Pontificia Academia Sancti Thomae Aquinatis: Praeambule Fide and the New Apologetics, Draft Statement
In his recent Apostolic Visit to the United States, Pope Benedict XVI stated: "In a society that rightly values personal liberty, the Church needs to promote at every level of her teaching — in catechesis, preaching, seminary and university instruction — an apologetics aimed at affirming the truth of Christian revelation, the harmony of faith and reason, and a sound understanding of freedom" (Question and Answer session with U.S.A. Bishops, 16 April 2008. L'Osservatore Romano English Edition [ORE], 23 April 2008. p. 5).
Apologetics has a double place in theology: in fundamental theology, where the praeambula fidei contribute to the foundations of theological inquiry, and in pastoral theology, by preaching, catechesis and evangelization.
Cardinal Joseph Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, underscores the need to develop a "new" apologetics. which is "not only timely but urgent from both the scientific and pastoral point of view".
The human power and vocation to know objective truth as well as philosophical conclusions about the foundations of truth remain perennially valid. Yet, from both a scientific and pastoral point of view, we should recognize a variety of new contexts to which apologetics must creatively adapt.
First, the physical and biological sciences pose many questions for Christian reflection. In its earlier historical phase, science chiefly addressed the parts and the order of material nature; in doing so, it raised profound cosmological questions. But insofar as science championed the power and progress of human reason, it allowed a "human exception", a human dignity that transcends the material world.
Today, however, the most exciting and widely popularized sciences directly address anthropological issues. In genetics, microbiology, and in the emergent field of socio-biology, it is not so clear; indeed, a human exception is often explicitly denied.
In this respect, a "new" apologetics will have to grapple with the fact that it is not just faith that confronts reason but reason confronting itself. In the affluent and developed world it is not uncommon to find very educated people who are not merely sceptical of revealed truth but also of truths accessible to human reason.
This seemingly paradoxical combination of scientific ambition and deep scepticism of human reason requires Christian apologetics not only to defend and explicate the harmony of faith and reason but also to defend the dignity of human reason.
In this respect, there is an urgent need to assist Christians and non-believers alike to identify and understand the philosophy implicit in the theory and practice of the natural sciences, and to distinguish what is sound from what is flawed in this implicit philosophy.
At least in this task, apologetics is more an issue of defence and argument than it is a midwife, helping human reason to become critical and clear about its own situation.
Mary Ann Glendon, American Ambassador to the Holy See and President of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, reminds us that "the new evangelization requires urgent attention to formation". Certainly, in the developed world, the laity are more educated than ever before. But this does not guarantee that they adequately know or love the faith. She insists that an apologetics adequate to our time must hold together good reasons and good witness.
On the one hand, we cannot love what we do not know. Giving good reasons is a great gift, helping other minds to grasp the coherence and luminosity of the Christian message. Perhaps in reaction to what was perceived as rationalistic tendencies in pre-Conciliar apologetics, this task of giving reasons has not been strongly developed during the past three decades.
Significantly, in his Address to the Members of the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas (10 September 1965), Pope Paul VI warned against any "fideism" that would abdicate reason, and which therefore "tends to destroy the traditional teaching of the preambles of the faith". Delivered in the waning days of the Second Vatican Council, Paul VI made it clear that this Council is in harmony with the affirmation of the First Vatican Council on the value of natural reason.
On the other hand, Christianity is not only a message to be interpreted and understood, or a puzzle that tests the mettle of the best minds. It is pre-eminently a way of life.
Just as the intellect desires truth, the person needs to see the beauty of the Christian life. If it is true that Christianity continues to haunt the mind of former Christian peoples in the West, it is even more true that Christianity is not a problem to be explained but a radically new life to be lived.
The key point is that apologetics must include arguments and actions, truth and beauty. Discerning the right proportion of good reasons and good examples, and discovering how to apply it in diverse situations is a difficult but necessary project.
When we speak of the "new" we do not mean starting from scratch. Thomas Aquinas has given the Church rich resources for both good arguments and good example. His emphatic teaching on how the sciences perfect the human intellect reminds us that any kind of fundamentalism which remains closed to the sciences will inevitably deform rather than protect human dignity.
His teaching on the unity of the sciences shows how the different sciences are not closed in upon themselves. Without this openness, the sciences can become a kind of fundamentalism. We must reflect upon the presuppositions of the sciences just as we must reflect upon the praeambula fidei, which are nothing other than the rational presuppositions of the faith.
Critical openness to truth is the best remedy to narrow fundamentalism, no matter whether it is "closed" in the name of secular reason or in the name of the sacred. Thus are faith and the human sciences made more perfect. each in its own way.
Thomas' rich philosophy of the acting person — particularly his account of the formation of character in the virtues — calls our attention to the importance of good witness.
In his Encyclical Aeterni Patris (1879), Pope Leo XIII inaugurated a revival of Christian philosophy. He noted that we should neither reject what is new nor jettison anything that is old. Rather, it is necessary to augment and perfect the old by what is new (vetera novis augere et perficere).
In that great Magisterial Document, Leo said: "But the natural helps with which the grace of the divine wisdom, strongly and sweetly disposing all things, has supplied the human race are neither to be despised nor neglected, chief among which is evidently the right use of philosophy. For, not in vain did God set the light of reason in the human mind; and so far is the super-added light of faith from extinguishing or lessening the power of the intelligence that it completes it rather, and by adding to its strength renders it capable of greater things" (n. 2). This is the permanently valid situation of apologetics, which the new apologetics will "augment and perfect".
Weekly Edition in English
6 August 2008, page 10
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