Q: I recently listened to a course entitled
“Faith and Reason: Philosophy
in the Middle Ages.” I must say that I found
Anselm’s proof for God’s existence to be
more clever than persuasive. Similarly, the
proofs of St. Thomas Aquinas are not exactly
How do Franciscan scholars feel about
proofs of God’s existence? I think that
Søren Kierkegaard had it right when he
spoke of a “leap of faith.” I think God is
beyond our ability to grasp—other than a
few blessed snippets—much less prove.
Thus, belief or not is a choice we make.
A: “Proofs” for God’s existence rely
exclusively on the evidence of
reason. Proofs from order, causality,
Anselm’s “ontological” proof (based on
the concept of being), etc., are in this
category. This is fine as far as it goes. St.
Anselm (d. 1109) famously described
theology as “faith seeking understanding.”
He employed reason to draw out
the implications of his faith.
Reason alone tends to “prove” an
impersonal God—a pale imitation of
the loving, generous God revealed in
the Scriptures. The pagan philosopher
Aristotle (d. 322 B.C.) spoke of the
“Unmoved Mover.” This is logical but
cold. Reason may prove a Supreme
Being but hardly a God who creates
people in the divine image and wants
to share divine life with them. St.
Thomas Aquinas reworked some of
Aristotle’s ideas from a Christian perspective.
Deism, a system of thought used by
the 18th-century Enlightenment but
still alive today, favors an aloof, minimalist
God who sets the world in motion
and then moves on to something
else. Deism is ultimately not comfortable
with God’s self-revelation in the
Bible. For example, Thomas Jefferson
produced an edited version of the New
Testament, emphasizing Jesus as a moral
teacher but deleting all references to
Christ’s divinity or to his miracles.
In modern terminology, that might
be called a “good-enough Jesus.” Deism
favors a “good-enough God,” but one
who falls far short of the God revealed
in the Scriptures.
I was mulling over my response to
your question when Advent began. A
ninth-century Latin hymn, sung especially
in Advent, is titled “Creator Alme
Siderum” (“Loving Creator of the Stars”).
Deists could certainly accept Creator
Siderum, but only God’s self-revelation
in the Bible justifies the all-important
adjective Alme (“Loving”).
Only a loving God explains the
Incarnation of Jesus; only a loving God
can be compared to the forgiving father
in the Prodigal Son parable. A strictly
logical “proof” for God cannot rely on
love, the main reason why anything
other than God even exists. You and I
can ask questions about proving God’s
existence only because we already
exist—made possible through God’s
Deism implicitly tends toward atheism
because people eventually start asking,
“Who needs such an impersonal,
aloof God?” The Bible doesn’t say that
God is impersonal or aloof, but reason
alone cannot get beyond that hurdle.
Faith is not against reason, but it is beyond
Pope John Paul II’s 1998 encyclical,
Faith and Reason, and many writings of
Pope Benedict XVI address these and
related issues. From its earliest days,
Christianity has spoken of “natural law.”
That terminology assumes that reason
has a role to play in understanding God.
This concept makes dialogue with non-Christians possible.
Franciscan scholars such as Alexander
of Hales, St. Bonaventure and Blessed
John Duns Scotus (all 13th-century teachers
in Paris) upheld the compatibility of
faith and reason. To do otherwise would
mean one of two errors: fideism (reason
has nothing to contribute to faith) or
rationalism (faith cannot contribute anything
to reason). Even so, Franciscan
thinkers then and now tend to emphasize
the importance of God’s loving will
to create, to share life—something that
cannot be proven by reason alone.
Enlightenment thinkers saw biblical faith as the enemy of human progress.
In fact, such faith is ultimately the ally
of genuine progress.
History reminds us that what is done
in the name of reason is not always
reasonable. Intolerance of various kinds
can be made to look reasonable. Faith
offers a transcendent perspective to differentiate
between pseudo-reason (to
the advantage of some people) and the
real thing. If someone uses reason to
rule out any transcendent dimension to
human life, then tyranny cannot be far
Both faith and reason are gifts from
Meeting Jesus on the Road to Emmaus
Q: I am very interested in the post-resurrection
events because these
define Jesus as the Son of God. I want to
teach my students with reasonable authority
and write songs that will emphasize
what really happened on the road to
Emmaus (see Luke 24:13-35). I would like
to write a song about this conversation.
A: This powerful story has already
inspired several songs. When I
lived in Italy between 1985 and 1992,
there was a popular hymn, “Resta con
noi” (“Remain With Us”), based on this
story. To do justice to this experience,
your song needs some reference to the
disciples as recognizing Jesus “in the
breaking of the bread [Eucharist].” We
cannot literally meet Jesus on the road
as the disciples did, but we can meet
Jesus in the Eucharist, which is where
they finally recognized him.
On the road, Jesus helped Cleopas
and the other disciple (possibly his wife)
to reread the Scriptures accurately. After
they finally recognized Jesus, they immediately
set out to share the good
news of his rising from the dead.
Jesus was the Son-of-God-made-flesh
all his life. The post-resurrection events
showed that in a unique way.
Q: Did Jesus’ New Covenant cancel
the old one? If not, were St. Peter
and the apostles wrong in converting Jewish
people to Christianity? Does the Catholic
Church teach that salvation is possible
without conforming to the New Covenant?
A: The Catholic Church teaches that
salvation for anyone is possible
only through the passion, death and
resurrection of Jesus Christ. Can only
those people who have an explicit faith
in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and
their savior be saved? No.
Christianity has used an either/or approach
only where absolutely necessary.
St. Paul addresses this issue in his
Letter to the Romans (Chapters 9—11),
noting that “the gifts and the call of
God are irrevocable” (11:29).
St. Peter, the apostles and their successors
were not wrong in inviting Jewish
men and women to an explicit
belief in Jesus Christ. No one’s salvation,
however, is wholly dependent on
whether they accept Baptism or not.
In Article 1260, the Catechism of the
Catholic Church teaches: “Since Christ
died for all, and since all [people] are in
fact called to one and the same destiny,
which is divine, we must hold that the
Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of
being made partakers, in a way known
to God, of the Paschal mystery” [quoting
#22 of Vatican II’s Pastoral Constitution
on the Church in the Modern World].
The Catechism immediately states
that everyone “who is ignorant of the
Gospel of Christ and of his Church,
but seeks the truth and does the will of
God in accordance with his understanding
of it, can be saved. It may be
supposed that such persons would have
desired Baptism explicitly if they had
known its necessity.”
Ultimately, only God’s judgment
about a person's salvation matters. To
believe otherwise would be to engage in
a subtle form of idolatry because it
would substitute human judgment
(always finite) for God’s judgment
Q: Our pastor says that our parish should not offer Holy Communion
from the cup to those under 18 years of age. Our eucharistic ministers
are confused because neighboring parishes do this. What is
A: The Catholic Church makes no age distinction regarding reception
of Holy Communion from the cup. Anyone old enough
to receive the host has the option to receive from the cup as well.
To my knowledge, all state laws regarding underage drinking
of alcohol make an exception for its use in religious services. Why 18?
It is not currently a legal age for drinking in any state. The “accidents”
of wine (a philosophical term to describe color, taste and alcohol content,
for example) remain even after the “substance” (the deepest reality)
becomes the Precious Blood of Jesus.
Your diocesan worship office can clarify whether your pastor’s directive
reflects diocesan policies on this issue.
If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here.
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