Paper

JMJ

For our class in Fundamental Theology we were to do a short paper on one of seven theses regarding theology and evangelism. Our primary text was Cardinal Ratzinger’s Introduction to Christianity. I relied heavily on our secondary text, Theology Today: Perspectives, Principles, and Criteria. I went a little long and as always I need an editor for my typos, but I got a decent grade so here’s my paper.

Thesis #6 Reading the signs of the times and in dialogue with the world, Catholic Theology upholds the unity of all truth, maintains the relationship between faith and reason, and rejects both fideism and rationalism.

A THEOLOGIAN IS ONE who prays.”  This is a loose paraphrase of Evagrius Ponticus’ line from ¶61 of his 153 Chapters on Prayer, “If you are a theologian, you pray truly; and if you pray truly, you are a theologian.” (Retrieved on 17 Dec 2020) I often heard this when I was in the Orthodox Church. Using ideas such as this Orthodox – especially converts – often build a rejection of the “scientific thought” of “The Latins”. This rejection seems to deny both God’s gift of human reason and intellect, on the one hand, and the very idea that prayer can affect the intellect at all. It seems to set humans up for failure: we are given very powerful tools in our intellect and reason yet they are considered suspect. We should not use these tools to relate to God. Sed Contra, St Thomas Aquinas and the Catholic tradition of Theology as a science arising from God’s self-revelation as providing first principles which fully engage our human reason to explore, more deeply, our relationship with God. In parallel with this, a thinking man – by secular lights – has no reason for prayer, no need for this relationship. 

Thesis 6 on the signs of the times, the unity of all truth, and the relationship of faith and reason resonated with me not only because of my convert experience in the Orthodox Church, where “faith” was seemingly idealized into a sort of prophylaxis against thinking too much but also because of my professional experience in the tech industry where everything is reducible to data points. If there is no data there is nothing to talk about. This fixation on the data and hyper-spiritualism of the faith seem to be the signs of the times – a fideism from “the religious” and a rationalism from the “secular”. 

Since much of modern tech is a web-based experience, there is no interaction between the people who make and run the technology and the people who use it. All development is based on research data. We spend our days at work looking for the “levers” to pull that will “drive clicks” towards a certain goal. I cannot make a suggestion at work for improvement unless there is an obvious metric to which I can point. Numbers are everything. Charts must move “up and to the right”. Data (without any judgment implied) must be provided for everything or it’s – literally – not real. Anecdotes about actual real-person interactions are only anecdotes. They need numbers to back them up. This is an extreme form of rationalism: the claim that only in our reason can we grasp reality. We cannot know anything here by relationship, by communion with other persons.  On the other extreme this is the idea of fideism, that as far as truth goes, we must rely on faith alone. We cannot know by communion with God, but must only trust or believe. Further, the intellect or reason cannot be brought to bear here or, if it is used at all, it is only to comment on the truths revealed and accepted by faith. Both of these extremes place an insufferable divide between God and man: the God who cannot reach us without data, the man who cannot think of God but only blindly trust. In this division we act from these two polls: sexual morality (physical communion of persons) is discussed in isolated ways of “what I want” or “what I feel” or in terms of what is legal or not instead of what is moral. Issues of medicine and the common good are discussed as individual choices and personal autonomy. Truth is parsed out into isolated pockets of “my truth” and “your truth”. 

Catholicism offers a God who is Logos – meaning – engaged fully in the order of the cosmos, and with the mind of man. Man can apply his mind to the understanding (as far as he is able) of that meaning.  Yet that God is also a person, existing in communion within the Trinity, and desiring communion with man, not only as “man” meaning all humans but on a personal, one-to-one, and intimate level. “If Christian belief in God is first of all an option in favor of the primacy of the logos, faith in the pre-existing, world supporting reality of the creative meaning, it is at the same time, as belief in the personal nature of that meaning, the belief that the original thought, whose being-thought is represented by the world, is not an anonymous, neutral consciousness us but rather freedom, creative love, a person.” (Razinger, p 158 ) But our human understanding tends to read from the top down: God is so great and yet he wants intimacy. But the personal reality of the infinite reverses this. “The highest is not the most universal, but, precisely, the particular, and the Christian faith is thus above all also the option for man as the irreducible, infinity-oriented being.” (ibid.) Tech’s Data and Eastern Orthodoxy’s spiritual focus highlight important aspects of our faith: truth can be understood – and communicated to others – through rational thought, but the truth is revealed to us in the self-disclosure of God to us. It requires prayer – a relationship with God (Catechism ¶2565)to engage fully. This is the unity of truth spoken of in our thesis: All truth has a common source in the God who says, “I am the Truth”. This relationship is, first of all, personal. 

Catholic theology offers the meaning of all things as revealed in God and unfolding in his communion with the human intellect, the personal as intimately a part of the infinite. This is prayer, as Evagrius taught: a communion, a deeply loving engagement of God with the human soul. For the Theologian in conversations drawing people to God, “my truth” cannot be other than The Truth – or else it is a lie. It arises from the prayer of the theologian, his relationship to God, and this must be explained to others as a relationship of the Divine Logos with their human logos. And it reveals a discussion of the logoi of the created order. God is disclosing Himself to us and, at the same moment, disclosing the cosmos and ourselves – the actual truth about who we are – to each of us, as particular individuals. God is showing me who I am in communion with himself. Issues of sex and medicine, as mentioned earlier, become issues of the individual’s communion with God as revealed Truth and with other persons as icons of that truth.

The world is, as Ratzinger wrote,  “in the last analysis, not mathematics but love” (p. 160). Our intellect cannot engage as a “data scientist” but must end in a relationship.  But that relationship is one of knowing and being known. It can be communicated with others in order to invite them in.

Author: Huw Richardson

A Dominican Tertiary living in San Francisco, CA. He has worked in tech (mostly) since 1999 and enjoys cooking, keto, cats, long urban hikes, and SF Beer Week.