Faith Seeking Understanding. Anselm. Luther

Over the centuries members of the Christian Church have struggled to understand and apply the relationship between faith and reason. For example, many Scholastic theologians during the Middle Ages taught that faith and reason were fully compatible. Luther and other Reformers argued that reason always went too far in trying to resolve the tensions that arise between faith and reason.

Reason usually does not want to follow faith but ends up having faith in itself—a form of idolatry. When this happens, reason stops being reasonable and becomes doubt and skepticism. As a philosophy, skepticism has been very attractive to some thinkers over the centuries (e.g., Cynics, Cartesians) but most people have never broadly embraced skepticism as a philosophy of life. Why? They sense that there’s something impossible and unreasonable about living in constant doubt. As I pointed out earlier, trust—faith—is not a luxury or a delusion. We are born dependent on others. We are born requiring trust in order to survive. We are designed to live by faith and by reason. Casting aside one or the other leads to disaster.

The motto of St. Anselm (c 1033–1109), “Faith seeking understanding,” provided a helpful warning to the early scholastic thinkers. It reminded them and us to live by faith and exercise reason with due humility. A famous saying of Martin Luther (1483–1546) builds on these important themes. When confronted by a council at Worms, Germany, and asked to recant of his teachings, Luther is reported to have said:

Unless I can be instructed and convinced with evidence from the Holy Scriptures or with open, clear, and distinct grounds and reasoning—and my conscience is captive to the Word of God—then I cannot and will not recant, because it is neither wise nor safe to act against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God’s help me! Amen.

Martin Luther supported the use of what we call sound reasoning but emphasized the Holy Scriptures, the Word of God, as the basis for faith and our relationship to God and His creation. So, we approach the Holy Scripture and life with our reason serving—not ruling—our faith so that we might believe and understanding. God help us! Amen.

Medieval

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