A good resource concerning this subject material, which I just picked up for a term paper I completed on Faith and Reason, is Aquinas: On Faith and Reason, Edited by Stephen F. Brown, Hacket Publishing Company. The ideas expressed here in this podcast are for the most part covered in this volume.
Wilkins – thanks for the encouraging words. I’m surprised to hear a request for greater length – we were worried that it might be too long! We do have a tendency to try and cram a lot in each episode. Rest assured that we will be coming back to these topics again over the course of time.
We also hope to produce these a bit more frequently as well. In a perfect world we’d have a new one up each week but that doesn’t look promising in the near future. Thanks again and we should have another episode up in a couple weeks.
This has been my favorite piece of content on Called to Communion thus far because it really touches on issues that I think are the most important today, especially in light of “new” atheism. Evangelicals and atheists seem to be duking it out, and the fact is, we as Catholics disagree with both of them when it comes to faith and reason. I am new to all this and would very much like to read more about faith and reason. Can anyone recommend some books? Jared’s “Aquinas: On Faith and Reason” is already noted!
Thanks, Bryan! As long as I am going to be ordering stuff from Amazon, I might as well ask for other books that I could order: being a philosophy instructor, Bryan, you probably know of a few good books on the existence of God. Can you recommend some? Or any other books that you think would help out a guy like me who is trying to get into the philosophical underpinnings of our faith?
For a basic introduction to philosophy in the Catholic philosophical tradition I recommend Daniel Sullivan’s An Introduction to Philosophy: The Perennial Principles of the Classical Realist Tradition, Bro. Francis Maluf’s Philosophia Perennis, and Jacques Maritain’s An Introduction to Philosophy. I would also recommend Fr. McNabb’s The Catholic Church and Philosophy, as well as Sertillanges’ Foundations of Thomistic Philosophy. See also Alasdair MacIntyre’s recent book God, Philosophy, Universities: A Selective History of the Catholic Philosophical Tradition (you can find my review of this book here). A recent book related to the recent debates concerning the existence of God is Ed Feser’s The Last Superstition. Feser writes from within the Catholic philosophical tradition, but he also writes in a way that is accessible and in dialogue with contemporary critics of the notion that reason shows the existence of God.
Thanks for the recommendations, Bryan. My orders have just arrived, and I cannot wait to begin reading!
Maybe we can discuss something, though. It seems like there is an unspoken rule (or maybe a spoken rule that I do not know about) that the Catholic must be some sort of Thomist if he commits himself to a philosophy. There is an interesting intersection between Aristotle/Aquinas and Church dogma, and I am thinking specifically of natural law and the proofs for the existence of God. Those two things, the unspoken rule and the intersection, seem like they deserve a book of their own to really understand. Is the Church basically saying THIS philosophy is right? Are we committed to affirm parts of Aristotle/Aquinas? Basically, I want to understand the nature of this interesting intersection.
It seems like there is an unspoken rule (or maybe a spoken rule that I do not know about) that the Catholic must be some sort of Thomist if he commits himself to a philosophy.
Pope John Paul II wrote in Fides et Ratio that there is no official philosophy of the Catholic Church, just because Christianity is a religion and not a philosophy:
75. As appears from this brief sketch of the history of the relationship between faith and philosophy, one can distinguish different stances of philosophy with regard to Christian faith. First, there is a philosophy completely independent of the Gospel’s Revelation: this is the stance adopted by philosophy as it took shape in history before the birth of the Redeemer and later in regions as yet untouched by the Gospel. We see here philosophy’s valid aspiration to be an autonomous enterprise, obeying its own rules and employing the powers of reason alone. Although seriously handicapped by the inherent weakness of human reason, this aspiration should be supported and strengthened. As a search for truth within the natural order, the enterprise of philosophy is always open—at least implicitly—to the supernatural.
Moreover, the demand for a valid autonomy of thought should be respected even when theological discourse makes use of philosophical concepts and arguments. Indeed, to argue according to rigorous rational criteria is to guarantee that the results attained are universally valid. This also confirms the principle that grace does not destroy nature but perfects it: the assent of faith, engaging the intellect and will, does not destroy but perfects the free will of each believer who deep within welcomes what has been revealed.
It is clear that this legitimate approach is rejected by the theory of so-called “separate” philosophy, pursued by some modern philosophers. This theory claims for philosophy not only a valid autonomy, but a self-sufficiency of thought which is patently invalid. In refusing the truth offered by divine Revelation, philosophy only does itself damage, since this is to preclude access to a deeper knowledge of truth.
76. A second stance adopted by philosophy is often designated as Christian philosophy. In itself, the term is valid, but it should not be misunderstood: it in no way intends to suggest that there is an official philosophy of the Church, since the faith as such is not a philosophy. The term seeks rather to indicate a Christian way of philosophizing, a philosophical speculation conceived in dynamic union with faith. It does not therefore refer simply to a philosophy developed by Christian philosophers who have striven in their research not to contradict the faith. The term Christian philosophy includes those important developments of philosophical thinking which would not have happened without the direct or indirect contribution of Christian faith. [Fides et Ratio §§75-76, emphasis added]
But the Church has endorsed and encouraged the study of Thomism since at least the days of Pope Leo XIII (see his Aeterni Patris, for example). Personally, I think that you can hardly go wrong by studying Aquinas, just because he’s right. :-)
I’ve read Fides et Ratio twice, and I somehow managed to never catch that passage you quoted above. I’m sure I read it; it just must not have “stuck” with me for whatever reason. That being said, I was recently wondering about philosophy’s place (being a philosophy grad student, and the new semester being right around the corner,) so this is of timely interest to me. Thanks for quoting it! :-)
Philosophy always feels vaguely out of place in a Reformed context, at least in my experience. Thanks to notions of total depravity, the reliability of our intellect/reasoning powers comes into doubt. Presuppositionalism has its place in Reformed philosophy, but that always struck me as (not-so-thinly) disguised apologetics taking place in a philosophical context. Not that philosophical apologetics is wrong, of course, but such a paradigm always seemed to entail for me that theology is where the “real action” is, rather than philosophy qua philosophy having anything useful to contribute. Or, as one of my elders from a former (Reformed) church put it, roughly, “The best philosophy can hope to do is show pagans why they are wrong on their own terms – it can never get us to any kind of truth. For truth, you need the Bible.”
As such, existentially, it seems vaguely puzzling why God would want me to study philosophy if it can accomplish so little. Fides et Ratio always struck me as a much more…”balanced” (?) take on the interrelationship between philosophy and theology. Perhaps it might be time for me to reread Fides then. Regardless, Fred, thanks for quoting the above little bit – it was a nice hunk of Sunday afternoon edification. :-)
In establishing preambles to faith, “the right philosophy” can surely make the path to faith (and to the Catholic Faith) easier. For more on that, you might also be interested in Ed Feser’s book The Last Superstition.
As a Presbyterian I basically loathed philosophy. I say this to my shame. I considered it a great way to miss the truth and so to miss salvation. I have had (and still have) a lot to learn. :-)
I might add something to what Fred wrote above. The question is complicated, because the true answer falls between two overly-simplistic answers. On the one hand is the incorrect notion that Catholic philosophy is whatever St. Thomas taught. On the other hand is the incorrect notions that the philosophy of St. Thomas has no unique or authoritative place in the Catholic philosophical tradition and/or that there is no perennially valid Catholic philosophical tradition.
Let teachers reverently pay heed to the voice of the Doctors of the Church, among whom St. Thomas holds the principal place; for the Angelic Doctor’s force of genius is so great, his love of truth so sincere, and his wisdom in investigating, illustrating, and collecting the highest truths in a most apt bond of unity so great, that his teaching is a most efficacious instrument not only in safeguarding the foundations of the faith, but also in profitably and surely reaping the fruits of its sane progress.
I think it is more accurate to understand Vatican II and Fides et Ratio not as rejecting the privileged place of the philosophy of St. Thomas, but as clarifying and developing it, in the context of the twentieth century philosophical context of our time. Even earlier this year (i.e. 2011), the Apostolic See released a document titled “Decree on the Reform of Ecclesiastical Studies of Philosophy;” notice what it says about St. Thomas in paragraph 12. Notice that no other philosopher is mentioned. So, in my opinion, it wouldn’t be accurate to think of Fides et Ratio as “overturning” or “rejecting” Aeterni Patris. Rather, what we see in Vatican II and in Fides et Ratio is, I think, a development; Fides et Ratio develops Aeterni Patris by providing a fuller and thereby more accurate picture of the relation of faith to reason, and sacred theology to philosophy, and the breadth of the Catholic philosophical tradition, in light of the philosophical changes of the last hundred years. And that means that the philosophy of St. Thomas continues to retain a privileged place in the Church, but in a way that explicitly and consciously maintains receptivity to any philosophical truths in any other philosophical traditions. This is, in fact, one thing that St. Thomas was so good at; recognizing and synthesizing truths in different philosophical traditions. It is a philosophical humility that is not equivalent to philosophical skepticism or relativism. And that’s the way to think of what’s going on in Fides et Ratio, in my opinion. The Church is not endorsing philosophical skepticism, or a kind of philosophical pluralism that amounts to relativism (i.e. you have your philosophical system; I have mine; who is to say whose is better?) or denying that the philosophical truths found in St. Thomas can be known to be true through the natural light of reason. Rather, the Church is clarifying that not all philosophical truth is found in the philosophy of St. Thomas, and that the Catholic philosophical tradition is broader than the philosophy of St. Thomas. But, a recognition of this breadth does not displace St. Thomas or the place of his philosophy. Rather, I think it elevates it, in a certain respect, by acknowledging its perennial validity even in the contemporary philosophical era, and by calling on it to expand itself (in a Thomistic way) to recognize and incorporate the philosophical truths made more clear in other philosophical traditions. It is not a rejection of perennial philosophy, or of Thomism’s place in perennial philosophy. Rather, it is a recognition that philosophical development since the time of St. Thomas has not been limited to those philosophers following explicitly in the Thomistic philosophical tradition, and a call for Catholic philosophers to embrace and incorporate those truths — and that’s something I think St. Thomas himself would do. Much more can be said in response to your question, but that’s my short and quick answer.
This topic, faith and reason, has simply devoured me. I have so many questions, and I hope Called to Communion will do more content on it in the future. As I have said, it is an especially important topic given the “new” atheism, and there are so many ways that this topic can be discussed. One avenue that interests me is the contrast between Protestantism and Catholicism on faith and reason.
Anyway, maybe we can discuss one thing, though. Let me quote one of my books to ask the question:
“While the human mind can satisfy itself by rational demonstration of the existence of God, and by historical investigation of the “fact of revelation,” it remains true that for a great proportion of the human race such a process of scientific demonstration is a practical impossibility. A secure conviction that a good God exists is obtainable by all men, and by the large majority is actually obtained. But how many are able, besides justifying that conviction to themselves, to construct a scientific proof of the existence of God which satisfies all the demands of human reason, with all the apparatus of objection and answer which is needed by the modern apologist ? … But relatively few Catholics have either the leisure or the ability to investigate the historical documents, to sift for themselves the evidence required for a scientific historical demonstration: relatively few non-Catholics would have the opportunity of thus verifying the claims of the Catholic Church. Moreover, the difficulty in the way of such scientific certitude is infinitely increased when we consider the condition of the uneducated and the young. Can these make no act of faith until they have completed a course of philosophy, until they have satisfied their minds by answering every objection that can be made against the existence of God, proved the divinity of the Christian religion by a rigid demonstration, and thus arrived at perfect evidence concerning the preambles of faith ?”
So what about these unlearned masses who do not have the time or resources to go through the motives of credibility? Do they have faith? Is their faith fideistic? What about Protestants or even non-Christians? Do they have faith? If so, what kind of faith is it?
“So what about these unlearned masses who do not have the time or resources to go through the motives of credibility? Do they have faith? Is their faith fideistic? What about Protestants or even non-Christians? Do they have faith? If so, what kind of faith is it?”
SOME GENERAL PRINCIPALS:
General Principal Number 1: Invincible Ignorance. One is not held morally accountable for a lack of knowledge which one is practically incapable of attaining – i.e. the obstacles preventing the attainment of some knowledge are “invincible” or unbeatable. This notion carries with it the implicit assumption that EVERY human person is, at a minimum, morally bound to seek and embrace the truth as far as he/she can given practical circumstances. Obviously, the level of invincibility theoretically attributable to any given person varies radically based on many factors related to individuals themselves, entire social classes, whole civilizations, and historical epochs: factors which condition the practical ability of persons to access available knowledge at any given time and place. For instance the theoretical argument for invincible ignorance would be much more plausible for a 4th century Chinese farmer that a 19th century Oxford Don.
General principle 2: progressive human knowledge and progressive revelation. The total aggregate knowledge available to the human race increases over time. This is evident in the development of natural religions, in the history of philosophic inquiry, and most obvious to modern people in the accumulation of technological and scientific knowledge and mastery of the material universe. But especially germane to this topic is the truth that God’s special revelatory disclosures have also aggregated through time; from God’s primitive interactions with man prior to Abraham, through His interactions with the Hebrews and culminating in the revelation of Christ in the “fullness of time”. Even after God’s final and full self-disclosure in the Incarnation and ministry of Christ; mankind’s explicit knowledge and understanding of the implications of God’s revelatory activity in history has continued to accumulate. Consider the entire history of Christianity marked with its clashes between heterodoxy and orthodoxy, leading to ever more explicit precision and development of Catholic dogma as the centuries march on. The people of God, and the human race at large, have potential access (if practical circumstances do not erect an invincible obstacle) to a clearer, more explicit knowledge of God’s revelation with each passing generation. The treasures of the Church are cumulative (and in this one can get a glimpse of what an ongoing gift the Magisterium is to the world). Grace builds upon nature and knowledge is received according to the disposition of the knower. God has adopted the gracious pedagogical strategy of historically synchronizing the degree and complexity of His self-disclosure with man’s progressively developing spiritual and intellectual capacities.
General principle 3: justification as union with God – not mere intellectual grasp of revealed data. On a Catholic understanding, salvation/justification is more aptly described as ontological rather than epistemic. That is, justification is a matter of real union with God – the presence of agape in the soul – and does not depend on the degree of theological knowledge or sophistication one possesses, nor the amount of time one has been able to devote to intellectual inquiry and reflection. Thus, the world’s greatest theologian and an uneducated member of a remote tribe, if they are justified at all, are both justified by virtue of God’s indwelling in the soul.
FAITH – MORE CLOSELY EXAMINED :
Since it is true that the presence of God’s life in the soul – agape – requires and presupposes the virtue of faith, the specific question of the nature of faith according to various dimensions needs to be fleshed out prior to arriving at a direct answer to your question.
The nature of faith from a Catholic POV broadly considered :
Since “articles of faith”, properly speaking, are by definition mysteries which human reason could not attain to on its own; they must be “revealed” by God (although the ‘deposit of faith” also contains some truth which are also accessible in principle by natural reason – such as the existence of God). Hence, the only ground for “believing” / embracing such articles of faith is the authority of God Himself – since He alone has access to direct knowledge of the articles of faith in question. Thus, very broadly, the act of faith is an act based upon the authority of God who cannot lie. It is faith in God.
The nature of faith from a Catholic POV considered according object (REMOTE and PROXIMATE):
Though the authority of God is the ultimate ground for the act of faith (i.e one believes the articles of faith because it is God who reveals them); God’s revelation does not come to us through any sort of direct Platonic infusion. Rather, it takes place progressively, in the course of real human history, through the instrumentality of human agents. This fact forces us to inquire into the historical/tangible locale where God’s revelatory activity can be recognized in history: and as you mentioned, this is assessed according to the motives of credibility which are purported to lend “credibility” to the claim by any historical/tangible source to be the proximate instrument of God’s revelation – i.e. the historical/temporal bearer of God’s authority. Thus, from a Catholic POV, God Himself is the REMOTE object of the act of faith, whereas the Church (as the instrumental bearer of God’s authority on earth) if the PROXIMATE object of the act of faith.
The nature of faith from a Catholic POV considered according to subject (EXPLICIT and IMPLICIT):
Considered from the standpoint of the subject making an act of faith, the act is EXPLICIT if one is intellectually / consciously aware that his embrace of the articles of faith is based at (least remotely) on the authority of God; and ideally both remotely in the authority of God and also proximately in the authority-of-God-vested-in-the-Church. However, the virtue of faith may also be possessed by a subject IMPLICITLY. A person may be described as having implicit faith if, although they are not intellectually/consciously aware that God is the remote object of faith, and/or that the Church is the proximate object of faith: nonetheless, if they were to become aware of one or both of these facts, they would without hesitation conform their beliefs to the revelation of God. Or better yet, the revelation of God-through-the-Church. Of course, since by definition there is no external sign of an implicit faith (as there is with a public/explicit profession of faith – “I believe all that holy mother Church teaches as . . .”); the actual presence, mode or quality of an implicit faith is only fully known to God – who sees the heart.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER:
Combining the 3 general principles outlined above with the various dimensions of faith just considered, the following can be said with respect to the categories of persons you listed within your question (I have developed these a bit in anticipation of additional scenarios):
The unlearned masses – non-theists:
Each person fitting this description is obliged to seek the truth so far as he can. Thus, he is responsible to seek the “End” or goal of human existence both to the degree that his temporal circumstances allow for active pursuit of that “end” AND to the degree that knowledge of that “End” is available to the human race in his give moment in space and time. Let’s assume that it is the brevity or hardship of life, or physical inaccessibility to the storehouse of human knowledge available in his age, that render the active pursuit of truth minimal (as opposed to negligence) And let’s further assume that such a person would have followed the truth wherever it led given the ability to attaint to the truth so far as it was available to him in his specific historical epoch. In such a case, this person would possess at least IMPLICIT faith with reference to God and the Church. So, for instance, someone living in the interior of China who has never has any contact with Christianity, yet fulfilled the two assumptions just listed; would presumably possess implicit faith in both God and the Church, even though he had no intellectual exposure to either theism or Catholicism. For his interior disposition to follow the truth is such that if he knew God as the remote object of faith and the Church as the proximate object of faith, he would readily submit his mind and will to God-through-the-Church. And that implicit faith would enable the ontological infusion of charity – agape – God’s presence into the soul, bringing about union with God – i.e. justification. Of course, only God possesses the interior insight capable of recognizing the existence of such implicit faith in a human soul. Further, it is evident how beneficial – how preferable – would be access to explicit knowledge of God and the Church as a means to securing and maintaining the fundamental disposition that constitutes faith. Hence, the mere possibility of salvation via implicit faith can NEVER be a reason to abandon evangelism and mission which seek to being a firm explicit knowledge of the truth to all men. Implicit faith in both the remote and proximate objects of faith leading to agape and justification.
The unlearned masses – theists:
Assuming the disposition to unreservedly seek and embrace the truth, the “unlearned” theist has some knowledge of God generally. Yet, said knowledge is minimal, inchoate, un-reflected upon (i.e. unlearned). Remember, the key to the presence of implicit faith is the desire to follow and embrace the truth as far as one can. Hence, an unlearned theist (with just enough knowledge to affirm that God exists) whose minimal and confused understanding of God was the highest he could achieve given his circumstances, would possess an EXPLICIT (though undeveloped) faith in God as the REMOTE object of faith and an IMPLICIT faith in the Church as the PROXIMATE object of faith. Again, the key notion is that if he were exposed to Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular, he would readily submit himself to the authority of the Christian-God-through-the-Church. Explicit faith in the remote object of faith and implicit faith in the proximate object of faith leading to agape and justification.
The unlearned masses – non-Catholic Christians:
Assuming the disposition to unreservedly seek and embrace the truth, an unlearned non-Catholic Christian (with just enough knowledge to affirm that God exists and that Christ is from God), whose minimal and confused understanding of God and Christ was the highest he could achieve given his circumstances; would possess an EXPLICIT (though undeveloped) faith in God and Christ as the REMOTE object of faith, and an IMPLICIT faith in the Church as the PROXIMATE object of faith. Explicit faith in the remote object of faith (God and Christ) and implicit faith in the proximate object of faith leading to agape and justification.
The unlearned masses – Catholic Christians:
Assuming the disposition to unreservedly seek and embrace the truth, an unlearned Catholic Christian (with just enough knowledge to affirm that God exists, that Christ is from God and that Christ founded the Catholic Church) whose minimal and confused understanding of God, Christ and the Church was the highest he could achieve given his circumstances, would possess an EXPLICIT (though undeveloped) faith in God and Christ as the REMOTE object of faith and an EXPLICIT (though undeveloped) faith in the Church as the PROXIMATE object of faith. Explicit faith in the remote object of faith and explicit faith in the proximate object of faith leading to agape and justification.
SPECIFICAL PROTESTANT SCENARIOS
Protestants who, through invincible ignorance, never consider the problem of the proximate object of faith:
See everything I wrote about unlearned non-Catholic Christians; only the degree of explicit knowledge of God and Christ may be higher depending upon the degree of learning. But the central highlight here is that the specific problem of the PROXIMATE object of faith never occurs to this person. This scenario potentially describes many Protestants, who, through living their entire Christian lives within safe circles where fundamental theological questions are never raised; quite literally, never think through the fact that all of their Christian beliefs were bequeathed to them by others. It’s much like the interior-of-China scenario mentioned above, but on a smaller scale. This is often the sort of person who approaches the bible as if it fell from the sky, quite innocently overlooking the historical processes of authorship, acceptance, canonicity, and the problem of divergent interpretations, etc. This person would possess EXPLICIT faith in God and Christ as remote object of faith (perhaps at a level beyond that of the “unlearned”); but would possess an IMPLICIT faith in the Church as proximate object of faith. The crucial key here is that this is the sort of person who, if they were confronted with the problem of the proximate object of faith and the truth about the Church, would submit their beliefs accordingly. Such a person retains explicit faith in the remote object of faith and implicit faith in the proximate object of faith, leading to agape and justification.
A Protestant who fails to reflect upon the proximate object of faith through neglect:
This person may have explicit faith in God and Christ as the remote object of his faith, but through neglect (rather than invincible ignorance) fails to reflect upon the fact that what he believes about God’s revelation comes to him through others. For this reason, he never raises the question of the proximate object of faith. Such a person acts counter to the fundamental disposition necessary for faith – an open, active, pursuit of truth as far as one can. He fails to reflect upon what he could and should have reflected upon. In short, his neglect entails that he does not take his faith (or perhaps truth itself) seriously. His faith may no longer be a living faith compatible with agape in the soul.
A Protestant who considers the claims of the Church, but rejects them due to misinformation or unintentional error:
Suppose a Protestant with opportunity and access becomes cognizant of the fact that his faith in what he believes God has revealed must also entail faith in the human instruments of that revelation. Further, suppose he does due diligence in exploring the problem of the proximate object of faith; but for some reason other than obstinacy (such as faulty information or a logical mistake) he fails to embrace the Catholic Church as the proper proximate object of faith. His rejection of the Church is neither willful, nor due to neglect, therefore he retains explicit faith in God and Christ as remote object of faith and implicit faith in the Church as proximate object of faith (even though he has failed to recognize her thus far in his pursuit of truth). Still, he has explicit faith in God and implicit faith in the Church (even though he missed her on the first pass). Hence, he has explicit and implicit faith leading to agape and justification.
A Protestant who considers the claims of the Church, but rejects them obstinately :
Needless to say, a Protestant who considers the claims of the Church, assesses them as true, but fails to submit his beliefs to her, intentionally rejects the truth and sins against faith. Also, a Protestant who considers the problem of the proximate object of faith and clearly understands that his own position reduces to setting himself up as the proximate instrument by which the articles of faith are determined, yet embraces this position nonetheless, would seem to sin against faith but knowingly putting faith in himself, even though God has not authorized him to determine the articles of faith.
TWO FINAL NOTES:
First, everything I have said above could equally be applied to the situation of human persons throughout human history. It need not be limited to the state of persons in today’s world. The only difference would be that, since revelation has been progressive, the level of responsibility for rejecting the truth (failing to pursue and embrace the truth as far as one can) is determined not only by circumstance and access to religious knowledge generically; but also by the degree of religious knowledge available in a given age. Thus, a Christian risks a greater judgment for rejecting Christ, than a Jew for rejecting Yahweh, who in turn would bear more responsibility than an ancient Tibetan. To whom more is given, more is expected – see Hebrews about the relative risk for rejecting the new covenant in Christ compared to the old covenant at Sinai.
Secondly, I want to reiterate – and this I think goes to the heart of your concern – that the fundamental disposition that disposes the soul for the virtue of faith (whether implicit or explicit) is a desire to seek and embrace the truth so far as one can. Faith does not depend on the degree to which that pursuit can in fact be practically carried out by any individual in any given historical place and time – for circumstance may greatly inhibit the pursuit. That is why both a peasant and a theologian can both posses the virtue of faith resulting in union with God and justification. But it still remains true that the theologian has a responsibility to pursue the truth further than the peasant, if only because he can – and since it fulfills his nature – therefore he should.
I absolutely agree with you concerning the relevance of this topic to the new athiesm. We need to be able to give an account both chronologically along a time line, as well as along a spectrum of belief (or lack thereof), of how human beings are and have been related to God’s salvific efforts accross space, time AND cultural mindsets (religious or otherwise). In other words, we must be able to convey the universality of God’s reach, while remaining true to Christ as the center and fulfillment of not only human, but indeed cosmic, history. Failing to do so, or failing to do so well, only enables others (especially the adolescent athiest crowd) to publicly abuse straw men, rather than face the vast cosmic vision of Christian (and I would argue especially Catholic) theology. St. Paul developed the outlines in his letter to the Colossians.
Hey, Ray. Thanks for that great post – I have to admit, some of it goes over my head and creates new questions. Before I ask them, can you please recommend some resource that goes into what you just wrote in more depth? Thanks.
My primary interest is in learning just how rational someone’s faith can be if they do not examine the motives of credibility for themselves. Let’s take the case of the average Catholic sitting in the pews. I would say that an unfortunate majority of them are no different, with the exception of keeping the Lord’s Day, than the Catholics who do not practice their faith. They attend Mass out of habit and are dangerously close to nominal Catholicism. Many of them, I would say, are fideists – they have faith that God exists as opposed to a rational certainty that he does. As I understand it, that is fideism and is blind. Incidentally, this is why, I think, so many Catholics are so limp about their faith. They have faith that God exists rather than having faith in him. And that’s just not good enough a foundation for them to step out and really live their Catholicism and share it with others. So it surprises me that you say that these Catholics have “knowledge” or “explicit faith.” As I see it, they don’t have either. At most, they have fideism.
I hope we can discuss this further because I really would like to be corrected on things I am getting wrong. Just have patience with me!
I’ve been enjoying this recent discussion from the bleachers, but I wanted to throw a couple of questions out there. The notion of implicit faith, specifically, is what interests me.
Mr. Stamper, you wrote, “A person may be described as having implicit faith if, although they are not intellectually/consciously aware that God is the remote object of faith, and/or that the Church is the proximate object of faith: nonetheless, if they were to become aware of one or both of these facts, they would without hesitation conform their beliefs to the revelation of God. Or better yet, the revelation of God-through-the-Church.”
If someone were to become aware of the facts of God’s existence and His work through the Church, presumably an awareness brought about by the Holy Spirit, would that person not infallibly adhere in faith to these facts if they were regarded as factual? Further, isn’t it a mistrust in these propositions as “facts” that results in a lack of faith in people who are consciously aware of them? But if someone believed them to be facts, would they not believe them faithfully and to saving effect? That is to say, doesn’t everyone have implicit faith as you describe it, even the man who consciously denies the truth of these articles of faith because he does not consider them to be facts?
If I’m missing the boat here, please let me know! Thank you very much.
I am limited to responding out of my experience, which may not be universal, but is the best place for me to start from.
My old communion, noting comparisons from other communions with both similarities and differences not withstanding, claimed to believe something. For our part, let us say that we believed in the “plain meaning of scripture.” I actively took up that belief, and defended it, against other communions which were similar and different. In the process of defending it, I was forced to address the fact that I would read one thing in scripture and find that the stance of my communion was different. The plain meaning of scripture did not hold.
My implicit faith in a tenet of my old communion was a boat that did not float.
The love of God, both His love for me and my love for Him, impelled me to search for that place where the plain meaning of scripture was met. It seemed to me that the plain meaning of scripture held not only a narrow view but a wide view as well. The Old Testament and Covenant was a pointer to the New Testament and Covenant, and people and ideas in the Old pointed to the New. A quick and easy example is where Paul sees Jesus as the new Adam (which by the way my old communion believed).
My experience tells me that a lot of people run into the consideration that “the plain meaning of scripture,” or whatever phrase is used by their denomination as a flag and a rally point, is not met. When they reach that consideration, they have to make a decision. Do they leave everything they have known (much of which is a real good) to advance toward a compelling Truth, or do they stay?
My own experience again tells me that some will leave everything and some will not. Some will make a slightly lateral move, away from where they are but not much further.
I did not have that option. I did the hard search and became Catholic. I found the plain meaning of scripture and of the direction of the Old Testament and Covenant being fulfilled in the New, in the Church founded by Jesus, overwhelming.
It was a revelation to me, that the Church Jesus founded believed everything that He said. I could not be anywhere else and in fact did not want to be anywhere else. Count the cost it is written. Here I am. I hope your search proves fruitful.
Here are some resources that I hope will meet your needs:
For a basic understanding of the role which the notion of invincible ignorance plays in Catholic moral theology, I recommend the Catholic Encyclopedia article on Human Ignorance, especially the second to last paragraph. Also, I recommend this article by James Akin (which contains further references to the Catechism of the Catholic Church as well as other Magisterial documents.)
An excellent overview can be found in sections50 – 141 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I also recommend a careful reading of the Vatican II document Dei Verbum. If you would like to explore the theology of revelation at even greater depth, I recommend the following books: “Models of Revelation” by Avery Dulles and “Theology of Revelation” by Rene Latourelle S.J.
On the Catholic understanding of Faith as trust in the authority of the Revealer (whether God remotely or God proximately through His Church):
See the article on Faith in the Catholic Encyclopedia. I also highly recommend the Called to Communion article St. Thomas on the Relation of Faith to the Church by Bryan Cross.
For a Catholic perspective on how the nature of faith is incompatible with the Protestant notion of Private Judgment:
I recommend the challenging (though admittedly controversialist in tone) article by the insightful Cardinal John Henry Newman entitled Faith and Private Judgment.
My primary interest is in learning just how rational someone’s faith can be if they do not examine the motives of credibility for themselves.
It is important to distinguish the ways in which one’s faith may be said to be “rational” or reasonable. If you consider the full range of knowledge you possess, I think you will find that a great deal of what you accept as factual rests upon the trust you place in the authority and expertise of those who have instructed you. Have you personally performed the calculations or carried out the astronomical observations which verify that the earth is round or that the earth orbits the sun rather than vice a versa? Perhaps you have seen photos, but even so, you must trust that such photos are not fakes. Consider the historical knowledge you possess. Have you personally surveyed the archaeological evidence, carbon dating results, or primary texts which fundamentally support such knowledge? In all likelihood, the vast majority of scientific and historical knowledge which you possess comes to you through the agency of some teacher, expert or specialist whom you trust (quite reasonably and rightly), because you expect that they (or at least their mentors) actually carried out the observations, experiments or research first hand. In point of fact, it is likely that your teachers (or even your teacher’s teachers) acquired their knowledge via secondary sources, such that one might have to track back through several knowledge transfers before coming upon a person or persons who actually carried out some fundamental observation, calculation, experiment or research upon which much of your current knowledge rests.
What goes for both science and history goes for any number of fields of human knowledge. Hence, knowledge based upon authority, rather than upon direct personal verification, generally constitutes the larger part of our personal cognitive storehouses. And it can hardly be otherwise, since one lifetime does not provide sufficient time for any one person to perform the direct observations, experiments, research, etc. necessary to remove this dependence upon others. Human knowledge is not only cumulative through time, but also inherently dependent upon trust in both our contemporaries and our predecessors. Hence, it is entirely rational that a wide range of natural knowledge is accepted as factual based on the authority of others, rather than having examined the grounds for this knowledge ourselves.
Likewise with knowledge of God’s existence or the claims of the Church. Remember, we do not, properly speaking, first put our faith in the “articles of faith” themselves (the content of revelation), since we can never demonstrate such truths via human reason. Rather, we put our faith in God as the authority whom we have reason to believe is telling us the truth when He reveals mysteries to us which are beyond the gasp of natural reason. The very nature of faith itself shows us the need for trust in the authority of another. Thus, a child who believes in God and/or that Christ established the Church because his parents teach him so, is acting quite rationally, even though he has yet to examine any motives of credibility for God’s existence or the claims of the Church. The child expects his parents to be knowledgeable and truthful about such matters, and so makes a rational decision to believe their word. Besides, a young child has neither the resources or intellectual development needed for investigation of the motives of credibility. In the same way, it would be quite rational for an adult convert to believe in God or the authority of the Church based on the testimony and example of say, a holy and learned priest, even though the new convert may not have the time, resources or basic education needed to make any sort of systematic examination of the motives of credibility for himself.
So this is a very common way in which a person’s faith can be rational without him or her having personally examined the motives of credibility. Faith in the authority of God and the Church based on the word of another person can be rational if there is good reason to think the person in question possesses reliable knowledge about God and the Church. Given as much, in any congregation, the degree to which persons have personally explored the “reasons” for believing that God exists, or the “reasons” for believing that the Catholic Church speaks with divine authority will vary widely based on age, or on how long one has been a Christian, or on one’s intellectual abilities, or educational background, etc. Yet, this need not entail that any of these persons is a fideist. A fideist is someone who embraces some position or proposition (religious or otherwise) with the idea that no reason for his view need exist in principal.
No doubt, unless factors beyond one’s control prevent it, each of us is obliged to come to an increasingly personal grasp of the motives of credibility that underlie belief in God and His Church in accord with our natural abilities and circumstances. We must be prepared to give an account of the hope that lay within us, as St. Peter instructs. That is exactly what the fundamental disposition for faith – to seek and embrace the truth so far as one can – entails. But to trade one type of rational basis for faith (trust in the word of a competent person) for another (studied examination of the grounds of faith); is not a move form fideism to rationality; but rather a move from one kind of rationality to another. A child or a convert who begins their Christian journey with a rational faith in God and the Church built on his trust in others, yet later fails to mature in faith by personally exploring the grounds of belief according to his ability and opportunity, shows a want of love for God, not an embrace of fideism.
Let’s take the case of the average Catholic sitting in the pews. I would say that an unfortunate majority of them are no different, with the exception of keeping the Lord’s Day, than the Catholics who do not practice their faith. They attend Mass out of habit and are dangerously close to nominal Catholicism. Many of them, I would say, are fideists – they have faith that God exists as opposed to a rational certainty that he does.
First, I think we should be careful about trying to assess the internal disposition of our fellow Christians in the pews, or the “average Catholic”. Attending Mass out of habit could be evidence of a virtue. Moreover, knowing that a person’s Catholic faith is only nominal (in name only) is not something one can conclude from mere observation during Mass. One would need to know a person more intimately to make such a judgment, and even then, charity demands that one always assume the best.
This is not to say, of course, that there are not Catholics (maybe a great many Catholics) who attend Mass without a living and active faith. From a Catholic point of view, faith – or the act of faith – is technically a gift from God distinct from the rational assessment of the motives of credibility for belief in God and the authority of the Church. Examination of the motives of credibility lead to a rational judgment (not formally part of the act of faith) that God exists and that the Church bears His authority on earth. The act of faith is a grace-enabled act of assent of both the mind and will to the authority of God-through-the-Church. St. Paul uses the phrase “the obedience of faith”. Not only is it submission of the mind to the propositional content of God’s revelation (many Protestants have a notion of faith limited to this dimension); but faith is also a submission of the will to embrace the implications of God’s revelation for one’s life direction and goal. Faith is the assent to follow the truth intellectually wherever it may lead, and also to embrace the implications of truths known in relation to the overarching goal of one’s life and actions. The overarching purpose of God’s revelatory efforts in human history is to enable mankind to know and achieve final union and beatitude with God. Man is destined for participation in the very life of God who is Goodness itself. For a person to love any lower, finite good more than God, is to necessarily frustrate his own human fulfillment. And if a man persists in setting some finite good or goods above God as the goal and highest love of his life, he risks crystallizing that choice, and with it an unfulfilled nature, for all eternity. To knowingly and willfully displace God as the coordinating goal of all of one’s actions, with some other lesser good which can never fulfill one’s nature, is precisely what mortal sin is.
The mystery of iniquity is that we humans are perfectly capable of making that irrational choice, even though we know it is destructive of our nature (St Paul expresses this dilemma poignantly in Romans). Hence, a person can continue to adhere intellectually to the fact of God’s existence, the authority of the Church, and even the truth of all her doctrines; while nonetheless making a willful choice to pursue some lesser good as the center and goal of one’s life and actions. A choice which necessarily breaks union with God, drives grace from the soul, and denudes faith of its active, willful component. Such faith, while still faith of a sort, becomes mere intellectual affirmation of what God has revealed, all the while refusing to embrace the implications of that revelation for one’s own life and destiny. This kind if faith (intellectual only) is termed “dead” faith in Catholic theology, and is distinguished from active and living faith, where intellectual assent is accompanied by charity, which just is that willful love of God as man’s highest Good. It is faith without works, which St. James explains is dead faith, for even the demons “believe” in a strictly intellectual sense.
As I understand it, that is fideism and is blind. Incidentally, this is why, I think, so many Catholics are so limp about their faith. They have faith that God exists rather than having faith in him. And that’s just not good enough a foundation for them to step out and really live their Catholicism and share it with others.
Like all human beings, Catholics are capable of sin. They may quite easily attend mass, receive the sacraments, wear a cross, etc., etc., while at the same time lacking a living, active faith in God. That’s what it means to be in a state of mortal sin, and many Catholics may be in that condition – only God knows. But none of these facts entail that such persons are, or ever were, fideists. If you know Catholics who do not seem to hold God at the center of their lives, it is far more likely that this is due to some choice which partly or fully puts some other finite good in the place of God as the guiding object of their actions. In short, you are encountering someone who is refusing to seek and embrace the truth so far as he can.. No doubt, one of the first consequences of such a choice is stagnation in one’s faith, such that one loses interest in converting whatever rudimentary knowledge of God and the Church one received from others into a personal intellectual possession based on study. So again, if you know Catholics who seem to show no interest in exploring the grounds of their faith, this too is more likely the result of a loss of love for God as the goal of one’s life, rather than any explicit, or even implicit embrace of fideism.
Faith can have its rational basis in one of two ways. Either trust in the word of a competent authority or else through a personal examination of the grounds of faith. For most people, whatever faith they have is rationally grounded in some combination of these two factors. Which of the two plays a more dominant role depends on many factors such as age, length of time as a Christian, education, intellectual ability, life circumstances, etc. This is why the assessment of the strength and genuineness of one’s faith does not depend on the degree to which one has successfully explored the motives of credibility for himself – since this will be different for each person due to such factors. The key question is whether a person retains the fundamental disposition of faith – the willingness to seek and embrace the truth so far as one can. And since only God knows with certainty whether a person is so disposed, we must be very careful about criticizing the intellectual quality of someone’s faith, since a person may be perfectly disposed towards the truth while simply lacking the adequate time or ability to make an independent study of the grounds of faith.
So it surprises me that you say that these Catholics have “knowledge” or “explicit faith.” As I see it, they don’t have either. At most, they have fideism
As I explained above, a personal examination of the motives of credibility is not absolutely necessary in order for one to have real knowledge or an explicit faith. Even a child who believes in God and the Church at a young age based on the testimony of his parents has a real (though rudimentary) knowledge of God, and that knowledge is explicit since the child can express it propositionally (albeit in a childlike way). Nor is such belief fideistic because it is perfectly reasonable for the child to trust his parents testimony. Something similar can often be said about new converts, the mentally handicapped, those in dire economic circumstances, those with little education, etc. The fundamental issue is whether or not a person is disposed to follow and embrace the truth wherever it may lead, because that disposition represents the will to place the highest good at the center of one’s life. If some Catholics seem to have little love for God, it may well be because they have little love for God. In such cases, whatever faith they have will likely have a rational basis, even if that faith is functionally dead due to a lack of charity towards God. The net symptom is still lukewarmness, but the diagnosis is not fideism, its sin.
If someone were to become aware of the facts of God’s existence and His work through the Church, presumably an awareness brought about by the Holy Spirit . . .
The facts of God’s existence and His work through the Church are accessible to natural human reason; therefore there is no need to postulate some special grace or work of the Holy Spirit to achieve such knowledge, – other than the general sense that the Holy Spirit, as the Third Person of the Trinity, has an active role in the creation and sustenance of the universe, including human souls and their intellectual capacities. As a practical matter, people become aware of God’s existence and the authority of the Church through the agency of other human beings. Thus, the apostles were sent. Faith comes by hearing, etc. As I explained to Brian above, the rational judgments that God exists or that the Church bears God’s authority on earth, are not – properly speaking – part of the act of faith. They are pre-ambles to faith. Faith is the assent of mind and will to both to the truth and life-implications of all that God has revealed, precisely because it is God who reveals. Such faith is a supernatural gift.
. . . would that person not infallibly adhere in faith to these facts if they were regarded as factual?
Obviously, so long as a person regards a fact as factual, he simultaneously affirms it as a fact. That seems self evident. The question is whether or not, having once embraced the existence of God and the claims of the Church as rationally persuasive facts, one might later deny the truth of these propositions. Given the fact of human free will, I see no reason to think that someone who at some time judges the motives of credibility for God’s existence and the authority of the Church to be rationally satisfying should be incapable of denying that position at a later date.
The same can be said, even as regards the formal virtue of faith itself, wherein the mind and will assent (adhere to) to the truth and implications of all that God has revealed. Although this virtue is a supernatural gift of the Holy Spirit, such gifts do not work deterministically so as to nullify free will. There is such a thing as apostasy.
Further, isn’t it a mistrust in these propositions as “facts” that results in a lack of faith in people who are consciously aware of them?
If I understand you properly, you are asking something like the following: “how can someone who is aware of the propositions that ‘the Christian God exists’, and ‘the Catholic Church speaks with His authority’, possibly be said to have faith?” The answer is that, such a person, while certainly not possessing explicit faith (i.e. he would not affirm those propositions) may still posses implicit faith, since faith (whether explicit or implicit) fundamentally depends upon a disposition to follow and embrace the truth so far as one can. How can this be? Well, if his explicit denial of these propositions is due to having been given false information (for instance a warped or caricatured description of Christianity), then his denial might not be built upon a willful rejection of the truth. Rather, he still implicitly seeks the truth, but has been misdirected – through no fault of his own – away from its explicit identification. With regard to an explicit identification of the grounds for faith, he may have been put off track, so to speak. However, his fundamental disposition to seek and embrace the truth so far as he can, may remain in tact.
I should note here that the Catholic Church, along with St. Paul in Romans 1, affirms that the knowledge of God’s existence and the essential demands of the natural law are evident from creation so that all are without excuse. But that is different from affirming that such natural knowledge of God and His laws will be propositionally clear and free from confusion or admixture with other errant notions.
But if someone believed them to be facts, would they not believe them faithfully and to saving effect?
See what I wrote to Brian above about dead versus living faith in Catholic theology. Faith, in the Catholic understanding is not mere intellectual assent of the mind to the truths which God has revealed. It is also assent of the will to the implications of God’s revelation for one’s life goal and corresponding actions. It is perfectly possible for a person to give intellectual assent to both the grounds for faith, as well as the content of faith, while at the same time willfully refusing to embrace the implications of both for one’s purpose of action in life. That is the mystery of iniquity, as well as the definition of Mortal sin. Remember, even the demons believe in a merely intellectual sense. Hence, from the premise that one intellectually assents to the grounds and contents of faith, it does not follow that such assent shall either remain faithful or salvific.
That is to say, doesn’t everyone have implicit faith as you describe it, even the man who consciously denies the truth of these articles of faith because he does not consider them to be facts?
Again, I think you are missing the pivotal point here. The question is not simply: “does a man explicitly deny the articles of faith or not?” The essential question is why does he makes this explicit denial? You are overlooking the role of invincible ignorance with regard to human culpability. If the reason for the denial is due to some gross misrepresentation of Christianity on the part of others, such that the only exposure to Christianity he has had is a gross caricature; then for all practical purposes, he may remain invincibly ignorant concerning the Christian God, the Catholic Church, and the articles of faith. He has yet to encounter the genuine article :>). Nevertheless, he may still remain implicitly disposed to follow and embrace the truth wherever it may lead; and presumably, should he be presented with an honest presentation of the claims of Christianity, that implicit desire will flower into an explicit affirmation.
On the other hand, if a person explicitly denies the truth of either the grounds for faith, or else the articles of faith themselves, because he consciously refuses to embrace the implications of both for his life; this shows that he has attached himself to some finite good in a way which makes him hostile to the truth. He will not countenance the existence of God, the authority of the Church or the contents of the articles of faith because to do so would force him to surrender that to which he is attached. Here we have someone who consciously refuses to seek and embrace the truth so far as he can – which is the heart of faith, whether explicit or implicit. He has not the disposition for faith, therefore he possesses neither explicit, nor even implicit, faith. He has set his face against the truth.
Hey, Ray. I have not forgotten about this discussion. I will be taking some time to review all the resources on this topic. That way, I can ask more precise questions if necessary. Thanks for the help!
What does a person in my situation do? It occurred to me to last night that I really have no idea what I am doing.
I am Catholic, but I don’t think I have made a complete commitment of myself to God yet. I am holding back. There are probably many reasons why I am doing this. Sin, of course. I struggle with that. But I also think that I cannot quite make that leap until I have a good reason for doing so. I keep thinking to myself that after I study the facts of this apparition or of that miracle, I will have found my good reason. Only afterwards, I think to myself, will I have a sure basis for believing in the Catholic Faith. Otherwise, I will always be doubting and neurotic about believing.
@Brian – just read your comment #22. I don’t know your situation, of course – but you sound to me like the way I was when I was a Protestant. What freed me – and made me a Catholic – was the discovery that the reasons to believe – the rational reasons, I mean; I do not deny that God has to turn the ‘water’ of our human belief into the ‘wine’ of supernatural faith – nevertheless, that the reasons for faith were accessible to reason – and that I could not base my faith on ‘this apparition or that miracle.’
When I was on my way into the Catholic Church, it was above all one book that helped me so much and pushed me ‘over the edge’ (or “across the Tiber” :-)) – that was Ronald Knox’s “Belief of Catholics.” It is a brief and reasoned approach to the matter. My feelings are subject to constant change; but the solid rock of reason is still there.
That said, I don’t suppose any of us will have a ‘complete commitment’ to God short of our death. It is always a partial matter – at least, so it seems to me.
I would concur with JJ and add the words of Scripture, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.” That being said, it is important to recognize our desire. What is it that we desire? What is it that you desire? The Blessed John Paul II spoke of the echo of God’s question to Adam, “Where are you?” reverberating within the hearts of men. St. Augustine beautifully said, “O Lord, Thou have made us for thyself and our hearts are restless until they find their place in Thee.” Man’s finitude cries out for the infinite, so much so that Chesterton could say that the man in the brothel is really looking for God, he just doesn’t know it. Who among us does not want to be happy? This desire for happiness, true happiness, says Augustine is self-evident. I would recommend that you grab hold of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and read the first section, the very first pages. I find the language there very substantive and simple, beautifully simple, I might add. As I have heard it said, The faith is not a leap into the dark but a step into the light, for in “your light O God we see light.”
Remember what Jesus said in John’s Gospel….”No one comes to me unless the Father draws them…” The Father is drawing you to Christ, He uses many ways to do this, but at the end of the day He cares more about you fulfilling His purpose for your life than you do. Your part in the Great Covenantal Partnership is to yield to His wooing. His part is the rest. You can relax in His Awesome Love. You ask “what does a person in my situation do” This is such an echo of the response to St. Peter’s first sermon recorded in Acts. The response was “Repent and be Baptized” When we are cut to the heart by the eternal words of GOD and the conviction of the Holy Spirit, action is demanded, not more thinking. There comes a time in every person’s life where reality crystalizes and you have to move. Sometimes these moments come softly and sometimes not, but at that point there is not stasis, there is only step forward or retreat.
This was one of the best things I’ve read from you. Still a few parts where it gets to technical, but just about at the place where it could be disseminated outside of this forum to good effect. Love how it brings out just how incredibly understanding GOD is with our frailties…..
I am most definitely (no, really) the last person on Earth to be giving spiritual advice, and I’m not sure whether you’re reluctance is merely intellectual or if you are talking about something ‘more’. But if it’s the ‘more’, and not just a matter of being convinced by the evidence, I would definitely say that the most important thing you can do is to experience God in prayer and the Sacraments.
There is a huge difference (I think) between knowing about God’s love and actually experiencing His love; the latter happened to me when I was 18 years old and it absolutely changed everything. It is an experience that (as they say), you can’t explain it from the inside, and you can’t understand it form the outside. The only way to get burned by the fire is to touch it for yourself.
With all the really essential talk about the rational motives of faith, and the absolute underpinning of the fact that faith is a gift from God – something we cannot generate by our own efforts, I would like to point out that faith is, at bottom, an act of the will. We are not fideists. It is not the “will to believe” that I mean – nevertheless, the reasons for faith cannot, of themselves, overcome our wills. The matters of faith are not like, for example, seeing that one and one make two – we cannot not know that one and one make two, at least as soon as we understand what the words mean.
It may be helpful if I mention, briefly, the three ‘crises of faith’ in my own life.
I was not brought up a Christian – nor, indeed, anything at all. At the very end of 1969, in a context of the ‘street Christian’ thing that was part of the whole cultural revolution of the time, I was exposed to the claims of Christ. I was terrified, then, of trusting any such invisible business – but the desirability was such that I knew I must say ‘yes’
In 1984, having been a Christian for some 14 years – and, by now, a fairly well-educated one – but at a time when my family was under great pressure – I had a terrifying experience of suddenly ‘realising’ that the whole thing was just wishful thinking – that, in fact, not only was there no God, there was no meaning to anything whatever. There was no ‘there’ there at all. I ceased speaking almost entirely, other than purely procedural speech – and for those who know me, this will be an astonishing thought, that “jj the mouth” could be silent ;-)
Part of the problem was that I was, by then, a radically Van Tillian presuppositionalist. Any attempt to provide reasons for faith was using human reason to ‘prove’ God and must inevitably terminate on an idol!!
Consulting my pastor was useless. He said that there were no intellectual difficulties regarding faith, only the desire to hide from God, to deny His existence – and that this was always due to hidden sin. What were my hidden sins?
I had many sins, and, indeed, some of them well hidden – but my pastor’s advice did not help.
After something like six weeks of this, I made a decision. I said to myself, almost in these words, “Well, if there really is no God, and there is no meaning to life – then my imagined theistic world is infinitely superior to this real godless world. I refuse to accept such an enormity. If I am unable to believe in God, I will at least act as though God exists, and as though Christianity is true.”
Some two or three weeks later, I suddenly remembered that there had been this terrible time during which I did not believe in God.
Those who know C. S. Lewis will recognise where I got the above idea from, of course. Nonetheless, my point here is that, as in my initial conversion, I had to make an act of the will to believe. It doesn’t happen to me automatically.
In September, 1993 the truly terrifying possibly came to me in, by then, an unavoidable fashion, that the Catholic Church might be simply and plainly divine – of God’s ordination. For those who have not been deeply Reformed, it may be difficult to see why this should have been terrifying; for those who have been where I was, there is no mystery.
In June, 1994, riding a ‘bus on work business, I experienced a form of fugue. I had been so terrified of this Catholic business. I had come to the point of imagining God in Heaven watching my struggles, and saying to Himself, “choose! Catholic or Protestant! And [evil cackle], whatever you choose, is going to be wrong!! You are going to choose wrong and go straight to Hell – hahahaha!!!!!.
I had for long suffered from fairly severe nasal allergies. My nose by now was so stopped I could barely breathe through it. I had an image of God holding my nostrils shut. “You are going to suffocate!! You will die and YOU WILL GO TO HELL!!”
I realised at this point that I couldn’t remember who I was or where I was supposed to be going on that ‘bus. I got off the ‘bus and sat down on a bench in the winter sunshine (New Zealand, remember – for you norteamericanos, think December :-)).
The verse that occurred to me was Hebrews 11:6:
…for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
“…must believe that he is…”
That was my 1984 experience.
“… and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”
Again, I made an act of the will. I said, again, almost literally, “I refuse to believe in a God Who sits in Heaven waiting for me to figure it out – and Who malevolently intends for me to make the wrong decision. I will believe in a God Who, knowing that I am trying my hardest, will help me, will turn me aside if I am wrong, and will reward my efforts if I diligently seek Him.”
Not long afterwards, on a ‘plane ride from Wellington to Auckland at the end of July, 1984 – again, suffering agonisingly from nasal issues (when you come back down from altitude with stopped sinuses, it isn’t fun ;-)), and having finished reading Knox – who really did, as I said, free me, told me that I did not have to just presuppose the truths of faith but could understand the underlying reasonableness of it – I prayed, “God, I know enough. I cannot wait to dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’ I know that if I knew I were to die tonight, I would want to see a priest today. If You don’t stop me, I’m going to become a Catholic.”
God leads us, by reason, by nature, by history, by the Bible, by our friends. We must take all these things into account. And then … we must choose.
I cannot adequately express the joy I now feel in reflecting on these own choices of mine. Thank you for your patience in letting me retail them here ;-) May the be helpful to Brian and others.
I want to thank John for the prayers. It made me very happy to read that you are praying for me. :)
The thing is, I think I need to convince myself of the “motives of credibility” before I make an assent of faith. Otherwise, I will always be neurotic about my faith because there will always be that niggling doubt. Is that the right way to go about it? What do I do? I think I guys you are saying that I should trust in God and seek understanding in faith, but that’s just it – I have not convinced my mind sufficiently enough to think that there is a God to trust in. I only partially understand the proofs for the existence of God, the motives of credibility, etc.
Shouldn’t I have those squared away lest my faith be fidiesitic?
Shouldn’t I have those squared away lest my faith be fidiesitic?
Yes, yes, yes!!!! That, you may remember, was the substance of my first comment – #23 above. You must be satisfied with what is called moral certainty. Moral certainty does not mean there is no possibility of your rejecting it; it means that, the nature of the question being of sufficient importance, on the one hand, and the nature of the evidences being sufficiently strong, on the other, that you believe you have a moral duty to act.
But the point of my comment in #27 was that, having done your homework, you will still have to act. God will not shanghai you abord the Barque of Peter.
I strongly recommend the following four books – in this order – and I recommend you not skip. I remember when I was trying to decide about the Church, having read the first three, I started Ronald Knox’s book, and I thought, “well, I understand all this stuff in the first four chapters; I’ll just skip on to chapter five.”
I am so glad I did not. I had really to take my faith out and examine it – and found it could pass the test.
The four books are:
“Miracles” by C. S. Lewis
“The Problem of Pain” by C. S. Lewis
“Mere Christianity” by C. S. Lewis
“The Belief of Catholics” by Ronald Knox
You will not be sorry – and if you appreciate beautiful writing, you will not be bored.
And I continue to pray for you and, indeed, I pray daily for those lurking on or commenting in CalledToCommunion. I know of at least two others who, through C2C, have wanted to become Catholics – and one of them – praise God! – was received into the Church today (she was supposed to wait until Christ the King but her RCIA people could see that she didn’t need to wait and couldn’t stand waiting any longer :-)).
I understand your dilemma too well. I too have suffered from doubt as an agnostic, an evangelical, and a Catholic. JJ has given you the very list of books that made me first a theist, then an evangelical Christian, and then a Catholic Christian. Doubt has always plagued and will continue to plague me, unless God gives me an experience like St. Paul or St. Thomas Aquinas. Our situation is not necessarily a bad thing. I would like to make a few points regarding our situation.
First: If you are struggling with the argument for God’s existence I would recommend JJ’s list, but I would also add a few resources if you wish to delve into the arguments for the existence of God. Check out Edward Feser’s blog and his book on AQUINAS (also his book The Last Superstition), Mortimer Adler’s HOW TO THINK ABOUT GOD (many considered Adler the greatest philosopher of the 20th century; Adler was an agnostic for 80 years and became a Catholic in his 90’s), Jacques Maritain’s (whom I consider the greatest philosopher since Aquinas; before his conversion he nearly committed suicide because of the apparent meaninglessness of life)APPROACHES TO GOD, and Chesterton’s ORTHODOXY.
Second: God remembers that we are dust. If God exists and is Love then your sincere doubt cannot separate you from His Love. There is a passage in Chesterton’s ORTHODOXY that helped me see this. Chesterton speaks of Christ in his human nature suffering all that we suffer. Here is the passage:
“But in that terrific tale of the Passion there is a distinct emotional suggestion that the author of all things (in some unthinkable way) went not only through agony, but through doubt. . . . . In a garden Satan tempted man: and in a garden God tempted God [Gethsemane]. He passed in some superhuman manner through our human horror of pessimism. And now let the revolutionists choose a creed from all the creeds and a god from all the gods of the world, carefully weighing all the gods of inevitable recurrence and of an unalterable power. They will not find another god who has himself been in revolt. Nay (the matter grows too difficult for human speech), but let the atheists themselves choose a god. They will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation; only one religion in which God seemed for an instant to be an atheist.”
Of course, Chesterton is not saying Christ was an atheist, but that Christ suffered in all ways save sin. Brian, your doubt should not stop you from committing your whole heart (even if your heart suffers from doubt). There are philosophical questions you need to resolve, that is good and praiseworthy. But you can’t wait until all doubt is gone. Doubt will be with us no matter what route we take because we are human, we are not angels. Jump into his arms with all of your doubt and sins. Unite your suffering of doubt with Christ; he makes all things new! All suffering (even doubt!) can be swallowed up into His Passion and used for his glory.
You are in my prayers Brian. I will unite my suffering of doubt with Christ’s Passion for you. I will petition those Saints who have suffered from doubt. Please do the same for me.
St. Augustine pray for us!
P.S. If you have any questions about God’s existence, I would be happy to answer any questions you may have either on this site or via email. My email is trosclairnick ‘at’ yahoo ‘dot’ com.
You stated, “….I have not convinced my mind sufficiently enough to think that there is a God to trust in.”
I do not know if you have children or not, but regardless of your actual experience, my following point will still stand. For me to hold one of my children in my arms, or to look my wife in her eyes, and to know the experience of Love for another person, is literally an Awesome Experience. Some may say that the emotions one feels for another are simply the result of chemical experiences in the brain. An endorphin rush.
But Love is beyond just emotion or chemicals. Love is what sustains us when we clean vomit off the mattress at 2:00 A.M. It is what holds us together when our wills clash in the pain and fire of an argument. Love helps us to forgive when, for the 1000th time, one of us forgets some mundane, incredibly important detail. Love ultimately sets us up for that blackest day when the final curtain separates, but then it holds us in place through our grief as we pass through the vail of tears. As Johnny Cash said in “Rose of My Heart”
So hard times or easy times, what do I care,
There’s nothing I’d change if I could.
The tears and the laughter are things that we share,
Your hand in mine makes it good.
True, love can be the most exhillerating experience, but ultimately love has content when it drives me to lay down my life for another, to forgoe my benefit so that another has Life. Ultimately, Love requires three things.
1) There must be two distinct persons.
2) Those two persons must have the ability either freely accept or freely reject each other.
3) Those two persons must freely choose to reject themselves in order to accept each other. (this can be onesided of course)
In a world without a personal, Trinitarian GOD, these conditions are not met and Love, as we know it, has no content. When you are considering whether there is a GOD and whether or not you can trust Him, start with the question….
Here are a few questions that I have not been able to find answers to in all of the books I have:
1) What does one have divine faith IN? Is it IN God? Or is it IN doctrines and propositions x, y, and z? Or is it in both?
2) Is it possible for one to have divine faith in some doctrines and not others? Or is it an all-or-nothing deal?
3) Is it possible for non-Catholics to have divine faith?
4) Is it possible for one to lose their faith? My reading of Newman seems to suggest that this is impossible. Either one finds that they never had faith or that they are sinning against their faith.
5) In tracking the development of faith throughout one’s lifetime, how does faith work in baptized infants, who lack the reasoning ability to see the truth of the preambles to the faith and make an act of faith? And let’s say this baptized infant grows up never has proper instruction about the grounds for faith and then just apostasies. What is the state of this person’s faith? Or the possible states if we can really have certainty?
Can anyone recommend books which broach these questions? I have had a heckuva time trying to find some.
1) What does one have divine faith IN? Is it IN God? Or is it IN doctrines and propositions x, y, and z? Or is it in both?
We have faith in God, and this faith in Him is expressed by believing what He has revealed. See CCC 150. See articles 1-2 under Question 1 of Summa Theologica II-II..
2) Is it possible for one to have divine faith in some doctrines and not others? Or is it an all-or-nothing deal?
I addressed that in “St. Thomas on the Relation of Faith to the Church.” In short, for dogmas it is an all-or-nothing deal, unless one is in ignorance that the doctrine has been defined as de fide by the Church or has been taught infallibly by the ordinary universal magisterium.
3) Is it possible for non-Catholics to have divine faith?
Yes. Invincible ignorance makes possible faith even where there is material [but not formal] heresy.
4) Is it possible for one to lose their faith?
Yes, a person can lose his faith through apostasy or formal heresy.
5) In tracking the development of faith throughout one’s lifetime, how does faith work in baptized infants, who lack the reasoning ability to see the truth of the preambles to the faith and make an act of faith?
Faith is an infused virtue, and in those who have not reached the age of reason, the infusion of the virtue does not require their cooperation. Faith remains present as the child grows unless at some point he falls into apostasy or formal heresy.
And let’s say this baptized infant grows up never has proper instruction about the grounds for faith and then just apostasies. What is the state of this person’s faith?
By definition, to commit apostasy is to abandon the faith. So the apostate no longer has faith.
Can anyone recommend books which broach these questions? I have had a heckuva time trying to find some.
I am confused on the probative force of the motiva credibilitatis. My understanding of Church teaching is that we can have – indeed, we must have – certain knowledge of the fact of Revelation prior to the assent of faith. Hence, Innocent XI condemns the following proposition:
” The supernatural assent of Faith necessary for salvation is compatible with merely probable knowledge of Revelation, nay even with doubt whether God has spoken.”
How can we acquire this certain knowledge? The Church seems to teach that it is acquired from a scientific investigation of the motiva credibilitatis. The First Vatican Council, for example, decrees that the divine origin of the Christian religion can be known and proven by “certain signs” (i.e., the motiva credibilitatis). And the Catholic Encyclopedia article on fideism harshly criticizes the view that the motiva credibilitatis provides only probable knowledge of the fact of Revelation:
“As to the opinion of those who maintain that our supernatural assent is prepared for by motives of credibility merely probable, it is evident that it logically destroys the certitude of such an assent.”
It is clear to me, then, that the Church teaches that we can and must have certain knowledge of the fact of Revelation prior to the assent of faith and that the motiva credibilitaties furnishes this knowledge.
Here is the problem. The Church also seems to teach (or, at least, her theologians) that the motives of credibility only furnishes probable knowledge of the fact of Revelation, directly contradicting what I showed above. Of course, this discrepancy could only be apparent and due to a misunderstanding on my part, but I have hard time resolving it. Take a look at the Catholic Encyclopedia article on faith. Under the section “Motives of Credibility,” you’ll find this apparent discrepancy. It quotes the earlier condemnation of Innocent XI, but then it goes on to limit the probative force of the motives of credibility to a mere “accumulation of probabilities,” in agreement with Newman.
Take a look at another apparent discrepancy from “A Manual of Catholic Theology” (emphasis mine):
“The Catholic Church therefore teaches…that these external and manifest facts which accompany the proposition of Revelation can produce a perfect certitude of the fact of Revelation in the minds of all.” (124)
“Besides this primary liberty of Faith, there is also a secondary
liberty, arising from the non-cogency of the motives of credibility, which allows the will to withhold its consent and leaves room for doubt and even denial” (132)
What gives? Can we have certain knowledge of the fact of Revelation or not? And do the motives of credibility provide that knowledge or not?
Also, on a related issue. Assuming that we can have a certain knowledge of all these things prior to the assent of faith, what room does that leave for the freedom of the act of faith? Doesn’t one come under an obligation to have faith after having that kind of knowledge?
I’m not really qualified to answer your question but I have at least one thought. One is that the term “certain knowledge” needs to be defined. If you’re talking about a certain, demonstrable knowledge, such that faith would no longer be required and that no rational person could deny it, we do not have that (or else as many people who believe 1+1=2 would also believe in the Resurrection.) Furthermore, in such a case, faith would not be necessary. We do not need faith to believe in absolutely demonstrable propositions.
So that to me suggests that the condemnation of a faith based on ‘probable knowledge’ must be something other than a condemnation of anything at all weaker than a demonstrable proposition about a historical event.
I am deeply interested in this subject as well. I wrote a detailed comment that attempts to develop a solution to your question a while back, but I cannot find it, or I would just link to it. Instead I will repost what I wrote there. Feel free to interact!
First, a few words about “certainty”. Certainty seems to be a subjective concept. Conclusions, based on evidence are not more or less certain, they are true or false. Certainty, or lack thereof, resides in the intellect on account of its grasp, or not, of the nature/truth of the evidence (premises), and their interrelations as concluding to truth or falsity. This is why mathematical and metaphysical certitude are generally more free from the subjective experience of doubt; because the truth of the premises (through greater degree of abstraction) and the interrelation of these premises (through first principles) are more immediately clear to the intellect.
Moreover, freedom from the subjective experience of doubt can been understood along a moving scale from less doubt (or practically zero) at the level of first principles, mathematics and metaphysics; to some minimal doubt at the level of other scientia (because grasp of the premises in other sciences involve lower levels of abstraction, and the interrelations are more complex; and therefore, the conclusions more tenuous relative to math and metaphysics – though still relatively certain due to the employment of a tested method). Next, moral certainty would entail a more significant subjective experience of doubt; however, given knowledge of moral principles, knowledge of aggregate circumstances would yield a certainty sufficient for moral action. A sufficient certainty, such that, given the principles and the known circumstances, one would be morally culpable for not acting in a particular way. Finally, there would be opinion, least certain of all, for its conclusions are un-vetted by exposure to any strict methodology or set of known principles.
Given something along those lines with reference to the spectrum of subjective certainty in relation to various kinds of knowledge, the first question I have is whether Catholic dogma requires us to hold that any sort of subjective certainty (even moral certainty) necessarily attends to the motives of credibility prescinding entirely from the assistance or grace. In other words, I am not clear that Catholic dogma holds that the motives of credibility, assessed strictly within the resources of natural reason, necessarily bring about some level of certitude. Consider the following from Dei Filius:
Nevertheless, in order that the submission of our faith should be in accordance with reason, it was God’s will that there should be linked to the internal assistance of the Holy Spirit external indications of his revelation, that is to say divine acts, and first and foremost miracles and prophecies, which clearly demonstrating as they do the omnipotence and infinite knowledge of God, are the most certain signs of revelation and are suited to the understanding of all.
So that we could fulfill our duty of embracing the true faith and of persevering unwaveringly in it, God, through his only begotten Son, founded the Church, and he endowed his institution with clear notes to the end that she might be recognized by all as the guardian and teacher of the revealed word. To the Catholic Church alone belong all those things, so many and so marvelous, which have been divinely ordained to make for the manifest credibility of the Christian faith. What is more, the Church herself by reason of her astonishing propagation, her outstanding holiness and her inexhaustible fertility in every kind of goodness, by her Catholic unity and her unconquerable stability, is a kind of great and perpetual motive of credibility and an incontrovertible evidence of her own divine mission. So it comes about that, like a standard lifted up for the nations she both invites to herself those who have not yet believed, and likewise assures her sons and daughters that the faith they profess rests on the firmest of foundations. To this witness is added the effective help of power from on high. For, the kind Lord stirs up those who go astray and helps them by his grace so that they may come to the knowledge of the truth; and also confirms by his grace those whom he has translated into his admirable light, so that they may persevere in this light, not abandoning them unless he is first abandoned.
It seems as though, DF is indicating that the subjective experience of certainty regarding the claims of the Catholic Church is a function of both objective, non-probabilistic motives of credibility plus the internal assistance of the Holy Spirit. If that is so, then Newman’s position is not problematic in the least, as I will explain shortly.
Could we not divide the question into two parts: Firstly, what does Catholic dogma require regarding the subjective state of persons in relation to the MOC – the question of subjective certainty? Secondly, what does Catholic Dogma requires regarding the objective, non-probabilistic nature of the MOC as concluding to the fact of the Catholic Church as God’s instrument for the definitive promulgation of divine revelation? Whether or not someone is, subjectively, more or less certain of a conclusion has no bearing on whether or not the conclusion is true or false in reality. Further, whether or not the MOC as relating to the divine authority of the Church are “probable” or not, can be taken in two sense: subjectively according to the internal disposition of the subject and objectively according to the state of reality. It seems to me that Lamentibili Sane (LS) where Pius X condemns the following proposition:
25. The assent of faith ultimately rests on a mass of probabilities .
must be referring to the objective sense. Here is why. Firstly, the Church cannot control the subjective disposition of any person. If a person thinks that the MOC are only probably true, rather than certainly true, there is nothing the Church can do about that; for the term “probable”, in that sense merely say something about the person’s internal attitude. Secondly, LS must be saying something like this:
“The assent of faith does not rest on a mass of evidence that is probably true, rather it rests on a mass of evidence that is true, simpliciter.”
The term “probably” here, seems very much directed at the state of the evidence (MOC) and its conclusion as considered distinct from subjective considerations (i.e. the one potentially making an “assent of faith” based on the MOC). So it seems to me that the MOC may be held as objectively non-probable, and true; leading (not probably) but truly to the conclusion that the Catholic Church is the guardian of divine revelation. Yet, without holding that everyone who assess them with the resources of natural reason alone, inevitably comes to see that conclusion with certainty. Think of Sherlock Holmes and Watson. A vast set of complex circumstances, evidences, and interrelations exist, which, when known and seen according to their objective aspect, lead certainly (inevitably) to one conclusion – whodunit. Holmes, “sees” all the circumstances, evidences and their interrelations clearly, so that he knows with certainty that one, and only one, culprit can have been responsible for the crime. Watson, however, scratching his head, and ostensibly considering the same circumstances, evidences and interrelations cannot reach Holmes’ conclusion. The difference? Holmes sees with a clearer light. His powers of deduction are sharper and better developed.
Now the key to this analogy is that the circumstances and evidences considered objectively, outside of their subjective assessment by any one person (one might almost say – considered ontologically), entail one, non-probabilistic truth. This affirmation – on the objective side of the question – would suffice to meet the demands of LS.
Nevertheless, on the subjective side of the equation, the subjective experience of certainty will only attach to the MOC (and their conclusion), if the subject is granted an elevated power of “sight”, which is just what the gift of faith is in its relation to the intellect. It is the “light of faith”, a supernatural “seeing” which illumines the evidence, and “connects the dots” so to speak in such a way that one “sees” the truth. This can (and often is) accompanied by the effects of the gift of supernatural faith on the will, which is to impress upon the will the “Motives of Faith” (MOF), whereby the will desires (wants to believe) the supernatural goods which the doctrine of the Church presents to it. Now, given that the MOC objectively entail the truth of the Church’s claims (LS), it will certainly be the case that prior to the gift of faith, different men of differing moral and intellectual powers and experience will find themselves viewing the claims of the Church as more or less probable (more or less certain) subjectively. And on my reading, this would pose no conflict with LS. Further, if Catholic dogma does not hold that the MOC yields subjective certainty without the internal assistance of the Holy Spirit (supernatural faith); then there is no need to worry over the subjective certainty of persons not yet influenced by the gift of faith with reference to the MOC. This solution would enable us to better understand Newman in a way consistent with Catholic dogma. Early Newman (initial Newman?), possessed of a powerful natural intellect, as he first surveyed the MOC, came to this:
I say, that I believed in a God on a ground of probability, that I believed in Christianity on a probability, and that I believed in Catholicism on a probability, and that these three grounds of probability, distinct from each other of course in subject matter, were still all of them one and the same in nature of proof, as being probabilities—probabilities of a special kind, a cumulative, a transcendent probability but still probability
Not that the MOC lead to mere “probable” conclusions in themselves (LS); but that Newman, according to his natural powers of intellect could only hold them subjectively as most probable. Actual grace was leading him along, giving him peeks and glimpses of the truth, but he had not yet received the gift of faith with grants that certitude which Catholic dogma affirms attaches to the MOC for the Christian. But later Newman, after cooperating with actual grace, ultimately experiences something beyond probabilities:
He who made us has so willed, that in mathematics indeed we should arrive at certitude by rigid demonstration, but in religious inquiry we should arrive at certitude by accumulated probabilities;—He has willed, I say, that we should so act, and, as willing it, He co-operates with us in our acting, and thereby enables us to do that which He wills us to do [actual operative grace – not yet certainty], and carries us on, if our will does but co-operate with His [actual co-operative grace – not yet certainty], to a certitude which rises higher than the logical force of our conclusions [supernatural faith and its attendant certitude]. And thus I came to see clearly, and to have a satisfaction in seeing, that, in being led on into the Church of Rome, I was not proceeding on any secondary or isolated grounds of reason, or by controversial points in detail, but was protected and justified, even in the use of those secondary or particular arguments, by a great and broad principle.
So, in short, my proposal is this. The MOC are not probabilistic, objectively. Considered apart from subjective assessment – as they stand in the real world – they lead truly to the conclusion that the Church is the guardian of divine revelation (sic LS). However, considered subjectively, certitude only attaches to the internal disposition of the subject toward these MOC and their conclusion after the subject is infused with the gift of supernatural faith. Hence, faith is not fideism, or contrary to reason, because the MOC, when seen in the proper light, and as they stand objectively, conclude to the claims of the Catholic Church. Nevertheless, supernatural faith is that proper light which enables the subject to see what is objectively there with a clarity rising to certitude. In this way, grace elevates nature, rather than destroying it. Without that gift, the MOC will seem more or less probable to human beings according to their intellectual and moral powers, opportunities and dispositions. This solution would fail if Catholic dogma demands that the MOC entail subjective certitude, absent the gift of faith. But I do not see – as yet – that it does.
I agree that our terms have to be defined, but I was hoping you guys could help with that! Notice, I am not using those terms – the Church is!
Why would the assent of faith would no longer be free? I have had this discussion before, and I still do not understand why having this prior knowledge takes away our freedom. Though we may have certainty of the divine origin of Christianity, we still face the decision as to whether or not we will accept the gift of faith, whether we will trust in God and believe in what we cannot see.
From “A Manual of Catholic Theology”:
“The certitude of the fact of Revelation must be in excluding all feared keeping with the firmness required by Faith. Hence all theologians teach that the demonstration of this fact from visible signs, such as prophecies and miracles, must be so evident as to generate a certitude excluding all doubt and
fear of error a certitude sufficient to place a reasonable man under the obligation of adhering to it. This, however, does not mean that the evidence must be of the most perfect kind, so as to render denial absolutely impossible. The proofs of the fact of Revelation may admit of unreasonable dissent,
as is manifest by daily experience.” (126)
^Here, it says denial is possible, but only unreasonable denial.
I didn’t use the word “free,” I just said that, for example, it does not require faith to believe that 2+2=4. I don’t believe that the Catholic Church could be requiring a knowledge of that kind as a motive of credibility. It would be a self defeating requirement it seems to me. i.e. the requirement would be: in order to have faith in X you must have a relation to X such that precludes the possibility of faith. So whatever the Church means, she can’t mean that. Unless I’m off my rocker.
I think what the Church must be saying has to do with moral certainty rather than something like a mathematical certainty. e.g. the defense attorney may explain to us that we cannot prove that Joe intended to kill Bob when he pointed the gun at his head and pulled the trigger. (Stay with me) Some people have survived gun shots to the head and Joe knew that. But you and I know with a kind of moral certainty that Joe is guilty of murder. Perhaps it’s that kind of moral certainty, not the kind where we know 1+1=2, that the Church requires of us as motives of credibility. Just speculating.
Ray’s reply is much better than mine. Read his. :-)
My understanding is the same as Ray’s – and is what is discussed in Knox’s “Belief of Catholics” – and implied in Newman’s “Grammar of Assent.” Knox, I think it was, liked to say that certitude itself requires the help of the Spirit of God – the gift of faith is what converts the water of moral certainty into the wine of certainty.
There is, here, the difficult question of priority – but priority is not always temporal priority. On the day I decided to become a Catholic, I prayed – quite literally – “Lord, I’ll never dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’ – but I know enough now that if I knew I were going to die tonight, I would want to see a priest first. If You don’t stop me, I’m going to become a Catholic.”
I had moral certainty – and I think that if anyone had tried to argue me out of my conviction, I would have shown that I had certitude as well. That certitude came from the motiva credibilitatis but was something higher than them.
Those are some interesting distinctions. I will have to re-read all that I have on the subject and see if those distinctions help provide a more correct understanding of the Church’s teaching. That being said, I do think it is very clear that not only does the Church teach that we can have certainty of the fact of Revelation prior to the assent of faith, we MUST have that certainty prior to the assent of faith. We must give everything of ourselves in trust to God, there can be no room for doubt, no holding back. Certainty is necessary for faith. At least, that is my tentative understanding.
Later tonight, I’ll post some quotations that I think might help.
Brian writes: That being said, I do think it is very clear that not only does the Church teach that we can have certainty of the fact of Revelation prior to the assent of faith, we MUST have that certainty prior to the assent of faith.
The supernatural gift of faith is one of the seven sanctifying gifts of the Holy Spirit. One receives the seven sanctifying gifts of the Holy Spirit by receiving the Sacrament of Baptism. So if the sanctifying gift of faith is received through the grace of Baptism, what kind of faith must a catechumen have before receiving the Sacrament of Baptism?
Catechism of the Catholic Church
Faith and Baptism
1253 Baptism is the sacrament of faith. But faith needs the community of believers. It is only within the faith of the Church that each of the faithful can believe. The faith required for Baptism is not a perfect and mature faith, but a beginning that is called to develop. The catechumen or the godparent is asked: “What do you ask of God’s Church?” The response is: “Faith!”
Can a man, apart from grace, develop a faith that may not be “not perfect and mature”, but is sufficient to lead him seek out the Sacrament of Baptism? I believe that to say that is possible is to embrace the heresy of semi-Pelagianism. Hence the teaching of the Catholic Church that actual grace, in the form of operating and cooperating grace, is given to catechumens before they seek the sanctifying grace that bestows upon them the seven sanctifying gifts of the Holy Spirit.
A catechumen makes this confession of faith before he receives the Sacrament of Baptism:
I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.
That profession of faith can only be made with a faith that is not perfect or mature, since one is in absolute need of the sanctifying gifts of the Holy Spirit to have perfect and mature faith.
Brian writes: … we can have certainty of the fact of Revelation prior to the assent of faith …
A Catechumen can believe with a faith that is neither perfect nor mature in what God has revealed. That said, I believe that moral certainty in God’s revelation comes through the reception of the sanctifying gifts of faith and knowledge. Perhaps that is wrong though, maybe the faith of the catechumen qualifies as moral certainty in what God has supernaturally revealed.
Ray Stamper writes: … supernatural faith is that proper light which enables the subject to see what is objectively there with a clarity rising to certitude. In this way, grace elevates nature, rather than destroying it.
I agree. I think that the question here is whether or not one have moral certainty apart from the sanctifying gifts of faith and knowledge. What do you think about this?
That being said, I do think it is very clear that not only does the Church teach that we can have certainty of the fact of Revelation prior to the assent of faith, we MUST have that certainty prior to the assent of faith.
As I said, one of the first things you will need to do before the discussion can be very useful is become very clear on what the term certainty means. Defining terms and all that (which is why I discussed the spectrum of subjective certainty). I hope we can agree that the very notion of certainty applies not to things as the exist in reality, but the subjective state of persons according to the degree in which they have confidence (i.e. certainty) that their thoughts adequately correspond to reality. I am sure you will agree that *certainty* taken in this way is not necessarily a simple notion (mathematical certainty, metaphysical certainty, scientific certainty, moral certainty, etc.). So when one finds the term “certain” or “certainty” utilized within Magisterial documents, ISTM that one needs to recognize the elasticity of that term in itself.
Secondly, I look forward to whatever quotes you might offer to help clarify the discussion. However, I would caution that in an area as nuanced as this, it might be best to restrict quotations to formal Magisterial documents, rather than the Catholic Encyclopedia or various manuals of theology, regardless of how – generally – sound such sources might be. For myself, I have yet to find any Magisterial textual evidence for the proposition that
“we MUST have that certainty prior to the assent of faith” [emphasis mine]
But I am happy to stand corrected. As another example of the notion I am getting at, consider the earlier quote you provided from Pope Innocent XI, wherein he condemns the following proposition:
“The supernatural assent of Faith necessary for salvation is compatible with merely probable knowledge of Revelation, nay even with doubt whether God has spoken.”
Note how it is only the supernatural assent of faith which is incompatible with “merely probable knowledge”. This leaves open the possibility that absent the supernatural gift of faith, natural reason may indeed be left with probable knowledge (perhaps highly probable or even morally compelling knowledge – yet probable, nonetheless). Moreover, as I said before, the subjective state of certainty which obtains in this or that person’s intellect, with regard to the MOC for the claims of the Catholic Church; in no way undermines the objective state of the evidence as concluding to the truth of the Catholic claims, such that If one could apprehend all the relevant facts at once, as God does, the premises and the logic would and could only result in this one conclusion.
But men differ widely, and for a variety of reasons, with regard to the degree in which they can see, in a unified and integrated way, the truth and interrelations of the various MOC. The most common difference pertains to the degree in which a person is asking the right questions to begin with. That is why so many converts here at CTC and elsewhere describe the common scenario wherein for much of their life, it never occurred to them to even explore the Catholic claims. Then, some event or question forced them to ask this or that fundamental question which they had heretofore never considered. More often than not, this sets off a train of exploration in which the questions asked get better and sharper so that the answers sought and obtained begin to coalesce into a clearer and clearer conviction that the Church might just be what she claims to be. Subjectively then, certainty regarding the claims of the Catholic Church moves from downright denial (or ignorance) through various stages of (often frightening) insight and growing conviction, until the force of probability weighs heavily on the intellect in preparation for the gift of grace which elevates and enables the convert to make the supernatural assent of faith – to commit his entire self to Christ and His Church. That’s the sort of progression which I am suggesting can be reconciled with the official Magisterial teaching of the Church.
I am just checking in. The weekend is upon us, and that means I will not have any time to do anything but study, work, or worship! I work part-time on the weekends, and when I am not working, I am either studying or going to church functions. I will not be able to respond to your comment until next week. I wonder, though, have you taken a look at any of the sources I have listed above? Have you read “Faith and Revealed Truth?” Every time I read that essay, I pick up something that I did not pick up in previous readings.
No problem. Life happens (I have 5 kids, run my own business and am working on an MA, so no worries, I get the time pressure thing :>). I have not read the essay you mention, but I will try and take a look at it sooner than later. BTW, do you, on occassion, comment over at Ed Feser’s site?
Yikes. It has been over a month since I posted here, and I still have not gotten around to responding to your comment. I have been doing a lot of reading, but I am still hung up on the issues I have been having. I think this is because there is disagreement between the theologians I am reading. I could be wrong about that, though. Have you read Rev. Smith’s essay yet?
A small contribution to illustrate what Ray said in his very good comment #39. Let’s remember the passage in John’s Gospel when Thomas, on Resurrection Sunday, returned to the house and was told by the other 10 apostles that the Lord had appeared to them. There were basically three ways whereby Thomas could interpret that:
1. Jesus had indeed risen from the dead and appeared to them.
2. The other 10 apostles had conspired to play a con on him.
3. The other 10 apostles had eaten or drunk something very bad that made them hallucinate. (Smoking was not an available option.)
(To note, the options paralleled those relating to Jesus himself: Lord, liar or lunatic.)
Option 3 was wholly without precedent, and could additionally be readily discarded by Thomas, if he had not been there at their last meal, by checking the clarity of the other 10 apostles’ minds regarding other matters, and also by trying any leftover food or drink himself.
Option 2 was wholly unthinkable from people who had been his family for the last two years.
Therefore, option 1 was, objectively, the only logical possibility, not just the most probable one. Yet Thomas failed to assent to it.