In the Search for Truth
Dear friends in Christ,
The Epiphany narrative (Mt 2:1-12) illustrates the relationship of faith and reason (religion and science). The Magi, the Wise Men of science and human reason, as do the wise of every age were seeking understanding and truth. The Epiphany narrative in St. Matthew’s gospel tells of how they found the fulfillment of their journey in Jesus. Ultimately, their journey of scientific inquiry, following charts and calculations and observing the cosmos, could only take them so far. This is no different than our own times. To reach their goal, the Magi required an additional aid. They needed and sought the wisdom and learning that their charts and calculations of the observable cosmos and empirical data could not provide. In the end, they needed the aid of faith as contained in the Jewish Prophets and Scriptures to discover the one who is the way, the truth and the life. Faith did not negate what they knew but completed what empirical inquiry could not attain. This scriptural narrative teaches us a lesson that is extremely relevant for us today.
In our contemporary society, many people see no connection between faith and reason. Even worse, many succumb to the false notion, a modern myth, that there is a contradiction between faith and reason and they are antithetical to one another. In general, faith loses and is dismissed for being ignorant and/or irrelevant. In contrast to this, the Catholic faith teaches that faith and reason are compatible and complimentary. That is why universities were invented by the Catholic Church and Catholic schools teach science! In fact, many of the earliest scientists were Catholic priests! Even today, for us as Catholics, one can be a believer and a scientist without problem. Further, our Catholic Faith teaches that there is no contradiction between truth discovered in scientific and human inquiry and revealed truth discovered by faith. Truth cannot be self-contradictory. Sadly, few seem to appreciate this simple truth or give the needed thought and reflection that is required to grasp this. Many would rather believe the modern myth. It is a sign of intellectual laziness that all too often, the question of God and the nature of faith are not seriously considered or dismissed as a priori. This results in people holding to erroneous notion that faith and reason are incompatible.
Pope Benedict XVI addressed this issue in his famous speech at the University of Regensburg in 2006. He pointed out that Christianity is rooted in the Logos (Word/Reason). In the beginning was the Word (logos) and the Word was with God and the Word was God (Jn 1:1). Scientific knowledge can only know created reality. God, who is uncreated, immaterial and immeasurable is beyond what science can know. Because God is immaterial and immeasurable, He logically cannot be known by the measures of science. Yet God because He does exist can still be known. Like the Wise Men on their journey, science can lead us in the direction of God and we can, through the use of human reason (philosophy/science), come to a certain natural knowledge that God exists, but it does not take us the whole way. To know who God truly is and to know Jesus requires faith. And even with the gift faith, God remains more than we can know.
The pursuit of truth by science as the only source of knowledge and truth without the consideration of God and faith can become both limited and brutal. The pursuit of truth is reduced to explanations of “how” and the “why” becomes truncated. Without faith, the questions of ought and should, right and wrong are easily neglected or manipulated and humanity and individual humans suffer. Likewise, an understanding of faith which denies reason becomes merely subjective. Religious belief is reduced to a relativistic moralism (I think, I feel, I believe). A faith without objective and knowable truth can devolve into a tyranny of power (might makes right). Indeed there have been certain strains in theology that seek to reduce Christianity a purely subjective moral code that changes on a whim. This limits what faith is and the truths that it can know and embrace. Faith unhinged from reason becomes limited, reduced and irrelevant. In extremes, it can also become tyrannical as witnessed in numerous cults and false ideologies.
As Catholics, we hold to the proposition that as humans we can know truth. As Catholics, we believe and hold that faith is both necessary and intelligible in the pursuit of truth. As St. Anselm phrased it, fides quaerens intellectum (faith seeking understanding). We believe that God reveals himself to humanity through creation and through his divine supernatural revelation. Seeking and knowing truth through human reason and by faith increases our knowledge of God and moves us on the path to God who is Truth.
In Pace Christi,