Fall 1999

Human Freedom and Truth According to the Encyclical Fides et Ratio

Angelo Scola

"Reason and will/freedom are . . . involved in the origin of knowledge itself, because being becomes manifest only in giving itself. Judgment and justice are therefore a 'hendiadys' for 'truth,' and faith is the radical critical form of reason; there can be no extrinsic relation between them."

1. The Encyclical Fides et Ratio: The End or a Beginning?


The evil that has marked this “brief century” has lead to talk of the “death of God” and of “God’s silence.” Notwithstanding the radical difference between these two formulae—the Nietzschian death of God has the flavor of a somewhat contrived metaphor,1 whereas the phrase God’s silence cannot be definitive2—both have been proposed as a key to reading the tragic experiences that have marked the most recent decades of our history.3 But is there a thread that can unite in some way the Nietzschian interpretation and that of Jewish thinkers after Auschwitz? Perhaps it is to be found in a subject that anguished Augustine, a subject from which the logic of Fides et Ratio does not shrink: why are the effects of the Redemption not visible if the crucified and risen Lord has vanquished evil? “Post Christum nihil in melius, omnia in peius, mutata sunt?” (After Christ, things have not changed for the better, but for the worse).4 Does not history document the persistence of the cross of the Nazarene as the experience, no matter how sad and common, of human failure? In the great theater of the world, does not evil, in all of its forms, continue to occupy the limelight? The Leibnizian theme of theodicy remains the crux, which in any case cannot extinguish the question of questions. In the words of Leibniz himself, “Why is there not nothingness?” Would it not therefore be prudent to stick to a sensible agnosticism? Does not such an agnosticism, while steering away from every theoretical atheism (which is always dogmatic, even when pursued with the most sophisticated conceptual instruments), venture presumptuously “objective” claims about reality, reason, faith, and the relation between them, or in a word, in claims about the truth?

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1. E. L Fackenheim brings this out nicely in La presenza di Dio nella storia (Brescia, 1977), 67. For Fackenheim, the two formulae are not comparable because the Nietzschian “death” of God has a “degree of truth” that does not go much beyond the slogan (ibid., 72–73).

2. “As intolerable as its memory must seem, Auschwitz is ephemeral with respect to thecovenant, the contract whereby God reassures his persecuted people” (G. Steiner, Errata. Una vita sotto esame [Milan, 1998], 63). For the theme of the silence of God at Auschwitz, see the recent anthology of M. Giuliani, Auschwitz nel pensiero ebraico. Frammenti della teologia dell’Olocausto (Brescia, 1998) where the positions of the major Jewish contemporary thinkers on God after Auschwitz are presented. Among the most significant, other than Fackenheim, are R. Rubenstein, Maybaum, E. Wiesel, Berkovits, Jacobovits, Jonas, K. Shapiro.

3. Cf. John Paul II, Fides et Ratio (=FR), 91.

4. In an informal interview given in 1993, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger attempted to respond to this question: “Iterum atque iterum meditando hanc quaestionem mihi visum est, responsionem solummodo in notione libertatis recte cogitata inveniri posse. Donum libertatis solummodo libere accipi potest. Qua de causa redemptio nullo modo factum quoddam empiricum praecedens libertatem nostram fieri potest” (As I reflected again and again on this problem, I realized that only the notion of freedom, rightly understood, can provide an answer. The gift of freedom has to be freely accepted. It is for this reason that redemption cannot become a kind of empirical fact preceding our freedom).