Spe Salvi 23: Reason and Faith Need One Another

Let’s finish up the theme of transformation of Christian faith-hope in the modern age.

23. As far as the two great themes of “reason” and “freedom” are concerned, here we can only touch upon the issues connected with them. Yes indeed, reason is God’s great gift to (humankind), and the victory of reason over unreason is also a goal of the Christian life. But when does reason truly triumph? When it is detached from God? When it has become blind to God? Is the reason behind action and capacity for action the whole of reason?

Well no. But non-Christian progress as such isn’t necessarily an empty endeavor. The human ability to reason and the aspiration to freedom and self-determination are built into the biology and psychology/sociology of the human being.

However, also built into the human person is the aspiration to God:

If progress, in order to be progress, needs moral growth on the part of humanity, then the reason behind action and capacity for action is likewise urgently in need of integration through reason’s openness to the saving forces of faith, to the differentiation between good and evil. Only thus does reason become truly human. It becomes human only if it is capable of directing the will along the right path, and it is capable of this only if it looks beyond itself.

Even this “directing the will” is partly a matter of grace. The human being can make a determination of the heart to commit oneself to God. In doing so, we might still fail, as human will isn’t perfect.

Otherwise, (our) situation, in view of the imbalance between (our) material capacity and the lack of judgment in (our) heart, becomes a threat for (us) and for creation.

We certainly witness this over and over again in our world, and even Christians are caught up in this threat. As perpetrators, not just victims.

Thus where freedom is concerned, we must remember that human freedom always requires a convergence of various freedoms. Yet this convergence cannot succeed unless it is determined by a common intrinsic criterion of measurement, which is the foundation and goal of our freedom. Let us put it very simply: (humanity) needs God, otherwise (we) remain without hope. Given the developments of the modern age, the quotation from Saint Paul with which I began (Ephesians 2:12) proves to be thoroughly realistic and plainly true. There is no doubt, therefore, that a “Kingdom of God” accomplished without God—a kingdom therefore of (people) alone—inevitably ends up as the “perverse end” of all things as described by Kant: we have seen it, and we see it over and over again. Yet neither is there any doubt that God truly enters into human affairs only when, rather than being present merely in our thinking, he himself comes towards us and speaks to us. Reason therefore needs faith if it is to be completely itself: reason and faith need one another in order to fulfil their true nature and their mission.

Many people outside of Christian faith view our own efforts with the judgments rendered in this section. They see us as weakened by our own falling short, our own imbalances, and they don’t always perceive God in our lives as we might hope they would. Many observers outside of Christianity wouldn’t reject faith as such–only our version of it. This is why serious discernment is needed within the Church, a check on how our witness goes out to the world. Are we truly living in hope? Or are we determined to make the Church’s ministry a cause in our own image, with an occasionally impoverished view of God?

This document is Copyright © 2007 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana. You can find the full document online here.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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