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  • Writer's pictureRev. Morgan Byars

Reason (The Wesleyan Quadrilateral Part 3)

I accordingly gave each [work] a title, that the first might be known as, An Example of Meditation on the Grounds of Faith, and its sequel as, Faith Seeking Understanding. – Anselm of Canterbury, Proslogium, preface

From the introduction to Anselm’s work Proslogium we get the phrase fides quaerens intellectum, or “faith seeking understanding.” This phrase is one of Anselm’s many contributions to Christian theology and serves as a rallying cry for theologians everywhere, touching on the relationship between faith and reason that we inevitably encounter when we strive to love God with our whole minds (Matt. 22:37). There are many directions to go when talking about something as comprehensive as human reason, but for this post let’s focus on Anselm’s reframing of the relationship between faith and reason. Such a relationship, while certainly essential, is nevertheless one fraught with challenges. At first glance, a faith that talks about a God outside of time and space who came down to earth and died and rose again seems like a system that wants us to throw reason out the window. Additionally, we are unfortunately immersed in a theological culture in which reason and faith are pitted against one another, especially in the realm of science. In the wake of increasing hostility between science and religion our faith is seemingly determined by our willingness to refute scientific advancements or our ability to prove God’s existence. Reason, however, is not a tool with which to defend ourselves and attack our opponents. Theologians like Anselm have seen reason as complementary to faith because it enables us to grow in knowledge and love of God. And God encourages this very kind of activity! “Call to me, and I will answer you and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known” (Jer. 33:3). God is not threatened by our questioning but welcomes it. Michelangelo subtly alludes to that reality in The Creation of Adam, the cover photo for this post. His subtle message went unnoticed until 1990 when the physician Frank Meshberger noted that the flowing cloth behind God is shaped like a cross section of the human brain.[1] Since then, many have interpreted this to mean that God bestows to us intellect and the capacity to reason in the act of creation. Whether it's theological treatises or artistic masterpieces, rational capability has long been seen as a part of our very being and a gift from God. Reason is not a threat to our faith but a gateway to deeper relationship.

At this point I could write about all sorts of implications for what this complementary model means. We could endlessly discuss its implications for scientific discoveries or how we might view miracles, but I feel that those topics are best discussed in the context of conversation (feel free to use the comments to start those kinds of discussions!).[2] For now, however, I simply want to encourage us to have those discussions without fear. Asking questions about things like science and religion, difficult theological concepts like the Trinity, various interpretations of scripture, and changing theological landscapes is not a threat to our faith. In those conversations we are invited into an opportunity to use the gifts that God has given us to arrive at a deeper understanding of this wonderful creation and its Creator. This is a good thing, for it can humble us to hear from other perspectives and recognize with such humility that our relationship with God is not built on our superior intellect or argument. It is simply built on the reality that God loves us and reaches out to us. Thanks be to God, reason is not the litmus test of our faith or a tool with which to wage ideological wars. It is a means given to us to deepen our relationship with God and with one another.

[1] [2] If you really really want to hear my thoughts on topics like that, you probably will in the future. I find those kinds of topics incredibly interesting and will most likely write on them more specifically during the life of this blog. That being said, no need to wait if you don't want to! I'm always open to having those kinds of conversations anytime!

*Cover photo: The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo, 1508-1512

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