Appeared in Summer/Autumn/Winter 2002, Vol. XXVII, No. 2, 3, 4 Download PDF here


The primary aim of this article is to offer an interpretation of the encyclical Fides et Ratio1 as it relates to the idea of “meaning” as an answer to the ultimate questions of man (#33). The force of the metaphor used by John Paul II of the two wings of faith and reason (Introduction) lies in the picture of the human spirit attaining truth only by the simultaneous efforts of faith and reason. As a bird cannot fly with only one wing, so the spirit needs both faith and reason to arrive at truth. It is the union of faith and reason which provides us with the boldness (parrhesia) and confidence necessary to access the truth (#48).

After an analysis of man’s “quest for meaning,” a goal only achieved by reaching the Absolute, we will investigate the two means available to us to reach that goal: faith and reason. We will then present the implications of the organic unity of faith and reason and their climax in the synthesis of Aquinas. Finally, we will examine the drama of their separation which has led to the present crisis of meaning.

In order to overcome this crisis, the encyclical offers us a triple remedy: first, a recovery of the “sapiential dimension” (#81) of philosophy as a unifying explanation; second, a verification of the human capacity for truth (#81), with an expose of the modern philosophy that, “not daring to rise to the truth of being” and “abandoning the investigation of being,” concentrates its research upon human knowing, with “widespread distrust of the human being’s great capacity for knowledge” (#5); third, an insistence on the crucial role of metaphysics for a complete philosophy “of genuinely metaphysical range, capable of transcending empirical data” (#83). “Failure to make this step results in agnosticism, relativism, pluralism, opinion and ignorance of radical questions” (#5). We will then investigate the impact of metaphysics on other branches of knowledge as well as on the culture, concluding with an interpretation of the organic unity of faith and reason. Our conclusion will also consider the impact of revelation upon human history.

II. Analysis of the Quest for Wisdom and Meaning

We might begin by asking the question: what is wisdom? John Paul II praises Aquinas’ insight about wisdom as one of his greatest achievements (#44). Wisdom is not just any knowledge but a knowledge about ultimate causes, and answers to ultimate questions, a knowledge which assigns each thing its place in the context of the whole universe. Aquinas often expressed this in the phrase “Sapientis est ordinare,” referring not only to the theoretical but also to the practical realm. For as the Pope says: “[wisdom] is the ultimate framework of the unity of human knowledge and action leading them to converge toward a final goal and meaning” (#81). The Holy Father is looking for “a unifying explanation” and “overarching meaning” which no true philosophy should deny since such a search “corresponds to the religious impulse innate in every person.” This “grand unifying theory” (#81) is not just a dream of physicists, but the reality of divine providence and governance.

Aquinas distinguished three levels of wisdom. The first level is the practical insight into life that grows out of philosophical considerations. The second level, wisdom that comes from faith and theological knowledge, is higher, for it orders all things in heaven and earth in the light of supernatural grace. The third level is the wisdom that is a gift of the Holy Spirit; in the power of this wisdom, the man who loves God grasps the world properly, no longer through his own efforts alone. He now grasps it in the light of a divine movement; he feels himself ordered to the divine, and in a loving embrace he experiences the divinely-willed order of all things.2 We should notice that the Pope closes his encyclical with a prayer to Mary, “Seat of Wisdom.” For between the vocation of the Blessed Virgin and the vocation of true philosophy there is a deep harmony. Just as the Virgin was called to offer herself entirely as a human being and as a woman that God’s Word might take flesh and come among us, so too philosophy is called to offer its rational and critical resources that theology, as the understanding of faith, might be fruitful and creative (#108).

Chapter One of the encyclical, in which John Paul II reinforces the teachings of Dei Filius and Dei Verbum, presents the Revelation of God’s Wisdom, or the knowledge which God offers humanity, which climaxes in the Incarnation, for “only in the mystery of the Incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light” (#12). Revelation acts as a catalyst, enticing reason to seek explanations, and “enabling the mind in its autonomous explanations to penetrate within the mystery,” diving into but never exhausting it (#13).

Chapter Two stresses the unity between the knowledge conferred by faith and the knowledge conferred by reason. John Paul II proposes that “Wisdom Literature” in accepting this unity, is convinced that a sure path to truth can be found, insisting that the knowledge offered by God cannot be ignored if one wants to answer the ultimate questions (#16). In wisdom literature, man understands himself as being in relation to God. His reason enters the realm of the infinite like a “true explorer” (#21).

The coming of Christ was the saving event which redeemed reason from its weakness, which was the woundresulting from a primal disobedience. The opposition between the “wisdom of this world” and the wisdom of God, revealed in Christ who died on the Cross, appears here with clarity. The “wisdom of this world” is not able to grasp how death could be the source of life and love. What might be understood as a chasm between faith and reason here, however, can become “the space” where the two can meet. Reason cannot eliminate the mystery of the Cross but the Cross can give reason the ultimate answers which it seeks. We see Christ performing his greatest deed as he is annihilated and reduced to nothing on the Cross.

Chapter Three of the encyclical is intimately connected to the issue of meaning, for it addresses the psychological longings of man, the perceiver of values. The word “meaning” in the encyclical has this specific signification: it is the answer to man’s ultimate and unavoidable questions, discovered as he strives to reach the Absolute through faith and reason. These questions are: “Who am I?” “Where have I come from?” “Where am I going?” “Why is there evil?” and “What is there after this life?” (#1). This process starts with a “nostalgia”3 for God (#24), which philosophy tries to articulate when it maintains the desire of all men to know truth (#25) and not to be deceived. This desire also implies a moral obligation. These questions about the meaning of life impact man with deep anxiety as he witnesses the sufferings of the just, as in the case of Job, or the inevitability of death (#26), and he wonders “if there is something beyond.” Man wants a truth that answers his ultimate questions and that is universal for all peoples at all times (#27), a search which can achieve its end only in reaching the Absolute (#33).

This is a theme which I have long pursued and which I have addressed on a number of occasions. “What is man and of what use is he? What is good in him and what is evil?” (Sir 18:8)…. These are questions in every human heart, as the poetic genius of every time and every people has shown, posing again and again almost as the prophetic voice of humanity the serious question which makes human beings truly what they are. They are questions which express the urgency of finding a reason for existence, in every moment, at life’s most important and decisive times as well as more ordinary times. The questions show the deep reasonableness of human existence, since they summon human intelligence and will to search freely for a solution which can reveal the full meaning of life. These enquiries, therefore, are the highest expression of human nature; which is why the answer to them is the gauge of the depth of his engagement with his own existence. In particular, when the why of things is explored in full harmony with the search for the ultimate answer, then human reason reaches its zenith and opens to the religious impulse. The religious impulse is the highest expression of the human person, because it is the highpoint of his rational nature. It springs from the profound human aspiration for the truth and it is the basis of the human being’s free and personal search for the divine.4

By posing these questions, man opens his religious sense; these questions are like the prophetic voice of humanity. The search is not in vain (#29), for none would search for something “of which they knew nothing.” (This truth even obtains in scientific research; it is based upon an original intuition.) The search is confirmed by a coincidence or convergence “no different in substance” (#29) from the answers of many in the search for truth. As manifested in the history of religion, human beings have tried to express their connection of dependence to a higher Being. There is a common denominator to their quest for the Absolute. But now, “Christian faith comes to meet them, offering the concrete possibility of reaching the goal which they seek” (#33). The Absolute has entered into human history and the incarnation establishes God’s way for man to achieve the objective of his quest.

The Pope considers “different faces of the truth” (#28): that of empirical science, that of the philosopher, and that of religious traditions. He points out that we attain truth through trusting acquiescence to others5 – as the Latin text reads, “alteri fidens” (#31) and in the testimony of the martyrs. At the closing of the chapter, he answers the question of the link between the truths of philosophy and those of religion by stating the principle of the unity of truth as the fundamental premise of human reasoning (#34), since the God of creation is also the God of salvation. This unity is embodied in Christ. We know that we only achieve our search for meaning by reaching the Absolute. We now should consider the means available to us – the two wings of faith and reason-to reach our goal.

III. The “Two Wings” of Faith and Reason

The force of the metaphor of the “two wings” consists in the simultaneous efforts of faith and reason. The spirit is a unity which cannot “fly” with one wing; it requires synergism. The two maxims, fides querit intellectum and intellectus querit fidem, work in conjunction, or rather, in confluence, the combined stream formed by the conjunction. By faith I accept the word of God; with my understanding I apprehend it.

Although faith has an ontological priority (in the order of reality), in the order of our knowledge we can think of two theological ways towards faith: the “ascending” one, from man to revelation (intellego ut credam), and the “descending” one, starting from the explicit faith of man (credo ut intelligam) in which faith works like a lodestar (#15).6 We can think also of two obstacles to the act of faith, rationalism and fideism, as excesses that render impossible the synergism or confluence of the act of faith. They produce the “drama of the separation” (#45) between faith and reason.

The “ascending way” of Chapter Three of the encyclical is presented to us in the very first chapter of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: man as capax Dei (#27-47);7 his rationality is presented as a way of apologetic orientation towards faith, or a propaedeutic. The “descending way” is that of St. Anselm’s credo ut intelligam. As we noted earlier, while faith and revelation have (in the order of reality) an ontological priority, in the order of our (epistemological) knowledge, we can distinguish two ways of showing the role of reason in faith: the ascending way (rationabile obsequium), which requires reason as an apologetic precondition, and the descending way, stressing the primacy of faith in knowledge as an absolute necessity.8

To these two ways correspond two methods.9 The ascending way is anthropological (from immanence to transcendence). Man is capax Dei. The descending way is phenomenological in that it proceeds from the experience of faith to its meaning (#42).

St. Thomas tells us that the ways of ascent and descent are, in essence, the same.

But, since natural reason ascends to a knowledge of God through creatures and, conversely, the knowledge of faith descends from God to us by a divine Revelation-since the way of ascent and descent is still the same-we must proceed in the same way in the things above reason which are believed as we proceed in the foregoing with the investigation of God by reason.”10

And in the Compendium11 he talks of “a sort of circulatory movement” of man to his first beginning:

Lastly, the Incarnation puts the finishing touch to the whole vast work envisaged by God. For man, who was the last to be created, returns by a sort of circulatory movement to his first beginning, being united by the work of the Incarnation to the very principle of all things.

Actually, the encyclical describes a “circular relationship” (#73), “moving between the twin poles of God’s word and a better understanding of it.” The Pope asserts that “theology’s source and starting point must always be the word of God revealed in history, while its final goal will be an understanding of that word which increases with each passing generation.” We should also keep in mind that the whole structure of the Summa is based upon this circularity.

Because the chief aim of sacred doctrine is to teach the knowledge of God, not only as He is in Himself, but also as He is the beginning of things and their last end, and especially of rational creatures, as is clear from what has been already said, therefore, in our endeavor to expound this science, we shall treat: (1) Of God; (2) Of the rational creature’s advance towards God; (3) Of Christ, Who as man, is our way to God.12

In the “ascending way,” John Paul II emphasizes the attitude of “being open” to transcendence (#15) and the need for philosophy “to recover its sapiential dimension as a search for the ultimate and overarching meaning of Life” (#81). The Pope observes that “modern philosophical research, abandoning the investigation of being, has concentrated instead upon human knowing” (#5) and that “at the present time in particular the search for ultimate truth seems often neglected” (#5). The Pope urges philosophy to take on a “genuinely metaphysical range,” to move “from phenomenon to foundation” (#83). In this “opening,” the Pope considers the aspect of freedom in belief until the “historic encounter” (#95) with Mystery, when reason acknowledges that “it cannot do without faith” (#42). This is because, in the words of Aquinas, “the intellect seeks truth with love,” a truth it knows exists even though it “cannot penetrate its mode of being.”13 And as John Paul II says, “the desire for truth spurs reason always to go further” (#42). Grace, Aquinas always insists, perfects nature, and faith, although supernatural, is an exercise of human thought, prompted by the love of truth.

There is a need to explore further this aspect of the “desire for truth,” or the love for truth, because the will has certain implications for the act of faith. As Aquinas says, “if the object of faith be considered in so far as the intellect is moved by the will, the First Truth is referred to the will, through having the aspect of an end.”14 John Paul II, as he exposes the “drama” of the separation of faith and reason, points out to the excess of rationalism “losing sight of its final goal” (#48).

In the Introduction to the encyclical, John Paul II emphasizes its fundamental subject: truth itself and its foundation in relation to faith (#6). The whole thrust of the Introduction is that the meaning of life and truth are inseparable. The ultimate questions raised by man are “questions which have their common source in the quest for meaning which have always compelled the human heart” (#1). But “that search can only reach its end in reaching the Absolute” (#33). This is, of course, God: “As the source of Love, God desires to make Himself known, and the knowledge which the human being has of God perfects all that the human mind can know of the meaning of life” (#7). Revelation, then is the knowledge which God offers humanity, surpassing human knowledge (#8).

Revelation has set within history a point of reference which cannot be ignored if the mystery of human life is to be known. Yet, this knowledge refers back constantly to the mystery of God which the human mind cannot exhaustbut can only receive and embrace with faith. (#14)

John Paul II’s theology takes as a point of departure the word of God, but since this word is truth, “it has to be in relation to the human quest which is a philosophical task” (#15). This convergence of revealed theology and philosophy makes up “the religious impulse,” the “highest expression of the human person, because it is the high point of his rational nature. It springs from the profound human aspiration for the truth and it is the basis of the human being’s free and personal search for the divine.15

IV. Organic Unity of Faith and Reason as a Key to the Encyclical

The metaphor of the two wings works as a key to the encyclical. This is manifested by a mere outline of the document. In the introduction, man searches for meaning and truth. Chapter One resents revelation as a lodestar and an enlargement of the mind.Chapter Two focuses on the unity of faith and wisdom: credo ut intelligam. Chapter Three, Intelligo ut credam, returns to the initial theme of the introduction and presents man as capax Dei, in a search for meaning that is only satisfied by reaching the Absolute. The unity of truth is stressed. Chapter Four describes the historic relation between faith and reason, conclusing by showing the harmoney of the thought of St.s Anselm and Aquinas.The rupture of this harmonious relation is the “drama” outlined in #45. But in contrast to this “drama,” we have the “boldness” and confidence of access to the truth expressed in the Greek word parrhesia (#48). Chapter Five relates various errors and achievements in the relationship of faith and reason while Chapter Six describes the pattern of the combined stream formed by the conjunction of faith and reason in a “circular” movement. The Pope defines the term “Christian philosophy” as “important developments of philosophical thinking which would not have happened without the direct or indirect contribution of Christian faith” (#76). Chapter Seven ends with a challenge to today’s “crisis of meaning,” with an appeal to the “sapiential dimension” of philosophy (“as a search for the ultimate and overarching meaning of life”) (#81) and the role of metaphysics. The importance of metaphysics is highlighted in recent hermeneutics and analysis of language (#84) inasmuch as faith clearly presupposes that human language is capable of expressing transcendental reality in a universal way with analogical limitations.

“God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth” (Introduction). This opening statement of the encyclical refers to a natural tendency given to us by our Creator. Aquinas says,

In every natural being, its inclinations to its operations and its end proceed from the form constitutive of its species and it will achieve such an end by means of its operations since things act according to what they are.16

This is what forced Tertullian to proclaim every soul Christian by nature17 and what prompted Augustine’s exclamation, Fecisti Nos Domine ad te, et inquietum est cor nostrum donec requiescat in te.18 We shall discuss later the implications of these quotations. In order to frame properly this natural tendency, we should consider: a) the psychological tendency towards unity, b) the tendency of the intellect towards truth, c) the tendency of the will toward good, and,through a, b, and c, d) the fundamental tendency of the human being to its ultimate end, rest and happiness. Aquinas points out that man must know the law of nature before it can become a guide to action.19 Thus he says,

There is in man an inclination to good according to the nature of his reason, which nature is proper to him. Thus man has a natural tendency to know the truth about God, and to live in society; in this respect, whatever pertains to this inclination belongs to natural law (emphasis mine).

Aquinas further observes that

to know that God exists in a general and confused way is implanted in us by nature in as much as God is man’s beatitude, for man naturally desires happiness, and what is naturally desired by man must be naturally known by him. This however is not to know absolutely that God exists, just as to know that someone is approaching is not the same as to know that Peter is approaching, even though it might be Peter, for many there are who imagine that man’s perfect good which is happiness consists in reaches and others in pleasures, and others in something else.20

Thus, man does not have a specific and clear natural knowledge of God but, as Aquinas says “a natural inclination to know the truth about God.” “The knowledge of the existence of God is said to be implanted in us because in all of us something has been naturally implanted from which we can proceed to the knowledge of God.”21 I should point out that there is a poor translation of the encyclical’s Latin. The opening statement should read: “God has put in the human heart the desire to know the truth, and definitely of knowing Him, so that by knowing and loving Him, he could attain also the truth about himself.”22 Thus, the sequence is: (1) Truth; (2) God; (3) Truth about man himself. The scriptural texts suggested by John Paul II refer to this desire of man. The opening statement of the encyclical: “God has put in the human heart the desire to know the truth, and definitely of knowing Him”23 opens a question related to the last end of man, and to the issue of the “obediential potency” (the God-given, supernatural potency to receive a supernatural perfection that exceeds the natural capacity) and how it is understood by the Thomists or by Suarez. Is there an aptitude of the natural creature, either to receive a supernatural gift or to be elevated to produce a supernatural effect? Is nature itself suited for elevation to a superior order? We have seen that for Aquinas “to know that God exists in a general and confused way is implanted in us by nature in as much as God is man’s beatitude, for a man naturally desires happiness.” No matter what then, a desire exists, and this desire is related to the possession of the object. But, if we have a natural desire to see God, do we compromise the gratuitous character of supernatural happiness? And, since it is only by grace that we can attain it, do we imply that grace is “due” to man? This is a dilemma posed by Copleston.24 As a way out, he reminds us that, for Aquinas, man does not have two ends, one natural and one supernatural. And since the last end of man is the principle of the entire moral order, no ethics leaving out the actual supernatural end of man is at all satisfying. But do we have an ethic straddling the fence between two orders as implied in the dilemma? Copleston replies that it is reasonable to suppose that when Aquinas speaks of a natural desire for the vision of God that the intelligence naturally desires, Aquinas does not speak strictly as a philosopher but as a theologian and philosopher combined. Aquinas, he says, is considering man in the concrete, given man’s destination to the supernatural end. It is not that Aquinas ignores that the attainment of man’s true end exceeds man’s unaided powers. As to the second horn of the dilemma, Copleston observes that the will of man “necessarily” desires happiness, which, in fact, can only be found in God. By “necessity” Aquinas does not mean either that the last end is merely natural, or that if it is supernatural, God could not have created man without directing him to that end.

To say, as Copleston does, that Aquinas is speaking as a philosopher and a theologian combined when he speaks of natural desire might be true, but it does not penetrate into the psychology of that combination as Suarez does in his treatise De Fine Hominis.25 We cannot “naturally” desire the beatific vision. That would be to transpose into the natural order what we have experienced in the supernatural.26 Unless man has received grace and revelation, he cannot focus efficaciously on his ultimate supernatural goal. Beyond this, man can only have what we call “wishful” thinking or impossible dreams like “I wish I were a giant.” Thus Suarez’s conclusion is that “The obediential potency is not sufficient in order to establish a natural appetite.”27 Although Suarez mentions that Aquinas does not deal with this particular issue in detail, he makes reference to a very meaningful text in De Veritate, Qu. 22, art. 7, in which St. Thoma says that man’s merit consists, not in that he desires happiness (which he naturally desires), but because he desires this particular good (which he does not naturally desire), for example, the vision of God, in which his happiness does in truth reside.

As Scheeben says,

St. Thomas consistently bases the necessity and importance of the supernatural faith on the fact that the intellect can be made ready for the attainment of the supernatural goal of the beatific vision and can be conducted to it only by faith. The intellect, by force of its very nature, aspires to a perfect knowledge of the ultimate reality, but keeps this reality definitely in view only by supernatural. faith. This view is the condition of that efficacious, dynamic striving which issues in attainment of that objective.28

V. The Proper Conception of Christian Philosophy29

Without becoming “an official philosophy of the Church, since faith as such is not a philosophy … the term [Christian philosophy] seeks rather to indicate … a philosophical speculation conceived in dynamic union with faith,” defined as “philosophical thinking which would not have happened without the direct or indirect contribution of Christian faith” (#76). Christian philosophy is not defined merely as a set of truths which are not in contradiction with faith. John Paul II’s definition is positive – not in the sense of mere agreement but in the sense of positive inspiration. The Pope stresses both the subjective and objective aspects of this definition. The subjective aspect is that “faith purifies reason … since faith liberates reason from presumption.” The objective aspect refers to the content of truths “which might never have been discovered by reason unaided” and an exploration of “the rationality of certain truths expressed in Sacred Scripture” (#76). “Reason is stirred to explore paths which of itself would not even have suspected it could take”(#73). Faith is then an “enlargement” of the human mind since it lifts the human mind above its natural limitations.

In order for Christian philosophy to achieve this goal, Aquinas is presented as a model “for he could defend the radical newness introduced by revelation without ever demeaning the venture proper to reason” (#78). But for philosophy to attain this level, three basic requirements must be met: recovering its “sapiential dimension,”30 verifying the human capacity to know the truth as a conformation of mind to object,31 and having a “genuinely metaphysical range, capable of transcending empirical data” (#83).32 It is true, indeed, that philosophy must obey its own rules and be based upon its own principles, but truth can only be one (#79); since revealed truth offers the fullness of light, “thus, Christian revelation becomes a true point of encounter between philosophical and theological thinking in their reciprocal relationship” (#79). It is around this centrality that “the meaning of life reaches its defining moment” (#80).

We should reflect, then, that if it is true that the ultimate questions of man cannot be answered strictly in human terms (without the aid of revelation), it does not follow that these are illegitimate questions or badly posed ones. What would render these questions illegitimate? There is a kind of ipso facto excommunication fulminated by rationalism against Christian philosophers because some of their truths could not have been attained without the help of revelation; such philosophers are characterized as “inside traders” within the realm of pure philosophy. Bishop Fidel Martinez replies with this example: Imagine that you are a mountain-climber, and you hire a private airplane to inspect the mountain you are about to climb the next day with other climbers who lack your information. You are still climbing with your own legs and efforts, although better and more easily. Thus, a higher view does not suppress the lower efforts and a higher truth does not contradict a lower one.33

Edith Stein, in the introduction to her book Finite Being and Eternal Being,34 says that it would be unreasonable for us if we should abstain from a superior light simply because it exceeds our natural powers. She points out that what is revealed is not something simply incomprehensible, but a fact that it is not exclusively natural. This, she says, is what Maritain explained in relation to human morality or behavior. For Maritain, one of the elements of positive value for the new moral philosophy consisted in this foundational insight into man’s human condition which tempts him to accept or reject his moral situation without adverting to the supernatural situation available to him by divine grace. Thus, the study of morality, says St. Thomas consistently bases the necessity and importance of the supernatural faith on the fact that the intellect can be made ready for the attainment of the supernatural goal of the beatific vision and can be conducted to it only by faith. The intellect, by force of its very nature, aspires to a perfect knowledge of the ultimate reality, but keeps this reality definitely in view only by supernatural. faith. This view is the condition of that efficacious, dynamic striving which issues in attainment of that objective.28 Stein, is impossible as “pure philosophy.” It is only necessary to take into account its dependence on theology as a “supplement,” if philosophy is to achieve aperfectum opus rationis. This is what Father Joseph Owens points out so well, quoting Scotus, that nature is not a finished whole: thus the possibility of supernatural completion is in itself a philosophical topic, discussible by a philosophy of religion rather than by sacred theology alone.35 Thus philosophy needs the data of theology, says Stein, without itself becoming theology, and it is up to philosophy to establish an agreement between philosophy and theology: what philosophy has elaborated by its own means, using faith as a negative measure (as to what is contrary to faith), but positively inasmuch as revealed truth offers new and unsuspected horizons. As an example of tenets of faith prompting genuine philosophical issues, I refer to what John Wild does in his Introduction to Realistic Philosophy. Discussing the origin of evil by using the narrative of Genesis, is, as he says, “as intelligible an explanation of original evil, the only one which has yet been offered, perhaps the only one which can be offered.”36 Another, older, example that brings to the forefront the insufficiency of pure philosophy is offered by St. Augustine in The City of God, citing Varro who mentions 288 opinions on what happiness is.37

Aquinas himself, in discussing the necessity of Sacred Doctrine without asserting that moral truths are impossible for man, stresses our proclivity to error plainly shown by the philosophers themselves, “who, seeking through the way of reason the end of human life, and not discovering it, fell into numerous errors and disagreement.”38 (For Aquinas, the philosopher is not “bound to” fall into errors as Bonaventure would say,39 but it is “likely that” he might fall into error). If Aquinas, however, stressed that “the commandments of the Decalogue are those that natural reason dictates,”40 which we have by the habit of synderesis,41 we could point out also that moral theology is wider than philosophical ethics.42 The truths of theology and moral theology are not restricted to revealed truths that can also be grasped by the human mind. Another point to consider is that if the philosopher does not know everything about the mystery of man, incompleteness, like that of Aristotle, does not imply falsity, although it may lead to it.

Today’s “crisis of meaning” (#8 1), according to John Paul II, results from the fragmentation of knowledge that undermines the unity of knowledge, from the superabundance of data, and from the
different ways of viewing and interpreting the world. The sad consequence of this crisis of meaning is a philosophy which no longer asks the ultimate questions. In order to overcome the crisis, three things are needed: first of all, to recover for philosophy its sapiential dimension as a search for ultimate questions, which we shall explain; second, to verify the human capacity to know objective truths through the conformity of the thing and the intellect; third, the need for a philosophy of “genuinely metaphysical range” capable of transcending empirical data. Let us study these.

VI. The Sapiential Dimension: Aquinas’ Unified View of Reality

For John Paul II, theology takes the word of God as its point of departure, but since this word is truth, it has to be in relation to the human quest which is a philosophical task (#15). This fully coincides with the opening chapter of On The Truth, “The function of the Wise Man.” Aquinas therein observes that the name “wise” without qualification is reserved alone for him who deals with the last end of the Universe, which is also the first beginning of the order of the Universe. Hence, according to the Philosopher, it is proper to the wise man to consider the highest causes. Now the last end of everything is that which is intended by the Prime Author and Mover. But as Aquinas shows in Book II, chapter XXIV, the Prime Mover of the Universe is intelligence. The last end of the Universe, therefore, must be the good of the intelligence, and that is truth. Truth, then, must be the final end of the whole Universe and about the consideration of that end wisdom must be primarily concerned. The Divine Wisdom, therefore, clothed in flesh, testifies that He came into the world for the manifestation of the truth, and the Philosopher also rules that the first philosophy philosophy is the science of truth.43 John Paul II, in the Introduction to the encyclical, defends the greatness of reason, despite its modern mistakes, and emphasizes that reason itself finds in faith a most valuable ally. It is the encyclical’s claim that philosophy and theology find in revelation their point of contact. Chapter Four makes a historical survey of how Christianity engaged philosophy from the first centuries to the climax of Scholasticism in Aquinas, the great proclaimer of the unity and source of truth in God.

The greatest achievement of Aquinas is his clarification that the distinction between philosophy and sacred theology is not that between reason and faith, but that of method. The part of philosophy which deals with God is natural theology, which treats of the ultimate causes of contingent things, a subject that should be sharply distinguished from revealed, sacred, or supernatural theology, which derives its principles from divine revelation. Aquinas states this distinction very clearly:

And so, theology or divine science is of two kinds. One, in which divine things are considered not as the subject of the science but as principles of the subject, is the kind of theology that the philosophers seek. The other, which considers these divine things themselves in their own right as the subject of a science, is the kind of theology that is handed down as sacred scripture.44

His thought can be diagrammed in the graphic design of two intersecting circles. The philosophical circle’s content is that of reason alone, while that of sacred theology is of faith and reason. The almond-like intersecting zone, a movable zone, can represent but not simultaneously,45 either natural theology and the preambles of faith, or faith alone. This is a philosophy drawn into the orbit of sacred theology and not vice versa, and makes up the order of what St. Thomas calls Revelabilia, 46 or the revealable, themagic medieval term, a sort of Salomonic deciding sentenceto end the disputes on the relations of reason and faith.

We are all familiar with this Aquinas diagram, but now John Paul II offers us his “Circular Methodology” (#73) using the word of God, revealed in history as theology’s starting point, while the final goal is that of fides quaerens intellectum, an understanding that progresses in history. “Yet,” says John Paul II,

since God’s word is truth (Jn 17:17), the human search for truth, philosophy, pursued in keeping with its own rules, can only help to understand God’s word better. It is not just a question of theological discourse using this or that concept or element of philosophical construct; what matters most is that the believer’s reason uses its powers of reflection in the truth which moves from the word of God to a better understanding of it. It is as if, moving between the twin poles of God’s word and a better understanding of it, reason is offered guidance and is warned against paths which would lead it to stray from revealed truth and to stray from the truth pure and simple. Instead, reason is stirred to explore paths which of itself it would not even have suspected it could take (emphasis mine).

This circular relationship with the word of God leaves philosophy enriched, because reason discovers new and unsuspected horizons. The Pope offers us some names as he says, “simply to offer significant examples of a process of philosophical inquiry, which was enriched by engaging the data of faith” (#74), which is in itself definition of Christian philosophy.

We should not forget that the force of the metaphor of the two wings of faith and reason implies the simultaneous effort of the flying bird, which cannot fly with only one wing. The wing of reason does not have causal or temporal priority even though faith is reasonable. In his discussion of “Fundamental Theology” (#67), the Pope says that this discipline should show how,

in the light of the knowledge conferred by faith, there emerge certain truths which reason, from its own independent inquiry, already perceives…. Consider, for example, the natural knowledge of God, the possibility of distinguishing divine revelation from other phenomena or the recognition of its credibility, the capacity of human language to speak in a true and meaningful way even of things which transcend all human experience. … Revelation endows these truths with their fullest meaning … and from these truths the mind is led to acknowledge the existence of a truly propaedeutic path to faith, one which can lead to the acceptance of revelation, without in any way compromising the principles and authority of the mind itself.

The italicized phrases point out that the truths of fundamental theology are not simply philosophical, but philosophy drawn into the orbit of sacred theology. This is very much in continuity with Veritatis Splendor inwhich the truths of natural law are much more than abstractions, but are embodied in the total truth of revelation.47 Over one hundred years ago the German theologian, Mathias Joseph Scheeben, in The Mysteries of Christianity had presented the organic unity of understanding and faith in the theological knowledge in these terms:

With respect to the objects of faith, therefore, such understanding of them as is possible should never be called a real knowing as distinct from faith, as if it constituted a proper, complete knowledge that would take its place at the side of faith. To be real knowledge, it must be as intimately associated with faith as faith is with it, if not more so. The profound observation, Fides quaerit intellectum, is adequately appreciated only in conjunction with another, Intellectus quaerit fidem. Both faith and understanding complement and postulate each other for the organic unity of a knowledge imparted by God concerning truths revealed by Him. By faith I accept the word of God; with my understanding I apprehend it. Only if I have both together do I make my own the knowledge which God has uttered in the word, and thus become a true knower myself.48

VII. The Predicament of Modern Philosophy: The Epistemological Problem49

The movement to consider the validity of our knowledge as the starting point of philosophy began when Ockham’s nominalism denied the capacity of the human mind to reach the essence of things. The denial of the transcendence of our intellect reduces the intellect to an immanence in Descartes’ philosophy, which became the basis of modem idealism. As a result, the concept of being became that of conscience. The human mind cannot reach beyond its own ideas or representations.

Criticism became radical when Kant demanded that reason be an independent tribunal of all dogmatism. He initiated the Copernican philosophical revolution, which resulted in the idea that human thought does not rotate around objects, but that objects rotate around the human subject like an axis. His transcendental method (his philosophy identified with the method) is to reflect on the subjective conditions of the knowledge of objects. Just as all poetry derives from Homer, all modern idealistic philosophy derives from Kant.

Neo-Thomists were poised to react, but many compromised with Descartes in their evaluation of Kantian positions as they pretended to recover being from the thinking subject, falling into a disguised immanentism. Their so-called “critical realism,” however, only recovered a “mental” reality. In metaphorical terms, regarding modem idealistic philosophy, epistemology is considered as a lobby or anteroom of philosophy. Metaphysics must ask permission of epistemology to enter into the main room of philosophy by passing the viability test. To use a very Kantian metaphor, reason would sit as a defendant before the accusing reason or judge. This situation, analogous to the idea that there is only one weight-measuring scale in the world (i.e. reason), presents a petitio principii. How is the weight of the scale determined? Since the validity of reason is under dispute, how could reason judge the reasonableness of itself? How is this vicious cycle broken?

Plato never considered epistemology as a preliminary philosophy. He contemplated possible obstacles to knowledge (such as the sophists’ ideas) and devised methods to overcome them. Likewise, Aristotle inventoried the philosophers who preceded him, and found some fundamental errors of human reason, such as the relativism following from the dictum that man is the measure of all things.

There is, however, a proper defense of the judgment of the human mind that allows possible obstacles to be overcome. Aquinas defended the capacity of the mind against the efforts of his time as he maintained a metaphysical realism, like Aristotle’s position, which defended truth as the conformation of mind to reality. Both Aquinas and Aristotle placed the beginning of epistemology in external things immediately known.

But “modem philosophy,” says John Paul II, “abandoning being, has concentrated on human knowing” (#5). As previously discussed, the intellect measures and judges the relation of truth to being (giving due credit to Aristotle and Aquinas for their place in the history of philosophy). Following Cartesian tendencies, Marechal established a type of Neo-Thomism with a Kantian basis that influenced Lonergan and “it made insight and consciousness the immediately and directly known basis of philosophical inquiry.”50 Only human ideas are the true starting points of philosophy (Hume later applied this to sensations). This impacted upon the epistemology of Neo-Thomists who were trapped in the solipsism oftheir own consciousness. They failed to find a bridge to the outside world. Note that this is not the thought of Thomas Aquinas, who with Aristotle, placed the starting point of philosophy in external reality immediately and directly known, and not in human thought (Enlightenment Philosophy) or in language (as in Continental Philosophy).

In the ancient and medieval worlds, the starting points were external things immediately and directly known. “The knower and the cognitive activity were grasped, only concomitantly and indirectly.”51 This is clearly the position of Aquinas52 as he answers the question: “Whether our intellect knows its own act.” His response is affirmative, but it notes that the proper object of our intellect is the nature of the material things. Secondarily, the act is known by which the object is known. Through this act the intellect itself is known. “For this reason, Aquinas adds, did the philosopher assert that objects are known before acts and acts before powers (De Anima II, 4).”53

VIII. The Call to Metaphysics and the Challenge to Positivism: The Ontological Problem

As the Pope mentions, philosophy must be of a “genuinely metaphysical range” (#83), a philosophy which transcends empirical data and discerns the Absolute, ultimate and fundamental in its search for truth. “I want only to state,” the Pope says, “that reality and truth do transcend the factual and empirical, and to vindicate the human being’s capacity to know this transcendent and metaphysical dimension in a way that is true and certain, albeit imperfect and analogical” (#83). The Pope calls us “to a great challenge at the end of this millennium to move from phenomenon to foundation, a step as necessary as it is urgent” (#83, emphasis mine).

Failure to take this step results in a continued focus of philosophical research on agnosticism, relativism, pluralism, opinion and ignorance of radical questions (#5). The pope points to the “widespread distrust of the human being’s great capacity for knowledge” (#5).

Of course, the Pope is concerned with the matter of “method.” He maintains that the general method of all science must be applied according to the peculiarities and differences of the different objects of knowledge. The transference of the proper method of one science to a different area of investigation can result in a great distortion or error; a good example of this procedure is the attempt to construct a whole metaphysics by using the methods proper to the physical sciences. Aquinas paved the way for the distinct clarification of methods with his teaching on the three degrees of abstraction. Thus, according to his position, in addition to the abstraction proper to the physical sciences and that proper to mathematics there is also the metaphysical abstraction which considers “being as such.”54

The empirical approach as an “exclusive” method renders impossible the answer to the ultimate questions of man. What is immaterial cannot be treated by methods that deal only with the material, but the positivists who make of scientific knowledge a normative truth or a privileged model of truth attempt to do precisely this. Positivism is the suicide of philosophy, because it blocks further inquiry into the most vital questions of man.

The Pope realizes that metaphysics is still in crisis, and a philosophy without metaphysics is unsuited for the understanding of revelation. Were human knowledge limited strictly to the world of sense experience, then mystery could not be revealed. Metaphysics, therefore,plays an essential role in the knowledge of man because reality and truth transcend empirical knowledge. We cannot stop short at experience alone.

The weakness of positivism lies in the affirmation that all truth is reducible to sensible experience. This assertion, however, is itself a metaphysical affirmation which is not the result of sensible experience. Besides, no science could exist without some kind of universality or foundation on first principles.

Metaphysics is not anthropology since it is metaphysics which makes the latter possible (establishing that man is spiritual). Man is the locus of being, but the call to the Absolute and the transcendent in man means that the metaphysical dimension of reality opens up to him in truth, beauty, moral values, in other beings, in being itself or in God (#83). We cannot stop short at experience alone. Even if experience does reveal human beings’ interiority and spirituality, thinking must penetrate to the spiritual core and ground from which it rises. A philosophy without metaphysics is unsuited to understanding revelation. Were human knowledge limited strictly to the world of sense experience, then mystery could not be revealed. Metaphysics, therefore, plays an essential role of mediation in theological research (#83).

As the Pope mentions, “only true values can lead.”55 In our search for the meaning of life we pursue that last truth or end (which should be for all humans, universal). This search can only end if we reach the Absolute. Thus, the religious impulse is the highest expression of the human person.56 This goal is attained not only through reasoning, but also through belief grounded on the trust between persons. “True values can lead” because they have these features: they are for everyone, for their own sake, for the whole man, and lasting.

Be forewarned that from the very fact that we discover values in objects, we cannot conclude that we are restricted to this exact level of experience. Thus, we can form an idea of perfect happiness no matter how limited our experience. The grasping of values is not radically or exclusively empirical. We form the idea of circumference from the observation of round objects no matter how far they are from perfect circumference. Experience is like a springboard, a point of departure rather than a goal.

An important point of discussion about value should be made in terms of its objectivity. Any true value is anchored in the ontology of the good. We should always remember that we do not invent values, but discover them.

Since “only true values lead,” we should keep in mind their particular function in the foundation of culture. The Introduction of the encyclical points to the quest for meaning that arises simultaneously in different cultures in relation to the fundamental question of human life.57

It is when cultures are deeply rooted in experience that they carry with them that typical opening to the universal and to the transcendent (#90) so that they can meet with each other at a point of reference.58

This opening to the transcendent is the source of spiritual energy necessary to any creative advance. It embraces and embodies a spiritual tradition since culture is a spiritual community. A culture should stress not only the specific difference of diversity which is natural to its historic appearance, but should point out the generic element or the opening to the transcendent.

The Bible is not just a depiction of the particular Jewish identity and culture, but a relation of this people with God even to the point of overcoming their reluctance to universality by their opening to the gentiles in Christ. This movement beyond the specific happened in the encounter of Christianity with Hellenic culture at the moment when that culture was questioning itself.

In Chapter Six of Fides et Ratio, John Paul II gives essential criteria for the encounter between faith and culture (#72. Such an encounter can only truly occur, first, in the universality of the human spirit, second, in the preservation of its previous inculturations (such as in Greco-Latin thought), and third, in observing that the stressing of the uniqueness of a specific difference ought never make it exclusive.

John Paul II stresses the importance of metaphysics in recent hermeneutics and the analysis of language (#84) inasmuch as faith clearly presupposes that human language is capable of expressing transcendental reality in a universal way with “analogical”59 1imitations, that is. Otherwise, there could be no Revelation. “The interpretation of this word cannot merely keep referring us to one interpretation after another, without ever leading us to a statement which is completely true” (#84). As far as historicism is concerned, he points out that if it is true that historical context is necessary for the understanding of ideas, their truth nevertheless is not determined by that context and it can be identified without it (#87). Discussing the relationship between meaning and truth (#94), John Paul II observes that the human language of Scripture embodies the language of God which the text communicates and which is not restricted to the narration of neutral historical facts, for beyond the facts lies the meaning they have in and for “salvation history” elaborated by the Church (#94). The word of God formulates an unchanging and ultimate truth while reflecting the culture of a particular time. Human language may be conditioned by history but human beings can still express truth which surpasses the phenomenon of language. “Truth is known in history but it also reaches beyond history” (#95). Certain basic concepts retain their universal value no matter what particular meaning they assume in different times and cultures. Were this not the case, (#96) philosophy and the sciences could not communicate.

Articulating the understanding of revelation (intellectus fidei) requires the contribution of a “dynamic” philosophy of being (#97). Such a philosophy would avoid the pragmatic dogmatism which views reality in functional terms and not from the perspective of the very act of being itself, which allows a comprehensive openness to reality as a whole. In the area of moral theology (#98),once the idea of a universal truth about good is lost, the notion of conscience changes; for we can no longer apply the universal knowledge of the good to specific situations.

IX. Conclusions

Polarity is the organic linkage between two distinct but not exclusive ideas.60 It implies these three elements: 1) distinction, 2) complementariness, and 3) tension (which sustains the polarity’s structure). An example of polarity is that of E pluribus unum in the United States: one Federal Government and fifty autonomous States; The One and the Many.

We have the two poles of the polarity of faith in man and God (reason and mystery) and the polarity itself in the union between them established by the organic unity of faith and reason simultaneously, synergistically, like the two wings of a bird in flight. A bird cannot fly with only one wing. That is the force of the metaphor. In this polarity there is, first of all, a distinction but an exclusion or separation between faith and reason. There is also quite a contrast between the finite (man’s natural reason) and the infinite (mystery). Second, there is “complementariness” inasmuch as the limitation of man can be completed by God. Finally, there is a “tension” due to man’s limitations and to the fact that the completion is not in factum esse but in fieri. It is progressive and dynamic. There is an “equilibrium” existing in man’s mind, convincing him that he sees enough – since faith is not lacking reason (rationabile obsequium) but, in fact, he does not see enough; for faith is about a mystery and not the conclusion of a syllogism. Faith is both firm and obscure: firm, as founded on God who neither deceives nor can be deceived, obscure, because divine truths cannot be attained by natural light. The equilibrium mentioned is tested in moments of crisis, while facing the existence of evil and suffering, or when the cross is present. Man’s quest for meaning, however, prevails in the fog so long as the “boldness” of the organic or synergistic unity of faith and reason endures with “firmness.” If this organic link is broken, we have “the drama of the separation of faith and reason” described by the Pope (#45-48): either exaggerated rationalism or fideism: Incidit in Scyllam cupiens vitare Charybdim. Between these two poles, “reason has its own specific field in which it can enquire and understand, restricted only by its finiteness before the infinite mystery of God”(#14). The sacramental sign of this polarity is the Incarnate Wisdom and His mystical body, the Church. Christ is the medium through whom and in whom the union between man and God is achieved.

Indeed, there is an understanding of things accepted on faith but that very understanding implies faith, since, in the process of understanding the supernatural, reason must always have revelation as its source and principle. To be real knowledge it must be intimately permeated by faith.61 Only if I have both faith and reason together can I identify my knowledge with the word of God. In this process of understanding initiated by faith there is growth both in knowledge and in faith (#79). We ordinarily give the name of faith and this is basically correct to that moment of supernatural understanding by which we grasp and assent to the revealed truths in our belief. But then we grow in our knowledge, and perhaps we could explain this difference between these two stages with the analogy of the vision of the trained eye of a pathologist looking at a tissue through the microscope and the vision of an untrained eye. Both look at the same thing but one still lacks the complete meaning of his vision. Of course, faith, as infused virtue, gives us the initial start. Faith is a gift, but as a human response to God it is a human act. “The act of believing is an act of the intellect assenting to the Divine Truth at the command of the will moved by the grace of God.”62

Since faith puts a man in possession of truth, of the First Truth which is God, faith is a habit which perfects man’s intellect. It is essentially an intellectual habit. But since the intellect is moved to assent by the will, and what moves the will is the good and the will tends towards God as its supernatural goal through the virtue of charity, the act of faith is truly supernatural only when it functions under the impulse of a will moved by Charity, or, the love of God.

Some think of the Preambula as if they could initiate faith (forgetting about the free will of man elevated by grace). It is a sort of poor tribute we pay to our rationalism. Let us therefore meditate briefly on that initial jolt of faith and love, using for our meditation the gentle guidance of St. Francis de Sales.63 “How God’s eternal love for us prompts our hearts with his inspirations so that we may love him.” St. Francis tells us that Aristotle describes a bird named “Apodes” (footless) with legs so weak that he can hardly lift himself from the ground unless a sudden gust of wind came to his aid. We humans resemble the Apodes for we are so weak that we need that jolt or first impulse of grace. Our wing of reason is so earthbound (rationalist) by lack of faith and charity that we cannot take off. But “God awakens us with a start or first impulse to draw us to Himself with His grace without which we can do nothing.”

We cannot regard our understanding of things accepted on faith as a purely intellectual operation that supposes no other light in us than the light of reason itself. Consider, first of all, our reasoned conviction of the historical fact of revelation and its credibility: if it is to lead to supernatural faith, it must be elevated by a supernatural light. Likewise, the understanding and knowledge of the truths of faith must have a supernatural disposition connected with faith and its grace, for the natural capacity of the intellect is not enough to produce that harmony between the believer and the supernatural objects. As Aquinas often says: “Whatever is received is received according to the condition of the receiver.”64 Without the Spirit’s illumination, supernatural objects will appear strange to us. That is why faith creates in us that disposition of humility: “unless you become like children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). Our hearts must also be cleansed of the pride of rationalism that reduces the existence of things to the level of our understanding.

We must have a “sacramental” vision of “signs,” like that of John the Baptist pointing to Christ: “Behold the Lamb of God,” projecting in that vision all the tradition of the Old Testament in an historical moment. Likewise, an icon is neither a photograph nor a painting but an invitation into an encounter with the mysterious reality of God’s presence in our lives, a window into a supernatural reality. Faith empowered by charity, by the Love which the Holy Spirit infuses in us, establishes in us an intimacy of love with the objects of our faith, and as a consequence we endeavor to conform our lives with them. That light of faith is like “anticipation” of the light of glory in heaven, as Aquinas says. This anticipation of our future vision, this supernatural illumination endows our minds with the gifts of understanding (Intellectus) and Wisdom (Sapientia) producing in us some form of connaturality, or sympathy with the divine things.65 Sometimes moral theologians fall into the rationalism of leaving natural law on the natural level, depriving themselves of the harmonious relation and illumination that revelation can offer to truths known by reason only in a limited way.

This is very much in continuity with Veritatis Splendor, in which the truths of natural law are much more than abstractions since they are embodied in the total truth of Revelation. Thus the truths of fundamental theology are not merely or simply philosophical but philosophy drawn into the orbit of revealed theology, without in any way compromising the principles and authority of the mind itself.

The special light offered by Revelation to the preambula is presented by John Paul II in his discussion of fundamental theology (#67). This discipline should show how “in the light of the knowledge conferred by faith there emerge certain truths which reason from its own independent inquiry, already perceives. Revelation endows these truths with their fullest meaning.”

The encyclical Fides et Ratio is not a treatise on faith but “on the relationship between faith and reason,” as the subtitle reads. The Pope simply reinforces the teachings of the two Vatican Constitutions: Dei Filius and Dei Verbum. Neither is it a treatise on reason or philosophy. The encyclical is reluctant to “canonize any particular philosophy in preference to others”(#49), since philosophy “must remain faithful to its own principles and methods.

Of course, “in the light of faith, the Church’s Magisterium can and must authoritatively exercise a critical discernment of opinions and philosophies which contradict Christian Doctrine” (#50). Yet “the Magisterium does more than point out the misperceptions and mistakes of philosophical theories” (#57) because “with no less concern it has sought to stress the basic principles of genuine renewal of philosophical inquiry, indicating as well particular paths to be taken … most particularly, his [Leo XIII’s] insistence upon the incomparable value of the philosophy of St. Thomas.” John Paul II praises “the enduring originality of the thought of Aquinas” (#43-45).

The Pope points out in the Introduction that “the quest for meaning has always compelled the human heart” (#1) toward fundamental questions and toward philosophy and religion in that task (#2) of searching for the truth and its different faces. But it so happens that:

Revelation has set within history a point of reference which can not be ignored if the mystery of human life is to be known.Yet this knowledge refers constantly to the mystery of God which the human mind cannot exhaust but can only receive and embrace in faith. Between these two poles, reason has its own specific field in which it can inquire and understand, restricted only by its finiteness before the infinite mystery of God (#14).

It is as if man in his quest for meaning had realized the limitations of his quest but had found out that the Absolute of mystery had entered as a matter of fact into human existence. It is not that the thirst of man determined the existence of the water, it is rather that the water from heaven quenches that thirst.66 In the hypothesis that mystery has entered into the existence of man, the relation of man to the absolute is not based solely upon human efforts. God has turned the tables on us. Religion is not just based upon the need of man but upon the claim that a help has actually come down to us. But now that has been revealed “it impels reason continually to extend the range of its knowledge until it senses that it has done all in its power, leaving no stone unturned” (#14).


1 John Paul II, Fides et Ratio (September 14, 1998). Vatican translation: Faith and Reason (Boston: St. Paul Books and Media, 1998). The numbers in the text refer to the corresponding numbers in the encyclical.
2 Summa Theologica, I-II q. 66, a. 5; I-q. 1, a. 6; I-II q. 57, a. 2; 1111 q. 45, a. 1-5; II-II q. 19, a. 7; translation by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province (New York: Benzinger Brothers, 1947); referred to hereafter as ST.
3 This feeling is very close to “sehnsucht” or the longing for the infinite, which is the main feature of German Romanticism. It is this longing which was expressed by Goethe in his poem to Mignon in 1785: “Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt, Weiss, was ich leide!” (Only he who knows longing, knows what I suffer!) Close to “sehnsucht,” and often featured in Romantic poetry, is the feeling of nostalgia with reminiscence, or “erinnerung,” because the human soul is not satisfied with the present and tries to capture either the past (the “good old days”) or the future. Both Romantic features converge in the experience of love, and since the heart feels that terrestrial love is ephemeral, it is easy to understand why Christian ideas of immortality and the eternal are dear to the romantic mind in general, and not confined to the Romantic period. One example is that of the Spanish renaissance poet Luis de Leon, contemplating the starry heavens with love, pain and ardent anxiety because he was longing for his celestial home. I dare to see that form of contemplation in the psalmist’s cry: “The heavens proclaim the glory of God,” or in any serene contemplation of the wonders of nature combined with longing and yearning.
4 General Audience, October 19, 1983, #1-2, Insegnamenti VI, 2, 1983: 814-815. (#28 of the Encyclical.)
5“There are in the life of a human being many more truths which are simply believed than truths which are acquired by way of verification” (#31). As Pieper says, “It may well be more than merely an ‘image’ to call the believer ‘a listener.’ Is there any way to express it more accurately? A believer neither `knows’ nor `sees’ with his own eyes; he accepts the testimony of someone else. Much of this testimony, indeed, regards the same universe that his own eyes behold, and that he, as a scientist and philosopher, investigates using his own facilities. Such testimony may even guide his attention or sharpen his perception so that he suddenly sees with his own eyes what would otherwise have remained hidden, had he not heeded and pondered the message reaching him from elsewhere. The clarifying power of such an image is evident. It makes quite clear, for example, that Karl Jaspers’ inescapable alternative of faith or philosophy is entirely nonexistent. Why should I be compelled to choose in favor of `hearing’ and against the use of my own eyes, and vice versa? What could prevent me from accepting both: Seeing and hearing philosophy and faith? “ Joseph Pieper, An Anthology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989), 169-179.
6 In the methodology of catechesis we find also the two ways: from man (or the human situation) to the word of God and from the word of God to the clarification of the human situation.
7 Second Edition, English Translation (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997), United States Catholic Conference.
8 We wish to credit the article “El Drama de la Separacion Fe-Razon,” by Salvador Pie I Ninot, Theological Faculty of Cataluna, Barcelona, Revista Espanola de Teologia, Vol LX (2000): Cuad. 2-4, 191-195.
9 Ibid., 193.
10 Summa Contra Gentiles, also referred to as On the Truth of the Catholic Faith (New York: Doubleday, 1955-57). It should be pointed out that the subtitle of Summa Contra Gentiles is “On the Truth of the Catholic Faith,” which should not be confused with Aquinas’ disputation, On Truth.
11#201, Compendium of Theology, translation by C. Vollert. (Herder Book Company, 1947). Divided into three parts faith, hope and charity – this latest work of Aquinas ends abruptly within C:10 of the second part.
12 ST , I q. 2.
13 ST, II-II, q. 2, a.2.
14 ST, II-II, q. 2, a.2.
15 Note 28 of #33.
16 On the Truth, Bk.4, ch.19.
17 De Testimonio Animae 5, (in Patrologiae Cursus Completus, Series Latina, ed. J.P. Migne [=PL], Paris, 1844, vol. 5, 689).
18 PL, 32, 661.
19 ST 1-11 q. 94, a. 2.
20 ST, I q. 2, a. 1.
21 On Truth, q. 10, a. 12, ad. 1.
22 Deus autem ipse est qui Veritatis cognoscendae studium hominum mentibus insevit, suique tandem etiam cognoscendi ut, cognoscentes Eum diligentesque, ad plenam de se ipsis pertingere possint veritatem. Acta apostolicae Sedis (Rome, September, 1998).
23 The official Spanish translation also agrees with my translation “Y, en definitiva de conocerle a El,” La fey la razon, (Madrid: Ed. San Pablo, 1998), 7.
24 Copleston, History of Philosophy, Part II (London: Bums and Oates, 1966), 400-403.
25 Opera Omnia, vol. 4 (Paris, 1856).
26 “We cannot have an ‘innate’ appetite to see God, because if God is seen or any of his attributes, it is necessary to see the whole essence of God (152, 5). There is not in a man a natural potency toward supernatural happiness (153). Man cannot have an ‘absolute’ (as opposed to ‘conditional’ after revelation) ‘elicited appetite’ towards supernatural happiness because such an appetite is proper of infused hope, nor is it enough to say that the object in itself is good or most excellent, for it also has to be proportional and possible to human nature. Man cannot have either an ‘efficacious’ (attained by natural means) elicited appetite toward supernatural happiness. However, he can have an imperfect appetite of some kind of simple desire, which is called ‘conditional’ because it includes in its object a virtual condition. This is confirmed by experience since the heretics and nonbelievers have it, and also because this desire can exist about impossible wishes. We can believe with human faith in the Trinity, or desire the supernatural life. In relation to supernatural happiness man can say naturally that it would be nice to see the first cause, if that were possible. Even after revelation is believed, still the believer (in via) can long imperfectly for happiness while he is not happy without it, while if he were in a natural state, if he wished that happiness, would not be unhappy, if acting prudently and satisfied with his natural condition. In the like manner he could wish to be able to understand without without reasoning, but also without any anxiety about fulfilling such a wish, for he knows that it is something very remote to man, and because of it that it is not necessary that such an elicited appetite should proceed from the innate, as we do in relation to impossible and futile wishes. This desire is born out of the innate desire for happiness in general, that the mind applies to an object surpassing nature, from which results that the will by a simple desire adheres to the thing considered under that precise aspect.” My translation.
27 153, 1, 9. Suarez’ insistence is that we should not confuse the “obediential potency” with an exigentia or demand for the divine.
28 Cf. ST, 2a II-II q. 4, a. 1 ff.; On Truth, q. 14, a. 11; and especially in III Sent., d. 23, 1, a. 4, q. 3: “All things that act in pursuance of an end must have a tendency toward that end, and a certain inception of it; otherwise they would not be acting for an end. However, the end to which the divine generosity has foreordained or predestined man, namely, the fruition of God himself, completely surpasses the powers of created nature; for `eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love Him’ (I Cor. 2:9). Man’s natural equipment does not confer on him a sufficient inclination to such an end, and so something must be added to man to give him an inclination to that end, just as his natural powers impart to him a natural inclination to an end that is connatural to him. These superadded gifts are called theological virtues, for these reasons. First, as concerns their object: for, since the end to which we are ordained is God Himself, the required tendency consists in actions whose object is God Himself. Secondly, with regard to their cause: for since that end is appointed unto us by God and not by our nature, God alone produces in us an inclination toward the end; and so they are called theological virtues, in the sense that thy are caused in us exclusively by God. Thirdly, from the point of view of natural knowledge: for, the tendency to this end cannot be known by natural reason, but only by revelation; and so they are called theological, in as much as they are made known to us by information that comes from God. Consequently philosophers have no knowledge of them” (Cited by Mathias Joseph Scheeben in The Mysteries of Christianity (Herder, 1946), 767.
29 “As a work of critical reason in the light of faith” (#77). Notice that the Pope introduces here some qualifications about the term ancilla theologiae. The Pope insists strongly on the role of metaphysics in theological research. “A theology without a metaphysical horizon could not move beyond an analysis of religious experience nor would it allow the intellectus fidei to give a coherent account of the universal and transcendent value of revealed truth” (#83).
30 “As a search for the ultimate and overarching meaning of life” (#81).
31 The Pope refers to Aquinas’ definition of truth as adequatio rei et intellectus in ST I q. 16, a. 1 (#82).
32 “We face a great challenge at the end of this millennium to move from phenomenon to foundation” (#83).
33 Fidel Martinez, “Autenticidad Filosofica Dentro del Pensamiento Cristiano,” Razon y Fe, 151 (1955).
34 I am using the Spanish Translation, Ser Finito y Ser Eterno (Mexico: Fondo de Cultura Economica), 31.
35 Joseph Owens, Human Destiny (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of American Press, 1985), 6. I could point out as a personal observation that the painful feeling of the incompleteness of man’s destiny is the common denominator of the Romantic soul.
36 John Wild, Introduction to Realistic Philosophy (Harper and Brothers, 1948), 261.
37 19.1.
38 ST, I q. l, a. 1.
39 De Donis, 3, 12, as cited by Copleston’s History of Philosophy Vol. II, 246.
40 Questiones de quodlibet, 14, 11, 2nd ad. 3 (Marietti Torino, 1949). No English translation.
41 ST, I q. 79, a. 12
42 An interesting distinction is offered to us by Aquinas between natural and supernatural ethics in Summa Theologicae II-II q. 36, a. 2: Whether envy is a sin. Envy is a certain kind of sadness “about the goods of others.” Sadness about another’s good can come about in four ways… The third way in which someone is sad about the good of another is insofar as the person to whom the good thing happens is unworthy of it which cannot happen in regard to the moral good, from which someone becomes just, but rather, as the Philosopher says in II Rhetoric, regards riches and things of this sort which can fall to the deserving and to the undeserving. And this sadness, according to Aristotle, is called ‘nemesis’ and pertains to good morals. But he says this because he was considering temporal goods in themselves, according as they can seem great to those who do not regard eternal things. But according to the doctrine of the faith, temporal goods which come to the undeserving (or unworthy) are disposed from the just ordination of God either for the purposes of correcting these people or to their condemnation, and goods of this sort are as nothing in comparison to the future good which is reserved for good people. And therefore, sadness of this sort is prohibited in Sacred Scripture.
43 In Chapter two of On the Truth of the Catholic Faith, Aquinas establishes the author’s purpose of the book: “And so moved by Divine piety, I have assumed confidence to embark upon the task of the wise man, even though this may exceed my powers. The object of my intent being to make known in my small way, the truth that the Catholic faith professes, by setting aside the errors that are opposed to it.” Actually, the subtitle of Summa Contra Gentiles reads: “On the Truth of the Catholic Faith.” Aquinas’ reference to Aristotelian wisdom does not mean that Aquinas is confined only to that level in Summa Contra Gentiles although the first three books are about truths accessible to reason which are integral parts of theology. What is assertive is not exclusive. Summa Contra Gentiles has been often presented as a Philosophical Summa, but it is a theological work, although the theological method is reserved to Book IV. Aquinas insists on this basic principle: “there is a twofold truth concerning what is understandable about God,” 1, 4.
44 St. Thomas Aquinas, Exposition of Boethius on the Trinity, V, 4, C., trans. by Vernon J. Bourke in The Pocket Aquinas (New York: Washington Square Press, 1969), 150.
45 “We cannot both know and believe the same thing at the same time under the same aspect.” On Truth, 14, 9, ad. Resp. and ad. 6.
46 “Omnia quae sunt revelabilia,” ST I q. 1, a. 3. (Madrid: Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos, 1961). The translation rendered by Anton C. Pegis captures the precise meaning of the Latin text: “Similarly, objects which are the subject matter of different philosophical sciences can yet be treated by this one single sacred science under one aspect, namely, in so far as they can be included in revelation. So that in this way sacred doctrine bears, as it were, the stamp of the divine science, which is one and simple, yet extends to everything” (emphasis mine.) See Basic Writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, ed. A Pegis. (Random House, 1945).
47 Note that even the “preambles” of fundamental theology have a necessary preamble in the mind of John Paul II as he points out in note 90. “This search for the conditions in which man on his own initiative asks the first basic questions about the meaning of life, the purpose he wishes to give it and what awaits him after death constitutes the necessary preamble to fundamental theology, so that today too, faith can fully show the way to reason in a sincere search for the truth.” John Paul II, “Letter to the Participants in the International Congress of Fundamental Theology on the 125th Anniversary of Dei Filius” (September 30, 1995), 4: L’Osservatore Romano, (October 3, 1995): 8.
48 Scheeben, The Mysteries of Christianity, 768.
49 “Modern philosophy, abandoning being, has concentrated on human knowing” (#5).
50 Joseph Owens, CSSR, “Neo-Thomism & Christian Philosophy,” Thomistic Papers, VI, (Houston: Center for Thomistic Studies, University of St. Thomas, 1994): 29-52.
51 Ibid.
52 ST I q. 87, a. 3 (C£ Aristotle’s Metaphysics, 12.9.1074b, 35-36).
53 Thus, the Neo-Thomists were confronted, says Owens, with the philosophy of a cognition based upon external things rather than in the knower and his activity indirectly known. In blending their Aristotelianism with Cartesian methods, the Neo-Thomists failed to be able to explain without inconsistency with Aristotelianism how the external things got into human cognition, because for Aristotle it is clear that in the actuality of cognition, the thing known and the knower are one and the same, the external sensible thing known directly and the cognitive agent only concomitantly. The Neo-Thomists should have realized also (within their Aristotelian background) the restriction that self-knowledge would impose upon itself so as to be exclusive as in the case of separate substances. How could one build a bridge to the outside world? NeoThomists, however, began to mix this Aristotelian background with Cartesian methods in an inconsistent manner, without sufficiently heeding Aristotle’s argument. Descartes, on the crest of the wave of fashionable or “correct” philosophy at the time, greatly influenced Neo-Thomists. Their obsession with Descartes resulted in a Neo-Thomism that headed in a Cartesian direction; however, Aquinas clearly considered philosophy to proceed from external things rather than from ideas or sensations about external things. It is important to note that Leo XIII followed the inspiration of Aquinas, which was based upon the pre-Cartesian historical tradition. Many Neo-Thomist writers followed the Aristotelian tradition by identifying the starting point of philosophy as external reality (which is also the basic belief of the scientific world and of Aquinas), in spite of the prevailing Cartesian mentality of the era. True Neo-Thomism is rooted in Aristotle’s conception that knowledge is primarily about something other than the knower himself, who becomes known only concomitantly with the external reality. See Owens, 38-39.
54 Question V and VI of Aquinas’ Commentary on De Trinitate of Boethius. Divisions and Methods of the Sciences, Trans. AA. Maurer (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 1953).
55 “The truth of these values can be found not by turning in on oneself but by opening oneself to apprehend that truth, even at levels which transcend the person” (#25).
56 Catechism of the Catholic Church, #44.
57 “Every people has its own seminal Wisdom” (#5).
58 Despite the various philosophies which different times and places produce, “it is possible to discern a core of philosophical insight within the history of thought as a whole…. Beyond different schools of thought, there exists a body of knowledge which may be judged a kind of spiritual heritage of humanity, as if we had a reference point for different philosophical schools” (#5). When the Pope is speaking of a “core of philosophical insight” that appears as the unity of the philosophical experience of humankind, I cannot think but of a philosophia perennis of the human race as one block, as if in the history of philosophy there was one man through the ages. The same appeal to the same core was made by Pius XII in his Humani Generis. This philosophia perennis alone can offer genuine hope to man. Thus, John Paul II wants philosophy to “recover its original vocation” (#6, emphasis mine).
59 “But no less meaningful for that. Were this not so, the word of God, which is always a divine word in human language, would not be capable of saying anything about God” (#84).
60 Although seemingly contradictory ideas.
61 The implication is that scientific knowledge of things accepted on faith is only possible with faith – and divine revelation vouches for its objectivity.
62 ST, II-II q. 2 a. 9
63 St. Francis de Sales, The Love of God, translated by Vincent Kerns (Maryland: The Newman Press, 1962), Book 2, Chapter 9, 71-72.
64 ST, I q.75, a.5.
65 ST, 11-11 q. 45, a.2.
66 When we raise our hearts to God in prayer, that very impulse was put in us by divine grace. It is like what happens in the caverns with the stalactites and the stalagmites. Those deposits of calcium carbonate, resembling an icicle, hang from the roof of the caverns (stalactites). They form on the floor by their drippings, the stalagmites, or inverted stalactites, that gradually rise up to meet their source.