How do you feel about Christian philosophy?

Christian philosophy in the interrelation of faith and reason

Table of Contents

1. Christian philosophy - the attempt to determine one's position

2. From the doctrine of salvation to philosophy
2.1 The basic character of Christian thought
2.2 Fides quaerens intellectum - belief needs philosophy
2.3 The task of philosophy in a Christian context

3. The divine wisdom in the encyclical "Fides et ratio"
3.1 The systematic representation of faith and reason as the basic intention
3.2 Credo ut intelligam - I believe in order to understand
3.3 Intelligo ut credam - I understand in order to believe

4. Perspectives of a Christian Philosophy Today



1. Christian philosophy - the attempt to determine one's position

The term “Christian philosophy” may be understood and interpreted in a wide variety of ways today. It first raises questions. It contains two quantities, each of which has a corresponding relationship: philosophy and religious understanding of revelation. Combined, these two variables are, depending on the perspective of the beholder, either the expression of a coherent set of ideas or an incompatible contradiction in terms Try definition of the two quantities. When one speaks explicitly of a Christian philosophy, two autonomous perspectives on the one autonomous reality of being meet. Christian philosophy, seen in this way, denotes the intersection of philosophy and revelation. In it, reason and faith meet and thus objective and subjective moments of the apprehension of reality. Neither of the two sizes should be curtailed in its self-image. The concept of a Christian philosophy leads to misunderstandings where it is only viewed under one of these two aspects. Christian philosophy is not to be understood as a purely catechetical instruction of philosophical thought that would subordinate philosophy to revelation. Christian philosophy is characterized by the fact that it remains completely philosophy and thus sets itself apart from apologetics in that it does not want to see itself as a defense of the Christian faith, but rather as a philosophy that is inspired by the Christian belief in revelation but does not cease to orient itself in its own self-understanding to purely rational principles of logic and ontology.

In this sense, the term becomes a collective term for philosophical approaches that take their starting point in the Christian tradition of revelation, but develop it further with philosophical methods. Especially with regard to the philosophy of the 20th century with the formative concept of reason by Immanuel Kant, in which the universalisability of pure reason was placed before the religious claim to truth, the term Christian philosophy came under criticism. The use of the term was rather descriptive. As a collective term, it describes the series of texts that are based on a Christian understanding of the world and are based on reason and logic in their argumentation. As a collective term, the term can be classified under the cultural philosophical traditions in terms of the history of philosophy, for example alongside the Arabic, Asian or Jewish philosophy. In the following, it will essentially be about determining the relationship between philosophy and theology. From this relationship one can roughly read what Christian philosophy means with regard to its objective claim to knowledge. In it it becomes clear that from the beginning the history of the revelation of God and its understanding was closely related to the history of philosophical thought. This should be done in the encyclical fides et ratio by Pope John Paul II from 1998. It becomes appalling: Even the revelation of God's grace has human beings in all their dimensions as the addressee from the outset - thus also those who think.

2. From the doctrine of salvation to philosophy

2.1 The basic character of Christian thought

As already indicated, the term Christian philosophy denotes a difference between the fields of philosophy and those of theology. It takes its starting point in the context of the Christian religion. Their thinking is derived from this. Here the first difficulties arise for the philosopher, for Christianity itself is not a philosophy. It is one in its essence Doctrine of salvation and thus moved into the realm of religious belief in gods. In such an understanding of Christianity as a doctrine of salvation, Christian thinking first gains the character of instructional theory. It shows people the way to bliss. Practical instructions are given for this: The love of God and one's neighbor. The doctrine of Christianity is not limited to a certain ethnic group, but is expressly aimed at all people. Its object is the proclamation of a Father God who loves and forgives all people. He sent his son to redeem each individual from his guilt and thus to open the way to eternal bliss in the hereafter for everyone.

The basic character of Christian thought is to be understood linearly eschatologically. The doctrine of redemption and the ultimate things permeates thought and thus also become essential structural elements of a philosophy that sees itself as Christian.[1] This is essentially afterlife speculation. It is about the ground of the world and its recognizability. Christian thinking can be classified in the tradition of Plato on a philosophical level. According to this view, the ground of the world and all being can be derived from the principle of the unity of all beings. However, this one common ground of all beings itself is located in the hereafter and is therefore from the outset considered to be transcendent. The unity of all beings in this world becomes an image of this one otherworldly magnitude, which Plato calls "Idea". The content of the Platonic doctrine of ideas is an assumed realm of immaterial, eternal and unchangeable beings. These are the archetypes of reality. The realm of ideas is completely autonomous and independent in itself. It forms a thought-independent, fixed reality that cannot be grasped physically, but only intellectually and argumentatively.[2] In the Platonic tradition, this transcendent being was the basic principle of all material being. This is where Christian thinking and philosophizing come in. A transcendent, infinite being is presupposed from which all being is derived or whose image is. The world, and in it especially the human soul, is to be understood in relation to a personal God. From this perspective she asks to what extent the finite can be recognized in the light of the infinite. The Christian character is expressed in that this infinite is identical with the biblical God of Revelation and is always thought of together.

In the Middle Ages in particular, it was a matter of bringing philosophy into a certain relationship with theology. The Christian philosophy of the Middle Ages was very narrowed by the dogmatic framework and therefore initially showed no really independent features of free thought. Philosophy was soon seen as a servant or pioneer of theology. In the pre-olastic period, the Italian bishop and doctor of the church Petrus Damiani found the perhaps somewhat presumptuous formulation from a philosophical point of view Philosophia ancilla theologiae attributed to. This view of philosophy as the servant of theology became groundbreaking through scholasticism. Religious and philosophical aspects intertwine and are blended into their own form of thinking. The philosophical focus of Christian thought lies in the teaching of the soul. Belief in the immortal soul called to eternal bliss directs one's gaze away from the question of the knowledge of becoming and the source of all being, towards the inwardness of the self and its relationship to God.

2.2 Fides quaerens intellectum - belief needs philosophy

That faith and reason do not contradict one another, but rather condition one another, was already of decisive importance for the Christians of the first centuries. Philosophical thinking emerged as a consequence of the belief in revelation. It came out of belief in God. Christian philosophy means first of all the Christian religion and worldview in the broadest sense. In its beginnings it is neither a science of its own nor a form of philosophy to be separated from theology, but it is understood as “wisdom” par excellence, which shapes the concrete life of the human being as a whole in a final and unsurpassable way. A distinction or a development of philosophy from theology is not yet seen as necessary.[3] Already in the second century the Christians on the part of the non-Christians as Philosophers designated. Christians also call themselves “philosophers”. You also use philosophical means to justify and defend your faith in front of the Roman emperors of that time.[4] Christian philosophy based on a doctrine of salvation thus means in its original meaning a certain way of life. The Christianity in itself can be determined, for example, from the conformity of the way of life with the teachings of the Church.

In the eleventh century, the Benedictine monk Anselm from Aosta, who later became Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of the Church of England, brought the option of faith for reason into a famous formula that shaped the further course of theological history: Fides quaerens intellectum. From this formula from his work Proslogion it is clear: Faith seeks to understand itself. It takes the intellect to be able to believe. Reason becomes, so to speak, a prerequisite for faith and thus an essential element of Christian faith. Faith and reason interact. The believer wants to understand what he has learned in the testimony of faith in the biblical scriptures. He does not only want to understand it for the sake of the pure intellect, but he wants to understand it in order to believe even more deeply and to penetrate into the mystery of God. The aim of philosophizing is therefore to achieve a deeper faith in the Christian Father God. Anselm also uses this line to carry out his ontological proof of God. That there must be God is an ontological necessity. Faith and reason are so closely linked. In our day and age, the Tübingen theologian Eberhard Jüngel suggested that Anselm's formula should be supplemented: Fides quaerens intellectum quaerentem fidem. Faith is not abolished into reason or replaced by reason.[5] He continues to exist next to her. Anselm realizes for herself that the insights that come to him through reason remain finite. Reason can move into the mystery of faith and try to fathom it deeper and deeper. The semantic and pragmatic subject in this “search” remains the one fides.[6] In this sense, reason understands itself as reflecting and reflecting on the act of belief.

2.3 The task of philosophy in a Christian context

After the beginning of the modern era and the Enlightenment, philosophy and religion entered into a rather contradicting relationship and were almost deliberately delimited with the emergence of modern natural sciences, the role of philosophy became, as it were, with the free will and thought of man in the Second Vatican Council taken up again by the official church. In the dogmatic constitution Dei Verbum from 1965, reason is given a permanent place in the form of free philosophical reflection and reflection. The constitution emphasizes the autonomous meaning of the two quantities of reason and faith and at the same time puts them in a relationship. First of all, she emphasizes the “obedience of faith” which emerges from the Holy Scriptures and which is to be afforded to God who reveals himself[7], but at the same time admits that this can only occur under the condition of freedom and under the actuation of full understanding and full will [DV 5]. By freely consenting to revelation using reason, man submits to the will of God. Reason and the act of faith are mutually dependent. Reason cannot take the place of faith; on the other hand, the act of faith can only take place through reason. The constitution sees the grace of God coming ahead and the inner assistance of the Holy Spirit, which determine faith, the condition that the eyes of the understanding be opened. This enables everyone to arrive at the truth, which in turn has to be believed [DV 5]. Here, too, it becomes clear again: the understanding can approach the truth of faith and is needed in its search. In the end, however, he cannot grasp it in such a way that it becomes completely clear to him.

3. Divine wisdom in the encyclical "Fides et ratio"

As a groundbreaking milestone in the interrelation of philosophy and theology in our time, the encyclical may Fides et ratio of Pope John Paul II, which was published on September 14, 1998. The text goes in eight steps from the introductory call for self-knowledge to the description of specific current demands and tasks. The encyclical is the thirteenth and penultimate in the pontificate of John Paul II and is therefore often referred to as his great philosophical legacy. In 1948 the then Karol Wojtyla received his doctorate in philosophy at the Angelicum in Rome. In 1954 he was appointed professor and lecturer in ethics in Lublin and Krakow. When he was elected Pope in 1978, a philosopher took the chair of Peter. For this reason this encyclical is also important for the relationship between Christian philosophy of our time.

3.1 The systematic representation of faith and reason as the basic intention

The aim of the encyclical “Fides et ratio” by Pope John Paul II was to present a relationship between faith and reason in the context of our time. The goal and the claim are clearly defined: The question is how fides and ratio are assigned to each other from a teaching point of view. John Paul positions the task of the teaching office accordingly. This has neither the task nor the duty to contribute to providing answers to all possible objections on the part of philosophy and to adequately fill the gaps in a missing philosophical train of thought (FR V, 49; cf. DH 5078). Rather, the task of the magisterium is to preserve and guard the faith. This means publicly and sustained resistance as soon as (in the light of faith) dubious philosophical opinions threaten to obscure the essential core of divine revelation. This is the case when wrong and partisan opinions are held that sow grave errors that damage the simplicity of God's people and the purity of faith (cf. DH 5078). The meaning of the ecclesiastical magisterium therefore continues to have a functional and regulating character in accordance with its essence.


[1] See Röd, Wolfgang, The Path of Philosophy, Volume I, Munich2 2009, 273

[2] Szaif, Jan, Platonism, IV. Doctrine, in: LThK3 (2009), 351

[3] Schmidinger, Heinrich, On the history of the term “Christian Philosophy” in: Emerich Coreth SJ, Walter M. Neidl, Georg Pfligerstorfer (eds.), Christian Philosophy in Catholic Thought of the 19th and 20th Centuries, Graz Vienna Cologne 1987, 29

[4] Examples of this can be found in the Jew Tryphon, who is in dialogue with Justin, and in the Roman doctor Galenus. See ibid.

[5] Cf. Eberhard Jüngel, Faith and Reason: George Augustin / Klaus Krämer (eds.) God think and witness (FS Cardinal Walter Kasper), Freiburg, Basel, Vienna: Herder 2008, 15-32; 27, in: Bausenhart, Guido, Introduction to theology, genesis and validity of theological statements, Freiburg i. Br. 2010, 233

[6] Bausenhart, Introduction to Theology, 233

[7] Compare Rom 16:26; 2 Cor 10, 5-6

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