What is Faith?

by Jayson M. Brunelle

I always cringe whenever I hear it said by good and otherwise informed Christians that we ought to have a “blind faith.”  Just for the record, this is not the Catholic stance when it comes to faith.  Moreover, the great philosopher Kierkegaard promoted this idea of “blind faith” as absolutely necessary.  Simply put, faith is not, nor should it ever be blind.  To say this is to imply that there is nothing at all reasonable about the faith.  And Church teaching is clear that not only does faith never contradict reason, but rather God, in His goodness, provides us with solid reasons as to why we ought to have faith in His divinely revealed truths.

So then, what is faith?  The Church teaches that it is both a free gift from God as an infused supernatural virtue and that it is a human act.  St. Thomas Aquinas sums this up when he states, “Faith is the intellect assenting to divinely revealed truths by command of the will, the latter being moved by the Holy Spirit.”  Thus, from this we can understand that the Holy Spirit is the principle mover of the will, and this constitutes God’s action in the process of faith.  After the Holy Spirit has moved the will, the will then commands the intellect to assent to divinely revealed truths.  This action of the intellect saying, “Yes, I believe,” constitutes that dimension of faith which is said to be a human act.

What is more, faith, although of a higher order than reason, can never contradict reason.  The reason for this is that God is the author of both, and as such, he cannot contradict himself.  John Paul II explains in great detail the relationship between faith and human reason in his encyclical letter, Fides et Ratio.

Finally, faith is certain.  It is more certain than any other type of knowledge in that it is God who is revealing these divine truths, the God “who can neither deceive nor be deceived.”  Certainly, matters of the faith can seem very obscure at times, and there may even be occasions when we experience great difficulty understanding a tenet of the faith; but, as the saying goes, “ten-thousand difficulties do not equal one doubt.”

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