Tuesday, May 17, 2011

On Faith

Thank God for Catholic Encyclopedia, really. It has always had the answers to all my questions (well, almost.) Sometimes it's just good to read through the articles. There are many little gems I always end up requoting, storing away in the card-catalog of my mind these little references which address very specific questions that come up in discussion.

But often the encyclopedic format means that no words are wasted and it's really just best to read whole articles; this is really how I've acquired my knowledge of all things Catholic, and sometimes I am amazed (and frustrated with myself) that I hadn't read an article earlier, realizing it could have saved me a lot of angst or confusion. Sometimes I wish I had the Encyclopedia in hard form so that I could write notes in the margins.

Today I found the article on "Faith" to be very illuminating, so much so that it's really hard to resist the temptation to not just post it in full. Instead, I'll just quote most of it, lol:

Now intellectual knowledge may be defined in a general way as the union between the intellect and an intelligible object. But a truth is intelligible to us only in so far as it is evident to us, and evidence is of different kinds; hence, according to the varying character of the evidence, we shall have varying kinds of knowledge. Thus a truth may be self-evident — e.g. the whole is greater than its part — in which case we are said to have intuitive knowledge of it; or the truth may not be self-evident, but deducible from premises in which it is contained — such knowledge is termed reasoned knowledge; or again a truth may be neither self-evident nor deducible from premises in which it is contained, yet the intellect may be obliged to assent to it because It would else have to reject some other universally accepted truth; lastly, the intellect may be induced to assent to a truth for none of the foregoing reasons, but solely because, though not evident in itself, this truth rests on grave authority — for example, we accept the statement that the sun is 90,000,000 miles distant from the earth because competent, veracious authorities vouch for the fact. This last kind of knowledge is termed faith, and is clearly necessary in daily life. If the authority upon which we base our assent is human and therefore fallible, we have human and fallible faith; if the authority is Divine, we have Divine and infallible faith. If to this be added the medium by which the Divine authority for certain statements is put before us, viz. the Catholic Church, we have Divine-Catholic Faith.

Again, evidence, whatever its source, may be of various degrees and so cause greater or less firmness of adhesion on the part of the mind which assents to a truth. Thus arguments or authorities for and against a truth may be either wanting or evenly balanced, in this case the intellect does not give in its adherence to the truth, but remains in a state of doubt or absolute suspension of judgment; or the arguments on one side may predominate; though not to the exclusion of those on the other side; in this case we have not complete adhesion of the intellect to the truth in question but only opinion. Lastly, the arguments or authorities brought forward may be so convincing that the mind gives its unqualified assent to the statement proposed and has no fear whatever lest it should not be true; this state of mind is termed certitude, and is the perfection of knowledge. Divine faith, then, is that form of knowledge which is derived from Divine authority, and which consequently begets absolute certitude in the mind of the recipient.

That such Divine faith is necessary, follows from the fact of Divine revelation. For revelation means that the Supreme Truth has spoken to man and revealed to him truths which are not in themselves evident to the human mind. We must, then, either reject revelation altogether, or accept it by faith; that is, we must submit our intellect to truths which we cannot understand, but which come to us on Divine authority.

And yet we assent to it by faith, consequently upon evidence which is extrinsic and not intrinsic to the truth we are accepting. But there can be no evidence commensurate with such a mystery save the Divine testimony itself, and this constitutes the motive for our assent to the mystery, and is, in scholastic language, the objectum formale quo of our assent. If then, we are asked why we believe with Divine faith any Divine truth, the only adequate answer must be because God has revealed it.

We may point out in this connexion the falsity of the prevalent notion that faith is blind. "We believe", says the Vatican Council (III, iii), "that revelation is true, not indeed because the intrinsic truth of the mysteries is clearly seen by the natural light of reason, but because of the authority of God Who reveals them, for He can neither deceive nor be deceived." Thus, to return to the act of faith which we make in the Holy Trinity, we may formulate it in syllogistic fashion thus: Whatever God reveals is true but God has revealed the mystery of the Holy Trinity therefore this mystery is true. The major premise is indubitable and intrinsically evident to reason; the minor premise is also true because it is declared to us by the infallible Church, and also because, as the Vatican Council says, "in addition to the internal assistance of His Holy Spirit, it has pleased God to give us certain external proofs of His revelation, viz. certain Divine facts, especially miracles and prophecies, for since these latter clearly manifest God's omnipotence and infinite knowledge, they afford most certain proofs of His revelation and are suited to the capacity of all." Hence St. Thomas says: "A man would not believe unless he saw the things he had to believe, either by the evidence of miracles or of something similar" (II-II:1:4, ad 1). The saint is here speaking of the motives of credibility.


When we speak of the motives of credibility of revealed truth we mean the evidence that the things asserted are revealed truths. In other words, the credibility of the statements made is correlative with and proportionate to the credentials of the authority who makes them. Now the credentials of God are indubitable, for the very idea of God involves that of omniscience and of the Supreme Truth. Hence, what God says is supremely credible, though not necessarily supremely intelligible for us. Here, however, the real question is not as to the credentials of God or the credibility of what He says, but as to the credibility of the statement that God has spoken. In other words who or what is the authority for this statement, and what credentials does this authority show? What are the motives of credibility of the statement that God has revealed this or that?

These motives of credibility may be briefly stated as follows: in the Old Testament considered not as an inspired book, but merely as a book having historical value, we find detailed the marvellous dealings of God with a particular nation to whom He repeatedly reveals Himself; we read of miracles wrought in their favour and as proofs of the truth of the revelation He makes; we find the most sublime teaching and the repeated announcement of God's desire to save the world from sin and its consequences. And more than all we find throughout the pages of this book a series of hints, now obscure, now clear, of some wondrous person who is to come as the world's saviour; we find it asserted at one time that he is man, at others that he is God Himself. When we turn to the New Testament we find that it records the birth, life, and death of One Who, while clearly man, also claimed to be God, and Who proved the truth of His claim by His whole life, miracles, teachings, and death, and finally by His triumphant resurrection. We find, moreover, that He founded a Church which should, so He said, continue to the end of time, which should serve as the repository of His teaching, and should be the means of applying to all men the fruits of the redemption He had wrought. When we come to the subsequent history of this Church we find it speedily spreading everywhere, and this in spite of its humble origin, its unworldly teaching, and the cruel persecution which it meets at the hands of the rulers of this world. And as the centuries pass we find this Church battling against heresies schisms, and the sins of her own people—nay, of her own rulers—and yet continuing ever the same, promulgating ever the same doctrine, and putting before men the same mysteries of the life, death and resurrection of the world's Saviour, Who had, so she taught, gone before to prepare a home for those who while on earth should have believed in Him and fought the good fight. But if the history of the Church since New-Testament times thus wonderfully confirms the New Testament itself, and if the New Testament so marvellously completes the Old Testament, these books must really contain what they claim to contain, viz. Divine revelation. And more than all, that Person Whose life and death were so minutely foretold in the Old Testament, and Whose story, as told in the New Testament, so perfectly corresponds with its prophetic delineation in the Old Testament, must be what He claimed to be, viz. the Son of God. His work, therefore, must be Divine. The Church which He founded must also be Divine and the repository and guardian of His teaching. Indeed, we can truly say that for every truth of Christianity which we believe Christ Himself is our testimony, and we believe in Him because the Divinity He claimed rests upon the concurrent testimony of His miracles, His prophecies His personal character, the nature of His doctrine, the marvellous propagation of His teaching in spite of its running counter to flesh and blood, the united testimony of thousands of martyrs, the stories of countless saints who for His sake have led heroic lives, the history of the Church herself since the Crucifixion, and, perhaps more remarkable than any, the history of the papacy from St. Peter to Pius X.

These testimonies are unanimous; they all point in one direction, they are of every age, they are clear and simple, and are within the grasp of the humblest intelligence. And, as the Vatican Council has said, "the Church herself, is, by her marvellous propagation, her wondrous sanctity, her inexhaustible fruitfulness in good works, her Catholic unity, and her enduring stability, a great and perpetual motive of credibility and an irrefragable witness to her Divine commission" (Const. Dei Filius) . "The Apostles", says St. Augustine, "saw the Head and believed in the Body; we see the Body let us believe in the Head" [Sermo ccxliii, 8 (al. cxliii), de temp., P.L., V 1143]. Every believer will echo the words of Richard of St. Victor, "Lord, if we are in error, by Thine own self we have been deceived—for these things have been confirmed by such signs and wonders in our midst as could only have been done by Thee!" (de Trinitate, 1, cap. ii).

But much misunderstanding exists regarding the meaning and office of the motives of credibility. In the first place, they afford us definite and certain knowledge of Divine revelation; but this knowledge precedes faith; it is not the final motive for our assent to the truths of faith—as St. Thomas says, "Faith has the character of a virtue, not because of the things it believes, for faith is of things that appear not, but because it adheres to the testimony of one in whom truth is infallibly found" (De Veritate, xiv, 8); this knowledge of revealed truth which precedes faith can only beget human faith it is not even the cause of Divine faith (cf. Francisco Suárez, be Fide disp. iii, 12), but is rather to be considered a remote disposition to it. We must insist upon this because in the minds of many faith is regarded as a more or less necessary consequence of a careful study of the motives of credibility, a view which the Vatican Council condemns expressly: "If anyone says that the assent of Christian faith is not free, but that it necessarily follows from the arguments which human reason can furnish in its favour; or if anyone says that God's grace is only necessary for that living faith which worketh through charity, let him be anathema" (Sess. IV). Nor can the motives of credibility make the mysteries of faith clear in themselves, for, as St. Thomas says, "the arguments which induce us to believe, e.g. miracles, do not prove the faith itself, but only the truthfulness of him who declares it to us, and consequently they do not beget knowledge of faith's mysteries, but only faith" (in Sent., III, xxiv, Q. i, art. 2, sol. 2, ad 4). On the other hand, we must not minimize the real probative force of the motives of credibility within their true sphere—"Reason declares that from the very outset the Gospel teaching was rendered conspicuous by signs and wonders which gave, as it were, definite proof of a definite truth" (Leo XIII, Æterni Patris).

The Church has twice condemned the view that faith ultimately rests on an accumulation of probabilities. Thus the proposition, "The assent of supernatural faith . . is consistent with merely probable knowledge of revelation" was condemned by Innocent XI in 1679 (cf. Denzinger, Enchiridion, 10th ed., no. 1171); and the Syllabus Lamentabili sane (July, 1907) condemns the proposition (XXV) that "the assent of faith rests ultimately on an accumulation of probabilities." But since the great name of Newman has been dragged into the controversy regarding this last proposition, we may point out that, in the Grammar of Assent (chap. x, sect. 2), Newman refers solely to the proof of faith afforded by the motives of credibility, and he rightly concludes that, since these are not demonstrative, this line of proof may be termed "an accumulation of probabilities". But it would be absurd to say that Newman therefore based the final assent of faith on this accumulation—as a matter of fact he is not here making an analysis of an act of faith, but only of the grounds for faith; the question of authority does not come into his argument (cf. McNabb, Oxford Conferences on Faith, pp. 121-122).


Again, it is evident that this "light of faith" is a supernatural gift and is not the necessary outcome of assent to the motives of credibility. No amount of study will win it, no intellectual conviction as to the credibility of revealed religion nor even of the claims of the Church to be our infallible guide in matters of faith, will produce this light in a man's mind. It is the free gift of God. Hence the Vatican Council (III, iii;) teaches that "faith is a supernatural virtue by which we with the inspiration and assistance of God's grace, believe those things to be true which He has revealed". The same decree goes on to say that "although the assent of faith is in no sense blind, yet no one can assent to the Gospel teaching in the way necessary for salvation without the illumination of the Holy Spirit, Who bestows on all a sweetness in believing and consenting to the truth". Thus, neither as regards the truth believed nor as regards the motives for believing, nor as regards the subjective principle by which we believe — viz. the infused light — can faith be considered blind.

The place of the will in an act of faith. — So far we have seen that faith is an act of the intellect assenting to a truth which is beyond its grasp, e.g. the mystery of the Holy Trinity. But to many it will seem almost as futile to ask the intellect to assent to a proposition which is not intrinsically evident as it would be to ask the eye to see a sound. It is clear, however, that the intellect can be moved by the will either to study or not to study a certain truth, though if the truth be a self-evident one — e.g., that the whole is greater than its part — the will cannot affect the intellect's adhesion to it, it can, however, move it to think of something else, and thus distract it from the contemplation of that particular truth. If, now, the will moves the intellect to consider some debatable point—e.g. the Copernican and Ptolemaic theories of the relationship between the sun and the earth — it is clear that the intellect can only assent to one of these views in proportion as it is convinced that the particular view is true. But neither view has, as far as we can know, more than probable truth, hence of itself the intellect can only give in its partial adherence to one of these views, it must always be precluded from absolute assent by the possibility that the other view may be right. The fact that men hold much more tenaciously to one of these than the arguments warrant can only be due to some extrinsic consideration, e.g. that it is absurd not to hold what the vast majority of men hold. And here it should be noted that, as St. Thomas says repeatedly, the intellect only assents to a statement for one of two reasons: either because that statement is immediately or mediately evident in itself — e.g. a first principle or a conclusion from premises — or because the will moves it to do so. Extrinsic evidence of course comes into play when intrinsic evidence is wanting, but though it would be absurd, without weighty evidence in its support, to assent to a truth which we do not grasp, yet no amount of such evidence can make us assent, it could only show that the statement in question was credible, our ultimate actual assent could only be due to the intrinsic evidence which the statement itself offered, or, failing that, due to the will. Hence it is that St. Thomas repeatedly defines the act of faith as the assent of the intellect determined by the will (De Veritate, xiv, 1; II-II, Q. ii, a. 1, ad 3; 2, c.; ibid., iv, 1, c., and ad 2). The reason, then, why men cling to certain beliefs more tenaciously than the arguments in their favour would warrant, is to be sought in the will rather than in the intellect. Authorities are to be found on both sides, the intrinsic evidence is not convincing, but something is to be gained by assenting to one view rather than the other, and this appeals to the will, which therefore determines the intellect to assent to the view which promises the most. Similarly, in Divine faith the credentials of the authority which tells us that God has made certain revelations are strong, but they are always extrinsic to the proposition, "God has revealed this or that", and consequently they cannot compel our assent; they merely show us that this statement is credible. When, then, we ask whether we are to give in our free assent to any particular statement or not, we feel that in the first place we cannot do so unless there be strong extrinsic evidence in its favour, for to believe a thing merely because we wished to do so would be absurd. Secondly, the proposition itself does not compel our assent, since it is not intrinsically evident, but there remains the fact that only on condition of our assent to it shall we have what the human soul naturally yearns for, viz., the possession of God, Who is, as both reason and authority declare, our ultimate end; "He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved", and "Without faith it is impossible to please God." St. Thomas expresses this by saying: "The disposition of a believer is that of one who accepts another's word for some statement, because it seems fitting or useful to do so. In the same way we believe Divine revelation because the reward of eternal life is promised us for so doing. It is the will which is moved by the prospect of this reward to assent to what is said, even though the intellect is not moved by something which it understands. Hence St. Augustine says (Tract. xxvi in Joannem, 2): Cetera potest homo nolens, credere nonnisi volens' [i.e. other things a man can do against his will but to believe he must will]" (De Ver., xiv, 1).

But just as the intellect needed a new and special light in order to assent to the supernatural truths of faith, so also the will needs a special grace from God in order that it may tend to that supernatural good which is eternal life. The light of faith, then, illumines the understanding, though the truth still remains obscure, since it is beyond the intellect's grasp; but supernatural grace moves the will, which, having now a supernatural good put before it, moves the intellect to assent to what it does not understand. Hence it is that faith is described as "bringing into captivity every understanding unto the obedience of Christ"

The foregoing analyses will enable us to define an act of Divine supernatural faith as "the act of the intellect assenting to a Divine truth owing to the movement of the will, which is itself moved by the grace of God" (St. Thomas, II-II, Q. iv, a. 2). And just as the light of faith is a gift supernaturally bestowed upon the understanding, so also this Divine grace moving the will is, as its name implies, an equally supernatural and an absolutely gratuitous gift. Neither gift is due to previous study neither of them can be acquired by human efforts, but "Ask and ye shall receive."


temptations against faith are natural and inevitable and are in no sense contrary to faith, "since", says St. Thomas, "the assent of the intellect in faith is due to the will, and since the object to which the intellect thus assents is not its own proper object — for that is actual vision of an intelligible object — it follows that the intellect's attitude towards that object is not one of tranquillity, on the contrary it thinks and inquires about those things it believes, all the while that it assents to them unhesitatingly; for as far as it itself is concerned the intellect is not satisfied" (De Ver., xiv, 1).


And at the risk of repetition we must again draw attention to the distinction between faith as a purely intellectual habit, which as such is dry and barren, and faith resident, indeed, in the intellect, but motived by charity or love of God, Who is our beginning, our ultimate end, and our supernatural reward. "Every true motion of the will", says St. Augustine, "proceeds from true love" [...] If we regard faith precisely as an assent elicited by the intellect, then this bare faith is the same habit numerically as when the informing principle of charity is added to it, but it has not the true character of a moral virtue and is not a source of merit. If, then, charity be dead — if, in other words, a man be in mortal sin and so without the habitual sanctifying grace of God which alone gives to his will that due tendency to God as his supernatural end which is requisite for supernatural and meritorious acts — it is evident that there is no longer in the will that power by which it can, from supernatural motives, move the intellect to assent to supernatural truths. The intellectual and Divinely infused habit of faith remains, however, and when charity returns this habit acquires anew the character of "living" and meritorious faith.

Again, faith being a virtue, it follows that a man's promptitude in believing will make him love the truths he believes, and he will therefore study them, not indeed in the spirit of doubting inquiry, but in order the better to grasp them as far as human reason will allow. Such inquiry will be meritorious and will render his faith more robust, because, at the same time that he is brought face to face with the intellectual difficulties which are involved, he will necessarily exercise his faith and repeatedly "bring his intellect into submission". Thus St. Augustine says, "What can be the reward of faith, what can its very name mean if you wish to see now what you believe? You ought not to see in order to believe, you ought to believe in order to see; you ought to believe so long as you do not see, lest when you do see you may be put to the blush" (Sermo, xxxviii, 2, P.L., V, 236). And it is in this sense we must understand his oft-repeated words: "Crede ut intelligas" (Believe that you may understand).


Many receive their faith in their infancy, to others it comes later in life, and its genesis is often misunderstood. [...] we may describe the genesis of faith in the adult mind somewhat as follows: Man being endowed with reason, reasonable investigation must precede faith; now we can prove by reason the existence of God, the immortality of the soul, and the origin and destiny of man; but from these facts there follows the necessity of religion, and true religion must be the true worship of the true God not according to our ideas, but according to what He Himself has revealed. But can God reveal Himself to us? And, granting that He can, where is this revelation to be found? The Bible is said to contain it; does investigation confirm the Bible's claim? We will take but one point: the Old Testament looks forward, as we have already seen, to One Who is to come and Who is God; the New Testament shows us One Who claimed to be the fulfilment of the prophecies and to be God; this claim He confirmed by His life, death, and resurrection by His teaching, miracles, and prophecies. He further claimed to have founded a Church which should enshrine His revelation and should be the infallible guide for all who wished to carry out His will and save their souls. Which of the numerous existing Churches is His? It must have certain definite characteristics or notes. It must be One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic, it must claim infallible teaching power. None but the Holy, Roman, Catholic, and Apostolic Church can claim these characteristics, and her history is an irrefragable proof of her Divine mission. If, then, she be the true Church, her teaching must be infallible and must be accepted.

Now what is the state of the inquirer who has come thus far? He has proceeded by pure reason, and, if on the grounds stated he makes his submission to the authority of the Catholic Church and believes her doctrines, he has only human, reasonable, fallible, faith. Later on he may see reason to question the various steps in his line of argument, he may hesitate at some truth taught by the Church, and he may withdraw the assent he has given to her teaching authority. In other words, he has not Divine faith at all. For Divine faith is supernatural both in the principle which elicits the acts and in the objects or truths upon which it falls. The principle which elicits assent to a truth which is beyond the grasp of the human mind must be that same mind illumined by a light superior to the light of reason, viz. the light of faith, and since, even with this light of faith, the intellect remains human, and the truth to be believed remains still obscure, the final assent of the intellect must come from the will assisted by Divine grace, as seen above. But both this Divine light and this Divine grace are pure gifts of God, and are consequently only bestowed at His good pleasure. It is here that the heroism of faith comes in; our reason will lead us to the door of faith but there it leaves us; and God asks of us that earnest wish to believe for the sake of the reward — "I am thy reward exceeding great" — which will allow us to repress the misgivings of the intellect and say, "I believe, Lord, help Thou my unbelief."

When this act of submission has been made, the light of faith floods the soul and is even reflected back upon those very motives which had to be so laboriously studied in our search after the truth; and even those preliminary truths which precede all investigation e.g. the very existence of God, become now the object of our faith.


From what has been said touching the absolutely supernatural character of the gift of faith, it is easy to understand what is meant by the loss of faith. God's gift is simply withdrawn. And this withdrawal must needs be punitive, "Non enim deseret opus suum, si ab opere suo non deseratur" (St. Augustine, Enarration on Psalm 145 — "He will not desert His own work, if He be not deserted by His own work"). And when the light of faith is withdrawn, there inevitably follows a darkening of the mind regarding even the very motives of credibility which before seemed so convincing. This may perhaps explain why those who have had the misfortune to apostatize from the faith are often the most virulent in their attacks upon the grounds of faith; "Vae homini illi", says St. Augustine, "nisi et ipsius fidem Dominus protegat", i.e. "Woe be to a man unless the Lord safeguard his faith"


Hence, for all who possess it, this faith constitutes an absolute and unchanging bond of union. The teachings of this faith develop, of course, with the needs of the ages, but the faith itself remains unchanged. Modern views are entirely destructive of such unity of belief because their root principle is the supremacy of the individual judgment.

No comments: