The early Christian thinker, Tertullian, who wrote at a time of great fragility in the history of the Church, once famously asked: What has Athens to do with Jerusalem? In other words, what does reason have to do with faith?

Nearly two millennia later, our own impulses are often the same: “What does science, scholarship, and worldly wisdom have to do with being a faithful Catholic?” After all, we say, it’s so often in the name of science and ‘progress’ that the faith is forsaken. What could Athens possibly have to do with Jerusalem?

There’s a reason, of course, that we don’t speak of Tertullian much anymore. By the end of his life he had left the Church, which refused to accept his position that natural reason and supernatural faith are opposed. In fact, the Church was headed in quite the opposite direction. Clement of Alexandria expresses beautifully an early understanding of the marriage of faith and reason:

God is the cause of all good things; but of some primarily, as of the Old and the New Testament; and of others by consequence, as philosophy. Perchance, too, philosophy was given to the Greeks directly and primarily, till the Lord should call the Greeks.

Indeed, we can learn a lot from the wisdom of non-Christian thinkers – not the least of which is an appreciation of natural goodness, virtue, and knowledge. It was, after all, the ancient pagans who inspired great saints like Justin Martyr, Augustine and Thomas Aquinas to the heights of their apologiae of the faith. As Socrates said in his own Apology: The unexamined life is not worth living – and this rings true for pagans, atheists, and Christians alike.

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