The basic premise of this collection of essays is that even though the relationship between theology and philosophy is often strained, the two fields of study are dependent on one another. In the introduction, Hittinger sets out the main theme as he finds it articulated in the writings of Jacques Maritain and in John Paul II's Fides et Ratio, that there can be no firewall between faith and reason. The lay apostle must be intellectually formed, but faith will push philosophy to face the full meaning of human existence.
Part I of the book looks at spiritual renewal and the apostolate of philosophy. Richard Schenk reviews various interpretations of the second Vatican Council, saying that the Council sought a way to be in dialogue with the world "without kneeling before it." It advocated a theology of critical engagement with the world, avoiding both the assimilation and the isolation of Catholicism. The right to life, for example, should not be exclusively a religious conviction. It should also be rational. As a philosopher, Maritain's life and works can help philosophers renew their vocation to help their fellow citizens to live well-examined lives.
Daniel Gallagher compares faith responses at the time of Vatican I with those of Vatican II. Faith at the time of Vatican I led to obsequiousness, whereas by the time of Vatican II it was seen as a commitment of the self. In John Paul's Fides et Ratio, there is no abrogation of the will, rather there is an offering of the self. The obedience/freedom paradox, he says, is only resolved when one looks at the object to whom faith is directed. He cannot imagine anyone questioning a document such as Humanae Vitae.
Prudence Allen takes the line from Fides et Ratio, "Mary, the table at which faith sits" as her way into the philosophy/theology discussion. She reviews the events of Mary's life, telling how faith and reason were involved in each incident. She criticizes Mary Daly, Jean Paul Sartre and others as examples of philosophers' sinfulness when they minimize the human and reject the bond between the human and God.
Part II of the book concentrates on the vocation of philosophy. Ralph Nelson introduces the reader to Yves R. Simon 1903-1961, a metaphysician and student of Jacques Maritain. Simon compares philosophy and theology but doesn't want to accept Maritain's idea of moral philosophy as subalternated to theology. He believed that theology should keep its distance from philosophy. Cornelia Tsakiridou explains that Maritain believed that the greatest problem affecting the church was the reduction of the Christian vocation to social activism. This made him apprehensive about the modernist trend in the Council which was associated with the secular, humanistic values, subjectivity, and the marginalization of Church authority. Form criticism would undermine scripture, phenomenology would obliterate basic doctrinal truths. The Christian vocation was being reduced to social activism, true love was being reduced to sentiment.
Michael D. Torre makes the case that Maritain was not a philosopher but rather a lay theologian engaged with the culture of his day. Maritain wanted to demonstrate the relevance of Thomism for today's social order. Modern philosophy had undermined confidence in common sense, reason and objectivity. What was needed was the adherence to true Catholic doctrine which offered a deeper and truer vision that surpassed what reason alone could reach. One's first duty is to the Catholic Church, fellow Catholics and Catholic institutions. John Trapani focuses on Descartes' claim that philosophy is an esoteric scholarly game, it is not scientific and therefore irrelevant. According to Trapani, Both Maritain and Mortimer Adler give a rational argument for a spiritual dimension of human nature.
Part III of the book focuses on John Paul II's Fides et Ratio. John J. Wippel's main point is that philosophy and theology can and do support one another. Revealed truth cannot be opposed to philosophy since the light of faith and the light of reason both come from God. If philosophy contradicts faith, it is not true philosophy, it is an abuse of philosophy based on deficient reason. Where philosophy has taken wrong turns, it is the duty of the Magisterium to respond clearly and strongly. Various faith claims can be discussed philosophically, for example, appropriate speech about God, personal relations in the Trinity, the action of a creative God in the world, and the relationship between God and humans. The first requirement for philosophy is to be consonant with the word of God, second that it support the human intellect's ability to know the truth, and third to go beyond empirical data since reality and truth transcend particular facts. Lawrence Dewan focuses on the idea that metaphysical renewal is a perennial project due to a human nature wounded by the sin of pride which causes blindness toward the truth. The word of God requires that philosophy go beyond the empirical to pursue ultimate truth.
John F. Morris looks at Fides et Ratio and John Paul II's call to Catholic philosophers' orthodoxy. Faith has no fear of reason because if philosophers do well, they can only promote truth. Philosophy, however is not immune to error. Philosophers must humbly appreciate the corrections that come from the Magisterium. Theology depends on philosophy in three ways: a. dogmatic theology depends on truths that are naturally known; b. for those truths that are knowable by reason, revelation endorses these truths with their fullest meaning; c. Christians must be able to fully engage their conscience and power of reason. John Paul II encouraged everyone to pursue the truth without fear. When they stray from revealed truths, they will be corrected. When this happens, there is an opportunity to come to new and deeper understandings.
Part IV of the book focuses on contemporary challenges to the harmony between faith and reason. The first contemporary challenge is that of bioethics. Edmund Pellegrino: What is needed is a conceptual bridge between metaphysics and experimental science. A philosophy of nature often abstracts from the world to a conceptual level, but needs to concern itself with the meaning of nature which is more than physics and chemistry. The good of the patient is not only physical. The second contemporary challenge articulated by James Hanink, is that of vocation, family, and the academy. His point is that the role of the professor in the university is bracketed from his/her role as parent and spouse. This goes for the parent/student relationship also. There is no place in the academy for parents of students. The third contemporary challenge is written about by Heather McAdam Erb. She maintains that all humans have a natural desire for the supernatural, all humans are drawn to the Beatific Vision. The soul knows right and wrong through natural law.
Evaluation 1. According to the authors in this book, John Paul II wanted to say that faith is not based on air, myths, or fables, that there are reasons behind the doctrines and dogmas, and that faith is reasonable. This is an admirable goal especially since modern people are reluctant to accept teachings that don't make sense to them rationally. The philosophers and theologians in this book all agree that philosophy needs to be its own discipline and should not wait for theology to direct it. However, the way they see the relationship is that of a parent and child. The parent wants the child to be independent and grow in its own way, but if the parent sees that the child is straying, the parents will have to step in. The authors seem to think that all contradictions will fade away once the faithful person sees the reasonableness of the revealed truth.
2. The book is extremely repetitious. Many of the essays simply repeat what has been said. This may be understandable due to the fact that they are papers presented at a Maritain conference. Maritain was a mentor of John Paul II and the conference was in honor of the tenth anniversary of Fides et Ratio. The editor simply brought all of the essays together in one book.
3. There is a notable lack of focus on the tension between philosophy and theology. Hittinger's introduction speaks of the image of "Odysseus' Bow," that is, the tremendous tension between the two fields of study. The authors occasionally mention philosophical errors such as Mary Daly's refusal to accept a male savior or Descartes' dismissal of theology as "irrelevant." But the papers systematically ignore the biological, historical and technological advances that worried Maritain. The place of women in society, for example, is based on Aristotelian and Thomistic understandings of biology. Sexual orientation is not as clear cut as has been previously thought. Historical research has uncovered cultural contexts of scriptural events, giving them new interpretations and background. This book repeats continuously both John Paul II's and Maritain's desire to tear down the wall between faith and reason, but it does not tackle the issues head on, it simply states that desire over and over again.
4. Sadly, the book does not use inclusive language. This is sad because language is an indication of a depth of understanding and awareness. Any book that is published is meant to be read. However the language used in this book is indicative of a lack of an awareness of its potential audience and readers.