Pope Saint John Paul II’s Encyclical, Fides et Ratio (emphasis added):
- The Church has no philosophy of her own nor does she canonize any one particular philosophy in reference to others. The underlying reason for this reluctance is that, even when it engages theology, philosophy must remain faithful to its own principles and methods. Otherwise there would be no guaranteeing that it would remain oriented to truth and that it was moving toward truth by way of a process governed by reason. A philosophy which did not proceed in the light of reason according to its own principles and methods would serve little purpose. At the deepest level, the autonomy which philosophy enjoys is rooted in the fact that reason is by it nature oriented to truth and is equipped moreover with the means necessary to arrive at truth. A philosophy conscious of this as its “constitutive status” cannot but respect the demands and the data of revealed truth. Yet history shows that philosophy – especially modern philosophy – has taken wrong turns and fallen into error. It is neither the task nor the competence of the Magisterium to intervene in order to make good the lacunas of deficient philosophical discourse. Rather, it is the Magisterium’s duty to respond clearly and strongly when controversial philosophical opinions threaten right understanding of what has been revealed, and when false and partial theories which sow the seed of serious error, confusing the pure and simple faith of the People of God, begin to spread more widely.
- This discernment, however, should not be seen as primarily negative, as if the Magisterium intended to abolish or limit any possible mediation. On the contrary, the Magisterium’s interventions are intended above all to prompt, promote and encourage philosophical enquiry. Besides, philosophers are the first to understand the need for self-criticism, the correction of errors and the extension of the too restricted terms in which their thinking has been framed. In particular, it is necessary to keep in mind the unity of truth, even if its formulations are shaped by history and produced by human reason wounded and weakened by sin. This is why no historical form of philosophy can legitimately claim to embrace the totality of truth, nor can be the complete explanation of the human being, of the world and of the human being’s relationship with God.
- Philosophy presents another stance worth noting when theology itself calls upon it. Theology in fact has always needed and still needs philosophy’s contribution. As a work of critical reason in the light of faith, theology presupposes and requires in all its research a reason formed and educated to concept and argument. Moreover, theology needs philosophy as a partner in dialogue in order to confirm the intelligibility and universal truth of its claims. It was not by accident that the Fathers of the Church and the medieval theologians adopted non-Christian philosophies. This historical fact confirms the value of philosophy’s autonomy, which remains unimpaired when theology calls upon it; but it shows as well the profound transformations which philosophical itself must undergo.
- It should be clear in the light of these reflections why the Magisterium has repeatedly acclaimed the merits of St. Thomas’ thought and made him the guide and model for theological studies. This has not been in order take apposition on properly philosophical questions nor to demand adherence to particular theses. The Magisterium’s intention has always been to show how St. Thomas is an authentic model for all who seek the truth. In his thinking, the demands of reason and the power of faith found the most elevated synthesis ever attained by human thought, for he could defend the radical newness introduced by revelation without ever demeaning the venture proper to reason.
– Lucas G. Westman