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quod pro nobis traditum est

Friday, April 24, 2009

Faith and Reason: Thoughts on a Friday

The encyclical, Fides et Ratio, of Pope John Paul II is one of those non-"Lutheran" documents that someday I will sit down and read. The topic is always timely and pertinent to tensions within and outside of the Church. There is pressure on those who read about theological topics, themes and issues to put aside such things and focus instead on "higher" cultural and secular interests. For the minority, theology and philosophy, always connected to and guided by Scripture help the busy soul keep sight of bigger questions and realities although they are also more basic and foundational. There is direct connection to the practical world but this is lost when one becomes so caught up in the practical world that one can no longer connect one's thoughts or actions to a greater whole. Such is the struggle in our times. The rapid-paced world, on the one hand (in competition for power), and, on the other hand, simple and basic meaning with occasional mystery.

Such an environment, as we find ourselves in the world today, understandably raises questions of the relationship between faith and reason and therefore any tensions, real and imagined, between the two. Outside of the Church secular beliefs that are indifferent to or even outwardly antagonistic to matters of faith are ever present to pose their questions and challenges. Non-religious "religions" spring up on a continual basis in order to offer alternatives to the faith. Within the Church faith and reason interact more intensely in questions of theology, philosophy and practice resulting in a variety of positions, based on hard evidence and/or perception. Even Church history reflects movement either toward or away from faith or reason. Each era is recognized for its contributions as well as its faults. Questions of Church practice, whether intentionally or not, always raise the bigger question of the relationship between faith and reason (pietism and rationalism being the extremes). Which pastor/priest and congregation has not had a taste of this tension?

In general, one can see, for example, that the church's liturgy has more to do with prayer and sacramental realities, that is, the faith, than with passing on information to people or simply satisfying man's reason. Likewise, the study of theology and/or philosophy, makes use of reason and includes the transmission of information but, in a way that seeks to make a connection between that which reason may understand and explain while, at the same time, adressing metaphysical questions, i.e., questions of the faith. Faith and reason go together, there is no doubt. Dangers arise when they are used one against the other. Here, as in the case of "Word and Sacrament," the word "and" plays a key role.

Returning to an earlier statement, "There is pressure on those who read about theological topics, themes and issues to put aside such things and focus instead on 'higher' cultural and secular interests," one sees in this statement itself a reflection of the tension between faith and reason. It may be argued reasonably that cultural and secular questions do not, in and of themselves, always undermine or negate the faith. Likewise, it is reasonable to conclude that reading about theological topics, themes and issues does not equate with faith or always serve to upbuild the faith. For the Christian, both faith and reason are divine gifts and best understood in the light of divine revelation.

The Bible is understood together with the Church and the liturgy is understood together with the Gospel, sacraments and prayer. Reason admits the possibility of faith with mysteries and faith seeks understanding.

My problem is I like to read such things . . .

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