“The Reason for Reason: Fides et Ratio “ by Father Romanus Cessario (Crisis, January 1999)”

Father Cessario writes on Pope John Paul II's defense of reason in Fides et Ratio:

“At the end of the last century, the popes had to defend the legitimacy of supernatural faith against the pretensions of secular rationalism; now, at the end of the 20th century, it takes a pope to defend reason against unreason.”

Fides et Ratio exhorts us to search passionately for the truth. … [H]e proclaims a truth that is meant to encompass the whole world. This explains his insistence that the power of the Cross can never be compromised, even when the Gospel encounters unfamiliar cultural circumstances.

“Because no one can embrace the divine mysteries of our redemption without first having discovered them, John Paul II clearly affirms that philosophy is a form of human adventure that lies open to every person. Just as all are called to believe, so all are invited to think about what they do, or should, believe. … [T]he Pope declares that all humans engage in philosophical enquiry, even if only by posing the simplest questions about our human origins and destiny.

“In Fides et Ratio John Paul II pleads for a philosophy that is also a true wisdom, so that people will come to realize that their humanity is all the more affirmed when they entrust themselves to the Gospel and open themselves to Christ. Such a self-donation leads to the first and indispensable reconciliation required of all human beings, the one that occurs between God and man. … The encyclical affirms that whenever the Church insists on the importance and true range of philosophical thought, she promotes both the defense of human dignity and the proclamation of the Gospel message.”

“The encyclical is meant for everyone, but it would be naive not to recognize that the Pope clearly has professional philosophers and theologians in mind when he sets down guidelines for pursuing their sciences well. Like a good father in Christ, the Pope wants to explain to us Ê not just tell us Ê what he finds wrong with some directions in modern philosophy and theology. In the little syllabus of errors embedded in Fides et Ratio (86-91), the Pope points out the hazards of, among other things, ‘eclecticism.’”

Just as all are called to believe, so all are invited to think about what they do, or should, believe. …

“… Fides et Ratio … closes with the invocation to the Blessed Virgin Mary -- a hallmark of John Paul II's pastoral writings and addresses. In this peroration, the Pope recalls that the holy monks of Christian antiquity referred to Mary as ‘the table at which faith sits in thought.’ In the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Pope continues, ‘they saw a lucid image of true philosophy, and they were convinced of the need to ‘philosophari in Maria’ (108). John Paul II himself is persuaded that ‘to philosophize in Mary’ alone ensures that a thinking person will come to a full knowledge of the truth. … The attainment of this ultimate goal, affirms Fides et Ratio, lies open only to the person who like Mary assents in faith to divine revelation.

“One of John Paul II's greatest achievements is putting dialogue in the service of the Gospel.”

… For dialogue to achieve the reconciliation that Fides et Ratio desires, at least one of the partners in dialogue must understand that the Church already possesses in its fullness the truth which she still strives as a body to attain. This consideration returns us to the Blessed Virgin Mary, who stands at the center of the Church because she already possesses all that we hope to become.

“So dire are our present circumstances that in Evangelium Vitae, [John Paul II] made the bold assertion that, today, God must shore up reason, because the eclipse of God has impaired the human.”

“St. Edith Stein makes an appearance in Fides et Ratio as a paradigm of faithful philosophical enquiry. Edith Stein offers a challenge to women and men to pass beyond the constraints imposed on our created and sin-affected human reason, and to welcome the full truth of the Gospel. … After all, ‘only in Christ is it possible to know the fullness of the truth which saves’ (98).”

Ellen Wilson Fielding writes from Davidson-ville, Maryland.

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