Faith, it is commonly maintained, takes over from belief. Praestet fides supplementum sensuum defectui….What our senses fail to fathom, let us grasp through faith’s consent. The “faith and reason” debate has raged long and furiously down the centuries. And convictions have swung as wildly from one extreme to the other: At one time, the faith held the ultimate, reliable answers. Reason, enfeebled by man’s fallen state, was not to be trusted. The Enlightenment and the rationalist phase of human history dawned, and, with it, the derision of faith as superstition and the option for the irrational. Religion was no different from superstition, and what did not pass the criteria of science was not to be entertained by the learned and the honorable who knew how to value their time and their intellectual energy!
Descartes set off attempting to give his Catholic (Jesuit, actually) convictions a firmer foundation than the rickety brand of Scholasticism in which he had been schooled. But the result of his arduous method that included applying doubt as a purgative was the apparently charming Cogito, ergo sum that however got philosophers into even more trouble. That which Descartes’ method left him certain of was a self-enclosed, perfectly immanent “ego” completely detached from anything else, generating the whole slew of problems that would be vex thinkers till Kant and Hegel. And then, drawing inspiration from Brentano, Edmund Husserl—animated by what to me is undoubtedly a Cartesian spirit—discovered the power of the “phenomenon,” that which presents itself and thought that it would be good to bracket “natural attitudes” and pay closer attention to the phenomenon, rather than be held captive by the pseudo problem of how the mind could ever reach, let alone touch, matter.
Marion came along and asked why that which reveals itself to the believer—whatever it might be—should a priori be expunged from the realm of phenomena. Following his logic then the acceptance of phenomena offered by revelation results in a expansion of the horizon of consciousness. From a discourse perspective, Habermas suggests something similar: Dialogue between the secular society and the person of faith can proceed only on condition that faith-statements are not a priori dismissed as irrational. In a sense, it is a protest against the capture of the concept of “phenomenon” by empiricism or any of its permutations. But Marion is not, of course, the first to maintain this position, although he could very well be the first to fuse his openness to the rationality of belief with Husserl’s phenomenology.
To be sure, Augustine, very early in the Church’s life, maintained that belief actually aided understanding. Credo ut intelligam…I believe that I might understand, he is reported to have said. Faith is not the capitulation of reason. It is reason going its full length, and when faith falters, it is not so much that some supernatural energy is lacking that enables the walk of faith to move farther. It rather is that reason loses faith its own capacities. Reason must be bold and must not, at the very outset, determine its limits. In fact, protesting that something is beyond the limits of reason hardly makes any sense, because it presupposes that one can transcend reason—or stand above it—to be able to say how far it will and can go. Heidegger had a very useful metaphor for this—holzwege, he called them: trails that led into the forest that went as far as one wanted them to go, that pushed on, rather than trod an already beaten path. Reason pushes on, as revelation makes available phenomena (saturated phenomena, Mario calls them) that challenge, allure, entice but also beguile. Only confident reason can go on; reason, uncertain of itself, stops dead in rationalist tracks. The posture of reason should not be “thus far, and thou shalt not pass,” but rather: “Let’s see how far this takes us,” which makes of reason more adventurous, more exciting, more faith-ful!
As the adventure of reason, faith also keeps its moorings in reason so that the irrationality and the destructiveness that are only too evident in some forms of fanaticism and militant fundamentalism do not ruin the promise of faith, nor quell its other dimension: fides quaerens intellectum…Faith seeking understanding.