Jacques Maritain Center: Thomistic Institute

The Boldness of Reason and the Obedience of Faith

Alejandro Llano
Instituto de Antropologia y Etica
Universidad de Navarra


        In the past few years, I do not recall having read anything as stimulating as the encyclical Fides et ratio, published a couple of months ago by John Paul II. Its obvious conceptual and historical rigor proves to be no brake or obstacle to the decisiveness with which it takes on one of the most nagging and problematic issues of contemporary thought -- the roots of which dig deep into the first centuries of our Christian era -- which in one way or another, draws us back to the Ancient Greek Dialectic between mythos and logos.

        Surprisingly, however, two among the first pervasive critiques made of this document leave in doubt the novelty of its contributions and the relevance of its message.

        "This Encyclical says nothing new", so goes the first impression I was able to gather, specially from Catholics well-acquainted with Church doctrine on the relationship between faith and reason. The observation was meant to express, clearly, something more than the usual passivity with which believers often receive a document from the Magisterium. The last thing they expect is some substantial change in the Catholic position on issues which affect faith and morals. Lurking in the background, rather, was certain disappointment at not finding in the text any new perspective or fresh insight. But such a feeling of dejà vu could be deceiving. As we shall soon see, the encyclical Fides et ratio corresponds to a new state of mind, characterized by cultural relativism and the resulting scepticism about a universally-valid truth. Such an attitude was absent during the First Vatican Council or when the encyclical Aeterni Patris was written. Nevertheless, at the moment when Veritatis splendor was being penned, this mindset was already very much in place. Granted that we're dealing with different problems, their corresponding solutions, understandably, could not be but diverse; despite the fact that the baseline teaching has not, or in truth, cannot at all change.

        The second reaction comes from a non- Catholic, and has a name, a place and a date to it. It comes from Paolo Flores D'Arcais, in his article entitled Aut fides aut ratio, published in the 5/98 issue of the the MicroMega magazine. Aside from other talking points that I shall comment on later, the author maintains that official Catholic culture -- of which the Encyclical is a burning example -- has nothing at all to say to the contemporary person. In this case as well there is a trivial reading of the position at hand; that the Church's judgement of the present cultural situation does not coincide with the worldview of the contemporary human being, riven and distraught by intellectual exhaustion and moral uncertainty, to the point that she becomes unable to accept a message as sharp and uncompromising as the one contained in the Fides et ratio. Flores D'Arcais, of course, would like to say something less flatering, and if you would allow me, more caustic. He claims that the Catholic view on the present moment of the Vernunftsgeschichte has been unredeemably surpassed, inasmuch as it displays a childishness unacceptable to the radically critical and unbelieving attitude proper of today's mature and discerning intelligentsia. Now then, this is precisely the conflict that confers cultural relevance to a set of propositions which hopes to form part of the solution, instead of wearisomely repeating the terms, however biased, of the problem itself.

        These two views, taken almost randomly from a wide range of reactions provoked by the Encyclical, turn out to be most useful in measuring the thickness of the post-modern skull, through which the Fides et ratio has to drill in order to reach its interlocutors' minds and hearts. They serve no other purpose. As Professor Fernando Inciarte of the University of Münster has pointed out, this papal document takes on an issue of very ancient vintage, but in a refreshingly new light. Thanks to economic globalization and the immediacy of telecommunications, we seem to live in an ever-shrinking world. Yet such universalization demands, at the same time, the fragmentation of the Lebensformen, as multiculturalism requires and is plain to see in any of the big cities of the West. And multiculturalism, in turn, seems to imply the relativization of truth and life's loss of meaning. To the point that the objective of the Encyclical is not so much that of solving, once and for all, the very subtle conceptual problem of the relationship between faith and reason, between Philosophy and Theology, but rather, that of summoning the intellectual and religious resources necessary in order to recover the universal meaning of truth and its deep impact on the life of each person.

        This is certainly a daunting task, one in which the margin for error is extremely narrow, yet we have to proceed -- as one reads in the text -- "amid the pressures of an immanentist habit of mind and the constrictions of a technocratic logic" (n. 15). Max Weber had already foretold that the human being of the late twentieth century would be some sort of specialist without a soul, a living being without a heart. Philosophers such as Husserl and sociologists such as Daniel Bell have not done anything other than confirm this observation. Conspicuously absent in this fractured horizon is human reason in its full array, that is, what used to be called Metaphysics. And to try to defend the actual validity of sapiential realism is definitely no trivial, commonplace or irrelevant enterprise.

        John Paul II describes this situation in the following terms: "(...) We see among the men and women of our time, and not just in some philosophers, attitudes of widespread distrust of the human being's great capacity for knowledge. With a false modesty, people rest content with partial and provisional truths, no longer seeking to ask radical questions about the meaning and ultimate foundation of human, personal and social existence. In short, the hope that philosophy might be able to provide definitive answers to these questions has dwindled" (n. 5); "and now, at the end of this century, one of our greatest threats is the temptation to despair" (n. 91). Before this panorama of relativism and scepticism, Karol Wojtyla is convinced -- and he tries to convince us through this Encyclical -- that today's most urgent task is "to lead people to discover both their capacity to know the truth and their yearning for the ultimate and definitive meaning of life" (n. 102).

        Max Weber himself had foreseen that aside from the polytheism of values, that splintering of ends and conditions that nowadays affects us, the end of the "brief century" or the twentieth century would be characterized by the phenomenon of the crisis of meaning. Section 81 of the Encyclical describes this cultural moment with extraordinary lucidness: "Perspectives on life and the world, often of a scientific temper, have so proliferated that we face an increasing fragmentation of knowledge. This makes the search for meaning difficult and often fruitless. Indeed, still more dramatically, in this maelstrom of data and facts in which we live and which seem to comprise the very fabric of life, many people wonder whether it still makes sense to ask about meaning. The array of theories which vie to give an answer, and the different ways of viewing and of interpreting the world and human life, serve only to aggravate this radical doubt, which can easily lead to skepticism, indifference or to various forms of nihilism" (n. 81).

        As far as I can tell, this is the first time that the Magisterium of the Catholic Church engages in a theological reflection over the role of Philosophy in the contemporary world, something akin to a "Theology of Philosophy". And this is no doubt something new, even from the viewpoint of the Academe. (In due course, Alasdair MacIntyre called our attention to a meaningful precedent, the Veritatis splendor, a document of sublime reflexiveness, which undertakes the task of developing some sort of "Theology of Moral Research", wherein the spiritual lives of the researchers themselves acquire an unprecedented importance, as manifested above all in the hermeneutics of the Gospel episode featuring the rich, young man, which serves as the existential backdrop for the doctrinal content of that decisive discourse). In our case, what is most surprising is that such a theological meditation leads us to underscore, with a dogged insistence, the need for Philosophy to be true to its own nature, as the human love of wisdom, instead of caving in to the siren calls of a diminished Rationalism and a Fideism incapable of looking beyond its own navel. The very essence of Christianity -- which rests on the mystery of the Incarnation, and on the intellectual and vital assent to Jesus Christ, the Word made Flesh -- nurtures in its bosom, as a necessary condition, a trusting recourse to human reason, exercised with autonomy and rigor, to that study of reality in its roots or Philosophy, in other words. The paradoxical nature of this enterprise -- a defense of the value of reason starting from the horizon of faith -- attains a fullness of meaning and coherence when one realizes that the ultimate source of this rational daring is none other than the receptive attitude of obedience to God's manifestation of Himself through the gift of creation and through the Uncreated Gift of the Spirit of Jesus.

        There are three reasons, to my mind, for which our present epoch constitutes an opportune moment, a kairos, for composing an uncanny "ode to Philosophy".

        In the first place, we find ourselves in that decline of nihilistic scepticism, that final stage which one of the great systems of reason has forced upon itself. It would be interesting to note that in a world sullied by relativism, the Catholic Church is, nowadays, the only institution that defends the irreplaceable role of Philosophy, which aspires for a universal and definitive validity. On the other hand, a Philosophy that is purely formal or functional, dwarfed by its own technicalities and asphyxiated by an erudition that barely clears a ridiculous, minimalist bar, becomes the reason why "the human spirit is often invaded by a kind of ambiguous thinking which leads it to an ever deepening introversion, locked within the confines of its own immanence without referent of any kind to the transcendent. A philosophy which no longer asks the question of the meaning of life -- the Pope continues -- would be in grave danger of reducing reason to merely accesory functions, with no real passion for the search for truth" (n. 81).

        One of the gravest consequences of Philosophy's loss of its sapiential dimension in our time is the growing tendency -- fostered by a simplistic and erroneous interpretation of the Second Vatican Council -- for Theology to prescind of its support on rational Metaphysics and Anthropology. In my opinion, this constitutes the second motive for which Pope John Paul II considered it urgent to reaffirm the need for cooperation between Philosophy and Theology, in order to properly orient that desire for truth which inhabits the heart not only of Christians, but of every human being. Only a naturalist mode of thinking could have led to the conclusion that the strength of Theology relies on the weakness of Philosophy, or the other way around. The Naturalism called to fore would be responsible for the crude image of the different sciences, which have come to occupy the place of privilege formerly reserved for others, to the effect, as it were, of some sort of principle of the impenetrability of bodies taking over the realm of Epistemology. This naïve and trivial detail brings alongside it terrible consequences for the culture of Christian wisdom. "I cannot fail to note with surprise and displeasure -- John Paul II remarks -- that this lack of interest in the study of philosophy is shared by not a few theologians" (n. 61). The deformative and "anti- pastoral" effects of this disinterest are serious and known to all. That's why the Roman Pontiff categorically insists: "I wish to repeat clearly that the study of philosophy is fundamental and indispensable to the structure of theological studies (...)" (n. 62). But then, the kind of Philosophy to which Theology takes recourse, could not simply be an ad hoc or improvised system, one that limited itself to rhetorically express or illustrate the same conclusions at which a presumably pure theological reflection had previously arrived. The Encyclical is also very clear on this point: "The Church has no philosophy of her own nor does she canonize any one particular philosophy in preference to others. The underlying reason for this reluctance is that, even when it engages theology, philosophy must remain faithful to its own principles and methods. Otherwise there would be no guarantee that it would remain oriented to truth and that it was moving towards truth by way of a process governed by reason. A philosophy which did not proceed in the light of reason according to its own principles and methods would serve little purpose. At the deepest level, the autonomy which philosophy enjoys is rooted in the fact that reason is by its nature oriented to truth and is equipped moreover with the means necessary to arrive at truth. A philosophy conscious of this as its 'constitutive status' cannot but respect the demands and the data of revealed truth" (n. 49). On the other hand, an ersatz Philosophy which onesidedly based itself on Theology would be begging the question. Furthermore, it would invert the classic Catholic position according to which grace does not destroy nature nor substitute it, but rather, elevates and perfects it. Even the ancillary role which corresponds to Philosophy with regard to Theology would be rendered impossible if Philosophy were not to distinguish itself from Theology. Only in the measure that Philosophy distinguishes itself, without separating itself, from Theology, could Philosophy lend Theology its necessary assistance. "Theology in fact -- the Encyclical teaches -- has always needed and still needs philosophy's contribution. As a work of critical reason in the light of faith, theology presupposes and requires in all its research a reason formed and educated to concept and argument. Moreover, theology needs philosophy as a partner in dialogue in order to confirm the intelligibility and universal truth of its claims" (n. 77).

        A third reason for which, I believe, Fides et ratio is relevant to our present cultural state is "the lure of rationalism" (cf. n. 54). That is to say, the exclusivist ambition of reason that considers itself self-sufficient and not needful of a rational gift, a clarifying present, which faith offers to whomsoever pays its obeisance, to her who remains with an attentive ear to a voice which, despite its mysterious origin, is no less luminous and revealing. The anthropocentric narrow-mindedness of Rationalism converts it into some sort of serpent that swallows its own tail. In the end, what this shows is a fear of facing up to that which we supposedly control; as if the control which we ourselves exercise had some magical power to neatly discern the rational from the irrational. This feeble narrow-mindedness, so common among the followers of Scientism and Pragmatism in their prime, draws a stark contrast with the greatness of heart of the Humanist who thus calls out: "I ask everyone to look more deeply at man, whom Christ has saved in the mystery of his love, and at the human being's unceasing search for truth and meaning. Different philosophical systems have lured people into believing that they are their own absolute master, able to decide their own destiny and future in complete autonomy, trusting only in themselves and their own powers. But this can never be the grandeur of the human being, who can find fulfilment only in choosing to enter the truth, to make a home under the shade of Wisdom and dwell there. Only within this horizon of truth will people understand their freedom in its fullness and their call to know and love God as the supreme realization of their true self" (n. 107). One may think that a calling of this kind enters into contradiction with the demands for autonomy which Philosophy implies. Nothing farther than the truth. Precisely because it is autonomous and it is no way shackled from without, Philosophy is able open itself to a higher light and take it within, without sacrificing its own methodology or rational nature. When Philosophy goes out of itself and receives data and stimuli from Revelation which does not contradict, but rather extends and empowers rational truth from within, it fulfills its highest calling in the service of truth and in its openess to the Transcendent. A sensu contrario, a Philosophy which declares itself to be programatically agnostic, one which as a matter of principle denies the possibility of accepting a message that comes from the deepest nucleus of the mystery of being it is supposed to study, such a Philosophy reduces itself into a midget, it thwarts its own reason.

        But we need to stop at this point, because herein lies the very germ of the Encyclical, the very crux of the controversy over the validity of its message. In the aforementioned article, Flores D'Arcais claims to have found a contradiction in the Fides et ratio, insofar as it seems to attribute an autonomy to Philosophy, of which Philosophy itself shall be stripped later on. It seems clear, at least to me, that this particular author's notion of rational autonomy is univocal, and that for the most part, it is tinged with pathos rather than with logos. In its common usage in Politics or in Business Management, for example, the meaning of the term "autonomy" is already clearly differentiated from that of "independence". We say that a geographical region is autonomous, or that a university or a company division is autonomous, without meaning to say the least that such entities cannot receive any outside influence, or that they cannot be subject to rules coming from a higher instance other than themselves. As a matter of fact, no one and nothing in this world is completely autonomous, because the whole of reality forms a web of interactions and intertwinings. Certainly, no science could claim to be completely autonomous, since all of them depend on that portion of reality under study, on the first principles of knowledge and the general laws of Logic, aside from being in constant interdisciplinary contact -- now, more than ever -- with other fields of knowledge. What these rationalist claims seem to evoke, with certain delay and in Kantian terms, is the Enlightened rejection of all tutelage other than the self-imposed, the emancipation of one who dares to think for herself and thus free herself from a culpable intellectual age of minority. But at this stage, we already know how to discern that which Gadamer used to call "the prejudice against all forms of prejudice". Be it for good or for evil, it is impossible to start from scratch and avoid all preconceptions. Hence, what we have to be careful about is to be conscious of our own fundamental attitudes and to try , at least, to be reasonable and open-minded.

        But this brings us back to the paradox to which we have previously referred. The Christian thinker cannot nor should prescind of her faith when she philosophizes. Moreover, it is her own faith that which incites the believer not to impose on herself pre-set limits to her rational inquiries. In this sense, one could claim to be more free than another who stubbornly encloses herself in her Rationalism. But why does the full use of reason have to come under the command of an instance which is not purely rational? Had we not said that the knowledge of faith necessarily has to take recourse to the help extended by Philosophy?

        Everything seems to indicate that we are trapped in a vicious circle, one in which faith and reason demand each other and support one another. Robert Spaemann has dealt with this all- important problem directly and has given it a solution that is somehow pre-figured in the title of his work, "Fides et ratio: Der hermeneutische Zirkel", published in the German edition of L'Osservatore romano on January 29, 1999. According to Spaemann, the cultural quandary with which the life of Christian Faith and its transmission in the twentieth century has to come to grips with is precisely that of the radical Nietzschean hermeneutic, which rejects the acceptance of a universally valid truth, or at least, one that blocks the path that leads to it for all those who may be intellectually prepared to do so. Nietzsche asks, "What is the truth?". And he responds: "A host of metaphors, metonymies, in short, a sum of human relations which have been highlighted, extrapolated and adorned, both poetically and rhetorically, and which, after its prolonged use, a people has considered fixed, canonical and binding; truths are illusions which people have forgotten to be so; metaphors which have been over-used and thus lacking in force, coins which have lost their mint-marks and thus are no longer considered coins, but scrap metal". Truth is an illusion; it is that kind of error without which a certain species of living things -- human beings -- would be incapable of survival. Once we have discovered for ourselves and uncovered or exposed to others the real state of things, we find ourselves in the terrible situation of having to announce the "death of God", which amounts to denying any divine character in the truth . The truth is dissolved in a multitude of interpretations, in the interests of the self-serving, in the power of power-hungry, in the historical vicissitudes of its apparent glimmer. According to present-day Deconstructivists, it then becomes necessary to tear down the great epic narratives, those solemn discourses which pretend to put us before reality itself. Because reality is never present in the immediacy, but rather, it is always mediated by our constructs, by our hidden values, by our modes of interpreting empirical data. We have to tear down the illusory logic of our language, in which the acceptance of God, and therefore, the acceptance of truth finds its ultimate hiding place. Nietzsche did not at all speak in vain when he uttered: "I fear that we are not going to rid ourselves of God because we still believe in Grammar".

        Before such an attempt to unmask the "all too human" mediations which simulate whatever it is they hide, the Church holds that a cultural hermeneutic, a non-vicious circle, but rather, a "Zirkel des Verstehens" (in Spaemann's own words) is possible. In terms of present-day Epistemology, one could say that the Catholic position is one of moderate cognitivism. The Catholic position maintains, as the Encyclical itself attests, that "no historical form of philosophy can legitimately claim to embrace the totality of truth, nor to be the complete explanation of the human being, of the world and of the human being's relationship with God" (n. 51). But it is equally far from defending, in the manner of radical hermeneutics, that there is no authentic understanding of the nature of reality. It is not true that all purported knowledge leads to error rather than to the truth. Knowledge by itself does not generate error; instead, through different ways and means, it brings us closer to the truth, albeit always in a limited manner, which needs ulterior contrasts and checks of all sorts. And here is where the virtuous circle of understanding comes in. Starting out from reason, we advance towards a fuller understanding of faith, while faith itself provides us with a critical discernment of our rational ambitions.

        Therefore, the Encyclical meets the most burning cultural issue of our time head on, on its own terrain, which is none other than the epistemological interpretation of our discourses on reality. The only difference being, that instead of heading towards an enfeebled relativism, it raises its aim towards the Metaphysics of Knowledge. Hence, we are not simply before a mere repetition of hackneyed expressions. In consequence, the conceptual models essayed in the recent past are no longer useful in analyzing problems with a different slant. As Inciarte has reminded us, the tectonic paradigm, which statically arranged the different bodies of knowledge horizontally, in layers, is no longer useful. It may even prove to be an obstacle in finding a more appropriate interpretive paradigm. Rather, we now have to make us of a vertical and dynamic structure, which renders possible the transit from faith to reason and from reason to faith, as a progressive and mutually enriching discernment, which does not at all lead to unsolveable paradoxes or to vicious circles. On the contrary. John Paul II maintains that the actual relationship between faith and reason demands a keen effort of discernment, since both faith and reason, isolatedly, have become impoverished and weakened each other. The Pope continues, "Deprived of what Revelation offers, reason has taken sidetracks which expose it to the danger of losing sight of its final goal. Deprived of reason, faith has stressed feeling and experience, and so runs the risk of no longer being a universal proposition. It is an illusion to think that faith, tied to weak reasoning, might be more penetrating; on the contrary, faith then runs the grave risk of withering into myth or superstition. By the same token, reason which is unrelated to an adult faith is not prompted to turn its gaze to the newness and radicality of being. This is why I make this strong and insistent appeal -- not, I trust, untimely -- that faith and philosophy recover the profound unity which allows them to stand in harmony with their nature without compromising their mutual autonomy" (n. 48).

        To my knowledge, here lies the most profound and original teaching that this Encyclical provides to philosophers. That is to say, that the mysteries of faith are not a limit to reason; they offer, instead, the very possibility of breaking open the horizon, of creating an opening to what lies beyond that which Philosophy, with its own resources, could never aspire to, without loss of its own identity and without sacrificing its own methods. When it seems as if Philosophy has reached its limits, when it has stumbled upon undecipherable enigmas, when it has wallowed in its own suspicions, and when it has no choice but to melancholically fold its own sails, then comes the spark which opens new and -- in a certain sense -- limitless perspectives. This is not a pious desideratum; rather, it is a strict account of what has occurred in the history of human thought. Those who insist on opposing Christianity to a "scientific world view" do not realize that positive science itself, such as it is understood in the modern sense, would not have been possible, were it not for the demystification of nature which immediately follows from a creationist world view. The same thing happens with History. As Umberto Eco taxatively repeats in his dialogues with Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, "Christianity invented History." And the same thing happens with the notions of freedom, person, spirit, truth, immortality, love, providence, virtue, tolerance, respect and a personal God, among many others which, would be uncomprehensible today, had it not been for Christian tradition, which of course includes the Salvation History of the Jews. All of these concepts and realities have been considered by Philosophy from a rational perspective, and in a couple of cases, it has trodden an exclusively philosophical path to reach them. Man's greatness becomes manifest when he is able to elaborate "a philosophy in which there shines even a glimmer of the truth of Christ" (n. 104); because -- in the words of the Second Vatican Council -- "the mystery of man could only be deciphered, in truth, in the mystery of the Incarnate Word" (Gaudium et spes, n. 22).

        John Paul II understands, therefore, that the "remembrance" of the mission of Philosophy has become very necessary at present. But he does not refer to a momentary concern but to a prophetic one: from the viewpoint of a higher reason, which makes of Philosophy one of the keys of this historical crossroads, enigmatically expressed at the end of the millennium. "With its enduring appeal to the search for truth, philosophy has the great responsability of forming thought and culture, and now it must strive resolutely to recover its original vocation. This is why -- the Roman Pontiff adds -- I have felt both the need and the duty to address this theme so that, on the threshold of the third millennium of the Christian era, humanity may come to a clearer sense of the great resources with which it has been endowed and may commit itself with renewed courage to implement the plan of salvation of which its history is part" ( 6).

        Such a vocation has been threshed out by the Encyclical in an impressive series of texts which reveal how the Christian Faith and Theology itself encourage human thought to transcend itself. "(...) Men and women are on a journey of discovery which is humanly unstoppable -- a search for the truth and a search for a person to whom they might entrust themselves. Christian faith comes to meet them, offering the concrete possibility of reaching the goal which they seek" (n. 33). Apparently, it is difficult, if not impossible, to discover the ultimate meaning of reality, in the midst of a cultural milieu which does not seem to accept any truth other than that arrived at through consensus and the neutralization of values, hardly admitting anything that is not either provisional or the product of convention. "Nonetheless, in the light of faith which finds in Jesus Christ this ultimate meaning, I cannot -- thus says the Pope -- but encourage philosophers -- be they Christian or not -- to trust in the power of human reason and not set themselves goals that are too modest in their philosophizing. The lesson of history in this millenium now drawing to a close shows that this is the path to follow: it is necessary not to abandon the passion for ultimate truth, the eagerness to search for it or the audacity to forge new paths in the search. It is faith which stirs reason to move beyond all isolation and willingly to run risks so that it may attain whatever is beatiful, good and true. Faith thus becomes the convinced and convincing advocate of reason" (n.56).

        Karol Wojtyla, the philosopher, does not conform to the superficiality of current thought. But neither does he end up in the nostalgia of a better past. He proposes, like no other, a passion for truth in dialogue with the most popular intellectual currents of the present moment, among which the postmodern "pensiero devole", in the manner of Vattimo, which invites us to follow in the shadow of post-Metaphysical thought, and for which the death of God and the abolition of human dignity are necessary starting points, is a specially meaningful reference for this particular issue.

        Where shall we draw strength in order to face this sceptic relativism as widespread as it is rooted in the Lebensformen of late-capitalism? In the words of John Paul II, the deep waters (cfr. n. 16) in which one may quench her thirst and replenish energies lie in that open and receptive confidence in an unmerited gift as contained in that splendid phrase from St. Paul which is the obedience of faith (cfr. Rom 1: 5; 16: 26). But have we not agreed that Christianity was the great obstacle for free philosophical thought and for a science that were not to find continuous barriers in an authoritarian orthodoxy? The answer is no. Many others, I among them, have never given in, not even in difficult moments, as when Althusser affirmed that Marxism was the Science. We never accepted that caricature, ever so alienated from historical reality, which at present, could only find its way in pamphlets of popular science or some weekly magazines. What is certain, I repeat, is that the central concepts of modern thought and current worldview at the very base of empirical science could only have arisen and developed in a non-anthropocentric and humanist medium provided by the vision of the human being and physical reality furnished by Christianity. As a matter of fact, Christian thought has been extraordinarily fertile so as to keep reason awake and prod it towards scientific adventures which would not have been possible departing from Greco-Latin wisdom or Oriental Mysticism, not to mention its late- modern audio-visual version in the New Age movement.

        The most original and provocative trait of this Encyclical is that for the first time, it neatly draws out the consequences that an intelligent analysis of intellectual history contributes to the effective and contemporary profession of both Theology and Philosophy. These two braches of knowledge cross- fertilized each other, so to speak. Because a deep and genuine understanding of the Christian Faith is possible only from the viewpoint of a transcendent Philosophy, one that is determined "to move from phenomenon to foundation" (n. 83). And Philosophy, for its part, overcomes its decadent narcissistic tendency, as a completely self-absorbed Rationalism, condemned to one or another form of Nihilism, as Kierkegaard, Dostoyevsky and Nietzsche himself had foretold, when Christian Revelation opens for it doors to unkown heights. Heidegger takes cunning advantage of this event, but he falls into error, even from the perspective of his own principles, when he maintains in his Introduction to Metaphysics that the expression "Christian Philosophy" is an oxymoron, the squaring of the circle, because the philosopher-believer would already have an answer -- that is, creation -- to the question, "Why being, instead of nothing?". He did not seem to have noticed that such a response should have been considered by him to be ontic, rather than ontological.

        A peak into this mystery breaks the iron cage of ideological and ethnocentric thought, the same one of totalitarian political praxis and of an acquisitive and individualistic economy. Wojtila calls the assumption of this fair risk the boldness of reason (cfr. n. 48). It is the flip-side of the coin of the obedience of faith. The Christian philosopher knows himself to be a child of God. And unlike the slave, he "knows what his master is doing" (Jn 15: 15). Such a situation, far from inviting one to restraint and prudence, beckons her instead to scale the heights of thought and to try out once more a grand intellectual tradition about to complete two thousand years of existence.

        "Were theologians to refuse the help of philososophy, they would run the risk of doing philosophy unwittingly and locking themselves within thought structures poorly adapted to the understanding of faith. Were philosophers, for their part, to shun theology completely, they would be forced to master on their own the contents of Christian faith, as has been the case with some modern philosophers. Either way, the grounding principles of autonomy which every science rightly wants guaranteed would be seriously threatened" (n. 77). With a shade less of drama, one may add that to try to speak in prose without knowing how, never yields satisfactory results, as was the case of Moliere's character, just like laboriously trying to discover the Mediterranean Sea, or playing hide- and-seek with oneself. In short, "the content of revelation can never debase the discoveries and legitimate autonomy of reason. Yet, conscious that it cannot set itself up us an absolute and exclusive value, reason on its part must never lose its capacity to question and to be questioned" (n. 79).

        This is the backdrop against which the Magisterium of the Catholic Church once more displays the enduring originality of the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas (cf. nn. 43-48), as a serene expression of a manner of thought based on faith, in which Philosophy and Theology complement each other harmoniously, free from confusion or shrillness. In light of these reflections, no one should find it odd, much less be scandalized, that the Magisterium has repeatedly praised the merits of Saint Thomas' teachings, and has singled them out as a guide for theological studies, as well as an orientation for philosophical research, that many of the Christian philosophers of today would do ill to ignore. Neither is it a case of mere serendipity that many of the intellectuals who have converted in this century have felt the need to study the same Thomas Aquinas that their previous, biased formation prevented them from approaching. Such is the case of Maritain, Gilson, Chesterton, Garc'a Morente, Flannery O'Connor, Alasdair MacIntyre or Saint Edith Stein, among many others. The Encyclical likewise reminds us that the intellectual depth of the Second Vatican Council -- splendidly reflected in the Catechism of the Catholic Church -- was due to the work of theologians, the majority of whom were formed in the shade of the contemporary renewal of Thomism, many of whom later on followed that path to which their own research inclined them. Karol Wojtyla clarifies that what is important is not "(...) to take a position on properly philosophical questions nor to demand adherence to particular theses. The Magisteriums's intention has always been to show how St. Thomas is an authentic model for all who seek the truth. In his thinking, the demands of reason and the power of faith found the most elevated synthesis ever attained by human thought, for he could defend the radical newness introduced by revelation without ever demeaning the venture proper to reason" (n. 78).

        John Paul II does well to celebrate that the topic of tradition has surfaced in these past few decades. Faced with a Philosophy based on a radical and systematic suspicion, Gadamer has opened a path towards a balanced hermeneutics that surpasses the exaggerations of both Historicism and radical Critique. For his part, MacIntyre shows us that the Enlightenment project of analysis and thought outside of any known tradition is illusory, and at the same time, that a genuinely philosophical tradition projects us beyond itself, to confront rival versions and to try and decide through which one could the truth be found. Meanwhile, Charles Taylor defends the modern appeal for authenticity, but -- through a heavily-nuanced version of the "Zirkel des Verstehens" -- he warns us that in order not to trivialize this desire, it is necessary to interpret one's own cultural identity through strong evaluations of an ethical and religious nature. The Encyclical underscores the fact that "the appeal to tradition is not a mere remembrance of the past; it involves rather the recognition of a cultural heritage which belongs to all of humanity. Indeed it may be said that it is we who belong to the tradition and that it is not ours to dispose of at will. Precisely by being rooted in the tradition will we able today to develop for the future an original, new and constructive mode of thinking" (n. 85). Lest we forget, the evaluation that Fides et ratio makes of multiculturalism is a model of rigor and objectivity. The multiplicity of cultures simultaneously lived in the present economically and communications-wise globalized world constitutes enormous wealth, no doubt, if genuine dialogue were to be attained among them. On the other hand, this could completely degenerate into some superficial relativism if each of these diverse cultures were to be considered as water-tight compartments, thus ignoring their structural constants and the analogy of their religious references. In the end, I would daresay, fragmentary multiculturalism is a power strategy that trivializes the variety and variations of the Lebensformen, while imposing on the weak the non-negotiable conceptions of the strong. Evidently, that is a card that present Christian thought would not like to play. "To believe it possible to know a universally valid truth is in no way to encourage intolerance; on the contrary, it is the essential condition for sincere and authentic dialogue between persons. On this basis alone is it possible to overcome divisions and to journey together toward full truth, walking those paths known only to the Spirit of the Risen Lord" (n. 92).

        In the Critique of Pure Reason Kant makes use of the comely metaphor of the dove that could not fly in a phenomenon vacuum. John Paul II is, doubtless, more bold as he sustains in the brief exordium of the Encyclical that "faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth". Once again, it is an invitation to be free from fear, and to risk some form of thought that befits the dignity of the human person.

        Such an invitation becomes explicit and solemn towards the end of this powerful document: "I appeal also to philosophers, and to all teachers of philosophy, asking them to have the courage to recover, in the flow of an enduringly valid philosophical tradition, the range of authentic wisdom and truth -metaphysical truth included- which is proper to philosophical enquiry. They should be open to the impelling questions which arise from the word of God and they should be strong enough to shape their thought and discussion in response to that challenge. Let them always strive for truth, alert to the good which truth contains. Then they will be able to formulate the genuine ethics which humanity need so urgently at this particular time. The Church follows the work of philosophers with interest and appreciation, and they should rest assured of her respect to the rightful autonomy of their discipline. I would want especially to encourage believers working in the philosophical field to illumine the range of human activity by the exercise of a reason which grows more penetrating and assured because of the support it receives from faith" (n. 106).

        Certainly, the Christian thinker could say, together with Saint Paul, that he knows where, or better still, in Whom he has placed his trust. He knows that faith is a rational obedience that "illumines every human being that comes to this world" (Jn 1: 9), on the condition that such a human being -- conscious of its great weakness and the dignity of its calling -- were to leave its solitude and bravely open itself up to receive a gift which at the same time strenghthens and surpasses human intelligence.