman the marks of their likeness to God, and thus to lead them little by little either to a destructive will to power or to a solitude without hope.  Once the truth is denied to human beings, it is pure illusion to try to set them free.  Truth and freedom either go together hand in hand or together they perish in misery.” (90)

We see signs of this illusionary freedom all around us, from abortion as a “right” to science gone mad, and even, quite fearfully, in modern democracy.  The “scientism” school of philosophical thought claims only knowledge derived from the positive sciences is acceptable and says all thought from religion, theology, ethics and aesthetics is mere fantasy (88).  This leads to the belief we see today that if something is technically possible, it’s morally acceptable.  Yet if technology is not ordered towards a higher good, but only utilitarian ends, it can quickly become inhuman and even a potential destroyer of the human race (81).  Similar pragmatic thinking infects modern democracy, which rejects any sort of reference to unchanging values, but instead believes any course of action is acceptable if determined so by majority vote (89).

In Redemptor Hominis, Pope John Paul II says that “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (Jn. 8:32) is at once a fundamental requirement and a warning.  On one hand, the words define an honest relationship with truth as a condition for authentic freedom.  However, they are also a warning “to avoid every kind of illusory freedom, every superficial unilateral freedom, every freedom that fails to enter into the whole truth about man and the world.”

The solution, the Pope says, is for philosophy and theology to rediscover one another (101).  While the Church does not endorse any particular school of philosophy, the Magisterium does have the right and duty “to respond clearly and strongly when controversial philosophical opinions threaten right understanding of what has been revealed, and when false and partial theories which sow the seed of serious error, confusing the pure and simple faith of the People of God, begin to spread more widely” (49).  Therefore it becomes the Magisterium’s duty to discern and promote philosophy not at odds with the faith (63).

While reemphasizing that the study of philosophy is “fundamental and indispensable” to the study of theology (62) and that it must be carried out in light of valid philosophical tradition (106), the Pope lists three requirements of philosophy (81-83).  First, philosophy must recover as its primary purpose the search for “ultimate and overarching meaning of life.”  Second, philosophy must verify the human capacity to know the truth and the ability to arrive at objective truth by reasonable use of the intellect in the tradition of the Scholastic doctors.  Third, philosophy must regain its genuine metaphysical range “capable … of transcending empirical date in order something absolute, ultimate and foundational in its search for the truth” (83).

This reunion of philosophy and theology is vital, for as the Pope puts is: “Philosophical inquiry can help greatly to clarify the relationship between truth and life, between event and doctrinal truth, and above all between transcendent truth and humanly comprehensible language.  This involves a reciprocity between the theological disciplines and the insights drawn from the various strands of philosophy; and such a reciprocity can prove genuinely fruitful for the communication and deeper understanding of the faith.” (99)

Different philosophical systems have deceived man into believing he is his own master.  However, it is entering into true Wisdom that we find authentic freedom and full knowledge of God (107).  Consequently, we see much harmony between the vocation of the Blessed Virgin and the vocation of philosophy (108).

The early holy monks called Mary “the table at which faith sits in thought.”  Likewise, the Pope turns our final thoughts toward Mary: “May Mary, Seat of Wisdom, be a sure haven for all who devote their lives to the search for wisdom.  May their journey into wisdom, sure and final goal of all true knowledge, be freed of every hindrance by the intercession of the one who, in giving birth to the Truth and treasuring it in her heart, has shared it forever with all the world.” (108)

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