Faith and Reason Paper
Faith starts in the mind and moves to the will. Aquinas is one of the most well-known scholastics to make that argument.[footnoteRef:2] The mind must consent to the truths of the faith and the heart and mind must then act in unison to bear that faith out in one’s life. This is why the scholastics argued that faith rested on reason—for people are rational beings and need reasons to “buy into” an idea.[footnoteRef:3] Anselm’s ontological argument, for example, used reason to prove God’s existence.[footnoteRef:4] However, as others and Scripture show, faith can be obtained through deep intuition and feeling as well.[footnoteRef:5] This paper will explain how although faith typically depends on the use of reason, faith can be reached in a variety of ways; and in some cases, false reasoning can even be used to destroy faith. [2: Ralph McInerny, ed. Thomas Aquinas: Selected Writings (England: Penguin, 1998), 243. ] [3: D.D. Warrick, “The urgent need for skilled transformational leaders: Integrating transformational leadership and organization development. Journal of Leadership, Accountability and Ethics, 8, no. 5 (2011): 11-26.] [4: Norma Malcolm, "Anselm's ontological arguments." The Philosophical Review 69, no. 1 (1960): 41-62.] [5: Anastasia Philippa Scrutton, Thinking through feeling: God, emotion and possibility (Bloomsbury Publishing USA, 2011) 12.]
Defining Faith and Reason
Hebrews 11:1 states that faith is the substance of one’s hope in God—it is what allows one to see without seeing. However, God gave evidence to people to convince them of His Divinity: testimony, Scripture, miracles, teachings—all of these served to bring people to faith. In other words, God appealed to people’s reason. Thus, the Christian Faith is generally based on the application of one’s reason to the revelations and teachings of the Christian Church in a process of discernment to see whether the claims of Church are credible or not. This is why the scholastics say that faith is based on reason.[footnoteRef:6] Faith is trust in God—and it is independent of all else.[footnoteRef:7] Faith does not need reason. It simply rests on reason. Of course, it can rest on other things as well, as Avery Dulles shows in his 7 models of faith, which shall be described later in this essay.[footnoteRef:8] [6: Ratzinger, Joseph. "Relativism: Central Problem for Faith Today." ORIGINS-WASHINGTON- 26 (1996): 309-309; Snyder, David C. "Faith and reason in Locke's Essay." Journal of the History of Ideas 47, no. 2 (1986): 197-213.] [7: J.P. Moorland, Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul. 2nd rev. ed. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2012, 19.] [8: Avery Dulles,The Assurance of Things Hoped For (New York: Oxford, 1994), 1.]
Reason can be defined as the assent of the mind to the facts laid before it. In terms of its relation to faith, the use of reason can be described as the process of the mind consenting to the truths that the Church teaches. This use of reason is commonly applied before an act of faith can be made or before faith can be professed. Faith is therefore, typically, the outcome of a rational assent of the mind to the facts laid before it, which teach, namely, that: 1) Jesus Christ is the Son of God; 2) He died on the Cross in reparation for the sins of world; 3) His sacrifice atoned for the sins of mankind and opened the gates of Heaven, which had been barred since the fall of Adam and Eve. The Christian Faith encompasses other teachings and doctrines as well, but these are the preeminent points that have a historical basis. 1 Peter 3:15 tells us to always be mindful of the reasons that...
We are not to forget them, because people will want to know. People will see the joy and peace and hope that is in the heart of a Christian and they will not ask, “What feeling gave you this hope?” No, they will ask, “What reason do you have for this hope?” Reason is what drives people to act deliberately and with consideration.
However, God does not always appeal to one’s reason to bring them to faith. In the story of St. Paul, for example, before his conversion Saul is persecuting Christians (Acts 8:3). Saul would not listen to reason because he had built up a wall of hate around his heart and mind. He would not let God’s proofs get in. Thus, to reach Saul, God used a blinding flash of light and literally knocked him off his horse. This experience had nothing to do with the use of reason—it was a visceral experience—a shock to the system that set Saul on his way to conversion—i.e., to the Christian faith. Reason was applied before long, of course, but in the beginning, Saul had to have his inner being shaken up and put in the right disposition. Saul required a dose of humility in other words. Thus, while faith may be said to rest upon reason, it could also be said that reason rests upon humility.[footnoteRef:9] [9: Fulton Sheen, Life of Christ (NY: Image Books, 2008), 10.]
As Paul was not one for whom reason was the main factor in conversion—but rather revelation—it is fitting to look at what Paul says about faith and reason. In 1 Corinthians 1:23, Paul asserts that faith in a crucified God is not something that “rational” people—aka the Jews and Gentiles—would embrace. Really, he is pointing out that their overreliance on “proofs” and “justification” are because of their pride, which makes them foolish. Paul was similarly prideful when he was Saul, and that is why he had to be knocked off his horse. The reason of God was foolishness to him. This is why elsewhere, Paul claims that if man is going to glory in himself he should glory in his foolishness because this is what allows him to have a humble disposition in order to see the glory of God. When man is full of himself, he cannot see God. Faith in this sense connects to reason by way of humility. Once converted, however, Paul understood the appeal of reason and still used it to teach others—whether Jew or Gentile, going to their temples and synagogues to reason with them and move them to faith (Acts 17:17).
Luke 7:38 describes a woman washing the feet of Christ with her tears, drying them with her hair and anointing them with oil. It is traditionally held to be the conversion of Mary Magdalene—she is making an act of faith and an expression of repentance and contrition for her sins.[footnoteRef:10] She has not been catechized previously; neither has she been shown to pour over the teachings of Christ. She was simply saved by Christ from stoning (John 8:1-11) and the compelled her to conversion. Like Paul, she was moved by a kind of direct, personal revelation—and intimate contact with the divine through Christ that stirred an intuitive reaction, full of feeling and conviction. This was not the same thing as what Aquinas and the scholastics describe as faith resting upon reason. This was faith resting upon a personal encounter with God. Reason could come later. [10: Patricia S. Kruppa, "" More sweet and liquid than any other": Victorian images of Mary Magdalene." In Religion and Irreligion in Victorian Society, pp. 126-141. Routledge, 2013.]
The Apostles were the same way. When Christ said “follow me,” they followed Him, without even knowing who or what this Man was (Matthew 9:9). Why should a tax collector stop what he is doing and throw all of it away to follow a Nazarene? There is no rhyme or reason to it other than that he was touched, like the other Apostles, by the spirit of the Holy Ghost. And yet this was not a total conversion because the seed or sapling of faith that they had was still very weak and needed to be reinforced. Christ Himself excoriated the Apostles for being weak in faith during the storm when they feared for their lives even though God was with them the whole time (Matthew 8:26). Christ calmed the storm and did another miracle to shore up their weak faith. They needed reassurance through sense data, through experience, through works that they should have faith, trust, and hope in God. They needed reason to strengthen their commitment to the revelation and move them to totally give themselves to God in mind and heart and spirit.
Miracles, Words and Prophecies
For others, reason would be a huge factor in conversion to the faith. For example, there is Nicodemus, who heard the preaching of Christ and His words appealed to Nicodemus’s reason. Nicodemus was a Jew who knew the Scriptures and understood the prophecies. He came to Christ at night after being questioned by Christ as a teacher of Israel who failed to understand what God was saying and showing to him (John 3:10). As a teacher of Israel, Nicodemus…
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