Philosophy and faith

“Aquinas is not arguing … that philosophy should play the role of a substitute for the grace of faith (a kind of epistemological Pelagianism that passes the work of salvation off onto human reason). The issue is the integration of faith and reason within a culture of the intellectual life that is fully respectful of the native powers of human intelligence and, at the same time, of the demands of grace. We must recognize not only where human reason leaves off and revealed mystery begins, but also where revealed mystery presupposes and assumes the truths of natural reason.

“Aquinas [also] argues that philosophy allows Christians to challenge the nonbeliever’s objections to Christianity on the grounds of reason alone. To transpose his affirmation into a contemporary idiom, we might say that natural reason can challenge the secularist mentality to acquire a more honest rational openness to religious claims.

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“Third, philosophy is essential to theology for its health as theology. Christian thought is not an exercise in mere moral posturing or unstructured spirituality. It is serious thought about reality conducted in a human mode: by discursive reasoning that seeks explanations and insights into God based on the things he does in the world, things that are both natural and supernatural.

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“I am more likely to consider arguments that I have a soul if at the same time I am otherwise seeing, through the eyes of faith, that the spiritual person who I am needs his soul to be saved. The opposite is true as well, however: Even if by faith I believe in the reality of the soul, if I cannot see the rationality of the belief, the faith remains something extrinsic to reason and therefore inherently unstable for me, and potentially painful to embrace.”

Thomas Joseph White, O.P., “Whether Faith Needs Philosophy”, First Things magazine, July 2011.


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