Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Wise Man Investigates!

N.B. Ratzinger on star of Bethlehem
Happy fifth day of Christmas!

Pope Francis' first encyclical responded eloquently to Nietzsche's disparaging attack on faith, in which that philosopher caricatured the attitude of faith as complacent indolence. Here, also in dialogue with Nietzsche, I offer a short passage from Saint Thomas Aquinas' treatise on the difference and necessary relationship between faith and reason.

Nietzsche's anti-faith argument.

"Faith...appear[s] to some as an illusory light, preventing mankind from boldly setting out in quest of knowledge. The young Nietzsche encouraged his sister Elisabeth to take risks, to tread 'new paths...with all the uncertainty of one who must find his own way,...this is where humanity's paths part: if you want peace of soul and happiness, then believe, but if you want to be a follower of truth, then seek.' Believe would be incompatible with seeking." Lumen Fidei, 2

"In this process faith came to be associated with darkness...a leap in the dark, to be taken in the absence of light, driven by blind emotion, or as a subjective light, capable perhaps of warming the heart and bringing personal consolation, but not something which could be proposed to others as an objective and shared light which points the way...[and] humanity [gradually came to renounce] the search for a great light, Truth itself, in order to be content with smaller lights which illumine the fleeting moment yet prove incapable of showing the way...everything becomes confused; it is impossible...in the absence of light...to tell good from evil or the road that leads to our destination from other roads that take us in endless circles, going nowhere." Ibid., 3

Saint Thomas Aquinas on human investigation of even the deepest truths.

There are two ways to treat the Trinity, as Augustine says in De Trinitate I: namely, by authority and by reasons (rationes). Augustine used both ways, as he himself says; other holy fathers like Ambrose and Hilary pursued only one way, namely, authority; Boethius indeed decided to pursue the other way, namely, by reasons (per rationes), assuming what had been pursued by others.

Thus the method of this work is indicated by saying "I shall investigate", meaning by rational inquiry (Sirach 39:1); the wise man researches the wisdom (i.e. that is the evidence for the Trinity) of the ancients, namely, what the ancients simply asserted on authority he investigates with reason.
Whence in the preface Boethius puts forward "A question investigated for a very long time."

The purpose of this work is that the "hidden things" (occulta) of the faith may be manifested as far possible along the way [this side of eternity], Sirach 24:31 "Those who enlighten me shall have eternal life"; and he says, Job 28:11 "the depths also of rivers he hath searched, and hidden things he hath brought forth to light."

Saint Thomas Aquinas Commentary on Boethius' De Trinitate, the last paragraph of Thomas' introduction.
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