St. Benedicta of the Cross on Faith and Reason

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Since today is the feast day commemorating St. Benedicta of the Cross, I’d like to post a short piece on her thoughts about faith and reason (it’s taken from Essay 2, “How We Believe; How Science Works,” from my web-book, “Truth Cannot Contradict Truth”—and please forgive the shameless self-promotion).

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) explored the relationship between philosophy and theology, or equivalently, between faith and reason. In her work, Finite and Eternal Being, she proposed a hierarchy, that faith went beyond rational knowledge:

“Since the ultimate ground of all existence [alles Seienden] is unfathomable, everything which is seen in this ultimate perspective moves into that ‘dark light’ of faith, and everything intelligible is placed in a setting with an incomprehensible background.”
–St. Teresa Benedicta, “Finite and Eternal Being,” p.25

I’ll put this another way:  the fundamental question we ask is “Why are we here?”   Science might be able to say how our physical bodies came to be here, but science can’t answer the question: “Why did we come to be.   Science would respond: “that question is meaningless, can’t be answered by scientific methods.”  Only faith can give a satisfactory answer to that why question.

And thus the kibosh is put on the rational quest for faith.   Grace prevails!

NOTE:

The priest in the homily today (9 August, the Feast Day commemorating St. Benedicta of the Cross) talked about her.    An important point was her suffering and her name:  in suffering we are each called to offer our suffering to participates with Christ’s.

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7 Comments

  1. Timely post, given that the most common objection to belief in the Real Presence (at least in the comment threads on that Pew poll which I’ve been lurking in elsewhere) is that bread and wine aren’t physically (materially) transformed into flesh and blood, therefore transubstantiation is magical mumbo-jumbo invented by superstitious monks.

    I do however object to “the kibosh” being put to “the rational quest for faith.” It seems to me that Faith without Reason is just as dead as Faith without Works. “Be prepared to give reasons for your faith” (paraphrasing from memory) and all that.

    I wish you would revise and extend on your last remark.

  2. Thanks very much for your comment, Ernst. Let me elaborate on the last sentence of the post (the “kibosh” remark was added to give it some punch, but it’s an unfortunate choice given how it can be interpreted).

    Let me say first that I agree with Pope St. John Paul II that man is carried to the truth on the “two wings of faith and reason.” My point was that you can’t arrive at faith purely through reason, grace is necessary. To make a probability analogy (ugh!), faith and reason are not correlated, they’re independent.

    Two people with the same intelligence can read “Who Moved the Stone” (justifying the reality of the Resurrection) and one, like me will be moved to faith, the other to calling it “hogwash.” Two people with the same intelligence and background knowledge might know about the unlikely life-sustaining properties of water and hydrogen bonding in molecular biology. One (like me) might say this is a wondrous thing contrived by God and the other, “it just is in the nature of things.”

    In other words, reason doesn’t necessarily lead to faith; it can be a stepping stone to faith, but faith itself is a mystery.

  3. Ernst, I’ve taken some time to think about your comment and have one more thought. (It takes while for the gears to get moving.)

    In math and logic, there are what are known as “Necessary” and “Sufficient” conditions. A “Necessary” condition is one that is required for a proof or truth value of a proposition but will not necessarily yield the truth value if other conditions are not satisfied. A “Sufficient” condition is one that will yield the truth value.
    See here . For example, a necessary condition for a mammal (including humans) to be pregnant is that the mammal is female. However, as you can see this necessary condition is not in itself sufficient.

    With regard to faith and reason i’ll say the following. If we replace “reason” by “evidence” (which includes testimony, visions,etc.) then evidence is a necessary condition for faith, but not necessarily sufficient.

  4. Thanks Bob for your further thoughts. Just wanted to be sure we weren’t slipping inadvertently into a kind of Ockhamite voluntarism (q.v.) where God saves whom He wills (and damns all the rest) so Reason avails nothing.

    To be clear, I never thought that’s where you were headed. But I come from an evangelical/Calvinist background, and, back in the day, knew my fair share of young earth creationist/biblical literalist types who would have agreed with your “kibosh” quip forall the wrong reasons.

  5. “This old man’s memory is shot to Hell. I forgot I posted this a year ago. Oh well….”

    And I an old man shared your essay on Facebook again. I was brought up as a Pentecostal to believe that faith and reason are incompatible. One of the things I love of the Catholic Church is the revelation that that is a lie from the pit of hell.

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