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Faith & Reason: Richard J. Bernstein

I am writing this response to John Paul II's encyclical letter Fides et Ratio as a philosopher who does not believe that "the truth of Christian Revelation, found in Jesus of Nazareth" is "the absolute truth." Nevertheless, I find a great deal that is praiseworthy in this document, as well as many claims that are also extremely troubling. I do not want to criticize the letter from an "external" point of view but rather from an internal perspective, because I believe that even the most sympathetic reader ought to pay attention to the internal tensions and conflicts that it reveals. Let us keep in mind, in the spirit of generosity in which it is offered, that an encyclical letter is not a philosophical or theological treatise. The letter doesn't offer detailed arguments for the claims that it makes. It is rather a statement directed to "the bishops of the Catholic Church" that is intended to serve as guidance in understanding the relationship of faith and reason.

The very opening announces the major theme: "Faith and Reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth." The letter is a defense of the importance of reason and philosophy for any true believer. In this respect it articulates what many would consider the best in the Christian tradition—that there is no incompatibility between reason and faith, but rather an ultimate harmony. Faith is not op posed to reason; rather, it requires the full development of reason. And reason itself requires faith in order to strengthen, guide, and supplement its inherent limitations. The Christian has a supreme obligation to cultivate the full development of reason and to encourage the pursuit of philosophy. Reason that is not in formed by the true faith is itself deficient. The en cyclical sets forth a subtle relationship between faith and reason. Each is autonomous, yet they implicate each other, and in the final analysis they are harmonious. Although there are many paths to truth, there ...

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