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Albert the Great: Light of Science, Light of Religion

The proper roles and relative importance of faith and reason have been pondered and argued across the centuries. In our day, the debate is often cast in the form of religion (faith) and science (reason), with an underlying assumption that the issue boils down to religion versus science, and we really need to take sides, either clinging to outdated “religious superstition” or progressing with the times to “follow the science.”

Pope St. John Paul summed up the extremes of this false dichotomy in his encyclical Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason) in 1998 using the terms fideism (from the Latin fides for faith) and scientism. Fideism, embodied by some of our Protestant brethren, “fails to recognize the importance of rational knowledge and philosophical discourse for the understanding of faith, indeed for the very possibility of belief in God” (50). We see this most commonly in Biblicism, which makes the Bible “the sole criterion of truth.” Scientism, embodied by many modern atheists and agnostics, is “the philosophical notion which refuses to admit the validity of forms of knowledge other than those of the positive sciences; and it relegates religious, theological, ethical, and aesthetic knowledge to the realm of mere fantasy” (88).

John Paul knew well that St. Thomas Aquinas made clear in the thirteenth century, as he put it in the Summa Contra Gentiles, that “there exists a twofold truth concerning the divine being.” One kind of truth is accessible through reason, and the other is obtained through God’s direct revelation. Indeed, one nice metaphor casts such truths as written in two books—the book of nature and the book of Scripture. John Paul provided a particularly beautiful and relevant metaphor: “faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.”

Today, we celebrate the feast of one of the people who flew the highest upon both wings—all the way to heaven. Albert of Cologne (c.1200-1280) is perhaps best known today as the teacher and mentor of Thomas Aquinas. Indeed, as Thomas has become the patron saint of scholars, Albert is the patron saint of scientists. (Seems they both did a fair job of choosing faith and reason.)

Read more at Catholic Answers

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