Faith, reason, and the saint that saved my faith

North Texas Catholic
(Nov 15, 2022) Faith-Inspiration

A painting of the St. Albert the Great on the ceiling of Santa Maria dell'Anima in Rome. (Flickr/Lawrence OP)

Looking back, my Confirmation was not a sure thing. At the time, I was undergoing a serious crisis of faith, perhaps in the most literal sense. Suddenly, I found myself unable to pray the Our Father during Mass. As a person of integrity, how could I recite verses that I wasn’t sure I believed? I felt like a house burning down from the inside out, and I was afraid that someone might catch a glimpse of a flame flickering from between my teeth.

I can pinpoint the moment after which that all changed. I stumbled across a biographical article on a saint I had never heard of. That saint was Albert the Great, Patron of Scientists.

Patron of Scientists. Those three words saved my faith. It may not seem like much, but it was exactly what I needed to see.

It was the tired old debate: science versus religion; skepticism versus belief; faith versus reason; which had been, like a metastasizing tumor, slowly infecting my perception of the Church and disassembling the worldview I had theretofore taken for granted, brick by painful brick. To my adolescent mind, there seemed to be no solid way to dovetail these two things: faith and reason. Substitute water and oil, or two magnets of like charge.

Yet there he was. Saint Albert the Great, Patron of Scientists. Clearly, I had missed something.

That something was the knowledge that, at the most fundamental level, my conceptions of faith and reason were intrinsically flawed. I had fallen, hook, line, and sinker, for the popular narrative regarding faith, which amounts to nothing more than a series of tragic vignettes, in which various people can be seen blindfolding themselves before confidently striding off a cliff, deaf to the shouts and admonitions of their sighted companions.

I have since come to learn, under the tutelage of men like St. Albert and his more-famous-by-far student, St. Thomas Aquinas, that reason, rather than being a stumbling block, is to be used as a tool to strengthen our faith.

St. Albert was known even during his own time as “the Great.” A Dominican priest (and eventually bishop), with a voracious appetite for learning, Albert was one of the first truly scientific minds, in the modern sense. Able to discourse at length on subjects ranging from Aristotelian philosophy to the anatomy of bees, there was no limit to his curiosity. It could be said that he pioneered the use of what would eventually come to be conceptualized as the “scientific method,” recognizing the benefit of individual experience and replicability in the search for the truth.[1]

Here was a man whose intellect clearly remained undimmed, even when placed adjacent to the most ardent of faiths. So why should it be different with me?

In his encyclical entitled Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason), Saint Pope John Paul II asserts:

“Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth – in a word, to know Himself…”

In this way, faith and reason cannot, by their very nature as dual gifts from a benevolent Creator, be opposed to one another. We must choose to view them as such.

I’ll leave you with an analogy I feel may be beneficial: imagine your intellect, your reason, as a fire burning in the hearth of a mountain cabin. Outside, the wind is howling and screaming; it is the dead of winter. Occasionally, you hear your house creak and buckle under the buffeting of the snow-laden gusts. Your first duty is to keep the fire burning, but at a reasonable level. If the hearth is well constructed out of a sturdy, fire-resistant material, such as stone, the flames will be contained, and the whole house will benefit from its warmth.

Our intellects should be tended much the same way. A healthy intellect keeps the home of our souls warm and inviting, supportive of life and spirit. But if an intellect is left unsupported, without a solid stone hearth of faith in which to enshrine it, we may very well find ourselves out in the cold.

So go ahead and think. Don’t be afraid of curiosity. Examine both the world around you and the world within you. Examine your faith. How deep are its roots? Is it being neglected? And whatever you do, keep the fire burning.

[1] Schwertner, Fr. Thomas. St. Albert the Great: The First Universal Doctor. Mediatrix Press, 2018.

Faith, reason, Catholic, St. Albert the Great, saint, Doctor of the Church, trending-english