Fides et Ratio

temptation-of-st-thomas-aquinas
Temptation of St. Thomas”, Diego Velazquez, 1632.

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).

– “Fides et Ratio”, Pope John Paul II

The world is good: The belief of the common man living in the atmosphere of post-modernity; in the activity of its development that is the preoccupation of the nations and the cacophony of its industry concerned with the business of life and the planned production of excessive wealth; its fascination with technology that increasingly bridges the distance between cultures and individuals, and seems to democratize the ideals of Western culture; its faith in the progress of human civilization, destined for the voyage into the stars, the very confines of space in a feat of grand discovery worthy of science fiction, to the end, of adventure itself towards a journey of the actualization of human potential in its tentative at omniscience. In its apparent goodness, the world militates for its unification and its pacification, a movement towards globalism incarnate in the efforts of the United Nations, that has contributed to forming an international order of politics and law. In contemporary times, considerations of goodness inevitably disappear behind national calculus and the logic of a computer that interprets human personality according to the code of numeric identity, creating the emergence of the digital self.

 

Goodness is a universal transcendent feature of being that is the object of desire, here, the contemporary world seems to lose all rational categories in the assessment of the good in relation to the evaluation of moral ethics, a reality that disappears behind a subjective apprehension of the world and a utilitarian comprehension of society and of the objectives of the individual person within, forming the frame of a civilization in which the poles of goodness, and the understanding of the Good and of the Evil seem inversed, where there exists no objective frame of reference in the judgement of the global community and its institutions, its laws, its policies, and its values and its aspirations. Contemporary civilization appears tolerant, humane, equal, and concerned with the realization of Peace, Humanity, Civilization, and Science; worthy aspirations though without the guidance of religious wisdom end up misguided and obviated from their end which is the realization of the common good and the supernatural education of the human person into the life of virtue. In a personalist philosophy, human society exists for the human person and all the resources of culture and civilization, the activity of society are to be put at the service of the human individual in the end of the common good. In reality, human history teaches that human society exists for the central act of religious homage to the Divinity, and that religion is the formative element in culture, as such, every society ought to recognize the higher truths of religion as the foundation of its culture and the source of its civilization. The goodness of society, ultimately depends on its living relation to a religious tradition, and its ability to incarnate in its life, the principles and the truths of religious belief, for culture, which is a common activity, exists for God, and the root of every culture, is the cult of religion.

The question of the goodness of the world is determined by its capacity to see the essential in its evolution, a reality that depends on its ability to incorporate vitally into its life the resources of human culture into a patrimony of wisdom, that can guide the human race and provide the education of human beings. Reason is the human being’s highest faculty, a blessing that has been the instrumental cause of human progress and the explanation for humanity’s greatest achievements in its attempt at emancipation from its natural environment, from religion and authority, from God and from political power. The contemporary civilization, in its globalized form, is the development of a Christian culture aborted from its tangential direction: in its essence, it is founded on the spiritual capital and the intellectual patrimony of Christendom and its faith – progress – is the result of the transposition to the temporal sphere of Christian ideals armed with Greek rationality, a linear and historical comprehension of human civilization inherited from Roman Catholicism that is consonant with an acceptance of the inevitable evolution of the human race.

Christendom connotes the mental impression of the unprogressive past of humanity, that period of the Middle Ages in which Western civilization was plagued by disease, strife, superstition, and man was at the mercy of the dominating powers of the State and of the Church, existing in an atmosphere with no rights and freedoms. Yet, it is from this spiritual reservoir that post-modernity owes its abstracted ideals of Progress, Civilization, Charity, universal Peace, and Humanity, having inherited from the bosom of the Catholic Church the universality and the humanity of its intellectual tradition encapsulated in the fruitful marriage between two provinces of epistemological truth: faith and reason, religion and philosophy, the Magisterium and science. The human person is a social animal and a religious being, and the goodness of a culture depends on its capacity to incarnate into society the social introduction of man and to provide for his religious education. The chief defect of contemporary civilization, lies in its historical divorce between faith and reason, between religious wisdom and human science; from this defect have resulted great woes for humanity such as atheism as a result of a general apostasy, the triumph of the materialist conception of the human being, the revolutionary ascendance of totalitarianism, and its corollary, the disastrous invention of the atom bomb, the growing wealth disparity among peoples and within nations, the exploitation of human resources and the pollution of the natural environment as a result of capitalistic development, the degradation of the moral ethos of the individual within society, and the more general espousal of error as a respectable intellectual position as science is no longer protected by religious wisdom.

From the perspective of epistemology, the problem posed by the substance of Faith, is in relation to knowledge, more succinctly, as to whether religious faith constitutes a form of knowledge – 5th century BC Greek philosopher Plato described a broad definition of the term, defining it as “justified true belief”. Knowledge can be stated to be a proposition that is assimilated that describes a fact about the world and that is consistent with reality, in that sense, it is a truth predicate; at the same time, it ought to be “justified”, that is, it requires that the truth be arrived at with sound reasoning and evidence; however, knowledge is itself a belief, an idea that exists in the individual mind which depending on the person can be true or false. That knowledge is a belief is pause for examination, for this convinces the intellect that the possession of knowledge demands a certain faith, a belief in the power of reason to arrive at the truth, a belief in the truth, and the idea existing as a thought in the mind: knowledge is ultimately based on self-evident principles, axioms and postulates such as the principle of non-contradiction, the truth that something cannot come from nothing, and the reality that the external world apprehended through sense experience is real, that is, a faith in realism. Today, knowledge has been circumscribed to the life of the senses observed empirically through the lens of a microscope: empirical science has become the only acceptable source of epistemological certainty because it has realized for Humanity miracles that have enabled it to dominate nature, eradicate disease, and eliminate the ignorance in man, science, with its inventions has revolutionized the life of humanity, putting an end to the millennial agrarian order of society and introduced a technocratic system that centers on economic uniformity and the transfer of information across various means of communication.

Reverting to the problem at hand, as to whether religious faith is a source of knowledge, it is necessary to state in the affirmative and delineate as to what kind of knowledge it provides. Religious faith is a source of knowledge for the human person in the expression of its natural, moral, and spiritual dimensions – from religious faith, the human person comes to know the existence of his nature, which is a substantial unity of an animal body and of a spiritual soul destined to the glory of Heaven; the truth of the Eternal, Divine, and Natural laws that counsel his mind on the course of right reason in loving obedience to the Will of the Creator; the reality of the spiritual world of the creature that transcends the contingency of the visible universe into the divinization of man, a process that demands the co-operation of the creature to the Divine Grace. As a result, the knowledge of Faith is eminently theological, that is, oriented towards God and His Wisdom. The nature of theological knowledge is based on the preambles of the Faith, on the certainty that Faith is founded on the reality that Grace perfects nature, philosophical truth comes to the aid of theology in the rational proofs that constitute the preambles of the Faith as evidenced in the certitude of the existence of God, the authority of the Divinity on which Truth is founded, and on the reality of the Divine Revelation of the Godhead throughout history. Faith supersedes reason in the truth of Dogma, which is doctrine that reveals God, Christ, and His Church but reposes on the preambles that are rational proofs for the objective existence of the Godhead and of the nature of religion, whose elementary foundation is monotheism, the belief in the One God, Creator of the universe and Judge of human history, an assertion that theological knowledge is based on argumentation, proof, and rational consistency: in the final analysis, the truth of religion is reasonable, for Faith transcends reason and elevates human rationality above sense to the sphere of the Divine and the spiritual. Objections have been made against the knowledge of theology, that, because of its personal nature, it is essentially subjective, thus emotional, and hence, irrational, for sentiment is hardly ever a measure of rationality. That theological knowledge is subjective is true because of the fact that it depends on the relation between a Divine Person and a human person, in the case of Christianity, it is a relation of loving filiation between a Father and His adoptive son in the Grace of Christ united by the Holy Spirit. At the same time, there is an objective character to the religious experience that is based on the transcendence of the Faith itself, which rests on Divine Truth for its certainty, on the Wisdom of God for its intelligibility, manifest in the Revelation of the Godhead in Time within the contingency of history, it is founded on the rationality of Faith, in the inner unity and the consistency of Dogma that is centered on Christ and elevated to the knowledge of the Trinity, on the intellectual nature of God Who is a communion of Persons, and on the fact that Faith demands a Revelation of God, a rational exposition of the reality of His existence which ultimately depends on the rational nature of the human being. History is the realm of Divine Revelation, where the fact of prophecy is fulfilled by Divine Motion at specific moments in Time, it is the proof for that fact, of the rationality of religion, for without religion, that is, without belief in the existence of God, there is no movement in Time, no historical process existing as a social tradition that in culture unites a community of people in a common conception of reality – a single thought.

The beginnings of human civilization are inextricably related to the cult of religion, to the belief in a higher power that is the basis of the sensible world of man, and upon whose authority society ultimately depends. The cave paintings of the Paleolithic are essentially, an attempt to curb supernatural power in order to gain success in the subsistence of living such as hunting, and their permanence testifies to the religious sentiment in man who senses that beyond the life of sense, exists a more permanent reality that is its foundation. In the common patrimony of humanity, every culture has been robed in religious form and a civilization as powerful as Egyptian civilization for all its technical achievements and its contributions to science, has been characterized by the worship of the pharaoh king evidenced by the pyramids, the immense tombs reflective of Egyptian religion and of their beliefs in the afterlife. […] Before the Age of the Enlightenment, the 18th century, there has scarcely been a case of a godless culture, of an atheist civilization in which religion is separated from the life of society. It is a peculiar feature of the Western civilization, the separation of religion from social life, the repudiation of belief from culture, whose roots are traced finally to the historical separation of faith from reason, in the affirmation of human science from the authority of religion.

Human reason is a gift from God, rationality reflects a ray of the Divine Intellect that “hast ordered all things with measure, and number, and weight” (Wisdom 11:20), in the labor of reason, man affirms the dignity of his person, a unity of an animal substance and of a spiritual nature, that co-operates with God in the domination of Creation and the erection of the Kingdom of Christ. Reason convinces the human person of the rationality of Faith that rests evidently, on the existence of God, and hence, on the necessity of religion, it is the affirmation of Divine election that predestines the actions of man and guides him towards beatitude, in reason, the creature emerges in a spiritual evolution to the law of progress, in the teaching that life is an evolution that is incarnate in the activity of culture, that is, art, that unites society in a common end, common principles, and a common conception of reality – this is the primary work of religion, to provide for culture to exist and to evolve throughout Time. Religious belief, Fides, is inhibited and impeded by rationalism, an excessive reliance on human reason in an attempt at emancipation from Divine Reason that ends finally in the espousal of doubt, and thus, error. The human creature wants to understand all of reality on the sole powers of his nature, without the guidance of religious wisdom, that protects from error and directs man towards psychological maturity and spiritual perfection. Perfection indeed! Acting in accordance with reason is the school of spiritual perfection that is aimed at the achievement of excellence in virtue and the realization of happiness. Christianity is a historical religion whose conception of history is apocalyptic, that is, aimed at the conflagration of all things moved towards their End, yet, spiritually, it is animated by a movement of spiritual perfection that is predicated on the formation of spiritual maturity, in short, a progression in virtue through the three ages of the interior life: the purgative way, the illuminative way, and the way of the perfect. This division of spiritual perfection is a law of progress in the person, that proves that evolution is the law of human life, and that in the spiritual life no being remains stagnant, but there exists a movement towards progress or regress, towards perfection or imperfection. This principle, finds its extension in the historical belief in the absolute value of spiritual acts, of the irrevocable nature of the choices of the human will engaged in a virulent spiritual battle between opposed principles of movement, Light and Darkness, resulting in the comprehension of the asymmetry of Time: the Incarnation presents the center of the historical process, from which humanity is made a new creation moving necessarily towards the resolution of history in an Apocalypse, a trial by fire and blood in which the powers of Evil are shaken in the expectation of a final Judgement. Christianity is inherently progressive, since it involves a conception of Time that recognizes its singular character in the fact that, the past may not repeat itself, and that the future may present something altogether new, in the attention of the present. This realization of the law of progress has been determinant for humanity, liberating Western civilization from the eternal cycle of universal rebirth that ultimately negated change, the belief that the historical process presented any value, in the Oriental religious metaphysics.

Progress is the faith of modernity, evidenced in its scientific discoveries, its constant militancy for reform, and its belief in the movement of history itself. The historical sense is in its essence, inherited from a sacred history as recorded by the hagiographies of the Catholic Church, it is a social comprehension of the actions of Eternity throughout Time that consecrates history as the realm of human action aided with Divine Grace in the certainty that there is a purpose to the historical process revealed in the establishment of the Universal Kingdom of Christ at the End of Time. From this belief in the spiritual purpose of history, the Enlightenment philosophers derived their faith in progress, their beliefs in the great abstractions – Humanity, Civilization, Reason, Peace. Western civilization testifies in its history that, history consecrates for metaphysics in the discovery of its spiritual purpose which in human science and politics alike, is found in the encounter with the concept of the Eternal Lawlex aeterna – a theological concept that explains together the movement of history, and the motion of the universe, uniting history and metaphysics alike in one universal law of progress: evolution.

Faith and reason are wings of the human spirit, upon which the creature rises to the contemplation of the Absolute. The demotion of Faith to the nonrational, voire, irrational sphere of epistemology, has detrimental social effects evidenced in the permanence of atheism, the intellectual position that God does not exist. In atheism, the human person emerges to a certain pride, a desire for sufficiency that attempts to condemn religious belief as irrationality that in its essence, is incompatible with human reason. Is Faith incompatible with human reason? The answer is evidently in the negative. Atheism poses the problem of the rationality of belief, of whether religion is still consistent with a scientifically-erected stage of human culture, a condition of civilization in which human science has effectively provided an alternative source of truth for society, elaborating in the objectivity of the scientific method, the dominant conception of reality, a materialist comprehension that reduces every phenomenon to the mechanistic causality of nature, leaving in the end, no room for the spirituality of religion which confirms the freedom of the human person in the rationality of the universe, born out of the Mind of the Creator. Atheism raises the thorny problem of ignorance: the human creature is a compound of an animal body and of a spiritual soul, conditioned by sense experience that reveals one central fact of religion in its problematic question – the human eye has not seen God in His Person, as such, is it rational to believe in that which sight does not behold? The Christian can state with confidence his belief in the existence of God because of the historic presence of the Christ, the Son of God; here, at a proper moment in Time, God enters History in the fact of the Incarnation, and takes on a Human Face, becomes, a Human Person. Throughout History, prophecy and miracles have testified to the existence of the Christian God, apparitions of Christ, Saints, Angels and of the Virgin Mary, witness to the permanence of Christianity. Yet, these claims are met with skepticism by a science that armed with naturalism, denies the absolute nature of religious events, admits their relativity and professes its faith in the universality of the material constituent as the foundation of reality.

At a certain level, Faith presupposes ignorance, the darkness of the mind that exists without the knowledge that is the immediate vision of God. Ignorance is in itself, a contradiction of the demands of reason, that seeks omniscience and the comprehension of existence itself. In this sense, Faith perpetuates the darkness of reason, and in fideism, the excessive reliance on Faith to the point of the repudiation of the powers of reason, holds reason in a certain obscurantism. The specialness of human reason and the worth of human dignity, are the teachings that are the fruits of history, they have taught humanity on the singular nature of the human person and on the value of human society, in its temporal attempt at the achievement of its progress and the realization of civilization in its final form. Ignorance figures as the final obstacle towards the comprehension of Wisdom, the fulfillment of the demands of human reason that is engaged on the quest for the silencing of its inherent questioning, the possession of Happiness, the definite formation of a Kingdom of Peace, a millennial Era of Peace that would be the fruit of the co-operation of human freedom to Divine Agency. In truth, humanity lives in the ignorance of God, the incomprehension of His Plan, the psychological orientation towards error: in the end, humanity is essentially imperfect. The epistemological question raised by atheism is that of the perfection of the human reason in the elimination of the ignorance of God, in a singular act that opens new horizons for Humanity and directs to the conversion of Fides into Veritas, that is, certainty, the metamorphosis of belief into the certitude of Truth that consecrates the human reason to the Light of God and the faith in realism, a sensible rapport with reality that leads to an intellectual cognition that eradicates ignorance and dispels error armed with doubt.

The future of humanity, is thus, a world in which man having arrived at the intellectual perfection of the angel, is either perfect in Good or perfect in Evil, and is able to act with the psychological state of spiritual maturity that leads in the end, to the willful separation between Good and Evil, and the formation of cultural predestination, a certainty where man is educated by culture in the fullness of knowledge and the complete mastery of his reason over sense. Such a state of affairs is in the realm of possibility for the human creature and involves the intellectual and the social repudiation of the learned antipathy to religion and the quest to investigate and to accept the supernatural as a real causal agent within History. In truth, it demands a faith in realism, a position transposed in St. Anselm’s famous dictum: “fides quarens intellectum”.

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