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Fides Et Ratio: A "reasonable" Act of Faith?

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Fides et Ratio: A “reasonable” act of faith?

Jaime Rosique Mardones


April 3, 2016

 “For those who believe, no explanation is needed. For those who do not believe, no explanation is possible[1].  This famous quote is often used by both parties in a religious discussion against each other. Is it true, though? Pope Saint John Paul II would have struggled accepting such a statement, and in fact, one of the main reasons for him to write his encyclical Fides et Ratio was to “show that the stance of faith, far from being opposed to a proper human autonomy can, on certain conditions, be perfectly reasonable[2] 

But how and why is the act of faith reasonable? I will try to answer this question based on some paragraphs of the encyclical and I will illustrate such reasonableness with examples of conversions of once atheist philosophers who embraced the faith.

One of the keys to understand the reasonability of the act of faith is understanding the relationship between faith and reason, and the kind of knowledge you get from each one. Certainly, as Pope Saint John Paul II emphasizes throughout the encyclical, “there is a knowledge which is peculiar to faith, surpassing the knowledge proper to human reason”[3]. That knowledge, he continues, “expresses a truth based on the very fact of God who reveals himself, a truth which is most certain, since God neither deceives nor wishes to deceive”[4]. This is very important to understand: that the truth obtained through reason and the truth obtained through faith, are “neither identical nor mutually exclusive[5]”. You could say that, in a way, they are the two sides of the same coin, for, although different and distinct with regards to the source and to the object, they both, faith and reason, pursue the same goal: to understand “the ultimate purpose of personal existence”[6], since they both “point to that “path of life”[7].  Obviously, this path of life is Jesus Christ, the Son of God who revealed us the Will of the Father. (“I am the Way, the Truth and the life[8]”).

Despite this Revelation, the truth communicated by Christ, “…our vision of God is always fragmentary and impaired by the limits of our understanding[9].  This is where faith comes into action. As the Pope points out, “faith alone makes it possible to penetrate the mystery in a way that allows us to understand it coherently”[10]. Only faith and reason combined would satisfy our thirst for knowledge, would bring to fruition our quest for truly knowing ourselves, God and the world.

 Having said that, there may be people who would still argue that submitting to faith and accepting a revealed truth would diminish our freedom, that faith and religion is the “opium of the masses” (Karl Marx), that embracing faith means to lose your freedom, since you are submitting to God. But this is not the case. Freedom requires truth, because otherwise we are slaves of our error and we will not be able to make an informed decision about anything. As we can read in the encyclical: “…it is in here (the act of faith) that freedom reaches the certainty of truth and chooses to live in that truth[11]. In these words we can hear the echo of the words of Christ himself: “The Truth will set you free[12]

But how can be certain? Why can we rely on the knowledge that comes from Revelation? Because “It is God himself who is the guarantor of that truth…[13]”, and as we have quoted before “neither deceives nor wishes to deceive[14]”. But if we reflect, we can find this trusting in God reasonable. We all want to know. We want to be informed and we look for truth. That is why we choose to buy one newspaper instead of the other, because we do not trust what we may read there. This wish to know makes us look for the truth, and when we don’t know something ourselves, we rely on somebody else. Using once more the words of Pope John Paul II: “…the human being-the one who seeks the truth-is also the one who lives by belief”[15].



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