MORENO: St. John Paul II - Faith and reason are united

July 9, 2019

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It’s been nearly 21 years since the promulgation of the landmark encyclical “Fides et Ratio” by now St. John Paul II. The pope wrote in the encyclical’s opening statement: “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.”

It is part of human nature to search for the truth, to wonder about the world around us. In exploring what is true, we find God. We often hear about a “truth of science” opposed a “truth of faith,” (not to mention hearing about “my truth,” which may be different from the myriad of samples of “your truth”), but faith and reason are not opposed, but complementary.

As explained by St. John Paul II, faith without reason leads to superstition; reason without faith leads to nihilism and relativism. There is a unity of truth, as St. John Paul II taught, and “revelation renders this unity certain, showing that the God of creation is also the God of salvation history” (Fides et Ratio 34).

“God establishes and guarantees the intelligibility and reasonableness of the natural order of things upon which scientists confidently depend,” the pope explained. Instead of an opposition, the pope proposed “different faces of human truth,” namely, the truths that depend upon immediate evidence or confirmed by experience, such as scientific research; the truths of philosophy and religion; dealing with answers to the questions of the meaning of life; and the truth revealed in Jesus Christ.

The pope provided the testimony of the Book of Wisdom to show the harmonious relationship between faith and reason: “Happy the man who meditates on wisdom and reasons intelligently, who reflects in his heart on her ways and ponders her secrets. He pursues her like a hunter and lies in wait on her paths. He peers through her windows and listens at her doors. He camps near her house and fastens his tent-peg to her walls; he pitches his tent near her and so finds an excellent resting-place; he places his children under her protection and lodges under her boughs; by her he is sheltered from the heat and he dwells in the shade of her glory” (Sir 14:20-27).

St. John Paul II taught that “what is distinctive in the biblical text is the conviction that there is a profound and indissoluble unity between the knowledge of reason and the knowledge of faith” (Fides et Ratio 16).

The topic of truth continues to be relevant today in the age of “fake news,” and dystopian “deep fakes” with many people distrusting the media, religious institutions and eventually doubting even the possibility of objective truth. St. John Paul II saw a radical need for healing of mind and heart as a response to the spiritual crisis of our times, and he wrote Fides et Ratio to defend capacity of human reason to know the truth.

With deep gratitude to God for the pontificate of St. John Paul II, we commit ourselves to continue growing both in faith and human knowledge, guided by the Holy Spirit to the encounter of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is “the way, the truth, and the life.”

Juan Carlos Moreno is an associate director of the Archdiocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis.