The fourth seminar of the ‘Understanding and Christian Doctrine’ project took place on 21 April 2015 in the Theology and Religion Department of Durham University. Dr. Andrew Moore, Research Fellow at Regents Park Oxford, presented a paper entitled “What is it for Faith to Seek Understanding?”
Moore took us into Anselm’s Proslogion. Anselm exhorts himself to abandon himself to God, and to seek God’s face. But ‘God exists in light inaccessible’, so how shall he seek him. Anselm desires what it seems he cannot have, and this desire itself is the product of the one whom he cannot have. He seems only to have received confusion, and cries out from the depths of that confusion. Anselm offers this prayer: “Teach me to seek you, and reveal yourself to me as I seek, because I can neither seek you if you do not teach me how, nor find you unless you reveal yourself. Let me seek you in desiring you; let me desire you in seeking you; let me find you in loving you; let me love you in finding you…For I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this too I believe, that "unless I believe, I shall not understand.’” At this point, Importuning complaint becomes prayer that is its own answer.
In exploring the relationship between faith and reason suggested by Anselm’s work, Moore turned aside from the familiar path of depicting faith and reason as two distinct realities standing over against one another and needing to be related. For Anselm, faith does not (for instance) need reason to defend or secure it, perhaps to move it from the realm of opinion to the realm of knowledge. For Anselm, faith is already secure knowledge given to us by God, but this gift contains within it a desire for deepening understanding, and reason guided by God can serve that native impetus of faith, thus gladdening the heart of the believer. Whatever may be the case with other forms of understanding, the understanding sought by faith is as much a gift of God as is faith itself. The understanding sought by faith is, in this way, unique.
At this point, Moore introduced a third element into the mix with faith and reason– authority. He argued that, for Anselm, human reason is an instrument not a judge, a servant not a master; it traces the rationality of God. Understanding is the reasoned unfolding of the rational coherence of the faith; it is a participation in the life of God, an exploration of the same reality that is given to faith and communicated in scripture and the teaching of the church. It can display the coherence, the fittingness of the things of faith: the things already known by faith.
Moore then asked whether the understanding delivered by reason in this way results in an advance in our knowledge. Does the person who gains this understanding know more of God than someone who does not? Moore argued that, instead, the deliveries of reason used in this way help us to better participate in the sacraments, worship, and prayer – the practices by which God is known. In this view, for instance, the statements of Nicea were given in order to articulate what the scripture already teaches, not to plumb the depths of the divine nature. Thus understanding does not involve knowing any more than the simple believer, but it might involve knowing more articulately, and being kept from falling into certain kinds of error by a grasp of the coherence of what is known.
Summary by Michael Raubach and Mike Higton