Why do we need faith? Why not human reason alone? Several people recently have asked those questions and I found the explanation given by St. Thomas Aquinas in Contra Gentiles straightforward and useful.* Searching for truth is a desire in everyone of us, and searching for God is not an unreasonable search for a bearded bossy man in the sky to relieve us of ever having to think for ourselves. Truth is beautiful. Truth will set you free. Truth is how to know yourself. St. Thomas considered what awkward things would happen if human reason alone were all we needed to search for truth.
“If the only way open to us for the knowledge of God were solely that of the reason, the human race would remain in the blackest shadows of ignorance.”
Awkward things that would happen if all truth were left only to human reason:
1. Few would possess the knowledge of God.
a. Some do not have the physical disposition for such work.
b. Some devote themselves to taking care of temporal matters.
c. Some are cut off by indolence, habitual laziness or sloth.
2. Those who would come to discover God would barely reach it after a great deal of time.
a. Profundity: it takes time to train the human intellect to grasp profound natural inquiry.
b. Fiduciary: there are many things that must be presupposed in furthering knowledge.
c. Maturity: the young soul is swayed by the various movements of the passions.
3. The investigation of the human reason for the most part has falsity present within it.
a. There is a weakness of our intellect in judgment.
b. There is an admixture of images for those ignorant of the power of demonstration.
In other words, if everyone in the world really believed that all truth were available to human reason alone, without faith in something beyond us, then few people would actually search for truth at all, and those who did would not get very far in a lifetime 1) because it’s difficult and 2) because un-unified individuals would chase false paths subject to wild and undisciplined imaginations.
“For there are some who have such a presumptuous opinion of their own ability that they deem themselves able to measure the nature of everything…in their estimation, everything is true that seems to them so, and everything is false that does not. So that the human mind, therefore, might be freed from this presumption and come to a humble inquiry after truth, it was necessary that some things should be proposed to man by God that would completely surpass his intellect.” -St. Thomas Aquinas, Contra GentilesIs the coarsening of society, how good is now called evil and evil parades as good, a result of too many lazy intellects unlifted by faith? Maybe too many people just stopped really searching for truth.
Key word there is “humble.”
Imagine if it actually were possible to find all truth through human reason alone. What would stop anyone from reasoning hastily and falsely, and then using those false conclusions to manipulate others? What would be the arguments against tyranny? Humility is necessary to understand truth. Revelation, divine messages from God about how we are to live, reminds us to be humble and to be careful about searching for truth, to appreciate what knowledge has been acquired before our lifetimes and to mature in the practice of virtue towards the ultimate virtue of charity. You’ve got to ask yourself which person you would trust more, the one who humbly searches for truth guided by the light of reason and faith, or the one who has decided he needs no such thing because — well, why? It is awkward.
*Book One, Chapter 4
Sites That Link to this Post
- The Awkwardness of Free-Thinking : The Integrated Catholic Life | March 20, 2012
- Lip-Smacking Monkey Talk and Catholic Doctrine : Stacy Trasancos | April 10, 2013
- Robots Will Absorb Humans by 2100 : Stacy Trasancos | May 8, 2013