News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Flashpoint

April 26, 2014

FLASHPOINT: The legacy of Pope John Paul II

TERRE HAUTE — John Paul II is to be canonized a saint today, April 27. He was head of the Catholic Church for almost 27 years. He was a saint, but he was also a strong leader who taught orthodox doctrine, promoted proper liturgical practices, and restored stability in the Church.

Some believe his accomplishments — especially his role in working for world peace — earned him the title of “John Paul the Great.” Of his many accomplishments, his most lasting one will probably be his role as teacher.

John Paul II was a university professor most of his adult life, and continued teaching throughout his papacy. He reached millions by speeches and writings in which he reasserted traditional teachings, especially the culture of life and family values. I believe his greatest contribution was his efforts to reunite faith and reason, which philosophers had separated during the 18th century.

Faith is acceptance of the truth or reality of something based on the word of others. Religious faith is the acceptance of what God has revealed as witnessed and attested by the Church and found in the Bible and tradition. Reason is the process of the mind in attaining truth or reality, including the truth of God’s revelation. Truth is that which “exists objectively and independently of the mind.”

The philosophy that we can know objective reality is called realism, which was fashioned into a harmony of faith and reason in the universities of medieval Europe. The ability to know reality is extremely important to religious faith, because knowing the reality of long past events depends upon us having the ability to know things that once existed outside our minds. Moreover, since these events happened long ago we must rely on a credible and trustworthy source — the Church — which witnessed them and wrote them in the scriptures.

The philosophy of Idealism emerged by the 18th century, which is the notion we can’t know anything for certain outside our minds; all we can know for certain is our ideas. Since the events described in the Bible are found in the world of reality outside of us, its truth can’t be known with certainty. Idealism eventually led to skepticism, agnosticism and atheism.

Since idealists ignore doctrine and the witness of the Church, they must rely solely on inner experience to explain the formation of faith, what 19th century theologians called the “religion of the heart.” Since the Bible describes events that happened long ago, its content can’t be proved truthful by reasoning. All that is left is blind faith, effectively cutting faith off from reason. In an idealist world, there can be no rational proofs for the existence of God.

There is no way to reason from effects (creation) to their cause (God), both of which exist outside our minds. In its extreme form, idealism is pure subjectivism, which denies existence to anything outside our minds.

Subjectivism inevitably leads to relativism, which is the notion that truth and moral values are not absolute and are simply matters of opinion.

A vigorous effort was made by John Paul II and others during the past century to again unite faith and reason by reviving philosophical realism, which stresses the objectivity of the world, and by employing Christian personalism, which stresses the infinite worth of humans created in the image and likeness of God and redeemed by Christ. He offers us a way to find freedom and dignity in a world succumbing to a culture of death, a world where human beings have lost meaning and purpose to their lives and reasons for hope.

Living in a world that is increasingly one of darkness and despair, he reminds us that Jesus Christ is the only true light of the world; that only he can dispel the darkness that envelopes us.

For faith to be complete, it must be supported by reason. John Paul II tells us that faith without reason leads to superstition; that reason without faith leads to nihilism, which led to Nazi and Communist totalitarianism. He was a vigorous defender of objective truth and the ability of human reason to discover it. At John Paul II Catholic High School we strive to integrate faith and reason into our teaching in the tradition of Pope John Paul II.

— Ronald J. Eldred, principal John Paul II Catholic High School, Terre Haute

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