THE VIRTUE OF
I. "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." Heb. 11:1.
A. The virtue of
faith is the first of the supernatural virtues, which are above all:
faith, hope, and charity. These virtues are supernatural both
because they deal directly with our relationship with God, and because
we can have them only by sanctifying grace. See CCC 153.
B. These virtues
are given at baptism. Thus, even an infant can have these virtues,
in the sense that, as his intellect, hopes, memory, and will develop,
the practice of these virtues will grow with them. Because the
development of intellect, hopes, memory, and will begin in infancy,
although they are not fully exercised then, these virtues are important
from that time onward.
C. There is a natural idea of faith as a part of human relationships.
1. In dealings with material things, as fields such as science, economics, and technology, a certain skepticism is a good thing. But even there, we must also be able to trust others, for otherwise each person would have to investigate everything himself, and thus not get very far. As Aristotle once said, "He who does not believe will never learn anything."
2. In deep human
relationships (e.g., marriage, family, friendships), doubt is a limitation.
It may be inevitable due to the fallibility of human nature, but we
would rather it not be there. In these cases, there is faith,
not only in the sense that one believes what the other person says,
but one trusts the other person in himself and in relationship to him.
3. But God and
His angels and saints are completely reliable, and thus this limitation
due to doubt is not essential. Faith is that complete trust in
God that both comes from and enhances our relationship with God and
the angels and saints. Faith is not merely belief in propositions,
but a deep trusting relationship with God Himself.
4. But we could
not have that relationship without God revealing Himself to us.
Thus, He inspired authors who wrote the Bible and guides the Church
to reveal Him and His words to us. The faith is based upon
our relationship with God, who gives these sources their trustworthiness.
Thus, as St. Thomas says, when we say we believe in the Bible or in
the Catholic Church, we are implicitly saying that we believe in the
Holy Spirit speaking through them. Summa Theologica Part
II-II, question1, article 9.
5. Our relationship
with others around us, and with the angels and saints, is essential
to our own faith. As the Catechism says, "Faith is a personal
act. . . But faith is not an isolated act. No one can believe
alone, just as no one can live alone." Catechism of the Catholic
Church 166. But the virtue of faith, in the strict sense of the
term, is in God alone and, by extension, in the Bible and doctrines
that He has inspired and guided.
D. Faith is both believing and intelligent.
1. Faith does
accept truths even though the human reason alone would not arrive at
them, and even if human reason would argue against them. If one
rejects something that is directly contrary to the Bible or the Catholic
faith, one is placing final faith in some other standard (e.g., empirical
science, popular opinion, or some philosophy.)
2. But faith, while it goes beyond reason, and may sometimes contradict what a person's reason says is more likely than not, is not at all contrary to reason. For it is a conclusion of reason that reason is limited in several ways.
a. An individual,
in all honesty, must admit that his own ability to reason through a
problem is limited and that his own conclusions of reason could be in
error. One must admit that, due to both ignorance and the tendency
to believe things that are convenient, an individual's reason cannot
b. We know
that every society in human history has had blind spots, some inevitable.
It would be the height of arrogance to assume that modern culture has
reason itself is limited, especially with regard to spiritual things
and things that are difficult to measure, such as love, freedom, duty,
and immortal life. See St. Thomas, Summa Theologica II-II
q.2 art. 3. Even in science, we can measure only what we can observe
and observation has many limits.
3. It stands
to reason that a God who cares about human beings would reveal Himself
to us and make certain the matters necessary to our salvation.
It therefore stands to reason that there is a revelation that God gives
us to reveal His saving plan for us. And, if the Bible is that
revelation, it stands to reason that He would give an authority both
to settle what is in the Bible and how it is to be interpreted.
4. Thus, if there
is a loving God and if the Bible is His revelation, the Catholic faith
is the reasonable conclusion. One may reason to the conclusion
that those propositions are most likely, but it is only by the grace
of God that one may come to the certainty of faith. Faith thus
is consistent with reason, but brings us beyond it. As St. Thomas
said, now with the Gospels, the simplest of handmaid can know more about
God than the greatest of the pagan philosophers. St. Thomas, Exposition
on the Apostles' Creed.
5. But even here,
reason assists faith by drawing conclusions from the proposition of
faith. Theology is, as St. Anselm put it, "Faith seeking understanding."
Our intelligent understanding of faith should increase with our intellect
generally. In addition, we should be ready with an answer to those
who ask for it. 1 Peter 5:15.
6. There can
never be any discrepancy between the certain conclusions of faith and
the certain conclusions of reason, for God is the author of both.
Catechism of the Catholic Church 159.
E. Faith is both
certain and free. Faith combines the certainty of things we see
and feel, with the freedom to accept it or not. There is both
a light and a darkness.
II. Faith is given in baptism and naturally leads especially to the practices of adoration, prayer and sacrifice.
A. Even before baptism,
divine grace moves those who are open to the faith, especially catechumens.
The gift of faith, that full relationship with God that leads to a complete
trust in Him, however, comes only with baptism. People who worship
some aspects of God, but without knowing Christ have the virtue of religion,
but not faith.
B. Adoration is a
lifting up of one's soul, mind and body to God; it flows naturally from
a sense of the presence of God. St. Thomas lists it with the virtues
of justice and religion, see Summa Theologica Part II-II, question 85
article 1, but the Catechism says it especially springs from faith.
Catechism of the Catholic Church 2096.
C. While one can
have a certain worship of God based upon a natural knowledge of God,
to enter into full communication with God, one must know who He is and
be near to Him. "If our heart is far from God, the words of
prayer are in vain." Catechism of the Catholic Church 2562.
By giving us His name, God allows us to enter fully into His presence
and communicate with Him. See Matt 11:27, John 15:26, 16:7.
Thus, we generally begin our prayers, "In the name of the Father,
and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
D. Offering things,
services and penances to God and His service as a sacrifice is natural
to religions throughout time and space. See Summa Theologica Part
II-II, question 85 article 1. However, with faith, we come into
a relationship with God and therefore allow Him to make our sacrifices
worthy. See Ps. 51; Heb. 13:12-16..
E. Faith, at the
same time, increases one's fear of offending God, but also changes the
fear from a vague, servile fear of offending an unknown God, or the
troubling fear of death, to a filial desire not to offend the One who
loves us so much and, completing this fear, the desire to love and serve
III. Especially contrary to faith are various forms of superstition, idolatry, heresy, irreligion, voluntary doubt, and agnosticism.
A. Superstition can either take the form of flatly pagan practices (e.g., horoscopes or astrology) or pseudo-Christian practices (e.g., believing that praying a certain novena absolutely guarantees that a prayer request will be granted.) Catechism of the Catholic Church 2111.
- God may, by His
grace, grant miracles or prophesy into future events, and prayers requesting
miracles or other favors with the understanding that God may or may
not grant the request are meritorious. However, any attempt to
connect the use of spiritual powers over material things with mere words
or actions alone or to predict the future based upon the mere performing
of actions or, worse still, invoking spirits on any other terms is magic
or sorcery and thus gravely contrary to faith and very dangerous.
B. Idolatry can include either a direct worship of false gods (e.g., various forms of Hinduism or nature worship) or valuing things of the world (e.g., money, power, pleasure, popularity) above God.
- The Vatican II
council did say that Muslims do adore with us one, merciful God and
that other religions, presumably including those that have many gods
often "in shadows and images seek the unknown God." Lumen
Gentium 16. However, only Christians can said to have the
full virtue of faith in Christ, with faithful Jews having a certain
prepatory faith in the true God and His promises.
C. The sin of heresy is the deliberate denial of an article of faith.
heresy is the accidental denial of an article of faith, generally based
upon ignorance of the articles of faith, or perhaps ignorance of the
implications of one's statement. It may be negligence but is generally
not a mortal sin.
willfully denying an article of faith from the Bible or the Church implicitly
means denying the divine inspiration of Scripture or guidance of the
Church and therefore implicitly rejects the whole faith. ST II-II
q. 5 art. 3.
3. The Church
does teach some matters (e.g., social doctrines) authoritatively, but
not infallibly. They are not as certain as matters of the faith,
but the faithful should still adhere to them with religious assent of
intellect and will. See Catechism of the Catholic Church
892; Lumen Gentium 25.
is a practice that tends to insult and/or undermine the faith, such
as tempting God (i.e., insisting that God prove Himself in certain ways),
sacrilege, blasphemy, or simony (i.e., selling of sacred things.)
See Catechism of the Catholic Church 2118-2122.
E. Atheism, the
denial of the existence of God, is always an action of sin, although
the atheist may not be at fault. See Catechism of the Catholic Church
2125. Sometimes atheism may come from scandal caused by believers,
but sometimes it comes from a desire that there be no God who makes
moral demands on one. Cf. Summa Theologica Part II-II question
10, article 1 and question 15, article 1
F. Although a person searching for God may have doubts before having faith, and although involuntary doubts may affect even a believer, willfully creating such doubts, or failing to ask God to help resolve them, is sinful. Agnosticism, the view that truth about God and supernatural things cannot be known is frequently "a flight from the ultimate question of existence, and a sluggish moral conscience." Catechism of the Catholic Church 2128.