Faith and Reason: Encounter and Dialogue – Lumen Fidei 6

Picking up with the fourth section of Chapter 2….

Chapter two of the encyclical is divided into six sections.

  • Faith and Truth (23-25)
  • Knowledge of the truth and love (26-28)
  • Faith as hearing and sight (29-31)
  • The dialogue of faith and reason (32-34)
  • Faith and the search for God (35)
  • Faith and theology (36)

The dialogue of faith and reason (32-34)

Summary (feel free to skip to the reflection below)

The truth revealed by faith enters into dialogue with the truth discovered by reason.  This dialogue is seen in the early encounter of Christianity with Greek culture.

…the first Christians found in the Greek world, with its thirst for truth, an ideal partner in dialogue. The encounter of the Gospel message with the philosophical culture of the ancient world proved a decisive step in the evangelization of all peoples, and stimulated a fruitful interaction between faith and reason which has continued down the centuries to our own times (32).

The dialogue of faith and reason is also clearly seen in the mind and work of Augsutine.

In the life of Saint Augustine we find a significant example of this process whereby reason, with its desire for truth and clarity, was integrated into the horizon of faith and thus gained new understanding (33).

He did this by developing

a philosophy of light capable of embracing both the reciprocity proper to the word and the freedom born of looking to the light. Just as the word calls for a free response, so the light finds a response in the image which reflects it (33 emphasis added).

This philosophy finds its point of integration in the encounter with the radiant face of Jesus.

The light becomes, so to speak, the light of a word, because it is the light of a personal countenance, a light which, even as it enlightens us, calls us and seeks to be reflected on our faces and to shine from within us (33 emphasis added).

Because the light of truth is revealed in an encounter with the Other, it cannot be used to manipulate or control others.  It is a truth of love which leads to openness and humility.

Clearly, then, faith is not intransigent, but grows in respectful coexistence with others. One who believes may not be presumptuous; on the contrary, truth leads to humility, since believers know that, rather than ourselves possessing truth, it is truth which embraces and possesses us (34 emphasis added).

The light shining from the encounter with Jesus is not simply a spiritual light, unconnected to the material world.  Because of the incarnation, the radiance of faith enlightens all things and reveals the natural order of reality.

… the light of faith is an incarnate light radiating from the luminous life of Jesus. It also illumines the material world, trusts its inherent order and knows that it calls us to an ever widening path of harmony and understanding (34).

This light of faith benefits science as well by calling it to move beyond itself, recognizing the transcendent and retaining a sense of wonder.

The gaze of science thus benefits from faith: faith encourages the scientist to remain constantly open to reality in all its inexhaustible richness. Faith awakens the critical sense by preventing research from being satisfied with its own formulae and helps it to realize that nature is always greater. By stimulating wonder before the profound mystery of creation, faith broadens the horizons of reason to shed greater light on the world which discloses itself to scientific investigation (34).


It’s odd what sticks with you over time.

When I was in ninth grade I wrote a paper on evolution and creation.   Fundamentally my conclusion hasn’t changed:  there is no conflict.  Over time, I have differentiated my position, but fundamentally its clear to me that science (any form of science, not just evolution) cannot contradict faith.  Truth cannot contradict truth.  This means there must be a fundamental unity to truth.  No matter how we discover truth; whether it is using the scientific method, literary criticism, depth psychology, economics, critical reflection, or whatever, what we discover is part of a unified whole.

Pope Francis roots this unity in the light shining forth from the life of Jesus.  This light is perceived through the spiritual senses and is born of an encounter with Jesus.  It is clarified through discernment primarily through the life of the believer in the church.  This method is distinct from the scientific method but has a long tradition and pretty clear processes.  Religion has data and method, they are simply different from those of science.

A few years back I co-taught a course at the University of Wyoming on Science and Religion.  We used a text by Ian Barbour that outlined four paradigms for the interaction of science and religion (Conflict, Independence, Dialogue, and Integration).  Pope Francis’ discussion of faith, rooting itself in Augustine’s “philosophy of light” falls in the integration camp (for more information see the Magis Center of Reason and Faith).  While dialogue is essential, at its deepest point, the life of Jesus integrates all ways of knowing.

Faith and reason can teach each other wonder and humility.  Truth is one.  It all fits together in some wonderful way.

To think about…

  1. How do you make sense out of the world?  What role does faith play in your life?  What about reason?  Science?  How do they relate?

Reason and Imagination

When Descartes said, I think, therefore I am, he did us no favor, but further fragmented us, making us limit ourselves to the cognitive at the expense of the imaginative and the intuitive. But each time we read the gospels we are offered anew this healing reconciliation and, if we will, we can accept the most wondrous gift of the magi.

Madeleine L’Engle

Cloud of Unknowing

“The Cloud of Unknowing teaches that we can achieve communion with God only through the Grace of divine Love. To prepare ourselves to receive this gift, we must enter a state of quiet stillness, suspended between heaven and earth. Above – between us and God – lies a mysterious “cloud of unknowing”, which our understanding can never penetrate. Between us and the world, we must create a “cloud of forgetting”, leaving conscious thought and desire below. In this timeless place of forgetting and unknowing, we may begin to hear that for which we are listening.
John Luther Adams

Proof of God?

“a cable which is made up of a number of separate threads, each feeble, yet together as sufficient as an iron rod. An iron rod represents mathematical or strict demonstration; a cable represents moral demonstration, which is an assemblage of probablilities, separately insufficient for certainty, but when put together irrefragable.”
John Henry Newman

Three Elements of Reason

Firstly, there is the reception of the facts to reason about. These facts are received either from our own senses, or from the report of other minds; that is, either experience or authority supplies us with our material…
Secondly, there is the direct, simple act of the mind perceiving self-evident truth, as when we see that if A and B both equal C, then they are equal to each other. This act I call Intuition.
Thirdly, there is an art or skill of arranging the facts so as to yield a series of such intuitions which linked together produce a proof of the truth or falsehood of the propositions we are considering.

C.S. Lewis

Kinds of Truth

“There was, of course, something one-sided in all this. [The Priority of imagination over reason.] I was oblivious of every aspect of truth except that which appealed to me. But at the same time I grasped a truth of great importance. I had realized the danger of abstract thought when it loses touch with the concrete realities of life, and I had discovered the truth of experience, which is mediated through the imagination, and which often gives a deeper insight into reality than abstract thought.”

Bede Griffiths