St. Thomas on Faith and Reason (Aquinas 101)


Is faith unreasonable? Is it contrary to reason or intention with
it? St Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century gave
a lot of thought to these questions. But before speaking about Aquinas, it will
be helpful to identify three fundamental mistakes about the relation between faith and reason. The first is skepticism. That is the view that faith in itself is irrational
or contrary to reason. Someone might say, “Well, faith cannot be
proved, so it’s irrational,” or, “Science has disproved religion.” The second mistake is the flip side of this
and we call it feedalism. This view agrees that faith is opposed to
reason and it says, “Well, that’s not a problem. Let’s just stick with faith.” So Aphidius might say something like, “All
we really need is the Bible, so stop worrying about what reason or science might claim.” Now there’s a third mistake. That’s to say that faith is purely subjective. On this view, faith is only true for me. It’s purely personal and interior. Now against these three errors, St Thomas
Aquinas argues first that faith and reason are never truly in conflict. This is because there is a fundamental unity
of truth which is based on the order of reality. There cannot be something that is true according
to faith and at the same time false according to reason or science. And likewise, truth is not purely subjective,
nor is it merely private or personal because ultimately, the truth is based on something
outside of the mind that is unreality. Now because God is the source of reality of
everything that exists, he is the ultimate source of the light of reason and also of
divine revelation and the light of faith. So since both reason and faith come from God,
and since truth is one, we can be confident that faith and reason will never truly contradict
each other because truth cannot contradict truth. So it follows then that if we find something
that looks like a contradiction between faith and reason, either our reasoning is faulty
or it doesn’t prove its point or we are in some way misunderstanding the truths of faith. Aquinas makes a second important point. He says, “The Christian faith is eminently
reasonable.” Every day in fact, you and I believe things
that other people tell us and we learn truths from them, like trusting what they say. Now in the case of faith, we trust in God
who is truth himself and God gives us what are traditionally called signs of credibility
that show the rational warrant for accepting the claims of the Christian faith. For example, the miracles of Christ, which
many people witnessed, or the enduring reality of the church and the consistency of her teaching,
which has produred through two millennia of history. All the same. Faith’s mysteries in themselves remain hidden
from view. Our mind is not able to fully comprehend them
even though it’s reasonable to believe them and they are believable and the signs of credibility
confirm their truth. Even with this, the truths of faith, like
for example the divinity of Christ or the reality of the Holy Trinity, these things
cannot be proven by natural reason. But by the supernatural light of faith, the
believer embraces them without hesitation, without reservation and affirms that they
are true because God bears witness to us about them. For readings, podcasts, and more videos like
this, go to aquinas101.com. While you’re there, be sure to sign up for
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because it matters what you think.

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