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Benedict's legacy of faith and reason

  • 11 March 2013

Pope Benedict argued that the alliance of faith and reason must be at the heart of the healthy public life of any society. He emphasised that faith does not necessarily conflict with reason, but that faith and reason can work together to overcome separations caused by misunderstandings or prejudice.

For Benedict, reason is not enslaved to faith, but is set free by it. But how is this so?

Reason and the intellect form an integral part of the human person. The human person is not just a brain like a computer, but is a rational being with deep desires and yearnings. The deepest desire that the human has is for being; for the sense of self found in happiness and fulfilment.

Thus, reason, as the faculty that allows us to be aware of ourselves and understand the meaning of things, is directed not just toward knowledge but toward a deep understanding of what it means to be fully human.

Our everyday lives are an effort to try to answer what it means to be human. We seek to give some satisfaction to our lives through our activities and relationships. We find reasons and motivations for getting up in the morning that are aimed to make us happier and more fulfilled.

The accumulation of our everyday decisions to seek happiness gives us a direction. We draw on and deepen this over the course of our lives. We believe it will lead to our happiness. We have no scientific proof that it will do so, yet there is little alternative but to commit ourselves to a certain way of being. The only alternative is to give up.

Benedict said belief belongs 'to the realm of basic questions which [persons] cannot avoid answering'. In making this commitment to belief, we are not making an irrational choice, but a choice based on a judgement of our experience. We live in certain ways which we reflect on and analyse in order to live better and happier.

Thus, reason rests on faith: on a way of being that 'I' believe in and that motivates 'me' to keep seeking happiness. Reason assists in this task by developing understanding. Our understanding can be distorted by negative ways of being (by prejudice, envy, hate or resentment) or promoted by positive ways of being (by learning or loving).

Benedict emphasised that human life is inherently relational. This means human nature and purpose find their deepest meaning in relationship