Sunday, August 28, 2016

Reading #18: Pierre Bayle: Fideism

From The Third Clarification 

1.  What is incontestable about religion?
2.  What is the basis of authority for religious knowledge?
3.  What is the difference between reason, or the natural light, and revelation?  Why is revelation needed?
4.  How is revelation to be understood?
5.  What philosophers are especially to be avoided?  Give the argument from Bayle that shows these philosophers are self-refuting. What other implications follow from this type of argument?
6. Why can't philosophy help in attaining wisdom and what can?  How can wisdom be identified?
7.  What is faith?  Why is it needed?  What is its relationship to objections from reason?

As the basis of this third clarification, I set fourth at the outset this certain and incontestable maxim that the Christian religion is of a supernatural kind, and that it's basic component is the supreme authority of God proposing mystery to us, not so that we may understand them, but so that we may believe them with all the humility that is due to the infinite being, who can neither deceive nor be deceived. This is the polar star of all the discussions and all the disputes about the articles of religion that God has revealed to us through Jesus Christ.

From this it necessarily follows that the tribunal of philosophy is incompetent to judge controversies between Christians, since they are to be carried only to the tribunal of revelation.

Every dispute about the question religious prerogatives ought to be rejected from the very first word. No one ought to be allowed to examine whether it is necessary to believe what God orders us to believe. This ought to be accepted as a first principle in matters of religion. It is up to the metaphysicians to examine whether there is a God and whether he is infallible; but Christians, insofar as they are Christians, ought to suppose that this is something already decided.

Then it is only a question of fact, namely, whether God requires that we believe this or that. Two sorts of people can have doubts about this, some because they do not believe the Scripture is divine, others because they do not believe that 
the sense of Scripture is such and such. 

Every dispute, then, the Christians can engage in with the philosophers is on this question of fact, whether Scripture was inspired by God. If the proofs offered by the Christians on this subject do not convince the philosophers, the controversy is to be discontinued.


Now, of all the philosophers who are not to be permitted to dispute about the mysteries of Christianity until they have accepted revelation as a criterion, there are none as unworthy of being heard as the followers of Pyrrhonism; for they are people who profess to acknowledge no certain sign that distinguishes the true from the false; so that if, by chance, they come across the truth, they can never be sure that it was the truth. They are not satisfied with opposing the testimony of the senses, the maxims of morality, the rules of logic, and the axioms of metaphysics.


All ages have required and will require that knowledge of the revealed truths be sought by different means than knowledge of philosophy. Philosophy does not cure the mental wavering that ought to be cured if one hopes by prayer to obtain true wisdom. 


Nothing is more necessary than faith, and nothing is more important than to make people aware of the price of this theological virtue. Now, what is there that is more suitable for making us aware of this than meditating on the attitude that distinguishes it from the other acts of the understanding? It's essence consists in binding us to the revealed truth by a strong conviction, and in binding us to them solely by the motive of God's authority. Those who believe in the immortality of the soul on the basis of philosophical reasons are orthodox, but so far they have no share in the faith of which they are speaking. They only have a share in it insofar as they believe this doctrine because God has revealed it to us, and they submit humbly to the voice of God everything that philosophy presents to them that is most plausible for convincing them of the immortality of the soul. Thus, the merit of faith becomes greater in proportion as the revealed truth that is its object surpasses all the powers of our mind; for, as the incomprehensibility of this object increases by the greater number of maxims of the natural light that oppose it, we have to sacrifice to God's authority a stronger reluctance of reason; and consequently we show ourselves more submissive to God and we give him greater signs of our respect than if the item were only moderately difficult to believe.