Our Blessed Mother exemplifies genuine freedom gained through assent to Truth

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

I ask everyone to look more deeply at man, whom Christ has saved in the mystery of his love, and at the human being’s unceasing search for truth and meaning. Different philosophical systems have lured people into believing that they are their own absolute master, able to decide their own destiny and future in complete autonomy, trusting only in themselves and their own powers. But this can never be the grandeur of the human being, who can find fulfilment only in choosing to enter the truth, to make a home under the shade of Wisdom and dwell there. Only within this horizon of truth will people understand their freedom in its fullness and their call to know and love God as the supreme realization of their true self.

I turn in the end to the woman whom the prayer of the Church invokes as Seat of Wisdom, and whose life itself is a true parable illuminating the reflection contained in these pages. 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 human being and as 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, may be fruitful and creative. And just as in giving her assent to Gabriel’s word, Mary lost nothing of her true humanity and freedom, so too when philosophy heeds the summons of the Gospel’s truth its autonomy is in no way impaired. Indeed, it is then that philosophy sees all its enquiries rise to their highest expression. This was a truth which the holy monks of Christian antiquity understood well when they called Mary “the table at which faith sits in thought”.132 In her they saw a lucid image of true philosophy and they were convinced of the need to philosophari in Maria.

May Mary, Seat of Wisdom, be a sure haven for all who devote their lives to the search for wisdom. May their journey into wisdom, sure and final goal of all true knowing, be freed of every hindrance by the intercession of the one who, in giving birth to the Truth and treasuring it in her heart, has shared it forever with all the world.

Given in Rome, at Saint Peter’s, on 14 September, the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross, in the year 1998, the twentieth of my Pontificate.

JOHN PAUL II

132He noera tes pisteos trapeza”: Pseudo-Epiphanius, Homily in Praise of Holy Mary Mother of God: Patrologiæ Cursus completus, Series Græca 43, 493.

Fides et Ratio 107-108

Philosophy and science need to be open to transcendent goodness and wisdom

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

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

Finally, I cannot fail to address a word to scientists, whose research offers an ever greater knowledge of the universe as a whole and of the incredibly rich array of its component parts, animate and inanimate, with their complex atomic and molecular structures. So far has science come, especially in this century, that its achievements never cease to amaze us. In expressing my admiration and in offering encouragement to these brave pioneers of scientific research, to whom humanity owes so much of its current development, I would urge them to continue their efforts without ever abandoning the sapiential horizon within which scientific and technological achievements are wedded to the philosophical and ethical values which are the distinctive and indelible mark of the human person. Scientists are well aware that “the search for truth, even when it concerns a finite reality of the world or of man, is never-ending, but always points beyond to something higher than the immediate object of study, to the questions which give access to Mystery”.131

131 John Paul II, Address to the University of Krakow for the 600th Anniversary of the Jagiellonian University (8 June 1997), 4: L’Osservatore Romano, 9-10 June 1997, 12.

Fides et Ratio 106

It is essential that dialogue be founded in the genuine truths of the Faith

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

Philosophical thought is often the only ground for understanding and dialogue with those who do not share our faith. The current ferment in philosophy demands of believing philosophers an attentive and competent commitment, able to discern the expectations, the points of openness and the key issues of this historical moment. Reflecting in the light of reason and in keeping with its rules, and guided always by the deeper understanding given them by the word of God, Christian philosophers can develop a reflection which will be both comprehensible and appealing to those who do not yet grasp the full truth which divine Revelation declares. Such a ground for understanding and dialogue is all the more vital nowadays, since the most pressing issues facing humanity—ecology, peace and the co-existence of different races and cultures, for instance—may possibly find a solution if there is a clear and honest collaboration between Christians and the followers of other religions and all those who, while not sharing a religious belief, have at heart the renewal of humanity. The Second Vatican Council said as much: “For our part, the desire for such dialogue, undertaken solely out of love for the truth and with all due prudence, excludes no one, neither those who cultivate the values of the human spirit while not yet acknowledging their Source, nor those who are hostile to the Church and persecute her in various ways”.126 A philosophy in which there shines even a glimmer of the truth of Christ, the one definitive answer to humanity’s problems,127 will provide a potent underpinning for the true and planetary ethics which the world now needs.

In concluding this Encyclical Letter, my thoughts turn particularly to theologians, encouraging them to pay special attention to the philosophical implications of the word of God and to be sure to reflect in their work all the speculative and practical breadth of the science of theology. I wish to thank them for their service to the Church. The intimate bond between theological and philosophical wisdom is one of the Christian tradition’s most distinctive treasures in the exploration of revealed truth. This is why I urge them to recover and express to the full the metaphysical dimension of truth in order to enter into a demanding critical dialogue with both contemporary philosophical thought and with the philosophical tradition in all its aspects, whether consonant with the word of God or not. Let theologians always remember the words of that great master of thought and spirituality, Saint Bonaventure, who in introducing his Itinerarium Mentis in Deum invites the reader to recognize the inadequacy of “reading without repentance, knowledge without devotion, research without the impulse of wonder, prudence without the ability to surrender to joy, action divorced from religion, learning sundered from love, intelligence without humility, study unsustained by divine grace, thought without the wisdom inspired by God”.128

I am thinking too of those responsible for priestly formation, whether academic or pastoral. I encourage them to pay special attention to the philosophical preparation of those who will proclaim the Gospel to the men and women of today and, even more, of those who will devote themselves to theological research and teaching. They must make every effort to carry out their work in the light of the directives laid down by the Second Vatican Council129 and subsequent legislation, which speak clearly of the urgent and binding obligation, incumbent on all, to contribute to a genuine and profound communication of the truths of the faith. The grave responsibility to provide for the appropriate training of those charged with teaching philosophy both in seminaries and ecclesiastical faculties must not be neglected.130 Teaching in this field necessarily entails a suitable scholarly preparation, a systematic presentation of the great heritage of the Christian tradition and due discernment in the light of the current needs of the Church and the world.

126 Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 92.
127 Cf. ibid., 10.
128 Prologus, 4: Opera Omnia, Florence, 1891, vol. V, 296.
129 Cf. Decree on Priestly Formation Optatam Totius, 15.
130 Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Constitution Sapientia Christiana (15 April 1979), Arts. 67-68: Acta Apostolicæ Sedis 71 (1979), 491-492.

Fides et Ratio 104-105

The Gospel equips us to discover meaning in today’s challenges

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

Insisting on the importance and true range of philosophical thought, the Church promotes both the defence of human dignity and the proclamation of the Gospel message. There is today no more urgent preparation for the performance of these tasks than this: to lead people to discover both their capacity to know the truth124 and their yearning for the ultimate and definitive meaning of life. In the light of these profound needs, inscribed by God in human nature, the human and humanizing meaning of God’s word also emerges more clearly. Through the mediation of a philosophy which is also true wisdom, people today will come to realize that their humanity is all the more affirmed the more they entrust themselves to the Gospel and open themselves to Christ.

Philosophy moreover is the mirror which reflects the culture of a people. A philosophy which responds to the challenge of theology’s demands and evolves in harmony with faith is part of that “evangelization of culture” which Paul VI proposed as one of the fundamental goals of evangelization.125 I have unstintingly recalled the pressing need for a new evangelization; and I appeal now to philosophers to explore more comprehensively the dimensions of the true, the good and the beautiful to which the word of God gives access. This task becomes all the more urgent if we consider the challenges which the new millennium seems to entail, and which affect in a particular way regions and cultures which have a long-standing Christian tradition. This attention to philosophy too should be seen as a fundamental and original contribution in service of the new evangelization.

124 Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Declaration on Religious Freedom Dignitatis Humanae, 1-3.
125 Cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (8 December 1975), 20: Acta Apostolicæ Sedis 68 (1976), 18-19.

Fides et Ratio 102-103

Healthy philosophical thought requires the contributions of theology

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

More than a hundred years after the appearance of Pope Leo XIII’s Encyclical Æterni Patris, to which I have often referred in these pages, I have sensed the need to revisit in a more systematic way the issue of the relationship between faith and philosophy. The importance of philosophical thought in the development of culture and its influence on patterns of personal and social behaviour is there for all to see. In addition, philosophy exercises a powerful, though not always obvious, influence on theology and its disciplines. For these reasons, I have judged it appropriate and necessary to emphasize the value of philosophy for the understanding of the faith, as well as the limits which philosophy faces when it neglects or rejects the truths of Revelation. The Church remains profoundly convinced that faith and reason “mutually support each other”;122 each influences the other, as they offer to each other a purifying critique and a stimulus to pursue the search for deeper understanding.

A survey of the history of thought, especially in the West, shows clearly that the encounter between philosophy and theology and the exchange of their respective insights have contributed richly to the progress of humanity. Endowed as it is with an openness and originality which allow it to stand as the science of faith, theology has certainly challenged reason to remain open to the radical newness found in God’s Revelation; and this has been an undoubted boon for philosophy which has thus glimpsed new vistas of further meanings which reason is summoned to penetrate.

Precisely in the light of this consideration, and just as I have reaffirmed theology’s duty to recover its true relationship with philosophy, I feel equally bound to stress how right it is that, for the benefit and development of human thought, philosophy too should recover its relationship with theology. In theology, philosophy will find not the thinking of a single person which, however rich and profound, still entails the limited perspective of an individual, but the wealth of a communal reflection. For by its very nature, theology is sustained in the search for truth by its ecclesial context123 and by the tradition of the People of God, with its harmony of many different fields of learning and culture within the unity of faith.

122 First Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith Dei Filius, IV: Denzinger, Heinrich, and Adolf Schönmetzer, Enchiridion symbolorum definitionum et declarationum de rebus fidei et morum 3019.
123 “Nobody can make of theology as it were a simple collection of his own personal ideas, but everybody must be aware of being in close union with the mission of teaching truth for which the Church is responsible”: John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Redemptor Hominis (4 March 1979), 19: Acta Apostolicæ Sedis 71 (1979), 308.

Fides et Ratio 100-101

Catechesis has both philosophical and theological aspects

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

Theological work in the Church is first of all at the service of the proclamation of the faith and of catechesis.117 Proclamation or kerygma is a call to conversion, announcing the truth of Christ, which reaches its summit in his Paschal Mystery: for only in Christ is it possible to know the fullness of the truth which saves (cf. Acts 4:12; 1 Tm 2:4-6).

In this respect, it is easy to see why, in addition to theology, reference to catechesis is also important, since catechesis has philosophical implications which must be explored more deeply in the light of faith. The teaching imparted in catechesis helps to form the person. As a mode of linguistic communication, catechesis must present the Church’s doctrine in its integrity,118 demonstrating its link with the life of the faithful.119 The result is a unique bond between teaching and living which is otherwise unattainable, since what is communicated in catechesis is not a body of conceptual truths, but the mystery of the living God.120

Philosophical enquiry can help greatly to clarify the relationship between truth and life, between event and doctrinal truth, and above all between transcendent truth and humanly comprehensible language.121 This involves a reciprocity between the theological disciplines and the insights drawn from the various strands of philosophy; and such a reciprocity can prove genuinely fruitful for the communication and deeper understanding of the faith.

117 Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Catechesi Tradendæ (16 October 1979), 30: Acta Apostolicæ Sedis [AAS] 71 (1979), 1302-1303; Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian Donum Veritatis (24 May 1990), 7: AAS 82 (1990), 1552-1553.
118 Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Catechesi Tradendæ (16 October 1979), 30: AAS 71 (1979), 1302-1303.
119 Cf. ibid., 22, loc. cit., 1295-1296.
120 Cf. ibid., 7, loc. cit., 1282.
121 Cf. ibid., 59, loc. cit., 1325.

Fides et Ratio 99

Moral theology must reject attempts to define Truth subjectively

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

These considerations apply equally to moral theology. It is no less urgent that philosophy be recovered at the point where the understanding of faith is linked to the moral life of believers. Faced with contemporary challenges in the social, economic, political and scientific fields, the ethical conscience of people is disoriented. In the Encyclical Letter Veritatis Splendor, I wrote that many of the problems of the contemporary world stem from a crisis of truth. I noted that “once the idea of a universal truth about the good, knowable by human reason, is lost, inevitably the notion of conscience also changes. Conscience is no longer considered in its prime reality as an act of a person’s intelligence, the function of which is to apply the universal knowledge of the good in a specific situation and thus to express a judgment about the right conduct to be chosen here and now. Instead, there is a tendency to grant to the individual conscience the prerogative of independently determining the criteria of good and evil and then acting accordingly. Such an outlook is quite congenial to an individualist ethic, wherein each individual is faced with his own truth different from the truth of others”.116

Throughout the Encyclical I underscored clearly the fundamental role of truth in the moral field. In the case of the more pressing ethical problems, this truth demands of moral theology a careful enquiry rooted unambiguously in the word of God. In order to fulfil its mission, moral theology must turn to a philosophical ethics which looks to the truth of the good, to an ethics which is neither subjectivist nor utilitarian. Such an ethics implies and presupposes a philosophical anthropology and a metaphysics of the good. Drawing on this organic vision, linked necessarily to Christian holiness and to the practice of the human and supernatural virtues, moral theology will be able to tackle the various problems in its competence, such as peace, social justice, the family, the defence of life and the natural environment, in a more appropriate and effective way.

116 No. 32: Acta Apostolicæ Sedis 85 (1993), 1159-1160.

Fides et Ratio 98

Philosophy helps us understand how language and Truth are related

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

To see this is to glimpse the solution of another problem: the problem of the enduring validity of the conceptual language used in Conciliar definitions. This is a question which my revered predecessor Pius XII addressed in his Encyclical Letter Humani Generis.112

This is a complex theme to ponder, since one must reckon seriously with the meaning which words assume in different times and cultures. Nonetheless, the history of thought shows that across the range of cultures and their development certain basic concepts retain their universal epistemological value and thus retain the truth of the propositions in which they are expressed. 113 Were this not the case, philosophy and the sciences could not communicate with each other, nor could they find a place in cultures different from those in which they were conceived and developed. The hermeneutical problem exists, to be sure; but it is not insoluble. Moreover, the objective value of many concepts does not exclude that their meaning is often imperfect. This is where philosophical speculation can be very helpful. We may hope, then, that philosophy will be especially concerned to deepen the understanding of the relationship between conceptual language and truth, and to propose ways which will lead to a right understanding of that relationship.

112 “It is clear that the Church cannot be tied to any and every passing philosophical system. Nevertheless, those notions and terms which have been developed though common effort by Catholic teachers over the course of the centuries to bring about some understanding of dogma are certainly not based on any such weak foundation. They are based on principles and notions deduced from a true knowledge of created things. In the process of deduction, this knowledge, like a star, gave enlightenment to the human mind through the Church. Hence it is not astonishing that some of these notions have not only been employed by the Ecumenical Councils, but even sanctioned by them, so that it is wrong to depart from them”: Encyclical Letter Humani Generis (12 August 1950): Acta Apostolicæ Sedis [AAS] 42 (1950), 566-567; cf. International Theological Commission, Document Interpretationis Problema (October 1989): Enchiridion Vaticanum 11, 2717-2811.
113 “As for the meaning of dogmatic formulas, this remains ever true and constant in the Church, even when it is expressed with greater clarity or more developed. The faithful therefore must shun the opinion, first, that dogmatic formulas (or some category of them) cannot signify the truth in a determinate way, but can only offer changeable approximations to it, which to a certain extent distort or alter it”: Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration in Defence of the Catholic Doctrine on the Church Mysterium Ecclesiae (24 June 1973), 5: AAS 65 (1973), 403.

Fides et Ratio 96

Unchanging Truth is not limited to a particular point in human history

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

The word of God is not addressed to any one people or to any one period of history. Similarly, dogmatic statements, while reflecting at times the culture of the period in which they were defined, formulate an unchanging and ultimate truth. This prompts the question of how one can reconcile the absoluteness and the universality of truth with the unavoidable historical and cultural conditioning of the formulas which express that truth. The claims of historicism, I noted earlier, are untenable; but the use of a hermeneutic open to the appeal of metaphysics can show how it is possible to move from the historical and contingent circumstances in which the texts developed to the truth which they express, a truth transcending those circumstances.

Human language may be conditioned by history and constricted in other ways, but the human being can still express truths which surpass the phenomenon of language. Truth can never be confined to time and culture; in history it is known, but it also reaches beyond history.

Fides et Ratio 95

The history of our salvation unfolds before us as we study Scripture and Tradition

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

The chief purpose of theology is to provide an understanding of Revelation and the content of faith. The very heart of theological enquiry will thus be the contemplation of the mystery of the Triune God. The approach to this mystery begins with reflection upon the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God: his coming as man, his going to his Passion and Death, a mystery issuing into his glorious Resurrection and Ascension to the right hand of the Father, whence he would send the Spirit of truth to bring his Church to birth and give her growth. From this vantage-point, the prime commitment of theology is seen to be the understanding of God’s kenosis, a grand and mysterious truth for the human mind, which finds it inconceivable that suffering and death can express a love which gives itself and seeks nothing in return. In this light, a careful analysis of texts emerges as a basic and urgent need: first the texts of Scripture, and then those which express the Church’s living Tradition. On this score, some problems have emerged in recent times, problems which are only partially new; and a coherent solution to them will not be found without philosophy’s contribution.

An initial problem is that of the relationship between meaning and truth. Like every other text, the sources which the theologian interprets primarily transmit a meaning which needs to be grasped and explained. This meaning presents itself as the truth about God which God himself communicates through the sacred text. Human language thus embodies the language of God, who communicates his own truth with that wonderful “condescension” which mirrors the logic of the Incarnation.110 In interpreting the sources of Revelation, then, the theologian needs to ask what is the deep and authentic truth which the texts wish to communicate, even within the limits of language.

The truth of the biblical texts, and of the Gospels in particular, is certainly not restricted to the narration of simple historical events or the statement of neutral facts, as historicist positivism would claim.111 Beyond simple historical occurrence, the truth of the events which these texts relate lies rather in the meaning they have in and for the history of salvation. This truth is elaborated fully in the Church’s constant reading of these texts over the centuries, a reading which preserves intact their original meaning. There is a pressing need, therefore, that the relationship between fact and meaning, a relationship which constitutes the specific sense of history, be examined also from the philosophical point of view.

110 Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum, 13.
111 Cf. Pontifical Biblical Commission, Instruction on the Historical Truth of the Gospels (21 April 1964): Acta Apostolicæ Sedis 56 (1964), 713.

Fides et Ratio 93-94