Ryan T. Anderson, editor of the Witherspoon Institute’s Public Discourse site, reviews Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg’s new book, The Modern Papacy, in the Nov. 28 issue of the Weekly Standard. Anderson says the book is “a significant contribution to the study of John Paul and Benedict’s thought.” Excerpt of “The Holy Seers” follows (for the complete article, a Weekly Standard subscription is required):
Gregg presents John Paul and Benedict as more or less united in the main trajectory of their dialogue with modernity. For ease in classification, this can be grouped in four domains: science, reason, faith, and revelation. While the scientific method has provided mankind with many indisputably helpful discoveries, the modern papacy argues that to embrace the instrumental, technocratic rationality at the heart of the scientific process as if it were the entirety of rationality is to narrow the range of realities accessible to rational inquiry. While the scientific approach can discover truths about empirical physical realities, it can provide little help in discussions of justice, love, and beauty–whether they be about earthly domains or transcendent ones. Only by broadening the conception of rationality beyond the empirically verifiable realm of the scientific, John Paul and Benedict argue, can man arrive at the truths necessary to secure his full flourishing. In other words, man needs to embrace science without embracing scientism.
Recovering the sapiential dimension of reason that considers the big questions regarding the meaning and destiny of human existence and the significance of human action is a key part of recapturing a more robust conception of human rationality. As Gregg presents John Paul and Benedict, a major aspect of their engagement with modernity has been to show that reason can discern objective standards of right and wrong, good and evil, as well as ascertain the existence of God and certain key aspects of his nature.
Most important of all is to see, with Benedict, that “at the beginning of all things stands the creative power of reason.” Gregg explains that, in Benedict’s view, “agnosticism and atheism ultimately rely upon a rational affirmation that all is ultimately based upon irrationality.” But even while defending reason’s lofty vocation, John Paul and Benedict stress that being rational isn’t enough, for rationality itself points to the existence of truths that reason alone cannot grasp, truths that can only be known through God’s revelation, accepted by faith. In other words, man needs to embrace reason without embracing rationalism.
When reason concludes that there are truths about God and the universe that reason itself cannot ascertain, that man’s finite reason cannot exhaust the infinite, this could open the door to legitimizing faith in anything–and everything. Gregg is careful to point out that the modern papacy’s engagement with modernity is just as critical of theistic thinkers who attempt to ground faith’s legitimacy in what amounts to little more than blind leaps.