I. Fides et Ratio: A selective summary with Evangelicals in mind
The church´s diaconate of the truth. From the writings of Confucius and Lau Tze, to the preaching of Tirthankara and Buddha; to ancient Greek philosophy to the Biblical writings, we find a clear testimony of man´s innate desire to seek answers to life´s ultimate questions: Who am I? Where do I come from and where am I going? Why does evil exist? Is there life after death?
The church cannot and will not be alien to this quest for meaning and truth. The personal and infinite God of the Bible reveals Himself in words and actions because He wants to enter into relationship with men and women whom He made in his image. God´s revelation in Jesus Christ, “the way, the truth and the life” is the climax of God´s revelatory activity and the incarnation gives ultimate meaning and purpose to man´s existence. The church, therefore, comes along side fellow men and women of all cultures to join as fellow traveler in this journey, as well as to take up its responsibility to announce the good news of Jesus Christ, the way, the truth and the life. This proclamation of the truth is not incompatible with the humility of a fellow traveler, and with the awareness that our present knowledge is partial.
Orthos logos, ratio recta. Man has at his disposal valid means to assist him in his quest for truth, and among these the Pope wishes to highlight philosophy. Philosophy is here understood in its original etymological sense, man deploying his cognitive powers to think systematically and rigorously about the fundamental questions of his existence. As such, this philosophizing is a shared heritage of humanity and must be distinguished from individual philosophical schools or traditions. Orthos logos, ratio recta, right reason refers to nearly universally shared rules of philosophical engagement such as non contradiction, causality, finality, which all human beings share as they seek to grasp the truth, the good, the beautiful, and God. The pope rejects the philosophic pride of those who absolutize partial systems as though they were complete and final, and urges philosophers to return to the fundamentals of their discipline and to start afresh their quest with renewed energy and vision. Contemporary philosophy, however, has chosen to stress only its limitations and conditionings and abandon its search for truth and absolutes. There is a false humility in the refusal to ask the ultimate questions of meaning and absolutes, being content instead with only partial, relative, inconclusive opinions, and believing we have finally outgrown our naïve predecessors. Addressing explicitly postmodernism, the pope warns of its dangers and excesses, yet affirms that the phenomenon in all its manifestations “deserves adequate attention.”
Knowing in relationship. In chapters 3 and 4, the author discusses the relationship between faith and reason by speaking first, echoing Augustine via Anselm, of “Credo ut intelligam” (I believe that I may understand) and later of “Intellego ut credam”. Faith is relying on the knowledge acquired by others, and, therefore, this knowledge through belief may be perceived as imperfect, to be perfected through testing and other means. However, belief is often perceived as richer from a human perspective because it involves not only a person´s cognitive powers but equally his radical capacity to trust others, thus entering into a more intimate relationship with them. Reason also needs to be sustained in its searching by a trusting dialogue. The pope mentions in connection with this the ancient belief in friendship as an essential ingredient of the philosophical life. In chapter 4, dealing with the history of interaction between Christians and philosophy, Anselm of Canterbury is again put forth as a worthy model, who stressed that the human intellect must pursue that which it loves: The more It loves, the more it seeks to know. This relational knowledge is reflective of man´s nature as a “being in relationship,” in relationship with himself, with others, with the world and with the triune God.
“Biblicism” and other mistaken approaches to truth. The church does not canonize a particular a specific philosophy to the detriment of others, and defends the autonomy of philosophy to operate according to its own methods. This autonomy is rooted in the fact that human reason is oriented to truth and has the capacity in itself to attain it. The church does, however, have a duty to respond when certain questionable philosophies threaten the correct comprehension of revealed truth. This exercise of its diaconate of the truth is humble yet tenacious, and motivated by the church´s commitment to uphold recta ratio, human reason reflecting correctly on the truth. No philosophical tendency or approach can claim to be liberating of man, and at he same time shutting him out from the inherently human quest for absolute truth. Thus from the second half of the XIX century onward, the magisterium has raised its voice against fideism and radical traditionalism, for their distrust of the natural capacities of reason, as well as rationalism and ontologism, for attributing to reason what is attainable only by faith. Addressing the “current situation,” the pope addresses the prevailing relativism of postmodernism, as well as the “Biblicism” that would make Scripture or its exegesis the only reference point for truth. Although Scripture is the “supreme norm of faith” the church affirms the critical importance of tradition and the teaching authority of the church. In relation to Scripture, the Pope also considers erroneous the dependence on a single hermeneutical approach for discerning the meaning of the text. Rather, a wider exegesis is required, which will enable the exegete to understand, together with the whole church, the full sense of the texts. Biblical scholars must be aware of the dependence of the various hermeneutical approaches on concrete philosophical traditions, and thus exercise discernment before applying them to the text.
Truth and culture. Ephesians 2:13-14. In Christ, cultural barriers are broken down. Cultures, when they are deeply rooted in human nature, carry with them the testimony of the innate openness of man to transcendence and to universals. Thus, the fact that the church encountered Graeco-Roman philosophy first, in no way precludes her interaction with other cultural traditions, for instance, those of India. A great spiritual movement carries Indian thought on a quest for an experience which, freeing the spirit of time and space conditionings, has absolute value. Indian Christians must gather from this rich heritage those elements compatible with their faith, so as to enrich Christian thought. Criteria for this exercise of discernment have been provided in the conciliar declaration Nostra Aetate. Thus, the proclamation of the gospel to various cultures, though it requires a response of faith, does not prevent them from preserving their own cultural identities. The people of God have a universality which is capable of welcoming each culture, and supporting its own implicit quest for the truth. Christians carry a multi-cultural heritage and are called to constantly interact with their culture and others as well as to challenge them, exceed and surpass them.
Tasks for today. The Pope wraps up Fides et Ratio with some concrete proposals for action aimed at philosophers, theologians and churchmen. Inherent in the biblical faith is a fundamental “philosophy” which may be summarized thus: “the world and human life have meaning and are oriented towards the fulfillment of that meaning in the person of Jesus Christ.” The contemporary environment, characterized by the fragmentation of knowledge, the “linguistic turn,” and the abandonment of the search for truth and meaning, calls for an epistemology which reaches beyond phenomena to intelligible reality, darkened as it may be, and which affirms that human language is capable of expressing transcendent reality, analogically, but truthfully nonetheless. In light of this, the following tendencies are o be rejected as inadequate: Eclecticism, by which is understood the haphazard mixing of different ideas and systems without paying adequate attention to their coherence or their historical context. Pragmatism which rejects any reference to immutable criteria and leaves all decisions to the vote of a majority. Historicism, with its rejection of eternally valid and truthful beliefs, since everything is contextual and historically limited. The fundamental task of theology in our world, therefore, is to present the intelligence of revelation and the content of faith, the true center of which is the mystery of the Triune God.