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New Encyclical letter

Oct 28, 1998 07:08 AM
by Nicholas Weeks

I have not read the rest of this -- but the Introduction is far more
open-minded than one would have thought.  The lines about man's spiritual
heritage and the "implicit philosophy" beyond all schools of thought,
sound theosophical.  But I am probably reading too much into it.  It was
composed first in Latin (or maybe Polish) and then translated.


My Venerable Brother Bishops, Health and the Apostolic Blessing!

Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises
to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human
heart a desire to know the truth in a word, to know himself so
that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the
fullness of truth about themselves (cf. Ex 33:18; Ps 27:8-9;
63:2-3; Jn 14:8; 1 Jn 3:2).



1. In both East and West, we may trace a journey which has led
humanity down the centuries to meet and engage truth more and more
deeply. It is a journey which has unfolded as it must within the
horizon of personal self-consciousness: the more human beings know
reality and the world, the more they know themselves in their
uniqueness, with the question of the meaning of things and of their
very existence becoming ever more pressing. This is why all that is
the object of our knowledge becomes a part of our life. The
admonition Know yourself was carved on the temple portal at Delphi,
as testimony to a basic truth to be adopted as a minimal norm by
those who seek to set themselves apart from the rest of creation as
human beings, that is as those who know themselves.

Moreover, a cursory glance at ancient history shows clearly how in
different parts of the world, with their different cultures, there
arise at the same time the fundamental questions which pervade
human life: Who am I? Where have I come from and where am I going?
Why is there evil? What is there after this life? These are the
questions which we find in the sacred writings of Israel, as also
in the Veda and the Avesta; we find them in the writings of
Confucius and Lao-Tze, and in the preaching of Tirthankara and
Buddha; they appear in the poetry of Homer and in the tragedies of
Euripides and Sophocles, as they do in the philosophical writings
of Plato and Aristotle. They are questions which have their common
source in the quest for meaning which has always compelled the
human heart. In fact, the answer given to these questions decides
the direction which people seek to give to their lives.

2. The Church is no stranger to this journey of discovery, nor
could she ever be. From the moment when, through the Paschal
Mystery, she received the gift of the ultimate truth about human
life, the Church has made her pilgrim way along the paths of the
world to proclaim that Jesus Christ is the way, and the truth, and
the life (Jn 14:6). It is her duty to serve humanity in different
ways, but one way in particular imposes a responsibility of a quite
special kind: the diakonia of the truth.(1) This mission on the one
hand makes the believing community a partner in humanity's shared
struggle to arrive at truth; (2) and on the other hand it obliges
the believing community to proclaim the certitudes arrived at,
albeit with a sense that every truth attained is but a step towards
that fullness of truth which will appear with the final Revelation
of God: For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.
Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully (1 Cor 13:12).

3. Men and women have at their disposal an array of resources for
generating greater knowledge of truth so that their lives may be
ever more human. Among these is philosophy, which is directly
concerned with asking the question of life's meaning and sketching
an answer to it. Philosophy emerges, then, as one of noblest of
human tasks. According to its Greek etymology, the term philosophy
means love of wisdom. Born and nurtured when the human being first
asked questions about the reason for things and their purpose,
philosophy shows in different modes and forms that the desire for
truth is part of human nature itself. It is an innate property of
human reason to ask why things are as they are, even though the
answers which gradually emerge are set within a horizon which
reveals how the different human cultures are complementary.

Philosophy's powerful influence on the formation and development of
the cultures of the West should not obscure the influence it has
also had upon the ways of understanding existence found in the
East. Every people has its own native and seminal wisdom which, as
a true cultural treasure, tends to find voice and develop in forms
which are genuinely philosophical. One example of this is the basic
form of philosophical knowledge which is evident to this day in the
postulates which inspire national and international legal systems
in regulating the life of society.

4. Nonetheless, it is true that a single term conceals a variety of
meanings. Hence the need for a preliminary clarification. Driven by
the desire to discover the ultimate truth of existence, human
beings seek to acquire those universal elements of knowledge which
enable them to understand themselves better and to advance in their
own self-realization. These fundamental elements of knowledge
spring from the wonder awakened in them by the contemplation of
creation: human beings are astonished to discover themselves as
part of the world, in a relationship with others like them, all
sharing a common destiny. Here begins, then, the journey which will
lead them to discover ever new frontiers of knowledge. Without
wonder, men and women would lapse into deadening routine and little
by little would become incapable of a life which is genuinely

Through philosophy's work, the ability to speculate which is proper
to the human intellect produces a rigorous mode of thought; and
then in turn, through the logical coherence of the affirmations
made and the organic unity of their content, it produces a
systematic body of knowledge. In different cultural contexts and at
different times, this process has yielded results which have
produced genuine systems of thought. Yet often enough in history
this has brought with it the temptation to identify one single
stream with the whole of philosophy. In such cases, we are clearly
dealing with a philosophical pride which seeks to present its own
partial and imperfect view as the complete reading of all reality.
In effect, every philosophical system, while it should always be
respected in its wholeness, without any instrumentalization, must
still recognize the primacy of philosophical enquiry, from which it
stems and which it ought loyally to serve.

Although times change and knowledge increases, it is possible to
discern a core of philosophical insight within the history of
thought as a whole. Consider, for example, the principles of
non-contradiction, finality and causality, as well as the concept
of the person as a free and intelligent subject, with the capacity
to know God, truth and goodness. Consider as well certain
fundamental moral norms which are shared by all. These are among
the indications that, beyond different schools of thought, there
exists a body of knowledge which may be judged a kind of spiritual
heritage of humanity. It is as if we had come upon an implicit
philosophy, as a result of which all feel that they possess these
principles, albeit in a general and unreflective way. Precisely
because it is shared in some measure by all, this knowledge should
serve as a kind of reference-point for the different philosophical
schools. Once reason successfully intuits and formulates the first
universal principles of being and correctly draws from them
conclusions which are coherent both logically and ethically, then
it may be called right reason or, as the ancients called it, orthss
logos, recta ratio.

5. On her part, the Church cannot but set great value upon reason's
drive to attain goals which render people's lives ever more worthy.
She sees in philosophy the way to come to know fundamental truths
about human life. At the same time, the Church considers philosophy
an indispensable help for a deeper understanding of faith and for
communicating the truth of the Gospel to those who do not yet know

Therefore, following upon similar initiatives by my Predecessors,
I wish to reflect upon this special activity of human reason. I
judge it necessary to do so because, at the present time in
particular, the search for ultimate truth seems often to be
neglected. Modern philosophy clearly has the great merit of
focusing attention upon man. From this starting-point, human reason
with its many questions has developed further its yearning to know
more and to know it ever more deeply. Complex systems of thought
have thus been built, yielding results in the different fields of
knowledge and fostering the development of culture and history.
Anthropology, logic, the natural sciences, history, linguistics and
so forth the whole universe of knowledge has been involved in one
way or another. Yet the positive results achieved must not obscure
the fact that reason, in its one-sided concern to investigate human
subjectivity, seems to have forgotten that men and women are always
called to direct their steps towards a truth which transcends them.
Sundered from that truth, individuals are at the mercy of caprice,
and their state as person ends up being judged by pragmatic
criteria based essentially upon experimental data, in the mistaken
belief that technology must dominate all. It has happened therefore
that reason, rather than voicing the human orientation towards
truth, has wilted under the weight of so much knowledge and little
by little has lost the capacity to lift its gaze to the heights,
not daring to rise to the truth of being. Abandoning the
investigation of being, modern philosophical research has
concentrated instead upon human knowing. Rather than make use of
the human capacity to know the truth, modern philosophy has
preferred to accentuate the ways in which this capacity is limited
and conditioned.

This has given rise to different forms of agnosticism and
relativism which have led philosophical research to lose its way in
the shifting sands of widespread scepticism. Recent times have seen
the rise to prominence of various doctrines which tend to devalue
even the truths which had been judged certain. A legitimate
plurality of positions has yielded to an undifferentiated
pluralism, based upon the assumption that all positions are equally
valid, which is one of today's most widespread symptoms of the lack
of confidence in truth. Even certain conceptions of life coming
from the East betray this lack of confidence, denying truth its
exclusive character and assuming that truth reveals itself equally
in different doctrines, even if they contradict one another. On
this understanding, everything is reduced to opinion; and there is
a sense of being adrift. While, on the one hand, philosophical
thinking has succeeded in coming closer to the reality of human
life and its forms of expression, it has also tended to pursue
issues existential, hermeneutical or linguistic which ignore the
radical question of the truth about personal existence, about being
and about God. Hence we see among the men and women of our time,
and not just in some philosophers, attitudes of widespread distrust
of the human being's great capacity for knowledge. With a false
modesty, people rest content with partial and provisional truths,
no longer seeking to ask radical questions about the meaning and
ultimate foundation of human, personal and social existence. In
short, the hope that philosophy might be able to provide definitive
answers to these questions has dwindled.

6. Sure of her competence as the bearer of the Revelation of Jesus
Christ, the Church reaffirms the need to reflect upon truth. This
is why I have decided to address you, my venerable Brother Bishops,
with whom I share the mission of proclaiming the truth openly (2
Cor 4:2), as also theologians and philosophers whose duty it is to
explore the different aspects of truth, and all those who are
searching; and I do so in order to offer some reflections on the
path which leads to true wisdom, so that those who love truth may
take the sure path leading to it and so find rest from their
labours and joy for their spirit.

I feel impelled to undertake this task above all because of the
Second Vatican Council's insistence that the Bishops are witnesses
of divine and catholic truth.(3) To bear witness to the truth is
therefore a task entrusted to us Bishops; we cannot renounce this
task without failing in the ministry which we have received. In
reaffirming the truth of faith, we can both restore to our
contemporaries a genuine trust in their capacity to know and
challenge philosophy to recover and develop its own full dignity.

There is a further reason why I write these reflections. In my
Encyclical Letter Veritatis Splendor, I drew attention to certain
fundamental truths of Catholic doctrine which, in the present
circumstances, risk being distorted or denied.(4) In the present
Letter, I wish to pursue that reflection by concentrating on the
theme of truth itself and on its foundation in relation to faith.
For it is undeniable that this time of rapid and complex change can
leave especially the younger generation, to whom the future belongs
and on whom it depends, with a sense that they have no valid points
of reference. The need for a foundation for personal and communal
life becomes all the more pressing at a time when we are faced with
the patent inadequacy of perspectives in which the ephemeral is
affirmed as a value and the possibility of discovering the real
meaning of life is cast into doubt. This is why many people stumble
through life to the very edge of the abyss without knowing where
they are going. At times, this happens because those whose vocation
it is to give cultural expression to their thinking no longer look
to truth, preferring quick success to the toil of patient enquiry
into what makes life worth living. With its enduring appeal to the
search for truth, philosophy has the great responsibility of
forming thought and culture; and now it must strive resolutely to
recover its original vocation. This is why I have felt both the
need and the duty to address this theme so that, on the threshold
of the third millennium of the Christian era, humanity may come to
a clearer sense of the great resources with which it has been
endowed and may commit itself with renewed courage to implement the
plan of salvation of which its history is part.

<> Nicholas Weeks <> <> Los Angeles
  The witchery of paltry things obscures what is right and the whirl of
  desire transforms the innocent mind.  Wisdom 4, 12

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