Faith Without Reason Is Folly


edited by David Ruel Foster & Joseph W. Koterski, SJ

CUA Press, 2003

232 pages, $19.95

To order: (800) 537-5487 or

The transatlantic navigator who makes an error of a fraction of a degree may land many miles away from his intended destination. Faulty philosophy can have similarly serious consequences.

You don't need to look far to find evidence of the latter. Relativism, skepticism and radical individualism have helped “shape” a world in which parents go to court to ban the Pledge of Allegiance from their children's schools and powerful lawyers quibble about what the meaning of “is” is.

Once, philosophers prided themselves on their rationality and looked disparagingly at religion as superstition. However, as one of the co-editors of this volume, Jesuit Father Joseph Koterski, notes: “Reason has fallen on hard times in this era of postmodernism and so now … the pope, the very symbol of faith, is busy defending reason against unreason.”

Fides et ratio, Pope John Paul II's 1998 encyclical on the interdependence between faith and reason, elicited a flurry of commentary in the secular press and continues to provoke discussion, even among non-Catholic readers. Professor David Foster and Father Koterski, who collected these essays on the encyclical, are convinced that the Holy Father struck a chord in the zeitgeist. “The presumption inherited from the Enlightenment, that faith and reason follow divergent paths, runs very deep in modern culture,” they write.

In response to the over-specialization and fragmentation of Western intellectual life, the Holy Father is calling for faith and philosophy to “recover their profound unity, which allows them to stand in harmony with their nature without compromising their mutual autonomy” (No. 48). In doing so he challenges that bit of received wisdom that allows those with a secular mind-set to hold religion and its claims at arm's length.

The contributors to this volume include two bishops, three Jesuits, a nun and three laymen. All are educators who (with the exception of Cardinal Avery Dulles, a theologian) have taught philosophy in Catholic seminaries or universities.

The editors assigned the topics to correspond with the main subdivisions of the encyclical. The lead essay is a survey of the 20th-century debates as to whether there is or can be such a thing as a specifically Christian philosophy. The next two contributions elaborate on areas in which the Christian faith has enabled philosophy to make great advances: metaphysics and the nature of the human person.

The essays in Part Two examine the implications of the encyclical for the New Evangelization and for Catholic universities. In the latter, co-editor Foster cogently argues that Fides et ratio provides a rationale for academic freedom (properly understood), and thus complements the Pope's teaching Ex corde Ecclesiaeon Catholic higher education.

Each chapter in Part Three analyzes and amplifies the encyclical's treatment of a historical period of philosophy (biblical wisdom literature, the Middle Ages, the modern era). The volume also includes a summary outline of Fides et ratio, several helpful indices and an excelent bibliography.

John Paul did not write his encyclical on faith and reason for specialists. It is not so much an abstract treatise as a study of Christian anthropology — a timely guide to a truly holistic humanism. Like the Catechism, though, it is the product of great learning and can make for difficult reading.

The essays in this volume provide a straightforward introduction to and commentary on Fides et ratio. All the contributions are textbook examples of clear thinking and good writing.

This volume will help make the wealth of insight in the Holy Father's landmark encyclical accessible to a wider range of university and seminary students, faculty and administrators.

Michael J. Miller writes from Glenside, Pennsylvania.

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