Faith and reason: what circularity as access to God?


  • Roberto Di Ceglie Pontificia Università Lateranense



God, faith, reason, circularity, intellect, grace, Thomas Aquinas, Jacques Maritain


At the heart of the Encyclical Fides et Ratio is the distinction, without separation, between faith and reason. One perfects the other, in a circular relationship. But this image—the circular process—is not exempt from ambiguity, since its beginning and end can not be precisely defined. As a result, it is not even clear if it really constitutes, as it should, an access to God.

In this article I explore the ways in which the process of circularity between faith and the reason held by Fides et ratio could be understood. In the first part, I refer to the well-known and still very widespread conception of the relationship between faith and reason that goes back to Jacques Maritain's understanding of Christian philosophy. But this conception, aimed at responding to how faith can influence reason without depriving it of the necessary autonomy, although acute and apparently convincing, can only be explained in the light of a way of distinguishing faith and reason previously elaborated and argued by Thomas Aquinas. According to this, while the activity of reason is due to man, the cause of faith is God. Only if faith is due to God, its influence on reason without limiting its autonomy is possible.

In the second part, I then move on to the perspective that carefully preserves the aforementioned distinction between faith and reason, and to which Maritain has constantly referred, namely, the perspective of Thomas Aquinas. From his considerations on the relationship between faith and the gift of the intellect, it follows that circularity (the intellect as the fruit of faith on the one hand and the cause of certain certainty of faith on the other) turns out to have a beginning and a clear end: the divine initiative and the human strengthening of the faith. Therefore, the image sustained by the encyclical acquires new light. It is a circularity that is not total or literal (it is not about two poles that become one over the other): it is born of the grace of God, it gives fullness to the natural cognitive capacities of man (gratia non tollit naturam sed perficit), and concludes on a new and higher level, that is, a greater certainty of faith, thus guaranteeing a step forward in access to God.





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