V. THE CHRISTIAN FAITH
1. Christian faith is the firm conviction, arrived at with the grace of God, that all that Jesus Christ taught on earth is true, as well as all that the Catholic Church teaches by the commission she has received from Him.
At the Last Supper Our Lord said “This is My body,” “This is My blood.” Although the apostles had the evidence of their senses that what lay before them was only bread and wine, yet they believed that the words of Christ were true. The holiness of the life of Christ, the numerous miracles that He worked, the predictions of His that were fulfilled, had convinced the apostles that He was the Son of God, and that therefore every word that He spoke was true. God promised Abraham many descendants, and then commanded him to slay his only son. Abraham obeyed, because he knew that God’s word must come true (Heb. xi. 19; Rom. iv. 9). This was a splendid example of faith. St. Paul (Heb. xi. 1) calls faith “the evidence of things that do not appear.”
Christian faith is at the same time a matter of the understanding and the will.
Before a man believes, he inquires whether what he is asked to believe was really revealed by God. This inquiry is a duty, for God exacts of us a reasonable service (Rom. xii. 1), and warns us that “he who is hasty to believe is light in heart” (Ecclus. xix. 4). But when once a man has arrived at the conviction that the truth which is in question was really revealed by God, then the will must at once submit to what God has laid down, even though the reason cannot fully grasp its meaning. If the will does not submit, faith is impossible. No man can believe unless he wills to believe.
2. Faith is concerned with many things which we cannot perceive with our senses and cannot grasp with our understanding.
Faith is a conviction respecting that which we see not (Heb. xi. 1). We believe in God, though we do not see Him; we believe in angels though we have never seen them. We believe in the resurrection of our bodies, though we do not understand how it can be. So, too, we believe in the mysteries of the Blessed Trinity, of the Incarnation, and of the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. This is why faith is so pleasing to God. “Blessed are they,” says Our Lord to St. Thomas, “who have not seen but have believed” (John xx. 29).
Faith never requires us to believe anything that is contradictory to human reason.
The mysteries of faith are above and beyond our reason, but are never opposed to reason. For God has given us our reason, and it is the same God Who has given us the teaching of Christ and of the Church. He who rejects any doctrine of the Church ultimately finds himself involved in a contradiction. Hence Bacon truly says: “A little philosophy takes a man away from religion, but a sound knowledge of philosophy brings him back to religion.”
3. We act quite in accordance with reason when we believe, because we trust ourselves to God’s truthfulness, and because we know for certain that the truths of faith are revealed to us by God.
A short-sighted man believes a man with longer sight when he tells him that a balloon is floating in the heavens. A blind man believes one with sound sight when he tells him that the map before him is a map of Europe. We believe in the existence of the cities of Constantinople, Pekin, and Buenos Ayres, though we may never have seen them. In so doing we act reasonably. But how far more reasonably do we act when we believe God! Man may be mistaken, or may be deceiving us, whereas God cannot err and cannot deceive us. It is the truthfulness of God on which we rely when we make an act of faith. We must, however, previously be certain that the doctrine or fact which we are asked to believe is one that has really been revealed by God. God bears witness to Himself as the Author of the truths of faith by many actions that He alone can perform, such as miracles and prophecies. The man of good will can always find a sufficient reason for believing, a man of bad will an excuse for not believing.
We believe the words of Christ, because He is the Son of God, and can neither deceive nor be deceived. Moreover He has established the truth of what He taught by the miracles that He worked.
It would be a blasphemy to suppose that Our Lord, Who is truth itself, could ever have, in one single instance, deceived us.- Hence faith gives us a greater certainty than the evidence of our senses. Our senses can deceive us God cannot deceive us. Christ Himself appeals to the miracles He wrought, when He says, “If any one will not believe Me, let him believe the works” (John x. 38).
We believe the teaching of the Church because Christ guides the Church to all truth through the Holy Spirit, and guards it against all error, and also because God, even up to the present day, has confirmed the truth of the teaching of the Catholic Church by miracles.
Our Lord before His ascension said to His apostles: “Behold I am with you all days even to the end of the world” (Matt. xxviii. 20). And at the Last Supper: “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Paraclete, that He may remain with you forever, the Spirit of truth” (John xiv. 16). The Holy Spirit is therefore still in the midst of the Church, just as He was on the Day of Pentecost. God moreover still works miracles in the Catholic Church. Witness, e.g., the countless miracles of Lourdes, and those that take place at the well of St. Winifred in Wales; and also those that must precede every beatification. Witness again the numerous bodies of the saints that have remained incorrupt for long years after their death, as those of St. Francis Xavier, St. Teresa, St. Elizabeth of Portugal, St. John of the Cross, and many others. Witness again the head of the Venerable Oliver Plunkett in the Dominican Convent at Drogheda, which not only remains incorrupt, but emits a most delicious fragrance. Most of these bodies were buried in the earth for years, and were found incorrupt when their graves were opened. Witness again the miracle which takes place at Naples every year, when the blood of St. Januarius becomes liquid on being brought near the silver case in which the head of the saint is kept, and again solidifies as soon as it is removed. Faith gives us a more certain knowledge than that which we gain through our senses, or that which we arrive at by our reasoning powers. Our senses can mislead us, God cannot; e.g., a stick, part of which is in the water, looks bent; a sound that strikes against a flat building seems to come from the opposite quarter to that whence it really proceeds. Our intellect, too, can deceive us, weakened as it is by original sin. As we see better with a tele scope than with the naked eye when the object is far away, so faith sees further and better than reason. We must not confuse faith with opinion. Faith is certain and sure, opinion is not.
4. The Christian faith comprises all the doctrines of the Catholic faith.
He who willfully disbelieves a single doctrine of the Catholic Church has no true faith, for he who receives some of the words of Christ and rejects others, does not really believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that He guides the Catholic Church.
A faith which does not comprise all the doctrines of the Catholic Church is no faith at all. It is like a house without a foundation. A man who believes all other Catholic doctrines, but rejects the infallibility of the Pope, has no true faith. What insolence it is on the part of men to treat God like a dishonest dealer, some of whose goods they accept, and others reject! What utter folly to think that we know better than God! As a bell in which there is one little crack is worthless, as one false note destroys a harmony, as a grain of sand in the eye prevents one from seeing, so the rejection of a single dogma makes faith impossible. He who willfully rejects a single dogma sins against the whole body of doctrine of the Catholic Church. Hence no heretic, if he is so through his own fault, can make an act of faith, even in the existence of God or the divinity of Jesus Christ.
Although it is necessary to faith that all the teaching of the Catholic Church should be believed, yet it is not necessary to be acquainted with every one of her doctrines. But a Catholic must at the very least know that there is a God, and that God directs the life of men, rewards the good, and punishes the wicked; he must also know that there are three persons in God, and that the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity has become man, and has redeemed us on the cross.
St. Paul tells us that “He that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is the rewarder of them that seek Him” (Heb. xi. 6). This was the minimum required before the coming of Christ, and is now required of those who have never come within reach of the Gospel. In a country where the Gospel is preached the case is quite different, and no one can be admitted to the Sacraments of Baptism or Penance until he has been instructed in the above-mentioned truths.
He who has an opportunity of being instructed must also learn and understand the Apostles Creed, the commandments of God and of the Church, and also he must have some knowledge of the doctrines of grace, of the sacraments, and of prayer, as set forth in some Catechism authorized by the bishops of the country where he lives.
5. Faith is a gift of God, since the power to believe can only be attained through the grace of God.
St. Paul tells us “By grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God” (Eph. ii. 8). And Our Lord says, “No man can come to Me, unless it be given to him by My Father” (John vi. 66). God gives us the gift of faith in Baptism; hence Baptism is called “the sacrament of faith.” Until the newly baptized child comes to the use of reason, he cannot use this power of believing, or make an act of faith. He is like a child who is asleep, who has the faculty of sight, but cannot use it until he opens his eyes. Then he -can see the objects around him under the influence of the light. So the child who attains to reason is able to believe the truths of religion under the influence of the grace of God.
God bestows the knowledge of the truth and the gift of faith chiefly on those who (1), strive after it with earnestness and per severance; (2), live a God-fearing life; (3), pray that they may find the truth.
An earnest desire after truth is a sure means of attaining to it, for Our Lord has said that “Those who hunger and thirst after justice shall have their fill” (Matt. v. 6). And again God says through the mouth of the prophet, “You shall find Me when you seek Me with your whole heart” (Jer. xxix. 13). The Roman philosopher Justinus was an instance of the fulfillment of this promise, for God rewarded his earnest desire for truth by causing him to fall in with an old man on the banks of the Tiber, who instructed him in the truths of the Christian faith. A life in accordance with the law of God will also obtain the grace of faith. “If any one shall do the will of God, he shall know of the doctrine” (John vii. 17). To such a one God will give an interior light, or will send some one to instruct him, as He did to Cornelius (Acts x. 30 seq.). So Cardinal Newman prayed for long years for the “kindly light” which at last brought him to the door of the Catholic Church and the same was the case with countless other converts from Protestantism. Sometimes God in His mercy gives the gift of faith even to the enemies of the Church, as He did to St. Paul, but it is for the most part to those who are in good faith in their errors.
“When God bestows upon a man the gift of faith, He either employs one of the ordinary means of grace, such as preaching, or in some cases an extraordinary means, such as a miracle.
The ordinary means are preaching, reading, and personal instruction. St. Augustine was converted by the preaching of St. Ambrose in the Cathedral of Milan, St. Ignatius of Loyola by reading the lives of the saints, the Ethiopian eunuch by his conversation with St. Philip. Extraordinary means are those of which we find many at the beginning of the Christian era; such as the star that the Magi followed, the light that shone upon St. Paul on his journey to Damascus and the voice that he heard from heaven; the great cross that the Emperor Constantino saw in the sky, with the words “In hoc signo vinces;” the vision of Our Lady that Ratisbonne saw in the Church of St. Andrea in Rome in the year 1842. So the heathen boy Theophilus was converted by the roses that fell at his feet in the month of January, after the martyrdom of his playmate Dorothea (A.D. 308).
Many men fail to attain to the Christian faith through pride, self-will, and an unwillingness to give up the indulgence of their passions.
It is the lack of good will that debars many from the faith. Our Lord is the true light that enlighteneth every man that comes into the world (John i. 9). It is the will of God that all men should come to the truth. Men too often shut their eyes to the light, because they are unwilling to change their evil life; “they love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil” (John iii. 19). Pride is also a fatal hindrance to faith. God loves to make use of simple means to bring men to the knowledge of the truth and this the proud resent, just as Naaman resented Eliseus advice to go and wash in the Jordan. So Christ was rejected and despised by the Jews, and especially by the Scribes and Pharisees, because He was born of poor parents and lived in a town that was held in contempt: “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John i. 46.) So the upper class at Rome were unwilling to receive the truth from a nation that was despised by them, and from men who were in general very deficient in culture or position. So, too, in the present day God allows His Church to be oppressed and persecuted and looked down upon. Hence there is no miracle at which the proud do not scoff. God hides the secrets of His providence from the proud, and more than this, He positively resists them (1 Pet. v. 5).
6. Faith is necessary to eternal salvation.
Faith is like the root of the tree, without which it cannot exist; it is the first step on the road to heaven; it is the key which opens the treasure-house of all the virtues. How happy is the wanderer when he lights on the road which will carry him to his journey’s end; how far happier is he who has been wandering in the search after truth when he attains to a belief in the Catholic Church; he has found the road to eternal life. The saints always set the greatest store on the possession of the faith. “I thank God unceasingly,” said the good King Alphonsus of Castile, “not that I am a king, but that I am a Catholic.” Without faith there is no salvation. Our Lord says “He that believeth not shall be condemned” (Mark xvi. 16). St. Paul says that “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Heb. xi. 6). Faith is like a boat; as without a boat you cannot cross the sea, so without faith you cannot arrive at the port of eternal salvation. It is like the pillar of the cloud which led the Israelites across the desert, or like the star that guided the Wise Men to Christ. Without faith we can do no good works pleasing to God, or which will merit for us a reward in heaven. Acts of kindness, etc., done from a natural motive earn a reward in this life, but not in the next. They are like a building which has no foundation. Just as from the root placed in the ground arises the beautiful plant, with its leaves and flowers, so from the root of faith arises good works. Faith in God gives rise to a love of Him, and confidence in Him, and this enables us to labor and suffer for Him. Faith in our eternal reward encourages us in our toilsome journey through life. It gave Job his patience, Tobias his generosity to the poor, and the martyrs their constancy. Faith provides us with the means of resisting temptation; it is the lighthouse which enables the mariner to avoid the hidden rocks and quicksands. It is the shield that enables us to extinguish all the fiery darts of the wicked one (Eph. vi. 16). On the amount of our faith depends the amount that we possess of the other virtues, and the amount of grace that we receive from God.
7. Faith alone is not sufficient for salvation.
It must be a living faith; that is, we must add to it good works and must be ready to confess it openly.
A living faith is one which produces works pleasing to God. Our Lord says “Not every one who saith to Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doth the will of My Father Who is in heaven” (Matt. vii. 21). He who has done no works of mercy will be condemned at the judgment (Matt. xxv. 41). Such a one is like the devils, who believe and disobey (Jas. ii. 19). “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (Jas. ii. 26). Faith without works is like a tree without fruit, or like a lamp without oil. The foolish virgins had faith, but no works. Good works, such as are necessary for salvation, can only be performed by one who is in possession of sanctifying grace, and loves God in his heart. Hence St. Paul says, “If I should have all faith, so that I could remove mountains and have not charity, I am nothing” (1 Cor. xiii. 2). We must also be ready to confess our faith. “With the heart we believe unto justice; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Rom. x. 10). Man consists of body and soul, and therefore must honor God, not only inwardly, but also outwardly. Christ promises the kingdom of heaven only to those who confess Him before men (Matt. x. 32).
This article, V. THE CHRISTIAN FAITH is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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