Wednesday, April 19, 2017

On the Relationship Between Faith and Reason

Pope John Paul II, Fides et Ratio: On the Relationship Between Faith and Reason

What is faith? What is reason? What is the relationship between faith and reason? Pope John Paul II addressed this issue in his encyclical letter, Fides et Ratio. The letter is divided into seven chapters. The chapters cover revelation, faith seeking understanding, understanding the creed, the relationship between faith and reason, the role of the magisterium, the interaction between philosophy and theology, and current requirements and tasks. The pope sees faith and reason mutually benefiting each other. In describing faith and reason, the pope asserts, "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" (1).

The pope states that the "desire for knowledge is characteristic of all people" (16). He believes there is "an indissoluble unity between the knowledge of reason and the knowledge of Faith." There does not need to be any competition between reason and faith because "each contains the other, and each has its own scope for action." Faith and reason belong together and humanity is harmed by separating them. Each of them have their place in the search for truth.

The pope thinks that it is the "nature of the human being to seek truth." This pursuit is not only for truths which are partial, temporal, scientific, and empirical; but the ultimate good. He urges philosophers not to forget the important questions. Some of these questions are: what is my purpose? What gives meaning to life? What is good? What is evil? He states, "Their search looks towards an ulterior truth which would explain the meaning of life. And it is therefore a search which can reach its end only in reaching the absolute."

The pope narrates a history of the relationship between faith and reason and concludes: "The fundamental harmony between the knowledge of faith and the knowledge of philosophy is confirmed. Faith asks that its object be understood with the help of reason; and at the summit of its searching reason acknowledges that it cannot do without what faith presents." In other words, faith needs reason and reason needs faith. They are friends, not enemies.

There are many other important truths in the Pope's letter. He sees the relation of faith and reason to be mutually beneficial. "A life without faith is too narrow a place to live." Faith needs reason in its search for understanding.

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