John Paul II and Benedict XVI: Rational enquiry recognised as a good

In September 1998, Pope John Paul II issued the encyclical Fides et Ratio.  He stated that the Church did not have one particular philosophy and condemned the claim that a single system could represent the totality of philosophy as philosophicalpride. Pascendi, Sacrorum Antistitum, Doctoris Angelici and Studiorum Ducem were not mentioned. The role of the Magisterium, he said, is to insist that philosophy is studied.

Faith, Reason and the University opens with the present Pope celebrating the lively inter-disciplinary exchange he had enjoyed as a young professor at the University of Bonn and concludes with a call to the West to have the courage to examine the basis of its rationality – to recognise the breadth of human reason. On Kant and the others condemned in Pascendi, he had this to say:

A critique of modern reason from within has nothing to do with putting the clock back to the time before the Enlightenment and rejecting the insights of the modern age. The positive aspects of modernity are to be acknowledged unreservedly: we are all grateful for the marvellous possibilities that it has opened up for mankind and for the progress in humanity that has been granted to us.

The message of both popes is unambiguous: rational enquiry is a good, and that extends to the enquiries of the great modern philosophers.

However, this should not be interpreted to be rejecting St Thomas or promoting a ‘free for all’. Fides et Ratio asserts that there is ‘an Implicit Philosophy’ with four elements:  (a) the principles of non-contradiction, finality and causality, (b) the concept of the person as a free and intelligent subject, with (c) the capacity to know God, truth and goodness and (d) ‘certain fundamental moral norms which are shared by all.’

Discussing Fides et Ratio, Ralph McInerny observed that the components of the Implicit Philosophy leap from the pages of St Thomas, and adds:

The principles of Implicit Philosophy are presupposed by Thomas Aquinas as he begins formal philosophizing; indeed the former is regulative of the latter. Since these starting points or principles of Thomism are in the common domain, Thomism is not a system of philosophy, if a system is defined in terms of peculiar and distinguishing principles.

This raises the problem of reconciling elements of the philosophical systems which Fides et Ratio praises with the Implicit Philosophy.  McInerny’s solution?‘The new and the old in philosophy are not compatible if one of them denies the principles of Implicit Philosophy; they are compatible, the one enlarging the other, if both respect the principles of Implicit Philosophy.’ Fides et Ratio is thus a charter for rational enquiry in a framework of faith. We are back to the real approach of Thomas Aquinas.

Source: Faith, Reason and the Modernists by Joe Egerton (Published at Thinking Faith Journal)

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