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Friday, 20 March 2015

Knowledge of Divine Things Part Eight Fides et Ratio One

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 (cf. Ex 33:18; Ps 27:8-9; 63:2-3; Jn 14:8; 1 Jn 3:2).

Thus does St. John Paul II begin what some consider his best encyclical. Even this short introduction reminds us of his debt to Aquinas and Augustine.

The first paragraph indicates that truth is contemplated, known, loved, through faith and reason. One loves God with charity, the theological virtue which transcends all other virtues, which resides in the will.

Immediately, the saint takes us into the great longings of the human heart as all desire to know God and know themselves. This desire separates men and women from beasts.

Asking the basic questions, some of which I wrote about earlier in this series and in the reposts, one comes to answers depending on one's "god". St. John Paul II writes this: In fact, the answer given to these questions decides the direction which people seek to give to their lives.

The role of the Church, and that means us, is to lead others to truth, when we have appropriated this truth to some extent. This is the call of the Church, to lead all into the truth as much as we can know God while on earth. 

It is her 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.1 This mission on the one hand makes the believing community a partner in humanity's shared struggle to arrive at truth; 2 and on the other hand it obliges the believing community to proclaim the certitudes arrived at, albeit with a sense that every truth attained is but a step towards that fullness of truth which will appear with the final Revelation of God: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully” (1 Cor 13:12).

St. John Paul II then reminds us all that philosophy, which is the love of wisdom, leads us to truth, the truth of ourselves and God. It is a tool, sadly, which has been set aside by most Western educational systems, I must add.

Again, the saint notes that wisdom is won by those who wonder (remember my posts in 2013 summer, on the normative child, who keeps wonder and desires to learn?). I could make a list of things which squash wonder, but sin is the first. Here is the saint.

Without wonder, men and women would lapse into deadening routine and little by little would become incapable of a life which is genuinely personal.

What a damning statement is so few words! Without wonder, one falls into mediocrity in the spiritual life and then, most likely, serious sin. One loses the chance for a personal relationship with God because one sinks into a sort of beast-like existence of feeding the sensual appetites and not feeding the intellect. Discipline, simplicity of life and ascetism are the marks of those who desire to know themselves and who have not lost wonder, the gift we all have as children until it is ruined or lost.

Although times change and knowledge increases, it is possible to discern a core of philosophical insight within the history of thought as a whole. Consider, for example, the principles of non-contradiction, finality and causality, as well as the concept of the person as a free and intelligent subject, with the capacity to know God, truth and goodness. Consider as well certain fundamental moral norms which are shared by all. These are among the indications that, beyond different schools of thought, there exists a body of knowledge which may be judged a kind of spiritual heritage of humanity. It is as if we had come upon animplicit philosophy, as a result of which all feel that they possess these principles, albeit in a general and unreflective way. Precisely because it is shared in some measure by all, this knowledge should serve as a kind of reference-point for the different philosophical schools. Once reason successfully intuits and formulates the first universal principles of being and correctly draws from them conclusions which are coherent both logically and ethically, then it may be called right reason or, as the ancients called it, orthós logos, recta ratio.

For those who have been following this blog for years, you know I have written about right reason, from many viewpoints. One can look at the tags of St. Thomas Aquinas for a start.

Philosophy marks the Bride of Christ as seeking to know God and know self. St. John Paul II follows in the footsteps of so many saints and popes, theologians and philosophers, in writing this encyclical.

On her part, the Church cannot but set great value upon reason's drive to attain goals which render people's lives ever more worthy. She sees in philosophy the way to come to know fundamental truths about human life. At the same time, the Church considers philosophy an indispensable help for a deeper understanding of faith and for communicating the truth of the Gospel to those who do not yet know it.

What is missing from synod discussions is this discipline of thought, this way to come to know fundatmental truths. But, the synod merely reflects the Church at large, floundering in a sea of opinions not based on reason, but only on emotional responses, or neo-con attempts to explain the truth.

One cannot merely point out the problems without working on the solutions.

To be continued....