Dr Pravin Thevathasan reviews
The Mystery of Reason, by Fr Paul Haffner

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The Mystery of Reason, by Fr Paul Haffner

Gracewing Publishers - http://www.gracewing.co.uk - ISBN 0 85244 538 5 - £14.99

This fine work may be seen as a response to the Papal encyclical Fides et Ratio. It is an exploration of the relationship between faith and reason, and in so doing it makes use of a variety of approaches including philosophy, theology and contemplation. It is wholly faithful to the vision of the Church. The author, a priest of the diocese of Portsmouth, lectures in Rome.

Father Haffner begins with an analysis of the tools of reason. Knowledge is essentially objective. It begins with concrete experiences but requires other factors to reach its perfection. It requires reason to interpret the things that are observed and it cannot be seen in terms of a Kantian fusion of two elements - one external and the other entirely dependant on the mind. There are a variety of false systems that compare with the moderate realism of Saint Thomas including Idealism, Nihilism, the Nominalism of Ockham and the Positivism of Comte.

Scriptural sources are then examined. In the Old Testament, Father Haffner finds a unity between the knowledge of reason and the knowledge of faith- especially in the Wisdom literature. Faith sets reason free, so to speak, to achieve what it seeks to know.

“The true key- point which challenges every philosophy is Jesus Christ’s death on the Cross.” The wisdom of the Cross does not destroy reason. Rather, it purifies and elevates reason. For Paul, one consequence of the Incarnation is the healing of our powers of reasoning. Both faith and reason come down from above, from the Father of all light.

Father Haffner then turns to the Fathers of the Church and to the great medieval Doctors. Saint Augustine was the first of the Church Fathers to formulate the relationship between faith and reason: “I believe in order to understand and I understand the better to believe.” Faith, in a certain sense, brings the reasoning power to greater perfection. For Boethius, the universe is rational because it has been created by God who is supremely rational.

The author argues that the famous divide between Saint Thomas and Scotus is more apparent than real. For both, reason and revelation are two different species of knowledge - reason assents to what we see to be true through our own unaided power and faith involves assent to revelation. There cannot be conflict between the two.

The reasons why science developed in Christian Europe rather than in other often highly sophisticated cultures are investigated. The founders of modern science, Pierre Duhem and Jean Buridan for example, required the philosophical culture that was found in the deeply Christian middle ages in order to flourish. The belief that science required the Renaissance is as much a myth as the belief that philosophy had to await the Enlightenment in order to wake up from its dogmatic slumbers.

In modern times, however there has been a growing separation between faith and reason. Much of modern philosophy discards the search for ultimate truth in favour of more utilitarian0 goals. Deprived of revelation, the nobility of reason has been obscured. Deprived of reason, faith has stressed sentiment and experience. This rupture of faith and reason has led to so many modern-day errors: Historicism, Syncretism and Scientism, for example.

Father Haffner writes: “evolutionism must be distinguished from Darwinism so that the Christian does not throw out the evolutionary baby with the materialistic bath water.” It may be argued that a significant number of academics from a variety of disciplines including Geology and Biochemistry have questioned the whole evolutionary hypothesis.

The “five ways” of Saint Thomas are then discussed along with other proofs for the existence of God including the aesthetic and ontological arguments. These various proofs encourage a “predisposition to faith.”

Finally, we are reminded that faith is as much of the heart as it is of the head. Knowledge without love is ultimately sterile.

Dr. Pravin Thevathasan MRCPsych


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