Pope warns Church to guard against culture of despair

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The Independent Online
THE POPE today condemns certain aspects of modern philosophy that he feels have brought society close to despair.

In his new 150-page encyclical, Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason), published to coincide with the 20th anniversary of his papacy, Pope John Paul II criticises the "fateful separation" of theology and philosophy - or faith and reason - which he says is a hallmark of the 20th century.

"At the end of this century, one of our greatest threats is the temptation to despair," the Pope says. The challenge, as he presents it, is "to lead people to discover both their capacity to know the truth and their yearning for the ultimate and definitive meaning of life".

The Pope has traced the development of a cultural situation that has led to the separation of faith and reason. He says he has chosen to survey Western thought from Plato through St Augustine to Marxism because "at the present time in particular, the search for ultimate truth seems often to be neglected". His aim is to give people fresh confidence.

The publication of Fides et Ratio fits in with the Pope's general aim to reiterate traditional church attitudes in the final years of his papacy.

In his 1993 encyclical, Veritatis Splendor (the Splendour of the Truth), the Pope pointed to a number of moral truths that had been forgotten or misunderstood. Fides et Ratio goes one step further back and looks at the philosophical basis for the discussion of moral truth. The Pope looks at philosophy's role in examining fundamental questions such as where life comes from, the existence of evil and whether there is life after death.

The document does not tackle these issues, but considers the intellectual tools that philosophers need to engage with them. He calls for philosophy to rediscover metaphysics, the study of being and of abstract ideas.

A statement from the Vatican that accompanies the encyclical describes the document's ultimate message as: "Truth and freedom either go together hand in hand or together they perish in misery."

The statement continues: "Fides et Ratio is a powerful call from John Paul II, aimed at stirring the conscience of all who are concerned about man's true freedom. The Pope insists that this freedom can be found and kept safe only if the journey towards the truth remains always open and accessible to everyone everywhere."