Modern tendencies pose dangers to both philosophy and theology

From Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Fides et Ratio (1984):

Surveying the situation today, we see that the problems of other times have returned, but in a new key. It is no longer a matter of questions of interest only to certain individuals and groups, but convictions so widespread that they have become to some extent the common mind. An example of this is the deep-seated distrust of reason which has surfaced in the most recent developments of much of philosophical research, to the point where there is talk at times of “the end of metaphysics”. Philosophy is expected to rest content with more modest tasks such as the simple interpretation of facts or an enquiry into restricted fields of human knowing or its structures.

In theology too the temptations of other times have reappeared. In some contemporary theologies, for instance, a certain rationalism is gaining ground, especially when opinions thought to be philosophically well founded are taken as normative for theological research. This happens particularly when theologians, through lack of philosophical competence, allow themselves to be swayed uncritically by assertions which have become part of current parlance and culture but which are poorly grounded in reason.72

There are also signs of a resurgence of fideism, which fails to recognize the importance of rational knowledge and philosophical discourse for the understanding of faith, indeed for the very possibility of belief in God. One currently widespread symptom of this fideistic tendency is a “biblicism” which tends to make the reading and exegesis of Sacred Scripture the sole criterion of truth. In consequence, the word of God is identified with Sacred Scripture alone, thus eliminating the doctrine of the Church which the Second Vatican Council stressed quite specifically. Having recalled that the word of God is present in both Scripture and Tradition,73 the Constitution Dei Verbum continues emphatically: “Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture comprise a single sacred deposit of the word of God entrusted to the Church. Embracing this deposit and united with their pastors, the People of God remain always faithful to the teaching of the Apostles”.74 Scripture, therefore, is not the Church’s sole point of reference. The “supreme rule of her faith”75 derives from the unity which the Spirit has created between Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture and the Magisterium of the Church in a reciprocity which means that none of the three can survive without the others.76

Moreover, one should not underestimate the danger inherent in seeking to derive the truth of Sacred Scripture from the use of one method alone, ignoring the need for a more comprehensive exegesis which enables the exegete, together with the whole Church, to arrive at the full sense of the texts. Those who devote themselves to the study of Sacred Scripture should always remember that the various hermeneutical approaches have their own philosophical underpinnings, which need to be carefully evaluated before they are applied to the sacred texts.

Other modes of latent fideism appear in the scant consideration accorded to speculative theology, and in disdain for the classical philosophy from which the terms of both the understanding of faith and the actual formulation of dogma have been drawn. My revered Predecessor Pope Pius XII warned against such neglect of the philosophical tradition and against abandonment of the traditional terminology.77

72 In language as clear as it is authoritative, the First Vatican Council condemned this error, affirming on the one hand that “as regards this faith . . . , the Catholic Church professes that it is a supernatural virtue by means of which, under divine inspiration and with the help of grace, we believe to be true the things revealed by God, not because of the intrinsic truth of the things perceived by the natural light of reason, but because of the authority of God himself, who reveals them and who can neither deceive nor be deceived”: Dogmatic Constitution Dei Filius, III: Denzinger, Heinrich, and Adolf Schönmetzer, Enchiridion symbolorum definitionum et declarationum de rebus fidei et morum [DS] 3008, and Canon 3, 2: DS 3032. On the other hand, the Council declared that reason is never “able to penetrate [these mysteries] as it does the truths which are its proper object”: ibid., IV: DS 3016. It then drew a practical conclusion: “The Christian faithful not only have no right to defend as legitimate scientific conclusions opinions which are contrary to the doctrine of the faith, particularly if condemned by the Church, but they are strictly obliged to regard them as errors which have no more than a fraudulent semblance of truth”: ibid., IV: DS 3018.
73 Cf. Nos. 9-10.
74 Ibid., 10.
75 Ibid., 21.
76 Cf. ibid., 10.
77 Cf. Encyclical Letter Humani Generis (12 August 1950): Acta Apostolicæ Sedis 42 (1950), 565-567; 571-573.

Fides et Ratio 55

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