FAITH AND REASON
I have always been a huge fan of Pope John Paul II. His life and his approach to deal with things simply inspire me. As I recently dived deep into the pool of Philosophy (very reluctantly), I was first amazed to know that Papa John was a philosopher and as my first book to read this year I started with ‘FIDES ET RATIO’ – Faith and Reason, encyclical letter by Pope John Paul II. I would like to share with you all in simple language what this great man of faith wanted to let us know through this letter. This book is written by this brilliant man in few words but when I started reflecting I could spend hours and endless pages making my own notes. So I will share with you only my understanding of the introduction and would suggest you to read this letter.
Faith and Reason –
The Pope starts by saying first that FAITH AND REASON are two important aspects for human spirit to rise up to contemplation of truth and that God has placed in every human heart a desire to know the truth. In other words, the desire to know God himself. In knowing about God, men and women will come to a fullness of truth about themselves.
We often use only one of the two aspects and formulate our truth on this one aspect. Many of us might have just used faith and not reason to know the Truth i.e., God. In this part, the Pope is inviting us to use our reasoning along with faith to know the Truth i.e. God. In using reason to our faith we don’t become just blind believers but our faith will now carry substance and value and in knowing the truth we know God and in knowing God we know ourselves as we are made in the image and likeness of God.
When we say God is the truth, we need to first ask ourselves what really is ‘TRUTH’? Truth is something that is eternal, has no beginning and can have no end and hence, we can conclude that God is ‘Truth’. Usually we mistake truth with ‘fact’ due to use of the word in our language but philosophically speaking ‘Truth’ is different.
Knowing yourself –
The more the world is developing and progressing, more and more it is coming to a realization of its own uniqueness. One of the distinguishing traits of human beings when compared to other creatures is that they strive to KNOW THEMSELVES. Various cultures, sacred writings, religious leaders and world philosophers are trying to answer the more fundamental questions before all of humanity – who am I? Where have I come from? Where am I going? And the answers to these questions will determine their way of life.
The world is called to progress and develop because in doing so it only realizes its own beauty and uniqueness. We are today in a very developed society but do we realize that we are unique? Or has this development somehow chained us to gadgets and technologies. Has this progress gone against us? Human beings strive to know themselves and this sets them apart from the other creatures. The phrase ‘set apart’ also means ‘holy’, so in knowing ourselves, humans beings are being made holy. Everyone is trying to answer and find out the truth about the basic questions before all humanity. In some way even we have our answers to these questions – Who am I? Where have I come from? Where am I going? But we need to see the basis of our answers. Do we have blind faith or faith enriched by reason? It is because these very answers determine the kind of life we will lead.
Sharing the truth –
The church is not a stranger to humanity’s journey of discovering the truth more deeply. Even she tries to answer these questions but having received the gift of the ultimate truth through the paschal mystery, she now proclaims Jesus as the way, the truth and the life. The believing community is a partner is humanity’s struggle to arrive at the truth but at the same time has the obligation of proclaiming the certain truth it has already arrived at. Every truth arrived at is only a step closer to the ultimate truth which humanity will experience with the final revelation of God.
The church too tries to answer the same questions before all humans and tries to reach the truth. But the church was graced with the gift of Jesus at the Nativity and since then we proclaim Jesus as the way, the truth and the life. Every believer still tries to reach the truth and the church as a whole still tries to understand the truth more deeply but at the same time it is called to proclaim the certain truth it has already arrived at. We need to be humble enough to know that we do not know everything and are still struggling to understand the magnificent spirit of God, but at the same time we as the church have an obligation to go around and speak out our certitudes to others. Each truth we arrive at is like a little revelation taking us slowly to the final complete revelation of God.
Humanity has a whole array of resources available for gaining greater knowledge of truth, so that in doing so life may be more human. Philosophy is one of the resources available. It is considered the noblest of all human tasks as it deals with searching for answers regarding the most basic questions before humans. The Greek etymological meaning of Philosophy is LOVE OF WISDOM. Desire to know the truth is a part of human nature. The answers to meaning of life vary in every culture and tradition, but they are still complementary to each other. Philosophy has influenced the world namely the east and the west and their own native wisdom has developed into genuine philosophies.
The world today has a lot of resources at its disposal to gain knowledge and in doing so the world realizes the truth and becomes more human i.e., what God actually intended us to be. Philosophy is one of the noblest task and a great resource available before humanity. The meaning ‘Love of Wisdom’ correctly defines the word. As knowing the truth is not a choice given to humans but engrained in human nature, we consciously or unconsciously search for the truth. Our answers to meaning of our life are heavily influenced by our culture, religion and tradition. Yet, if we look closely, every person has a complementary answer to the meaning of life. Philosophy has influenced our world. What was considered philosophy ten years back is now considered to be common sense. The wisdom passed down from the past has now developed into great philosophies that direct our way of life. We need to reflect more about what is our philosophy of life? What is the meaning of life for me? And what all has influenced me to come up with these answers?
Implicit philosophy –
Driven by a desire to know the ultimate truth of existence, humans seek to acquire the universal elements of knowledge which enable them to know themselves and advance towards self-realization. ‘WONDER’ which arises from our contemplation of creation is the starting point to discover new types of knowledge. The pope warns us of philosophical pride, which limits just one stream of knowledge as complete reading of reality. Although times have changed and knowledge has increased, we can clearly see a common thread of knowledge which exists, but beyond all the existing school of thought there is a body of knowledge which is passed down as spiritual heritage to humanity. It is an implicit philosophy.
As each of us humans has a desire for truth in our nature itself, we strive to gain the elements of knowledge which will lead us to the full knowledge of ourselves and through us to know God. We try to understand the scriptures, the sacraments and tradition but we need to really go deep into it to really be able to know ourselves through these gifts of God given to us. Wonder is one such gift of God that is the starting point of all philosophies. Every human wonders at the great work God has done and this leads us to ask questions and we try to find answers to these questions. Wonder is the starting point to gain knowledge. Philosophy helps us to form a valid body of knowledge based on logical methods and steps, but there is often a temptation to have just one philosophical school of thought as a reading of all reality, but the importance to philosophical inquiry won’t let it happen. Our times have changed and knowledge has increased but we can still find a connecting thread of knowledge i.e. natural laws, man’s free will etc. The pope speaks about a body of knowledge which we have received as spiritual heritage or implicit philosophy. He is actually referring to faith which we have received from God as a gift. While our REASON helps to formulate universal principles, by using FAITH we draw conclusions which are coherent, logical and ethically correct, which confirms that it is the right reason – orthos logos, recta ratio.
Focus of modern philosophical research –
The Church gives great value to reason that drives us to attain goals which make human life more worthy. Philosophy is one way to know fundamental truths about human life. The church considers philosophy to be of great help to deeply understand faith and communicate the truth of the Gospels to those who don’t know about it. In our times, the search for ultimate truth is often neglected. From the start, human reason wanted to know the truth more deeply. This gave rise to various schools of thoughts and branches of philosophies. These positive results should not obscure that reason as only one sided concern with truth. To know the whole truth, people must use their faith. The reason rather than voicing human orientation towards truth has put on humans minds so much weight of knowledge and little by little has lost the capacity to rise up to the heights of truth. Modern philosophical research has concentrated upon human knowledge, thus giving rise to agnosticism and relativism. Philosophical thinking has succeeded in providing understanding of reality of human life but ignored radical questions of truth, existence and God.
The Church holds great value to reason which makes human life more meaningful. Philosophy is considered by the church as one of the ways to know this truth. Philosophy will help understand faith better and helps us go out and proclaim the certitudes arrived at to people who do not know. Today, the world has neglected the search for ultimate truth; we are just worried about momentary pleasure and instant result. The fast paced world has somehow neglected the contemplation of ultimate reality. Reasoning in the past has given rise to many philosophies and has been the starting point to many more but we should not be blinded by this and remember that reason without faith cannot reach ultimate truth. Reason is now used just as a means to gain knowledge and not to know the truth and this has given rise to agnosticism and relativism. Philosophical thinking in present times has ignored questions that matter to human life. The question before us is – are we also just happy with knowledge or do we want to know the truth more deeply. In simple words – do we want to know about GOD or do we want to know God?
Philosophy, truth and faith –
The church is sure about her competence as bearer of revelation of Jesus Christ. The church reaffirms the need to reflect the truth. Vatican II has called the bishops and through them, the whole church to proclaim this driving truth and master this aspect of truth. In reaffirming the truth of faith, we help people to truly know and challenge philosophies to recover and develop their full dignity. Most youth today find religious truth incomplete and unsatisfactory, especially in the areas of morality, knowledge and faith. Youth are committing suicide because they have not been rooted in faith and have been carried away by the ways of the world. So the pope says philosophy has a responsibility in forming the truth and the faith. It is a call to all of us to have responsibility towards implementing the faith and a plan of salvation in this world.
The church is competent as the bearer of revelation of Jesus Church but invites us to reflect on the truth. The fast paced world has no time for reflection but the church calls us to reflect. The bishops and the whole church then need to proclaim and live the truth that they have reflected upon and make it part of their lives. Faith with reason can help people know and help philosophy gain its original dignity. The younger generation finds religion impractical as the truth is distorted by the world. They quickly try to find permanent answers to temporary problems (like committing suicide due to frustration) because they are not rooted in faith and get carried away by the world. The pope uses philosophy to inform us about truth and our faith. We must therefore put this faith to practice and implement the plan of salvation.
This brief understanding is only the base of the cake. I invite you all to go ahead and read for yourself the great reflections of Pope John Paul II on the truth. I pray that you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.