Christianity: A Journey of Faith and Reason

by

Rikard Djegadut

This Paper was presented at the Philosophico-Theologico Symposium  on Lumen Fidei of Pope Francis at the Rogationist Seminary College-Cebu on Januari 2014, in the year of our Lord

Rikard Djegadut (dok.pribadi)
Rikard Djegadut (Dok. Pribadi)

Abstract

            This paper reflects the reality of faith-crisis both for those who are eager to seek for the Truth and those who have found Him but turn away.  The world today is mostly occupied by reason and people put faith aside. For the non-Christian, to believe in unperceivable God is something ridiculous and even stupid. They feel reluctant to believe because their mindset has been occupied by reason.

On the other hand, the Christian, who once profess their belief, finds it difficult to hold what they believe in. They doubt, they question everything they have believed, and yet they left the faith when they do not find satisfying answers to their questions.

Moreover, with scandals in the Church, committed by figures of the Church who are expectedly to be the living examples of Truth, make people more disillusioned. It is like adding pain upon a pain, putting more wound upon a wound.

This paper then will point out a precise understanding of Faith and Reason to arrive at the knowledge of God; that by doing so, one may believe in God.

  1. Introduction

            Atheists raise very important claim and accusations against Christianity; meaning that the Christians only believe what they believe because of blind faith. No reason is required or no reason is put into the matter of believing. In other words, Christianity is irrational. Thus, the person who believes in fairies or unicorns is no more different than the Christian who believes in God.  Richard Dawkins, being the voice of the Atheist, makes clear his point dozens of times in his book The God Delusion. He said: “Christianity . . . teaches children that unquestioned faith is a virtue. You don’t have to make the case for what you believe.”[1]  And elsewhere: “Faith is an evil precisely because it requires no justification and brooks no argument.”[2] Moreover, Atheists accuse that religion, Christianity in particular, practices Obscurantism—which is a way of hiding things because reason is no longer capable of explaining them (the dogmas as considered as mysteries).

Let us make our point of departure for our answer regarding these accusations; and it may be best to put into question about these accusations as our wonder. Is this a fair characterization of Christianity?  Is it totally based upon blind faith with no justification whatsoever?  As we’ve mentioned about Dawkins before, he avoids, at all costs, actually engaging with the best of Christian thought.  So, what has been the Christian answer to the question of faith vs. reason?

In Christianity, faith and reason are two un-alternate road (no other way) towards the Divine Truth, the Light, the Life and the Creator, The God of the universe, the cause of the visible and invisible or the living and the dead, the cause of all that exist and the reason for living of all that is living. Christianity is not a religion simply of blind faith. But it is with the enlightenment of reason—which will be discussed in the body of this thesis. It is directed by the power of reason in the human form, in order for men to be capable of thinking of.

To explicate the two wings: faith and reason, we have to historically trace their interaction. We see in the life of St Augustine, in his confession he believed that the Scripture was the authoritative Word of God, but in interpreting difficult scriptural concepts such as the Trinity and other teachings, he found it necessary to utilize his own philosophical training to explain these teachings of Scripture.

Whereas Tertullian considered faith in Christ’s revelation of himself to be the only thing worth knowing; and Augustine on the other hand, emphasizes both the priority of faith and its incompleteness without the help of reason. One of his great insights is that faith is the foundation for all knowledge. Christians are often ridiculed for their faith, as if “faith” and “gullibility” are synonyms. But Augustine reminds us that each of us must trust some authority when making any truth claim, and that “faith” and “trust” are synonyms.

Moreover, reason and faith are two distinct sources of knowledge. They are not mutually opposed; rather, they complement one another. The role of reason in Christianity is not to demonstrate the supernatural truths of faith, but to attain a greater understanding of them. Faith asks that its object be understood with the help of reason; and at the summit of its searching reason acknowledges that it cannot do without what faith presents.  Faith therefore has no fear of reason, but seeks it out and has trust in it. Just as grace builds on nature and brings it to fulfillment, so faith builds upon and perfects reason.[3]

So to say that Christianity is a journey of faith and reason, we have to discuss it and we need to prove it, so that in the end of the day, we may draw a conclusion—and after drawing conclusion, we may make a choice whether to believe or not in Christianity. After all it is our personal choice to take a ride on Christianity, a religion that God himself, in the person of Jesus Christ founded.

  1. The Nature of Faith and Reason

The debate and discussion will be endless unless the conception of the nature of Faith and Reason are properly defined and understood; otherwise a lot of misconception would flood the human mind and heart. We shall discuss the essential characteristics of both faith and reason and their fundamental nature that differentiates them as well as comprehend them.

  • The Nature of faith

In the letter to the Hebrew, St. Paul defines Faith as “being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see”[4]. While in technical terms of the word, faith is defined as a virtue, a light—it is an operative habit of reason[5]  Faith is however, a habit which does not stem from nature because it is supernatural virtue, infused by God.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church sect. 179, faith is defined as a supernatural gift from God. In order to believe the divine truth, man needs the interior helps of the Holy Spirit. “Believing an existential matter” is a human act, conscious and free, corresponding to the dignity of the human person. “But faith as a virtue is a “supernatural gift by which, we, inspired and helped by God’s grace, believe as true what God has revealed, not because of the intrinsic truth of things perceived by the natural light of reason, but because of the authority of God Himself revealing them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived.”[6]

However,  “the ascent of faith” “is to be given to God who reveals, an obedience by which man commits his whole self freely to God, offering the full submission of intellect and will to God who reveals.” [7]* Thus, only by giving of oneself, intellectually, will one receive more knowledge of God and even to his fellow human beings. Reason enlightened by faith can know them better and even more other realities.

  • The Nature of Reason

Reason generally is understood as “the principle for a methodological inquiry…Some kind of algorithmic demonstrability is ordinarily presupposed. Once demonstrated, a proposition or claim is ordinarily understood to be justified as true or authoritative.”[8]

Moreover, reason is a way of thinking which moves from one proposition to another by way of logical rules. If the ground rules are true, and the premises are demonstrably true, so will be the conclusions. It is properly applied, a tool without peer for keeping us from being led astray by our own desires. However, pure reason can’t tell us things that aren’t implicit in what we already known, and in fact scientists seldom have the luxury of reaching logically unimpeachable conclusions.

In addition, the fundamental characteristics of reason can be seen from its function, which is to find true meaning, to discover explanations which might allow everyone to come to a certain understanding of the contents of faith.

  • The Primacy of Faith Over Reason

God desires that all men should know him–not merely as philosophers or scientists or theologians. However, to reach the knowledge of God through human reason would require a lifetime of study. That is why we need the light of faith which is God’s free gift for the divine truth; God is above and beyond our created powers.

3.1 Faith at the First Place rather than Reason

“Unless you believe, you will not understand”[9]” —Peter Kreeft exclaims, faith first!—because it is first. Just like flower, faith is the root, hope is the stem, and charity is the flower. The flower is the fairest, the stem does the growing, but the root must come first.[10]“. He continues, the point is simply that without God’s grace, which comes only through faith, hope, and charity, no one can arrive at the perfect knowledge of God and thus become very good as to obey whatever comes from God. Without love, justice turns to cruelty. Without hope, courage turns to blind despair and rage. Without faith, this-worldly wisdom becomes foolishness in God’s eyes. “In thy light we see light” — understanding follows.

Pope Francis in Lumen Fidei attest to the primacy of faith, “there is an urgent need, then, to see once again that faith is a light, for once the flame of faith dies out, all other lights begin to dim. The light of faith is unique, since it is capable of illuminating every aspect of human existence. A light this powerful cannot come from ourselves but from a more primordial source: in a word, it must come from God.”[11] Together with Pope Francis, Dr. Jeff Mirus on his essays says that “there are so many aspects of reality which reason cannot penetrate without assistance of faith.”[12] He goes on; faith can do more by its primacy than simply open us to all of reality. It can also correct the inevitable tendency of reason to degenerate into relativism. This is one thing that we moderns should be able to appreciate more than those in many other ages. Simply by emphasizing reason to the exclusion of all else, we have found that arguments never cease, that nothing can ever be settled, that progress on questions of human worth and human meaning and human morality grinds to a halt, and that in the end we can affirm nothing except through the exercise of power. But faith, which is accepted on the authority of God revealing, is the most certain of all forms of knowledge.

            Furthermore, fundamental ally that faith serves first than reason because faith leads man to arrive at the knowledge of Divine Truth, God more quickly and clearer. Since, “reason which manifested into some pieces of sciences always falls into a multiple result of the quest, so Divine Truth must be brought to human knowledge under the guise of faith. In addition, faith must be the ahead of reason for the sake of certitude.  For human reason is very deficient in things concerning God. A sign of this is that philosophers in their researches, by natural investigation, into human affairs, have fallen into many errors, and have disagreed among themselves.”[13]

  1. The Relation of Faith and Reason in Christianity

Faith and reason are firmly connected. Every belief system is a faith system because its presuppositions are ultimately faith commitments. Secular beliefs have their own particular set of faith based presuppositions. “Reason is not separated from faith; reason is based upon faith”[14].

Catechism of the Catholic Church again affirms that the two (faith and reason) cannot contradict each other. Faith is itself reasonable. Reason requires the help of faith if it is to remain vigorous, avoid self-annihilation. Why God doesn’t provide irresistible evidence for the faith? Look at how the early philosophers thought of truth, their rigorous quest for truth and their profound quest for the meaning of life or the meaning of human existence itself, is exactly what God in the person of Jesus Christ present to us. When Jesus establish a new law, a law that is founded on Love not a mere preserving moral values that if someone slaps in your left check turn the other one as well or when he says that if you love those who love you what merit is that but pray for your enemies. Is this statement contradicts human reason? Are not the philosophers, way back to the ancient times up to this very moment making such a deep and profound quest with only one reason that they might create and maintain peace and order in the society—hoping that by living in harmony and they may find the meaning of their existence?  Presume that our minds are still normal, then we should find God’s statements that He reveals through the person of Jesus are not contradict to human level of reasoning. If somebody slaps at my check and I slaps him back will that act of mine not creating a disharmony? By no doubt!  My action of paying back that slaps will create chaos and disharmony that I find myself unease.

This truth, which God reveals to us in Jesus Christ, is not opposed to the truths which philosopher perceives. On the contrary, “the two modes of knowledge lead us to truth in all its fullness. The unity of truth is a fundamental premise of human reasoning, as the principle of non-contradiction makes clear.”[15]Even though faith is above reason, there can never be any real disagreement between faith and reason, since it is the same God who reveals the mysteries and infuses faith, and who has endowed the human mind with the light of reason.

Moreover, Not only can faith and reason ever be at odds with one another but they mutually support each other, “for on the one hand right reason establishes the foundations of the faith and, illuminated by its light, develops the science of divine things; on the other hand, faith delivers reason from errors and protects it and furnishes it with knowledge of many kinds.”[16]Natural knowledge involves rational faith in other people. How much more rational is faith in God! The Holy Spirit moves us to believe, from a rational desire for our supernatural end. God has confirmed the truth of his revelation through many miracles, including the miracle of the Church itself. Faith is Reasonable.

If all reasoning is based upon certain basic assumptions about reality then faith and reason are always linked together. This is exactly the opposite of how most people see the relationship between them. They do not understand that faith actually precedes reason. Reason is not opposed to faith in itself. Faith is not something we “leap” to after leaving reason behind. Faith is not a leap but rather a foundation.

Faith is present prior to our thinking about any subject. We all reason from the perspective of an established worldview. We begin with faith presuppositions and then use them to reason. Our faith assumptions are the foundation for all our reasoning. There is not one subject area where conclusions do not involve primary assumption shield by faith. The fact that we all view the world according to some set of assumptions about reality means that we all have a faith-view. Presuppositions are at the heart of every worldview regardless of whether that worldview is religious or secular.

  1. Conclusion

Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves

God is a God of reason: “Come let us reason together.”  Abraham debates God over Sodom we are created in God’s image, commanded to “subdue” and “have dominion” over creation

Further the scheme of agreement between faith and reason continues when faith helps our understanding to access truth beyond its natural limitation that it is actually making it capable of realizing its full potential so that philosophy can reach its natural fullness; the horizons of human knowledge become greater, wider and deeper. Here, we see how faith taking the role in supporting the reason

Pope Francis again in his Lumen Fidei confirm that the encounter of the Gospel message with the philosophical culture of the ancient world proved a decisive step in the evangelization of all peoples, and stimulated a fruitful interaction between faith and reason which has continued down the centuries to our own times.  Blessed John Paul II, in his Encyclical Letter Fides et Ratio, showed how faith and reason each strengthen the other.  Supernatural revelation confirms that man has fallen and hence has many limitations. It has affected man’s nature in his inferior and superior faculties hence the inability of human reason to grasp supernatural realities hence this reason needs faith.   Pope Francis goes on that faith also illumines the material world, trusts its inherent order and knows that it calls us to an ever widening path of harmony and understanding. The gaze of science thus benefits from faith: faith encourages the scientist to remain constantly open to reality in all its inexhaustible richness. Faith awakens the critical sense by preventing research from being satisfied with its own formulae and helps it to realize that nature is always greater. By stimulating wonder before the profound mystery of creation, faith broadens the horizons of reason to shed greater light on the world which discloses itself to scientific investigation.

 

References:

Blessed John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Fides et ratio (14 September 1998)

Catechism of the Catholic Church (Vatican City; Liberia Editrice vaticana, 1994)

Joseph R. Farinaccio, “Faith with Reason Why Christianity Is True” (Pennsville,   New Jersey: BookSpecs Publishing, 2000).

Peter Kreeft, “Fundamentals of the faith” (San Fransisco: Ignatius Press, 1988).

Pope Francis I, Encyclical Letter, Lumen Fidei (29 June 2013)

Richard Dawkins, “ The God Delusion” (London: Bantam Press, 2006).

St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae

 

Vatican I, Dei Filius, 1870.

Online resources:

 

Mirus Jeff “Primacy of faith over Reason,”   http://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/articles.cfm?id

James Swindal ”Faith and Reason” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy from  http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/f/faith-re.htm,

        [1] Dawkins, Richard “The God Delusion” (London:  Bantam Books, 2006), 306.

        [2] Ibid. 308.

        [3] Blessed John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Fides et Ratio (14 September 1998), 73: AAS (1999), 42.

        [4] Cf. Heb. 11:1

        [5] In technical term, reason is defined as a faculty (other habits of this kind are sciences, techniques and arts).

        [6] St. Cyprian, De unit, 6: PL 4, 519.

[7] Cf. Rom. 13:26; 1:5; 2Cor 10:5-6.

  • Catholic Catechism defines faith as “the full surrender of ourselves to God and the acceptance of this truth insofar as it is guaranteed by one who is Truth himself.” compendia of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Vatican City; Liberia Editrice vaticana, 1994), p. 21.

        [8]  James Swindal, “Faith and Reason”, Internet Encyclopedia Of Philosophy,[article online]; available from  http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/f/faith-re.htm, 3 January, 2014.

        [9] Cf. Is 7:9

        [10] Kreeft, Peter. “Fundamentals of the Faith” (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988), 167-175.

        [11] Francis I, Encyclical Letter Lumen Fidei  (29 June2013), 4.

        [12] Mirus Jeff, “Primacy of Faith over Reason,” [article online]; available online from http://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/articles.cfm?id, 3 January, 2014.

        [13] St. Thomas, Summa Theologiae P2, q2, a4 (on faith)

        [14] Joseph R. Farinaccio, “Faith with Reason Why Christianity Is True” (Pennsville, New Jersey: BookSpecs Publishing, 2000), 26.

        [15] Blessed John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Fides et Ratio (14 September 1998), 73: AAS (1999), 34.

 

        [16] Vatican I, Dei Filius Chap. IV, 1870.

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