Saturday, April 6, 2013

Faith and Reason

The teachings of Jesus when they left the culture of Israel after his death found a  new home in Greek culture. Greek philosophy and Plato in particular served as the means by which the Church Fathers, for the most part, used the Hellenistic thought of that time to explain the contents of our faith. It is difficult to convey the teachings of the Gospel within any culture without employing the help of the thinking basic to that culture. These are the words a professor of philosophy at the Catholic University uses in his last article in the Catholic Times on "Walking with Philosophy."

The revelation that we have received has been explained to us with the tools of philosophy; understanding those tools used by the Fathers of the Church, he stressed, makes us more understanding and comfortable with our tradition.

Justinus, Origen, Pseudo Dionysius, Boetius, Gregory of Nyssa, and of course Augustine, among many others, have given us the rich theological treasures we have today.  Attempts to understand  the Trinity, the two natures of Jesus, the incarnation, the logos (the word of God), without the help of philosophy would have been difficult.

If we hold, he says, that this philosophical attempt at understanding the divinity has changed the teaching or has polluted the teaching, we are wrong. What has changed over the years is our understanding of the teachings. St. Paul says we need milk as babies, but as we grow our need is for more solid food.

As we grow in maturity, says the professor, our thinking and understanding will also grow in maturity: our very being changes. There is no need be upset at the philosophy used to understand our revealed teachings.  We need not fear theology and philosophy; they help us to understand the Gospel. If we make efforts to understand, we will understand, says the professor.

In years past, philosophy was considered the handmaid of theology. It was a help to understanding what we believe. Instead of using the word 'philosophy,' we might have less problems if we use the word 'reason' instead.  “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 the desire to know the truth" (from the encyclical of John Paul II). God gave us our reasoning powers and Catholicism sees no conflict between faith and reason.  It may be beyond our reasoning to understand fully, but we have  the gift of faith and  reason  that  are to work in harmony. But this is precisely what Catholicism maintains. Because it does have great respect for reason, it holds philosophy in high esteem.

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