The Magisterium of the Church.
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn. 85 -87)
Pope Leo XIII gives as the following explanation: “As the Church was to last to the end of time, something more was required besides the bestowal of the Sacred Scriptures. It was obviously necessary that the Divine Founder should take every precaution, lest the treasure of heavenly-given truths, possessed by the Church, should ever be destroyed, which would assuredly have happened, had He left those doctrines to each one’s private judgment. It stands to reason, therefore, that a living, perpetual “magisterium” was necessary in the Church from the beginning, which, by the command of Christ himself, should besides teaching other wholesome doctrines, give an authoritative explanation of Holy Writ, and which being directed and safeguarded by Christ himself, could by no means commit itself to erroneous teaching” (Encyclical Caritatis Studium on the Church in Scotland, July 25 1898)
The Magisterium of Catholic Church teaches the faithful in three ways:
- Solemn Magisterium: It is used only rarely. This includes dogmatic definitions by Ecumenical Councils or Popes teaching “ex cathedra”. The form of this teaching has infallible character.
- Ordinary universal Magisterium: the teaching of Divine truths by the enterety of the episcopate constantly and unchangingly along all ages. The form of this teaching has infallible character as well.
- Authentic or daily Magisterium is exercised:
- By the official pronouncements, preachings and written documents of the Roman Pontiff (among the most common are Encyclicals, Apostolic exhortations, Apostolic letters, Apostolic Constitutions).
- By the pastoral and disciplinarian documents of Ecumenical Councils and by doctrines which a concrete Council is not proposing definitely, as it did for instance the Second Vatican Council or the Council of Florence, when it taught about the matter of the sacrament of the Orders.
- By the Synods on various level (the Synod of Bishops in Rome, Plenary, Provincial and Diocesan Synods).
- Doctrinal documents unanimously approved by the episcopate of a concrete country or region, that means by Bishops’ Conferences.
- By the teaching office of the diocesan bishops.
The authentic or daily Magisyterium does not possess an infallible character, and in theory can contain even doctrinal errors, which is however rare. Theological errors or doctrinal ambiguities occurred in some Papal documents (for instance in the letters of Pope Honorius I concerning the two wills of Christ, in the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris laetitiae of Pope Francis).
Theological errors and ambugities occurred also in some non strictly definitive doctrinal documents of Ecumenical Councils (for instance the errors regarding the matter of the sacraments of Orders by the Council of Florence, some ambiguous and erroneous formulations in some documents of the Second Vatican Council concerning for example the alleged common adoration of Catholics and Muslims of the one God, affirmations about the non-Christian religions, about the ecumenism, about the alleged natural rights of people who are propagating religious errors and false religions, about the social kingship of Christ in all human societies).
However, the overwhelwing majority even of not strictly definitive doctrinal affirmations of the Ecumenical Councils and of the Popes contain no errors, nonwithtanding the fact that they do not posses in these cases the charism of the infallibility. Usually Divine Providence grants the holders of the Magisterium also in the daily exercise of their teaching office the graces of state. In order that in the authentic or daily Magisterium the Pope and bishops may avoid ambiguities or errors, it is demanded from them an assiduous personal collaboration with the graces of the illumination of the Holy Spirit. This collaboration with the grace on behalf of the Pope and of the bishops presupposes the cultivation of the supernatural faith in the personal life, a life of prayer and virtue, fidelity to the Tradition and to the teaching received by all the Roman Pontiffs, by the Fathers and Doctors of the Church.
Regarding the object of an infallible pronouncements of the Pope and logically also of a Council, we have this dogmatic pronouncement of the First Vatican Council.
These are the conditions for a Pope and logically also for a Council for an infallible pronouncement, called “ex cathedra”:
- It has to be directed to all faithful of the entire Church.
- It has to be exercised in the quality of the supreme apostolic authority.
- It has to oblige the entire Church to hold that specific doctrine.
- The doctrine which is obliged to believe must refer to faith and morals.
The object of an infallible pronouncement must be contained in the written Word of God or in Tradition. An infallible pronouncement must be believed, therefore, by divine and Catholic faith.
The Pope or a Council are very much limited in their choices, actions and formulations when they issue an infallible doctrinal statement. There is nobody less free and there is nobody who must more scrupulously cling to the constant doctrinal tradition of the Church than the Pope, when he issues an infallible doctrinal statement. Very aptly the First Vatican Council states, that “the Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter that by His revelation they might make known new doctrine, but that by His assistance they might inviolably keep and faithfully expound the Revelation, the Deposit of Faith, delivered through the Apostles.” (First Vatican Council, Pastor aeternus, chap. 4).
The very aim of an infallible pronouncement of a Pope or a Council consists in the following:
- The defense of all faithful from the poison of doctrinal and moral errors. That “the whole flock of Christ, be kept away from the poisonous food of error” (First Vatican Council, Pastor aeternus, chap. 4). Hence this means refusal of any error and ambiguity. If a doctrinal pronouncement or an affirmation of a Pope or of a Council shows unclarity or ambuiguity, it lacks by this very fact infallibility, since infallibility demans by its nature highest clarity and precision.
- The nourishment of all faithful with the sureness and clarity of the doctrine of the Divine Revelation. That “the whole flock of Christ might be nourished with the pasture of heavenly doctrine” (First Vatican Council, Pastor aeternus, chap. 4).
- The prevention or removal of the occasion of schisms and divisions, caused by errors, doubts and ambiguities regarding the doctrine of faith and morals (cf. ibid.)
- The maintance and guarantee of the internal and external unity of the entire Church, that means among the bishops themselves, among the bishops and the faithful and among all the faithful. “And so the whole Church might be kept one” (First Vatican Council, Pastor aeternus, chap. 4).
- The spiritual equipment of the entire Church against the attacks of the evil spirits. Since the most insidious and dangerous attack of the evil spirits consists in spreading heresies, which spiritually defiles the chaste and virginal purity of the Church. “That the whole Church might stand firm against the gates of Hell” (First Vatican Council, Pastor aeternus, chap. 4).
“The Roman Pontiff – like all the faithful – is subject to the Word of God, to the Catholic faith, and is the guarantor of the Church’s obedience; in this sense he is servus servorum Dei. He does not make arbitrary decisions, but is spokesman for the will of the Lord, who speaks to man in the Scriptures lived and interpreted by Tradition; in other words, the episkope of the primacy has limits set by divine law and by the Church’s divine, inviolable constitution found in Revelation.33 The Successor of Peter is the rock which guarantees a rigorous fidelity to the Word of God against arbitrariness and conformism: hence the martyrological nature of his primacy.” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Primacy of the successor of Peter in the mystery of the Church, October 31, 1998)
In 1875 the German Bishops issued a declaration, in which they explain the true meaning of Papal infallibility: “The affirmation which says that the Pope in virtue of his infallibility is an absolute souvereign, is based upon an erroneous concept of the dogma of the Papal infallibility. The Papal Magisterium covers exactly the same field as the infallible Magisterium of the Church itself. The Papal Magisterium is bound by the content of the Holy Scripture and the Tradition and as well by doctrinal decisions of the Church’s Magisterium.”
In teaching the truth of the Divine Revelation every Pope and every Council should have the attitude of Blessed Pope Pius IX, who when asked by a group of bishops to make a little change in the text of the Canon of the Mass (adding the name of Saint Joseph), answered: “I cannot make a change, since I am only the Pope!”
Indeed, all holders of the Magisterium in the Church, in first place the Pope, should categorically avoid an attitude, which seeks novelties and changes in doctrine. The Pope should be that member of the Church, who clings most obediently to the unchanging truths of the Divine Revelation and of the doctrinal Tradition of the Church, since his most apt title is “the servant of the servant of God”.
The following words of Pope Pius VI, with which he in 1794 condemned the cunning and Protestantizing affirmation of the Synod of Pistoia, remain valid and very much up to date for our times and for the Shepherds of the Church in our time: “There is the erroneous pretext that the seemingly shocking affirmations in one place are further developed along orthodox lines in other places, and even in yet other places corrected. By this they allow the possibility of either affirming or denying a statement, or of leaving it up the personal inclinations of the individual. However, such has always been the fraudulent and daring method used by innovators to establish error. It allows for both the possibility of promoting error and of excusing it. Whenever it becomes necessary to expose statements which disguise some suspected error or danger under the veil of ambiguity, one must denounce the perverse meaning under which the error opposed to catholic truth is camouflaged.”
“Ambiguity can never be tolerated in a synod [I would add: in any document of a Pope or of an Ecumenical Council], since its principal glory consists above all in teaching the truth with clarity and excluding all danger of error.”
The Seconed Vatican Council explained deeper the truth regarding the teaching infallibility of the Church: “The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One (1 John 2:20, 27) cannot err in matters of belief. They manifest this special property by means of the whole peoples’ supernatural discernment in matters of faith when “from the Bishops down to the last of the lay faithful” (St. Augustine, Praed. Sanct. 14, 27) they show universal agreement in matters of faith and morals. That discernment in matters of faith is aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth. It is exercised under the guidance of the sacred teaching authority, in faithful and respectful obedience to which the people of God accepts that which is not just the word of men but truly the word of God. (1 Thess. 2: 13) Through it, the people of God adheres unwaveringly to the faith given once and for all to the saints, (Jude 3) penetrates it more deeply with right thinking, and applies it more fully in its life.” (Lumen gentium, 12)
Impressive remains the oath, which every Pope traditionally had to take when coming into his Papal office: “I vow to change nothing of the received Tradition, and nothing thereof I have found before me guarded by my God-pleasing predecessors, to encroach upon, to alter, or to permit any innovation therein; To the contrary: with glowing affection as her truly faithful student and successor, to safeguard reverently the passed-on good, with my whole strength and utmost effort; To cleanse all that is in contradiction to the canonical order that may surface; To guard the Holy Canons and Decrees of our Popes as if they were the Divine ordinances of Heaven, because I am conscious of Thee, Whose place I take through the grace of God, Whose Vicarship I possess with Thy support, being subject to the severest accounting before Thy Divine Tribunal over all that I shall confess; I swear to God Almighty and the Savior Jesus Christ that I will keep whatever has been revealed through Christ and His Successors and whatever the first councils and my predecessors have defined and declared. I will keep without sacrifice to itself the discipline and the rite of the Church. I will put outside the Church whoever dares to go against this oath, may it be somebody else or I. If I should undertake to act in anything of contrary sense, or should permit that it will be executed, Thou willst not be merciful to me on the dreadful Day of Divine Justice. Accordingly, without exclusion, We subject to severest excommunication anyone — be it ourselves or be it another — who would dare to undertake anything new in contradiction to this constituted evangelic Tradition and the purity of the Orthodox Faith and the Christian Religion, or would seek to change anything by his opposing efforts, or would agree with those who undertake such a blasphemous venture.”
The greatest concern and fear of each holder of the Magisterium, be it a bishop or the Pope himself, should be not to change, even not in the slightest, the doctrines of the Divine Revelation. Consequently, every true Catholic bishop and Pope should say, using the formulation of the traditional Papal oath and of the Apostle Saint Paul, “Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach a Gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema.” (Gal. 1: 8).
May this oath be restored in our days, so that the darkness of errors, ambiguities and novelties in doctrine may be dispelled and the light of the truths of the Divine Revelation may shine in the minds and hearts of all Catholics, and in the first place of all Shepherds of the Church.
Pope Pius X left us the following inspiring words, even though they were written hundred years ago, they remain fresh and very much up to date: “Our Apostolic Mandate requires from Us that We watch over the purity of the Faith and the integrity of Catholic discipline. It requires from Us that We protect the faithful from evil and error; especially so when evil and error are presented in dynamic language which, concealing vague notions and ambiguous expressions with emotional and high-sounding words, is likely to set ablaze the hearts of men in pursuit of ideals which, whilst attractive, are nonetheless nefarious. Such were not so long ago the doctrines of the so-called philosophers of the 18th century, the doctrines of the Revolution and Liberalism which have been so often condemned; such are even today theories which, under the glowing appearance of generosity, are all too often wanting in clarity, logic and truth. These theories do not belong to the Catholic Spirit. We must repeat with the utmost energy in these times of social and intellectual anarchy when everyone takes it upon himself to teach as a teacher and lawmaker – the City cannot be built otherwise than as God has built it; society cannot be setup unless the Church lays the foundations and supervises the work; no, civilization is not something yet to be found, nor is the New City to be built on hazy notions; it has been in existence and still is: it is Christian civilization, it is the Catholic City. It has only to be set up and restored continually against the unremitting attacks of insane dreamers, rebels and miscreants. OMNIA INSTAURARE IN CHRISTO.” (Encyclical Notre Charge Apostolique, August 25, 1910)
THE PREACHING OF THE GOSPEL
- The truths revealed by God to men were, by God’s command, proclaimed to all nations of the earth by the Catholic Church, and especially by means of the living word, that is, by preaching.
The command to proclaim to all nations of the earth the truths revealed by God, was given to the apostles by Our Lord at the time of His ascension.
Our Lord, before ascending into heaven, spoke to His apostles as follows: “All power is given to Me in heaven and in earth; going, therefore, teach ye all nations: baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: . . . and behold I am with you all days, even to the end of the world” (Matt. xxviii. 18-20). For this reason the apostles and their successors have never allowed themselves to be prohibited by any earthly authority from preaching the Gospel (Cf. Acts v. 29). Nor has the Church ever been turned aside from fulfilling her mission of preaching the Gospel, by the opposition of the world. Even now in many countries the State seeks to make the Church dependent on her. It is in consequence of the command given by Our Lord to the apostles, that the Popes send missionaries to the heathens, and issue Papal briefs and rescripts to Christendom; that bishops send priests throughout their dioceses, and publish pastoral letters; that parish priests instruct their people by sermons and Catechism.
The Transmission of Divine Revelation
The Council of Trent teaches us: “The Gospel, before promised through the prophets in the holy Scriptures, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, first promulgated with His own mouth, and then commanded to be preached by His Apostles to every creature, as the fountain of all, both saving truth, and moral discipline; and seeing clearly that this truth and discipline are contained in the written books, and the unwritten traditions which, received by the Apostles from the mouth of Christ himself, or from the Apostles themselves, the Holy Ghost dictating, have come down even unto us, transmitted as it were from hand to hand; (the Synod) following the examples of the orthodox Fathers, receives and venerates with an equal affection of piety, and reverence, all the books both of the Old and of the New Testament–seeing that one God is the author of both –as also the said traditions, as well those appertaining to faith as to morals, as having been dictated, either by Christ’s own word of mouth, or by the Holy Ghost, and preserved in the Catholic Church by a continuous succession.
And it has thought it meet that a list of the sacred books be inserted in this decree, lest a doubt may arise in any one’s mind, which are the books that are received by this Synod. They are as set down here below: of the Old Testament: the five books of Moses, to wit, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; Josue, Judges, Ruth, four books of Kings, two of Paralipomenon, the first book of Esdras, and the second which is entitled Nehemias; Tobias, Judith, Esther, Job, the Davidical Psalter, consisting of a hundred and fifty psalms; the Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Canticle of Canticles, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Isaias, Jeremias, with Baruch; Ezechiel, Daniel; the twelve minor prophets, to wit, Osee, Joel, Amos, Abdias, Jonas, Micheas, Nahum, Habacuc, Sophonias, Aggaeus, Zacharias, Malachias; two books of the Machabees, the first and the second.
Of the New Testament: the four Gospels, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; the Acts of the Apostles written by Luke the Evangelist; fourteen epistles of Paul the apostle, (one) to the Romans, two to the Corinthians, (one) to the Galatians, to the Ephesians, to the Philippians, to the Colossians, two to the Thessalonians, two to Timothy, (one) to Titus, to Philemon, to the Hebrews; two of Peter the apostle, three of John the apostle, one of the apostle James, one of Jude the apostle, and the Apocalypse of John the apostle. But if any one receive not, as sacred and canonical, the said books entire with all their parts, as they have been used to be read in the Catholic Church, and as they are contained in the old Latin vulgate edition; and knowingly and deliberately contemn the traditions aforesaid; let him be anathema.” (sess. IV, 1)
The Second Vatican Council teaches on the Handing over of the Divine Revelation: “9. Hence there exists a close connection and communication between sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end. For Sacred Scripture is the word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, while sacred tradition takes the word of God entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and hands it on to their successors in its full purity, so that led by the light of the Spirit of truth, they may in proclaiming it preserve this word of God faithfully, explain it, and make it more widely known. Consequently it is not from Sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence. (Conc. Trident. De Canonicis Scripturis)
- Sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church. Holding fast to this deposit the entire holy people united with their shepherds remain always steadfast in the teaching of the Apostles, in the common life, in the breaking of the bread and in prayers (see Acts 2, 42, Greek text), so that holding to, practicing and professing the heritage of the faith, it becomes on the part of the bishops and faithful a single common effort.
But the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed.
It is clear, therefore, that sacred tradition, Sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God’s most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.” (Dei Verbum, 9 – 10).
It is an error to suppose that Holy Scripture is the only means intended by almighty God to communicate to the nations of the earth the truths of revelation.
It was the will of God to make use of preaching for the conversion of the world. Our Lord said to His apostles, “Go and teach all nations,” not “Go and write to all nations.” Out of the apostles only two wrote; all the rest preached. The apostles themselves were the books of the faithful (St. Augustine). St. Paul tells us that “Faith cometh by hearing” (Rom. x. 17), not from mere books. Teaching by word of mouth corresponds to human needs; every one prefers to be taught, rather than to have to hunt out the truth from books by study. If writings were the only means by which men could arrive at a knowledge of revealed truth the Christians of the first two centuries would have been at a terrible disadvantage; so too would those who cannot read, as well as the great mass of mankind in the present day, who have neither the knowledge nor the capacity to penetrate the meaning of the written Word. Yet it is the will of God that “All men should come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. ii. 4). Holy Scripture soon loses its value in the eyes of those who have not the assurance of the living Word that it is truly of divine origin. St. Augustine says: “I should not believe the Gospel unless the authority of the Church moved me to do so.”
The Catholic Church derives from Holy Scripture and from Tradition the truths that God has revealed.
Holy Scripture and Tradition are of equal authority, and claim from us equal respect. Holy Scripture is the written, Tradition the unwritten Word of God. St. Paul exhorts the faithful to hold fast the traditions they have received, whether it be by word of mouth or by writing (2 Thess. ii. 14).
The First Vatican Council established the following dogmatic canons about Divine Revelation: “2. If anyone shall say that it is impossible or inexpedient that man should be taught, by Divine Revelation, concerning God and the worship to be paid to Him; let him be anathema. 3. If anyone shall say that man cannot be raised by Divine power to a higher than natural knowledge and perfection, but can and ought, by a continuous progress, to arrive at length, of himself, to the possession of all that is true and good; let him be anathema. 4. If anyone shall not receive as sacred and canonical the Books of Holy Scripture, entire with all their parts, as the Holy Synod of Trent has enumerated them, or shall deny that they have been Divinely-inspired; let him be anathema.” (Constitution Dei Filius, canons
The First Vatican Council warned against the dangers of errors regarding Divine Revelation: “There arose and spread, exceedingly widely throughout the world, that doctrine of rationalism, or naturalism, which opposes itself in every way to the Christian religion as a supernatural institution, and works with the utmost zeal in order that, after Christ, our sole Lord and Savior, has been excluded from the minds of men, and from the life and moral acts of nations, the reign of what they call pure reason or nature may be established. And after forsaking and rejecting the Christian religion, and denying the true God and His Christ, the minds of many have sunk into the abyss of Pantheism, Materialism, and Atheism, until, denying rational nature itself, and every sound rule of right, they labor to destroy the deepest foundations of human society. Unhappily, it has yet further come to pass that, while this impiety prevailed on every side, many even of the children of the Catholic Church have strayed from the path of true piety, and by the gradual diminution of the truths they held, the Catholic understanding became weakened in them. For, led away by various and strange doctrines, utterly confusing nature and grace, human science and Divine faith, they are found to deprave the true sense of the doctrines which our Holy Mother Church holds and teaches, and to endanger the integrity and the soundness of the faith.” (Constitution Dei Filius, Introduction)
A truth which the Church puts before us as revealed by God is called a truth of faith, or a dogma.
Either a universal council (i.e., one consisting of the bishops of the whole world) acting under the authority of the Pope, or the Pope himself, has power to declare a truth to be revealed by God. Thus the Council of Nicea declared the divinity of Our Lord to be an article of faith; and Pope Pius IX. the Immaculate Conception of the holy Mother of God (1854). Thereby no new doctrines were taught, but these truths were declared to have been truly revealed by God, and thenceforth they became dogmas of the faith. When a child advances in its knowledge of religious truth, it does not really change its belief; so the Church, the collected body of all the faithful, receives dogmas new to it, when, on the appearance of some new form of error, it sets forth, after careful examination, certain truths of religion in explicit form and imposes their acceptance on all the faithful. Before the definition of it by the Church it was only a “pious opinion,” or one proximate to faith. Such is at the present time the belief in the assumption of the body of Our Lady into heaven.
Was is truly Catholic doctrine, explained profoundly and masterly Saint Vincent of Lerins, a saint theologian from the fifth century, in his book Commonitorium. There is know this his short formula: “We hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all (quod ubique, quod semper et quod ab omnibus).”
The theological rule of Saint Vincent of Lerins (Commonitorium, Chapters 2, 4, 27 and 29) assigns universality, antiquity and consensus of faith as characteristics of Catholic doctrine. In other words, a doctrine bearing these marks is certainly a dogma of the Catholic faith. It is not however true in the exclusive sense, i.e. if it be understood to mean that nothing can belong to the Catholic faith which has not been explicitly believed always, everywhere and by all.
We have to note first that there is the reference not to any points whatsoever that are held and observed in the Church, but to those which are believed, i.e. held by faith. Now a thing can be believed in either of two ways: explicitly, or only implicitly. Whatever is contained in the deposit of Divine revelation has certainly been believed at least implicitly everywhere, always and by all Catholics. One would at once cease to be a Catholic if one were not ready to believe everything which has been sufficiently proposed by the Church as divinely revealed.
Certain points of doctrine can be contained in the deposit of objective revelation which were not always contained in the manifest and explicit preaching of the Church, and that for as long as they were not sufficiently proposed it was possible for them to be the object of controversy within the limits of the Church without loss of faith and communion (for instance the truth of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin mary). So a given point of doctrine can be contained in objective revelation and can also, with the passage of time—when it has been sufficiently explained and proposed—come to belong to those truths which must necessarily be believed with Catholic faith, while yet this truth, though always contained in the deposit of revelation, has not been explicitly believed always, everywhere and by all. The absence of a defined dogma of faith in a certain time by no means necessarily proves that a given doctrine was not contained in the deposit of faith; neither does it prove that a doctrine, which, for want of sufficient proposition at a given time, did not need to be explicitly believed, may not at some other time be the object of obligatory belief.
As marks by which the apostolicity of a doctrine can be known, two characteristics are nevessary:
1) universality, i.e. the present consensus of the Church, and,
2) the consensus of antiquity, to be understood in a relative sense, i.e. a consensus shown to have existed before a doctrinal controversy arose.
In virtue either of a solemn judgment of the Magisterium (whether of an ecumenical council or of the pope) or by the unanimous preaching of the Church (the ordinary universal Magisterium), a universal present consensus is clear and manifest, this alone suffices of itself. But if, through the arising of a controversy, this consensus were to become less apparent, or were not acknowledged by the adversaries to be confuted, then—says Vincent—appeal must be made to the manifest consensus of antiquity, or to past solemn judgements of the Magisterium, or to the consentient convictions of the Fathers.
Saint Vincent says that one must hold “what has been believed everywhere, always and by all,” without distinguishing whether it was so believed implicitly or explicitly (Chapter 2). But then he indicates marks by which we can come to know whether something was thus believed everywhere, always and by all, and these marks are: universality, antiquity and consensus.
What saint Vincent means by universality he explains straight away: “We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses.” Hence universality is the agreement of the entire Church, and, insofar as it is distinct from the mark of antiquity, it is the consent of the Church at this present time when a concrete controversy has arisen. Since, the present consensus can be troubled by newly invented errors, with contradict antiquity, i.e. the agreement of the previous age.
The mark of antiquity is understood by Vincent in the sense of relative antiquity. For he invariably situates antiquity in the judgement of preceding Fathers or Councils—a judgement existing before the appearance of the heresy to be refuted or the controversy to be decided. “97 And in Chapter 28 he says that to ancient heresies one should oppose councils which took place before those heresies arose, while, if even these councils are condemned by the heretics, there remains only the common source of Scripture to use in argument against them.
Saint Vincent of Lerins everywhere clearly teaches that either one of these two marks—i.e. universal consent and the agreement of antiquity—suffices to demonstrate the apostolicity of a doctrine. Thus he writes: 1) “What then will a Catholic Christian do if a small portion of the Church have cut itself off from the communion of the universal faith of all times? What, surely, but prefer the soundness of the whole body of the Church in all times to the unsoundness of a pestilent and corrupt member in his novel contagion?” Here universal consent is opposed to local and new error. 2) “What, if some novel contagion seeks to infect not merely an insignificant portion of the Church, but the whole Church? Then one has the care to cleave to antiquity.” (Chapter 3) Here antiquity is appealed to in the event that contemporary controversies should have muddied the waters and made it hard to establish for the time being the belief of the universal Church.
Any doctrine which is repugnant to either mark (antiquity and universality) must be considered to be a profane novelty. Saint Vincent recounts the innovation of the re-baptisers in the third century in North Africa: “When then all men protested against this novelty of re-baptizing, and the bishops almost everywhere opposed it, Pope Stephen laid down this rule: Let there be no innovation—nothing but what has been handed down… What then was the issue of the whole matter? What but the usual and customary one? Antiquity was retained, novelty was rejected.” (cf. Cardinal Johann Baptist Franzelin S.J., Thesis XXIV in his work De Divina Traditione et Scriptura, Rome, 1875)
Saint Vincent speaks quite clear that the Roman Pontiffs by the virtue of their task have been always against doctrinal novelties or ambiguities. Ge says: “It has always been the case in the Church, that the more a man is under the influence of religion, so much the more prompt is he to oppose innovations. It may be clearer than day to everyone with how great energy, with how great zeal, with how great earnestness, the Roman Pontiffs have constantly defended the integrity of the religion which they have once received.” (Chapter 6)
On the true meaning of a development od the doctrine the First Vatican Council teaches the following: “The doctrine of the faith which God has revealed is put forward not as some philosophical discovery capable of being perfected by human intelligence, but as a divine deposit committed to the spouse of Christ to be faithfully protected and infallibly promulgated. Hence, too,that meaning of the sacred dogmas is ever to be maintained which has once been declared by holy mother church, and there must never be any abandonment of this sense under the pretext or in the name of a more profound understanding. May understanding, knowledge and wisdom increase as ages and centuries roll along, and greatly and vigorously flourish, in each and all, in the individual and the whole church: but this only in its own proper kind, that is to say, in the same doctrine, the same sense, and the same understanding.” (Dogmatic Constitution Dei Filius, chap. 4)
Let us hear the following words of Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, who was a disciple of Saint Polycarp, who in turn was a discipline of Saint John the Apostle: “As I have already observed, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points [of doctrine] just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth. For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same. For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world. But as the sun, that creature of God, is one and the same throughout the whole world, so also the preaching of the truth shines everywhere, and enlightens all men that are willing to come to a knowledge of the truth. Nor will any one of the rulers in the Churches, however highly gifted he may be in point of eloquence, teach doctrines different from these (for no one is greater than the Master); nor, on the other hand, will he who is deficient in power of expression inflict injury on the tradition. For the faith being ever one and the same, neither does one who is able at great length to discourse regarding it, make any addition to it, nor does one, who can say but little diminish it.” (Adversus haereses, I, 10, 2)
The Catholic and Apostolic Faith can never change, under no pretext, not even under the pretext of erudite and seductive expressions such as: “hermeneutic of continuity”, “living tradition”, “paradigm swift”, “development of doctrine” and so on. Our true paradigm is Christ, and He is the truth. Christ-Truth “is the same yesterday, today and forever.” (Heb. 13: 8)
THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD.
The knowledge of God consists in the knowledge of His perfections, His works, His will, and the means of grace instituted by Him. St. Paul bids us “increase in the knowledge of God” (Col. i. 10). Now we only know God through a glass in a dark manner; only in heaven shall we see Him face to face, and have a clear knowledge of His perfections (1 Cor. xiii. 12).
- The happiness of the angels and the saints consists in the knowledge of God.
Our Lord tells us that “this is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ Whom Thou hast sent” (John xvii. 3). This is the food of which the archangel Raphael spoke, when he said to Tobias: “I use an invisible meat and drink, which cannot be seen by men” (Tob. xii. 19). In heaven the saints and angels have an immediate knowledge of God in the beatific vision. We on earth only know God through the medium of His works and of what He has revealed to us. Our knowledge, compared with that of the saints and angels, is like the knowledge of a country that one gets from maps and pictures as compared with the knowledge of one who has himself visited it.
- The knowledge of God is all-important, for without it there cannot be any happiness on earth, or a well-ordered life.
The knowledge of God is the food of our soul. Without it the soul feels hungry; we become discontented. He who does not possess interior peace, cannot enjoy riches, health, or any of the goods of this life; they all become distasteful to him. Yet few think about this food of the soul; they busy themselves, as Our Lord says, with the “meat that perishes” (John vi. 27). Without the knowledge of God a man is like one who walks in the dark, and stumbles at every step; he has no end or aim in life, no consolation in misfortune, and no hope in death. He cannot have any solid or lasting happiness, or any true contentment. Without a knowledge of God a well-ordered life is impossible. Just as an untilled field produces no good fruit, so a man who has not the knowledge of God can produce no good works. Ignorance and forgetfulness of God are the causes of most of the sins that men commit. Rash and false oaths, neglect of the service of God and of the sacraments, the love of gold, the sinful indulgence of the passions, are all due to willful ignorance and forgetfulness of God. Thus the prophet Osee exclaims “There is no knowledge of God in the land. Cursing and lying and killing and theft and adultery have overflowed” (Osee iv. 2, 3). And St. Ignatius of Loyola cries out, “O God, Thou joy of my soul, if only men knew Thee, they never would offend Thee,” and experience shows that in the jails the greater part of the prisoners are those who knew nothing of God. When Frederick of Prussia at length recognized that the want of the knowledge of God was the cause of the increase in crime, he exclaimed, “Then I will have religion introduced into the country.” This is why the learning and the understanding of the Catechism, which is nothing else than an abridgment of the Christian religion, is all-important. But a mere knowledge of the truths of religion is not sufficient; they must also be practiced.
- We arrive at a right knowledge of God through faith in the truths which God has revealed.
It is true that by means of reason and from the contemplation of the creatures that God has made man can arrive at a knowledge of God (Rom. i. 20). “The heavens show forth the glory of God” (Ps. xviii. 2). But our reason is so weak and prone to err, that without revelation it is very difficult for man to attain to a clear and correct knowledge of God. What strange and perverted views of the Deity we find among heathen nations (cf. Wisd. ix. 16, 17). God therefore in His mercy comes to our aid with revelation. Through believing the truths that God has revealed, man attains to a clear and correct knowledge of God. Hence St. Anselm says, “The more I am nourished with the food of faith, the more my understanding is satisfied.” Faith is a divine light that shines in our souls (2 Cor. iv. 6). It is like a watch tower, from which we can see that which cannot be seen from the plain below; we learn respecting God that which cannot be learned by mere reason from the world around. It is a glass through which we perceive all the divine perfections. It is a staff which supports our feeble reason, and enables it to know God better. There are two books from which we gain a knowledge of God; the book of Nature, and Holy Scripture, which is the book of revelation.
The natural Revelation of God
Strictly speaking, it does not require faith to recognize the existence of God. For those who reason properly, God’s existence is a matter of knowledge. One can know that God exists by deduction from evidence and principles observable in nature. Many thinkers from classical to modern times have affirmed the existence of God as a matter of reason (for instance Plato, Aristotle etc.)
The First Vatican Council teaches: “The same Holy Mother Church holds and teaches that God, the beginning and end of all things, may be certainly known by the natural light of human reason, by means of created things; “for the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made” (Romans 1:20), but that it pleased His wisdom and bounty to reveal Himself, and the eternal decrees of His will, to mankind by another and a supernatural way: as the Apostle says, “God, having spoken on diverse occasions, and in many ways, in times past, to the fathers by the prophets; last of all, in these days, has spoken to us by His Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2). It is to be ascribed to this Divine Revelation, that such truths among things Divine as of themselves are not beyond human reason, can, even in the present condition of mankind, be known by everyone with facility, with firm assurance, and with no admixture of error.” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith Dei Filius, Chap. 3)
“The Catholic Church, with one consent, has also ever held and does hold that there is a two-fold order of knowledge, distinct both in principle and also in object; in principle, because our knowledge, in the one, is by natural reason, and, in the other, is by Divine faith; in object, because, besides those things to which natural reason can attain, there are proposed, for our belief, mysteries hidden in God, which, unless Divinely-revealed, cannot be known.
Therefore, the Apostle, who testifies that God is known by the Gentiles through created things, still, when discoursing of the grace and truth which came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17), says: “We speak of the wisdom of God in a mystery, a wisdom which is hidden, which God ordained before the world unto our glory; which none of the leaders of this world knew … but to us God has revealed them by His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God.” (1 Cor. 2:7-9). And the only-begotten Son himself gives thanks to the Father, because He has hidden these things from the wise and the prudent, and has revealed them to little ones (Matt. 11:25).
And reason, indeed, enlightened by faith — when it seeks earnestly, piously, and somberly — attains by a gift from God some understanding of mysteries, even a very fruitful one; partly from the analogy of those things which it naturally knows, partly from the relations which the mysteries bear to one another and to the last end of man. But reason never becomes capable of apprehending mysteries as it does those truths which constitute its proper object. For the Divine mysteries by their own nature so far transcend the created intelligence that, even when delivered by revelation and received by faith, they remain covered with the veil of faith itself, and shrouded in a certain degree of darkness, so long as we are pilgrims in this mortal life, not yet with God; “For we walk by means of faith, and not by sight.” (2 Cor. 5:7).
But although faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason, since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind. And God cannot deny Himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth. The false appearance of such a contradiction is mainly due, either to the dogmas of faith not having been understood and expounded according to the mind of the Church, or to the inventions of opinion having been mistaken for the verdicts of reason.» (Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith Dei Filius, Chap. 4)
“And not only can faith and reason never be opposed to one another, but they are of mutual aid one to the other. For right reason demonstrates the foundations of faith, and enlightened by its light, cultivates the science of Divine things; while faith frees and guards reason from errors, and furnishes it with manifold knowledge. Therefore, so far is the Church from opposing the cultivation of human arts and sciences, that it in many ways helps and promotes them. For the Church neither ignores nor despises the benefits of human life which result from the arts and sciences, but confesses that, as they came from God, the Lord of all science, so, if they be used rightly, they lead to God by the help of His grace. Nor does the Church forbid that each of these sciences, in its sphere, should make use of its own principles and its own methods. But, while recognizing this just liberty, it stands watchfully on guard, lest sciences, setting themselves against Divine teaching or transgressing their own limits, should invade and disturb the domain of faith.” (ibid.)
The same First Vatican Council teaches: “If anyone shall say that the One True God, our Creator and Lord, cannot be certainly known by the natural light of human reason through created things; let him be anathema.” “If anyone shall say that Divine faith is not distinguished from natural knowledge of God and of moral truths, and therefore that it is not requisite for Divine faith that revealed truth be believed because of the authority of God Who reveals it; let him be anathema.”
God has in His mercy in the course of ages often revealed Himself to men (Heb. i. 1-2).
God has often communicated to men a knowledge of His perfections, His decrees, and His holy will. Such revelation is called supernatural, as opposed to the natural revelation of Himself that He makes through His creation in the external world.
God’s revelation to man is generally made in the following way: He speaks to individuals and orders them to communicate to their fellow-men the revelation made to them.
Thus God spoke to Abraham, Noah, and Moses. He sent Noah to preach to sinful men before the Flood, He sent Moses to the Israelites when they were oppressed by Pharao. Sometimes God spoke to a number of men who were assembled together, as when He gave the law to the people on Mount Sinai, or when Our Lord was baptized by St. John and the Holy Spirit descended like a dove, a voice being heard from heaven: “This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.” Sometimes God revealed Himself through angels, as for in stance to Tobias through the archangel Raphael. When God spoke to men, He took the visible form of a man or of an angel, or He spoke from a cloud (as on Sinai), or from a burning bush, as He did to Moses, or amid a bright light from heaven, as to St. Paul, or in the whispering of the wind, as He did to Elias, or by some interior illumination (Deut. ii. 6-8). Those to whom God revealed Himself, and who had to bear witness before others to the divine message, were called messengers from God, and often received from Him the power of working miracles and of prophecy, in proof of their divine mission. (Cf. the miracles of Moses before Pharao, of Elias, the apostles, etc.)
Those who were specially entrusted with the communication to men of the divine revelation were the following: the patriarchs, the prophets, Jesus Christ the Son of God (Heb. i. 1), and His apostles.
Revelation is to mankind in general what education is to individual men. Revelation corresponds to the needs of the successive stages of human development, to the infancy, childhood, and youth of mankind. The patriarchs, who had more of the nature of children, needed less in the way of precepts, and God dealt with them in more familiar fashion; the people of Israel, in whom, as in the season of youth, self-will and sensuality were strong, had to be trained by strict laws and constant correction; but when mankind had arrived at the period of manhood, then God sent His Son and introduced the law of love (1 Cor. xiii. 11; Gal. iii. 24). Of all those who declared to men the divine revelation, the Son of God was pre-eminently the true witness. He says of Himself, “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, that I should bear testimony to the truth” (John xviii. 37). He was of all witnesses the best, because He alone had seen God (John i. 18). The apostles also had to declare to men the divine revelation. They had to bear witness of what they had seen, and above all of the resurrection of Jesus Christ (Acts x. 39). With the revelation given through Christ and His apostles, the revelation that was given for the instruction of all mankind was concluded.
Revelation was necessary because, in consequence of original sin, man without revelation has never had a correct knowledge of God and of His will; and also because it was necessary that man should be prepared for the coming of the Redeemer.
The three Wise Men would never have found Christ if He had not revealed Himself to them by means of a star; so mankind would have lived far off from God, and would never have attained to a true knowledge of Him, if He had not revealed Himself to them. As the eye needs light to see things of sense, so human reason, which is the eye of the soul, needs revelation to perceive things divine (St. Augustine). Original sin and the indulgence of the senses had so dimmed human reason that it could no longer recognize God in His works (Wisd. ix. 16). This is proved by the history of paganism. The heathen worshipped countless deities, idols, beasts, and wicked men, and his worship was often immoral and horrible, as in the human sacrifices offered by him. The gods were often the patrons of vice. The greatest men among the heathens approved practices forbidden by the natural law. Thus Cicero approved of suicide, Plato of the exposing to death those children who were weak or deformed. Their theories when good were at variance with their practice. Socrates denounced polytheism, but before his death told his disciples to sacrifice a cock to Esculapius. Many of the best of the heathens recognized and lamented their ignorance of God. Besides, without a previous revelation the Saviour would have been neither known nor honored as He ought to have been known and honored; it was fitting that He should be announced beforehand, like a king coming to take possession of his kingdom. We ought indeed to be grateful to God that He has given us the light of revelation, just as a blind man is grateful to the physician who has restored his sight. Yet how many there are who willfully shut their eyes to the light of revelation even now!
The Second Vatican Council gives this summary of the notion of Divine Revelation: “2. In His goodness and wisdom God chose to reveal Himself and to make known to us the hidden purpose of His will (see Eph. 1:9) by which through Christ, the Word made flesh, man might in the Holy Spirit have access to the Father and come to share in the divine nature (see Eph. 2:18; 2 Peter 1:4). Through this revelation, therefore, the invisible God (see Col. 1;15, 1 Tim. 1:17) out of the abundance of His love speaks to men as friends (see Ex. 33:11; John 15:14-15) and lives among them (see Bar. 3:38), so that He may invite and take them into fellowship with Himself. This plan of revelation is realized by deeds and words having an inner unity: the deeds wrought by God in the history of salvation manifest and confirm the teaching and realities signified by the words, while the words proclaim the deeds and clarify the mystery contained in them. By this revelation then, the deepest truth about God and the salvation of man shines out for our sake in Christ, who is both the mediator and the fullness of all revelation.
- God, who through the Word creates all things (see John 1:3) and keeps them in existence, gives men an enduring witness to Himself in created realities (see Rom. 1:19-20). Planning to make known the way of heavenly salvation, He went further and from the start manifested Himself to our first parents. Then after their fall His promise of redemption aroused in them the hope of being saved (see Gen. 3:15) and from that time on He ceaselessly kept the human race in His care, to give eternal life to those who perseveringly do good in search of salvation (see Rom. 2:6-7). Then, at the time He had appointed He called Abraham in order to make of him a great nation (see Gen. 12:2). Through the patriarchs, and after them through Moses and the prophets, He taught this people to acknowledge Himself the one living and true God, provident father and just judge, and to wait for the Savior promised by Him, and in this manner prepared the way for the Gospel down through the centuries.
- Then, after speaking in many and varied ways through the prophets, “now at last in these days God has spoken to us in His Son” (Heb. 1:1-2). For He sent His Son, the eternal Word, who enlightens all men, so that He might dwell among men and tell them of the innermost being of God (see John 1:1-18). Jesus Christ, therefore, the Word made flesh, was sent as “a man to men.” (3) He “speaks the words of God” (John 3;34), and completes the work of salvation which His Father gave Him to do (see John 5:36; John 17:4). To see Jesus is to see His Father (John 14:9). For this reason Jesus perfected revelation by fulfilling it through his whole work of making Himself present and manifesting Himself: through His words and deeds, His signs and wonders, but especially through His death and glorious resurrection from the dead and final sending of the Spirit of truth. Moreover He confirmed with divine testimony what revelation proclaimed, that God is with us to free us from the darkness of sin and death, and to raise us up to life eternal. The Christian dispensation, therefore, as the new and definitive covenant, will never pass away and we now await no further new public revelation before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ (see 1 Tim. 6:14 and Tit. 2:13). Through divine revelation, God chose to show forth and communicate Himself and the eternal decisions of His will regarding the salvation of men. That is to say, He chose to share with them those divine treasures which totally transcend the understanding of the human mind” (Dei Verbum, 2 – 6)
Even since the death of Our Lord and His apostles, God has often revealed Himself to men by means of the so called private revelations. Instances of these subsequent private revelations are the appearances of Our Lord to Blessed Margaret Mary, and of Our Lady at Lourdes, Fatima etc. Many of the saints have had such revelations, i.e., St. Francis of Assisi, to whom Our Lord appeared upon the cross, and St. Anthony of Padua, in whose arms the Child Jesus deigned to rest. These private revelations were more especially given to those who were striving after perfection, in order to encourage them to greater perfection still. Yet God sometimes revealed Himself to wicked men, i.e., to Baltassar in the handwriting on the wall (Dan. v. 5, seq.). Hence a private revelation given to any one is not necessarily a mark of holiness. These revelations, moreover, were no further continuation of the Public Divine revelation intended for the instruction of the whole of mankind, which ended with the death of the last of the apostles; they are rather a confirmation of truths already revealed. Thus Our Lady, when she appeared at Lourdes, proclaimed herself the “Immaculate Conception,” so confirming the dogma which Pius IX had defined four years previously, and the countless miracles and cures that have taken place there have established the truth of the apparition. Yet it is always possible that the malice of the devil may introduce deceptions into private revelations. No one is therefore bound to give to private revelations (even though they have been approved by the Church) the same belief as to Divinely revealed truth. Approved private revelations are trustworthy because of the guarantee which gives the Church, however the Church cannot give the same guarantee of authenticity of a private revelation, as she gives it to the truths of the Public Divine Revelation.
“Throughout the ages, there have been so-called ‘private’ revelations, some of which have been recognized by the authority of the Church. They do not belong, however, to the deposit of faith. It is not their role to improve or complete Christ’s definitive revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history. Christian faith cannot accept ‘revelations’ that claim to surpass or correct the revelation of which Christ is the fulfillment, as is the case in certain non-Christian religions and also in certain recent sects which base themselves on such ‘revelations’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 67).
The Doctor of the Church, Saint John of the Cross, says: “In giving us his Son, his only Word (for he possesses no other), he spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word-and he has no more to say… because what he spoke before to the prophets in parts, he has now spoken all at once by giving us the All Who is His Son. Any person questioning God or desiring some vision or revelation would be guilty not only of foolish behaviour but also of offending him, by not fixing his eyes entirely upon Christ and by living with the desire for some other novelty” (No. 65; Saint John of the Cross,The Ascent of Mount Carmel, II, 22).
We can summarize the theme of private revelations as follows:
- The authority of private revelations is essentially different from that of the definitive public Revelation. The latter demands faith; in it in fact God himself speaks to us through human words and the mediation of the living community of the Church. Faith in God and in his word is different from any other human faith, trust or opinion. The certainty that it is God who is speaking gives me the assurance that I am in touch with truth itself. It gives me a certitude which is beyond verification by any human way of knowing. It is the certitude upon which I build my life and to which I entrust myself in dying.
- Private revelation is a help to this faith, and shows its credibility precisely by leading me back to the definitive public Revelation. In this regard, Cardinal Prospero Lambertini, the future Pope Benedict XIV, says in his classic treatise, which later became normative for beatifications and canonizations: “An assent of Catholic faith is not due to revelations approved in this way; it is not even possible. These revelations seek rather an assent of human faith in keeping with the requirements of prudence, which puts them before us as probable and credible to piety”.
Hence, ecclesiastical approval of a private revelation has three elements: the message contains nothing contrary to faith or morals; it is lawful to make it public; and the faithful are authorized to accept it with prudence.
God grants private revelations so that they may have an edifying effect for the life of the Church. The give rise to new devotional forms, or deepen and spread older forms. There must be a nurturing of faith, hope and love, which are the unchanging path to salvation for everyone. We might add that private revelations often spring from popular piety and leave their stamp on it, giving it a new impulse and opening the way for new forms of it. Private revelations have an effect even on the liturgy, as we see for instance in the feasts of Corpus Christi and of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Cardinal Ratzinger said about private revelations the following: “In every age the Church has received the charism of prophecy, which must be scrutinized but not scorned. On this point, it should be kept in mind that prophecy in the biblical sense does not mean to predict the future but to explain the will of God for the present, and therefore show the right path to take for the future. A person who foretells what is going to happen responds to the curiosity of the mind, which wants to draw back the veil on the future. The prophet speaks to the blindness of will and of reason, and declares the will of God as an indication and demand for the present time. In this case, prediction of the future is of secondary importance. What is essential is the actualization of the definitive Divine Revelation, which concerns me at the deepest level. The prophetic word (of a private revelation) is a warning or a consolation, or both together. In this sense there is a link between the charism of prophecy and the category of “the signs of the times” (Public Revelation and private revelations, “The message of Fatima”, 2000).
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)  We see from this that it is very necessary to have faith.
We now can resume the four effects of the Faith:
- Union with God.
- The beginning of eternal life in us.
- The right direction of our moral life.
- 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)