Saturday, 13 October 2012

What IS faith, anyway?

This is the "Year of Faith" in the Catholic Church. I assembled a number of reflections on faith in the "Christianity" (apologetics) section of our main site. Here are some of them:

"The instinct of faith is an uplifting of the heart and a reaching over and above everything that happens" (Caussade).

"Blessed are those who have believed in the invisible world which compels no belief in itself" (Nicholas Berdyaev).

"Fear (not doubt) is the opposite of faith" (Paul Ostreicher).

Faith cannot arise from a sense of duty: it is not even a settled state of intellectual conviction. Faith is an act of the heart, and only love can really move the heart. Faith therefore cannot be compelled, because love requires freedom. Faith is a free act, and a creative one.

"When I say, ‘God is’, or ‘Man is immortal’, I effect a creative act" (Nicholas Berdyaev).

"True freedom does not consist in manipulating possibilities but in creating them" (Raimundo Panikkar).

We cannot be saved from our finitude without a faith that reaches beyond the finite. Therefore the act of faith, which is akin to the act of trust – in this case trust in that which transcends all that we can see – is the peak of human freedom, but also the essence of human spontaneity and the peak of human creativity. It is an act of sheer openness to being, capacity to be filled by the infinite. Our completion as creatures depends on our openness. Even Omnipotence is bound by its own wisdom: it cannot complete us without our cooperation.

What we "create", in this act which is both human and divine, is not the living truth, for that exists without us and forever. What we create is a self that is open to the God it believes in.

To have faith is to trust in the highest conceivable good. What else would give meaning to our existence, even if it happened that we were deceived? A life lived in dedication to the highest imaginable values is the noblest life possible, even if those values live and die with us. You could call this "the Principle of Maximal Meaning".

To have faith is also to believe in the real existence of that highest good, as much as may be necessary to have trust in it. As a continually renewed act of trust, faith concerns the will more than the intellect or reason, and love more than knowledge. If it is well founded, it will end in knowledge, but it begins in darkness, as Touch not as Sight. It does not contradict reason, but it involves us in going further than reason alone can take us. Firstly, because we may have to take on trust statements that we can neither prove nor disprove. Secondly, because no matter how strongly we are persuaded that there is someone to catch us, we still have to make an act of faith to jump off a high ledge.

"By faith the Christian soul enters, as it were, into marriage with God: ‘I will espouse thee to me in faith’. Natural reason, the testimonies of the Law and Prophets, the preaching of the Apostles and others – these three lead us to faith in Christ. But once a person has been led to believe, then can he confess that these are not the reasons why he believes; instead his motive is divine truth itself…. A truth of faith is assented to because the will so commands, not because the inner evidence is immediately seen or inferred…. [The] believer’s mind is made up for him by his will, which is moved by its own object, namely the good which draws him to his final goal" (Thomas Aquinas).

"A dogma is not only an article of faith to be believed; it is also a task to be achieved" (Victor White).

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