Philadelphia, Pa., Feb 22, 2018 / 14:01 pm America/Denver (CNA).
St. John Paul II’s encyclical Fides et ratio will mark its 20th anniversary this year, on Sept. 14. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia reflected on the encyclical in his essay “Believe that you may Understand” in the March 2018 issue of First Things.
Making the case that the 1998 encyclical on the relationship between faith and reason was a “prophetic” document which “confronts the crisis of truth within the Catholic Church herself,” the archbishop warned against “faddish” theology. Vigorous philosophy and good theology are, rather, mutually enriching. “Knowledge of the truth expands our freedom to love,” Archbishop Chaput said.
In an interview with CNA, he spoke more about the encyclical’s relevance for today.
How can the average Catholic benefit from Fides et ratio, 20 years after its publication?
The first thing to know is that it’s not the sort of text you can browse like the Sunday paper. Fides et Ratio takes time to read and absorb. Most people are rightly focused on things like raising a family and earning a living. So a lot of good people may never read it. But that doesn’t lessen its importance for the average believer.
The main takeaway from Fides et Ratio is that learning how to think clearly, with the Church, in a mature and well-informed fashion, is vital. It’s every bit as crucial as feeling our religious convictions deeply. Sentiment isn’t enough, and that directly affects how we understand the role of conscience.
Christian faith is more than good will and kind intentions. Conscience is more than our personally sincere opinions. A healthy conscience needs a strong formation in the commonly held truths of the Catholic community. Without it, conscience can very quickly turn into an alibi machine. The world is a complicated place. It requires sound Catholic reasoning skills rooted in the teaching of the Church.
The trouble is that we’ve now had at least two generations of poor catechesis and very inadequate conscience formation. So when voices tell us to leave today's hot button moral decisions to the “adult consciences” of our people, we might want to agree – ideally – but before we do, we need to examine what exactly that means. We have a great many otherwise successful, credentialed adults who see themselves as Catholic but whose faith education stopped in the sixth grade. Recovering the discipline of good Catholic moral reasoning is urgent.