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Fr Aidan Nichols


Faith and Reason in Modern Catholic Thought
Aidan Nichols, OP

First published in 2009
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Preface                                                 vii
Chapter 1 Introduction                                    1
Chapter 2 A Kantian Beginning: Georg Hermes              25
Chapter 3 A Catholic Hegel? Anton Günther                48
Chapter 4 The Response of Fideism: Louis Bautain         68
Chapter 5 Magisterial Interventions: Gregory XVI
and Pius IX                                              83
Chapter 6 Return to the Schoolmen:
Joseph Kleutgen and Leo XIII                            116
Chapter 7 Embodying the Leonine Project:
Etienne Gilson                                           38
Chapter 8 The Philosophy of Action:
Maurice Blondel                                         152
Chapter 9 The Dispute over Apologetics:
from Blondel to Balthasar                               173
Chapter 10 A Synthetic Outcome? John Paul II's
Letter Fides et Ratio                                   197
Chapter 11 From Cracow to Regensburg:
Benedict XVI                                            218
Conclusion                                              237
Bibliography                                            243
Index                                                   251


This book cannot claim to be an exhaustive account of its subject. A complete survey of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Catholic thought on the inter-relation of faith and reason would have to take into account writing in several modern European languages absent from these pages - and indeed other authors from the French - and Germanspeaking worlds with which I am chiefly concerned.1
And of course, were one writing a study of faith and reason in modern Christianity at large, there would be no shortage of individual Protestant thinkers to report on, just as at the same time there would be no magisterial tradition seeking to elicit (or impose) a 'central' consensus against which theses could be compared.2

I believe, however, that the figures I describe set in every essential the terms of the debate between faith and reason whose issue, where official Catholicism is concerned, may be found as the twentieth century drew to its close in the encyclical letter Fides et ratio (1998) of John Paul II. With the egregious exception of the personal flourish which is that letter's Mariological ending, there is little if anything in the terms of reference of Fides et ratio that cannot be sufficiently understood on the basis of the nineteenth- and twentieth century authors whose work I describe. Since the end of the twentieth-century it is also necessary to take into account the distinctive thinking on this subject of Pope Benedict XVI, not least in the celebrated Regensburg address which, through careless reading, elicited such unfortunate reactions in the Muslim world.

Compared with the Protestant tradition of thought on that same subject in the same period, the Catholic discussion is rather poorly known in English-speaking countries - its Neo-Scholastic phase partially excepted.3 So I hope this study, though more a series of soundings than a total account leaving nothing to the Day of Judgment, will have some utility, and bear fruit in awakening Anglophone interest in its subject.

In the Conclusion, I attempt an adjudication, singling out from among the various accounts of the faith/reason relationship available within the parameters of Catholicism, an approach which seems well-suited both to the demands of
theology and to the philosophical needs of the present time.

Blackfriars, Cambridge
Memorial of St Justin Martyr, 2008


1. The closest to a full overview is probably the three-volume Christliche
Philosophie im katholischen Denken des 19. und 20 Jahrhunderts

published by Verlag Styria at Graz in 1987-1990.

2. See, for example, in the Anglo-Saxon context, A. Plantinga and N.
Wolterstorff (eds),
Faith and Rationality (Notre Dame, Ind., 1983); A.
Warranted Christian Belief (Oxford, 2000); R. Swinburne,
Faith and Reason (Oxford, 1981); N. Wolterstorff, Reason within the
Bounds of Religion
(Grand Rapids, Mich., 1984).

3. However, G. McCool, Catholic Theology in the Nineteenth Century.
The Quest for a Unitary Method
(New York, 1987) considers a number
of non-Scholastic authors, if more briefly than here. See also the same
writer's From
Unity to Pluralism. The Internal Evolution of Thomism
(New York, 1989, 1992) for an account of the twentieth-century fate of
the Thomist movement.

Chapter 1

A study of the interrelation of faith and reason, even if historical in nature, should surely include some introductory attempt at a definition of terms, albeit of a provisional kind. But how ought one to approach this? After all, the nineteenth- and twentieth-century authors I shall be considering in this course have their own ideas about the act of faith, and about the role of rationality within that act. Am I simply to impose from the outset definitions of my own? Here we have:

A question of methodology

We do need some preliminary stab at the definition of terms, and yet the writers to be described have their own versions of such definitions. This suggests the need for a spot of reflection on methodology before we plunge into the deep waters of this

Writing as an historical theologian I have no desire to thrust down the authors I shall be describing onto a Procrustean bed of my own devising. On the contrary, I intend to let them speak for themselves, in such a way that they retain their integrity as contributors to an age-long debate. No doubt it would be methodological naïveté to
suppose that absolute objectivity is ever available in the reading of historic texts. Yet over against all dissuaders, whether Idealist, Marxian or Post-Modern, such absolute
objectivity remains for the historian his or her scholarly ideal, however asymptotically approached.

On the other hand, wearing the hat of a fundamental or dogmatic theologian, concerned to found more securely the faith of the Church (in 'fundamental' theology), or to apprehend more deeply its teaching (in 'dogmatics'), I find I cannot stop there. The materials of historical theology, a descriptive discipline, are capable of integration into a new form, given them by the fundamental or dogmatic theologian, who practises a prescriptive discipline of his or her own. This prescriptive discipline does not cancel out the descriptive work of historical theology but, rather, relies on it for stimulation and thematic richness. The goal of the prescriptive discipline (in our case, we can call this 'fundamental dogmatics') is to enhance the self-understanding of the Church considered as a corporate subject. That goal of fundamental dogmatics cannot be, then, simply to display the self-understanding of various individual thinkers within the Church's membership - although studying the latter is the proper aim of historical theology. The goal of fundamental dogmatics is, by using the work of historical theology, to affirm something valid on behalf of the whole Church.

And here - in seeking to enhance the Church's corporate self-understanding through utilisation of the fruits of historical theology - the fundamental dogmatician cannot claim to start from a tabula rasa. His or her account will always presuppose the Scriptures and the mind of Tradition through which those Scriptures are read. For Catholic Christians it will also take for granted, at any rate on occasion, the magisterium or teaching authority of the Church insofar as the latter has sought to canonise some particular understanding of an aspect of the Scriptures read in Tradition in the course of Gospel proclamation in the community.

These preliminaries license proceeding now to a first effort at defining the act of faith and the role of reason within it on the basis of those sources recognised as authoritative by fundamental dogmatics in a Catholic perspective: Scripture,
Tradition, magisterium.

Defining faith

In the Greek Testaments - Old and New - the word translated into English as 'faith' is pistis which in its complete character, for Scripture, includes such qualities as 'confidence in God, hope for the realisation of his promises, and the adoption of a new life'.1 But none of these qualities are feasible without an accompanying condition which is, quite simply, knowledge of what they are. In the words of Canon Roger Aubert, to whose monumental study of the nature of faith in Catholic theology I shall be referring more than once, 'It is to this element of knowledge in pistis that in later theology the [notion of the] act of faith and the [ensuing] virtue of faith correspond'.2 Cardinal Avery Dulles points out that, in contrast to the Old Testament where faith is essentially 'the appropriate response to God's faithfulness to his covenant promises', the more pronounced emphasis in the New Testament on the cognitive element in faith may be linked to the fact that, for that Testament, 'the hopes of Israel are . . . surpassingly fulfilled in Christ'.3 Christian faith consists, as does Jewish, of 'an acceptance of God's word or promises as true and trustworthy', as well as a 'commitment to live accordingly'.4 But if the Old Testament promises are fulfilled in Christ and the Church,5 then in the Christian dispensation faith gains a wider scope, entailing more demands, epistemic, liturgical, ethical. Specifically New Testament faith involves 'acceptance of a divine testimony, announcing to human beings the inauguration of the salvation to which [consciously or otherwise] they aspired, and with this the conditions for appropriating the fruits of the objective event which is their redemption'.6

Since faith entails accepting an announcement, it is said to be, in a Latin tag, ex auditu. Faith comes from hearing. It is the welcoming acceptance of a message issuing from Christ and his apostles, an 'apostolic preaching' which - according to the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, and the New Testament Letters - is confirmed by divine acts. These acts may be outer and public in the form of 'signs' of some description, generally or quasi-generally available to alert participants, or they may be inner and altogether personal, invisible movements within the human soul.

To sum up the conclusions so far: for the New Testament, taken very broadly, faith is the reception of a message. This message concerns divine transformation of the world, and especially of human life. It is confirmed by divine acts. It requires of its recipients a new quality of life, and makes that new life a real possibility for them.

We may add that, in the apostolic literature, Baptism is the gateway to such newness of life. The Latin Fathers will call Baptism 'the sacrament of faith', since it testifies to both the personal response of the individual and the corporate conviction of the community of redemption, the Church, which that indiviual is entering. This ecclesial dimension serves to exclude any attempt to resolve the issue of faith and reason by philosophical means alone.

From Scripture to the Fathers

The two most developed theologies within the New Testament corpus, the Pauline and the Johannine, indicate a degree of tension as to how to plot the relation between the vital cognitive dimension of faith and that to which it ultimately points, full intellectual vision of the self-revealing God. St Paul emphasised the enigmatic and imperfect character of faith, which can only glimpse its own object remotely, and as mediated by witnesses. This is connected, presumably, to faith's meritorious character as sheer obedience to God (compare
Romans 1:5). As with the patriarch Abraham, to whom Paul makes appeal as a type of the Christian believer, faith 'justifies' those who were formerly not at rights with God - at any rate when such faith is living and operant in charity.7 Though it brings about an indwelling of Christ in the heart by the Holy Spirit, faith lacks epistemic transparency. It is not a walking by sight. The Pauline tendency to contrast faith with vision is often continued in the Western Church Fathers and in Latin theology after them.

St John, on the other hand, underlined the continuity of faith in its cognitive aspect with such full intellectual vision, treating faith as a principle that allows Christians to experience in some fashion the saving gifts of God. It is a new spiritual faculty of seeing (cf. John 1:14; 11:40; 14:8-9). For this theology, faith is a preliminary apprehension of the beatific vision and thus of eternal life. That explains how John could treat faith and knowledge as quasi-synonymous (cf. John 6:69). Such intellectualism is not an assault on the role of the will. It does not prevent the Johannine literature from holding the highest view of charity, since what we 'know and believe' is above all 'the love God has for us' in the incarnate Word (1 John 4:16), and this calls for a congruent practice of charity in return (cf. 1 John 3:23).8 Nevertheless, the Johannine emphasis on the essentially illuminative and mystical character of faith may be said to stand at the origin of typical Eastern Christian reflection on this subject.

These varieties of apostolic understanding are not to be counterposed as though they were contradictory. Within the unity of the Canon of Scripture they cast complementary light. Perhaps one useful way of identifying 'classics' in Christian theology, such as the work of St Thomas Aquinas, is to establish how this or that theologian does justice to both the Pauline and the Johannine understandings of faith as a cognitive enterprise in the theologian's work. Thus Thomas defines faith as 'the habit of mind whereby eternal life begins in us, causing the mind the assent to things that do not appear',9 and this seems a combination of the Pauline ('things that do not appear') with the Johannine ('whereby eternal life begins in us'). More fully Johannine is his statement that 'the light of faith causes to see the things that are believed'.10 That more Pauline-inclined scribes could find this excessively 'visionary' is suggested by the way some codices acquired a marginal gloss, so that the statement reads '. . . causes us to see that the things believed are credible'.11

So far nothing has been said about rationality. But, returning to the New Testament, in the First Letter of St Peter, the apostle adjured his readers always to be ready to offer an apologia (we can translate that 'a coherent explanation') to anyone who asks them for a logos (which we can translate 'a reasoned account') for the 'hope' that is in Christians (1 Peter 3:15). Hope, we have noted, is a key dimension of the biblical concept of pistis though, plainly enough, it is the cognitive dimension of faith with which such epistemic notions as 'coherent explanation' or apologia and 'reasoned account' or logos, make primary contact. The early Christian Apologists were exemplary producers of such apologiae. That, of course, gives the group of writers called 'The Apologists' their collective title. Among their number Justin Martyr provided the most comprehensive principle for our subject when he ascribed the intelligibility of the created order to the eternal Word 'of whom all mankind partakes'.12 The Apologists' outlook was widely shared. In some words of the North African ecclesiastical writer Tertullian:

Reason is a property of God's, since there is nothing which God, the Creator of all things, has not foreseen, arranged, and determined by reason. Furthermore, there is nothing God does not wish to be investigated and understood by reason.13

Tertullian's words about Christ's Resurrection, 'it is certain because it is impossible', were, in context, an appeal to Aristotle who, in his Rhetoric argues that an extraordinary claim, just because it is so out of the ordinary, may turn out to be well-founded.14 Tertullian, who, quite unjustly, has become for some a symbol of evangelical irrationalism, did not in fact renege on the commitments of the Apologists.

Nor did their project die with them, as we can see from, for instance, St Augustine's little treatise De vera religione, 'On the True Religion'.15 It is not, however, in that treatise but in his Letter 120 to Consentius that Augustine proposed two complementary maxims which will have a great future before them: Intellige ut credas, 'Understand that you may believe', and Crede ut intelligas, 'Believe that you may understand'.16 On the one hand, 'Understand that you may believe': the basic act of faith would be unworthy of human beings if it lacked a reasonable and prudent character. As Augustine put it, 'Heaven forbid, I say, that we should believe in such a way that we do not accept or seek a rational account, since we could not even believe if we did not have rational souls.'17 On the other hand, 'Believe that you may understand': there is a kind of understanding - a more advanced kind of understanding, I shall want in a moment to call it a contemplative understanding - for which faith is an epistemic precondition, and this 'kind of understanding' Augustine termed in Letter 120 'the fullness and perfection of knowledge, . . . the peak of contemplation, which the apostle calls face to face'.18

What Augustine meant by 'believing' is, at its most intense and comprehensive, a form of religious understanding where, under the enlivening action of charity, faith 'expands into a theological elaboration and mystical penetration' of its own object.19 That explains why Augustine could add to his own words about faith as a precondition of contemplative understanding:

If an unbeliever asks me for an account of my faith and hope and I see that, before he believes, he cannot grasp it, I give him this very argument by which he may, if possible, see how preposterous it is to demand before faith an account of those things that he cannot grasp.20

Augustine's homilies on the Gospel of St John gave eloquent expression to the possibility of a mystical deepening in faith through what we might call '
drawing by delight'.

Must we assume that the bodily senses have their delights, while the mind is not allowed to have any? But if the soul has no delights, how can Scripture say: 'The children of men will take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They will feast on the abundance of your house, and you will give them drink from the river of your delights. For with you is the fountain of life: in your light we shall see light'? Show me a lover and he will understand what I am saying. Show me someone who wants something, someone hungry, someone wandering in this wilderness, thirsting and longing for the fountains of his eternal home, show me such a one and he will know what I mean. 21

Before leaving Augustine, we should note that even the more modest sort of understanding which makes possible the reasonable and prudent adhesion of faith has, for him, certain moral preliminaries, notable among them humility of heart, itself a mode of love. Thus while, to his mind, faith necessarily involves an exercise of reason - in the course of producing a celebrated definition of the act of faith as '
pondering with assent', he explained that 'no one believes anything unless he has first thought that it ought to be believed'22 - still the aspect of assent implies a willingness to resolve the 'pondering' in a particular direction. Such willingness is, for him, love-directed.

It is love that asks; it is love that seeks; it is love that knocks; it is love that makes one adhere to revelation, and it is love that maintains the adherence once it is given.23

Augustine's approach to the faith/reason relation is broadly paralleled among the Greek divines of the same period, and notably in Theodoret's cumbrously entitled The Cure of Pagan Maladies, or the Truth of the Gospels proved from Greek Philosophy, probably written fairly soon after his becoming bishop of Cyr, near Antioch, in 423. Every student, so Theodoret pointed out, has to believe in his teachers before he comes to understand, and yet he or she must also have a measure of understanding before such belief can be rightly exercised.24

Later instances in the history of doctrine

Resuming the further history of the theology of faith in three giant strides,25 I move on via the Second Council of Orange in 529, through Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century, to the Council of Trent in the middle years of the sixteenth century.26

Orange II

First, then, the Second Council of Orange, a local council meeting in 529 in southern Gaul under the influence of Augustine's writing. Its decisions, approved by a contemporary pope, Boniface II, but lost to view for some centuries, were later widely accepted in the Latin Church (its canons are cited at both the First and the Second Vatican Councils). 27 If we ask after its authority, a modern ecclesiologist who is also a fundamental theologian responds:

Although particular councils lack authority to speak to the universal body of the faithful, their decrees have sometimes gained general acceptance by being confirmed through the approval of popes and ecumenical councils or, less formally, through the general consensus of bishops and theologians. 28

The bishops at Orange sought to exclude the notion that faith can ever be simply the upshot of intellectual reasoning without an engagement of the will. And they had in mind here not just any voluntary self-commitment but one which is the result of divinely originated morally transformative action. Thus the Council's fifth canon runs:

If anyone says that the increase as well as the beginning of faith and the very desire of faith - by which we believe in Him who justifies the sinner and by which we come to the regeneration of holy baptism - proceeds from our own nature and not from a gift of grace, namely an inspiration of the Holy Spirit changing our will from unbelief to belief and from godlessness to piety, such a man reveals himself in contradiction with the apostolic doctrine. . .29

The synod declared the act of faith to be impossible without divine grace acting on the will to give the human being the necessary strength to convert to the new life God offers in the gift of salvation. Its sixth canon reads:

If anyone says that mercy is divinely conferred upon us when, without God's grace, we believe, will, desire, strive, labour, pray, keep watch, endeavour, request, seek, knock, but does not confess that it is through the infusion and inspiration of the Holy Spirit that we believe, will or are able to do all these things as is required; or if anyone subordinates the help of
grace to humility or human obedience, and does not admit that it is the very gift of grace that makes us obedient and humble, he contradicts the apostle. . .

Pauline texts are cited in the close of both of these canons: Orange II represents a moderate version of Augustine's deconstruction of Pelagianism, itself pursued in the light of St Paul's letters.

St Thomas Aquinas

For his part Thomas Aquinas (c.1225-1274) did not renege on the teaching of Orange, formulated as it was in opposition to the Semi-Pelagianism for which the beginning of conversion is entirely a human affair, even though its continuance and completion is not. But Thomas's immediate background was the new Christian humanism of the twelfth century.31 Its representatives sought to ensure that grace was invoked in favour of an enhanced human spontaneity. That entailed giving thought to the psychology of faith - both as an act and as the way of life thus opened up.32 Thomas too travelled this road.33 And at a deeper level of analysis than the psychological, divine action impacting on the human will in the genesis of faith should not be taken to suppress the status of faith as a humanly meritorious act, which must mean in some way a free act. In the first place, such freedom is a requirement of the God-given dignity which belongs to human beings as made in the divine likeness. And in the second place, for the free act of faith (and the life that flows from it) to be meritbearing mirrors a conviction of both the New Testament writers and the Fathers of the Church: God rewards those who come to him, both in conversion (justification) and ongoing discipleship (sanctification).

The act of faith will be, then, a free human act that, nevertheless, issues from the enabling activity of God: that is not a contradiction in terms if we think of divine action as itself liberating human freedom from within.34 This too is genuine St Paul as we can see if we consult the Letters to the Romans and the Galatians, as those epistles are summed up in the cry, 'For freedom Christ has set us free.'35

Thomas also added a concern with the role of grace not merely in energising the will but also in enlightening the human intelligence: what in his exceptionally influential treatise on the subject is called lumen fidei, the 'light of faith', a phrase with marked Johannine resonances in both the Gospel and the First Letter of St John. For John, in the Incarnation of the Logos, 'the true Light, that enlightens every man, was coming into the world'.36 For Thomas, though faith comes from hearing a herald, an authoritative messagebearer, the habit or disposition of faith is itself infused by God. That is not, he thought, a surprising, much less a contradictory, combination. In a comparison he drew with human understanding in general, there too very different factors are synthesised in a like fashion: 'The knowledge of principles comes from the senses, and yet the light whereby the principles are known is innate.'37

For Thomas, the act of faith is formally an act of the intelligence, raised by the light of faith to a new quality of operation. But this adhesion of mind to the divine self-revelation is itself, he insisted, a work of love, and hence of the will, which freely turns towards the supreme Good under the leading of divine action, thus making faith a praiseworthy human act. Despite his reputation in some twentieth-century quarters as an intellectualist, or even a Christian rationalist, for Thomas the act of faith is prompted by the desire or appetite for what the will obscurely apprehends as a promised Good that embodies the ultimate goal of human striving. The endless striving of the human will for the good, in other words for what will truly satisfy it, is, for Thomas, the principal underpinning in human nature of the act of faith.

One characteristic of faith is that the believer's mind is made up for him by his will, which is moved by its own object, namely the good which draws him to his final goal.

Consequently he is engaged by a double object, the good and the true, namely the will's own object and motive, and the object to which the mind assents under the will's influence. The ultimate good attracting and moving the will is both natural and supernatural. As natural it lies within the scope of our natural powers; it is the felicity matching human nature about which philosophers discourse - the contemplative happiness of active wisdom, the practical happiness of active prudence spreading out into the activities of the other moral virtues. As supernatural, it exceeds unaided human nature and cannot be reached by our inherited powers; we cannot think it or wish it of ourselves. We are set on this happiness solely by divine liberality.38

This is how divine grace can take hold of us without violation of our integrity.39 Such attraction of the will for the uncreated Good releases what Scholastic theology came to call the pius affectus credulitatis, the 'devout inclination to believe'. (The last two words of that three word phrase were already to be found, incidentally, at the Second Council of Orange.) As Thomas puts it in his Commentary on St Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians:

Between knowledge through science and knowledge through faith there is this difference: science shines only on the mind, showing that God is the cause of everything, that he is one and wise, and so forth. Faith enlightens the mind and also warms the affections, telling us not merely that God is first cause but also that he is saviour, redeemer, loving, made flesh for us. Hence the phrase 'maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge'.40

In a love which lets reason be captivated, the will actively proposes to the intellect the super-ordinate good to be attained. The affections cannot but follow in what the French call connaissance savoureuse.

Especially in his later writings, such as his commentary on the Gospel of St John, Thomas regarded as crucial to the act of faith what he terms the '
interior instinct and attraction for doctrine'.41 But he never ceased to acknowledge the significance of humanae rationes, 'human reasons', in leading to faith or sustaining faith. Into this latter category he put such very different considerations as confirmatory miracles on the one hand, and, on the other, arguments for the congruence of dogma with what we know about reality from other sources or, at the least, dogma's non-impossibility: dogma is not self-contradictory, or in flat contradiction to what we genuinely know about the world by other means.

Thomas envisaged that there can be, up to a point, on the basis of such 'reasons', notably the occurrence of miraculous phenomena, a natural certitude of the fact of revelation,42 - though the 'what' of events wholly beyond the order of created nature is never treated by him save in relation to the 'why' or rationale of such events for which we must invoke the finality of the Incarnation, which was 'to restore all things in Christ, in heaven as on earth'.43 Only the intervention of grace in the workings of the person's mind and will can procure not just this wider vision but also absolute certainty of its veracity through eliciting the act of divine faith. Not that Thomas or any other high medieval writer had a huge amount to say about the question of certitude. That is, for the most part, a later preoccupation which derives from a greater degree of critical sophistication (some would say pseudosophistication) about the human subject as distinct from the object which he or she knows or claims to know.44 Thomas distinguished between objective and subjective certainty. No certainty can be objectively greater than revelation's, for the cause of this certainty is God. Faith rests on the divine truth. But as to subjective certainty, inasmuch as faith, owing to its darkness before the final vision, satisfies the human mind less than do some other forms of knowing, it may be regarded as less certain than these. But that is quoad nos, 'in regard to us'. Taken simpliciter, 'as it is in itself', faith is supremely certain.45

In the wake of Renaissance Humanism, people focused more fully on the psychological condition of the knowing agent - his or her consciousness, and in this context, the question about subjective certitude - over against systematic scepticism, above all - achieved a prominence it had rarely possessed in antiquity or in the Middle Ages.46 In a Religious Order marked by its Renaissance origins, the Baroque Scholastics of the Jesuit School came to specialise in this topic in their treatises on the 'analysis of faith', the grounding of faith's certitude. But in a very different period and setting, Newman too will be a good example of a theologian or religious writer deeply preoccupied with the question of certitude.47

The Council of Trent

In that perspective, the Council of Trent might almost be called the last of the medieval Councils of the Church. On the cusp, at any rate, of the late medieval and early modern periods, the Council of Trent echoed a kind of thinking conspicuous in Thomas (but by no means confined to him) in the course of its Decree on Justification, in chapters VI and VII and the relevant canons. Canon 3 anathematised those who say that, without preceding inspiration of the Holy Spirit and without his help, a person can believe, hope, love and repent, as he ought (sicut oportet) so that the grace of justification may be granted to him.48

The seemingly anodyne phrase 'sicut oportet' is actually of some importance. It was added at the insistence of one of the Council's premier theologians the Franciscan Andres de Vega (1498-1549), in order to distinguish between a merely human faith,
fides humana, based on conjectural reasons whereby we grant to revelation some kind of natural credibility, and a fully evangelical or 'divine' faith based on 'supernatural testimonies', testimonia supernaturalia, leading to acceptance of the Christian message simply 'on account of divine authority', propter auctoritatem divinam, i.e. on the ground that God the First Truth has spoken.49 For such 'divine faith' grace is indispensable.

Here the word 'faith' is not being used univocally but equivocally: these are two discreet though inter-related kinds of human act. Supernatural faith, aroused and assisted by grace, and leading towards God by the way it believes to be true what God has revealed and promised, can alone be called, in the language of Chapter VIII of the Decree, 'the beginning, foundation, and root of all justification'.

So far as authoritative or classical sources for Catholic thought are concerned - Church Fathers, doctors, ecumenical Councils, papal definitions of doctrine, there the position, taken by and large, may be said to stand as the nineteenth century opens.50

Defining reason

That is not to say, of course, that nothing world-shaking had been happening to the second term in our duo: not this time 'faith' but 'reason', or 'rationality'.

What do we mean by 'reason'? In a highly minimal way, we could perhaps give the term 'reason' a gloss like 'argumentative enquiry', with the possible addition of 'on the basis of, or bearing in mind, first principles, whether presumed or explicit'. That I think is the most we can glean from the Oxford English Dictionary whose entries under the headings 'reason' and 'rationality' tend to the tautologous. Reason is what we appeal to when we pursue rationality by means of argument, rationality what we arrive at through the exercise of argumentative reason. It is obvious that such statements get us no further forward, though the reference to 'first principles, whether presumed or explicit', is worth keeping hold of. A minimal definition of reason might manage with just that alone, on which more anon.

If, however, we wish to give a fuller account of what reason or rationality may be we soon find ourselves embroiled in what the ethicist Alasdair MacIntyre dubbed the struggle of 'competing' or 'contested' rationalities, something especially palpable in the realm of practical reason where conflicting kinds of justification for alternative courses of action, or sometimes the same course of action, are plainly on offer. As MacIntyre puts it, by way of example: 'Some conceptions of justice appeal to inalienable human rights, others to some notion of social contract, and others again to a standard of utility.'51

When we move from the arena of practical reason to that of pure or theoretical reason, the situation is hardly improved. In the Metaphysics, so MacIntyre notes, Aristotle, with whom MacIntyre is inclined to agree on this point, treats the law of non-contradiction - that X cannot be both p and not p in the same respect - as the foundational law of rational thought. Others have given the same role to the principle of identity, whereby X is X, though one late twentieth-century treatise on logic calls this 'according to taste either the supreme metaphysical truth or the utmost banality'. 52 In either case, law of non-contradiction or principle of identity, acceptance of such laws of logic can only be accounted a necessary condition of rationality, not a sufficient condition of it, for more must surely be added, if one is to be justified in ascribing rationality to modes of enquiry or legitimations of beliefs. Let us call this further aspect - going beyond the conditions set by the laws of logic - the 'metalogical' aspect of rationality. And here's the rub, not least in the context of that highly productive, philosophically speaking, eighteenth century which ushers in the period I am to deal with. Simply as historians of ideas, and without any ecclesiastically motivated partisanship, we need to be aware, that while for the Enlightenment, in MacIntyre's words:

Rational justification was to appeal to principles undeniable for any rational person and therefore independent of all those social and cultural particularities which the Enlightenment thinkers took to be the mere accidental clothing of reason in particular times and places, . . . [yet] both the thinkers of the Enlightenment and their successors proved unable to agree as to what precisely those principles were which would be found undeniable by all rational persons.53

When we look for accounts of meta-logical rationality and turn to, for instance, the French Encyclopaedists of the eighteenth century or the Scottish empiricist David Hume in the same period, or slightly later, the founder of German Idealism, Immanuel Kant, or in England Jeremy Bentham, the father of Utilitarianism, we soon discover that their versions of meta-logical rationality differ markedly. Rationalities are, in MacIntyre's phrase, 'tradition-specific'. The historian of thought should acknowledge 'the diversity of traditions of enquiry, each with its own specific mode of rational justification'.

Yet, as MacIntyre wisely adds, the philosopher, so as to do justice to the claims of reason, even modestly defined as with the help of the Oxford Dictionary, must avoid any assumption that 'the differences between rival and [seemingly] incompatible traditions [of rationality] cannot [themselves] be rationally resolved'.54 In other words: de facto these philosophical schools may be operating with a variety of meta-logical principles of reason, but we cannot and should not accept that, de jure, reason is just up for grabs. If humanity is on a shared search for truth - and this is an assumption of morality, civilisation, and the University, it cannot simply be a case of 'You pays your money and you takes your choice.'

Provisionally, however, there is no alternative to accepting the analogical character of rationality. 'Reason' covers a variety of strategies for thought, though all have it in
common that they respect logical form and deploy arguments from or to principles. Over and above that minimal definition, what 'reason' signifies in fuller terms must be
established contextually. A given author's understanding of rationality will emerge from the tasks they set reason, the roles they expect reason to perform, and the resources they allow it. The family resemblance between rationalities - itself a consequence of the minimum 'core' definition taken together with the comparability of such tasks, roles and resources - justifies the use of the term 'reason' tout court.

Ultimately, though, some more architectonic account is needed. In the perspective of philosophy, that would necessarily take the form of some (future) adjudication of epistemic foundations. Fortunately for the present writer, in the perspective of theology, it is possible to suggest a conceptual architecture to house reason the lines of which are simple yet which does the job. That topic can be briefly broached now, but a firm proposal must await the Conclusion to this study.

Faith and reason in Catholic thought

In Western Catholic theology where major reference points are Augustine, Thomas and the other high medieval thinkers whose work underlies the Council of Trent, the realm of natural understanding based on reason is not seen as a separate, self-enclosed sphere but as a component - albeit a massive one - within a more comprehensive whole. In its activity, divine grace constitutes a higher principle which overarches natural created reality. In giving access to this higher principle, faith englobes reason without truncating it. Divine grace in its essential supernaturality is not counterposed to the natural experiencing, reasoning and knowing subject as though it were antithetical to that subject in the latter's native modes of moving around the world. Rather, just as nature is ordered to grace, so the life of the mind with its created faculties is in its totality ordered beyond itself with a view to an expansion of its range, not a diminution of it. Thus reason and faith are for Catholicism conjoined in a relational unity. The difficulty about faith for post-Renaissance people is that they do not approach their rational and free 'I' as naturally ordered beyond itself. Not surprisingly, then, Christian faith, originating in the divine action of revelation, loses for them its proper intelligibility.
55 In an era of intellectual disorientation such as our own (the distinguishing 'pathologies' of our time are fundamentalism and relativistic secularism), it is of high importance not only to allow reason to illuminate faith but to let faith steady reason likewise. And in any case, if such mutual help is available, that can only be because human reason has what Scholastics call an 'obediential potency' in regard to faith. Of its own intrinsic character, reason enjoys, if not an active nisus towards faith, then at any rate a passive capacity to be drawn into faith's modus operandi. The only possible explanation for this lies in the being and mind of God from whom all truth, natural and supernatural, derives. Accordingly, my principal epistemological commitment is to the thesis that human rationality shares (in a finite, and therefore incomplete mode) in the reason of God.

Thus the question, 'Is there a universal rationality?' - 'defined', as the twentieth-century American philosopher Hilary Putnam, phrases things, 'by a set of unchanging "canons" or "principles"'56 - admits only of a differentiated reply. Where divine reason is bracketed out, as by the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, the concept of universal rationality, a potential universality of reason only partially actualised in the multiplicity of rationalities, becomes, pace MacIntyre, practically unattainable - even in theory! Our concepts of reason do develop, shift their emphases, and so become various. In examples drawn from the present book:
metaphysical reason, which operates with such principles as causality and 'sufficient reason', is not the same as the existential reason which lays out the 'logic' of action as it unfolds in a human life-project, nor is either of these identical with the aesthetic reason which considers the pattern of epiphanies in the experience of beauty. But where divine reason is
included in, as with the Catholic intellectual tradition taken by and large, then the variety of modes in which rationality can function is unified - rendered fully universal - in the reason of God himself. Those modes do not, then, approach unity only asymptotically, such that they are destined never to reach it. To the contrary: they are forms of imperfect universality, which have their perfect archetype elsewhere - yet this 'elsewhere' is also 'here' in that it guarantees their prospective unity in advance and renders what I call above an 'architectonic' account of rationality something feasible. A plenary human rationality in act is, one might suggest, the reason of Adam before the Fall: a pure participation (not, of course, an absolute coincidence, impossible to a creature) in the reason of God. There is a covert indication of this in a contemporary philosopher who is far from holding a theological view of these issues when Hilary Putnam writes:

The very fact that we speak of our different conceptions as different conceptions of rationality posits a Grenzbegriff, a limit-concept of the ideal truth.57

Meanwhile, on a range of issues in ethics, metaphysics, aesthetics, when we are discussing, respectively, the good, the true and the beautiful, Catholic Christians can share intellectually with others (of almost, if not quite, every philosophical persuasion 58), both by debating within the presuppositions of different rationalities, and by appropriate disputing of the adequacy of those very presuppositions themselves.59

As indicated, I shall return to this issue in the Conclusion, assisted, I hope, by the materials surveyed inbetween. In that 'inbetween', the lion's share of this book, we shall be looking at a variety of Catholic thinkers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries who, in my opinion, still have something worth hearing to say on these issues - as well as the critiques to which these thinkers were sometimes subject, in the name of the wider corporate Church.


1. R. Aubert, Le Problème de l'acte de foi: données traditionelles et résultats
des controverses récentes
(Louvain, 1958, 3rd edition), pp. 3-4.
For a brief sketch of the understanding of faith in the Old Testament,
with references to key Hebrew terms, see A. Dulles, SJ,
The Assurance
of Things Hoped For. A Theology of Christian Faith
(New York, 1994),
pp. 7-10.

2. R. Aubert, Le Problème de l'acte de foi, op. cit., p. 5.

3. A. Dulles, SJ, The Assurance of Things Hoped For, op. cit., p. 17.

4. Ibid., p. 7.

5. For a Christian theology of the Old Testament along these lines, see
A. Nichols, OP,
Lovely, like Jerusalem. The Fulfilment of the Old Testament
in Christ and the Church
(San Francisco, 2007), which draws its
inspiration from (especially) the biblical theologies of Gabriel Hebert
and Jean Daniélou.

6. R. Aubert, Le Problème de l'acte de foi, op. cit., p. 6.

7. The confessional disputes between Protestants and Catholics about
the nature of such justification complicate Pauline exegesis. A classic
essay in the Catholic perspective is M.-E. Boismard, 'La foi selon S.
Lumière et Vie 22 (1955), pp. 489-514.

8. For a full account, see R. Schnackenburg, The Gospel according to St
(English translation, New York, 1968), pp. 558-75.
Introduction 5

9. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae IIa.IIae., q. 4, a. 1, corpus.

10. Ibid., ad iii.

11. I take this point from A. Dulles, SJ, The Assurance of Things Hoped For,
op. cit., p. 238, n. 25.

12. Justin, I Apologia, 46; cf. II Apologia 8-10.

13. Tertullian,
De paenitentia 1, 2.

14. R. D. Sider, Ancient Rhetoric and the Art of Tertullian (Oxford, 1971),
pp. 56-9. The proper context for the notorious citation from
De paenitentia
, 4 was already elucidated at the time of the First World War in
J. Moffatt, 'Tertullian and Aristotle',
Journal of Theological Studies 17
(1916), pp. 170-1.

15. That their project did not perish could be called in fact the controlling
thesis of John Rist's entire study of Augustine, as indeed its sub-title
indicates. See J. M. Rist,
Augustine. Ancient Thought Baptized
(Cambridge, 1994). But see especially pp. 41-91.

16. See for this letter,
The Works of Saint Augustine II/2. Letters 100-155
(Hyde Park, New York, 2003), pp. 129-40.

17. Ibid., p. 131, = Letter 120, 1 (3).

18. Ibid., = Letter 120, 1 (4).

19. R. Aubert, Le Problème de l'acte de foi, op. cit., pp. 22-3.

20. Augustine, Letters 100-155, p. 131, = Letter 120, 1 (4).

21. Idem., Homilia 26 in Joannem, 4-6, with an internal citation of Psalm
32, 7b-9.

22. Idem.,
De praedestinatione sanctorum 2, 5.

23. Idem., De moribus Ecclesiae I. 17, 31.

24. Theodoret, Graecarum affectionum curatio, Preface. Most of Book I
of this work is devoted to the topic of the nature of faith and its relation
to reason. The theme could also be followed up, if less programmatically,
in, to name only a few of the pertinent Greek fathers and ecclesiastical writers, Origen, Gregory Nazianzen, Pseudo-Denys, Maximus the Confessor.

25. I shall, however, offer some discussion of a figure of importance for this subject between Second Orange and Aquinas, namely Anselm, in the course of Chapter 8, for reasons which should there become clear.

26. An overview of the entire development of the theology of faith up to
the later twentieth century, and including sections on authors belonging
to the Reformation traditions, may be found in A. Dulles, SJ,
Assurance of Things Hoped For
, op. cit., pp. 20-169.

27. See G. Fritz, 'Orange, Deuxième Concile de', Dictionnaire de Théologie
11. 1 (Paris, 1931), cols. 1087-1103.

28. A. Dulles, SJ, Magisterium. Teacher and Guardian of the Faith
, FL, 2007), p. 55.

29. English translation from J. Neuner, SJ, and J. Dupuis, SJ (ed.), The
Christian Faith in the Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church

(London 1983, 2nd edition), p. 550. The Latin original is given in H.
Enchiridon symbolorum, definitionum et declarationum
de rebus fidei et morum
(37th edition, Freiburg, 1991), 375.

30. English translation from J. Neuner, SJ, and J. Dupuis, SJ (ed.), The
Christian Faith in the Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church
op. cit., pp. 560-1. The corresponding Latin text is found in H.
Enchiridon symbolorum, definitionum et declarationum
de rebus fidei et morum
, op. cit., 376.

31. See R. Southern,
Medieval Humanism and Other Studies (Oxford, 1970).

32. The subject of the enormous labours of Dom O. Lottin, Psychologie et
Morale au moyen âge
(Louvain 1942-1960).

33. Explored in P. Duroux, OP, La psychologie de la foi chez S. Thomas
(Tournai, 1963).

34. B. Lonergan, SJ, Grace and Freedom. Operative Grace in the Thought
of St. Thomas Aquinas
(London and New York, 1971).

35. Galatians 5:1.

36. John 1:9.

37. Thomas, In Boethium de Trinitate, q. 3, a. 1, ad iv. For a thorough
discussion of how Thomas views faith in relation to such understanding,
see J. I. Jenkins,
Knowledge and Faith in Thomas Aquinas
(Cambridge, 1997).

38. Thomas, Quaestiones disputatae de Veritate, XIV, 2.

39. See Thomas's treatise on faith in the Summa Theologiae, IIa. IIae., qq.
1-16, and especially 1-7.

40. Idem., In Sancti Pauli Epistolam ad Corinthos II, ii. Lect. 3, with an
internal citation of 2 Corinthians 2:14.

41. Idem., In Joannem XV, lectio 5, no. 4. In Summa Theologiae IIa. IIae.,
q. 2, a. 9, Thomas describes this as 'the inner inspiration of God inviting
someone to believe'. Cf. C. S. Evans,
The Historical Christ and the
Jesus of Faith. The Incarnational Narrative as History
(Oxford, 1996),
pp. 259-82, where a Reformed philosopher-theologian incorporates
this Thomasian text into his account of the inner testimony of the Holy
Spirit as knowledge-producing in its grounding of (true) belief in the
basic 'story-line' of the New Testament.

42. G. Berceville, 'Les miracles comme signes de crédibilité chez Thomas
', Mélanges de science religieuse 53 (1996), pp. 51-64, considers
this entire issue from Augustine to Thomas.

43. Ephesians 1:10. Cf. J.-P. Torrell, OP, Le Christ en ses mystères. La vie
et l'oeuvre de Jésus selon saint Thomas d'Aquin
(Paris, 1999), I.,
pp. 268-70.

44. An example of an early twentieth-century theologian desirous of
returning to the older approach is Karl Adam, for whom faith's assent
is voluntary since '
in the image of Christ is encountered that summum
bonum to which [the will's] nature is directed, and which completes,
fulfils, and commits it . . . From the psychological point of view, then,
the belief in Christ
is an experience of good, wrought by God, and not
an experience of certainty
', The Christ of Faith (English translation,
New York, 1957), p. 16. Italics original.

45. Thomas,
Summa theologiae IIa. IIae., q. 4, a. 8, corpus.

46. K. Eschweiler,
Die zwei Wege der neueren Theologie. Georg Hermes
- Matthias Joseph Scheeben. Eine kritische Untersuchung des Problems
der theologischen Erkenntnis
(Augsburg, 1926), p. 29. In the years immediately following the Council of Trent, the Roman Catechism called faith 'the very certain assent by which the mind firmly and constantly assents to God as he discloses his mysteries', Catechismus ex Decreto Concilii Tridentini I. 2. 2. It should be noted, however, by way of qualification that ancient scepticism also generated concern with certainty, as in the early writings of Augustine of Hippo.

47. As pointed out in E. Przywara, SJ, Religionsbegründung. Max Scheler -
J. H. Newman
(Freiburg, 1923). Przywara's account was confirmed by
H. M. de Achaval and J. D. Holmes (ed.),
The Theological Papers of
John Henry Newman on Faith and Certainty
(Oxford, 1976). In the
year of publication of the 'Papers' there also appeared W. R. Fey,
and Doubt: The Unfolding of Newman's Thought on Certainty
W. Va., 1976). For the importance of the struggle with
scepticism in shaping early modern epistemology, see J. Dewey,
Quest for Certainty
(New York, 1929). By the late twentieth century,
epistemology was likely to be less concerned with rebutting outright
scepticism, and more with reflecting on the nature of the knowledge
we actually have, and how it is obtained.

48. N. P. Tanner, SJ (ed.),
Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils. II. Trent to
Vatican II
(London and Washington, 1990), p. 679, which provides
both the Latin original and the English translation.

49. R. Aubert, Le problème de l'acte de foi, op. cit., p. 77.

50. Baroque Scholastics in the Jesuit Society, however, refined the 'analysis
of faith' (i. e. the explanation of the grounding of the certitude of
faith), notably by distinguishing more sharply than had the medievals
between natural and supernatural phases in the approach to faith (that
will become especially pertinent when the 'debate over apologetics' is
considered in Chapter 9 below). See on this A. Dulles, SJ,
The Assurance
of Things Hoped For
, op. cit., pp. 55-8.

51. A. MacIntyre, Whose Justice? Which Rationality? (London, 1988), p. 1.

52. W. Hodges, Logic (Harmondsworth, 1977), p. 164.

53. A. MacIntyre,
Whose Justice? Which Rationality?, op. cit., p. 6.

54. Ibid., pp. 9-10.

55. K. Eschweiler, Die zwei Wege der neueren Theologie, op. cit.,
pp. 39-40.

56. H. Putnam, Reason, Truth and History (Cambridge, 1981), p. x.

57. Ibid, p. 216.

58. Even the concept of rationality subjacent to logical positivism can find
a possible rapport with the rationale of faith through the notion of the
eschatological verification of Christian truth-claims. But I exclude as a
hopeless case Postmodernism of the anarchist variety: compare the
remarks on the relative 'merits' of Kantian and Nietzschean hegemony
in the Conclusion to this book.

59. Those in the logic-dominated mainstream of Anglo-American philosophy
might prefer the word 'premises' here to my somewhat Collingwoodian
term 'presuppositions'. There is clearly a difference between
these. Premises have to be stated; presuppositions may remain tacit.
Yet the general idea remains the same.

Copyright © Aidan Nichols 2009

Version: 21st July 2009

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