Chapter 6 : 64-79 The interaction between philosophy and theology



The knowledge of faith and the demands of philosophical reason 

64. The word of God is addressed to all people, in every age and in every part of the world; and the human being is by nature a
philosopher. As a reflective and scientific elaboration of the understanding of God's word in the light of faith, theology for its part
must relate, in some of its procedures and in the performance of its specific tasks, to the philosophies which have been developed
through the ages. I have no wish to direct theologians to particular methods, since that is not the competence of the Magisterium. I
wish instead to recall some specific tasks of theology which, by the very nature of the revealed word, demand recourse to
philosophical enquiry. 

65. Theology is structured as an understanding of faith in the light of a twofold methodological principle: the auditus fidei and the
intellectus fidei. With the first, theology makes its own the content of Revelation as this has been gradually expounded in Sacred
Tradition, Sacred Scripture and the Church's living Magisterium.(88) With the second, theology seeks to respond through
speculative enquiry to the specific demands of disciplined thought. 

Philosophy contributes specifically to theology in preparing for a correct auditus fidei with its study of the structure of knowledge
and personal communication, especially the various forms and functions of language. No less important is philosophy's contribution
to a more coherent understanding of Church Tradition, the pronouncements of the Magisterium and the teaching of the great
masters of theology, who often adopt concepts and thought-forms drawn from a particular philosophical tradition. In this case, the
theologian is summoned not only to explain the concepts and terms used by the Church in her thinking and the development of her
teaching, but also to know in depth the philosophical systems which may have influenced those concepts and terms, in order to
formulate correct and consistent interpretations of them. 

66. With regard to the intellectus fidei, a prime consideration must be that divine Truth “proposed to us in the Sacred Scriptures
and rightly interpreted by the Church's teaching” (89) enjoys an innate intelligibility, so logically consistent that it stands as an
authentic body of knowledge. The intellectus fidei expounds this truth, not only in grasping the logical and conceptual structure of
the propositions in which the Church's teaching is framed, but also, indeed primarily, in bringing to light the salvific meaning of these
propositions for the individual and for humanity. From the sum of these propositions, the believer comes to know the history of
salvation, which culminates in the person of Jesus Christ and in his Paschal Mystery. Believers then share in this mystery by their
assent of faith. 

For its part, dogmatic theology must be able to articulate the universal meaning of the mystery of the One and Triune God and of
the economy of salvation, both as a narrative and, above all, in the form of argument. It must do so, in other words, through
concepts formulated in a critical and universally communicable way. Without philosophy's contribution, it would in fact be
impossible to discuss theological issues such as, for example, the use of language to speak about God, the personal relations within
the Trinity, God's creative activity in the world, the relationship between God and man, or Christ's identity as true God and true
man. This is no less true of the different themes of moral theology, which employ concepts such as the moral law, conscience,
freedom, personal responsibility and guilt, which are in part defined by philosophical ethics. 

It is necessary therefore that the mind of the believer acquire a natural, consistent and true knowledge of created realities—the
world and man himself—which are also the object of divine Revelation. Still more, reason must be able to articulate this knowledge
in concept and argument. Speculative dogmatic theology thus presupposes and implies a philosophy of the human being, the world
and, more radically, of being, which has objective truth as its foundation. 

67. With its specific character as a discipline charged with giving an account of faith (cf. 1 Pet 3:15), the concern of fundamental
theology will be to justify and expound the relationship between faith and philosophical thought. Recalling the teaching of Saint
Paul (cf. Rom 1:19-20), the First Vatican Council pointed to the existence of truths which are naturally, and thus philosophically,
knowable; and an acceptance of God's Revelation necessarily presupposes knowledge of these truths. In studying Revelation and
its credibility, as well as the corresponding act of faith, fundamental theology should show how, in the light of the knowledge
conferred by faith, there emerge certain truths which reason, from its own independent enquiry, already perceives. Revelation
endows these truths with their fullest meaning, directing them towards the richness of the revealed mystery in which they find their
ultimate purpose. Consider, for example, the natural knowledge of God, the possibility of distinguishing divine Revelation from other
phenomena or the recognition of its credibility, the capacity of human language to speak in a true and meaningful way even of
things which transcend all human experience. From all these truths, the mind is led to acknowledge the existence of a truly
propaedeutic path to faith, one which can lead to the acceptance of Revelation without in any way compromising the principles and
autonomy of the mind itself.(90) 

Similarly, fundamental theology should demonstrate the profound compatibility that exists between faith and its need to find
expression by way of human reason fully free to give its assent. Faith will thus be able “to show fully the path to reason in a
sincere search for the truth. Although faith, a gift of God, is not based on reason, it can certainly not dispense with it. At the same
time, it becomes apparent that reason needs to be reinforced by faith, in order to discover horizons it cannot reach on its own”.(91)

68. Moral theology has perhaps an even greater need of philosophy's contribution. In the New Testament, human life is much less
governed by prescriptions than in the Old Testament. Life in the Spirit leads believers to a freedom and responsibility which
surpass the Law. Yet the Gospel and the Apostolic writings still set forth both general principles of Christian conduct and specific
teachings and precepts. In order to apply these to the particular circumstances of individual and communal life, Christians must be
able fully to engage their conscience and the power of their reason. In other words, moral theology requires a sound philosophical
vision of human nature and society, as well as of the general principles of ethical decision-making. 

69. It might be objected that the theologian should nowadays rely less on philosophy than on the help of other kinds of human
knowledge, such as history and above all the sciences, the extraordinary advances of which in recent times stir such admiration.
Others, more alert to the link between faith and culture, claim that theology should look more to the wisdom contained in peoples'
traditions than to a philosophy of Greek and Eurocentric provenance. Others still, prompted by a mistaken notion of cultural
pluralism, simply deny the universal value of the Church's philosophical heritage. 

There is some truth in these claims which are acknowledged in the teaching of the Council.(92) Reference to the sciences is often
helpful, allowing as it does a more thorough knowledge of the subject under study; but it should not mean the rejection of a typically
philosophical and critical thinking which is concerned with the universal. Indeed, this kind of thinking is required for a fruitful
exchange between cultures. What I wish to emphasize is the duty to go beyond the particular and concrete, lest the prime task of
demonstrating the universality of faith's content be abandoned. Nor should it be forgotten that the specific contribution of
philosophical enquiry enables us to discern in different world-views and different cultures “not what people think but what the
objective truth is”.(93) It is not an array of human opinions but truth alone which can be of help to theology. 

70. Because of its implications for both philosophy and theology, the question of the relationship with cultures calls for particular
attention, which cannot however claim to be exhaustive. From the time the Gospel was first preached, the Church has known the
process of encounter and engagement with cultures. Christ's mandate to his disciples to go out everywhere, “even to the ends of
the earth” (Acts 1:8), in order to pass on the truth which he had revealed, led the Christian community to recognize from the first
the universality of its message and the difficulties created by cultural differences. A passage of Saint Paul's letter to the Christians
of Ephesus helps us to understand how the early community responded to the problem. The Apostle writes: “Now in Christ Jesus
you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has
broken down the wall of hostility” (2:13-14). 

In the light of this text, we reflect further to see how the Gentiles were transformed once they had embraced the faith. With the
richness of the salvation wrought by Christ, the walls separating the different cultures collapsed. God's promise in Christ now
became a universal offer: no longer limited to one particular people, its language and its customs, but extended to all as a heritage
from which each might freely draw. From their different locations and traditions all are called in Christ to share in the unity of the
family of God's children. It is Christ who enables the two peoples to become “one”. Those who were “far off” have come “near”,
thanks to the newness brought by the Paschal Mystery. Jesus destroys the walls of division and creates unity in a new and
unsurpassed way through our sharing in his mystery. This unity is so deep that the Church can say with Saint Paul: “You are no
longer strangers and sojourners, but you are saints and members of the household of God” (Eph 2:19). 

This simple statement contains a great truth: faith's encounter with different cultures has created something new. When they are
deeply rooted in experience, cultures show forth the human being's characteristic openness to the universal and the transcendent.
Therefore they offer different paths to the truth, which assuredly serve men and women well in revealing values which can make
their life ever more human.(94) Insofar as cultures appeal to the values of older traditions, they point—implicitly but
authentically—to the manifestation of God in nature, as we saw earlier in considering the Wisdom literature and the teaching of
Saint Paul. 

71. Inseparable as they are from people and their history, cultures share the dynamics which the human experience of life reveals.
They change and advance because people meet in new ways and share with each other their ways of life. Cultures are fed by the
communication of values, and they survive and flourish insofar as they remain open to assimilating new experiences. How are we
to explain these dynamics? All people are part of a culture, depend upon it and shape it. Human beings are both child and parent of
the culture in which they are immersed. To everything they do, they bring something which sets them apart from the rest of
creation: their unfailing openness to mystery and their boundless desire for knowledge. Lying deep in every culture, there appears
this impulse towards a fulfilment. We may say, then, that culture itself has an intrinsic capacity to receive divine Revelation. 

Cultural context permeates the living of Christian faith, which contributes in turn little by little to shaping that context. To every
culture Christians bring the unchanging truth of God, which he reveals in the history and culture of a people. Time and again,
therefore, in the course of the centuries we have seen repeated the event witnessed by the pilgrims in Jerusalem on the day of
Pentecost. Hearing the Apostles, they asked one another: “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we
hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and
Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome,
both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians, we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God” (Acts 2:7-11).
While it demands of all who hear it the adherence of faith, the proclamation of the Gospel in different cultures allows people to
preserve their own cultural identity. This in no way creates division, because the community of the baptized is marked by a
universality which can embrace every culture and help to foster whatever is implicit in them to the point where it will be fully
explicit in the light of truth. 

This means that no one culture can ever become the criterion of judgment, much less the ultimate criterion of truth with regard to
God's Revelation. The Gospel is not opposed to any culture, as if in engaging a culture the Gospel would seek to strip it of its native
riches and force it to adopt forms which are alien to it. On the contrary, the message which believers bring to the world and to
cultures is a genuine liberation from all the disorders caused by sin and is, at the same time, a call to the fullness of truth. Cultures
are not only not diminished by this encounter; rather, they are prompted to open themselves to the newness of the Gospel's truth
and to be stirred by this truth to develop in new ways. 

72. In preaching the Gospel, Christianity first encountered Greek philosophy; but this does not mean at all that other approaches are
precluded. Today, as the Gospel gradually comes into contact with cultural worlds which once lay beyond Christian influence, there
are new tasks of inculturation, which mean that our generation faces problems not unlike those faced by the Church in the first

My thoughts turn immediately to the lands of the East, so rich in religious and philosophical traditions of great antiquity. Among
these lands, India has a special place. A great spiritual impulse leads Indian thought to seek an experience which would liberate the
spirit from the shackles of time and space and would therefore acquire absolute value. The dynamic of this quest for liberation
provides the context for great metaphysical systems. 

In India particularly, it is the duty of Christians now to draw from this rich heritage the elements compatible with their faith, in order
to enrich Christian thought. In this work of discernment, which finds its inspiration in the Council's Declaration Nostra Aetate,
certain criteria will have to be kept in mind. The first of these is the universality of the human spirit, whose basic needs are the
same in the most disparate cultures. The second, which derives from the first, is this: in engaging great cultures for the first time,
the Church cannot abandon what she has gained from her inculturation in the world of Greco-Latin thought. To reject this heritage
would be to deny the providential plan of God who guides his Church down the paths of time and history. This criterion is valid for
the Church in every age, even for the Church of the future, who will judge herself enriched by all that comes from today's
engagement with Eastern cultures and will find in this inheritance fresh cues for fruitful dialogue with the cultures which will
emerge as humanity moves into the future. Thirdly, care will need to be taken lest, contrary to the very nature of the human spirit,
the legitimate defense of the uniqueness and originality of Indian thought be confused with the idea that a particular cultural
tradition should remain closed in its difference and affirm itself by opposing other traditions. 

What has been said here of India is no less true for the heritage of the great cultures of China, Japan and the other countries of
Asia, as also for the riches of the traditional cultures of Africa, which are for the most part orally transmitted. 

73. In the light of these considerations, the relationship between theology and philosophy is best construed as a circle. Theology's
source and starting-point must always be the word of God revealed in history, while its final goal will be an understanding of that
word which increases with each passing generation. Yet, since God's word is Truth (cf. Jn 17:17), the human search for
truth—philosophy, pursued in keeping with its own rules—can only help to understand God's word better. It is not just a question of
theological discourse using this or that concept or element of a philosophical construct; what matters most is that the believer's
reason use its powers of reflection in the search for truth which moves from the word of God towards a better understanding of it.
It is as if, moving between the twin poles of God's word and a better understanding of it, reason is offered guidance and is warned
against paths which would lead it to stray from revealed Truth and to stray in the end from the truth pure and simple. Instead,
reason is stirred to explore paths which of itself it would not even have suspected it could take. This circular relationship with the
word of God leaves philosophy enriched, because reason discovers new and unsuspected horizons. 

74. The fruitfulness of this relationship is confirmed by the experience of great Christian theologians who also distinguished
themselves as great philosophers, bequeathing to us writings of such high speculative value as to warrant comparison with the
masters of ancient philosophy. This is true of both the Fathers of the Church, among whom at least Saint Gregory of Nazianzus
and Saint Augustine should be mentioned, and the Medieval Doctors with the great triad of Saint Anselm, Saint Bonaventure and
Saint Thomas Aquinas. We see the same fruitful relationship between philosophy and the word of God in the courageous research
pursued by more recent thinkers, among whom I gladly mention, in a Western context, figures such as John Henry Newman,
Antonio Rosmini, Jacques Maritain, Étienne Gilson and Edith Stein and, in an Eastern context, eminent scholars such as Vladimir S.
Soloviev, Pavel A. Florensky, Petr Chaadaev and Vladimir N. Lossky. Obviously other names could be cited; and in referring to
these I intend not to endorse every aspect of their thought, but simply to offer significant examples of a process of philosophical
enquiry which was enriched by engaging the data of faith. One thing is certain: attention to the spiritual journey of these masters
can only give greater momentum to both the search for truth and the effort to apply the results of that search to the service of
humanity. It is to be hoped that now and in the future there will be those who continue to cultivate this great philosophical and
theological tradition for the good of both the Church and humanity. 

Different stances of philosophy 

75. As appears from this brief sketch of the history of the relationship between faith and philosophy, one can distinguish different
stances of philosophy with regard to Christian faith. First, there is a philosophy completely independent of the Gospel's
Revelation: this is the stance adopted by philosophy as it took shape in history before the birth of the Redeemer and later in regions
as yet untouched by the Gospel. We see here philosophy's valid aspiration to be an autonomous enterprise, obeying its own rules
and employing the powers of reason alone. Although seriously handicapped by the inherent weakness of human reason, this
aspiration should be supported and strengthened. As a search for truth within the natural order, the enterprise of philosophy is
always open—at least implicitly—to the supernatural. 

Moreover, the demand for a valid autonomy of thought should be respected even when theological discourse makes use of
philosophical concepts and arguments. Indeed, to argue according to rigorous rational criteria is to guarantee that the results
attained are universally valid. This also confirms the principle that grace does not destroy nature but perfects it: the assent of faith,
engaging the intellect and will, does not destroy but perfects the free will of each believer who deep within welcomes what has
been revealed. 

It is clear that this legitimate approach is rejected by the theory of so-called “separate” philosophy, pursued by some modern
philosophers. This theory claims for philosophy not only a valid autonomy, but a self-sufficiency of thought which is patently invalid.
In refusing the truth offered by divine Revelation, philosophy only does itself damage, since this is to preclude access to a deeper
knowledge of truth. 

76. A second stance adopted by philosophy is often designated as Christian philosophy. In itself, the term is valid, but it should
not be misunderstood: it in no way intends to suggest that there is an official philosophy of the Church, since the faith as such is not
a philosophy. The term seeks rather to indicate a Christian way of philosophizing, a philosophical speculation conceived in dynamic
union with faith. It does not therefore refer simply to a philosophy developed by Christian philosophers who have striven in their
research not to contradict the faith. The term Christian philosophy includes those important developments of philosophical thinking
which would not have happened without the direct or indirect contribution of Christian faith. 

Christian philosophy therefore has two aspects. The first is subjective, in the sense that faith purifies reason. As a theological
virtue, faith liberates reason from presumption, the typical temptation of the philosopher. Saint Paul, the Fathers of the Church and,
closer to our own time, philosophers such as Pascal and Kierkegaard reproached such presumption. The philosopher who learns
humility will also find courage to tackle questions which are difficult to resolve if the data of Revelation are ignored—for example,
the problem of evil and suffering, the personal nature of God and the question of the meaning of life or, more directly, the radical
metaphysical question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?”. 

The second aspect of Christian philosophy is objective, in the sense that it concerns content. Revelation clearly proposes certain
truths which might never have been discovered by reason unaided, although they are not of themselves inaccessible to reason.
Among these truths is the notion of a free and personal God who is the Creator of the world, a truth which has been so crucial for
the development of philosophical thinking, especially the philosophy of being. There is also the reality of sin, as it appears in the light
of faith, which helps to shape an adequate philosophical formulation of the problem of evil. The notion of the person as a spiritual
being is another of faith's specific contributions: the Christian proclamation of human dignity, equality and freedom has undoubtedly
influenced modern philosophical thought. In more recent times, there has been the discovery that history as event—so central to
Christian Revelation—is important for philosophy as well. It is no accident that this has become pivotal for a philosophy of history
which stakes its claim as a new chapter in the human search for truth. 

Among the objective elements of Christian philosophy we might also place the need to explore the rationality of certain truths
expressed in Sacred Scripture, such as the possibility of man's supernatural vocation and original sin itself. These are tasks which
challenge reason to recognize that there is something true and rational lying far beyond the straits within which it would normally be
confined. These questions in fact broaden reason's scope for action. 

In speculating on these questions, philosophers have not become theologians, since they have not sought to understand and expound
the truths of faith on the basis of Revelation. They have continued working on their own terrain and with their own purely rational
method, yet extending their research to new aspects of truth. It could be said that a good part of modern and contemporary
philosophy would not exist without this stimulus of the word of God. This conclusion retains all its relevance, despite the
disappointing fact that many thinkers in recent centuries have abandoned Christian orthodoxy. 

77. Philosophy presents another stance worth noting when theology itself calls upon it. Theology in fact has always needed and
still needs philosophy's contribution. As a work of critical reason in the light of faith, theology presupposes and requires in all its
research a reason formed and educated to concept and argument. Moreover, theology needs philosophy as a partner in dialogue in
order to confirm the intelligibility and universal truth of its claims. It was not by accident that the Fathers of the Church and the
Medieval theologians adopted non-Christian philosophies. This historical fact confirms the value of philosophy's autonomy, which
remains unimpaired when theology calls upon it; but it shows as well the profound transformations which philosophy itself must

It was because of its noble and indispensable contribution that, from the Patristic period onwards, philosophy was called the ancilla
theologiae. The title was not intended to indicate philosophy's servile submission or purely functional role with regard to theology.
Rather, it was used in the sense in which Aristotle had spoken of the experimental sciences as “ancillary” to “prima philosophia”.
The term can scarcely be used today, given the principle of autonomy to which we have referred, but it has served throughout
history to indicate the necessity of the link between the two sciences and the impossibility of their separation. 

Were theologians to refuse the help of philosophy, they would run the risk of doing philosophy unwittingly and locking themselves
within thought-structures poorly adapted to the understanding of faith. Were philosophers, for their part, to shun theology
completely, they would be forced to master on their own the contents of Christian faith, as has been the case with some modern
philosophers. Either way, the grounding principles of autonomy which every science rightly wants guaranteed would be seriously

When it adopts this stance, philosophy, like theology, comes more directly under the authority of the Magisterium and its
discernment, because of the implications it has for the understanding of Revelation, as I have already explained. The truths of faith
make certain demands which philosophy must respect whenever it engages theology. 

78. It should be clear in the light of these reflections why the Magisterium has repeatedly acclaimed the merits of Saint Thomas'
thought and made him the guide and model for theological studies. This has not been in order to take a position on properly
philosophical questions nor to demand adherence to particular theses. The Magisterium's intention has always been to show how
Saint Thomas is an authentic model for all who seek the truth. In his thinking, the demands of reason and the power of faith found
the most elevated synthesis ever attained by human thought, for he could defend the radical newness introduced by Revelation
without ever demeaning the venture proper to reason. 

79. Developing further what the Magisterium before me has taught, I intend in this final section to point out certain requirements
which theology—and more fundamentally still, the word of God itself—makes today of philosophical thinking and contemporary
philosophies. As I have already noted, philosophy must obey its own rules and be based upon its own principles; truth, however,
can only be one. The content of Revelation can never debase the discoveries and legitimate autonomy of reason. Yet, conscious
that it cannot set itself up as an absolute and exclusive value, reason on its part must never lose its capacity to question and to be
questioned. By virtue of the splendour emanating from subsistent Being itself, revealed truth offers the fullness of light and will
therefore illumine the path of philosophical enquiry. In short, Christian Revelation becomes the true point of encounter and
engagement between philosophical and theological thinking in their reciprocal relationship. It is to be hoped therefore that
theologians and philosophers will let themselves be guided by the authority of truth alone so that there will emerge a philosophy
consonant with the word of God. Such a philosophy will be a place where Christian faith and human cultures may meet, a point of
understanding between believer and non-believer. It will help lead believers to a stronger conviction that faith grows deeper and
more authentic when it is wedded to thought and does not reject it. It is again the Fathers who teach us this: “To believe is nothing
other than to think with assent... Believers are also thinkers: in believing, they think and in thinking, they believe... If faith does not
think, it is nothing”.(95) And again: “If there is no assent, there is no faith, for without assent one does not really believe”.(96)