085 Faith and Reason


“When the turmoil of this century’s final decade has at last been reduced to a memory, it is my personal hope,” says Patrick Henry Reardon in “A Metaphysical Prophet,” Touchstone (Nov/Dec 1998), “that, of all the works published in these recent days, the most influential will prove to be Fides et Ratio, this year’s encyclical of Pope John Paul II, calling for a strenuous renewal of philosophy along the ancient lines bequeathed us by the philosophia perennis et universalis” (p. 4).

A careful reading of Fides et Ratio (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, c. 1998) validates Reardon’s recommendation, for, as John Paul says, “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” (p. 7). Divinely commissioned to minister to a needy world, Christ’s Church is, importantly, duty-bound “to serve humanity in different ways, but one way in particular imposes a specific responsibility: the diakonia of the truth” (p. 10). What’s desperately needed, in a world which too easily reduces “needs” to material desires, is the renewal of metaphysics and ethics.

To rightly proclaim the Truth–nourishing hungry souls with the bread of life– the Church must illuminate “the first universal principles of being” and derive therefrom “conclusions which are coherent both logically and ethically,” promulgating what “may be called right reason, or, as the ancients called it, orthos logos, recta ratio” (p. 13). Right reason, like a “logon” granting one access to the Internet, connects us with what is objectively real. For too long, the pope insists, philosophers (working out Protagoras’ prescription that “man is the measure of all things”) have concentrated on epistemology, the ways we think, on the process of knowing, neglecting what we really long to know, what there is to think about–reality. For it’s one of the marvels of our nature as human beings that we have the “capacity to know the truth, to come to a knowledge which can reach objective truth by means of that adequatio rei et intellectus to which the Scholastic Doctors referred” (p. 103).

Our minds are in fact capable of knowing things, of knowing objective reality. “Faith clearly presupposes that human language is capable of expressing divine and transcendent reality in a universal way–analogically, it is true, but no less meaningfully for that. Were this not so, the word of God, which is always a divine word in human language, would not be capable of saying anything about God” (p. 106). Ultimate Reality, God Himself, stands revealed in His Son, Jesus Christ. To proclaim Christ is to proclaim Truth, to call thinkers to reflect upon Him.

Thus we believe in order to understand–credo ut intellegam. “In the Incarnation of the Son of God we see forged the enduring and definitive synthesis which the human mind of itself could not even have imagined: the Eternal enters time, the Whole lies hidden in the part, God takes on a human face” (p. 21). In the Incarnation we most clearly discern “the enigma of human existence, the created world and God himself” (p. 101). Yet we also think in order to believe–intellego ut credam. In our desire to know God we are truth-seekers, and to fully find Him we must learn to align our minds in accord with Him, to know the truth which is in fact Who He Is. In finding Him we also find the meaning of life and the joy of eternal life.

The synthesis of faith and reason John Paul desires was early evident as second century apologists such as St. Justin Martyr philosophized as Christians. Accordingly, Clement of Alexandria “called the Gospel ‘the true philosophy,’ and he understood philosophy, like the Mosaic Law as instruction which prepared for Christian faith and paved the way for the Gospel” (P. 52). The early work of Justin and Clement found its consummation in the magisterial work of St Augustine, who gleaned truth from Greek and Latin as well as Christian sources and in whom “the great unity of knowledge, grounded in the thought of the Bible, was both confirmed and sustained by a depth of speculative thinking” (p. 54). Centuries later, the same work was done by St Anselm, who declared: “‘To see you was I conceived, and I have yet to conceive that for which I was conceived'” (p. 56).

Even more magisterially, St Thomas Aquinas, “an apostle of the truth,” blended faith and reason, the Bible and philosophy. It was his genius to recognize “that nature, philosophy’s proper concern, could contribute to the understanding of divine revelation. Faith therefore has no fear of reason, but seeks it out and has trust in it. Just as grace builds on nature and brings it to fulfillment, so faith builds upon and perfect reason. Illuminated by faith, reason is set free from the fragility and limitations deriving from the disobedience of sin and finds the strength required to rise to the knowledge of the Triune God” (p. 58).

Yet, for all his reliance on reason, Aquinas acknowledged the Holy Spirit as the real source of wisdom (which is a gift of the Spirit). Wisdom, hand-in-glove with the sanctifying grace which is infused into us, actually transforming us in our hearts, enables us to “know by way of connaturality; it presupposes faith and eventually formulates its right judgment on the basis of the truth of faith itself” (pp. 59-60). Such supernaturally-imparted wisdom certainly demands study on our part, just as we must turn on the faucet to get water, but it ultimately comes to us from God. “Profoundly convinced that ‘whatever its source, truth is of the Holy Spirit’ (omne verum a quocumque dicatur a Spiritu Sancto est) St. Thomas was impartial in his love of truth,” whether derived from philosophy or theology (p. 60). All truth is, indeed, God’s Truth.

John Paul insists the Church “does not canonize any one particular philosophy” (p. 66), so we must remain appreciatively open to various approaches. On the other hand, or course, the Church must oppose those philosophies (e.g. rationalism or fideism, Marxism or Pragmatism) which contradict or subvert the truths of the Faith. But, equally importantly, the Church must encourage her thinkers to continually do the hard work of philosophy and theology. Appropriate models for such work include St Augustine, who said: “To believe is nothing other than to think with assent. . . . Believers are also thinkers: in believing, they think and in thinking they believe. . . . If faith does not think, it is nothing.’ And again, ‘If there is no assent there is no faith, for without assent one does not really believe'” (p. 99).

Augustine’s words indicate how thinking and believing must never be severed. To evangelize the world, to be Christ’s Church in the world, demands we do both. And here we must follow St Bonaventure, who, in “his Itinerarium Mentis in Deum invites the reader to recognize the inadequacy of ‘reading without repentance, knowledge without devotion, research without the impulse of wonder, prudence without the ability to surrender to joy, action divorced from religion, learning sundered from love, intelligence without humility, study unsustained by divine grace, though without the wisdom inspired by God'” (p. 127).

John Paul II has, in several of his recent encyclicals, provided the entire Christian community with some helpful instruction as the Third Millennium approaches. Fides et Ratio joins Evangelium Vitae (1995) and Veritatis Splendor (1993) as a “must read” for all of us concerned with the Church and the world we live in.

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Kelly Monroe, a chaplain to the graduate students at Harvard University, several years ago launched the Harvard Veritus Forum to encourage vital Christian life on a thoroughly secular campus. She has, accordingly, published Finding God at Harvard: Spiritual Journeys of Thinking Christians (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing Company, c. 1996), a collection of 42 short essays by Christians who have had some association with the university.

Revealingly, only two of the 42 essayists are members of the Harvard faculty! Indeed, Monroe’s work in some ways seeks to challenge and countervail the ethos of the university’s current ethos. She entered Harvard Divinity School (HDS) in 1987, hoping to find both intellectual challenges and clear Christian perspectives. Amazingly, at an orientation session, “I gathered that one was not to speak of Jesus or the Bible without a tone of erudite, even if irrational, cynicism” (p. 347). The “J-word” at Harvard is the unmentionable Jesus! HDS was filled with neo-pagan, eco-feminist, and Wiccan advocates, where posters urged students to attend “Dames Divinitas” sessions devoted to “dancing, drinking, and debauchery; for women only” (p. 348).

Though Harvard had been established, in accord with its motto, to represent “‘Truth for Christ and the Church,” in these days, as one student says, “Everything is taught at HDS except for the gospel of Jesus Christ. Why? Because the gospel would transform their behavior and other mockeries of God and his Word. HDS tries to shipwreck Christians. . . . ‘” (p. 348). However, Monroe found, outside the HDS classrooms, there were numbers of devout Christians attending Harvard! Often they were doing graduate work in business, or pursuing degrees in medicine or physics. So, rather than flee the university campus, Monroe involved herself in ministerial work and discovered some vibrant believers whose testimonies grace the pages of this book.

Of the two-score essays, I can only commend a few, though most all are most worth reading! In “My Search for the Historical Jesus,” Todd Lake, a 1982 graduate, recounts how he was initially influenced by Josh McDowell, who challenged him to consider the claims of Christ Jesus. He also tells of how Mother Teresa, speaking at Harvard the year he graduated, “incessantly–I mean incessantly referred to Jesus,” though Harvard Magazine managed to report the event “without once hinting that she might even have mentioned” Him (p. 43). His curiosity piqued, Lake turned to the Sources! And he found, especially in the Hebrew Scriptures and their messianic predictions, persuasive confirmation concerning Who Jesus Is. Lake became a believer and is today engaged in Christian ministry.,

Glenn Loury, now an acclaimed professor of economics at Boston University, describes his spiritual journey, testifying to the grace of God in his life. An ambitious academic, Loury profited from his Harvard degree and soared high in terms of grants, acclaim, prestigious awards and positions. But inwardly he found no joy, life hardly worth living. He was married, but manifestly failed to be a good husband. In time, however, he heard the gospel! And, consequently he was “born again!” As he says, “I was dead and now I am alive, not because of my own recuperative powers but due to the power of Christ to mend a broken life, to ‘restore the years the locusts have eaten'” (p. 70). That inner transformation now bears fruit in his efforts to promote justice and righteousness in his teaching and writing.

International students, such as a former Hindu, Krister Sairsingh, add their perspectives. Turning away from his childhood teachings, Sairsingh found Christ, as a result of reading the Gospels, before coming to Harvard. Now teaching philosophy at the Russian State University in Moscow, he takes advantage of opportunities to share his faith, emphasizing two themes. “They are the holiness of God and the uniqueness of Christianity among the religions of the world” (p. 189). On another continent, Lamin Sanneh grew up in Gambia. Reared in a devout Muslim environment, he too found Christ through reading the New Testament. After studies in England and Lebanon, he taught for several years at Harvard. Now a tenured professor at Yale University, he devotes much of his scholarly work to demonstrate the positive impact Christian missions had on Africa.

At Harvard, as in much of the world, Christians are clearly a minority! Yet, as this book demonstrates, even in the most highly secularized of places there is a vigorous leaven, an enlivening presence, of Christ’s followers who are making a difference in their world. When we’re tempted to despair of the darkness, such books remind us that there are strong lamps still burning almost everywhere!

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Two Asbury Theological Seminary professors, Scott R. Burson and Jerry L. Walls, have teamed up to write C.S. Lewis & Francis Schaeffer: Lessons for a New Century from the Most Influential Apologists of Our Time (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, c. 1998), a fascinating and first-rate study of two representatives of the “paleo-orthodoxy” the authors admire.

After providing a helpful “biographical foundation” for both men (the material on Schaeffer was particularly interesting and helpful for me), we learn how they understood “the nature of salvation.” Lewis primarily emphasized the importance of infused grace, of personal transformation, hardly ever considering “justification by faith,” while Schaeffer (true to his Presbyterian convictions) strongly asserted the importance of classic Protestant doctrine. Beyond this, however, Schaeffer throughout his life sought to blend his concern for authentic spirituality, for sanctification, with his doctrine of imputed grace.

Concerning God’s sovereignty and man’s free will, the two men certainly take different approaches. Lewis, taking Augustine’s view that God stands outside time and thus sees everything in an instant rather than sequentially, finds it easier to emphasize that our freedom does not contradict God’s sovereignty. .” He generally portrayed God as a loving Father and propounded a message of “tough love.” Schaeffer, however, was deeply committed to Calvinistic principles and struggled to find room for human response to God’s Will. He tended to envision God as a Judge, and those who fell under His condemnation experience what the authors call “tough luck.” In such areas, the Reformed theology of Schaeffer clearly conflicts with the Anglican-Arminian views of Lewis.

When you turn to “biblical authority and divine inspiration: the great evangelical divide,” you again find Lewis and Schaeffer taking somewhat divergent positions. Lewis clearly trusted the biblical texts and accepted them as fully inspired. His critiques of “demothylogizers” such as Bultmann were trenchant and powerful. Yet he took what many of us call a “plenary” position on biblical inspiration, which proffered him a somewhat broader “ridge” on which to stand when explaining it. Schaeffer, true to his Fundamentalistic convictions, frequently emphasized “inerrancy” in ways which Lewis would have judged “bibliolatry.” At this point, Burson and Walls clearly prefer Lewis’s position, noting that Schaeffer’s “ridge” is too narrow for solid footing. Schaeffer did, however endorse the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, a document the authors believe Lewis would have likewise endorsed.

Both Lewis and Schaeffer, of course, defended the faith. They were apologists. As such they developed strategic, offensive, and defensive ways of contending for the truths of Christianity. Schaeffer tended to concentrate on the mental dimensions of faith, persuasively arguing that what’s needed most of all is the Truth which stands revealed in Scripture. Lewis, persuaded that our real faith problems reside in the will, more frequently focused on repentance, obedience, the processes of soul-making which conform us to Christ. And they both have much to teach us!

The book’s final chapter, “21 Lessons for the 21st Century,” is an intriguing list of items, levers with which to think as we move into the new millennium. Most of the 21 are drawn from both Lewis and Schaeffer, though they obviously differ in their emphases. This chapter, and the entire book, is a fine explanation of why one should study these great apologists, increasingly relevant, it seems, the longer they’re dead!