Winter 2004

Surprised by Truth: The Drama of Reason in Fundamental Theology

D. C. Schindler

“The event of revelation . . . can take reason wholly by surprise, even shatter its expectations, demand a rethinking of everything it previously thought from top to bottom, and yet remain perfectly rational . . . on one condition only: that it is the very nature of reason in its normal, everyday constitution, to be taken by surprise.”1

What can it mean to say that Christianity is true? This seemingly simple question contains a profound theoretical difficulty. We would be unable to affirm the truth of Christianity unless it made a claim on the assent of human reason, but such a claim is possible only if it in turn resonates in some respect within reason’s own intrinsic necessities. To ask the question concerning the truth of Christianity plunges us immediately into a problem that lies at the center of fundamental theology, the discipline that inquires into the possibility of theology.2 As a logos, a rational discourse, about God, theology is in some sense a human activity. But what distinguishes theology from philosophy, which possesses its own discourse about God, is that theology has its ultimate foundation not in reason’s own exigencies, nor in natural evidences, but in that which properly speaking comes from beyond reason’s horizon, and indeed in some sense from beyond the world itself: namely, in revelation.3 Is rational discourse about God, then, possible? Indeed, is there in principle such a thing as a reasonable theologian?


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1. An essay in honor of Hans Urs von Balthasar’s centenary anniversary. A version of this paper was originally presented at the international conference, “La missione teologica di Hans Urs von Balthasar,” held in Lugano, Switzerland at the Centro di studi Hans Urs von Balthasar, 2–4 March 2005.

2. The two central themes of fundamental theology are revelation and its credibility: Dictionary of Fundamental Theology, ed. R. Latourelle and R. Fisichella (New York: Crossroad, 1994), 326–327.

3. “The truth Revelation allows us to know is neither the mature fruit nor the highest reach of the reflections of human reason,” Fides et ratio, 15 [=FR] (translation, slightly modified, from Restoring Faith in Reason, ed. Laurence Paul Hemming and Susan Frank Parsons [London: SCM Press, 2002], 29).