Wednesday, June 01, 2005

St. Justin Martyr: The Relation of Faith and Reason: Benedict XVI Today

The significance of St. Justin is his almost immediate proximity to the apostolic tradition having been martyred c. A.D. 165 that was slightly later than the martyrdom of Polycarp in A.D. 156 who was reported by Irenaeus to have sat at the feet of St. John himself.
John Paul II remarked,

“A pioneer of positive engagement with philosophical thinking – albeit with cautious discernment – was St. Justin. Although he continued to hold Greek philosophy in high esteem after his conversion, Justin claimed with power and clarity that he had found in Christianity `the only sure and profitable philosophy’” ( Fides et Ratio #38)

St. Justin understood that to find Christ was to find the Absolute that reason sought. Ultimately, to find Christ is to find Being. But one knows the Person, or Being, of Christ only by an act of faith. And faith is the act of self-transcendence whereby one goes forth from oneself. As John Paul II succinctly said, “When God reveals himself and faith accepts him, it is man who sees himself revealed to himself and confirmed in his being as man and person” (Frossard, Be Not Afraid St. Martin’s Press (1982) 67). The startling discovery that one makes in St. Justin is that

"Whatever all men have uttered aright is the property of us Christians…. For all writers through the implanted seed of the Logos which was engrafted in them, were able to see the truth darkly, for the seed and imitation of a thing which is given according to the capacity of him who receives it is one thing, and quite a different one is the thing itself of which the communication and the imitation are received according to the grace from God. – For whatever either lawgivers or philosophers uttered well, they elaborated by finding and contemplating some part of the Logos”
(Apologia 2, 10).

This comes down to meaning that faith is not reducible to a set of concepts about the supernatural, “a superfluous heavenly theorem” in the case of the Trinity as Kant opined. Rather, faith is an anthropological experience of self-determination/self-gift by a subject to the revealing Person of Jesus Christ. The being that is experienced is the very being of the believer, as John Paul II says. Man experiences himself as being in the very act of openness, or self transcendence that is faith (because faith involves the entire self). And since the Person of Jesus Christ is pure self-gift to the Father incarnated as prayer and obedience to death, he who believes with deeds (the first of which is prayer) experiences his being to be “like” the Being of Christ. Hence, in the act of faith that is prayer-to-become-martyrdom in St. Justin, Justin found the refulgence of Being that he had sought in philosophy. Did we not see the prototype of this in the Transfiguration where Christ’s Person became a dazzling light “as he prayed” (Lk. 9, 29).
And is this not what John Paul II developed in Fides et Ratio #33 when he proposed Chapter II as Credo Ut Intellegam” and Chapter III as Intellegam ut Credam:”

“Step by step, then, we are assembling the terms of the question. It is the nature of the human being to seek the truth. This search looks not only to the attainment of truths which are partial, empirical or scientific; nor is it only in individual acts of decision-making that people seek the true good. Their search looks toward an ulterior truth which would explain the meaning of life. And it is therefore a search which can reach its end only reaching the absolute. Thanks to the inherent capacities of thought, man is able to encounter and recognize a truth of this kind. Such a truth –vital and necessary as it is for life – is attained not only by way of reason but also through trusting acquiescence to other persons who can guarantee the authenticity and certainty of the truth itself. There is no doubt that the capacity to entrust oneself and one’s life to another person and the decision to do so are among the most significant and expressive human acts.”
What is this “ulterior truth which would explain the meaning of life,” that is “attained not only by way of reason but also through trusting acquiescence to other persons?” It will not be what others tell me conceptually, because by exclusive access to conceptual knowledge “reason… has wilted under the weight of so much knowledge and little by little has lost the capacity to lift its gaze to the heights, not daring to rise to the truth of being” (Fides et Ratio “ 5). John Paul II proposed that the truth that has been denied to reason by the loss of the experience of the self as being was the original sin. It has produced an amnesia of the original truth of the dignity of the self as being the image and likeness of God. That amnesia has become methodological in the dictatorship of positivism and the reduction of knowledge to “facts.”

It seems safe to say that the entire oeuvre of John Paul II and Benedict XVI consists in the recovery of the believing self as person and as being. The immediate by-product is the salvation of reason as reasonable.
Benedict XVI – then Fr. Joseph Ratzinger – remarked in 1969,

“(T)heology necessarily results from the fusion of biblical faith and Greek rationality on which even the historical Christianity to be found in the New Testament already rests. When the gospel according to St. John describes Christ as the logos, this fusion comes very clearly to light. The passage is expressing the conviction that in Christian faith what is rational, basic reason itself comes to light and is indeed trying to say that the foundation of being is itself reason and that reason does not represent an accidental byproduct from the ocean of the irrational from which everything really came. The fundamental Christian act thus hides a twofold statement:
1) In Christian faith reason comes to light; faith precisely as faith wants reason.
2) Through Christian faith reason comes to light; reason presupposes faith as its environment.

This creates a relationship of tension which ultimately lies behind the `and’ of our subject; on this basis it must belong to the nature and essence of Christian faith to seek its own reason and in that reason itself, the rationality of the real. But in return it places the task on reason, as far as its search is concerned, to recognize in faith the condition for its own effectiveness to be possible and not to push its absoluteness to the point of dissolving its own foundation, for that would mean confusing itself with the divine reason and thus surrendering the communication with the divine reason from which it lives. This kind of self-limitation of human reason may strike the contemporary reader as pre-critical. But that it is ultimately indispensable at least as a structural model has been shown by Horkheimer and Adorno with their analysis of the dialectic of the Enlightenment: enlightenment lives from the idea of the absoluteness, or we can well say the divinity, of the truth. If it no longer recognizes this condition for itself and pushes its own absoluteness beyond this presupposed absoluteness of truth, then by internal logic it returns to the justification of the irrational and turns reason itself into an irrational accident…
But let us return to theology. It rests on the presupposition, itself a matter of faith, that what is believed, the basis and foundation of everything, is reasonable and is indeed reason itself. Hence it belongs to faith to seek to understand its foundation and its content, and it is precisely this undertaking that we call theology: more precisely we talk of theology when this undertaking takes place in an organized manner and under commonly recognized and well-founded rules that we describe as its method. This means that theology takes up the fundamental question of Greek philosophy with which the human mind entered on a new stage of its history: the question of truth itself, of being itself. Christian theology does not just interpret texts; it asks about truth itself and it sees man (and woman) as capable of truth. …
The further the Enlightenment progressed historically, the more it fell victim to a narrowing down of the concept of reason: what is reasonable is what can be reproduced. This means that reason becomes positivist. It thereby limits itself to what can be repeated experimentally; but this has the consequence that it renounces its original question, `What is this?’, and replaces it by the pragmatic question `How does this function?’ Once again this means that , under the pressure of its standards of certainty, reason renounces the question of truth and investigates only that of feasibility. Thereby it has fundamentally abdicated as reason…
The university is a product of the mandate of truth to be found in the Christian act of faith; when this context and connection is completely dissolved, there arises a crisis of the university that involves its foundations. The first stage of such a dissolution is to begin with when the question of truth disappears from the university as an unscientific question. The university falls under the law of positivism and thus becomes a conglomeration of technical departments in which the various specializations of positivist reason and functional thinking are further developed and make the greatest claims for themselves”
(“Theology and the Church’s Political Stance,” Church, Ecumenism and Politics Crossroad {1988}[Das Neue Volk Gottes, 1969]).

St. Justin is a first century example that the experience of Christian faith (martyrdom being its perfect act) activates the image of Christ to be likeness as act. By eliciting that act, the intellect of the believer beholds itself as Being thereby overcoming the decay and darkness of methodical positivism under which it has groaned throughout the last 400 years of Enlightenment. May St. Justin be a model for the New Evangelization and the recovery of Being for reason today. As Benedict XVI said in 1969:

“What is essential is that reason shut in on itself does not remain reasonable or rational, just as the state that aims at being perfect becomes tyrannical. Reason needs revelation in order to be able to be effective as reason.”
Note that Justin saw that "whatever either lawgivers or philosophers uttered well,they elaborated by finding and contemplating some part of the Logos. But since they did not know the entire Logos, which is Christ, they often contradicted themselves" (Apologia 2, 13). It is not a concept of Christ that is the seed of truth, but the experience of the Being of Christ that has been found by the partial experience of self-transcendence: "For no one trusted in Socrates so as to die for this doctrine but in Christ who was partially knwon even by Socrates, for he qwas and is the Logos who is in every man" (Ibid. 2, 10).

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