Fides et Ratio lecture series celebrates 25th anniversary of encyclical

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Fr. Daniel Meconi, S.J., delivers his lecture on the papal encyclical “Fides et Ratio.” Photo by Gabriela McCausland.

On Thursday, Nov. 15, the University of Dallas theology and philosophy departments held the first lecture in a series commemorating the 25th anniversary of Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical “Fides et Ratio.

With a lineup of talks on the subject of faith and reason already in place, professors from the theology and philosophy departments unified these talks to create a lecture series celebrating the anniversary of John Paul II’s encyclical, according to philosophy professor Dr. Christopher Mirus.

Fr. David Meconi, S.J., an Augustine scholar and Director of the Catholic Studies Program at St. Louis University, gave the first lecture on Thursday, Nov. 15, titled “The Ultimate Appeal to Humanity: ‘Fides et Ratio’ and the Fulfillment of All Desire.”

Meconi divided his talk into three parts. The first focused on the codependence of human reason and divine revelation. The second focused on Jesus Christ, who, Meconi said, shows us how to be fully human. Finally, Meconi wrapped up his lecture by emphasizing the importance of recovering objective truth.

John Paul II’s “Fides et Ratio” calls for an integration of faith in God with the study of science and philosophy. These subjects are often seen as contradictory, but John Paul II argues that they actually complement each other and together help us come closer to the truth.

Accordingly, as Provost Dr. Jonathan Sanford wrote in an email to undergraduates on Monday, Nov. 12, introducing the lecture series, the encyclical helps Catholic universities have better “direction and self-understanding.”

Sanford sees “Fides et Ratio” as especially relevant for universities.

‘Fides et Ratio’ is the perfect complement to JP II’s apostolic constitution, ‘Ex Corde Ecclesiae’ (1990),” Sanford wrote. “ECE makes clear how all universities, whether Catholic or not, draw a certain inspiration from the idea of a university, an idea born from the heart of the Church. To study, to write, to experiment, to teach, to mentor and to do each of the other things that are part and parcel to the work of universities is to labor in service to the discovery and sharing of the truth.”

According to Sanford, ECE encourages Catholic universities to have, if not a chair of theology, a whole Theology Department. “Fides et Ratio” responds to the objection that theology weakens a university because it is contrary to science and philosophy.

“The truths of faith are not only not incompatible with the truths of reason, they complement, strengthen, and magnify those truths,” Sanford wrote. “Thus, Catholic universities find in these two documents, not only recommendations for their structure, but marching orders for their work: to advance the study of beings in every discipline, including theology, and to reflect at length on how the truth of all beings fits together.”

Mirus said that the lectures call for an opening up to different disciplines in order to have a well-rounded pursuit of truth.

“The larger issue is an issue of integrating our intellectual life by opening ourselves up to truth in all its forms, rather than picking and choosing the kind of truths we like … really thinking about how everything fits together,” Mirus said.

One thing the encyclical helps Catholics come to terms with, according to Mirus, is natural science.

“Obviously the relation between faith and natural science is for us a hot button area,” Mirus said. “But I think a lot of people would say that you can’t really have a fruitful dialogue between science and religion without philosophy as a mediator, because otherwise where do you find a vocabulary for the two to talk to each other?”

Sanford stated that when he first read the encyclical, it was a source of inspiration for him as a philosopher.

“The encyclical endeavors to show how all genuine inquiry into the nature of things is born from a sense of wonder which is rooted in each human spirit,” Sanford wrote. “To seek the truth is to exercise one’s humanity. That insight helped me to frame my work as a philosopher.”

Other upcoming lectures include a lecture hosted by the theology and philosophy departments on creation and evolution, which will be given by Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, O.P., on Tuesday, Feb. 19, followed by a talk on bioethics the next morning, and a lecture hosted by the Theology Department on John Paul II by Stephen Barr, a physicist and president of the Society of Catholic Scientists, on Thursday, Feb. 28 in the SB Hall Multipurpose Room.

“I would say maybe the most important thing that could happen from the lecture series is that a student would actually decide to go and read the encyclical, which is not incredibly long and is reasonably accessible,” Mirus concluded.

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