JMC : The Catholic Religion / by Charles Coppens, S.J.

Submission to the Church by Faith.

117. According to all that has been explained and proved so far, the Catholic Church claims and makes good her claim, to be the Church that Christ has established, the continuation of the Apostolic body that Christ commissioned, saying: "Going therefore teach ye all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatever I have commanded you. And behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world" (Matt. last verses); "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be condemned" (Mark XVI, 6). Every one to whom this claim of the Catholic Church is properly presented is obliged in conscience to accept her teaching (n. 73), with the alternative that, if he do not, he shall be condemned.

The evidence of this obligation is so strong that, to an unprejudiced mind, a fully sufficient motive is thus presented for yielding assent. Such assent is therefore highly reasonable, and the refusal to yield it is a refusal to accept the properly accredited messenger of God. When a messenger comes from an earthly sovereign, even though some doubt should rest on the genuineness of his credentials, it is not the part of wisdom to begin by rejecting him, and refuse him entrance into a city or state: the presumption is in his favor; and he is to be treated with honor, while everything is done that is possible to remove the doubt. Thus also, if any reasonable doubt remain in the mind of an earnest inquirer concerning the claim of the Catholic Church to be the Heaven-appointed teacher of religion, it is his duty -- in this case an all-important duty -- to pray for light, and seriously to investigate the matter till all reason of doubt be removed. To wait till the evidence of the claim become of its own power so overwhelming as to compel assent, is like asking for a special miracle, or Divine manifestation, as the Jews and as Herod did of Christ, and did in vain (Matt. XII; Luke XXIII, 8). Faith is a free assent; else it were not meritorious; it does not require sight, as Christ declared to St. Thomas, "Blessed are they that have not seen and have believed" (Jo. XX, 29). It is much to be feared that many to-day, in our own land, are repeating the mistake made by the Jews in the days when Christ was upon earth; they wait for special signs, and refuse to accept those given to all the world (Matt. XII, 39).

118. "Without faith it is impossible to please God" (Hebr. XI, 6). All forms of Christianity agree in recognizing the supreme importance of faith; but they differ very much, one from another, in the explanations that they give upon the matter (n. 361, I, II).

The English word "faith", representing almost invariably the Greek pistis and the Latin fides, occurs very frequently in the New Testament. The meaning of these words and of their derivatives is constant, and is equivalent to "certain judgment", either in general, or, more specially, "certain belief on the testimony of another"; when this other is God, we have Divine Faith. It is an act of the intellect, not excluding the influence of the will. The Vatican Council says: "Faith is a supernatural virtue, through which, by the influence and with the aid of grace of God, we believe that the things which He has revealed are true, not because of their intrinsic truth seen by the light of reason, but on the authority of God Himself, who has given the revelation, who cannot be deceived nor deceive".

A variety of erroneous meanings have been attached to the word "faith" or "belief"; many Protestants confound it with "confidence", especially in connection with their doctrine on justification. True it seems we might substitute "confidence" for "faith" in some texts, as in St. Matthew XV, 28, "O woman, great is thy faith"; for her confidence was the outcome of her belief in Christ's goodness and power. But in other texts the meaning of confidence is wholly out of place; for instance in the words of St. Paul: "If thou confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in thy heart that God has raised Him up from the dead, thou shalt be saved (Rom. X. 9).

119. Since faith is a supernatural virtue (n. 118), an act of faith requires the aid of Divine grace, both to give further light to our intellect and strength to our will, and also to raise the act to a supernatural dignity, capable of attaining a supernatural end. But all men receive, either proximately or remotely, the grace necessary to attain their end, and therefore the grace to believe. When this is obtained and complied with, the act of faith is commanded by the will and elicited by the judgment, both will and judgment being elevated by grace. "I believe, because I will to believe; and I will to believe, because I have realized that it is reasonable and right to believe." Inquiry as to the motive can go back no farther.

After the act of faith is duly elicited, there results the certainty of faith. This certainty is much greater than would naturally result from the motives of credibility that were considered before the assent was given; for it is strengthened by the Divine light of grace, which enables us to accept the formal motive of faith, the authority of God speaking to us. The certainty of faith is the greatest that man can have in this life; in the next life it will be changed into vision. Nor is it necessary that the motives of credibility possess in themselves great logical force; the grace of God can supply the want of evidence. The nature and weight of these motives will vary infinitely with the variety of abilitv and attainments of different men. Whatever one sees to be sufficient to remove prudent misgivings from his mind is enough for him; it makes the matter credible. The rude and simple, and the young readily believe what is told them by those whom they trust.

When doubts occur regarding the faith, the Catholic, on his own principles, is not at liberty to suspend his belief, even provisionally, in order to institute an inquiry; for he can see no solid reasons for doing so. But one who is not a Catholic is bound to inquire when he sees reasons to doubt; and even to embrace a new doctrine, when he understands that this is the safer course.

120. In thus submitting to the teaching of the infallible Church, we do no injury to our reason. On the contrary, reason itself has helped us to find the Heaven-appointed guide, who is commissioned to instruct us further. By believing, we only acknowledge the limitation of our reason and our need of God's aid; to refuse to do so would be the sin of pride. Such refusal is indeed against the dictate of reason. For even in natural matters, all men habitually guide their conduct by their faith in mysteries, which neither they nor their fellows understand; for instance, no man on earth can explain fully how a message is carried by electricity; how much less can we understand the hidden things of God? All students of natural sciences accept the teachings of their professors, while some of them disdain to receive the teachings of the infallible representative of God. Faith assists reason by supplying it with many safe points of departure, useful in its study of natural knowledge; and reason assists faith by investigating the "motives of credibility", and clearing up cases of apparent conflict between revealed and naturally acquired knowledge.

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