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Fides et ratio, the encyclical with which John Paul II marked the twentieth anniversary of his papacy, has a message for a searching, thinking, believing church and a searching, thinking, sometimes believing, sometimes doubting, sometimes despairing world. Both messages provide the kind of common ground that could unite Catholics, not in unanimity perhaps but in fruitful dialogue and initiative.

The pope's message to the world? The human heart is haunted by fundamental questions about life's meaning that cannot and should not go unaddressed. Human reason, especially when expanded and perfected by faith, is capable of revealing the deepest truths about life and human destiny.

Fides et ratio, in other words, is a frontal challenge to the cult of meaninglessness which may have legitimate roots in the bloodshed and cruelty of the twentieth century but which has often become as much the fashionable, unexamined stance of our time as sentimental optimism was of the nineteenth century.

Catholics are pretty much of one mind in rejecting this stance. They vary only in the degree of their awareness of the stark gulf that can separate them from some of their cultural peers or, if equally aware, in the particular mix of empathy, adaptation, and confrontation with which they think it best to communicate the Good News. Here, then, is common ground for fruitful dialogue among Catholic thinkers.

The pope's message to the church? The philosophical dimension of theological training must be strengthened because the complicated interaction between faith and reason requires a mutually supporting relationship between theology and philosophy. In this regard, the greatest potential for "original, new, and constructive" thinking lies with efforts to build on a tradition of Christian philosophizing, relating contemporary thought to a long and living heritage.

Fides et ratio notes that such rigorous analytic and speculative thinking, rooted in a long tradition, has been overshadowed since Vatican II by the renewal of Scripture studies and interest in sociology, psychology, comparative religion, and history. …

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