The Remarraige of Faith and Reason

     Real truth points to and is preserved by God such that faith and reason used together may discover truth. Faith and reason are “two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.”[1] This paper aims to show that both academia and the common man have wrongly divorced philosophy and theology. Secondly it will attempt to show that there is a natural and necessary relationship between faith and reason. Lastly this paper will demonstrate that the unity of faith and reason, not the divorce, helps one see man, not as another beast, but as a man with a higher end in life.

     In recent times scholars have wrongly attempted to divorce philosophy from theology. There are many contemporary thinkers who hold that one’s religious beliefs are subjective and have no place in the objective world of academia. They hold that faith and reason are not compatible. This position results in an academic culture that rejects any notion of God for “[Academia’s] brand of scholarship forbids God access to the world.”[2]

     The Catholic Church, however, holds that faith and reason are compatible both faith and reason are rooted in God Himself, in whom there is no contradiction. “It is the one and the same God who establishes and guarantees the intelligibility and reasonableness of the natural order of things upon which scientists confidently depend.”[3] There is one God who is the Way, the Truth and the Life,[4] not a god of faith alongside a god of science.

     Taking as its starting point the fact that God exists, a point that can be demonstrated by reason without the aid of faith, the Catholic Church makes it clear that by leaving God out of academia, scholars run the risk of discovering either wrong or incomplete truths.[5] The Church does not promote fideism, the replacing of reason by faith. Nor does She promote scientism, “the philosophical notion which refuses to admit the validity of forms of knowledge other than those of the positive sciences; and it relegates religious, theological, ethical and aesthetic knowledge to the realm of mere fantasy.”[6]

     Since God exists and is the source of all knowledge it is impossible for there to be a contradiction between faith and reason because this would imply a contradiction in the source of truth, God[7] “In God there lies the origin of all things; in him is found the fullness of the mystery and in his glory consists; to men and woman there falls the task of exploring truth with their reason.”[8] The fullness of truth resides in God and man comes to learn that truth through his God – given gift of reason. Reason assists faith and faith assists reason.

     The Church has no philosophy of her own. She promotes any line of thinking that requires both faith and reason working together to lead on to a more complete understanding of truths.  Yet the works of St. Thomas Aquinas and scholastic through are often taken as a guide because they are essentially tied to the marriage of faith and reason.[9]

     Those who wish to divorce theology from philosophy argue that one should use only his gift of reason with no assent to faith. These thinkers are correct in noting that it is not contrary to man for him to use his reason. What separates man from brute animals is his capacity for reasoning. All men should make use of their gift of reason.  “Reason is God’s greatest gift to man, and the victory of reason over unreason is also the goal of the Christian Life.”[10] These proponents of divorcing theology and philosophy, have, however, while correctly recognizing the capacity of man to reason, rejected a notion of metaphysics. For some of these thinkers only those things that can be empirically proven should be taken as true. They argue that the mathematical fact 2+2 = 4 is true because it can be empirically demonstrated while the existence of an angel is not true, because it cannot not be empirically proven to be true.

     Even some thinkers who believe in the existence of God claim that philosophy and theology are two separate subjects and as such should never interact with each other. This claim is absurd because all sciences interact with each other. Medicine, for example, requires the science of chemistry to assist in fighting diseases with drugs and physics requires the use of mathemetics for its theorems.

     It is proper for the science of philosophy to accompany theology and all the other sciences because it is the science of first principles and ultimate causes. “Philosophy is the science which by the natural light of reason studies the first causes or highest principles of all things, in other words, the science of things in their first causes, in so far as these belong to the natural order.”[11] Since philosophy is the study of things in their first causes it is proper for philosophy to accompany theology. “It is the particular responsibility of philosophy to accompany critically the development of individual academic disciplines, shedding a critical light on premature conclusions and apparent certainties.”[12]

     While the supereme being, God, is studied in both theology and philosophy, it cannot be forgotten that theology and philosophy are distinct subjects, each with their own distinct procedures which must be followed. One should not use the procedures of philosophy to do theology and vice a versa. “Even when it engages theology, philosophy must remain faithful to its principles and methods.”[13]

    Philosophy and theology are two distinct sciences which are united and necessarily relate to each other. Simply because philosophy and theology are distinct sciences should not imply that their fields cannot including the subject matter of the others science while respecting the procedures of each science. Faith and reason have reciprocal relationships; truth is discovered by faith and reason working together. Pope Benedict XVI is correct when he claims “reason and faith need one another in order to fulfill their true nature and their mission.”[14]

      Since both theology and philosophy are the study of one and the same truth, there is an inseparable correlation between faith and reason. Pope Benedict XVI summarized this correlation between faith and reason best when he claimed “I believe in order to understand and I understand the better to believe.”[15] Theology and philosophy, while separate sciences matters, are so closely linked in their subject matter. It is impossible to do theology without philosophy and impossible for a truth of philosophy to contradict a truth of theology.

       Through one’s use of reason, his faith is nurtured through every one of his experiences. “Let your faith mature through your studies, work, sport, and art.”[16] One’s relationship with God, faith, is also either nurtured or hindered by one’s everyday experiences. “The ultimate purpose of personal existence, then, is the theme of philosophy and theology alike.”[17]

     Theology and philosophy are enhanced when they are accompanied by each other. Pope John Paul II correctly claims that one cannot discuss theological issues without the assistance of philosophy. “Without philosophy’s contribution, it would in fact be impossible to discuss theological issues.”[18]

     For philosophy and theology to mutually benefit each other it must be shown that what Pope John Paul II teaches dogmatically in his encyclical letter Fides et Ratio, namely that there is no contradiction between faith and reason is true. “This truth, which God reveals to us in Jesus Christ, is not opposed to the truths which philosophy perceives. On the contrary, the two modes of knowledge lead to truth in all its fullness.”[19] The pontiff says faith and reason are not opposed to each other, rather they are complimentary, and further he warns that  they ought not be separated from each other for this would deter the discovery of truth. “Therefore, reason and faith cannot be separated without diminishing the capacity of men and women to know themselves, the world and God in an appropriate way.”[20]

     Reason assists faith by purifying and structuring her message. “Religion must continually allow itself to be purified and structured by reason.”[21] Philosophy specifically serves theology through the study of the structure of knowledge and personal communication by enabling one to speak about the issues of theology in a universal way. Philosophical thought enables one to truly understand what is meant by faith because nature is the first stage of divine revelation.[22] While God clearly places within every human heart the desire to know Him and reveals Himself to every human person, the human person first comes to experience God through the senses. “This is to recognize as a first stage of divine revelation the marvelous book of nature.”[23] Everything that we know is first known through our senses. Philosophy grasps the truth by assisting in the understanding both “the logical and conceptual structure of the propositions in which the Church’s teaching is framed.”[24] Through the use of reason one is able to understand more clearly the messages of faith.

     The claim that philosophy aids the study of theology is not a claim that truths revealed to us by faith are created by human reason. “The truth made known to us by reason is neither the product nor the consummation of an argument devised by human reason.”[25] Faith, unlike reason, is not of human origin, it is not an innate capacity. It is a gift of God.

     Faith also assists reason while remaining loyal to its own science of theology. “It (faith) does not replace reason but can help to make essential values more evident.”[26] Human reason without the aid of faith, still comes up with an incomplete or wrong truth. “Philosophy has good reasons to be willing to learn from religious traditions.”[27] Faith supplies the element of truth, which can then be used by philosophy to give a greater understanding of the article of faith. “Not only is faith the mother of all worldly energies, but its foes are the fathers of all worldly confusion.”[28] Much of the confusion in the world of academia stems from the rejection of faith.

     Faith serves philosophy by challenging the philosopher to move beyond the natural to demonstrate the truth found in God, to not stop short of the whole truth by accepting only what is visible to him. “Of itself, philosophy is able to recognize the human being’s ceaselessly self-transcendent orientation toward the truth; and with the assistance of faith, it is capable of accepting the foolishness of the cross as the authentic critique of those who delude themselves that they possess the truth.”[29] Because in God rests the origin and the fullness of all things without faith, the philosopher cannot do philosophy to its fullest. “[Faith] impels reason to extend the range of its knowledge until it senses that it has done all in its power, leaving no stone unturned.”[30]

     While it is true that reason alone can demonstrate truths about God, by reason alone one cannot come to the whole truth about God. “Reason therefore needs faith if it is to be completely itself.”[31] Aristotle for example was able to prove the existence of God. Aristotle, however, was unable to come to the whole picture about God, for example the Trinity. While reason can begin to explain the Trinity, by demonstrating the existence of a God, it cannot demonstrate the existence of the Trinity. Aristotle was able to prove God’s existence through reason, but unable to prove how many gods there were, let alone that there are three Persons in one God. While later philosophers may have been able to prove the existence of a monotheistic God, it is impossible to demonstrate by reason alone the existence of the Trinity.

    The unity of faith and reason, not the divorce, helps us see man not as another beast, but as a man with a higher end in life. This relationship between faith and reason is seen clearly in the question of whether or not virginity is a virtue. The debate about the virtuosity of virginity is a strong example of how philosophy helps explain truths of the faith and how articles of faith give insights into philosophical truths. Virginity is “continence whereby integrity of the flesh is vowed, consecrated and observed in honor of the creator of both soul and flesh.”[32] It will be shown that attempting to answer this question about the virtuousness of virginity, with only the use of reason brings us to a wrong conclusion, while answering this question with reason in the light of faith brings one to a conclusion that is both logical and true.

     The Bible mentions that virginity is a virtuous act. “With respect to virgins, I have not received any commandment from the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who is trustworthy, thanks to the Lord’s mercy. It is this: In the present time of stress it seems good to me for a person to continue as he is.”[33] While the Bible clearly teaches that there is at minimum nothing wrong with virginity some thinkers see a contradiction here between faith and reason. Many fundamentalists argue that virginity is sinful because goes against the law of nature that man is ordered to procreate.

     A recent online petition, asking Pope Benedict XVI to lift the ban of priestly celibacy is a strong demonstration of the errors that can arise when faith and reason are not applied properly to each other.[34] This petition misrepresents St. Thomas Aquinas’s doctrine of natural law and tries to assert that all men should engage in sexual activity if they desire to follow the natural law. While the author of this petition doctors up St. Thomas’s teaching on natural in pseudo academic way he never does demonstrate exactly how it is that living a celibate life goes against the natural law.

    St. Thomas, a Catholic philosopher, who recognized the vital role of faith in the pursuit of reason, was in fact, able to demonstrate that virginity is not immoral and is not opposed to the Bible. St. Thomas agrees that things are wrong if they go against right reason, but demonstrated virginity does not go against right reason because it is ordered towards a supernatural end which is possible because man is not merely a natural creature, but possesses a soul which is supernatural.[35]

     Using Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, St. Thomas demonstrated that the  good for a man is threefold, the good of external things, bodily goods, and goods of the soul. These goods are hierarchical because the external goods are ordered to the bodily goods, and the bodily goods are ordered to the goods of the soul.[36]

       The purpose of celibacy is not simply to abstain from sexual intercourse for the sake of abstaining from sexual intercourse, but rather it is ordered towards an end, that is the good of the soul. Celibacy is to be undertaken for the sake of the kingdom of God. “Virginity for the sake of the kingdom of heaven is an unfolding of baptismal grace, a powerful sign of the supremacy of the bond with Christ and of the ardent expectation of his return, a sign which also recalls that marriage is a reality of this present age which is passing away.”[37] Man understands well the idea of forgoing lower goods for higher goods. An athlete, for example, forgoes the good of certain foods which would hinder his athletic performance.

     The kingdom of heaven, an eternal good is greater, than the good of the world. It follows then that a man or woman who gives up his ability to love in the exclusive way that marriage requires out of love and sacrifice for God is living a life that is perfectly ordered, and is doing a virtuous act.

     Without faith in the kingdom of heaven, one is unable to come to the understanding that virginity is good. Thinking simply with human reason, a reason that is restricted to this world, leads one to the wrong conclusion because it leaves out an important variable, the supernatural variable, the kingdom of heaven, that to which the soul is ordered.

     To believe that faith and reason are opposed to each other is to settle for incomplete truths or even falsities. In the case of virginity, without an article of faith that the soul will live on after the death of the human person, one arrives at the false belief that virginity is not a virtuous act. “Of itself, philosophy is able to recognize the human beings ceaselessly self-transcendent orientation toward the truth; and with the assistance of faith it is capable of accepting the foolishness of the cross as the authentic critique of those who delude themselves that they possess the truth.”[38] With faith and reason working together properly one comes to an understanding about the beauty of virginity.

     Philosophy itself is only able to go so far without the assistance of faith; however with an understanding of faith the truth is a reveled. Through the correct use of mans abilities for reason and the gift of faith one is able to comprehend the truth. When faith and reason are divorced the door is opened to error. By using both faith and reason one comes to understand the beauty of virginity.

[1] John Paul II, “Encyclical Letter on the relationship between Faith and Reason” Fides et Ratio (14 September 1998), Greeting.

[2] Ratzinger Joseph Cardinal, On the Way to Jesus Christ (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005), 63.

[3] Fides et ratio, §34 (Boston: Saint Paul Books and Media, 1998), 47.

[4] Jn 14:6

[5] For Philosophical proofs for the existence of God see St. Thomas Aquinas’s 5 proofs found in the Summa Theologica Ia, q. 2, a. 3.

[6] Fides et ratio, § 88.

[7] For a philosophical proof for the existence of God please see again St. Thomas Aquinas’s 5 proofs for the existence of God found in the Summa Theologica Ia, q. 2, a. 3. For an explanation of how it is that God is the source of all knowledge please see the section on St. Thomas in Pasnau, Robert, “Divine Illumination”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2008/entries/illumination/&gt;.

[8] Fides et Ratio, § 17.

[9] Fides et ratio, § 49-56.

[10] Spe Salve, § 23.

[11] Maritain Jacques, An Introduction to Philosophy (Lanham: Oxford, 2005), 69.

[12] Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and Jurgen Habermas, The Dialects of Secularization On Reason and Religion (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2006), 57.

[13] Fides et Ratio, § 40.

[14] Pope Benedict XVI, “Encyclical on Hope” Spe Salve  (18 March 2011), §23, at The Holy See, http://www.vatican.va

[15] Ratzinger, On the Way to Jesus Christ, 158.

[16] Pope Benedict XVI, Address to the youth at the vigil with the young people during World Youth Day on July 19th  2008 (18 March 2011), at The Holy See, http://www.vatican.va.

[17] Fides et Ratio, § 15.

[18] Fides et Ratio, § 66.

[19] Fides et Ratio, § 34.

[20] Fides et Ratio, § 16.

[21] Ratzinger Europe Today and Tomorrow  (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 80.

[22] Fides et Ratio, § 5.

[23] Fides et Ratio, § 19.

[24] Fides et Ratio, § 66.

[25] Fides et Ratio, § 14.

[26] Ratzinger, Europe Today and Tomorrow, 66.

[27] Ratzinger and Habermas, The Dialects, 42.

[28] Chesterton G.K., Orthodoxy (New York: Barnes & Noble, 2007), 132.

[29] Fides et Ratio, § 23.

[30] Fides et Ratio, § 14

[31] Spe Salve, § 23.

[32] Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, II-II, q. 152, a. 1, in Summa theologica: Complete English Edition in Five Volumes, vol. 4, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (Notre Dame, IN: Christian Classics, 1981).

[33] The New American Bible. Catholic Biblical Association of America, ed. New York: P.J. Kenedy & Sons, 1970. 1Cor 7:25-26

[34] The petition can be found at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/celibacy/

[35] ST, II-II, q. 152, a. 2, trans. English Dominican Province.ST II-II 152.2

[36] ST, II-II, q. 152, a. 2, trans. English Dominican Province.ST II-II 152.2

[37] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 1619.

[38] Fides et Ratio, § 23.

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