Fides et Ratio (Relationship between Faith and Reason)

Pope John Paul II, 1998

The encyclical Fides Et Ratio was written by Pope John Paul II to his fellow bishops in 1998 to address the relationship between faith and reason.  It was written to support and defend traditional Christian philosophy.  His Holiness believed that faith and reason together allow people to know and love God.

There is a long tradition of philosophy in human history stretching back to the ancients.  The first absolute certain truth in every person’s life (other than the fact that we exist) is the certainty of death.  This fact has led all people to ponder their existence and purpose.  The Church also has a long history of participating in the realm of philosophy since discovering the ultimate truth – Jesus Christ.

John Paul II begins by noting the primacy of revelation in the Church’s quest for truth.  Faith is necessary to discover the full truth; reason alone is not sufficient because its central weakness is its susceptibility to sin.

Christianity did not immediately embrace philosophy, but gradually individuals like Saints Justin and Augustine played central roles in the development of Christian thought.  Later, St. Thomas Aquinas recognized that “nature, philosophy’s proper concern, could contribute to the understanding of divine Revelation.”  (Paragraph 43)  He also noted that faith builds about and perfects reason.

Truth is discovered through the interaction of faith and reason together.  Both are necessary to know God, reason alone cannot result in the ultimate truth.  The rise of rationalism has led some to believe in the separation of faith and reason but the result has been disastrous for the promotion of life.

In the academic setting, theology has had increased interaction with philosophy and reason.  As a separate academic field, philosophy ought to continue its search for the meaning of life and in the process consider spiritual realities, while theology continues to proclaim the Gospel to the world.  While the two disciplines should remain separate, when philosophy conflicts with revelation, the Church will continue to point out when errors are made.

The Holy Father concluded by emphasizing that God and truth are one and the same and that both reason and faith are needed to understand this certainty.

Link to: Fides et Ratio

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