A Question Answered

Cardinal Ratzinger in Spain at the first International Congress of the San Dámaso Faculty of Theology.
To discuss faith and reason and the Christian claim to bear the truth.
Days of work, based on the joy of reason and friendship.


The young Faculty of Theology "San Dámaso" in Madrid celebrated its first International Congress from February 16th to 18th. The goal was to present, study in depth, and discuss in rigorous debate the main points of John Paul II's encyclical Fides et ratio. Javier Prades, a professor at the school, was in charge of preparing the congress, with the collaboration of a community of teachers motivated by a great passion for the Christian event and its foundations. Only something that is continually being discovered as "truth," in fact, can be communicated to all.
Figures from the academic world attended, coming from the United States, Canada, Germany, France, the Republic of Benin, and Spain, with the deans of the universities of Navarra, Comillas, Salamanca, and Burgos also present. The public lecture given by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, underlined the scope on international and Church level of the proposal.

A persuasive setting out
Perhaps it is not surprising that professionals in the fields of theology and philosophy come together to debate this kind of theme. What appears unusual, instead, is that more than five hundred persons registered for the congress. Their number exceeded all expectations, and the liveliness of the discussions demonstrated how the great questions of life continue to arouse interest.
First, philosophical questions were approached, then those of a theological nature, in four major talks, followed by the same number of replies and a public debate.
Since truth appears on our path through beauty, on Thursday evening in the splendid church of San Andrés, a concert of Spanish medieval and Renaissance music was held, played on period instruments by the Psalterium ensemble; the next day we were given a guided tour of the beauties of the Prado.

The first day
Xavier Tilliette, Professor Emeritus of the Sèvres Center in Paris and the Gregoriana in Rome, described the historical roots of the separation between faith and reason, emphasizing that the encyclical expresses a "firm faith in human reason and the solid unity between faith and reason, earlier maintained by Vatican Council I." Treating the historic origins of the division between reason and faith, he paid particular attention to the role that nominalism and Hegelian idealism played in this. "Reason that does not find itself face to face with a mature faith is not interested in the newness and radicality of being," the Jesuit philosopher added. Professor Salvador Pié i Ninot, of the Faculty of Theology of Catalonia and the Gregoriana, stated that the encyclical refers to two models of validity of the faith, whether one prefers the ontological primacy of revelation or the epistemological primacy of anthropology. Professor Hanna-Barbara Gerl-Falkovitz discussed the Christian need for a philosophy that is open to being, inspired by the thought of Edith Stein, since "the foundation of man's being is never possessed by him, but continually received." Alfonso Pérez de Laborda, of San Dámaso, accepted the task of summing things up.

Speaking with authority
That evening, the great hall of the Conference Center was packed with people and charged with an atmosphere of waiting. At precisely 8:30 pm Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger entered, speaking on the topic, "Faith, Truth, and Culture. Reflections on the Encyclical Fides et ratio." More than 2,500 people welcomed the German prelate with warm applause, another thousand were not able to get in. The main outline of the address was the question of truth as opposed to the relativism, cultures, and hermeneutics typical of every cultural offering and the unique, peculiar contribution of Christianity as true religion. Cardinal Ratzinger spent a day with congress participants and met the seminarians.

Per fiduciam

Professor Joseph Seifert, of Liechtenstein, resumed the work of the congress with an approach to the problem of epistemology, highlighting the role of freedom in human knowledge. After the reply by Professor Pablo Domínguez and the subsequent debate, Professor Kenneth L. Schmitz, of Toronto, stated that the encyclical, rather than availing itself exclusively of one given philosophy, attributes fundamental importance to the metaphysics of esse. In it can be discovered the unifying characteristic of the nature of truth and the principle of faith by which it is communicated: cognitio per fiduciam.
Contributions from Professors Rodríguez Duplá of the Pontifical University at Salamanca, Gerhard L. Müller of Munich, and Juan José Ayán Calvo, of San Dámaso, preceded Professor David Schindler of the John Paul II Institute in Washington. Schindler dealt with the theme of overcoming extraneousness in the relationship between faith and reason: the circularity of philosophy and theology. Schindler referred to a relational epistemology of knowledge, based on a creationistic ontology. Javier Prades underlined the importance not only of relationality, but also of the historicity of knowledge, both demanded by the historical nature of the event of Christ.
Alfonso Carrasco Rouco, of San Dámaso, illustrated profoundly and clearly how the Church "is born out of the encounter with and the following of Christ" and is a continuation of the apostolic innovation "by which man has access to the event of Christ." Barthélemy Adoukounu, from the Republic of Benin, and Gerardo del Pozo and Martinez Camino, of the University of Comillas, completed the sessions.

A way of access
The Cardinal of Madrid Antonio M. Rouco Varela, Grand Chancellor of the Faculty of Theology, concluded the congress which raised the "most crucial question of Christian existence: man's passion for knowing the truth," guided by faith and reason. Even more, he pointed out how this is a decisive topic in a period that "has placed in doubt, as a way of approaching the truth, not only faith, but reason itself," and one in which there is an abundance of "newly-minted faiths and rampant forms of relativism."
These very intense days highlighted how great a contribution the companionship of men fascinated by the encounter with Christ can make to the life of the Church. Without doubt, thanks to this congress, the San Dámaso Faculty of Theology has acquired new prominence in Church and university circles. And Spanish society was graced with a presence and a way of thinking that are full of reasonable hope.

Before his public lecture, Cardinal Ratzinger answered questions posed by journalists during a press conference

Carmen Giussani (Huellas, Traces): In your lecture at the Sorbonne, you said that "Christian faith is not based on poetry and politics, these two great sources of religion; it is based on knowledge… In Christianity, rationality has become religion and no longer its adversary." What does this imply in Christian education?
I am convinced that in Christian education we must train reason above all and make people understand the reasonableness of faith. Naturally, faith goes beyond the limits of pure rationality, in that it is in any case a reality that concerns the whole person. Education must thus always be an education of the whole person and involve education to the sacred and to morality. We are convinced that a total education of the whole person, which introduces him or her to the historical communion of the faith and a reverence for the sacred, also opens up the most profound and true dimensions of rationality.

Benjamín R. Manzanares (Alfa y Omega, weekly supplement to ABC - religious news): The simple idea that there is a necessary connection between faith and reason is a strange one for Spanish Catholics. The majority thinks that faith is a gift and is thus an inexplicable conviction.
It remains true that faith is a gift and that we do not have the strength to lift ourselves up to God. Only if God comes to meet us and opens our eyes and our hearts can we recognize Him. This gift really touches man with all his capacities, it truly opens his heart so that he can begin to understand, and so that it will be not only a personal conviction, but an opening up of the reality of God and the world.

José Luis Restán (Radio Cadena Cope): Lately we have observed, in a very graphic way, the difficulties in the relationship between Christianity and Islam. Is it possible that the different conception of the connection between faith and reason in Christianity and Islam lies at the heart of this difficulty?
This is a very hard question. It is true on one hand that Christianity has always considered itself to be the true religion, that is, open to reason, and on the other that Islam considers itself perfectly reasonable, but the concept of reason is different. Even the concept of God's action is different. For example, the Koran is considered to be a word that comes immediately, as such, directly from God, without human mediation. While for us, the Sacred Scripture evolved out of God's history with His people, with the mediation of man's response to God, involving man in God's action. This is only an example of how, while having many elements in common, there is a profound difference in the foundations of the two realities. Any dialogue must certainly appeal to reason and try to see how reason can help us in this dialogue. A great deal of patience is needed so that, in profound allegiance to the Revelation and the openness that this generates, we can leave it to the Lord to mark out the path for this dialogue.