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Faith & Reason: Nicholas Wolterstorff

The issuance of Fides et Ratio is an extraordinary event. That a subtle philosophical discourse should be issued by the head of a vast ecclesiastical bureaucracy! We must all behold with awe and astonishment this achievement of the Church of Rome. Those of us who are not members will find a good dose of envy mixed in with our awe and astonishment.

Pervading the entire document is the both/and style of rhetoric: as in—above all—both faith and reason. We, in our time and place, are not much drawn to this rhetorical style. We prefer the disjunctive over the conjunctive. The conjunctive style smacks to us of indecision; we prefer the confrontational, attention-getting bite of either/or. But Fides et Ratio is by no means indecisive. Its both/and is full of bite.

With one single discourse, Fides et Ratio addresses two quite different sorts of intellectual ills in contemporary society: on the one hand, the skepticisms of immanentism; on the other, the suspicions of fideism. Both/and.

On the one hand, there are those who, in the words of the encyclical, "distrust … the human being's great capacity for knowledge." They "rest content with partial and provisional truths, no longer seeking to ask radical questions about the meaning and ultimate foundation of human, personal and social existence." They have "lost the capacity to lift [their] gaze to the heights, not daring to rise to the truth of being. Abandoning the investigation of being, modern philosophical research has concentrated in stead upon human knowing. Rather than make use of the human capacity to know the truth, modern philosophy has preferred to accentuate the ways in which this capacity is limited and conditioned." We are, it is said, "at the end of metaphysics." In thus speaking, philosophy has "forgotten that men and women are always called to direct their steps to wards a truth which transcends them."

That is one of the intellectual ills to which the encyclical is addressed: the skepticisms of ...

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