It is this conviction which I stressed in my Encyclical Letter Veritatis Splendor: “There is no morality without freedom... Although each individual has a right to be respected in his own journey in search of the truth, there exists a prior moral obligation, and a grave one at that, to seek the truth and to adhere to it once it is known”.25
The moral obligation is twofold. One obligation belongs to the individual, and the other to the society, to allow this search for truth.
Moving on and picking up where I left off on Saturday, St. John Paul II reminds us of the danger of a highly technological culture which has given up asking the basic questions on the nature of man and the goal of man.
In my first Encyclical Letter I stressed the danger of absolutizing such an approach when I wrote: “The man of today seems ever to be under threat from what he produces, that is to say from the result of the work of his hands and, even more so, of the work of his intellect and the tendencies of his will. All too soon, and often in an unforeseeable way, what this manifold activity of man yields is not only subject to 'alienation', in the sense that it is simply taken away from the person who produces it, but rather it turns against man himself, at least in part, through the indirect consequences of its effects returning on himself. It is or can be directed against him. This seems to make up the main chapter of the drama of present-day human existence in its broadest and universal dimension. Man therefore lives increasingly in fear. He is afraid of what he produces—not all of it, of course, or even most of it, but part of it and precisely that part that contains a special share of his genius and initiative—can radically turn against himself”.53
Fear underlies the sexual revolution, in my opinion. as people seek comfort in sex rather than the harsh reality of facing one's self in the Dark Night. Fear causes people to stop growing, to get caught up in seeking comfort of all kind. Lust and greed, as well as gluttony, can come from a fear of being alone in an increasingly man-made environment.
In the wake of these cultural shifts, some philosophers have abandoned the search for truth in itself and made their sole aim the attainment of a subjective certainty or a pragmatic sense of utility. This in turn has obscured the true dignity of reason, which is no longer equipped to know the truth and to seek the absolute.
Both the search and desire for a subjective certainty and utilitarianism, distort a view of man and society to the point of destroying the very dignity of humans, and the need for the individual, independent relationship with God.
We have seen how the Church must intervene and contradict false philosophies, which too often become ideologies. Some of these ideas are repetition, but worthy of reconsidering.
In our own century too the Magisterium has revisited the theme on a number of occasions, warning against the lure of rationalism. Here the pronouncements of Pope Saint Pius X are pertinent, stressing as they did that at the basis of Modernism were philosophical claims which were phenomenist, agnostic and immanentist.66 Nor can the importance of the Catholic rejection of Marxist philosophy and atheistic Communism be forgotten.67
Later, in his Encyclical Letter Humani Generis, Pope Pius XII warned against mistaken interpretations linked to evolutionism, existentialism and historicism. He made it clear that these theories had not been proposed and developed by theologians, but had their origins “outside the sheepfold of Christ”.68 He added, however, that errors of this kind should not simply be rejected but should be examined critically: “Catholic theologians and philosophers, whose grave duty it is to defend natural and supernatural truth and instill it in human hearts, cannot afford to ignore these more or less erroneous opinions. Rather they must come to understand these theories well, not only because diseases are properly treated only if rightly diagnosed and because even in these false theories some truth is found at times, but because in the end these theories provoke a more discriminating discussion and evaluation of philosophical and theological truths”.69
And, some of the clerics at the synod are caught up in the various errors of thinking, which St. John Paul II neatly describes below.
An example of this is the deep-seated distrust of reason which has surfaced in the most recent developments of much of philosophical research, to the point where there is talk at times of “the end of metaphysics”. Philosophy is expected to rest content with more modest tasks such as the simple interpretation of facts or an enquiry into restricted fields of human knowing or its structures.
In theology too the temptations of other times have reappeared. In some contemporary theologies, for instance, a certain rationalism is gaining ground, especially when opinions thought to be philosophically well founded are taken as normative for theological research. This happens particularly when theologians, through lack of philosophical competence, allow themselves to be swayed uncritically by assertions which have become part of current parlance and culture but which are poorly grounded in reason.72
It is painfully obvious that so many bishops and even cardinals lack philosophical competence, and are swayed for popular ideas....Have we not seen that in America last week?
There are also signs of a resurgence of fideism, which fails to recognize the importance of rational knowledge and philosophical discourse for the understanding of faith, indeed for the very possibility of belief in God. One currently widespread symptom of this fideistic tendency is a “biblicism” which tends to make the reading and exegesis of Sacred Scripture the sole criterion of truth. In consequence, the word of God is identified with Sacred Scripture alone, thus eliminating the doctrine of the Church which the Second Vatican Council stressed quite specifically. Having recalled that the word of God is present in both Scripture and Tradition,73 the Constitution Dei Verbum continues emphatically: “Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture comprise a single sacred deposit of the word of God entrusted to the Church.
Embracing this deposit and united with their pastors, the People of God remain always faithful to the teaching of the Apostles”.74 Scripture, therefore, is not the Church's sole point of reference. The “supreme rule of her faith” 75 derives from the unity which the Spirit has created between Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture and the Magisterium of the Church in a reciprocity which means that none of the three can survive without the others.76
Moreover, one should not underestimate the danger inherent in seeking to derive the truth of Sacred Scripture from the use of one method alone, ignoring the need for a more comprehensive exegesis which enables the exegete, together with the whole Church, to arrive at the full sense of the texts. Those who devote themselves to the study of Sacred Scripture should always remember that the various hermeneutical approaches have their own philosophical underpinnings, which need to be carefully evaluated before they are applied to the sacred texts.
Fideism is one of the many heresies found in the majority of charismatics.
Reason helps us all sort out the dangers of faulty thinking, coming to trust in the sacred absolutes of the Church.
Other modes of latent fideism appear in the scant consideration accorded to speculative theology, and in disdain for the classical philosophy from which the terms of both the understanding of faith and the actual formulation of dogma have been drawn. My revered Predecessor Pope Pius XII warned against such neglect of the philosophical tradition and against abandonment of the traditional terminology.77
56. In brief, there are signs of a widespread distrust of universal and absolute statements, especially among those who think that truth is born of consensus and not of a consonance between intellect and objective reality. In a world subdivided into so many specialized fields, it is not hard to see how difficult it can be to acknowledge the full and ultimate meaning of life which has traditionally been the goal of philosophy. Nonetheless, in the light of faith which finds in Jesus Christ this ultimate meaning, I cannot but encourage philosophers—be they Christian or not—to trust in the power of human reason and not to set themselves goals that are too modest in their philosophizing. The lesson of history in this millennium now drawing to a close shows that this is the path to follow: it is necessary not to abandon the passion for ultimate truth, the eagerness to search for it or the audacity to forge new paths in the search. It is faith which stirs reason to move beyond all isolation and willingly to run risks so that it may attain whatever is beautiful, good and true. Faith thus becomes the convinced and convincing advocate of reason.
One can only say again and again, that reason and faith go together and are not mutually exclusive.
The next section I already reviewed, on St. Thomas Aquinas. In the next post on this encyclical, I shall continue with the saint's review of the overlap of philosophy and theology.
To be continued...