[Ed: This is a long study for you to make the most of at home! Perhaps study in 2 parts. Enjoy!)
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ
Write a list of three things about your best friend. If you were to show me this list, would Inow know your friend? Is it possible for us to be friends now?
Probably you answered ‘no’ - knowing something in a factual way is different from knowing it in a relational way. I can know your best friend’s height and hair colour – but that knowledge can’t lead me to be friends with them and truly love them in the way that you do.
I would have to meet your friend personally, and get to know them personally, in order to be their friend.
Now write a list of three things about Jesus.
If you were to show this list to someone, would they now know Jesus in the way that you do? Just like with your best friend, factual knowledge is different from relational knowledge. We can know that God exists, and that Jesus is God – but that knowledge doesn’t automatically make a personal relationship possible.
To be friends with God, we need to know him relationally. We need help to do that – and that help is called the gift of faith.
You gotta have faith!
Not this type of faith!
Faith is our response "to God, who reveals himself and gives himself to man, at the same time bringing man a superabundant light as he searches for the ultimate meaning of his life.” CCC 26
We already saw in our first study blogpost on creation that we are created in the image and likeness of God, that is, to know and to love God. If we are created to know and love God, why do we need faith?
Is God easy to know?
Have a look at these three quotes from the Old Testament:
Isaiah 55:8-9 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
1 Kings 19:9-14 He said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?
Isaiah 6:1-3 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.’
What do we learn about God from these three Scripture texts?
Judging from these passages, how easy is it for human beings to get to know God?
These passages show that there is a big difference between God, the Creator, and his creation, so much so that even the seraphs (angels) cover their faces in this presence. Human beings can come to the knowledge that God does exist by using our reason alone, but it is not easy. Think of the friends or family members or colleagues that you know that say that God doesn’t exist or that it is impossible to know whether or not God exists.
Now look at these three quotes from the New Testament:
Matthew 11:27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
John 1:18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
1 John 4:13-16 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his own Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Saviour of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
What is different about these three passages?
Do they portray it as possible to come to know God?
Why are they different from the other three passages?
Each of these passages mentions God the Father and God the Son (and the last also mentions the Holy Spirit). It is possible to come to know God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit through the economic Trinity. We talked last month about how Jesus and the Spirit have a joint mission – they have both come to reveal God to us and bring us his salvation. So part of the joint mission of the Son and the Spirit is to bring us the knowledge of God that doesn’t just tell us something factual about God, but makes possible a genuine, trusting relationship with God.
Even if we have come to the knowledge that God exists, we cannot know by natural reason alone ‘what’ God is. We couldn’t get this kind of relationship with God by our own strength – it would have to be given to us as a gift by the Son and the Spirit.
Believing Into God
Have a look at the following two Scripture passages:
John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Galatians 3:27 As many of you as were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
The word for ‘in’ in John 3:16 and for ‘into’ in Galatians 3:27 is the Greek word eis, so another translation for John 3:16 is “whoever believes into him should not perish but have eternal life.” When we believe in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we are brought into their very life. Faith helps us not just to believe in God, but believe into God.
The Sacrament of Faith
Look at the Baptism of Jesus from one of the Synoptic Gospels (Mark 1:9-11; Matthew 3:13-17; and Luke 3:21-22). How many persons of the Trinity are revealed? What do we learn about Jesus? What are we empowered to do? What does this tell us about our own baptism?
Baptism is our own revelation of who God is, and our adoption as sons (or daughters) of God. For us, this takes place through the removal of our sin to make possible a true relationship with God. The sinless Son of God, by being baptised, shows us how our own baptism can attain for us a loving relationship with God: in our case, by having our sins washed away and being adopted as children of God.
The Sacrament of Baptism is “‘the sacrament of faith’ in a particular way, since it is the sacramental entry into the life of faith” (CCC 1236). Faith is what inspires in us the desire to ask the Church for the sacrament of Baptism. At the same time, Baptism is the means by which we receive the theological virtue of faith:
CCC 1253 Baptism is the sacrament of faith. But faith needs the community of believers. It is only within the faith of the Church that each of the faithful can believe. The faith required for Baptism is not a perfect and mature faith, but a beginning that is called to develop. The catechumen or the godparent is asked: ‘What do you ask of God’s Church?’ the response is: ‘Faith!’
The Theological Virtue of Faith
Did you grow a new head at baptism?
Or green skin, or wings? No? Baptism didn’t make you something contrary or different to being a normal human being.
This is how grace – the life of God shared with us as a gift – works. It takes what is natural and human within us, and rather than ignoring it, destroying it or completely changing it, grace perfects, heals and completes it.
Faith is the perfection and completion of the human gift of being able to know – because it enables us to know who God is and to trust him.
Trust is essential to faith, because in order to believe someone we need to trust them. This is why the theological virtue of faith (that gift of faith infused in the human soul at baptism) is described as:
CC1814 Faith is the theological virtue by which we believe in God and believe all that he has said and revealed to us, and that Holy Church proposes for our belief, because he is truth itself. By faith ‘man freely commits his entire self to God.’ For this reason the believer seeks to know and do God’s will. ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’ Living faith ‘work(s) through charity.’
Once we are baptised, we cannot just say: “That’s it, then, I’m done! I have faith. I don’t need anything else!” As the Church also teaches:
CC 1254 For all the baptised, children or adults, faith must grow after Baptism. For this reason the Church celebrates each year at the Easter Vigil the renewal of baptismal promises. Preparation for Baptism leads only to the threshold of new life. Baptism is the source of that new life in Christ from which the entire Christian life springs forth.
We learnt in our first study blogpost that our ability to know is one of the ways in which we are made in the image and likeness of God. This is a natural part of being human, but it also points us towards our final destiny of union with God.
Faith takes our natural ability to know and points it towards its completion and fulfilment. Through the gift of faith, we don’t just know about God – we know God as a friend and Father whom we trust and whom we love.
Faith and Reason
Okay, so all I need is faith, then? No. There are two heresies which we can slip into. The first is fideism, which is putting our trust in faith alone and ignoring our human capacity for reasoning. This is a heresy, because God created us with our intelligence and reason in order to know him better. He wants us to ponder and ask questions. He wants us to bring our difficulties to him. There is a big difference between a difficulty and a doubt as Saint John Henry Newman wrote: “Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt.” For example, a difficulty might be expressed like ‘How can the Church claims that the Eucharist is Jesus? It looks just like a wafer.” A doubt is expressed in more definite terms like: “The Eucharist cannot be Jesus.” The first expression still leaves plenty of room for belief. It is saying to God, I don’t know how this takes place, but I believe it to be true, because you have said it. If we have difficulties in our faith, we can humbly pray: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). Whereas, the second statement expresses an unwillingness to trust in God. We are saying that we don’t understand it so it can’t be true.
The second heresy is rationalism which believes (if you pardon the pun!) that all we need is our reason. If something isn’t readily measurable through our reason then it must not be true. Saint John Paul II begins his Encyclical Letter, Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason), with this beautiful quote:
“Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves (cf. Ex 33:18; Ps 27:8-9; 63:2-3; Jn 14:8; 1 Jn 3:2).”
Faith and reason are both necessary and complementary, because both come from God and help us to come to God by contemplating the truth. Faith and reason also help us to know ourselves better as human beings.
The Two Movements of Faith: Fides Quae and Fides Qua
We don’t have to do this all by ourselves. God is constantly revealing himself to us and desiring to have a relationship with us. He is always the first mover when it comes to faith.
Fides quae (pronounced kway) is that which we believe, the content or deposit of our faith, what God has revealed to us through Scripture and tradition, and which has been handed on to us through the Church from the beginning. Firstly, God reveals himself to us and gives us the deposit of faith (fides quae).
Fides qua (pronounced kwah) is our personal adherence of faith. Secondly, faith requires a movement from us towards God (fides qua), which we open our hearts gives us a better understanding of revelation.
Why is it necessary to have a personal relationship with God? Let’s take the example of an atheist who happens to wander into a church some Sunday morning. She picks up a copy of the missal and recites the word of the Creed with the rest of the congregation. She is reciting the fides quae, what the Church believes, but she hasn’t come to a personal belief in God (fides qua). And yet, there is an intimate relationship between fides quae and fides qua as St. Paul shows in his letter to the Romans.
Romans 10:14-17 But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” But not all have obeyed the good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” So, faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.
We receive our faith from those who have proclaimed that faith to us, either by their words or their actions
Why are natural reason and faith complementary ways of coming to knowledge of God?
What is the difference between fides quae and fides qua?
How do we believe into God?
Why is Baptism called the Sacrament of Faith?
Look up the following Scripture passages to see what Jesus says about faith in the gospels: Mt 9:28; Mk 4:36; Lk 8:25; Mt 8:10; Lk 7:9; Mt 9:22; Mk 5:34; Lk 8:48. What does this teach us about the necessity of faith?
Read chapter 11 of Hebrews. What can we learn about faith from the examples of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and Moses?
Spend some time thinking about your personal faith journey so far. Who were the models of faith for you?
Read James 2:14-26. What does this tell us about faith? How can we express our faith?
Remember if you have any questions, get in touch via responding to this blog, or sending a message through the website contact form.
'Till next time... God bless!