Recently I read Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Fides et Ratio. I enjoyed reading it, and I intend to write a few posts with what I consider to be highlights of it. This is the first. The encyclical is about the relationship between faith and reason. By way of wildly broad summary, the Catholic view is of course that there is no conflict whatsoever between the two. There is no conflict between the two because the proper object of both is truth in one form or other (either revealed truth or truth accessible by way of reason). Because it is impossible for one truth to contradict another, it is impossible for faith and reason to actually contradict each other (of course it must be said that many times what we think is true may conflict with what is actually true, or with other things that we erroneously suppose to be true; these are not real conflicts between faith and reason).
One of the first things I found noteworthy in the encyclical is the following, on the necessity of human freedom:
By faith, men and women give their assent to this divine testimony. This means that they acknowledge fully and integrally the truth of what is revealed because it is God himself who is the guarantor of that truth. They can make no claim upon this truth which comes to them as gift and which, set within the context of interpersonal communication, urges reason to be open to it and to embrace its profound meaning. This is why the Church has always considered the act of entrusting oneself to God to be a moment of fundamental decision which engages the whole person. In that act, the intellect and the will display their spiritual nature, enabling the subject to act in a way which realizes personal freedom to the full. It is not just that freedom is part of the act of faith: it is absolutely required. Indeed, it is faith that allows individuals to give consummate expression to their own freedom. Put differently, freedom is not realized in decisions made against God. For how could it be an exercise of true freedom to refuse to be open to the very reality which enables our self-realization? Men and women can accomplish no more important act in their lives than the act of faith; it is here that freedom reaches the certainty of truth and chooses to live in that truth. [§13; italics in original, bold added]
This does not directly have to do with the relation of faith and reason, although I think that there is at least an analogous relationship; as we shall see, JPII insists upon a certain measure of what he calls “autonomy” for reason that I think might be better described as freedom, since there are some fairly negative connotations to the idea of autonomous reason. Faith must be an act of free assent, just as reason must be free.
But this is neither here nor there for my purposes in this post. I’m more interested in the fact of this rather strong declaration on behalf of the freedom of faith, particularly since it stands in stark contrast to my Protestant Reformed background. Calvinists have a dreadfully fatalistic view of the world, at least formally speaking. But formally speaking the Catholic affirms both God’s sovereignty and the fact that God does not compel us to love Him. He enables us to do so; we cannot do so apart from His grace; but He does not force Himself upon us. This makes it easier to genuinely love Him, it seems to me, along with safeguarding His justice (as we have seen previously).