Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday declared Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Fides et Ratio to be of “constant relevance” during an address to participants in a conference marking the tenth anniversary of the encyclical’s promulgation. The encyclical, Pope Benedict said, is characterized by its “great openness to reason” at a time when some speculate about reason’s weakness.
“The truth of Revelation is not superimposed on the truth achieved by reason,” Pope Benedict explained. “Rather, it purifies and exalts reason.”
The conference marking the encyclical’s anniversary was organized by the Pontifical Lateran University in collaboration with the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the World Conference of Catholic University Institutions of Philosophy, the Vatican Information Service reports. Participants in the congress were received by Pope Benedict in a Thursday morning audience.
Speaking at the audience, the Pope described how John Paul II’s encyclical “underlined the importance of uniting faith and reason in a reciprocal relationship” while respecting the autonomy of each. The encyclical addressed an “emerging need” of modern societies by defending “the force of reason and its capacity to arrive at truth” while presenting the faith as a “specific form of knowledge” which opens us to the truth of Revelation.
“The encyclical says that we must trust in the capacity of human reason and not set overly modest goals,” Pope Benedict explained.
"Who can deny the contribution the great philosophical systems have made to the development of man's self-knowledge and to the progress of various cultures?” the Pope asked, continuing: “Indeed, these cultures become fruitful when they open to truth, enabling those who participate in them to reach objectives that make social life ever more human."
Pope Benedict said there has been a shift “from a prevalently speculative form of thought to a chiefly empirical one.”
“Research has turned to focus above all on the observation of nature in the attempt to discover its secrets. And the desire to understand nature has then been transformed into the desire to reproduce it,” he explained.
“Scientific and technological progress, which 'fides' (faith) is increasingly called to confront, has altered the old concept of 'ratio' (reason); in some way it has marginalized the reason that sought the ultimate truth of things to make way for a reason that satisfies itself with discovering the contingent truths of the laws of nature.”
The Pope affirmed that scientific research “certainly has a positive value” when the applied sciences “are the fruit of reason and an expression of the intelligence with which man manages to penetrate the depths of creation.”
He emphasized that faith does not fear scientific progress and its developments “when their ultimate focus is man, his wellbeing and the progress of all humanity.”
However, he noted, “science is not capable of establishing ethical principles.” Here, theology and philosophy are an “indispensible aid.”
“This does not mean limiting scientific research ... but in keeping alive the sense of responsibility which reason and faith must have towards science, to ensure it remains at the service of man,” the Pope said.
“Reason,” he continued, "discovers that beyond its own achievements and conquests there exists a truth that can never be discovered by using its own parameters, but only received as a gratuitous gift. The truth of Revelation is not superimposed on the truth achieved by reason. Rather, it purifies and exalts reason, enabling it to expand beyond its confines to become part of a field of research as unfathomable as the mystery itself."
Pope Benedict concluded his audience by saying that the “passion for truth” impels us to examine ourselves to discover “the profound meaning of our lives in the interior man.”
“True philosophy must lead people by the hand and bring them to discover how fundamental knowing the truth of Revelation is for their own dignity.”