Study questions

  • 1. Review the chapters on Augustine and on St. Thomas Aquinas and say which is more important in Fides et ratio.
  • 2. Why cannot faith be externally coerced?
  • 3. Why would someone argue that faith deprives us of freedom? On what grounds does Fides et ratio disagree?
  • 4. Why does Fides et ratio draw on human experience in order to argue that faith and reason do not conflict?

Further reading

John Paul II, Fides et ratio (1998).

Leo XIII, Aeterni Patris (1879).



Faith has been one of the most important notions in the history of ideas. It has also shown a spectacular trajectory of development beginning with the biblical sources up to the twentieth century. From elemental firmness of a physical nature, it has come to express an existential stance, a transcendental aspiration and the discovery of the realm of a naturally basic belief in God. At the same time, the contexts of faith have changed immensely. There is no Roman Empire, medieval Christendom nor even a unified Protestantism or an imperial Catholic Church in our contemporary world. Christianity, the natural home of the notion of faith, has changed and it faces today the immense tide of secularization. On the other hand, religious forms like Hinduism, Buddhism or Islam retrieved their traditions and seek their own answers to modern technological society. After the collapse of Soviet communism, many people in Central and Eastern Europe hoped for a new beginning of faith, a hope stimulated by the charismatic personality of John Paul II.

Today, nevertheless, faith is in a delicate situation. The reason is the apparently unquenchable global thirst for material and technological satisfaction. The sciences have achieved unprecedented results and offer ever more coherent models of reality. The quest for the infinite, the supernatural, the spiritual is much less apparent; and the very meaning of such words as ‘God’ and ‘divine’ is in constant erosion. In this context, how can we outline the possible further development of faith? Which options seem to be the most probable with respect to the future?

The first possibility is that faith dies out in our culture and God sinks into forgetfulness. The world continues its march towards ever greater scientific and technological discoveries and it remains satisfied with the possibilities the new universal culture proposes. We term this the futuristic option.

The second possibility is a definitive renewal of traditional faith: faith in God as declared by the Christian churches. Both as fides qua and fides quae, faith simply returns to its earlier position in the minds of human persons and their societies at least in the Western world. We term it the fundamentalist option.

The third possibility is the opening of faith fully to contemporary culture, the sciences and technology and to religious forms and philosophies of various sorts, and then trusting God and His providence that a new form of faith - or something substituting faith - will eventually emerge. We may name this the liberal option.

The fourth possibility is also about the renewal of faith. This renewal takes into consideration the rich legacy of faith - as is demonstrated in the present volume - and aspires to reach a new understanding and practice not in contradistinction to the old ones but as their organic development. This approach takes a serious look at the crisis of faith in history and makes sincere efforts to receive the strength necessary for a renewal. We may term this the Franciscan option.

The authors of this book lend their voices to the fourth option. The futuristic possibility is a sheer impossibility and contradicts the structure of cultural development. The fundamentalist option is not plausible either, for the nature of history does not allow a return to earlier positions as they exist in historical memory. History is about a development, in most cases an organic and sound development of organic and sound traditions. The liberal option may be found unnatural, because the price of big gestures has to be paid in hard currency. By giving up consistency, faith would not be able to maintain itself and offer solutions for the contemporary world; there would be hardly any difference between faith and unbelief.

Thus we can keep the fourth option as reasonable and faithful at the same time. This option takes the history of faith seriously both in its continuity and change. It takes seriously the tragic experiences of the history of faith as described in Chapter 20 of this book. But it also takes seriously the rich heritage of faith as is shown in all chapters here. As Michael Polanyi among others argued, the fundamental act of human persons has become faith, and faith involves the whole of the person in his or her absolute openness to the Absolute. As Hegel already saw, the logic of history is prefigured in the story of the Gospels, and the great and transforming experience of humanity has remained the experience of resurrection in the aftermath of a dramatic death.

As Pope Francis writes:

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. Faith is born of an encounter with the living God who calls us and reveals his love, a love which precedes us and upon which we can lean for security and for building our lives. Transformed by this love, we gain fresh vision, new eyes to see; we realize that it contains a great promise of fulfillment, and that a vision of the future opens up before us. Faith, received from God as a supernatural gift, becomes a light for our way, guiding our journey through time. On the one hand, it is a light coming from the past, the light of the foundational memory of the life of Jesus which revealed his perfectly trustworthy love, a love capable of triumphing over death. Yet since Christ has risen and draws us beyond death, faith is also a light coming from the future and opening before us vast horizons which guide us beyond our isolated selves towards the breadth of communion.1

(Easter 2014, Notre Dame, Indiana)

Encyclical Letter Lumen fidei of the Supreme Pontiff Francis: francesco/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20130629_enciclica-lumen-fidei_en.html. Accessed 15 March 2014.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source