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Document Details :
Title: Vreemd Gevleugeld - The Swan or the Dove?
Subtitle: Johannes Paulus II over de verhouding tussen geloof en rede - Two Keys for Reading Fides et Ratio
Author(s): BOEVE, Lieven
Volume: 60 Issue: 3 Date: 1999
The first reactions to the encyclical Fides et Ratio ranged from cautiously positive to critical disapproval. Many observers pointed to the ambiguity which they perceive in the encyclical, probably due to the several hands which participated in its writing process. This ambiguity functions as a starting point to develop two different keys to read the text, resulting in divergent interpretations and evaluations.
Inspired by the opening clause of the encyclical the first key can be represented by the image of a beautiful swan, which takes off for a flight towards the ultimate horizon of truth. This key starts from the perception that the encyclical is biased by an (antimodern) dismissal of the modern emancipation of reason and by a (premodern) subordination of all rationality to faith (philosophy as ‘praeparatio fidei’ and as ‘ancilla theologiae’). Only when reason complies with the presumptions of revelation, and thus limits its autonomy, can it enter the realm of absolute. But, following the lines of this key of interpretation, precisely this results in clipping one of the wings of the swan, preventing it from taking off. By his refusal to take seriously the modern redefinition of rationality and his reintroduction of a massive, static, and propositional concept of revelation, the pope makes a thoroughly provocative and fruitful meeting of Christian faith and contemporary reason impossible. And it is only by such an engaging encounter that theology can regain its plausibility in our (post)modern times.
The other interpretative key is represented by the image of a dove coming down from heaven, seeking for a place on earth to settle down. This key takes as its primary starting point the theological status of the genre of the encyclical, and consequently links up with fragments of the text which can seem more open. First of all, an encyclical is a magisterial document. This means that from the beginning it must be situated within a faith perspective, written from standpoint of a particular tradition. Only then one can understand that in the text - internal to the discourse - truth is immediately related to revelation. Secondly, this key points to the understanding of revelation as mystery, and in this regard to the sacramental or eucharistic concept of truth: the truth of faith becomes present to us, but cannot ever be pinpointed ontologically by us. The knowledge of faith never diffuses the mystery of revelation. Therefore, faith as faith can never be founded in reason. Taking into account these two starting points, the encyclical addresses reason only in relation to faith: reason from itself does not lead to faith, but faith needs rational, philosophical knowledge for its own understanding. Following this line of thought implies that the principles of philosophy as ‘praeparation fidei’ and as ‘ancilla theologiae’ have to be reconsidered. Moreover this perspective results in a more open reading of many other passages (though not all).
Both readings imply a selective reading of the text. The more observatorial reading, according to the key of the swan, interprets the whole text from its more antimodern closed passages. The intra-theological reading with the key of the dove reinterprets many of the seemingly closed passages but nevertheless is confronted by fragments which hardly fit its reading. Neither key neutralizes the ambiguity, but confronts it. The perspective of the dove could be the more theologically successful way in doing this. However, even here a theological assimilation of a profound analysis of the contemporary philosophical situation would have enriched the encyclical extensively. For theology as ‘fides quaerens intellectum’, relevant today, must relate to the contextual critical consciousness as expressed in contemporary (post)modern philosophy.