Necessity of Instruction in the Catholic Faith: Part 3

In this talk we will reflect upon the theme “the Faith”.

The Roman Catechism says: “In preparing and instructing men in the teachings of Christ the Lord, the Fathers began by explaining the meaning of faith. Following their example, we have thought it well to treat first what pertains to that virtue. Though the word faith has a variety of meanings in the Sacred Scriptures, we here speak only of that faith by which we yield our entire assent to whatever has been divinely revealed.

About the necessity of Faith the Roman Catechism says: “ That faith thus understood is necessary to salvation no man can reasonably doubt, particularly since it is written: Without faith it is impossible to please God. For as the end proposed to man as his ultimate happiness is far above the reach of human understanding, it was therefore necessary that it should be made known to him by God. This knowledge, however, is nothing else than faith, by which we yield our unhesitating assent to whatever the authority of our Holy Mother the Church teaches us to have been revealed by God; for the faithful cannot doubt those things of which God, who is truth itself, is the author. Hence we see the great difference that exists between this faith which we give to God and that which we yield to the writers of human history.” (The Roman Catechism, Introduction)

The Roman Catechism explains the meaning of the phrase “I Believe”:

“The word believe does not here mean to think, to suppose, lo be of opinion; but, as the Sacred Scriptures teach, it expresses the deepest conviction, by which the mind gives a firm and unhesitating assent to God revealing His mysterious truths. As far, therefore, as regards use of the word here, he who firmly and without hesitation is convinced of anything is said to believe.

Faith Excludes Doubt

The knowledge derived through faith must not be considered less certain because its objects are not seen; for the divine light by which we know them, although it does not render them evident, yet suffers us not to doubt them. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath himself shone in our hearts, that the gospel be not hidden to us, as to those that perish (cf. 2 Cor. 4: 6.3)

Faith Excludes Curiosity

From what has been said it follows that he who is gifted with this heavenly knowledge of faith is free from an inquisitive insane curiosity. For when God commands us to believe He does not propose to us to search into His divine judgments, or inquire into their reason and cause, but demands an unchangeable faith, by which the mind rests content in the knowledge of eternal truth. And indeed, since we have the testimony of the Apostle Paul that God is true; and every man a liar (cf. Rom. 3: 4), and since it would argue arrogance and presumption to disbelieve the word of a grave and sensible man affirming anything as true, and to demand that he prove his statements by arguments or witnesses, how rash and foolish are those, who, hearing the words of God Himself, demand reasons for His heavenly and saving doctrines? Faith, therefore, must exclude not only all doubt, but all incredulous desire for demonstration.

He who says, “I believe,” besides declaring the inward assent of the mind, which is an internal act of faith, should also openly profess and with alacrity acknowledge and proclaim what he inwardly and in his heart believes. For the faithful should be animated by the same spirit that spoke by the lips of the Prophet when he said in the Psalm: “I believe; and therefore did I speak” (Ps. 115: 10), and should follow the example of the Apostles who replied to the princes of the people: “We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4: 20) We should be encouraged by these noble words of St. Paul: “I am not ashamed of the gospel. For it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Rom. 1: 16); and likewise by those other words; in which the truth of this doctrine is expressly confirmed: “With the heart we believe unto justice; but with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

From these words we may learn how exalted are the dignity and excellence of Christian wisdom, and what a debt of gratitude we owe to the divine goodness. For to us it is given at once to mount as by the steps of faith to the knowledge of what is most sublime and desirable.” (Rom 10: 10) (Roman Catechism, I Part, 2, 1-5)

Saint Thomas Aquinas explains the nature and effects of Faith, saying: “The first thing that is necessary for every Christian is faith, without which no one is truly called a faithful Christian. Faith brings about four good effects.

The first is that through faith the soul is united to God, and by it there is between the soul and God a union akin to marriage. “I will espouse thee in faith.” (Osee 2: 20), says God through the Prophet Osee. When a man is baptized the first question that is asked him is: “Do you believe in God?” This is because Baptism is the first Sacrament of faith. Hence, the Lord said: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” (Mark 16: 16) Baptism without faith is of no value. Indeed, it must be known that no one is acceptable before God unless he has faith. “Without faith it is impossible to please God” says the Letter to the Hebrews (Heb. 1: 6) St. Augustine explains these words of St. Paul, “All that is not of faith is sin,” (Rom. 14: 23) in this way: “Where there is no knowledge of the eternal and unchanging Truth, virtue even in the midst of the best moral life is false.”

The second effect of faith is that eternal life is already begun in us; for eternal life is nothing else than knowing God. This the Lord announced when He said: “This is eternal life, that they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.” (John 17: 3) This knowledge of God begins here through faith, but it is perfected the future life when we shall know God as He is. Therefore, St. Paul says: “Faith is the substance of things to be hoped for.” (Heb. 11: 1) No one then can arrive at perfect happiness of heaven, which is the true knowledge of God, unless first he knows God through faith. “Blessed are they that have not seen and have believed.” (John 20: 29)

The third good that comes from faith is that right direction which it gives to our present life. Now, in order that one live a good life, it is necessary that he knows what is necessary to live rightly; and if he depends for all this required knowledge on his own efforts alone, either he will never attain such knowledge, or if so, only after a long time. But faith teaches us all that is necessary to live a good life. It teaches us that there is one God who is the rewarder of good and the punisher of evil; that there is a life other than this one, and other like truths whereby we are attracted to live rightly and to avoid what evil. “The just man liveth by faith” says God through the Prophet Habakuk (Hab. 2: 4) This is evident in that no one of the philosophers before the coming of Christ could, through his own powers, know God and the means necessary for salvation as well as any old woman since Christ’s coming knows Him through faith. And, therefore, it is said in Isaias that “the earth is filled with the knowledge of the Lord.” (Isa. 11: 9)

The fourth effect of faith is that by it we overcome temptations: “The holy ones by faith conquered kingdoms” saus the Letter to the Hebrews (Heb. 11: 33) We know that every temptation is either from the world or the flesh or the devil. The devil would have us disobey God and not be subject to Him. This is removed by faith, since through it we know that He is the Lord of all things and must therefore be obeyed. Saint Peter writes in his First Letter, “Your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour. Whom resist ye, strong in faith.” (1 Peter 5: 8) The world tempts us either by attaching us to it in prosperity, or by filling us with fear of adversity. But faith overcomes this in that we believe in a life to come better than this one, and hence we despise the riches of this world and we are not terrified in the face of adversity. “This is the victory which overcometh the world: our faith”, says the Apostle John (1 John 5: 4). The flesh, however, tempts us by attracting us to the swiftly passing pleasures of this present life. But faith shows us that, if we cling to these things inordinately, we shall lose eternal joys. “In all things taking the shield of faith”, admonishes us Saint Paul (Eph. 6: 16) [15] We see from this that it is very necessary to have faith.

We now can resume the four effects of the Faith:

  1. Union with God.
  2. The beginning of eternal life in us.
  3. The right direction of our moral life.
  4. The victory over the temptations.

Faith is “the evidence of things that appear not.” But someone will say that it is foolish to believe what is not seen, and that one should not believe in things that he cannot see. I answer by saying that the imperfect nature of our intellect takes away the basis of this difficulty. For if man of himself could in a perfect manner know all things visible and invisible, it would indeed be foolish to believe what he does not see. But our manner of knowing is so weak that no philosopher could perfectly investigate the nature of even one little fly. We even read that a certain philosopher spent thirty years in solitude in order to know the nature of the bee. If, therefore, our intellect is so weak, it is foolish to be willing to believe concerning God only that which man can know by himself alone. And against this is the word of Job: “Behold, God is great, exceeding our knowledge.” (Job 36: 26) One can also answer this question by supposing that a certain master had said something concerning his own special branch of knowledge, and some uneducated person would contradict him for no other reason than that he could not understand what the master said! Such a person would be considered very foolish. So, the intellect of the Angels as greatly exceeds the intellect of the greatest philosopher as much as that of the greatest philosopher exceeds the intellect of the uneducated man. Therefore, the philosopher is foolish if he refuses to believe what an Angel says, and far greater fool to refuse to believe what God says.

Then, again, if one were willing to believe only those things which one knows with certitude, one could not live in this world. How could one live unless one believed others? How could one know that this man is one’s own father? Therefore, it is necessary that one believe others in matters which one cannot know perfectly for oneself. But no one is so worthy of belief as is God, and hence they who do not believe the words of faith are not wise, but foolish and proud. As the Apostle Paul says: “He is proud, knowing nothing.” (1 Tim. 6: 4) And also Saint Paul says: “I know whom I have believed; and I am certain.” (2 Tim. 1: 12)

Finally, one can say also that God proves the truth of the things which faith teaches. Thus, if a king sends letters signed with his seal, no one would dare to say that those letters did not represent the will of the king. In like manner, everything that the Saint Apostles believed and handed down to us concerning the faith of Christ is signed with the seal of God. This seal consists of those works which no mere creature could accomplish; they are the miracles by which Christ confirmed the sayings of the apostles and of the Saints.

If, however, you would say that no one has witnessed these miracles, I would reply in this manner. It is a fact that the entire world worshipped idols and that the faith of Christ was persecuted, as the histories of the pagans also testify. But now all are turned to Christ–wise men and noble and rich–converted by the words of the poor and simple preachers of Christ. Now, this fact was either miracle or it was not. If it is miraculous, you have what you asked for, a visible fact; if it is not, then there could not be a greater miracle than that the whole world should have been converted without miracles. And we need go no further. We are more certain, therefore, in believing the things of faith than those things which can be seen, because God’s knowledge never deceives us, but the visible sense of man is often in error“ (The Catechism of St. Thomas Aquinas, prologue; see also Summa Theologica II-II, Q. 2, 3, 4).

The Roman Catechism teaches us that we have to distinguish the natural knowledge of God in virtue of the natural light of our reason and the supernatural knowledge of God by virtue of the suprenatural lihht of the Divine gift of Faith.

The knowledge of God is more easily obtained through Faith than through reason.

“There is a great difference between Christian philosophy and human wisdom. The latter, guided solely by the light of nature, advances slowly by reasoning on sensible objects and effects, and only after long and laborious investigation is it able at length to contemplate with difficulty the invisible things of God, to discover and understand a First Cause and Author of all things. Christian Faith, on the contrary, so quickens the human mind that without difficulty it pierces the heavens, and, illumined with divine light, contemplates first, the eternal source of light, and in its radiance all created things: so that we experience with the utmost pleasure of mind that we have been called, as the Prince of the Apostles says, out of darkness into his admirable light, and believing we rejoice with joy unspeakable (cf. 1 Peter 2: 9).

Justly, therefore, do the faithful profess first to believe in God, whose majesty, with the Prophet Jeremiah, we declare incomprehensible (cf. Jer. 32: 12). For, as the Apostle says, “God dwells in light inaccessible, which no man hath seen, nor can see” (1 Tim. 6: 16); as God Himself, speaking to Moses, said: “No man shall see my face and live.” (Ex. 33: 20) The mind cannot rise to the contemplation of the Divinity, whom nothing approaches in sublimity, unless it be entirely disengaged from the senses, and of this in the present life we art naturally incapable.”

The knowledge of God obtained through Faith is clearer

“But while this is so, yet God, as the Apostle Paul says, “left not himself without testimony, doing good from heaven, giving rains and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.” (Acts 14: 16) Hence it is that the philosophers conceived no mean idea of the Divinity, ascribed to Him nothing corporeal, gross or composite. They considered Him the perfection and fullness of all good, from whom, as from an eternal, inexhaustible fountain of goodness and benignity, flows every perfect gift to all creatures. They called Him the wise, the author and lover of truth, the just, the most beneficent, and gave Him also many other appellations expressive of supreme and absolute perfection. They recognized that His immense and infinite power fills every place and extends to all things.

These truths the Sacred Scriptures express far better and much more clearly, as in the following passages: “God is spirit” (John 4: 24); “Be ye perfect, even as also your heavenly Father is perfect” (Math. 5: 48); “All things are naked and open to his eyes” (Heb. 4: 13); “O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God!” (Rom. 11: 33), “God is true” (Rom. 3: 4); “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14: 6); “Thy right hand is full of justice” (Ps. 47: 11); “Thou openest thy hand, and fillest with blessing every living creature” (Ps. 144: 16); and finally: “Whither shall go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy face? If I ascend into heaven, thou art there; if I descend into hell, thou art there. If I take my wings early in the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea” (Ps. 138: 7-9), etc., and “Do I not fill heaven and earth, saith the Lord?” (Jer. 23: 24)

The knowledge of God obtained through Faith is more certain

“These great and sublime truths regarding the nature of God, which are in full accord with Scripture, the philosophers were able to learn from an investigation of God’s works. But even here we see the necessity of divine revelation if we reflect that not only does faith, as we have already observed, make known clearly and at once to the rude and unlettered, those truths which only the learned could discover, and that by long study; but also that the knowledge obtained through faith is much more certain and more secure against error than if it were the result of philosophical inquiry”.

The knowledge of God obtained through Faith is more ample and exalted

“How much more exalted must not that knowledge of God be considered, which cannot be acquired in common by all from the contemplation of nature, but is peculiar to those who are illumined by the light of faith? This knowledge is contained in the Articles of the Creed, which disclose to us the unity of the Divine Essence and the distinction of Three Persons, and show also that God Himself is the ultimate end of our being, from whom we are to expect the enjoyment of the eternal happiness of heaven, according to the words of St. Paul: “God is a rewarder of them that seek Him.” (Heb. 11: 6) How great are these rewards, and whether they are such that human knowledge could aspire to their attainment, we learn from these words of Isaias uttered long before those of the Apostle: “From the beginning of the world they have not heard, nor perceived with the ears: the eye hath not seen besides thee, O God, what things thou hast prepared for them that wait for thee.” (Is. 64: 4)