When I received and read the advance copy of the Holy Father's latest encyclical two weeks ago, I contacted Dean Dougherty immediately and asked him to consider sponsoring a symposium on the document. He responded positively and with characteristic enthusiasm. I am grateful to him and to the distinguished panel that he has assembled this afternoon.
One of the reasons why I wanted to move forward quickly with this event is, what I believe to be, our role as the national University of the Church. That role brings with it a responsibility of leadership among Catholic institutions of higher learning in the United States. Our efforts, therefore, to give priority to the study of issues that impact our Church and, in particular, the Catholic academic community, should be foremost in our scholarly agenda.
In his apostolic constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae, Pope John Paul stated that Every Catholic University, without ceasing to be a University, has a relationship to the Church that is essential to its institutional identity.
… (B)ecause it is an academic institution and therefore part of the international community of scholarship and inquiry, each institution participates in and contributes to the life and the mission of the universal Church, assuming consequently a special bond with the Holy See be reason of the service to unity which it is called to render to the whole Church (ECC, 27).
Our institution has possessed such a bond from our foundation, in our history, in our tradition and will continue to do so in our current and future service. As such, The Catholic University of America --- in the words of our statement of goals --- "seeks to maintain a position of special excellence in the fields of theology, philosophy and canon law."
Among these disciplines, the Holy Father noted in his most recent encyclical, "philosophy has the great responsibility of forming thought and culture (FR, 6)." The excellence that our University pursues, therefore, is a quest to exercise that responsibility in the most compelling manner. To that end this afternoon's program is aimed.
And so we focus our attention upon Fides et Ratio, the 13th encyclical letter issued by Pope John Paul II. This document, given in the 20th year of his pontificate, continues to exhibit the reflection of a man who is both scholar and pastor, philosopher and theologian, leader and companion on the journey to bear witness to "the truth of faith (FR, 6)."
In the ancient synagogue, where Jesus himself was trained to think about the faith of Israel, there were two rooms. These were separate chambers, but they were strongly related to each other, and they were called the beit ha-knesset and the beit ha-midrash, the place where the congregation, the knesset, prayed, and the place for study, midrash. Not only Jesus was trained there, but so were his first followers and the apostles, and so, preeminently, was Paul the rabbi and apostle. This ancient and emphatic connection between prayer and study, that is between faith and reasoning, was carried over into early Christianity as it became a separate and missionary religion, carrying the Gospel to the ancient world.
There is one particular theme that can be explored in a discussion of this encyclical, and that is the renewal of theology by philosophy. It is a theme which is brought forward toward the end of the document, but it is no less present, if indirectly, throughout the entire work. This theme itself recalls earlier engagements in the history of the church, specifically in the medieval and ancient periods, where, accompanied by much debate, philosophy became essential to the articulation of a coherent, credible and truthful theology. Since my own field is that of patristic theology and the history of early Christianity, I am going to return at the end of my remarks to point out the precedent in the earliest period, when the fathers of the church were forging a Christian way of life and a complex and subtle body of doctrine. In that epoch, ancient philosophy, logic, grammar and rhetoric were all employed in the explication of Christian thought, and all were tested against the revelation possessed by the church, that revelation itself already having been made intelligible in its actual, contextual expression.
The task of rendering Christian faith intelligible has always built, and continues to build upon the habits and the insights of those centuries. In this encyclical, the Holy Father offers a genuinely thoughtful proposal for the tasks of philosophy, and a fair and generous critique of recent philosophical approaches which he judges less than useful. He calls philosophy to its ancient task: to propose a way of life as well as to carry out an investigative and descriptive program, but without specifying one particular task, or one particular kind, of philosophy.
To do this, the encyclical focuses on, first, the interplay between a philosophy which searches for a true account of human life as well as a way of living which is oriented toward truth and the search for truth, and, second, Catholic theology understood as reflection on revelation in the light of continuous teaching, itself set into a dialogue with particular human cultures for the purpose of their evangelization.
However, theology is not thereby restricted to the evangelical task alone, and neither is philosophy restricted to the analytical or investigative, or purely critical work toward which it has often devolved. Rather, there seems to be an overlap or a creative tension which exists between the two endeavors.
In the light of their dual, but linked roles, I want particularly to call attention to the final sections of the encyclical, where a dual task for theology is outlined. The Holy Father urges that theology renew its specific methods in the service of evangelization; and he depicts theology as looking toward the ultimate truth, never content to stop short of the goal, namely the Blessed Trinity.
It is useful to dwell briefly upon this terminology, which has been employed from the origins of Christian theology, to characterize the very activity of the theologian in particular, and of Christians generally, whose thought and lives theologians are to serve. The word "looking" linked with the word "toward" suggests an ancient theme in theology, to which I will turn more specifically at the end of these remarks. That ancient theme goes under the names theoria or epopteia in Greek, or visio in Latin Christianity. The activity toward which it points is one in which the theologian is required continually to gaze at, and consider the object of her desire, God, knowing that she will never attain or comprehend it.
Indeed, section 93 of the encyclical specifies this object: the mystery of the Triune God. It also specifies theology's "prime commitment". Strikingly, its prime commitment turns out to be the deepest and most perplexing paradox offered in Christian thought: "the understanding of God's kenosis, a grand and mysterious truth for the human mind, which finds it inconceivable that suffering and death can express a love which gives itself and seeks nothing in return." Here by alluding to a Biblical text, Philippians 2.6-11, the Holy Father certainly intends to indicate that the work of the theologian always begins in Scripture itself, and that it must also, as its goal, become a witness -- that authoritative witness is a prime activity of theology. In Philippians 2.5, after all, Paul urges his readers to "have that mind in yourselves which was in Christ Jesus."
Here, it seems to me, there is an implied critique of the tendency to work out the incarnation according to the logical requirements of human thought and action, and it would not be difficult to draw out that critique. Biblical exegesis, the first task of the theologian, systematic theology, and moral theology all suffer when their particular methods are so reduced. In particular, the meaning to which all theological disciplines are called, writes the Holy Father, is "the truth about God which God himself communicates through the sacred text. Human language thus embodies the language of God, who communicates his own truth with that wonderful "condescension" which mirrors the logic of the Incarnation." (section 94) This term "condescension" has its origin in the Greek fathers' creation of the word synkatabasis, the unaccountable appearance of God, making himself available for human expression even though his person is always just beyond the horizon. Gregory of Nyssa had this synkatabasis in mind when, in On the Life of Moses, he described the perpetual movement of theology toward God, in an inexhaustible intelligibility which itself never exhausts its subject: God has so arranged his self-revelation in this way.
Without proposing a critique of theology which does not center itself around incarnation and theoria, however, it is germane to make the following points: theology is called by this encyclical to be more diligent and more studious, to free itself from various faddish reductionisms and at the same time to employ philosophy in continuing to explore the Trinity and the paradox of divine kenosis, along with the patterns of Christian life which those two truths imply. Furthermore, theology is not expected to develop a single mode of exploration; anchored in Biblical and conciliar teaching, various modes of exploration and expression are appropriate for different cultures.
The following point is also important: the document notes that such activities are already present in the history of Christian theology, particularly in the period of early Christianity. In most summary fashion it could be put as follows: to live the philosophical life as a Christian was to theologize. But philosophy of ancients was already undergoing a process of careful sifting. Among the fathers, often disagreeing with each other about specific points and procedures, there was a recognition of the need to make distinctions, and more distinctions, to study the Biblical text itself already influenced by contemporary philosophy with the aid of every tool available to the scholar, pressing the text as far as possible to yield its meaning in the light of human experience.
In this regard, the encyclical seems to allude to patristic theology when it refers to the "human and humanizing sense of God's word" which will result from such an approach. Theology is responsible for presenting the fuller sense of Scripture, and performing exegesis without theology has only impoverished exegesis. Likewise, moral theology is weakened without being firmly located in philosophical reflection on Christian faith and life.
The re-anchoring of faith, and reflection on faith which is theology, in the classical tradition of philosophy without diminishing the development of either one -- such is the proposal of this encyclical. In such a way, and sometimes only in such a way, can Christian discourse be related to other religions.
The Gospel is truly universal in its intent and expression. But to become universal it needs the efforts of thousands of human minds, bringing it to expression again for its intelligibility in each time and place, reconstituting in our own epoch the beit ha-midrash for the beit ha-knesset. Such is the forceful theme of this encyclical.
Remarks on the Papal Encyclical Fides et Ratio
October 27, 1998
John C. McCarthy
The School of Philosophy
The Catholic University of America
The word "modern" is of Latin provenance. A decent dictionary will tell you that it derives from modernus, a mediaeval coinage, which simply means "new." Quite frequently, when we identify something as modern, we are concerned with a matter of fashion, that is to say, the most ephemeral aspect of the thing. Nevertheless, the modern in this sense is sometimes thought to be the measure of a thing's goodness: we then embrace novelty for novelty's sake. Interest in the modern originally had a much more substantial or serious bearing, however. The modern first became fashionable in philosophical circles, and as everyone knows, philosophers have little patience for ephemera. Furthermore, what philosophy means by modernity goes quite away back. Even by conservative estimates, philosophers began to consider themselves "modern" almost four centuries ago. Hence Descartes, who died in 1650, is commonly held to be the "father" of modern philosophy.
Initially, philosophy used the term "modern" by way of distinguishing itself from the "ancient" philosophy of the Greeks and the Romans, and from the Christian Aristotelianism of the medieval period, the "in between" time. Among the first chronicles of the conflict was Jonathan Swift's The Battle of the Books, and as Swift foresaw, modern thought would neither quickly triumph nor succumb to quick defeat. That which made and makes modern philosophy novel, its specific difference so to speak, was not at first clear to all parties. But whatever it was and is, in time it became evident to everyone that modern philosophy did not mean to make all things new in a manner that St. Paul would have thought entirely praiseworthy. Indeed, by now no one would deny that in the modern era the renewal of philosophy has often involved considerable hostility to Christian revelation. And obviously one of the principal targets of the modern philosophical critique of Christianity has from the beginning been the Church, which takes the Christian revelation at His word when He tells the world that He invests in the Church the authority to act and speak publicly in His name. There is nothing surprising about the modern assault upon Christ and His body, of course. As St. Paul observes, and as the encyclical Fides et ratio reminds us, "'the wisdom of this world' and the wisdom of God revealed in Jesus Christ" are in important respects starkly at odds (§23; also §§45-46).
The neologism "post-modernism" entered academic parlance with great clamor only a few years ago, but already are there signs that it is fading in importance, so hungry, it seems, are we for novelty, or modernity. Nevertheless, the term does name a significant trend in contemporary thought. For a considerable number of thinkers have recently issued public statements to the effect that modern philosophy is dead, or at least in a persistent vegetative state. On the basis of this diagnosis, however, they have not proposed a return to ancient philosophy or medieval theology, as one might have expected. Rather, they have gone hungrily on to cannibalize the several body parts of modern philosophy. Post-modern reason is reason that is untiring in proclaiming its weariness of its patrimony. Presumption is a sin, but one may surely hope to be forgiven if, having read Fides et ratio, one finds such a turn of events somewhat comical. For with this encyclical, the Bishop of Rome, and the Supreme Pontiff of the universal church, weighs in with a commanding defense of reason, even of reason as it has found expression in modern philosophical opponents of revelation, against post-modern self-disgust. Voltaire rallied his party around the motto "écrasez l'infâme," but as his own children have begun to turn on him, it is the unspeakable who rushes to his aid.
The peripety in the modern quarrel between faith and reason brought about by this encyclical may well provoke a laugh, or a wry smile, but it must be said that such reactions conform neither to the letter's letter nor its spirit, and for reasons that have little to do with the sober tone characteristic of the literary genre. Fides et ratio does not gloat in triumph over the debility of post-modern thought; there is no stooping to conquer here. After all, Pope John Paul II is the first pope to have had a thorough-going education in modern thought, as Kenneth Schmitz has recently observed. It is no surprise, then, that early on in this encyclical, he takes pains to praise philosophical modernity: "Modern philosophy clearly has the great merit of focusing attention on man" (§5; see also §§51, 54, 59, 60, 62, and 91). It may seem ironic that Pope John Paul II should undertake from within the household of faith to defend reason, even modern reason, against contemporary assaults upon it, but the letter makes plain that faith itself has every interest in the continued health of reason, and in particular, reason in its most radical form, which is to say, philosophy. To begin to see why that is so, I should like to mention another possible, and erroneous, response to the letter.
Often enough, the terms "faith and reason" are treated by us like a pair of boxers engaged in a bloody slugfest. No matter how grueling the spectacle, we are able to take some pleasure in it because, of course, we watch the event at a safe remove. Perhaps we root for one side or the other; we may despair or delight in this punch or that jab. In the end, however, the contest is for us a bit of entertainment. Whatever the outcome, we know that after the bout is over, we must return to what we regard as our real lives: our jobs, our families, and our unending quotidian worries. Tertullian might well wonder what Athens had to do with Jerusalem, but in our day many people act as though the real issue were this: what has either got to do with me? Or rather, for many of our contemporaries, even that question is not posed, because an answer has been supplied to them even before they have begun to voice it, namely, "nothing at all." Postmodern hostility to modern philosophy is thus only an academic echo of widespread public indifference to both reason and faith, at least as those terms are understood in this letter. Fides et ratio strikes at the root of such indifference. What ultimately animates this letter is not a defensive desire to shore up the faith by defending the place of reason within the faith (see §38). In complete continuity with his first encyclical, Redemptor hominis, what may prove to be the final encyclical of the Holy Father's papacy is a proclamation on behalf of the dignity of the human being.
Nowadays, most everyone but hardened criminals and brutal but desperate politicians will pay lip service to the "dignity of human life." And among those human beings who do profess the dignity of human life, a good many really do believe that such dignity belongs not only to them as sovereign individuals, but is proper to every single member of the human species. Indeed, a remarkable number of our fellows are hard at work at various humanitarian projects to promote human dignity. What is perhaps the most striking thing about Fides et ratio is its claim that "there is today no more urgent preparation" for the Church's mission in defense of human dignity and the proclamation of the Gospel than "to lead people to discover both their capacity to know the truth and their yearning for the ultimate and definitive meaning of life" (§102). The Church has a "duty to serve humanity in different ways, but one way in particular imposes a responsibility of a quite special kind: "the diakonia of the truth" (§2). And as the encyclical reminds us, despite the tension manifest at times between faith and reason, and between theology and philosophy, what unites both "parties" in their dispute is an interest in the truth. But since, as the encyclical also rightly insists, this interest is not at all a sectarian affair, not constitutive of a party as such, but is rather the preeminently human interest, faith and reason, philosophy and theology, have everything to do with the question of human dignity. To abandon either is to abandon the cause of humanity (§15).
If that is the case, then the Church's service to the truth is a perennial charge. But the Holy Father also underlines that in our own times this duty is especially important. It would be hard to dispute the claim. What Aristotle calls the bios theoretikos, the life devoted to rational pursuit and contemplation of the truth, has always been a chancy business. Human life is always too short and often terribly demanding; moreover, it is relatively easy even for the most gifted thinkers to wander into falsehood and confusion. Perhaps what distinguishes our day from Aristotle's, however, is that theoretical distortions of the truth have achieved unprecedented prominence in public life. The encyclical rounds up the usual suspects, identifying eclecticism, historicism, scientism, pragmatism, and nihilism as among the most powerful elements in the witches brew (§§86-90). Fides et ratio is also quite pointed about the vulnerability of theology -- which is to assist in making the faith understood, by displaying how much it accords with our nature as rational beings, while reminding us constantly that the "object" of the Christian faith, the triune God, infinitely surpasses our rational powers -- to aberrant theorizing. The letter also denies comfort to those romantic souls who suppose that the ordinary faithful are perfectly immune to the abstruse mistakes of philosophers and theologians alike. Surely it is true that "to the pure all things are pure," but it would be naive to suppose that damage done to one part of the body of Christ would leave the rest of the Church untouched. In general, ignorance is no safe harbor from stupidity (see §§46, 55, 81).
I would like to mention another, more local reason for the importance of this diakonia of the truth especially in our day, a reason that others before me have noted, and that is congruent with the encyclical, but not emphasized by it, perhaps because it is addressed first of all to the Bishops of the universal Church (it is also expressly addressed to theologians, to those responsible for priestly formation, to philosophers and teachers of philosophy, to scientists, to all the rest of us, and, in prayer, to the Blessed Virgin Mary). We live under a political arrangement that styles itself a liberal democracy, which is to say that we have arranged matters so as to protect and promote freedom and equality above all else. There are many advantages to this arrangement, advantages we ought hardly to scorn, but it must be said that we liberal democrats find the truth rather an awkward thing to deal with personally and politically. I am not referring primarily to the political scandals of the past months, but to the fact that we in the West tend to reduce all claims to know about anything that really concerns our lives as human beings to the status of mere "opinions" (see §5), by which we mean purely private conjectures or convictions or inclinations. We reduce all claims to the truth to "opinion" because the truth clearly limits our freedom in a certain sense -- it is something we must submit ourselves to -- even if, at a deeper level, it alone can make us free; we do this also because those among us who possess something of the truth are in this respect superior to those among us who do not: knowledge is not the equal of ignorance. Politically and personally, we suppose that the truth will be much easier to handle if we make of it a private affair. But that is to destroy its being as truth, for a private truth is not really the truth at all.
On the other hand, we all of us somehow know deep down that we cannot live solely on the basis of vague guess-work, mute impulses, willful or ignorant confusion, and outright error, all of which we tend nowadays to dress up as "opinions"; we also have a nagging sense that anything less than the truth about our existence forms a very unsteady ground for our lives in common. As Saint Augustine observed in his Confessions, in a passage cited by Fides et ratio, "I have met many who wanted to deceive, but none who wanted to be deceived." We may not hesitate to mislead others, but in the words of the Holy Father, "people cannot be genuinely indifferent to the question of whether what they know is true or not." (§25). Liberal democracy would not want us be deceived, surely, but of itself it offers us very little help in countering threats to our freedom and equality before the truth about God, our lives, and the world around us; still less does it assist us in coming to know the truth. In the words of the French Catholic thinker, Alain Besançon, "In democracy, the contrary of the truth is the meaningless, and the meaningless is a menace to democratic life. The relativity of the truth, its reduction to opinion, the progressive dulling of opinion, create a metaphysical void that causes modern man to suffer, and if it does not cause him to suffer, diminishes him and mutilates him, which is worse." With this splendid encyclical, Pope John Paul II shows, among other things, how the Church might in Besançon's words "help democracy to heal itself from this deficit of the truth that is its hidden and piercing disorder." For this and for still deeper reasons, Fides et ratio deserves the widest possible readership.
Remarks on the Encyclical Faith and Reason
by Monsignor Robert Sokolowski
School of Philosophy
The Catholic University of America
October 27, 1998
The encyclical Faith and Reason has received a very positive response in the Church and in the general public. The editorial in the New York Times of Wednesday, October 21, 1998, entitled, "The Philosopher Pope," is an appraisal that could have been written by a Christian theologian or philosopher. The Church and the Holy Father are addressing a need felt by many people even outside the Christian community.
The encyclical endorses, in the strongest possible terms, the use, autonomy, and excellence of human reason. Its major focus is on philosophy but it also supports the use of reason in other human endeavors, such as science and the liberal arts, which also are expressions of human rationality. Its first sentence says that faith and reason are "like two wings" on which the human spirit reaches the truth of things. The encyclical reaffirms the classical Catholic acceptance of both faith and reason as sources of truth.
It is noteworthy that faith is being used to endorse reason. There are two ways in which human reason can come into its own and become aware of itself. In the ancient world, reason became aware of itself (and hence became philosophical) in the context of nature and political life. In the Christian world, reason became aware of itself within revealed, biblical faith. Both of these ways are legitimate avenues for the self-discovery of reason. It is not the case that reason's self-discovery within faith, its achievement of philosophy within faith, is somehow inadequate. One of the glories of Patristic and Scholastic thought was the discovery, within Christian faith, of human intelligence with its own autonomy and excellence.
Reason is not less authentic because it occurs within faith. This confidence in human intelligence within faith is one of the great lessons of the encyclical. Christian faith not only accepts reason but supports, confirms, and needs human intelligence.
The encyclical says that human nature is ordered toward truth and finds its perfection in discovering it: "one may define the human being as the one who seeks the truth" (§28). It quotes St. Augustine in saying that while there are people who try to deceive others, no one wants to be deceived himself: we inevitably want to know the truth (§25) . These statements are an attractive, existential way of expressing the classical definition of man as the rational animal. We are most ourselves as human beings when we know the truth of things, whether in theoretical or in practical matters. We are rational animals and our reason is the best part in us. Our human dignity is based on the fact that we have reason; even our political rights are grounded in our rationality.
It follows then that we have to have more than political life if we are to have good politics: men must have a life in truth that transcends the political order if they are to avoid being enslaved to the political. Without a sense of truth, without a contemplative and ethical life directed toward truth, the political order becomes the summit of human existence and it becomes sheer power politics, a Machiavellian enterprise, not subordinated to truth or to the human nature disclosed in truth. Political society needs truth to perfect itself. I would suggest that people now know that we must cultivate the search for truth, that politics is not the highest human endeavor, and this felt need is one of the reasons why the encyclical has been so well received.
The encyclical specifically recommends an enthusiastic pursuit of philosophy, and it encourages philosophers to be bold in their work: philosophers should "trust in the power of human reason and not set themselves goals that are too modest" (§56). The Holy Father expresses a rich and demanding task for philosophy: "Philosophy has the great responsibility of forming thought and culture; and now it must strive resolutely to recover its original vocation" (§6). If we are sometimes tempted to think that philosophy has no effect on cultural and social life, we should recall the influence of thinkers like Karl Marx; it was as a philosopher, not as an economist, that Marx has such a great, ifunfortunate, effect on human history.
The encyclical sees elements of philosophy in the wisdom found in all human societies: "Every people has its own native and seminal wisdom, which, as a true cultural treasure, tends to find voice and develop in forms which are genuinely philosophical" (§3). One should not "identify one single stream [of culture and thought] with the whole of philosophy"˜it would be a kind of philosophical pride to do so (§4). Furthermore, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is able to enter into any social context and validate the true wisdom present in it: "The Gospel is not opposed to any culture, as if in engaging a culture the Gospel would seek to strip it of its native riches and force it to adopt forms which are alien to it." Rather, the Gospel brings to each culture the "call to the fullness of truth" (§71).
However, when the Gospel is brought to societies in which it had not yet been inculturated, it cannot reject the developments that have taken place in its own earlier history, which occurred under the guidance of divine providence: "In engaging cultures for the first time, the Church cannot abandon what she has gained from her inculturation in the world of Greco-Latin thought. To reject this heritage would be to deny the providential plan of God. . . " (§72). The encyclical especially mentions India but also refers to Asian, African, and other cultures; such cultures may bring new perspectives to bear on the Gospel, but they must not contradict the deposit of faith as it has developed through history.
The Pope speaks with great enthusiasm for the work of scientists, "expressing my admiration and offering encouragement to these brave pioneers of scientific research, to whom humanity owes so much of its current development. . ." (§106). At the same time, he reminds them not to overlook the wisdom and ethical concerns that should provide the context for their work: "I would urge them to continue their efforts without ever abandoning the sapiential horizon within which scientific and technological achievements are wedded to the philosophical and ethical values that are the distinctive and indelible mark of the human person." Many passages in the encyclical are like this one, which is spoken in the first-person singular; they clearly express the Holy Father's sincere respect for people who seek truth. There is no trace of animosity between religion and science in these words. Such a gesture of friendship can be more powerful than abstract arguments in bringing about a reconciliation between these two forms of the search for truth.
The encyclical is addressed to a very wide audience, but it is officially addressed to the Bishops of the Catholic Church. The encyclical says that the Gospel itself imposes on Pastors the "sapiential task" of providing people with philosophical or human wisdom as well as revealed truth, because such understanding is a necessary context and support for faith, and in our day people desperately need such wisdom. The Pastors "cannot shrink from their duty to undertake" this task (§85). The Pope says that the Bishops are witnesses of divine and catholic truth, and such witness is part of the mission entrusted to them. Part of the Gospel message is to communicate human wisdom, or philosophical wisdom, to people. Important natural truths need to be preserved, such as the reality of human freedom and dignity, the meaningfulness of language, the very possibility of knowing truth: "In reaffirming the truth of faith, we can both restore to our contemporaries a genuine trust in their capacity to know and challenge philosophy to recover and develop its own full dignity" (§6).
What people need now is a confirmation of the fundamental human vocabulary through which they express their own humanity: the vocabulary that expresses our responsibility, our dignity, our capacity to speak the truth. There are many currents of thought that deny the validity of such words, that try to show that we are not responsible, not truly different from animals, not really anything more than neural, biological, chemical, and electrical systems. In such a cultural context, the Church must offer philosophical wisdom as well as revealed truth. She must help people speak a classical human vocabulary in a modern dialect.
The encyclical Faith and Reason strongly recommends the work of St. Thomas Aquinas and it is interesting to compare this recommendation with that found in the encyclical Aeterni Patris of 1879. The latter gave Thomism a kind of official status within the Church. It was an appropriate action for the historical circumstances and led to a great renewal of philosophical and theological studies. Faith and Reason sets a different tone. It endorses and recommends Aquinas because he is such a good conduit for the classical tradition, but it insists that "the Church has no philosophy of her own nor does she canonize any one particular philosophy in preference to others." The reason for this reserve is very interesting: "even when it engages theology, philosophy must remain faithful to its own principles and methods. Otherwise there would be no guarantee that it would remain oriented to truth and that it was moving toward truth by way of a process governed by reason" (§49).
In other words, the Church refrains from making any philosophy official because she does not want to endanger the autonomy of philosophy. Her restraint is based on a respect for philosophy and for natural wisdom. A philosophy based on authority would not rest on its own evidence, and hence it would not be philosophy. It is to protect philosophy that the encyclical allows it to function on its own: "A philosophy which did not proceed in the light of reason according to its own principles and methods would serve little purpose." The major reason for the Pope's reluctance to canonize a philosophy is this respect for the autonomy of the discipline, but there may be a historical and practical reason as well: having lived under an ideological regime in Poland and having seen how artificial, empty, and inauthentic an "official philosophy" inevitably becomes, he is all the more sensitive to the nature of philosophical evidence. Aeterni Patris led to a great flourishing of philosophical activity in the Church; it is interesting to ask whether Faith and Reason will also lead to an intellectual flowering and to speculate about what kind it will be.
The encyclical has a lot to say about theological wisdom. It states that it is different from natural wisdom and that the two truths, of reason and revelation, are "neither identical nor mutually exclusive" (§9). The Pope speaks in moving terms about "the wisdom of the Cross" and says, "It is not the wisdom of words, but the Word of Wisdom that St. Paul offers as the criterion of both truth and salvation" (§23). He says that far from repressing human intelligence, the Gospel of salvation enlightens it: "What a challenge this is to reason, and how great the gain for reason if it yields to this wisdom."
The Holy Father speaks about theological education, especially for priests but also for the laity and religious, and he stresses the importance of philosophy in such formation, expressing his "surprise and displeasure" (§61) that some people have shown a lack of interest in this philosophical dimension. He insists that the study of philosophy is "fundamental and indispensable to the structure of theological studies and to the formation of candidates for the priesthood" (§62) and warns that "lack of philosophical competence" can make people vulnerable to fads and fashions (§55).
The encyclical does not answer all the questions that could be raised concerning the relationships between faith and reason and philosophy and theology. It leaves to scholars and thinkers the task of working out the problems in detail, but it does stake out an official, institutional position: it declares that the Church respects and supports human reason in all its forms, and asserts her belief that faith illuminates reason and does not extinguish it. It commits the Church to this understanding of faith and reason. The encyclical expresses trust in human intelligence along with hope in the God of Christian faith.
One of the great contributions the Church can make to the contemporary world is to offer it philosophical wisdom. The major vehicle by which the Church can do this is her network of educational institutions, especially her colleges and universities. It is regrettable that in the past thirty years the role of philosophy has been greatly diminished in these institutions. The Thomism of the previous age was largely abandoned and nothing has taken its place. This loss of a philosophical dimension has been an important cause of the secularization of Catholic colleges and universities, because no distinctive Catholic position remained to be represented in the liberal arts and sciences; the Catholic dimension was restricted to the religious and theological units of the institutions. What is needed in Catholic schools is a streamlined Thomism that will speak earnestly to modern problems and also remain "in organic continuity with the great tradition" (§85). The encyclical calls on the Church to do what everyone expects her to do: to be a witness to the truth, both of God and man.
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