The Reasonable Character of the Credibility of the Christian Faith
By Fr. James V. Schall, SJ
The Church understands that it needs thinkers to examine and explain why arguments are leveled against it and whether or not these arguments are valid.
“Some reduce to a meaningless formula the necessity of belonging to the true Church in order to gain eternal salvation. Others finally belittle the reasonable character of the credibility of the Christian faith.” — Pope Pius XII, Humani Generis, 27 (August 12, 1950)
Sometime in Holy Week, I chanced to watch a report on FOX News of some terrified African children being carted off by a Muslim group for death, forced conversion, or slavery. What struck me about this scene was not its uniqueness—such incidents seem to happen some place in the world most every day. What alerted me was the comment of an unknown reporter or observer who said: “There is no longer any place on the planet that is safe for Christians.”
I mentioned this incident to a friend who added: “It is no longer just a question of physical persecution, but the very ideas and beliefs of Christianity are rejected.” Christian beliefs have no “place” in any public order. The Catholic League noted the number of times that David Letterman mocked the Eucharist on several of his shows. We cannot mock anything black, Jewish, gay, or liberal, but we can ridicule Catholics and Christians.
In this context, it is only fair to say that many Catholics are themselves unclear about many things. Just what Cardinal Kasper understands by “mercy” and “divorce” is a widely controverted and by no means neutral question. The Indiana bishops seem not to have understood what religious freedom might mean for themselves if the government can force us to act against our conscience in order to have presence in a society. A modern version of the Christian Roman soldiers being forced to sacrifice to idols in order to serve the Emperor is taking place in the Hoosier State. Few can admit that the so-called “terrorists”, who seem to be everywhere telling us that they will make our cities run with blood, might well be valid Muslim followers as they think they are.
On reading John Rist’s remarkable book, Augustine Deformed (Cambridge, 2014), which concerns a rethinking of Genesis’ account of the Creation and the Fall, I was reminded of Pius XII's 1950 encyclical, Humani Generis, a much controverted document. I was struck by the passage cited above about the “reasonableness” of the “credibility” of the faith. Since the time of Pius XII, the relation of reason and revelation has become a familiar one. Both John Paul II and Benedict XVI devoted insightful considerations to this most important relationship. Meantime, the culture has largely gone relativist so that the very meaning of “reason” is undermined. Reason becomes merely a tool for us to make or get what we want, whatever the structure of the world might be.
I think it is fair to say that, with Pope Francis, we do not see as much emphasis on the intellectual side of the faith. To be sure, the faith itself presupposes that an intelligent seeking of truth is found among men prior to or aside from any question of faith. Strictly speaking, faith concerns God’s intelligence directed to our intelligence. Our “submission” to God’s intelligence and love is not apart from our effort to understand what is being presented to us as true. God does not contradict Himself or the laws of what He has created. Revelation, directly or indirectly, fosters and deepens understanding.