Monday, August 25, 2014

Revelation and Reason: Revisiting the Dialectical Movement [Part 5 of ?]


The question we are dealing with is a question of epistemological primacy. Is reason primary in epistemological matters or is revelation primary? How can these two methods, seemingly contradictory to each other, ever be brought together? It appears that revelation and reason are headed to divorce court with irreconcilable differences. So the fate of this relationship from the early middle ages forward appears dreary.

On the one hand we read “Credo quia absurdum” which is the outcome of Tertullian’s statement 

“The Son of God was crucified; I am not ashamed because men must needs be ashamed of it. And the Son of God died; it is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd.[1] 

On the other hand we read,

For not only among the Greeks did reason (Logos) prevail to condemn these things through Socrates, but also among the Barbarians were they condemned by Reason (or the Word, the Logos) Himself, who took shape, and became man, and was called Jesus Christ; and in obedience to Him, we not only deny that they who did such things as these are gods, but assert that they are wicked and impious demons, whose actions will not bear comparison with those even of men desirous of virtue.[2]

In the former case we understand Tertullian to be completely divorcing revelation from human reason and in the latter, Justin Martyr places primacy on reason, apparently believing that the pagan Greek philosophers were Christians without knowing it. That is to say that Justin seems to be placing reason above revelation, and by doing so, he unwittingly places reason above faith.

The tradition of the dialectical movement existed almost immediately in the history of the Christian religion. This is due to the fact that pagan Greek philosophy had become immersed in logic and enjoyed tremendous influence in the world. Reason was prepped and ready to enter the Christian faith as soon as it sprang on the scene. The choice early on would be either to baptize revelation and faith in human reason, in Greek philosophy or to baptize human reason in divine revelation. Either faith would be subject to autonomous human reason or human reason would become purged of its pagan elements and become a tool in service of the faith, in service of divine revelation.

The problem of course is not much different than it is today. The very idea of revelation is held with disdain because it represents something over which the autonomous mind has no control. Because of this lack of control, the Christian message is mocked. The idea of a revelational epistemology is dismissed prior to the conversation. In response, many apologists have attempted to accommodate the unregenerate mind by using a method that is deemed to be less offensive and supposedly more sophisticated. “In the tradition of Aquinas, some apologists made it their goal to show Christianity to be worthy of belief for reasonable men; yet others like Brunetiere, proclaimed that faith was most powerful as a heartfelt response apart from reason.”[3] 
Clearly then, there is a presumed antithesis between revelation and reason or as it is sometimes described, between faith and reason.

I cannot remember ever encountering an atheist that did not eventually accuse Christianity of belief without evidence or of believing in something without proof or of being a fideistic leap in the dark.

Enter the great Moslem philosopher Averroes and the double truth theory. Reason and revelation can contradict one another because they are not dealing with the same object. The truths of religion have nothing to do with the truths of this world. For example, in the world of reason, one may believe that the universe is eternal while at the same time holding to the faith claim that the world is created. For Averroes this was not a problem since reason and revelation were dealing with separate matters.  
After Thomas Aquinas had done all he could to thoroughly baptize Christian revelation in Aristotelian logic, John Duns Scotus served to reinforce Thomas rationalistic approach.

“The English Franciscan, John Duns Scotus gave greater weight to the extrinsic evidences in supporting the judgment of faith. While stoutly maintaining that God alone was the true motive of faith, he insisted that this act could be objectively justified before the bar of reason in such wise as to refute adversaries and to prepare the way for inquirers to believe.”

Such thinking suggests that autonomous human reason is in a position to be the judge and jury of the source of its very existence. The antithesis between revelation and reason continued to find a place in the minds of the best thinkers throughout not only the history of philosophy, but also the history of the Church.

[1] Tertullian, “On the Flesh of Christ,” in Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, trans. Peter Holmes, vol. 3, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 525.

[2] Justin Martyr, “The First Apology of Justin,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 164.

[3] Greg Bahnsen, "Socrates Or Christ: The Reformation Of Christian Apologetics," in Foundations of Christian Scholarship, ed. Gary North (Vallecitto, CA: Ross House Books, 1976), 193.

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