Book review of John Paul II’s Fides et Ratio

For a contemporary mind, faith and reason belong to two completely different realms and they do not have anything in common. Faith is often considered as a private act of a person that more or less freely decides to hold an irrational, or at least curious, belief. Reason instead is associated with truth and knowledge, though by reason it is generally understood what can be proved in a lab. Coming from a peculiar development of the history of thought which took place in the Modern Age, this understanding of faith and reason and their relationship has been challenged by pope John Paul II in his encyclical Fides et Ratio. Without denying the achievements of modern thought, John Paul II challenges the modern world to acknowledge the fact that the revelation of God in history has changed definitively the way in which man approaches the truth. Through revelation, man has been given by God truth and knowledge besides that which he can acquire through the use of his reason. Since the event of revelation, faith and reason are two sources through which man can arrive to truth: they are two ‘wings’ through which ‘the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth’ (FR, preamble). Moreover, the pope shows how the potentialities of faith and reason can be exalted only if they work together. Reason needs faith to be oriented towards the truth and to expand its own field of investigation (credo ut intellegam). At the same time, faith needs reason in order to understand properly the significance and the consequences of what has been revealed (intellego ut credam). Otherwise, faith and reason are both humiliated if they are unjustly separated. The encyclical is a masterpiece not only for its content but also for the way in which it is written. The relation between faith and reason is approached and analyzed from different perspectives. In this review, we want to look briefly at two of these: how faith and reason
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man cannot arrive to the fullness of the truth. for example. The existential questions that a person faces in his life are the manifestation of this desire for truth. Indeed. the human person. and especially through philosophical enquiry. In order to provide answers to such fundamental questions. However. even in the best situation. 2 . He begins with the assertion that every person has inbuilt the desire for truth. arts. Philosophy begins from the unavoidable questions which every person has to face: such has whether there is meaning in life. In this desire for meaning and truth there is hidden also the desire for God. His discoveries will be always partial. of Paul in Athens. is quenched by the revelation. Let us look first at the way in which John Paul II relates his reflection on the relationship on faith and reason looking at what is for him the most important intellectual and pastoral interest. The pope writes that a person usually acquires truth and knowledge not by his own rational speculations but rather through believing the witness of someone else. whether there is an explanation for death or whether there is or not an afterlife. philosophers have searched for a universal and absolute truth which may serve as a basis for all things. the ways in which man acquires truth. According to John Paul II. This is the case. which has been expressed by him through literature.come together in the way in which the human person acquires truth and how they came together in history. the capacities of a person’s mind to know the truth are limited by the human condition. the fact that revelation quenches man’s desire of truth is respectful of what he calls the “modes of truth”. the desire for truth is also a desire for the ultimate reason which governs and sustains everything. Paul’s announcement of the Kerygma does not rule out the discoveries of the Athenian philosophers rather it brings them to the complete truth. Not only can a person be easily mislead in his enquiry but. the person’s desire for truth. Then.

the pope points out that things were different before modernity. which took place before Christ. As we have already mentioned above. Christianity is not in contradiction with philosophy rather it is its fulfillment given that Christ is the logos. 3 . not using it to answer the fundamental questions regarding reality and God himself. However. Starting from Paul. The contact between the Greek thought and the Semitic religion. making use of the potentiality of the human mind to know the ultimate principle of reality. acquired a new vitality with the unfolding of Christianity that developed within these two contexts especially in its early stages. for centuries. Hence. the modern separation between faith and reason goes back to the beginning of the Modern Age. nor is faith considered any longer to be a source of knowledge. all of them affirmed the unity of wisdom. Augustine and other Fathers of the Church. reason and faith. The ancient Greeks took advantage of the capacity of reason. Man no longer makes the most of reason. Laid down by Paul. Thomas. Anselm. this understanding of the unity of wisdom in Christ has been. the framework within which faith and reason have worked together. Great examples of those who continued within this framework are the Apologists. Though with different emphasis. Therefore. the ancient people of Israel affirmed that the truth which man can discover is one and the same that God himself reveals and. The worst effect of the modern separation is the diminution of both.The other privileged perspective that the pope uses in the encyclical to show the relationship between faith and reason is the historical analysis. the fact that faith has extended enormously our knowledge and that what is revealed seeks to be fully understood through the power of our reason. etc. that through revelation we acquire knowledge. Christians have understood that in Christ there is the unity of wisdom. therefore. The logos that the Greek philosophers were searching for is one and the same that God has revealed in his son Jesus Christ.