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A paradoxical and Catholic discussion of faith and reason

Theology: Mythos or Logos contributes to Catholic apologetics by setting examples of different ways of approaching the faith and of how to debate these truths with others.

Theology: Mythos or Logos consists of a series of letters between two Catholic thinkers with distinctive stances on the reason- or faith-based approaches to the faith. These stances are somewhat artificial given the Church’s long tradition of taking a both-and approach to faith and reason, but the division helps provide clarity and to establish substantial unity.

Thomas Storck has written several books on Catholic social doctrine and culture, while former businessman John Médaille teaches theology at the University of Dallas. The varied topics that these letters address occasionally provide a nuanced and complex discussion, though sometimes issues are only briefly summarized. Topics include aspects of Greek philosophy and wisdom, miracles, fact versus theory, the study of history, scholasticism, and the state of the modern Church. What unites both writers is a love for the Faith and a keen sense of the need for apologetics.

Both letter writers convey a certain urgency that something needs to be done about the listlessness and lack of direction in the contemporary Church. This urgency gives these letters an extra relevance and directness. In the end, each man retains his original stance, though commonalities include the rejection of modernity and the need to convert society. Though they disagree on how this can be accomplished, by the end, readers will come to see the merits of each side. This helps readers see how Catholicism is something of a paradox that offers more than one way to approach it. This means that when Catholics talk to those who may be open to Christ, they can favor a more reason-based or faith-based approach.

The authors address the over- and under-emphasis of reason. This sparks a particularly rich debate. Médaille, weighing faith over reason, opposes an overly logical approach to Christian belief:

[D]ialectic is not and cannot be the primary method of theology. Such rationalism, while it represents a bridge to the modern world, also represented a break with older methods of doing theology. There was a good reason that the introduction of Aristotelianism was always controversial and frequently condemned. (35)

While partially agreeing, Storck also points out philosophy’s vital role:

Philosophy cannot do more than demonstrate what we used to call the preambles of the faith, but they are important preambles, nonetheless, for they render our defense something worthy of logos. (50)

Reason grounds our faith in something more than stories and ritual, in other words.

Medialle’s more faith-based approach emphasizes the person of Jesus. He argues that this personhood comes through in the story-based aspect of Christianity. Biblical stories give us the essence of the Christian message, which is God’s offer of a relationship with Him. Médaille consistently warns that an overly-rational faith can impede this relationship. In other words, these gospel stories play the central role in our faith. We can only believe in the resurrection with the eyes of faith. Faith or mythos moves humans more than reason does because of the deeper meaning that this former communicates. Médaille asks, “‘Is there a wisdom apart from philosophy’, or is everything, even the gods, subject to its analysis?” (14).

Throughout his letters to Storck, he remains unconvinced that philosophy can change people’s hearts, and seems to see it as suffocating faith. He goes so far as to make the claim that natural theology, supposedly a branch of philosophy that uses reason, in fact uses “the tools of theology” (15). Given the epistolary format, Médaille does not define natural theology or provide any examples. The lack of definitions and deeper analysis is a recurring feature of this book, as the two men assume a shared knowledge that their readers may not have acquired. The wide range of points that are considered means that quantity tends to prevail over quality. Yet given the aims of the book, this is not a downside. It simply leaves readers wanting to read more on these many unfinished topics.

If Christianity is largely based on story, as Médaille argues, then Storck wonders how it differs from paganism, which also offers powerful stories of the gods, creation, and good and evil. The latter argues that certain similarities in ritual or story between Christianity and pagan religions does not mean that Christianity’s foundations parallel these beliefs too closely. Unlike pagan stories, Christianity is founded on an historical event and person. Storck argues that reason plays a critical role in making sense of Jesus Christ. He also disagrees with Médaille’s view that philosophy tends to break everything down. Philosophy often invites us to see the whole, particularly regarding the essences of things.

Médaille’s helpful clarification of some facts and theories strengthens his position that we moderns are not as rational as we often assume. Reason is not value-free or totally objective. He argues that we start with theories and then go seeking certain facts while discarding others. This is similar to how we use maps: Political geography maps represent very different things than tourist maps do. Different maps show distinct versions of the same world. Probably unintentionally, he concludes with the relativistic-sounding view that even facts are not totally objective: “Every map, to be useful, must exclude more of the ‘real world’ than it includes. And what is included depends on the purpose of the map” (55). Theories map out the kinds of facts that we value and use to build our perspectives.

The conundrum of how to address modernity comes up repeatedly. Storck calls for a revival of Thomism because of the need for stronger intellectual tools with which to face modernity. Conversely, Médaille asserts the need for Christians to have a more powerful narrative than secularists. He expands on his suspicion of philosophy, observing that today’s liberalism came out of the scholastic age. Storck takes issue with such a sweeping claim, and puts the blame on nominalism, not Thomism or scholasticism in general. The strength of this exchange is in how each side sees the same historical development in distinctive ways and in how the authors correct and challenge each other.

Given the complex and almost unsolvable theological and philosophical issues, readers will likely side with the writer whose ideas they shared before they started reading. Although neither author comes out clearly ahead in this debate, we are left with the impression that Catholicism contains multiple perspectives that all ultimately converge on Jesus Christ. At no point does either writer stray from orthodoxy despite their diverging perspectives.

The discussion prompts readers to assess their own beliefs because the two authors, uncharacteristically for our overly-sensitive age, fearlessly point out perceived flaws or weaknesses in the others’ claims. We need to get better at this more assertive way of discussing the faith, telling the truth even if it risks hurting someone’s feelings or causing discomfort. Both letter-writers leave themselves open to criticism while attempting to explain the deep mysteries of faith. Theology: Mythos or Logos contributes to Catholic apologetics by setting examples of different ways of approaching the faith and of how to debate these truths with others.

Theology: Mythos or Logos? A Dialogue on Faith, Reason, and History
By John Médaille and Thomas Storck
Angelico Press, 2020
Paperback, 166 pages


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About Brian Welter 5 Articles
Brian Welter has studied education, history, and theology and writes on these subjects for many publications including Studia gilsoniana. He teaches English in Taiwan.

6 Comments

  1. “Médaille asks, Is there a wisdom apart from philosophy, or is everything, even the gods, subject to its analysis?”. Faith moves humans more than reason, the argument I made in response to Jared Staudt’s compelling visions. Grace God’s gift is what draws souls to Christ. Although, Brian Welter makes his own compelling thesis pointing to Storck’s appeal to reason. Surely, myself a Thomist cannot repudiate that premise. Welter consequently draws us into the heart of the matter dividing the liberalized non practicing nominal Catholic from the so called Remnant. Nominals rationally convince themselves they’re right, remnants presumably convinced by reliance on faith and the graces imparted to them. Criticism rejection of Aristotelian dialogue the legacy of Socrates is the mistaken thought of an impoverished intellect. Who gave us an intellect and capacity to reason if not God and surely with good purpose. It’s the idolatrous worship of the intellect pointedly evident among German synodal bishops that causes fear among faith alone Catholics. As Storck would agree and Médaille too if he were to be pleasantly [a term used in psychiatry for the mentally challenged] tunnel visioned. Said in jest Médaille certainly has contemplated that God’s gift of reason has further purpose than to negate its function. As surely does Storck realize the uncompromising necessity for piety and grace that otherwise identifies the faithless rationalist. Thomas Aquinas on good advice from Aristotle emphasizes the virtuous mean in ethics as the envisioned not always perfect dividing line between excess and defect, for Welter as well as ourselves, the inability to recognize that mean the cause of division betwixt Faith and Reason.

  2. St. Augustine complicates–actually, simplifies–things by adding “will” (and bad will) to the duality/complementarity of Faith and Reason.

    While he supports both the intellectualist path and the volitional path to conversion, Thomas DuBay, S.M. (“Authenticity,” 1977/97) still writes:

    “Why this vast resistance to CONCLUSIVE [italics] evidence? It cannot be basically an intellectual matter. It must be largely mixed with will [….] The root of knowing God is the human will as it expresses itself in moral choices and style of life [….] [later quoting Solzhenitsyn:] We do not err because truth is difficult to see. It is visible at a glance. We err because it is more comfortable.”

    • Good comment. Love is what draws us to Christ. For us to will something is to desire it. That is why Aquinas calls the will the rational appetite.

  3. Faith and reason! Nowadays in the U.S., most rightist conservative Catholics pair faith not with reason but unreason being fed with conservative libertarian politics and white nationalist conspiracy theories, fake news and propaganda. Take the examples of the vaccination issue or of climate change, this sector of Catholics somehow share the impulse of white evangelicals in denying and resisting what the sciences behind these have established. Faith and unreason!

      • “Established?” As with all advances in real science, the devil and the angels are in the details. The difference between headline slogans and real science is the difference between sorting out multiple causes/solutions and the rhetorickal droppings of a one-trick pony.

        Here’s an at least interesting read, not yet deleted by self-appointed internet truth squads, and endorsed by a former head of the Nature Conservancy:
        https://environmentalprogress.org/big-news/2020/6/29/on-behalf-of-environmentalists-i-apologize-for-the-climate-scare

        “We environmentalists condemn those with antithetical views of being ignorant of science and susceptible to confirmation bias,” wrote the former head of The Nature Conservancy, Steve McCormick. “But too often we are guilty of the same. Shellenberger offers ‘tough love:’ a challenge to entrenched orthodoxies and rigid, self-defeating mindsets. Apocalypse Never serves up occasionally stinging, but always well-crafted, evidence-based points of view that will help develop the ‘mental muscle’ we need to envision and design not only a hopeful, but an attainable, future.”

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