I was reading the preface of William of Auxerre (c. 1320)’s Summa Aurea and found some very nice thoughts on the relationship between faith and reason. His starting point is Hebrews 11:1- “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” In Latin, “evidence” is even more provocatively translated as argumentum. William comments:
“Faith rests in the First Truth intrinsically; therefore, nothing is more certain than faith. Since there’s nothing more certain than faith, it can’t be proven. That’s why the Apostle says that faith is the ‘argument,’ not the conclusion; the thing that proves, not the thing that is proven.”
Faith gets us in touch with the Truth directly. Reasoning relies on arguments, and it never gets you into contact with God anyway. So in a sense faith is more certain and more reliable than reason. In fact, William says that it’s the most certain item of knowledge we have access to. This is why it can’t be proven- there’s nothing more reliable than faith that you could use to prove it!
This bit about “proving” requires some explanation. Nowadays when we say something “can’t be proven” we mean that there’s no way to tell if it’s true. But that can’t always be right. After all, if to know A is true I need some proof B, and to know B is true I need some proof C, and to know C is true…. well, the chain would never end, and I’d never be able to know anything. Obviously anything you prove is also something you know is true, but it doesn’t work the other way around.
So the fact that faith can’t be proven doesn’t mean that it’s weaker than or inferior to other kinds of knowledge. Actually, there’s a sense in which it’s superior to them. It’s not that it lacks proof- it never needed it in the first place!
So why do philosophy or science, or think at all, if faith is better? For one thing, it isn’t better in every way. After all everything I just said wasn’t revealed to me by God- I couldn’t have come to the conclusion that faith was (partially) better than reason if I hadn’t used my reason in the first place. After all, William says that faith is an argument rather than a conclusion, or “what proves” rather than “what is proven” (the Latin is- of course- more elegant: faith is probans, not probata). This means that faith can be the starting point for reasoning, precisely because it’s not the end-point of a chain of argument. Faith combined with reason is productive and dynamic, not just a static set of beliefs.
What about evidence for articles of faith? If faith is superior to reason, what’s the point of those? William gives another answer by drawing an analogy with material goods:
“In the end, God won’t be enjoyed because of earthly goods, but those goods increase love and strengthen it in those who have it. They are motive and provocative causes for the love of God. Likewise, natural reasoning increases and strengthens faith.”
In other news, there was a parade outside my apartment today! My window faces away from the street, so at first I thought it was a band practicing somewhere. After the mariachi and the Hindi music I wondered what kind of parties people threw around here in the middle of the afternoon. Then I stepped out the door to go grocery shopping and there it was! I didn’t get any pictures since I was too busy shopping. I did however make some decent applesauce and apple juice, and I took a picture of that: