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Faith & Reason: Alvin Plantinga

The last years have seen a remarkable series of letters and encyclicals from Pope John Paul II. The most remarkable, in my opinion, is Salvifici Doloris ("The Christian Meaning of Human Suffering"), published in 1984—surely one of the finest documents (outside the Bible) ever written on this topic, and surely required reading for anyone interested in the so-called problem of evil, or the problems that suffering can pose for the Christian spiritual life or, more generally, the place of suffering in the life of the Christian. Last fall the pope issued another in the series: Fides et Ratio ("Faith and Reason"). This one doesn't strike me as having the sheer depth and power of Salvifici; and perhaps its message is also a little blurred, hard to get completely in focus. Nevertheless, from any seriously Christian point of view—Protestant as well as Catholic—it contains a great deal of solid good sense; and it also provides a wonderful occasion for rethinking its topic. I don't know how much of this document the pope himself wrote; given his philosophical proclivities and background, though, his own personal contribution could be extensive. For present purposes, I'll assume that he substantially wrote the document, an assumption that is encouraged by the use of the first person singular through out. While the letter is officially addressed "to the bishops of the Catholic Church," it seems, in fact, to be addressed much more broadly: to Catholic theologians and philosophers certainly, but also to Catholics and perhaps Christians generally and, in deed, to philosophers generally, whether Christian or not. The letter is divided into seven chapters (plus an in troduction and conclusion) and into 108 sections; I'll refer to specific passages by section.


The central topic is the age-old and never-finished discussion of the relation between faith and reason.1 In any event, it is an ancient topic that goes all the way back to the very beginnings of the ...

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