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Faith and Reason: Relationship Between God and Man & Man and Neighbor

Pope Saint John Paul II wrote in his encyclical entitled Fides et Ratio:

“Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth — in a word, to know himself — so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.”

Throughout this encyclical, Pope Saint John Paul II carries a familiar theme of union. Not only the union of faith and reason, but also the union of God and man alongside the union of man to man. I intend in this paper to connect the union of God to man with the union of man to man and how only having one is depriving the man of the fullness of truth God has for us.

It is common understanding in Catholic theology that although it takes Church hundreds of years to develop sound doctrine or dogma on an issue, it does not mean that the subject in question has not always existed. My favorite example is that it although it may have taken until the 20th century to establish Mary’s Assumption as dogma, this did not equate to the Assumption being a relatively new concept. Understanding this, as we have discussed in the class material, a human’s conscience does not fully develop at birth. The “why” and “what” questions develop the more we are exposed to life and come to an understanding of how to comprehend the things around us.

As the union of nature and reason forms in us, so does our union with God and man. The desire to know the truth only drives our willingness to learn and understand. As a conscience grows and develops, so does our faith.

Our faith is either nurtured in an established religious community or by different life experiences. No matter what background one may come from, we all have faith in something. As a Catholic, my understanding of faith has always been in the context of God and Jesus. I believe if we act according to the will and desires of God, we will achieve an eternal reward in heaven thanks to the sacrifice that took place on Calvary by Jesus. My union with God grows because of this deposit of faith but also because of my ability to reason about it.

Saint Anselm wrote in his book Cur Deus Homo:

“Since the offense of sin belongs to the human race a human being had to be involved in the payment but since the honor of God is infinite only God could adequately pay it.”

Saint Anselm in this statement is offering a union of faith and reason. You can reasonably come to understand why God became man because only a fully divine and fully human sacrifice would be sufficient. This incarnation is a manifestation of God’s desire to be in union with man. We must now look at how this is possible, to interact and encounter the divine.

When you read through Scripture, there is no denying the presence of God in the lives of the Israelites. Often we see God directly speak to the great prophets. We see five covenants made in the Old Testament: The Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Priestly and Davidic covenants. These covenants allowed the Israelites to develop a union with God. In each of them, God is the one who acts first as they are offered to us out of his abundant mercy.

If we fast forward to the New Testament, we see God’s continual attempt at keeping a union with us. When his only begotten Son enters the imperfect and broken world, it was not to condemn us, but rather to save us. God knew the human condition of sin would block us from seeing him and entering into the fullness of truth he desires for us. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is reparation for that great sin of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. But before we can even get to Jesus’ death, we must look at his ministry and how that furthermore points to God’s union with us, through our union with fellow man.

When Jesus was questioned about the Mosaic law in the Gospel of Matthew, he answered that he has “fulfilled the law.” This comes after the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus gives us moral and ethical teaching on how to live. Contained in the Sermon on the Mount is the Beatitudes, another way in which God shows us how we should strive to live. All of these times in which Jesus is addressed regarding the law deal directly with our union with man.

Traditional Judaism of the time would have taught anyone who isn’t a circumcised, temple visiting and law abiding Jew was unclean and treated as such. What Jesus did is show people that God’s salvation message is for everyone, thus the law has been fulfilled through him because now everyone has been taught the law. The gradual increase of the family of chosen people from Abraham to the entire world parallels the human growth in faith and reason. As one covenant expanded to a larger group of people until culminating in Jesus Christ, so too did our union with Man.

A holy person or someone who strives for holiness would be the result of exactly this. Someone who accepts their place as one part of the mystical body of Christ but also someone who does so through their observance of the law. For if the law is good and just, then a law abiding man would be good and just. If God is good and just, then we are in full recognition of the part of us that is made in the image and likeness of God. If we uphold this inward conscience of God then through faith we can understand why God calls us to be holy.

Morality is objective in light of the truth given to us by God through Jesus. There is only one truth, and it requires both faith and reason to completely understand and know. When Jesus was fulfilling the covenants made by God the Father with us, He described himself as “The Way, The Truth and The Life.” Through our faith in the Lord Jesus, we can reason our way to accepting and understanding what Jesus is telling us. As a result, our union with man as aforementioned is nothing without our union in God which is completed through Jesus.

Saint Augustine has a very rational approach when talking about union with God. He states that we must look inwardly, as if our soul is a mirror reflecting God. The soul of man is what we mean when we talk about being made in the image and likeness of God. The human soul is what we believe is brought into heaven when our time on earth is over and God taps us on the shoulder. The “health” of our soul is dependent not only on our union with God but our union with man; a man who lives a just and moral life who repents of his sinful nature is able to “purify” his soul. The way to live a moral and just life is dependent on our actions towards others. A person who upholds the commandments and beatitudes is one who sees the value in their union with man. A man who values his union with man is a man who values his union with God. But as Saint Paul reminds us, we are not judged on faith or works alone but both. Man’s ability to reason their obligation to a union with man is someone who has faith in the promises of God.

This is comparable to Saint Thomas Aquinas who has a more impartial view. Saint Thomas Aquinas argues that if we look at ourselves we have an immediate creator, our parents. Our parents have an immediate creator, our grandparents. You can continue this lineage back until you realize there has to be a non-contingent reality in which everything started. Man uses his reason to accept the existence of a non-contingent reality but it is the faith of man who sees it in light of God. Pope Francis expands on this understanding indirectly when he says “For we ought never to fear truth… but welcome new scientific discoveries…” Science has enabled us to understand the world around us with natural reason. From the creation of things to unseen forces like gravity and oxygen. Faith is what allows us to see all of this through the lens that God is behind all of it. The opposing understanding to this would be moral relativism or multiple contradictory views can all be right. Saint Thomas’ view allows us to accept with faith and reason objective truth because of “divine simplicity”

Divine simplicity is our understanding that God is simple. The attributes of God that our finite understanding of reality can comprehend is exactly the being of God itself. If we understand God is simple, meaning God is good, God is love, etc., we understand God through faith and reason. If God instilled in us a desire to know the truth and the truth is God, then God would only be simple, meaning in part something we can come to through faith and reason.

What separates our union with man doesn’t always come down to the moral and just man as stated above. Sometimes it is our misconception of what it means to believe. People who don’t vocally preach their belief in God, put their trust in something. Trust comes from a man’s ability to reason to set of beliefs and understand something. If one puts all of his trust in the big bang theory to understand and explain the origin of the universe, they still have faith in something. G.K Chesterton famously said “Reason is itself a matter of faith.” (Orthodoxy) We discussed in class the concept of priori truth. Our ability to reason to something through logic without having to test it in the world. If you have two apples and I give you two more apples, you now have four apples. As a philosopher, we just used faith and reason to come to this conclusion. Faith in the logic behind my statement and our natural reason to observe the mathematical formula. If something doesn’t fall into the category of priori truth, it brings about a split in the union between man and man.

So when trying to justify one’s faith in God, I conclude it would be best to do in terms of reason first because any logically thinking man would see this as a standard set of beliefs, which is the conclusion of all reason. This is why you cannot come to the fullness of truth without the union of God and man and man and man for the lack of foundational belief in God as a normalized standard for belief will prevent the union of faith and reason as the accepted way to see truth between man.

A common objection to this I hear a lot is that belief in God is irrational, it’s bronze age thinking, it’s outdated, etc. People believe that belief in God isn’t logical because it was created before advancements were made in science as a way to understand things. Catholics are criticized because people believe you can’t ask questions of God and the way things unfold. This is seen as anti-science because science is all about asking questions and developing thesis arguments to try and conclude the truth behind something. Belief in God to non-believers is what they believe we use as a scapegoat instead of really trying to get to the truth. It is easier to say “it was that person’s time” than it is to study what part of the body failed them and lead them to develop cancer and die.

I argue that many of the most monumental moments in salvation history in the New Testament were because someone asked a question about the way in which God worked. The Blessed Mother in the Annunciation story asks the angel Gabriel “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”(Luke 1) Saint Thomas said “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25) Both of these great figures in Salvation history questioned God. They didn’t accept what was happening on the basis of faith alone. They both asked questions and came to faith through reason. Mary was convicted by the words of the angel Gabriel and Saint Thomas was convinced of the risen Lord after feeling and touching His wounds.

These examples of prominent figures in our faith along with everything discussed is why I believe you cannot have union with God without union with man or vice versa. Because the union of faith and reason brings us into complete understanding of the truth, it would be contradictory to the truth to not be the man God is calling us to be.

God calls us to believe in the redemptive act of his only begotten Son who leaves us the way he wishes of us to conduct ourselves in union with the other members of the mystical body to come to a completion of truth.


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