We are indeed fortunate to have a new encyclical on the relation of philosophy to Faith. The encyclical Fides et Ratio will surely be regarded as one of the great encyclicals. In it this pontiff clearly shows how Faith is the "convinced and convincing advocate" of Reason. We might observe that in the current intellectual climate it may be the only advocate of reason, such is the widespread distrust today of our natural capacity to know the truth.
This pontiff, too, repeats the praises of St. Thomas made by earlier popes. The encyclical points out that it is not the Church's role to propose a philosophy of her own, nor to canonise a particular system of thought, as if it were the only valid expression of philosophical truth. Yet it is made quite clear that not only St. Thomas' theology, but also his philosophy is more highly regarded by the Church than that of any other theologian or philosopher. The Church is, of course, more interested in his theology. As a former pontiff put it: "Thomas is therefore considered the Prince of teachers in our schools, not so much on account of his philosophy as because of his theological studies" (Pius XI, 1923). Nonetheless, in view of "the incomparable value of the philosophy of St. Thomas", as stated in the encyclical, the Church continues to call for the perennial philosophy and method of St. Thomas to be studied widely, and indeed insists upon this in the case of seminary formation of priests.
Fides et Ratio also reaffirms the Church's authority to condemn tenets of philosophies that are incompatible with divine revelation. Eclecticism, Scientism, Pragmatism and Nihilism are among those specifically mentioned, as well as Historicism of which Modernism is a variant. They are all in fact out of touch with reality, because of a lack of faith in reason's ability to know the objective truth of things.
The Church's vigorous defence of Philosophy, "one of the noblest tasks" we can engage in as human beings, should encourage us to greater and greater efforts in the apostolate of the intellect. The renewed call by the Vicar of Christ for a return to Thomism serves also to confirm that we are indeed guided in this task by the "apostle of truth".
At the end of another year it is time to give thanks to God for the gift of St. Thomas and the truths we have come to understand over the past year. We can also look forward with confidence to an increase in wisdom and knowledge from our future studies of the truths of Faith and Reason
John Gresser is a student at the Centre for Thomistic Studies, in Sydney, Australia.
This article posted May 2000. It was published in Universitas, Vol 2 (1998), No. 2.
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