Over the past days I was reminded several times of the importance of doing theology for Christians if they want to take their faith and their commitment in the world seriously. Fides quaerens intellectum. I would like to translate it as follows: out of itself, faith requires understanding (discernment, intelligent unwrapping). Very committed and saintly people may think it unimportant to reflect about the faith that sustains their commitment … This renders them vulnerable to serious abuse by people whom they trust, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer pointed out in his Nach Zehn Jahren, a reflection on the resistance to Nazi ideology that is usually published at the beginning of his letters from prison. Unreflected faith, that does not question what is the structure of what one believes or why one believes what one believes, can be easily manipulated.
Part of this understanding (discernment, intelligent unwrapping) required by faith concerns its inner logic, part touches on the interaction between faith (as attitude and content) and the reality in which we live and to which we commit. As the frames that originate in our faith structure reality, the latter in turn critically clarifies the former. Sometimes such reality hits us in a hard way and tests our capacity for compassion, in the suffering of people: this suffering questions whatever frame of reference we use.
A reflection on the word “understanding” is also necessary. What are the criteria that we use to qualify our understanding? When do we consider our argumentations to be proof of real understanding? We may very well have a too narrow view on the meaning of “understanding”, demanding that it be “scientific” as sciences are. We may then be looking for an argumentation that would convince us – because it is scientifically acceptable – of what we believe. Although argumentation that withstands the test of convincing communication is a necessity, this does still require a reflection on what a good “argumentation” would be. It seems to me that, in the case of faith, we cannot demand an argumentation of the type of a mathematical proof. This means, therefore, that the argumentation (understanding, discernment) of faith experiences and the commitments in reality that are connected to them, is broader than “proof” and also includes the unwrapping (laying bare) of the structure of experiences, a process that may need narrative approaches.