Reading St. John Paul II’s Fides et Ratio—Like a Mother

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Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Fides et Ratio was given in 1998 to address the relationship between faith and reason. The purpose of reading an encyclical is, in my opinion, to work it into your life, and at this point, everything goes through my mommy-lens. If you struggle with philosophical language, as I do, try first reading the work straight through and writing a short summary of what struck you most after each section. (Like this.) Even after several readings over several years, I still cannot grasp the entirety. But I have an overview so I can start to understand how each section fits into the whole thought.

The last section, for instance, is a call for theologians and philosophers to return to scholasticism. The language is formal, but you know what? It has framed my view of educating our children. The search for truth, St. John Paul II wrote, involves a finite world but points to the mysteries of God beyond the immediate object of study. In an earlier section he wrote, “Faith sharpens the inner eye.” Those statements together helped me understand why science education must be situated as the study of the Handiwork of God, why even a child can look at nature around her and see intelligent design in the beauty of it, why students and scientists should never, ever be told to set their faith aside if they want to discover reality.

You may also be familiar with the often quoted phrase, “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth,” but that’s only the beginning. Did you know there’s a section titled, “The drama of the separation of faith and reason”? It comes right after the one about the “enduring originality of the thought of St. Thomas.” One of my favorite passages is the one where he calls atheism foolish for abandoning three rules: 1) We must realize our knowledge is incomplete. 2) We must not be pridefully self-serving in the pursuit of knowledge. 3) We must be grounded in a fear of God who governs the world with love.

He then wrote:

In abandoning these rules, the human being runs the risk of failure and ends up in the condition of ‘the fool’. For the Bible, in this foolishness there lies a threat to life. The fool thinks that he knows many things, but really he is incapable of fixing his gaze on the things that truly matter. Therefore he can neither order his mind nor assume a correct attitude to himself or to the world around him. And so when he claims that ‘God does not exist’, he shows with absolute clarity just how deficient his knowledge is and just how far he is from the full truth of things, their origin and their destiny.

Yes, teach children to avoid such foolishness. Fides et Ratio is not just a letter of instruction to the bishops; it is a letter for us all. This week we celebrate the first feast day of St. John Paul II. Why not spend some time studying this encyclical? Something vibrant and grounded amid the “shifting sands of widespread scepticism.”

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About the Author

Stacy Trasancos is a wife and homeschooling mother of seven. She holds a PhD in Chemistry from Penn State University and a MA in Dogmatic Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary. She worked as a chemist for DuPont in the Lycra® and Teflon® businesses.

She teaches Chemistry and Physics for Kolbe Academy Online and Homeschool Program and serves as the Science Department Chair. She is teaching a set of summer mini-workshops titled "Science in the Light of Faith" for students, parents, other educators, or any Christian interested in the nuts and bolts of navigating science.

Similarly, she is teaching a "Reading Science in the Light of Faith" at Holy Apostles College & Seminary next Fall (2016). The course is funded by a John Templeton Foundation grant through John Carroll University for teaching science in seminaries. She is on the Board of Directors for ITEST (the Institute for the Theological Encounter with Science and Technology) where the essays from the course will be shared with the public.

Also in the Fall of 2016, she will teach a "Theological History of Science" course at Seton Hall University, where her mentor, the late Fr. Stanley L. Jaki was a distinguished professor. She is the author of Science Was Born of Christianity: The Teaching of Fr. Stanley L. Jaki.

Her new book, Particles of Faith: A Catholic Guide to Navigating Science is forthcoming with Ave Maria Press...

She teaches, researches, and writes from her family's 100-year old restored mountain lodge in the Adirondack mountains, where her husband and children (and two German Shepherds) remain her favorite priorities. Here is her website.

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