Philosophy is not merely a cultural tool but a universal guide toward Truth

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

It might be objected that the theologian should nowadays rely less on philosophy than on the help of other kinds of human knowledge, such as history and above all the sciences, the extraordinary advances of which in recent times stir such admiration. Others, more alert to the link between faith and culture, claim that theology should look more to the wisdom contained in peoples’ traditions than to a philosophy of Greek and Eurocentric provenance. Others still, prompted by a mistaken notion of cultural pluralism, simply deny the universal value of the Church’s philosophical heritage.

There is some truth in these claims which are acknowledged in the teaching of the Council.92 Reference to the sciences is often helpful, allowing as it does a more thorough knowledge of the subject under study; but it should not mean the rejection of a typically philosophical and critical thinking which is concerned with the universal. Indeed, this kind of thinking is required for a fruitful exchange between cultures. What I wish to emphasize is the duty to go beyond the particular and concrete, lest the prime task of demonstrating the universality of faith’s content be abandoned. Nor should it be forgotten that the specific contribution of philosophical enquiry enables us to discern in different world-views and different cultures “not what people think but what the objective truth is”.93 It is not an array of human opinions but truth alone which can be of help to theology.

92 Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 15; Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity Ad Gentes, 22.
93 Saint Thomas Aquinas, De Caelo, 1, 22.

Fides et Ratio 69

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