Light from the cross

With its focus on existential and personal meaning, Fides et ratio often implies that the most significant place where faith and reason stand together is in the face of death. The ‘first absolutely certain truth of our life, beyond the fact that we exist’, John Paul says, ‘is the inevitability of our death’. This truth makes ‘the search for a full answer ... inescapable’. Human beings need to know if anything lies beyond death. The fearless way Socrates faced death, refusing to stop asking questions even when it made people condemn him, was a personal testimony that death cannot defeat the human spirit. ‘It is not insignificant that the death of Socrates gave philosophy one of its decisive orientations’[1] towards asking about immortality and transcendence. Philosophy questions death and immortality, and revealed faith gives its answer in the face of the crucified and risen Christ. The teaching of the death and resurrection of Christ is, paradoxically, both where faith most conflicts with reason


and where it corresponds most profoundly with our human quest for meaning. Fides et ratio claims that

[t]he preaching of Christ crucified and risen is the reef upon which the link between faith and philosophy can break up, but it is also the reef beyond which the two can set forth upon the boundless ocean of truth. Here we see not only the border between reason and faith, but also the space where the two may meet.[2]

Just as the widest and greatest aim of philosophy is to grasp the meaning of death, so the ultimate aim of theology is to articulate what it means for God to ‘empty himself’ (Phil. 2) and take the form of a servant, upon the Cross: ‘the prime commitment of theology is ... the understanding of God’s kenosis, a grand and mysterious truth for the human mind, which finds it inconceivable that suffering and death can express a love which gives itself and seeks nothing in return.’[3] Socrates’ quest to ‘know himself’ is answered by the ‘folly’ of the Cross.

  • [1] Fides et ratio, §26.
  • [2] Fides et ratio, §23
  • [3] Fides et ratio, §93
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