Monday, November 7, 2011

Integritas Seminar III

The Integritas program had its third seminar for the year last Thursday night on the dialogue between faith and reason . The readings for the seminar included excerpts from the encyclical Fides et Ratio, by Pope John Paul II, and St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Contra Gentiles. It was led by the program's graduate student mentor, Kristen Drahos, a PhD candidate in Notre Dame's Theology Department.

Kristen started by posing St. Thomas' question of why it is necessary and good that certain truths can be known by faith. The students traced the answer to the problem of the fallibility of human epistemology: knowledge about the greatest truths can only be attained through the laborious work of extensive education, requiring much time and natural aptitude, and even then it is often mixed in with much error and confusion. Therefore the truths of faith should be seen as a gift.

Yet contained in the gift is also a challenge, as the students realized when they began to wrestle with questions such as "What could it possibly mean to say that God is both three and one?" and "How can one person, the Son of God, be both fully divine (unlimited, eternal) and fully human (limited, created)?" and, "If God is infinite love, how can God tell Abraham to kill his only son in sacrifice?" While it is true that the truths of the faith known through Revelation cannot contradict reason, reason often finds that to grasp the truths of faith lies beyond the limits of its powers.

Yet that does not make our faith unreasonable. As Pope John Paul II pointed out in Fides et Ratio, most of what we think we know about the world, we actually accept on faith in other authority figures: the existence of Antarctica, the publishing of the Magna Carta in 1215 A.D., the structure of an atom. It is not possible to undertake the Cartesian project of proving everything for oneself to a satisfying objective standard through the power of scientific reason alone. Faith and a personalist reason are necessary for human epistemology: we entrust ourselves to authority figures, our parents, our community, and our Church to show us the truth. The martyrs and the saints are the greatest authorities in our Faith.

Kristen closed the seminar by encouraging the students to never cease from wrestling with the dynamic relationship between faith and reason, because both faith and reason lose their force when one becomes complacent in inquiry. The tensions must continue to be tested to bear fruit in deeper faith and more convincing reason.

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