Tag Archives: reason

Two Wings: Integrating Faith & Reason

Brian Clayton and Douglas Kries
Ignatius Press, 283 pages

In his encyclical Fides et Ratio, St. John Paul II compared faith and reason to two wings “on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.” The thesis of this fine book not only supports that faith and reason are allies in seeking the fullness of truth, but reveals how this collaboration takes place in practice, examining classic and contemporary questions about God and science using both “wings.” It gets a bit philosophical in places yet remains relatively accessible, such that immense insight and understanding of the subject can be gained by engaged and thoughtful readers.

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Catholicism and Intelligence

Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
Emmaus Road Publishing, 165 pages

“Catholicism and intelligence belong together,” writes Fr. James Schall, professor emeritus of Georgetown University and a prolific writer, in his introduction to this philosophical journey affirming the necessity of both reason and revelation in the search for truth. History shows how one can reason exquisitely and still not find truth if one seeks it apart from revelation: simply put, revelation perfects reason, and reason articulates and deepens our understanding of revelation. Authentic Catholicism, Fr. Schall argues masterfully in this collection of essays, is what truthseekers need today in order to find ultimate meaning amid today’s troubled and confused world.

Order: Emmaus Road Publishing, Amazon

Going Deeper: A Reasoned Exploration of God and Truth

Leo Severino
Ignatius Press, 155 pages

“Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth,” Pope John Paul II began his 1998 encyclical Fides et Ratio. Yet many Christians cannot adequately explain why they believe as they do.

Beginning with the evidence for God, Leo Severino — who wrote and produced the popular faith-based films Bella and Little Boy — invites the reader on a journey of simple logic that considers the meaning of human existence, the purpose of suffering, free will, and the quest for truth. He uses brief chapters to explain philosophical ideas in language accessible to everyone. It’s a taste of Thomas Aquinas for the masses.

Order: Ignatius Press, Amazon

Faith is reasonable

On faith and reason, the Church takes a higher ground and establishes a higher truth . . .

Karl Keating

Karl Keating

Faith is a gift from God. You can’t earn it, and you can’t reason yourself into it. But if you don’t use your reason first, you may never grab onto it.

Through reason we can grasp the reasonableness of Christianity. This allows us to overcome stumbling blocks. Even nonbelievers can come to see that Christianity “hangs together.” Such a realization isn’t faith, but it’s a necessary prelude to faith. Put another way, one cannot be argued into faith, but one can be argued past obstacles to faith.

If Pelagius (354-420 AD) were stood on his head, his name would be John Calvin (1509-1564). Pelagius taught that human nature itself could perform all acts necessary for salvation. You could, said Pelagius, pull yourself up by your bootstraps—all the way to heaven. Not so, said Calvin. Reason is unavailing since it can’t bring you closer to God.

The Catholic Church says no to both, but it doesn’t just take a middle ground. It takes a higher ground and establishes a higher truth. It says that knowledge of God and the moral law is within reach of our natural reason.

With this knowledge of God, we can undertake a natural preparation of the intellect, getting it ready so it will let the will respond properly when moved by grace toward faith. Through reason, we can get rid of the distractions and misinformation that keep us from acting on the grace God offers us.

Reason itself doesn’t produce faith, since faith is an act of the will which is initiated by and then cooperates with God’s grace. But reason can remove obstructions to our view.

Grace is a gift from God. Grace is necessary for the beginning of faith, for perseverance in the grace already received, and for avoidance of sin. Paul ascribes all his virtue and the good results of his work to the grace of God (see 1 Cor 15:10).

There are two kinds of grace. Actual grace doesn’t abide in the soul or sanctify it. You might think of it as a supernatural push toward the good given by God to the soul — a push that enables the soul to do certain things it couldn’t do on its own. Faith is due to actual grace and is the first step on the road to sanctifying grace.

Sanctifying grace, which elevates the soul so it’s capable of living in heaven, is a permanent quality by which we share the divine life, become partakers in the divine nature, receive adoption as the children of God, and are made temples of the Holy Spirit.

We lose sanctifying grace through mortal sin, regain it through Confession, and increase it through other sacraments, particularly the Eucharist.

KARL KEATING is the founder of Catholic Answers. This column is reprinted with permission from his book “What Catholics Really Believe — Setting the Record Straight: 52 Answers to Common Misconceptions About the Catholic Faith.”


Catechism 101

Believing is possible only by grace and the interior helps of the Holy Spirit. But it is no less true that believing is an authentically human act. Trusting in God and cleaving to the truths he has revealed is contrary neither to human freedom nor to human reason. Even in human relations, it is not contrary to our dignity to believe what other persons tell us about themselves and their intentions — or to trust their promises.

Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 154, 159

Dealing with society’s four crises

The Acton Institute’s Michael Miller writes that the world is going through crises of reason, truth, freedom and beauty. The current financial and moral crises in our culture are symptoms of the four greater crises. He argues that Pope Benedict has been addressing these four major crises throughout his pontificate — and that there is hope . . .

Dr. Michael Miller

It seems that society is moving from one crisis to another lately — a breakdown of morality in business, an enormous financial crisis, social and familial breakdown, the scandal of abuse in the Church and an ever-growing government taking a bigger role in our lives.

Our time and its troubles are not unique. Every age has its crises. No perfect time has ever existed, and each generation is called to be stewards of their time. While the challenges I mentioned are serious, they are not the key problems of our time. They are manifestations of more significant civilizational crises that must be addressed if we’re going to see the current challenges clearly. Pope Benedict XVI has been addressing these deeper crises throughout his pontificate.

First is the crisis of reason. As the Pope discussed in his now famous Regensburg Address, we have limited our concept of reason to the empirical. Under this limited notion, anything that cannot be demonstrated empirically — by mathematical or scientific experiment — is not considered rational or reasonable. This means that all discussion of truth, goodness, beauty, right or wrong is relegated to the realm of emotion or opinion. Yet this position is untenable because it’s impossible to demonstrate empirically that reason should be limited to the empirical. As Benedict has argued, we must expand our concept of reason to include logical and moral reasoning. To limit it is irrational.

The second crisis is the rejection of truth — or what Benedict appropriately called a “dictatorship of relativism.” We’re all familiar with the person who argues that truth does not exist. Saint Thomas Aquinas dealt with this objection centuries ago. If a person says there’s no such thing as truth, we must ask a simple question: “Is that true?” To argue that truth doesn’t exist is a self-refuting proposition. Some may protest that that is the only truth, but that of course makes two truths!

The same applies to the person who says “The truth may exist, be we cannot know it.” “Really? Do you know that? If you do, then you know at least one truth.” This isn’t a word game. It’s the nature of reality. Truth, Aquinas wrote, is “conforming one’s mind to reality.” To reject the existence of truth is to ultimately reject the intelligibility of reality. Yet think what the limitation of reason and rejection of truth does to morality. If truth does not exist and all value judgments — right, wrong, just, fair, etc. — are non-rational, then how can we to expect people in government or businesses to be concerned with anything more than serving their own petty interests at the expense of others?

The third crisis flows from the first two: a crisis of freedom. Many people view freedom as merely the ability to exercise one’s will in whatever manner he likes. But as Benedict wrote: “An irrational will is not free.” If I start banging my head on the edge of a table or poking myself with a fork, no one would think, “Wow, that guy is so free!” No, they would think I had lost my mind, because freedom unhinged from truth and reason is not free. Think of all of the broken marriages, lying, stealing, abuse, harm and sadness that have come from this deceitful (and irrational) concept of freedom. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, we have created a tyranny of tolerance and the result is generations of damaged lives.

The fourth is a crisis of beauty. Beauty has been reduced to merely being “in the eye of the beholder.” We have taken a partial truth — that the unique nature of persons means that each individual is going to perceive a certain work of art, a landscape or piece of music differently, and thereby be able to contribute a new perspective to his fellow man — and turned it into the idea that beauty is merely a matter of opinion. We’ve turned the sublime into the banal.

This may not sound very important, but it has a host of serious consequences. One is that the grotesque, the ugly, the disgusting and the shocking are now placed on the same plane as the lovely, pretty, beautiful and sublime.

Plato believed that if we lost the ability to say what was beautiful in art and music, education itself would be compromised. Do we think that when St. Paul exhorted us in his letter to the Philippians to think about whatever is true, beautiful, noble, gracious, lovely and excellent, he was merely telling us to reflect on our own banal subjective feelings? No, he was calling us out of ourselves and into a life of excellence rooted upon the foundation of Christ.

What can we do? The ironic reality is that we as individuals cannot do much about the financial crisis, immorality on Wall Street and in Hollywood, or the growth of government. But we can do a lot about the civilizational crises. We can do a lot within ourselves, our families and communities to think clearly, to think like Christians, and to recreate a Christian culture. We can teach our children, and we can “renew our minds” in Christ. One person at a time, this will change the culture, business, politics, economics and the Church.

Michael Miller is the Director of Programs at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty in Grand Rapids, Mich.

The Church, bioethics and reason

Dignitas Personae defends against the misperception that the Church opposes science . . .

Dr. Stephen Napier

The new bioethics document from the Congregation to the Doctrine of the Faith released last Decmeber, Dignitas Personae (DP), begins: “The dignity of a person must be recognized in every human being from conception to natural death” (# 1).

This sets an appropriate tone for what follows in that the document addresses several contemporary bioethical issues and relates them all to the respect we owe to each human being regardless of his or her developmental maturity.

In the introduction, the Congregation (CDF) offered several reasons for issuing the document — or instruction. It notes the importance of Donum Vitae (the 1987 instruction on bioethical issues) and its limitations. The development of “new biomedical technologies … including embryonic stem cell research, cloning, genetic engineering and others” necessitates an updated Vatican instruction. Additionally, DP promises to provide “additional clarification” to the issues addressed in Donum Vitae.

Though DP begins by noting that it is written in line with Veritatis Spendor and Evangelium Vitae it also notes that the teaching articulated in the document is founded upon reason enlightened by faith:

“In presenting principles and moral evaluations regarding biomedical research on human life, the Church draws upon the light both of reason and of faith and seeks to set forth an integral vision of man and his vocation, capable of incorporating everything that is good in human activity, as well as in various cultural and religious traditions which not infrequently demonstrate a great reverence for life” (# 3).

This statement serves as a crucial interpretive guide. The bioethical teachings of the Church should not be regarded as strictly “religious” teachings which only Catholics should follow, but are teachings consistent with the natural moral law. DP says that these teachings can be universally accepted by anyone because they are rooted in reason. Of course, it’s not just reason per se, but reason and faith. This is to indicate that the teaching outlined in DP can rationally be accepted by non-Catholics.

An analogy may help explain why. If you were to discuss the existence of God with an atheist, you would want the person first to ask the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” or “What explains the intelligent design in the world?” It’s desirable to have the person stop looking at the world, but instead look along the world. What does the existence of the world say about its origins? What does the intricate design say about its origins? Once one looks along the world, one is drawn to that which is beyond the world. If the atheist accepts, he or she is no longer an atheist.

Likewise with the bioethical teachings of the Church. If we look at them, they are consistent with reason. If we look along them, we are drawn to the Divine vision and vocation for man. If one asks the question “Why does the Church teach that?” enough times, the answers will eventually fill out the “integral vision of man and his vocation.” The conclusions of reason and of faith are complementary in making up a complete vision for man.

Dignitas Personae also defends against a common misperception of the Church as “opposing science.” It corrects this misperception by clarifying the appropriate ends of medicine. “The Magisterium also seeks to offer a word of support and encouragement for the perspective on culture which considers science an invaluable service to the integral good of the life and dignity of every human being” (# 3). Here the end of medicine is seen as fundamentally a healing art for every human being. In this regard, DP references the Hippocratic Oath:

“In the current multifaceted philosophical and scientific context, a considerable number of scientists and philosophers, in the spirit of the Hippocratic Oath, see in medical science a service to human fragility aimed at the cure of disease, the relief of suffering and the equitable extension of necessary care to all people” (# 2).

DP drives home the point here that what follows is consistent with reason and that the traditional ends of medicine (life and health) remain the appropriate aims of this discipline. The Church encourages practitioners to seek these good ends.

None of this should be taken to “oppose” science. Rather, the Church is aiming to shape science consistent with the principle outlined in the opening sentence: “The dignity of a person must be recognized in every human being from conception to natural death” (# 1). Medical activities inconsistent with this principle are not “science” any more than Tuskegee and the Nazi experiments count as science.

Dignitas Personae goes on to address first the ethical and anthropological principles needed to assess the moral character of some developments in biotechnology. Second, the document turns to analyze “developments” in engendering human beings.

In the third section, DP addresses the new ways in which human beings, once engendered, are then manipulated further. Commentaries on these sections and their subsections will follow.

Stephen Napier is a staff ethicists at the National Catholic Bioethics Center. He serves on the University of Pennsylvania’s Institutional Review Board.