and Reason --- Part One
of faith to reason is of utmost importance for the thinking believer.
The problem of how to combine these aspects of personhood has existed
from the earliest apologists. Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria,
and Tertullian all struggled. Augustine made the first serious attempt
to relate the two, but the most comprehensive treatment came at the
end of the medieval period when Christian intellectualism flowered in
the work of Thomas Aquinas.
Faith to Reason. Aquinas held that faith
and reason intertwine. Faith uses reason, and reason cannot succeed in
finding truth without faith.
Cannot Produce Faith. Reason accompanies,
but does not cause, faith. Faith is consent without inquiry in
that faith’s assent is not caused by investigation. Rather, it is
produced by God. Commenting on Ephesians 2:8-9, Aquinas contended that
"free will is inadequate for the act of faith since the contents of
faith are above reason…. That a man should believe, therefore, cannot
occur from himself unless God gives it" (Aquinas, Ephesians,
96; unless noted, all citations in this article are from works by
Thomas Aquinas). Faith is a gift of God, and no one can believe
"this does not prevent the understanding of one who believes from
having some discursive thought of comparison about those things which
he believes" (On Truth, 14.A1.2). Such discursive thought, or
reasoning from premises to conclusions, is not the cause of the
assent of faith, but it can and should accompany it (ibid., 14.A1.6).
Faith and reason are parallel. One does not cause the other because
"faith involves will (freedom) and reason doesn’t coerce the
will" (ibid.). A person is free to dissent, even though there may be
convincing reasons to believe.
As a matter
of tactical approach in apologetics, if the authority of Scripture is
accepted (faith), appeal can be made to it (reason). "Thus, against
the Jews we are able to argue by means of the Old Testament, while
against heretics we are able to argue by means of the New Testament.
But Mohammedans and the pagans accept neither the one nor the
other.... We must, therefore, have recourse to the natural reason, to
which all men are forced to give their assent" (Summa Theologica,
some Christian truths are attainable by human reason, for example,
that God exists and is one. "Such truths about God have been proved
demonstratively by the philosophers, guided by the light of the
natural reason" (ibid., 1a.3.2)
of Reason. Reason or philosophy can be
used in three ways, Aquinas says:
demonstrates the "preambles of faith" (that God exists, that we are
analyzes teachings of philosophers in order to reveal corresponding
concepts in Christian faith. Aquinas gives the example of
Augustine’s On the Trinity, which draws on philosophy to help
explain the Trinity.
opposes attacks against faith from logic (Gentiles, 1.9).
be used to prove natural theology, which studies the existence and
nature of one God. It can be used to illustrate supernatural
theological concepts, such as the Trinity and the Incarnation. And it
can be used to refute false theologies (De Trinitate, 2.3). The
apologist directs the person to accept two kinds of truth about divine
things and to destroy what is contrary to truth. The person is
directed to the truths of natural theology by the investigation of the
reason and to the truths of supernatural theology by faith.
So to make
the first kind of divine truth known, we must proceed through
demonstrative arguments. However,
…since such arguments are
not available for the second kind of divine truth, our intention
should not be to convince our adversary by arguments: It should be
to answer his arguments against the truth; for, as we have shown,
the natural reason cannot be contrary to the truth of faith. The
sole way to overcome an adversary of divine truth is from the
authority of Scripture—an authority divinely confirmed by miracles.
For that which is above the human reason we believe only because God
has revealed it. Nevertheless, there are certainly likely [probable]
arguments that should be brought forth in order to make divine truth
known. [Gentiles, 1.9]
existence is self-evident absolutely (in itself) but not relatively
(to us) (ibid., 1.10-11). Hence, in the final analysis, one must
receive by faith those things that can be known by reason, as
well as those things that lie above reason. Intellectual assent that
lacks faith cannot have certitude, for human reason is notoriously
suspect when it comes to spiritual matters. Consequently, "it was
necessary for divine truth to be delivered by way of faith, being told
to them as it were, by God Himself Who cannot lie" (Summa
Theologica, 2a2ae.1, 5.4).
Authority. Aquinas did not believe that
reason provides the basis for believing in God. It can prove that
God exists, but it cannot convince an unbeliever to believe in
to Faith. We may believe (assent without
reservation) in something that is neither self-evident nor deduced
from it by a movement of the will. However, this does not mean that
reason plays no prior role to belief. We judge a revelation to be
worthy of belief "on the basis of evident signs or something of the
sort" (ibid., 2a2ae.1, 4. ad 2).
inquires about what is to be believed before it believes in it. "Faith
does not involve a search by natural reason to prove what is believed.
But it does involve a form of inquiry unto things by which a person is
led to belief, e.g. whether they are spoken by God and confirmed by
miracles" (ibid., 2a2ae.2, 1, reply). Demons are not willingly
convinced by the evidence that God exists but are intellectually
forced by confirming signs to the fact that what the faithful believe
is true. Yet they cannot truly be said to believe (On Truth,
14.9. ad 4).
Testimony of the Spirit. In order to believe
in God one must have the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit. For "one
who believes does have a sufficient motive for believing, namely the
authority of God’s teaching, confirmed by miracles, and—what is
greater—the inner inspiration [instinctus] of God inviting him
to believe" (Summa Theologica, 2a2ae.6.1). The Holy
Spirit uses two causes to stimulate voluntary faith. The persuasion
may be from without, for example, a miracle that is witnessed. Or
persuasion may be from within. The first cause is never enough for one
inwardly to assent to the things of faith. The assent of faith is
caused by God as he moves the believer inwardly through grace. Belief
is a matter of the will, but the will needs to be prepared by God "to
be lifted up to what surpasses nature" (ibid., 2a2ae.2, 9. ad 3).
Support of Faith. Commenting on the use
of reason in 1 Peter 3:15, Aquinas argued that "human reasoning
in support of what we believe may stand in a two-fold relation to the
will of the believer." First, the unbeliever may not have the will to
believe unless moved by human reason. Second, the person with a will
ready to believe loves the truth, thinks it out, and takes to heart
its evidence. The first, unbelieving will may come to a faith of
sorts, but there will be no merit in it, because belief does not
extend far beyond sight. The second person also studies the human
reasoning, but it is a meritorious work of faith (ibid., 2a2ae.2, 10).
Evidence. Faith is supported by, though not
based on, probable evidence. "Those who place their faith in this
truth, however, ‘for which the human reason offers no experimental
evidence,’ do not believe foolishly, as though ‘following artificial
fables’" (2 Peter 1:16). Rather, "It reveals its own presence, as well
as the truth of its teaching and inspiration, by fitting arguments;
and in order to confirm those truths that exceed natural knowledge, it
gives visible manifestations to works that surpass the ability of all
nature." The kind of positive evidence that Aquinas used included such
things as raising the dead, miracles, and the conversion of the pagan
world to Christianity (On Truth, 14.A1).
Evidence. The negative evidence encompasses
arguments against false religions, including things like their fleshly
appeal to carnal pleasures, their teachings that contradict their
promises, their many fables and falsities, the lack of miracles to
witness to divine inspiration of their holy book (like the Qur’an),
use of warfare (arms) to spread their message, the fact that wise men
did not believe Muhammad, only ignorant, desert wanderers, the fact
that there were no prophets to witness to him, and Muslim perversions
of Old and New Testament stories (Gentiles, 1.6).
Fallible Testimony. How can we be sure when
the support of our faith rests on many intermediary (fallible)
testimonies? Aquinas responds that the intermediaries are above
suspicion if they were confirmed by miracles (for example, Mark
16:20). "We believe the successors of the apostles and prophets only
in so far as they tell us those things which the apostles and prophets
have left in their writings" (On Truth, 14.10, ad 11). The
Bible alone is the final and infallible authority for our faith.
Demonstrative Arguments. Aquinas
distinguished between two kinds of rational arguments: demonstrative
and persuasive. "Demonstrative, cogent, and intellectually convincing
argument cannot lay hold of the truths of faith, though it may
neutralize destructive criticism that would render faith untenable."
On the other hand, "persuasive reasoning drawn from
probabilities... does not weaken the merit of faith, for it implies no
attempt to convert faith into sight by resolving what is believed into
evident first principles" (De Trinitate, 2.1, ad 5).
Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Books House, 1999)
Dr. Steve Sullivan
Dr. Norm Geisler
Copyright 2006, Ankerberg Theological Research Institute