Renewing theDialogue Between Faith and Reason: Engaging Academics and Artists
by Jem Sullivan, PhD
Faculty of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of Studies
the conclusion of the recent Synod on the New Evangelization, Cardinal Donald
Wuerl emphasized that, "the
New Evangelization is not a temporary moment. The New Evangelization is not a
program but a way of seeing the world around us and how to proclaim the
Gospel." (Cardinal Donald Wuerl, statement to the media on
the propositions from the Synod on the New Evangelization, October 28, 2012). Cardinal Wuerl went on to observe
that the synod fathers recognized the need for dialogue and communication
between the scientific world and the Church.
A number of synod propositions
highlighted this dialogue of the Church with specific areas in the scientific
and academic community. One of these synod propositions affirmed
that, "the dialogue between science and faith is a vital field in the New Evangelization.
On the one hand, this dialogue requires the openness of reason to the mystery
which transcends it and an awareness of the fundamental limits of scientific
knowledge. On the other hand, it also requires a faith that is open to reason
and to the results of scientific research" (General Synod on the New
Evangelization, Proposition 54: The
Dialogue Between Science and Faith, http://www.vatican.va/news_services/press/sinodo/documents/bollettino_25_xiii-ordinaria-2012/02_inglese/b33_02.html).
As Cardinal Wuerl explained, "the
Church is aware that somehow the beauty of the Gospel message has to be
translated into the world in which so many people find themselves academically,
scientifically, and technologically." He added that "it is important not to
just say that our Lord is good but that he is also beautiful. The Gospel is
beautiful (and that beauty) is deeply rooted in the history of the Church. In
Rome, we are surrounded by beauty and I think that was one of the things the
Synod was trying to say. We must not lose the ability, not just in art but in
music and liturgy as well; we must not lose that (in order) to awaken people to
the beauty that is God" (Wuerl, statement).
recent Synod on the New Evangelization affirms the vital importance of the
dialogue between faith, the arts, and the sciences. It also prompts reflection
on the nature of faith itself. This essay will take up these questions as it
considers the challenge of renewing dialogue between faith and reason by
engaging artists, scientists, and academics in the life of faith and the
nature of faith in the Year of Faith
Year of Faith" as the Note with Pastoral
Recommendations for the Year of Faith stresses, "is intended to contribute
to a renewed conversion to the Lord Jesus and to the rediscovery of faith, so
that the members of the church will be credible and joy-filled witnesses to the
risen Lord in the world of today – capable of leading those many people who are
seeking faith to the 'door of faith.'" This "door" opens wide man's gaze to
Jesus Christ, present among us "always, until the end of the age (Mt 28:20)" (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Note with Pastoral Recommendations for the
Year of Faith, January 6, 2012).
rediscovery of faith and Christian witness, during the Year of Faith and
beyond, leads us to consider first the nature of faith itself. What does it
mean to be a person of faith? How are faith and reason, belief and science,
related to one another? How is faith and reason to be reconciled in a world
that often sets them in opposition? We begin this reflection by considering
The Nature of Faith
Catechism of the Catholic Church
notes that "believing is possible only by grace and the interior helps of the
Holy Spirit" (CCC 154). And so we are invited to be open to the grace of God
and the interior help of the Holy Spirit, the principal agent of the new
evangelization. The Catechism goes on
to affirm that "trusting in God and cleaving to the truths he has revealed are
contrary neither to human freedom nor to human reason" (CCC 154). In other
words, faith and reason are not contrary to each other; in fact, they both
elevate and deepen one another.
Blessed Pope John Paul II spoke of the
relationship between faith and reason in the opening sentences of his
encyclical letter Fides et Ratio when
he wrote, "Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises
to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire
to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving
God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves (cf.
Ex 33:18; Ps 27:8-9; 63:2-3; Jn 14:8; 1 Jn 3:2)" (Pope
John Paul II, Encyclical Letter, Fides et
Ratio, September 14, 1998, Introduction).
the same vein, the United States Catholic
Catechism for Adults summarizes well the relationship of faith and reason
in this way:
understanding and is a friend of reason. Faith as a grace or gift from God
makes it possible to gain some understanding of all that he revealed to us,
including the totality of his plan as well as the many mysteries of faith.
Growth in understanding God's revelation is a lifelong process. Theology and
catechesis help us. We never completely understand these divine mysteries, but
we often gain insight into them. In this context, faith and reason work
together to discover truth. To ever suppose that human thought or scientific
research can or should be in conflict with faith is a mistaken approach because
this position denies the basic truth that everything has been created by God.
Scholarly and scientific research that is carried out in a manner faithful to
reason and to moral law will not conflict with truth as revealed by God" (United
Sates Catholic Catechism for Adults, Chapter 4 – Bring About the Obedience
of Faith, 38).
faith is also not a blind obedience of the mind, heart, and will to God. In
fact, faith is a free response of the whole human person to God who reveals. As
the Catechism teaches,
"What moves us
to believe is not the fact that revealed truths appear as true and intelligible
in the light of our natural reason; we believe 'because of the authority of God
himself who reveals them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived.' So 'that
the submission of our faith might nevertheless be in accordance with reason,
God willed that the external proofs of his Revelation should be joined to the
internal helps of the Holy Spirit.' Thus the miracles of Christ and the saints,
prophecies, the Church's growth and holiness, and her fruitfulness and
stability are the most certain signs of divine Revelation, adapted to the
intelligence of all; they are 'motives of credibility' which show that the
assent of faith is 'by no means a blind impulse of the mind'" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 156).
affirm that belief in God is not contrary to human freedom or reason opens the
path for believers to enter into dialogue with those dedicated to the pursuit
of knowledge in every field of human endeavor. This dialogue can flourish
particularly in those sectors of society dedicated to the intellectual life,
such as science and technology, and in the fields of human culture, such as the
arts and communications media. The basis for the dialogue between believers and
those engaged in the sciences and the arts is the fundamental principle that
faith and reason are not opposed to each other, but that they are, in fact,
"two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth" (Fides et Ratio).
Faith and science
relationship between faith and science is also rooted in the capacity of the
human mind to be enlightened by faith. To be human is to be created in the
image and likeness of God, endowed with reason and will. We believe that God
can be known with certainty from the created world by the natural light of
human reason. "Without this capacity," as the Catechism notes, "man would not be able to welcome God's
revelation. Man has this capacity because he is created 'in the image of God"
understanding the relationship between faith and science we affirm that "faith
is a friend of reason," in the words of the United
States Catholic Catechism for Adults (Chapter 4 – Bring About the Obedience
of Faith, 38). In that light we can be sure that when scientific research is
conducted according to moral laws it will not stand in opposition to revealed
truths of faith. As the Catechism
is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and
reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed
the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth
ever contradict truth.' 'Consequently, methodical research in all branches of
knowledge, provided it is carried outin
a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict
with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive
from the same God. The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of
nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it
is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are'" (CCC 159).
and the arts
The relationship between faith and
reason, grounded in the reality of God the creator of the world, opens the way
for reflection on the relationship between the Church and the arts. For two
thousand years the Church has supported and encouraged the creation and
preservation of the arts. In times past, the Church was the principal patron of
the arts. In our time, the Second Vatican Council laid the foundation for a
renewed relationship between the Church and culture, between Christian faith
and the world of the arts.
At the close of the Second Vatican
Council, the Council fathers addressed a special appeal to artists when they
stated that, "this world in which we live needs beauty in order not to sink
into despair. It is beauty, like truth, which brings joy to the heart of man
and is that precious fruit which resists the wear and the tear of time, which
unites generations and makes them share things in admiration" (Pope Paul VI, Address to Artists, December 8, 1965, http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/paul_vi/speeches/1965/documents/hf_p-vi_spe_19651208_epilogo-concilio-artisti_en.html).
In his 1999 Letter to Artists Blessed John Paul II noted the importance of
bridging the world of faith and the arts. He also spoke of the invaluable
contributions of artists to the life of the Church when he stressed that, "the
Church has not ceased to nurture great appreciation for the value of art as
such. Even beyond its typically religious expressions, true art has a close
affinity with the world of faith, so that, even in situations where culture and
the Church are far apart, art remains a kind of bridge to religious experience.
. . . in order to communicate the message entrusted to her by Christ, the
Church needs art" (Pope John Paul II, Letter
to Artists, April 4, 1999, 10 and 12, http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/letters/documents/hf_jp-ii_let_23041999_artists_en.html).
One of the many challenges of the new
evangelization will be to engage artists in every field of human creativity in
a dialogue of respect and understanding. In the words of Blessed John Paul II,
"I appeal to you, artists of the written and spoken word, of the theater and
music, of the plastic arts and the most recent technologies in the field of
communication. I appeal especially to you, Christian artists … you are invited
to use your creative intuition to enter into the heart of the mystery of the Incarnate
God and at the same time into the mystery of man … (for) humanity in every age,
and even today, looks to works of art to shed light upon its path and its
destiny" (Ibid., 14).
2013, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, DC. All rights
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from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, second edition, copyright ©
2000, Libreria Editrice Vaticana—United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights
from the United States Catholic Catechism
for Adults, copyright © 2006, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops,
Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
Excerpts from General
Synod on the New Evangelization, copyright © 2012, Libreria Editrice
Vaticana (LEV), Vatican City; excerpts from Note
with Pastoral Recommendations for the Year of Faith, copyright © 2012, LEV;
Pope John Paul II, Fides et Ratio,
copyright © 1998, LEV; Pope John Paul II, Letter
to Artists, copyright © 1999, LEV. Used with permission. All rights
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