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Monday, January 28, 2013

0262: Philosophy and the Cross




Entry 0262: Pope Benedict XVI and Blessed John Paul II on Philosophy and the Cross

Logos (I)

1. Pope Benedict XVI

In the General Audience on Faith of 21 November 2012, Pope Benedict XVI declared:


The knowledge of faith is not in opposition to right reason. Blessed Pope John Paul II, in fact, in his Encyclical Fides et Ratio, sums it up in these words: “human reason is neither annulled nor debased in assenting to the contents of faith, which are in any case attained by way of free and informed choice” (no. 43).

In the irresistible desire for truth, only a harmonious relationship between faith and reason is the right road that leads to God and to the person’s complete fulfilment. This doctrine is easily recognizable throughout the New Testament. St Paul, in writing to the Christians of Corinth, maintains: “Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Cor 1:22-23).

God in fact did not save the world with an act of power, but through the humiliation of his Only-Begotten Son. Measured in human parameters, the unusual ways of God clash with the demands of Greek wisdom.

And yet, the Cross of Christ has a reason of its own which St Paul calls: ho logos tou staurou “the word of the cross” (1 Cor 1:18). Here the term logos means both the word and reason and, if it alludes to the word, it is because it expresses verbally what reason works out.

Hence Paul does not see the Cross as an irrational event, but as a saving factor that possesses its own reasonableness, recognizable in the light of faith. At the same time he has such trust in human reason, that he is surprised that many people, in spite of seeing the works brought about by God, persist in refusing to believe in him. In his Letter to the Romans St Paul says: “ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made” (1:20).

St Peter likewise also urges the Christians of the diaspora to worship: “in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to make a defence to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you” (1 Pt 3:15). In an atmosphere of persecution and with a pressing need to bear witness to faith, we believers are asked to justify with well-grounded reasons their adherence to the word of the Gospel, to account for the reason for our hope.

2. Blessed John Paul II

In paragraphs 22 and 23 of the Encyclical Letter Fides et Ratio, Blessed John Paul II had remarked the following:

The coming of Christ was the saving event which redeemed reason from its weakness, setting it free from the shackles in which it had imprisoned itself.

This is why the Christian’s relationship to philosophy requires thorough-going discernment. In the New Testament, especially in the Letters of Saint Paul, one thing emerges with great clarity: the opposition between “the wisdom of this world” and the wisdom of God revealed in Jesus Christ. The depth of revealed wisdom disrupts the cycle of our habitual patterns of thought, which are in no way able to express that wisdom in its fullness.

The beginning of the First Letter to the Corinthians poses the dilemma in a radical way. The crucified Son of God is the historic event upon which every attempt of the mind to construct an adequate explanation of the meaning of existence upon merely human argumentation comes to grief.

The true key-point, which challenges every philosophy, is Jesus Christ’s death on the Cross. It is here that every attempt to reduce the Father’s saving plan to purely human logic is doomed to failure.

“Where is the one who is wise? Where is the learned? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (1 Cor 1:20), the Apostle asks emphatically. The wisdom of the wise is no longer enough for what God wants to accomplish; what is required is a decisive step towards welcoming something radically new: “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise...; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not to reduce to nothing things that are” (1 Cor 1:27-28).

Human wisdom refuses to see in its own weakness the possibility of its strength; yet Saint Paul is quick to affirm: “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10). Man cannot grasp how death could be the source of life and love; yet to reveal the mystery of his saving plan God has chosen precisely that which reason considers “foolishness” and a “scandal”.

Adopting the language of the philosophers of his time, Paul comes to the summit of his teaching as he speaks the paradox: “God has chosen in the world... that which is nothing to reduce to nothing things that are” (see 1 Cor 1:28).

In order to express the gratuitous nature of the love revealed in the Cross of Christ, the Apostle is not afraid to use the most radical language of the philosophers in their thinking about God. Reason cannot eliminate the mystery of love which the Cross represents, while the Cross can give to reason the ultimate answer which it seeks. It is not the wisdom of words, but the Word of Wisdom which Saint Paul offers as the criterion of both truth and salvation.

The wisdom of the Cross, therefore, breaks free of all cultural limitations which seek to contain it and insists upon an openness to the universality of the truth which it bears.

What a challenge this is to our reason, and how great the gain for reason if it yields to this wisdom! Of itself, philosophy is able to recognize the human being’s ceaselessly self-transcendent orientation towards the truth; and, with the assistance of faith, it is capable of accepting the “foolishness” of the Cross as the authentic critique of those who delude themselves that they possess the truth, when in fact they run it aground on the shoals of a system of their own devising.

The preaching of Christ crucified and risen is the reef upon which the link between faith and philosophy can break up, but it is also the reef beyond which the two can set forth upon the boundless ocean of truth. Here we see not only the border between reason and faith, but also the space where the two may meet