Word, Faith, and Philosophy

 

The Christian epistemological crisis I’ve discussed so far is a crisis “of faith” since it concerns or threatens faith. It is not a crisis of the structure or nature of faith; it’s a philosophical (i.e., epistemological) one. That deserves some further clarification.

 

Again, in Introduction to Christianity, Ratzinger reminds us of Paul’s teaching: “Faith comes from what is heard.” He says that this is not merely an historical truism — hearing versus reading on a Kindle — but that it “contains an abiding structural truth.” God reveals the content of faith, and sets in motion the apparatus for true belief, through his Word, the divine logos, who is Jesus Christ. Faith is a response to this proclaimed word that reveals truth; it includes our assent to truth. Because of this, faith is essentially dialectic: it has a call and response format. And it cannot exist simply in the mind, as the product of careful thought.

 

As a result, faith is somehow “ahead” of my mind’s thinking it through. But how can I be confident that my mind can think through the truths revealed by faith? After all, faith is not a blind guess or willingness to accept; it must be a reasonable response to an articulated, rational statement. Otherwise, it conflicts with what is self-evident through my own reflections about my very nature.

 

This is not easy to work out. But a few basic ideas can help us to gain some bearing. On the one hand, the structure of our mind shows us — even through our own, private thoughts — that God’s existence is reasonable. It’s at least “perhaps” true that God exists. That’s enough to conclude that, if he is in fact real, he must have created us in a way that makes sense. But our minds don’t make sense without something “before” them to understand — a divine “sense” or logos. The Word of God, therefore, is a reasonable (and seemingly necessary) source for our own self-awareness. And our response to it — as a “first” sense and the ultimate meaning of our self-consciousness — should include reflection.

 

On the other hand, Ratzinger says, awareness of the “dialogic structure of faith” shows us something about God, too. “God wishes to approach man only through man; he seeks out man in no other way but in his fellow humanity.” To say it backwards, there is something about our interpersonal communication and relationships that echoes the structure of revelation, and of our faithful assent.

 

An epistemological crisis of faith, then, has to do with our struggle to acknowledge that these ideas about the structure of faith are worth believing. Without them, faith is not impossible. But it begins to appear more and more unreasonable, implausible. And in the end, something that is incommunicable and insane.