Faith and Reason, Part 2

Authored by Dr. Alan Schreck in Issue #31.1 of The Sower

In the second part of his explanation of John Paul II’s teaching on Faith and Reason, Alan Schreck highlights the importance of philosophy for a sound catechetics and theology.

In the first three chapters of this encyclical letter, Fides et Ratio, Pope John Paul II has affirmed that the quest for truth, especially the truth about ultimate realities such as God, can be attained through reason (e.g. philosophy) and by faith in what God reveals to us, which achieves its climax in the person of Jesus Christ. These two sources of truth are not opposed, but together ‘lead us to truth in all its fullness’ (34).

Chapter IV of Fides et Ratio explores more fully the relationship between faith and reason as it has developed in history. Classical, pre-Christian philosophy sought to ‘purify’ human ideas about God of ‘mythological elements’ and ‘provide a rational foundation forbelief in the divinity’ (36). This is why some of the early Church fathers appreciated and even employed some forms of classical philosophy ‘which offered new ways of proclaiming and understanding the God of Jesus Christ’ (36). However, some Christians like Tertullian rejected philosophy as ‘outmoded in addressing questions about life’s meaning since Christian revelation gave direct and satisfying answers to them’ (37). Others, like St. Justin and Clement of Alexandria, found important truths in philosophy that could be employed to explain and defend the Christian faith (38). Origen employed the philosophy of Plato to shape his theological arguments against Celsus and others who criticized Christianity for being ‘irrational’ (39). Later church Fathers, including the Cappadocians and St Augustine, ‘Christianized Platonic and Neo-Platonic thought.’ St. Augustine produced ‘the first great synthesis of philosophy and theology,’ unsurpassed in Western thought for centuries (40). Pope John Paul summarizes the accomplishment of the early Church Fathers of both East and West: ‘They fully welcomed reason which was open to the absolute, and infused it with the richness drawn from revelation’ (41). Those authors distinguished elements in various philosophies that were consonant with revelation and those that were not.

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