Thinking About Religion
Volume 8 (2008)

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Reason and the Reasons of Faith, Paul Griffiths and Reinhard Hütter, eds, T& T Clark: New York (2006), pp. viii +373 ISBN 0567028305 $49.95.

Reviewed by Gregory B. Sadler
Fayetteville State University

This volume of fourteen essays, by Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, and Reformed theologians and philosophers, derive from meetings at Duke University’s Center of Theological Inquiry. The documents are explicitly intended as responses to the encyclical Fides et Ratio, a document some of the contributors view as overly optimistic about reason’s capacities. Of high quality, the contributions range ambitiously over philosophical and theological figures and texts too numerous to list or discuss in entirety, and as a whole comprise a book valuable and challenging not only because of its scope and erudition but also because of the complexity and opacity of the issues and realities illuminated.  All of the essays are highly recommended for Philosophers of Religion and any other readers working on issues concerning the relationship between faith and reason. Each contribution engages issues oriented around that problem, adopting four identifiable points of departure important to make explicit from the beginning. 

First, all of the contributors agree that both “[f]aith and reason are presently in crisis” (1). Second, while the essays discuss and employ a considerable range of philosophical figures, texts, and movements, they deliberately and unapologetically approach reason theologically, “explicitly assuming and deploying the truth of the doctrinal content of the Christian faith” (13). Third,  reason is treated not “monolithically,” or in abstraction, but rather as “a genus with many species” (12), opening room for more productive interaction between reason and faith.  Fourth, closely connected to the three others, reason is understood as “a property given by God and possessed by us in virtue of our status as creatures of and participants in God” (5).  Given these shared starting points, the authors revisit perennial questions: What is the relationship of faith and reason?  What should this relationship be? Integral to and involved in this are several more specific questions: What is reason’s nature, and is it compatible with Christian faith? How is reason enabled to more fully understand its own nature and its relationship with faith?  Can reason be properly understood, cultivated, and employed given modern, secular philosophical assumptions about reason?  Does Christian faith add to, renew, or perfect reason?  And, if so, how determinately does this happen?

The first five essays, under the rubric “Approaching Reason Theologically,” evaluate specific putatively rational viewpoints and discuss how Christian faith contributes to reason.  Alan Torrance’s article argues that divine revelation’s particularity inevitably poses a scandal to varieties of modern thought confining themselves and their objects to the sphere of immanence, “effectively evacuat[ing] the divine self-communication of its content” (33). Torrance argues against subordinating revelation to putatively universal structures and criteria of human rationality, arguing that “criteria for the recognition and appropriation of the self-communication of God as Truth cannot be extrinsic to that event of self-communication” (36). An ambiguity mars the article: his position seems to go beyond merely correctly noting that the human encounter with the divine cannot be subordinated to an autonomous reason that interprets and judges all possible reality, to suggesting that each and every encounter with divine self-revelation finds its criteria, the structure by which it is intelligible, solely or perhaps primarily, in that particular encounter. Torrance’s claim that “faith and reason and philosophy only operate in truth when they operate within an ecclesial context” (51), provides a resolution, but still problematically leaves open the question of what truth this would leave outside of revelation and its locus in the Christian community. 

Bruce Marshal’s article examines whether knowing the Trinity is necessary for knowing the world rightly, and negotiates between two extreme positions. The first holds skepticism, nihilism, or pantheism to be the only alternatives to thought based in knowledge of the Trinity.  The second maintains that knowledge of the Trinity has no bearing on the possibility of knowledge of the world. Marshal’s view is that “the world can’t teach us about the Trinity, and so can’t teach us the deepest truths about itself” (66), thus implying that neither Trinitarian faith, nor skepticism, nihilism or pantheism, can be necessarily concluded from any worldly reasoning, leaving these options open thus far.  Christian belief in or knowledge of the Trinity does not by itself establish other truths, but this does not render it irrelevant, for “the Trinity is entirely central to a Christian system of belief in its totality, including whatever orders of cognition we think such a system of belief rightly contains” (75).

Colin Gunton and Robert Jenson’s contribution, “The Logos Ensarkos and Reason,” takes up Torrance’s emphasis on particularity, arguing “the Word” should be grasped less as Hellenistic “Logos, cosmologically intermediate between eternity and time,” and more as “Israel’s hearing of Torah” (78).  As a corollary, Word understood as Wisdom must not be understood as pure reason separated from practical reason, since “Hebrew Wisdom is not truth abstracted from life but truth as and in life” (80), a possibly misleading expression, since the Wisdom literature does include observations and exhortations abstracted from life, but should not be read and understood in abstraction from life, i.e. in the separation characteristic to sundering theoretical and practical reason.  The authors outline two “characteristics of reality to which reason must attend in order to be reason, if Jesus is the Logos”: “availability,” meaning that the reality is concretely given prior to any abstract separation, and “relationality” (83-4), meaning that knowledge is always through community.

Lois Macolm’s “The Wisdom of the Cross” and Mark McIntosh’s “Faith, Reason, and the Mind of Christ” both attempt to describe Christian transformations of reason through the prism 1st Corinthians affords.  Malcolm’s reading stresses a shift from “an egoist or factional viewpoint” to a pneumatic, “corporate rationality” (105), seeking the common good, integrating the different gifts of the Christian community’s members, and having readers “transform their minds . . . convert their imaginations, [and] shift their perspective,” allowing them to see “things from the standpoint of the abundance, or plentitude . . . inherent in the ‘mind of Christ’” (108). Beginning, “[f]aith and reason are both patterns of human rationality,” McIntosh’s essay convincingly employs the desert hermits and elders to illuminate Paul, who is “not so much attacking human criteria of discernment” as setting out “God’s rescuing action in Christ . . . as a criterion provided by the loving action of God” (122), opposed to factions, invidious comparison, and their fundamental assumptions.  McIntosh presents the desert fathers’ diagnoses and analyses of “this mentality. . . a toxic seepage between envy, anger, fearfulness about the frustration or loss of one’s own desires, and . . .  a need to best others” (126), remedied by a shift to transformative participation in the mind of Christ, “a particular pattern, or ‘constellation of thoughts’, giv[ing] access to a new way of discerning reality. . . .fundamentally a relational activity” (136), allowing transformation and extension of the Christian reasoner and community.

The second part of the book, composed of three essays each employing a different Christian thinker, discusses reason’s errancies, pitfalls, proper place, and perfection.  Paul Griffiths exegetically interprets Augustine; Reinhard Hütter reads Thomas Aquinas; and, Ernstpeter Maurer discusses Martin Luther.  Locating himself among “moderate pessimists about reason” (147), Griffiths discerns two main causes of valid arguments with true premises remaining unpersuasive: “inadequate catechesis” and “volitional depravity” (148).  The first involves a lack not only of appropriate information, but also of “mastery of a technical vocabulary and training in reading and interpreting, “which is not grasped immediately by “‘unaided reason’. . . reason without benefit of catechesis” (150).  The second reflects the Augustinian priority of will over reason.  Even given proper catechesis, error in reasoning remains possible, since the will, structured by its habits and loves, directs thinking and attention. Good reasoning thus demands adequate catechesis and a properly formed and turned will, not easily attained, given that argument is likely to persuade only “those rightly catechized  to acquire these and volitionally not too depraved” (158).

Hütter argues the late modern crisis of metaphysics, seemingly ending in nihilism, demands a “metaphysics of creation,” holding “the world is created by. . . God,” “the human being is created in the image of God,” and “the human being is called to a communion of vision and love with the God who is love” (165).  Investigation of the implications of “[f]ides and ratio [being] highly complex force fields that constantly overlap and presuppose each other, although not in strictly reciprocal ways” (168), indicates that reason anticipates a fulfillment in and teleological ordering towards truth, and “is constituted by being informed and directed by the will” (168), as well as that faith includes rational exploration of received truth, particularly in context of human beings’ concrete existence, centrally involving the will.  Hütter’s main thesis is that “[o]nly within the horizon of faith, reason now being informed by a renewed will that is beginning to be redirected toward communion with God as its highest good,” can human reason adequately investigate the human will it is inextricably bound up with, and he argues that Aquinas’ thought can supply this perspective, where “faith needs to be understood as a fundamentally redirected reasoning” (190).

Maurer argues “self-clarification of reason is the point of Luther’s dialectical assessment of ratio” (195), the central problematic of which is human reason’s inability and attempt to define and ground itself on its own, to achieve “ultimate self-constitution” (200), to “determine itself and overcome its own internal complexity” (201), requiring lapses into reductionism, abstraction, and impoverishment of metaphorical language.  He argues convincingly that Luther both wants to preserve and recognizes the necessity of metaphor, particularly “the more we approach humanity and personality” (205), the case when we approach the created world, the created human being, or even created reason itself.  Reason’s redemption then involves abandonment of its pridefulness, and acceptance of passivity, givenness, and limitations, understood through the Lutheran Law-Gospel distinction, so that reason’s own failures can provoke it to accepting a participatory relationship with God, including reason’s own irreducible complexity.

Part three includes three essays. Carver Yu’s “Covenant Rationality and the Healing of Reason” begins by noting that modern reason attempts to make itself entirely autonomous by abolishing any transcendence other than itself and working “toward self-grounding as well as rationalization of self-created laws” (225), a project doomed to failure, culminating in epistemological despair.  Modern reason aims thereby at remaining within, bringing everything within, or denying the reality of anything other than its realm of immanence.  To attain a “more holistic understanding of reason” involves discerning what knowledge (including understanding and wisdom) is. In its higher forms, knowledge is not simply propositional, but relational, participational, having a “covenantal character (i.e., its charitable nature)” (235) with the realities reason engages and strives to know.  Christian faith allows narcissistic reason’s healing, allowing reason to become “a capability endowed in human persons for the making of covenant” (237).

Janet Soskice’s “Naming God” and David Hart’s “The Offering of Names” both explore implications of the distinction between divine names and divine attributes, and the shift from understanding God through the former in pre-modernity to the modern reliance on the latter.  Using Aquinas and Locke as representatives, Soskice notes how modern thought’s natural theology dissociates independent reason from scripture and tradition, employing reason to derive qualities then applied to God.  Patristic and medieval theology appropriated earlier natural theology, which also dealt in attributes, and transformed it in the light of faith, particularly in light of creation ex nihilo, discovering inexhaustible and metaphorically divine names.  Hart’s piece goes further, critically adapting Heidegger’s analysis of nihilism, the history of metaphysics, and forgetfulness, focusing on “the forgetfulness of the difference between naming God and describing his attributes” (258).  Hart shows Heidegger’s fundamental misunderstanding of Christian philosophy, which “proves to possess resources for understanding and overcoming the ‘nihilistic terminus’ of modernity”(261). Christianity interrupted metaphysics in unprecedented ways, and “Christian thought. . . far from constituting just another episode in the genealogy of nihilism, was. . . so profound a disruption of many of the most basic premises of philosophy, and so audacious a rescue of many of philosophy’s truths,” allowing “genuine reflection upon the difference between being and beings” (275) through Christian metaphysics, the analogia entis, “the liaison between the biblical doctrine of creation and the metaphysics of creation” (285).

Martin Bieler’s “The Theological Importance of a Philosophy of Being” and Romanus Cessario’s (O.P.) “Duplex Ordo Cognitionis” comprise the fourth part, devoted specifically to discussing Fides et Ratio’s emphasis on philosophy’s central importance for adequate theology.  Bieler argues that the document “moves along the lines of Thomas Aquinas’s metaphysics when it outlines the future tasks of philosophical investigation,” by stressing “the importance of a philosophy of being,” and by conceiving of it “in the way Aquinas does by referring to the ‘act of being’” (298).  Bieler exposes the mistake of dispensing with philosophy, the analogia entis, and natural theology to clear space for a theology of analogia fidei. “It is not possible to have a ‘pure’ theology, which exploits philosophy only as a quarry for its terms and tries to make in the end all philosophical knowledge of God superfluous.  Theology is accompanied by philosophy all the way down” (300). Philosophy and theology both need each other, but theology possesses a “‘form primacy’. . . requir[ing] philosophy to hand itself over (but not give itself up). . . to theology” (302), Aquinas’ thought, rightly interpreted, providing a model.  Bieler’s interpretation discerns the will’s centrality “in grasping the revealed truth of God” (304), leading not to faith as arbitrariness, but rather following and responding to love, cultivated by God. both discursively and through connaturality.  Receptiveness to the divine gift of being finds its expression in the encyclical’s philosophari in Maria, a “first step to understand everything in the world to be in its innermost structure a gift of God that carries Christ himself”, and further, participation “in a theology of atonement” (319).

Cessario begins by rightly criticizing philosophical pedagogy’s present-day poor condition, arguing a need for “authentic philosophy in the Catholic tradition” as a “constitutive element of all theological formation” (327), called for by Fides et Ratio in continuity with other magisterial teachings.  Cessario also rightly notes: “fideism or indifference to philosophical education does integral harm to the theological project” (329), identifying errors: denial of metaphysical realism and objectivity; views that grace’s alteration of nature renders philosophy superfluous, that grace is incomprehensible, or that “theory, conceptual knowledge, and abstraction are incapable of conveying truths about God and revelation” (335).  Entirely correct in upholding the value of “doctrinal propositional truth” (336), Cessario’s essay unfortunately stumbles by singling out Maurice Blondel for superficial criticisms explicitly addressed by Blondel’s writings nearly a century ago. This raises an oversight within the fourth part: Archbishop Peter Henrici recently pointed out how Fides et Ratio legitimately reads as a profoundly Blondelian document,1 and such a reading would complement rather than contradict Bieler’s Thomist reading.

Charles Taylor provides a postscript, “Engaging the Citadel of Secular Reason,” arguing that “distinctions such as faith and reason, or reason and revelation, need to be historically situated.  What will be considered within the scope of rational demonstration can vary from epoch to epoch” (344).  This raises the problem, but does not lapse into, relativism, since some rival perspectives can show their rational superiority over others, and “acquiring or deepening faith” (343) can play varied roles.  In more congenial circumstances, reason and faith cooperate; in less congenial ones, faith and the believing, practicing Christian find themselves beyond the limits of a particular shape of reason. A “rehabilitation of reason”, and “new understandings of reason” (343) are thus needed, leading beyond the paradigm and prejudices of the Enlightenment.


1. Henrici, Peter.  “The One Who Went Unnamed: Maurice Blondel in the Encyclical Fides et Ratio”, Communio, vol. 26, p. 609-621. Cf. also Peter Reifenberg, Verantwortung aus der Letzbestimmung: Maurice Blondels Ansatz zu einer Logic des sittlichen Lebens (Freiburg: Herder. 2002), p. 19 nt. 24, and  John Sullivan, “Philosophy as Pilgrimage: Blondel and John Paul II”, The Downside Review, Vol. 117, no. 406 (1999).

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