Author Topic: What is faith?  (Read 148 times)

Offline Daniel

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What is faith?
« on: October 17, 2020, 09:02:09 AM »
Not sure whether this would be better posted in "The Sacred Sciences" subforum, but it's somewhat of a practical question so I'll bring it up here.

Quote from: Baltimore Catechism #4
107 Q. What is faith?
A. Faith is a divine virtue by which we firmly believe the truths which God has revealed.

"A divine virtue" is one that is heavenly or holy. Faith is the habit of always believing all that God has revealed and the Church teaches. "Firmly," that is, without the slightest doubt. "Revealed," that is, made known to us. Revelation is the collection of all the truths that God has made known to us. But why do we believe? Because we clearly see and know the truth of what is revealed? No, but because God reveals it; we believe it though we cannot see it or even understand it. If we see it plainly, then we believe it rather because we see it than because God makes it known to us. Suppose a friend should come and tell you the church is on fire. If he never told you lies, and had no reason for telling you any now, you would believe him--not because you know of the fire, but because he tells you; but afterwards, when you see the church or read of the fire in the papers, you have proof of what he told you, but you believed it just as firmly when he told you as you do afterwards. In the same way God tells us His great truths and we believe them; because we know that since God is infinitely true He cannot deceive us or be deceived. But if afterwards by studying and thinking we find proof that God told us the truth, we do not believe with any greater faith, for we always believed without doubting, and we study chiefly that we may have arguments to prove the truth of God's revelations to others who do not believe. Suppose some person was present when your friend came and said the church is burning, and that that person would not believe your friend. What would you do? Why, convince him that what your friend said was true by showing him the account of the fire in the papers. Thus learning does not change our faith, which, as I have said, is not acquired by study, but is infused into our souls by God. The little boy who hears what God taught, and believes it firmly because God taught it, has as good a faith as his teacher who has studied all the reasons why he should believe.

There are two points I'm confused about. Or perhaps two possible objections.

1.) Using this analogy (your friend tells you that the church is burning), there is room for doubt. Even if your friend can't be mistaken and can't be lying--and even if you are 100% certain that your friend can't be mistaken and can't be lying--, there is still the doubt that maybe you are mishearing your friend's words. And there are additional doubts (highly improbable, but nevertheless real doubts): the doubt that maybe the person you are talking to is not actually your friend at all but an imposter, and the doubt that maybe you aren't talking to anybody but are hallucinating, and the doubt that maybe you're not even hallucinating but are simply in your bed asleep, dreaming, etc.. Is the faith any different in this regard? How do we know that we (subjectively) hear God correctly? And how do we know that the person we are hearing actually is God, and is not just some tricky devil who looks a lot like God? (Consider the faith of Abraham, for example. He somehow knew that God told him to kill Isaac. He knew that it was God, not a devil. But how did he know? Was his "faith" identical to his knowledge? Or was his "faith" the means by which he attained his knowledge? Or did he have something else above and beyond faith--some additional faculty by which he attained this knowledge--before he was able to make an act of faith?)

2.) With regard to the faith, this analogy is oversimplified. Because God is not the one telling you (at least not directly) that the church is burning. Rather, it's the Church telling you that God says that the church is burning. And the Church is not God. So the situation is different: even if the Church can't be mistaken and can't be lying, it's still not the case that we know with 100% certainty that the Church can't be mistaken and can't be lying. Or is it? (The fact that God can't be mistaken and can't be lying is a priori knowledge. By definition, God can't be mistaken and can't be lying. So it's 100% certain. On the other hand, the fact that the Church can't be mistaken and can't be lying is a posteriori, at least as far as I can tell. And a posteriori knowledge can never be 100% certain, at least as far as I can tell. Even if you've never observed your friend to lie, and even if your friend has no motive for lying, it's still logically possible that your friend might be lying. So there is room for doubt. Doubt may not be warranted, but there's nevertheless room for doubt.)
« Last Edit: October 17, 2020, 09:16:22 AM by Daniel »
 

Offline Daniel

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Re: What is faith?
« Reply #1 on: October 19, 2020, 06:47:14 AM »
Or could it be that faith is more of a blind loyalty, or a kind of stubbornness, not requiring certainty?

You just choose to believe whatever you desire to believe. And if your desire happens to come from God, then we call it "faith"? (It is impossible for us to know that our desire comes from God rather than from the world, the flesh, or the devil, but I suppose that does not matter.) And so there is always room for doubt, yet I suppose you'd nevertheless retain the "faith" so long as you willfully refuse to acknowledge that there is any room for doubt? (But wouldn't that make you a liar?)
« Last Edit: October 19, 2020, 06:52:12 AM by Daniel »
 

Offline Miriam_M

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Re: What is faith?
« Reply #2 on: October 19, 2020, 12:37:48 PM »
Both the terms "blind loyalty" and "stubbornness" do injustice to the term Faith as the Church understands this theological virtue.  Both introduce negative descriptors which pertain to individual behavior and actually contradict the virtue with unvirtuous behavior (blindness and rigidity).

If you want to discuss Faith theoretically, then, yes, I can see why you say the discussion would belong in Sacred Sciences.  If you prefer instead to speak about how we acquire, live, experience, and practice this theological virtue, then this sub-forum is a good one.
 :)

The three theological virtues begin on the interior level, including Charity, by the way  -- a fact which unfortunately has been distorted or at least misunderstood in the N.O. practice of Catholicism. As you know, Daniel, they are gifts.  When we think about it, God would not "gift" us with spiritual or emotional blindness; that's something we do handily all by our ourselves. It's quite the opposite:  True Faith illuminates; the scales drop from our eyes.  That's why you've heard about the real experience we have of understanding for the first time, or at least apprehending, a particular mystery or a doctrine AFTER we assent to faith in that doctrine or mystery.

The more we are given to
believe (Faith)
trust in His providence and in what we do not understand (Hope), and
love God (Charity)

the more we understand.

Faith is not stupidity, ignorance, or blindness; it's more like assent and surrender of the intellect. Faith is most definitely not certainty; the latter is one of the most misleading myths in those who engage in amateur apologetics -- on discussion forums and I guess other places.  I'm not accusing you of confusing faith with certainty, but many people on SD have done that in the last 7 years.

Our Mother was most definitely not "certain" what was to come in her life, after the Annunciation.  She was certain of God's Will and sovereignty over her life and all life.  Her fiat was evidence of her faith, because she gave it without certainty of what that would entail.

It's important, though, for us to remember that both interior acts of faith (such as Mary's fiat, such as our believing without reservation the traditional doctrines that proceed from the OT and NT, though far removed from us in time) and exterior acts (such as, confessing our sins to a priest with faith that the priest is "in the person of" an unseen Christ) build on each other.  If we don't pray for greater faith, and if we don't act on that faith in our lives, then our faith can weaken during critical times such as this period of Church history.  Faith, like Hope and Charity, must be nourished with prayer and sacraments and reading.

Stubbornness, as I mentioned above, is rigidity and attachment to self (Pride).  Generally, when we say someone is stubborn, we mean that he is inflexible in his behavior and/or attitude.  Often, that's a defensive position, not based on confidence (con + fide = with faith) but on a "siege mentality," which reveals a weakness, or at least a disordered belief that everything depends on us "holding the fort," which will fall apart unless we hold tight. A person of faith is actually "yielding" in his behavior because he does not feel threatened from the outside, so sure he is of his own attachment to Providence and to God's superior knowledge.

Perfect faith is certainty, but not intellectual certainty.  This is why faith will no longer be operative in Heaven, because there we will have certainty from infused knowledge. Imperfect faith is probably where we all are:  a sincere desire to believe everything about the divine mysteries that we don't understand, and a commitment to continue deepening our faith by interior and exterior acts.
 
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Offline james03

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Re: What is faith?
« Reply #3 on: October 19, 2020, 02:18:38 PM »
Quote
Or could it be that faith is more of a blind loyalty, or a kind of stubbornness, not requiring certainty?

You just choose to believe whatever you desire to believe. And if your desire happens to come from God, then we call it "faith"? (It is impossible for us to know that our desire comes from God rather than from the world, the flesh, or the devil, but I suppose that does not matter.) And so there is always room for doubt, yet I suppose you'd nevertheless retain the "faith" so long as you willfully refuse to acknowledge that there is any room for doubt? (But wouldn't that make you a liar?)

Basically, you should not attempt to have Faith because in all cases you will be a liar and worsen your torments in hell.  For this reason you should also avoid prayer and the sacraments.

If you are worried about whether you have Faith or not, you have Faith.  Atheists don't ask these questions.  Try a big juicy dip of Copenhagen.  It would do you a world of good.
"But he that doth not believe, is already judged: because he believeth not in the name of the only begotten Son of God (Jn 3:18)."

"All sorrow leads to the foot of the Cross.  Weep for your sins."

"Although He should kill me, I will trust in Him"
 

Offline Daniel

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Re: What is faith?
« Reply #4 on: October 19, 2020, 02:49:01 PM »
I guess I'm still confused as to how this works on a practical level.

edit - Like what does it even mean "to have faith"? How do we know whether we have it? How do we know when we sin against it? etc.
« Last Edit: October 19, 2020, 03:42:55 PM by Daniel »
 

Offline Miriam_M

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Re: What is faith?
« Reply #5 on: October 19, 2020, 04:00:28 PM »
I guess I'm still confused as to how this works on a practical level.

edit - Like what does it even mean "to have faith"? How do we know whether we have it? How do we know when we sin against it? etc.

Starting with the last first,
We sin against Faith when we sin in a light or serious manner against the First Commandment.  A light sin would be a sin of omission -- such as, failure to pray when directly tempted against Faith.  (For example, we allow ourselves to be put into temptations against existing weaknesses in our faith; we know we shouldn't "go there," yet we do go there and we're aware that we weakened our faith in the process, increasing doubts and making us anxious about an important principle of faith.)

You know what a serious sin against Faith would be:  deliberately, actively (not just accidentally) entertaining doubts so much as to investigate and participate in contrary faith traditions, worship, etc. Worse level would be actually becoming a member of any faith group other than Catholicism.

To "have" faith:
less a "possession" than a habit of assent.  But habits can be endangered unless we routinely make small acts of faith (like, once a day, or morning+evening).  We increase our faith by growing in humility, knowing that no human being has "all the answers" and thus must depend on God's enlightenment of us through the grace of understanding, etc.

If you have a general habit of assent to Catholic truths, and if you stay away from passive or active temptations against your faith, you're fine.

We all know what our vulnerable areas are, when it comes to our faith.  For example, mine is certain categories of suffering (not all suffering); those I sometimes see as not coming from the hand of God, so I have to pray especially hard for faith during those times.  For other people, it will be the resurgence of certain kinds of temptations:  they will fail to pray during those temptations, assuming that the temptation is stronger than God's grace.  Of course, what we're showing when we do that is that we believe that Satan is more powerful than God, which, of course, is heresy.  Grace is ALWAYS available as long as we ask and as long as we fully, vigorously cooperate with that grace. 
 
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Offline Daniel

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Re: What is faith?
« Reply #6 on: October 19, 2020, 08:25:19 PM »
To "have" faith:
less a "possession" than a habit of assent.  But habits can be endangered unless we routinely make small acts of faith (like, once a day, or morning+evening).  We increase our faith by growing in humility, knowing that no human being has "all the answers" and thus must depend on God's enlightenment of us through the grace of understanding, etc.

If you have a general habit of assent to Catholic truths, and if you stay away from passive or active temptations against your faith, you're fine.

But what if we're not even to that point yet? Do we just need to pray and wait for God to give us the faith or certainty or whatever it is that we need?

What I'm not seeing is how we go from uncertainty, to positive assent free of doubt. Either the latter does not require certainty, or else certainty must somehow be attained. In either case, I'm stumped.
« Last Edit: October 19, 2020, 10:16:06 PM by Daniel »
 

Offline Miriam_M

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Re: What is faith?
« Reply #7 on: October 20, 2020, 12:56:12 AM »
To "have" faith:
less a "possession" than a habit of assent.  But habits can be endangered unless we routinely make small acts of faith (like, once a day, or morning+evening).  We increase our faith by growing in humility, knowing that no human being has "all the answers" and thus must depend on God's enlightenment of us through the grace of understanding, etc.

If you have a general habit of assent to Catholic truths, and if you stay away from passive or active temptations against your faith, you're fine.

But what if we're not even to that point yet? Do we just need to pray and wait for God to give us the faith or certainty or whatever it is that we need?

What I'm not seeing is how we go from uncertainty, to positive assent free of doubt. Either the latter does not require certainty, or else certainty must somehow be attained. In either case, I'm stumped.

I think that you are probably more certain than you realize, because your standards for everything tend to be a tad unrealistic  ;)  -- less realistic than God is about us.  However, as we often say around here, if your conscience is troubled, you should unburden yourself to a trad priest.

Positive assent free of most doubt is a reasonable goal, but you are probably there.  Positive assent free of all doubt is not something God expects.  "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief" is all He expects.
 
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