Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Is faith a mere function of the will? Is it not a mere confidence or trust in the fidelity of God to keep His promises?

[The Miniature Question Box]

No, this false doctrine of Luther destroys the very essence of supernatural faith.  Faith may be defined as a supernatural virtue which disposes the mind to assent freely, with certainty, and on the authority of God to all the truths He has revealed.  It is essentially an intellectual act, as St. Paul teaches (1 Cor. XIII. 12; 2 Cor. X. 5).  St. Paul defines it as "the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not" (Heb. XI. 1).  St. Thomas explains this definition as follows: "When faith is said to be evidence, it is distinguished from opinion, suspicion and doubt, in which the adherence of the intellect to something is unstable; when it is said to be of things that appear not, faith is distinguished from knowledge and understanding by which a thing is apparent; when it is said to be the substance of things to be hoped for, it is distinguished from faith, as commonly understood, which is not directed to happiness or to the object of hope."

The assent of faith is directed by the will under the influence of divine grace.  The will plays a most important part in the act of faith.  St. Paul says that "with the heart, i.e., a good will, we believe unto justice" (Rom. X. 10).  Our Lord frequently attributed the unbelief of the Jews to their hardness of heart, and their obstinancy of will (Mark III. 5; XVI. 13; Luke XXIV. 25).  The act of faith is a meritorious act, for the Lord said: "He that believeth shall be saved" (Mark XVI. 16).  It must, therefore, be a free act of the will.  A good will puts aside all passion, prejudice, and human respect.  It resolutely faces the problems of religion, and does not cease its pursuit of the truth, because the road is beset with difficulties.

Many men fail to believe, not because of intellectual difficulties, but because the truth goes counter to their passions, imposes obligatory laws, demands of them great sacrifices, and puts definite limits to their independence.

Both intellect and will must receive a special grace from God, before a man can make an act of faith.  For as our Lord says: "No man can come to Me, except the father who has sent Me, draw him" (John VI. 44).  Or as St. Paul puts it: "For by grace you are saved through faith, for it is the gift of God" (Eph. II. 8).  The Vatican Council echoes this teaching of the Scriptures, when it declares: "No person can assent to the Gospel teaching with a view to attain salvation, without the illumination and inspiration of the Holy Spirit."

Monday, December 3, 2012

I cannot accept Christianity, because it compels me to believe incomprehensible mysteries. My reason tells me not to believe anything that I cannot comprehend.

[The Miniature Question Box]

You are most unreasonable, if in the name of reason you refuse to accept the mysteries of Christianity.  For there can be no contradiction between reason and faith, because God is the Author of both natural and supernatural truth.  St. Thomas well says: "Although the doctrines of faith surpass the truths of human understanding, there can be no opposition between them.  Both proceed from God in their respective orders of grace and nature.  And the doctrines of faith become as indubitable through the evidence of the divine authority revealing them, as the primary truths of reason do through their self-evident testimony."

The opposition between science and faith, that we hear about so much today, is only apparent.  It originates either in the errors of scientists who put forth unprovable hypotheses as undoubted facts, or in the mistakes of theologians who teach their private false opinions as Gospel truths.

In fact reason and faith are helpful to each other.  Reason gives faith a solid foundation, so that we are not asked to give a blind assent to truths absolutely unknowable, and it also furnishes us strong extrinsic proofs of the content of divine revelation.  Faith on the other hand, as Cardinal Newman says, "furnishes facts to the other sciences, which those sciences left to themselves would never reach."

A moment's reflection will convince you that you are surrounded with mystery in this universe.  Mystery is in no way peculiar to religion.  Science may make continual progress, and tell us of countless new and marvelous facts, but the how and the wherefore of them are utterly beyond its ken.

In fact man only comprehends what he has made himself.  He can understand perfectly the mechanism of a watch, because it is his work.  But his finite mind cannot comprehend the mysteries of God's world, either of nature or of grace.  Perfect comprehension and perfect intelligence belong to God alone.

Belief in mysteries is of the very essence of religion.  A divine revelation which would only tell us what we already know, or what we could readily discover for ourselves, would be utterly useless and unmeaning.  Only from God Himself can we learn about His inner Being (The Trinity), His Infinite condescension (The Incarnation), and His Infinite love of men (The Atonement; the Eucharist).

Our assent to these dogmas is not a blind assent, but a perfectly reasonable assent, that rests solely upon the authority of God, who has revealed them.  Unreasonable and blind indeed is the rationalist who, without weighing the evidence, refuses a priori to accept divine truth.

[The Miniature Question Box]

Friday, November 9, 2012

If a Catholic abandons the faith will he lose his soul?

[The Miniature Question Box]

Faith is not only an act of man's intellect and free will, but also a gift of God who by His grace inspires men to accept divine truth on His authority.

God's supernatural gifts are never withdrawn without guilt on the part of the individual.  Loss of faith is generally due to other grievous sins.

Whoever rejects the faith through his own fault -God alone is the Judge- and dies rejecting it, cannot save his soul.

[The Miniature Question Box]

What scientific proof is there of the divinity of Christianity? The facts of science can be proved or tested, but what proof have you of things invisible and incomprehensible?

[The Miniature Question Box]

A thinking man, who is exercising faith every day in his business, intellectual and social life will not demand of Christianity a proof impossible in the nature of things, but will reasonably investigate the reliability of the teacher who claims to voice infallibly the truths of God.  He will not ask experimental proof for divine revelation which is over and above reason, but simply ask: What evidence is there that Christ is the Son of God, and His Church divine?  He will  calmly set aside all passion and prejudice, and study with humility and earnestness the evidences of Christianity: the argument from miracles and prophecy, the absolute perfection of Christ, the unique character of His sublime teaching, the fact of His Resurrection, the marvelous spread and continuance of His Church despite every obstacle, the testimony of the martyrs, the lives of the Church's saints, and the striking transformation of the world effected by the Gospel.

We believe that South Africa exists although we may never have been there, and that Caesar or Napoleon lived, although they died many years ago.  We accept these truths simply on the authority of others.  Although the testimony of men may at times be false, because the witness is deceived or a deceiver, still no one ought reasonably to reject the principle of human evidence, any more than he ought to reject ocular testimony because a particular individual is short-sighted or color-blind.

Indeed the very man who boasts of accepting nothing unless he can personally prove it, is daily giving the lie to his pet theory.  Most of his knowledge depends not on personal investigation, but on the authority of others.  No progress would be possible in any science or art unless a man started with the data gathered by his predecessors.  Will an historian of universal history be able to read all the original documents?  Will a physicist have time to test every experiment of his forebears?  Will a lawyer be able to study every case in the reports, a geographer visit every country, a physician experiment with every drug, before he accepts anything as true?  Life is too short and facts too many.  And yet men illogically reject the idea of authority in religion.  Is it not the way that most of us learn everything we know?

Frequently, too, the same man who accepts without question the human, fallible, hesitating, and ever varying authority of an anti-Christian dogmatism, will refuse assent to a divine, infallible, certain, and unchanging authority.  Is not this unreasonable?  "If we accept the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater" (1 John v.9).

[The Miniature Question Box]