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Saturday, 21 March 2015

Knowledge of Divine Things Nineteen Fides et Ratio Eleven

The Church, like a good mother, has watched over the forms of philosophy, especially in this modern era of mega-confusion. St. John Paul II points out that at the First Vatican Council, the relationship between reason and faith was stated clearly in the Catholic context.

It is not only in recent times that the Magisterium of the Church has intervened to make its mind known with regard to particular philosophical teachings. It is enough to recall, by way of example, the pronouncements made through the centuries concerning theories which argued in favour of the pre-existence of the soul,56 or concerning the different forms of idolatry and esoteric superstition found in astrological speculations,57 without forgetting the more systematic pronouncements against certain claims of Latin Averroism which were incompatible with the Christian faith.58
If the Magisterium has spoken out more frequently since the middle of the last century, it is because in that period not a few Catholics felt it their duty to counter various streams of modern thought with a philosophy of their own. At this point, the Magisterium of the Church was obliged to be vigilant lest these philosophies developed in ways which were themselves erroneous and negative. The censures were delivered even-handedly: on the one hand,fideism 59 and radical traditionalism,60 for their distrust of reason's natural capacities, and, on the other, rationalism 61 and ontologism 62 because they attributed to natural reason a knowledge which only the light of faith could confer. The positive elements of this debate were assembled in the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Filius, in which for the first time an Ecumenical Council—in this case, the First Vatican Council—pronounced solemnly on the relationship between reason and faith. The teaching contained in this document strongly and positively marked the philosophical research of many believers and remains today a standard reference-point for correct and coherent Christian thinking in this regard.

To stray from Rome into pseudo-philosophies not based on Revelation or Tradition is to invite confusion. We see this in the 19th and 20th centuries, with the long list of "isms". And, yet, as adult Catholics, we need to learn how to argue these "isms" by recognizing why they include fallacious thinking.

All "isms" which seem so popular are based on either a faulty view of who man is or what the goal of man is. Materialism, for example, denies the spiritual life entirely, emphasizing that the here and now is all there is-only the material is real, not the spiritual, which simply does not exist for the materialists.

Remember that encyclicals are written for the entire Church, not just clerics. The popes speak to us in all of these words. St. John Paul II notes the progress of the First and Second Vatican Councils in dealing with questions of philosophy, with the happy resurgence of Thomism and Scholasticism form the pre-Thomist, Anselm, called the Father of Scholasticism.

...Pope Leo XIII with his Encyclical Letter Æterni Patris took a step of historic importance for the life of the Church, since it remains to this day the one papal document of such authority devoted entirely to philosophy. The great Pope revisited and developed the First Vatican Council's teaching on the relationship between faith and reason, showing how philosophical thinking contributes in fundamental ways to faith and theological learning.78More than a century later, many of the insights of his Encyclical Letter have lost none of their interest from either a practical or pedagogical point of view—most particularly, his insistence upon the incomparable value of the philosophy of Saint Thomas. A renewed insistence upon the thought of the Angelic Doctor seemed to Pope Leo XIII the best way to recover the practice of a philosophy consonant with the demands of faith. “Just when Saint Thomas distinguishes perfectly between faith and reason”, the Pope writes, “he unites them in bonds of mutual friendship, conceding to each its specific rights and to each its specific dignity”.79
58. The positive results of the papal summons are well known. Studies of the thought of Saint Thomas and other Scholastic writers received new impetus. Historical studies flourished, resulting in a rediscovery of the riches of Medieval thought, which until then had been largely unknown; and there emerged new Thomistic schools. With the use of historical method, knowledge of the works of Saint Thomas increased greatly, and many scholars had courage enough to introduce the Thomistic tradition into the philosophical and theological discussions of the day. The most influential Catholic theologians of the present century, to whose thinking and research the Second Vatican Council was much indebted, were products of this revival of Thomistic philosophy. Throughout the twentieth century, the Church has been served by a powerful array of thinkers formed in the school of the Angelic Doctor.

We know that St. John Paul II had a soft spot in his heart for phenomenology, but he uses Thomas actually more, even in this encyclical. The point is that the tradition of reason and faith moving together into the 21st century is a good sign of life in the Church. 

But, what happened, one might ask, between this encyclical written in 1998, and so full of optimism, and 2015? The saint encouraged philosophy in the seminaries, but I know of one seminary in which th studies of Aquinas are an option, not a requirement. 

59. Yet the Thomistic and neo-Thomistic revival was not the only sign of a resurgence of philosophical thought in culture of Christian inspiration. Earlier still, and parallel to Pope Leo's call, there had emerged a number of Catholic philosophers who, adopting more recent currents of thought and according to a specific method, produced philosophical works of great influence and lasting value. Some devised syntheses so remarkable that they stood comparison with the great systems of idealism. Others established the epistemological foundations for a new consideration of faith in the light of a renewed understanding of moral consciousness; others again produced a philosophy which, starting with an analysis of immanence, opened the way to the transcendent; and there were finally those who sought to combine the demands of faith with the perspective of phenomenological method. From different quarters, then, modes of philosophical speculation have continued to emerge and have sought to keep alive the great tradition of Christian thought which unites faith and reason.

...This idea of philosophy as an important basis for theological studies is not a new one in the Church-merely forgotten. I am happy to see that John Paul II mentions Suarez, who I like very much.  Sadly, real thinkers are still not being formed in the seminaries, and the previous lack of such a discipline was obvious last October on the synod floor.

I wish to repeat clearly that the study of philosophy is fundamental and indispensable to the structure of theological studies and to the formation of candidates for the priesthood. It is not by chance that the curriculum of theological studies is preceded by a time of special study of philosophy. This decision, confirmed by the Fifth Lateran Council,87 is rooted in the experience which matured through the Middle Ages, when the importance of a constructive harmony of philosophical and theological learning emerged. This ordering of studies influenced, promoted and enabled much of the development of modern philosophy, albeit indirectly. One telling example of this is the influence of the Disputationes Metaphysicae of Francisco Suárez, which found its way even into the Lutheran universities of Germany. Conversely, the dismantling of this arrangement has created serious gaps in both priestly formation and theological research. Consider, for instance, the disregard of modern thought and culture which has led either to a refusal of any kind of dialogue or to an indiscriminate acceptance of any kind of philosophy.

I trust most sincerely that these difficulties will be overcome by an intelligent philosophical and theological formation, which must never be lacking in the Church.

I suggest praying to this saint for the synod.

to be continued...