Theology exists only through awareness that the circle of our own thinking has been broken, that our thinking has, so to say, been given a hand and helped upward, beyond what it could achieve for itself… The advantage given to the seeking spirit is the Word, which is quite reasonable. In the procedure of science, the idea comes before the word. It is translated into the word. But here, where our own thinking fails, down to us from the eternal reason is thrown the Word, in which is hidden a splinter of its splendor—as much as we can bear, as much as we need, as much as human speech can encompass.”
Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith, pp. 31-2
Reflection – The ‘New Atheism’ of recent years (the Dawkins/Hitchens/Dennett/Harris variety) has suggested that religious faith and human reason are utterly unrelated, even opposing elements in the human person, and that one has to choose between them. To be a religious person means some kind of foreswearing of the use of one’s intellect; to be a scientific, rational person means allowing nothing into one’s consciousness except what empirical testing can verify.
A very different picture of the relationship between faith and reason has been a major theme in Ratzinger’s writings, one which will show up on this blog periodically. His presentation has many facets and nuances, and displays precisely the kind of subtle reasoning skills that the Dawkinses of the world deny religious believers are capable of.
In this passage we see the awareness that scientific reason, what in philosophy is known as postivisitic reason, has its limits. It is limited to singular, repeatable, quantifiable phenomena, and cannot extend to the whole of reality, to questions of value, purpose, meaning. Only a deeper type of reasoning can even begin to broach these sorts of matters, the reasoning of the metaphysician, the ethicist, the poet, the sage.
Ratzinger is aware, however, that these deeper thinkers themselves have failed to penetrate by their own lights the depths of the mystery of reality. And so comes the breaking of ‘the circle of our thinking’ – this Christian conviction that Divine Thought – the Word of God – has been thrown down from Heaven to us, to elevate our minds to where they could never go of their own power.It is a beautiful vision: God giving us a Word, the Word which is Christ, which bears to us as much of the hidden splendor of Reality as we can bear or comprehend, so that our minds can in Him be broken open to the infinite depths of the Godhead. And from this breaking open of the human limitations of intellect, we can attain new heights of reasoning, of insight, of penetration into the truth of things. Faith meets reason and takes it where it cannot go. Reason, far from being negated by faith, is empowered by it. Human reason, informed by the Word of God, begins a pilgrimage into the very heart of the Trinity, a pilgrimage barely begun on earth, and which will continue in rational bliss for eternity.