Lesson 5a: Faith: Root of All Virtues

Faith in the Old Testament has a definite doctrinal content, namely, God's deeds and promises as shown in the narratives of Abraham and other patriarchs (see Sirach 44:20-24), in God's covenant promises, in the Psalms, and in the call to living faith by the Prophets. This faith is openness to God's revelation of his true nature as Creator and to his wise and loving guidance in our lives. In the Old Testament also a great theme is the manifestation of Wisdom in God's creation and governance of all things. Wisdom is the practical aspect of Faith and its opposite is Folly. Both are personified as women, no doubt because it is our mothers who first teach us the Faith. Thus the Wisdom of the Old Testament is equivalent to the object of Faith in the New Testament, but with a special emphasis on the prudential, or practical aspect of God's wisdom as it guides us in practical living. Hence morality is living in accordance with the plan of God's wisdom and this plan is revealed in the order of the universe and in our own human nature that can be known by human reason. The deeper mysteries of God's nature as the Trinity and of the Incarnation of his Son in Jesus Christ, as well as of our vocation to eternal life in the community of the Trinity can be known only by revelation accepted by faith.


Christian faith, however, is not a mere "leap in the dark." While we cannot by our own human reason see the intrinsic truth of God's mysteries, God has given us signs by which we can recognize with genuine certitude that Jesus Christ is his Son and that what he has taught us can and should be believed. Jesus gave these signs to the people of his own times by his fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament in his holy life, by his miracles of healing and casting out demons, etc., and by his Resurrection from the dead. These signs were worked long ago and we cannot today directly verify them, but we have the witness of the Catholic Church to them. This Church itself is also a sign accessible here and now that makes Faith reasonable and obligatory, since the Church, according to Vatican II, is a "moral miracle. " It is a miracle in its catholicity (inclusiveness), its historic continuity (apostolicity), its unity of faith and government (unity) and the holiness of the life required of its members and exemplified by its saints. These so distinguish the Catholic Church from any merely human organization that those who come to know the Church as it really is are obliged to believe its witness to Jesus Christ, God's Word.


Faith, however, is not just God's promises, nor just trust that God will save us, as Luther used the term. It is the knowledge of God as He is in Christ, Truth Itself, but now only known in darkness (Christ crucified). It is the "evidence of things not seen" (Heb 11). Yet Faith is "living faith" only when it is united to Hope and Love. Even purely human faith in another (without which society is impossible) requires not just an act of the intelligence but also of the will to trust the word of another about something we cannot know by ourselves. For such an act of faith to be reasonable and not mere credulity we have to know that the one whose word we trust is reliable. Then we believe what the trustworthy person says not because we can see it to be true, nor even because of the signs that tell us he is to be trusted, but because he whom we trust says he knows it to be true. Similarly divine Faith is a reasonable act based on our reasoned certainty that God is revealing something to us through Jesus and his Church that it is impossible for us to discover or see of ourselves. Our reason knows that the invisible God is speaking through certain visible signs he provides to lead us to faith. However, once we see from these signs that we ought to believe, we believe not because we see its truth, nor even because of the signs that it is God who speaks. Instead we believe because it is God himself who reveals himself and shows this to us by signs, since he is the absolute Truth that cannot be mistaken.


The apostles believed what Jesus taught and the very Truth of God by an act of faith and will, but only after they had seen him fulfill the Old Testament prophecies, work his miracles, and rise from the dead. Two thousand years later we can read the account of this in the Bible and we can show by reason that this account is basically historical, yet these events are very far away and we cannot see them for ourselves. Hence we must believe through the witness of the Church, its Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Faith, therefore, requires obedience of the mind and heart to God through the Magisterium of the Church as the Early Church believed in Christ through the Twelve whom he had sent to preach in his name. It is not just a personal "experience" but it is ecclesial, the fidelity to the faith of the Christian Community. It is true that the personal experiences that we may have through prayer, through our relationships with others, and in the crises of our own lives may raise for us the fundamental questions of life that only the Church can answer. These experiences can, therefore, lead to Faith and confirm and support it. They are subjective, interior signs that God is speaking to us. But the Catholic Church, unlike the Protestant churches, does not rest its witness merely on individual experiences in reading the Bible or hearing moving sermons. The Catholic Church makes them credible by the fact that as an objective and public witness it is as moral miracle because of its marks of unity, catholicity, apostolicity, and holiness mentioned in the previous lesson. Like Jesus himself, the Church says to all "Come and you will see" (Jn 2:39), get acquainted with the Catholic Church in its history and its present life and you will see that you ought to believe what she teaches in the name of Jesus.

Readings

  • Ashley, Living the Truth in Love, Chapter 2, p.61-150.

Questions

  1. Who is Lady Wisdom and who is Lady Folly in the Wisdom Literature?

  2. What is the difference between human faith and Christian Faith?

  3. Why is Christian Faith the basis of the Christian life?

  4. What is the difference between Christian Faith and a "religious experience"?

  5. What is the relation of Christian Faith and human reason?


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