What is Faith? A Clarification of Defintion


#1

On another thread (unlisted and locked, so I won’t link back to it), a poster responded to an atheist contributor with the following quote:

A lot of debate about who and who did not originally say this quote ensued, but I’m posting here with hopes that we can avoid revisiting that conversation, and instead focus on a topic that I saw reflected in the quote, but also in quite a few other posts. My apologies if this has been addressed before, but I couldn’t find such a thread.

I would propose, for this discussion, that the definition of “faith” has become something other than the biblical and traditional definition, and that this new definition is a harmful one.

The definition that many Christians seem to hold, and which atheists assume is the default Christian definition of faith, seems to be something along these lines:

Faith is a belief in God without a requirement for proof of his existence.

It seems that the biblical and traditional definition is this:

God can be proven from human reason.
God has established himself as trustworthy.
Therefore, faith is a belief in things we cannot prove, but which a trustworthy God has revealed as true.

For the sake of discussion, I recognize that faith is one of the theological virtues, given freely by God, which makes it easier to accept and believe truth. But the application of this grace is applied in the manner I describe above, not toward a belief in God absent of or contrary to any evidence, reason or proof.

There’s a lot more that can be said here, but I’m leaving that to the development of the conversation. I hope that any responses can be based on documentation from Scripture or Church teachings. Please let me know if I can clarify.


#2

Modern Catholic Dictionary:

FAITH. The acceptance of the word of another, trusting that one knows what the other is saying and is honest in telling the truth. The basic motive of all faith is the authority (or right to be believed) of someone who is speaking. This authority is an adequate knowledge of what he or she is talking about, and integrity in not wanting to deceive. It is called divine faith when the one believed is God, and human faith when the persons believed are human beings. (Etym. Latin fides, belief; habit of faith; object of faith.)


#3

@thistle:

Exactly right! Again, this is the true Catholic (and original) definition. Regarding divine matters, the one believed is God.

I appreciate that the definition also clarifies the distinction of human faith. My kids, for instance, can have human faith in me, that if I tell them that we are eating pizza for supper, they can count on it. More significantly, my younger kids can have faith there is a God because I tell them, but as adults … is human faith a significant enough reason to believe in God?

In other words, this would be a wrong application of the word faith:

Atheist: How can you believe in God when there is no proof for him?
Christian: I just have faith!

But this would be correct:

Atheist: How can you believe in Heaven, when there is no proof of it?
Christian: I have faith in what God has revealed.

The other day, a non-Catholic Christian acquaintance of mine posted a link in Facebook to some article on design in the universe. His comment about the link was: “We don’t need proof to know God exists, but there it is anyway!”

The idea that it is somehow supernaturally virtuous to believe in God without any basis in human reason or logical/historical proof is pretty widespread.

Why do you think that is? Should we be doing a better job of bringing that into our conversations with believers and non-believers?

BTW, thistle, it was good to see your name. My “join date” shows '15, but used to be a pretty active member of the forum several years ago under another name (last posted in '08), and you are one of the few familiar names I see. Great to see your post.


#4

Are you contrasting the idea of “blind” faith with what you consider a “reasonable” faith?

If that is true, have you considered that Jesus said:

John 20:29 Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

Thus legitimizing and praising, what many today, look down upon as, blind faith.

The definition …atheists assume is the default Christian definition of faith, seems to be something along these lines:

Faith is a belief in God without a requirement for proof of his existence.

That reminds me of Mark Twain’s definition, “Faith is believing in something that ain’t so.”

It seems that the biblical and traditional definition is this:

God can be proven from human reason.
God has established himself as trustworthy.
Therefore, faith is a belief in things we cannot prove, but which a trustworthy God has revealed as true.

That doesn’t follow. Your syllogism begins with the idea that God can be proven. Thus, we believe in a God whose existence is proven. But ends with the idea that we do believe in “things”, presumably, amongst which is God, which can’t be proven.

For the sake of discussion, I recognize that faith is one of the theological virtues, given freely by God, which makes it easier to accept and believe truth. But the application of this grace is applied in the manner I describe above, not toward a belief in God absent of or contrary to any evidence, reason or proof.

There’s a lot more that can be said here, but I’m leaving that to the development of the conversation. I hope that any responses can be based on documentation from Scripture or Church teachings. Please let me know if I can clarify.
[/quote]

There are many definitions of faith. One, which I already quoted, by Jesus, says that we can legitimately believe in Him, even though we have not seen Him. Many categorize this as “blind” faith. But I don’t. It is simply, a grace from God. Many people hold this kind of faith and are looked down upon by intellectuals who themselves had to be persuaded of God’s existence or perhaps, never have been persuaded. These folks do not realize that the superior attribute is faith. Reason, is below faith. Faith, is superior to reason.

Then, there’s faith as trust. For example, do you trust your father? Or, put another way, do you have faith in your father? Most people do. Because their fathers have proven trustworthy. When they’re in a jam, they call their father. This definition is also in Scripture:

Hebrews 11:6 But without faith it is impossible to please him, for anyone who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

Both parts of this conjunction are necessary. Because if one only holds the first, that faith is incomplete, as is mentioned in another Scripture:

James 2:19 You believe that God is one. You do well. Even the demons believe that and tremble.

What say you?


#5

Because that is pretty much what Jesus said. Remember, Jesus knew that His Apostles would be His witnesses. And He said that many would believe relying upon their word.

John 17:20 “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.

Why do you think that is?

Because faith, is a grace of God. It is supernatural. Just think.

It is said that 70,000 people witnessed the miracle of Fatima. Many unbelievers converted at the sight. But many remained unconvinced.

So, it isn’t true that anything can be proven. People have witnessed things with their own eyes and remained unconvinced.

Should we be doing a better job of bringing that into our conversations with believers and non-believers?
[/quote]

All we need to do is give a witness. Again, the Scripture says:

1 Corinthians 3:6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the growth.

There are kids who have been in CCE all their lives. And yet, a time comes when they abandon the faith. Unless they accept the grace of God, they fall away.

We are not in control. All we can do is that which is in our sphere. Then, we trust that God will finish that which we started.


#6

Faith understood as mere belief is a toxic concept. I think faith ought to be understood as TRUST. Faith is a matter of surrender, not judgment. Nevertheless, we can make judgments about what beings can be trusted to be surrendered to.

The idea that faith=belief has led to a number of Protestant heresies, and it has also led to a strain of Catholicism that says that we ought to be blamed for our largely-involuntary cognitive attitudes. As C.S. Lewis said, it is possible to have faith at moments when Christianity subjectively seems highly unlikely to be true.


#7

Saving Faith must reside in the heart :heart:️ and not merely in the head. (Romans10:9-10)

God’s gifts of grace must be active in order for saving faith to be active. God’s graced workmanship has good works to do (Ephesians 2:8-10)

There are living human bodies and there are dead bodies. There is living faith and dead faith. Faith without works is a dead faith and not a living faith. (James 2:26)


#8

It is very important to distinguish between intellectual assent, or right opinion, and the virtue of Faith.

Faith is a theological virtue, which means it has God as it’s object. It’s also an infused virtue, which means that man cannot attain the virtue on his own. It must be infused into man’s soul by an act of God. On the other hand, with respect to virtues like humility, justice, and prudence, which are acquired virtues, man can perform the action associated with those virtues and thereby increase in that virtue. However, this is not the case with Faith (or Hope and Charity for that matter). Man either has it or he doesn’t, and cannot do anything on his own to obtain it. That’s why it’s a gift.

The definition of faith is simply the virtue by which we are able to see as true all that God has revealed to us. Now, the object of Faith, or what God has revealed to us, is the Deposit of Faith: all the teachings about God and how we relate to God, the Sacraments, the Mass, the means of salvation, etc.

Because Faith allows us to believe what God has revealed, it follows that it is not up to us to decide what we are going to believe. We are the students, God is our teacher. God, through the Church proposes to us what we are to believe. If we reject any of it, our Faith is corrupted. Cafeteria Catholics? They are without Faith. This is an important distinction because some may say, as you point out, that they simply have faith that God exists. At the same time they reject some part of the Deposit of Faith (the Church’s teaching on contraception, for example). This person does not have the virtue of Faith, they are merely correct in their opinion that God exists.

Because Faith pertains to all that God has revealed, it must be accepted entirely. All of the teachings which Faith proposes must be accepted, otherwise the virtue corrupts entirely.

This is different with acquired virtues. For example, if I do one action contrary to the virtue of prudence, it merely decreases prudence in me. But I do not lose the virtue entirely. However, if I perform one single action contrary to the virtue of Faith (and Hope and Charity) then I lose the entire virtue. All of it.


#9

It was Martin Luther who reduced Faith to merely trusting what God has revealed. That’s not enough. As St. Thomas points out:

Faith implies assent of the intellect to that which is believed. Now the intellect assents to a thing in two ways. First, through being moved to assent by its very object, which is known either by itself (as in the case of first principles, which are held by the habit of understanding), or through something else already known (as in the case of conclusions which are held by the habit of science). Secondly the intellect assents to something, not through being sufficiently moved to this assent by its proper object, but through an act of choice, whereby it turns voluntarily to one side rather than to the other: and if this be accompanied by doubt or fear of the opposite side, there will be opinion, while, if there be certainty and no fear of the other side, there will be faith.

One must see as true (intellect) that which God reveals and accept it (will) without doubt in order to have Faith. This is is why when a person rejects one single teaching of the Church, they immediately lose the supernatural gift of Faith. This is because Faith is caused by God, not man. If man rejects part of it, he loses all of it.

Without Faith, you cannot be saved. This is extremely important, because there are many people today who simply do not have Faith. Those who do have it should be grateful and pray for those who do not have Faith, that God will give them the grace to accept that which He has revealed.


#10

All information I present here is taken from the conference on the Theological virtue of Faith presented by Fr. Chad Ripperger. If you’d like to hear it explained better than I, here is the link. Please remember to observe the copyright conditions:

These media files are PenanceWare, which require that you do one of the following: (1) Donate $1 via Paypal, (2) offer up a decade of the Rosary, or (3) perform some form of penance for the intentions of Fr. Ripperger (for each individual media file downloaded). The same rule applies if you copy and distribute to friends.

Conference on Faith


#11

@De_Maria,

Thank you for your response. Very well written out. I agree with a lost of it, but disagree with your conclusion and many of your supports.

First, the points of agreement:

  • Faith is a supernatural virtue given freely from God that allows us to embrace belief (not necessarily absent of reason/proof). So you are correct that logic and reason alone will not result in faith (hence your example of folks who leave adult formation programs and later stop practicing). You’ll note that I addressed this in my original post.

  • There are many definitions of faith. I think you would agree that we are only looking for biblical and orthodoxly Catholic definitions. I do appreciate that you are trying to establish a biblical one, but just clarifying that my post is addressing the idea that we shouldn’t give support to false definitions, whatever they are.

  • The testimony of others is a reason to have faith (depending on what, exactly, that testimony consists of, right?).

  • I appreciate the suggestion I could have been more precise in my syllogism. By belief in “things”, I am referring to revelation of doctrine that cannot be known by reason alone, such as the nature of the Trinity and the existence of heaven.

  • I agree that belief, alone, is insufficient, as illustrated by James 2:19.

  • I agree that faith means trust (my original point) as illustrated by Hebrews 11:6.

To look at points of disagreement, let’s keep with the phrase “blind faith”, even though I know you don’t prefer it. However, it helps us from getting confused by what we mean as we hash out a definition of faith.

First, I’ll ask if your definition of blind faith is given in any official Catholic source, such as the Catechism? If so, that would be helpful here.

Points of disagreement:

You gave John 20:29 as evidence for blind faith, but keep in mind the context here. Christ is addressing Thomas, one of the twelve. Thomas has, by this point in the Gospel, witnessed Christ’s miraculous acts, witnessed his fulfillment of prophecies, and witnessed Christ’s trustworthiness in what he proclaimed. In other words, he had been provided with substantial proof, so when Christ said he would rise up and especially when Thomas was presented with the testimony of his fellow apostles of Christ’s resurrection, Thomas should have believed that without having to see the risen Christ in person. So John 20:29 is not providing us with a story of a man who is being asked to believe, absent of any proof or logical motivation, that Christ is God. In other words, this isn’t “blind” faith in the existence of God, but rather faith in what God has promised. It only appears that way if the verse is taken out of the context of the entire Gospel, which is how it is often used today. I’m glad you provided this verse. I almost mentioned it in my earlier post, but thought it would be best to let it pop up naturally in the dialogue.

Continued in next post …


#12

@De_Maria

Mark Twain’s definition, I believe, is a result of the definition of faith in things without proof. Twain had encountered so many people who couldn’t present a rational argument for God that he applied his cynicism toward it. It is an example of the harm that is caused.

Faith is superior to reason - yes - because faith is a theological virtue and reason is not. But not contradictory to it and not absent of it. The point of the thread is to ask what faith is and what it is applied to. I am arguing that “blind faith” in God is not superior to reason because it isn’t faith, properly speaking.

You used John 17:20 as evidence that one should “believe in God without any basis in human reason or logical/historical proof” (quote from my words, which you were responding to). But John 17:20 is, as you point out, speaking of those “who will believe in me through their word”. Why would you assume that “their word”, the words of the apostles and other evangelists, are not based on logic and proof? After all, one of the few examples we see of the actual context of those words can be found in Acts 8, when Philip evangelized to the eunuch by apealing to reason by discussing with him how Christ fulfilled prophecy. This is exactly my point.

Regarding the 70,000 who witnessed the miracle at Fatima - I agree. As my original post stated, we also need the supernatural virtue of faith to accept the evidence before us. To be clear, I am not claiming that logic alone leads one to faith. I am arguing against what you call blind faith. The people at Fatima were not asked to believe in God blindly. He gave them proof.

“All we need to do is give a witness.” You give Paul’s words here. Again, I’m not disputing that witness can be powerful, but you and I are disagreeing on what the context of that witness is. Did Apollos ask people to believe in Christ as God without any reason or logic? If so, how do you know that?

To test this poinnt, what if your child said he accepts the Book of Mormon out of faith because he has a warm feeling in his heart that he believes to be God speaking directly to him. Would you accept this faith as virtuous? Would you accept it as superior to reason?


#13

This is patently false. What you have described is what Martin Luther thought Faith was all about. Faith is not a matter of mere trust, as trust resides in the will. Faith is concerned with both the intellect and the will. If Faith were a matter of trust, then it would be possible to obtain it without God giving it to us. In order to have the supernatural gift of Faith, one must have the grace to see what God has revealed as true, and then accept it.


#14

@nodelink and @omgriley,

I think we’re in agreement.

nodelink, I agree that faith is in the heart and not merely in the head. I’m arguing that it also exists in the head and not merely in the heart.

omgriley, I don’t know if the reference to “act of choice” from St. Thoms was intended for me, but I find no disagreement here. I also agree that faith pertains to our belief in God in addition to what he has revealed. I’m simply discussing what that “act of choice” is based on.

In other words, the “act of choice” to believe in the god Vishnu is not faith because it is absent of proof or reason. It is, therefore, a choice that is also absent of the supernatural virtue that allows us to believe because why would God give us the grace to accept untruth?


#15

EXACTLY! But, I’ll point out that Prodigal_Son isn’t saying otherwise. He never wrote about “mere” trust. You inserted that adjective. Prodigal was discounting “mere” belief. As your response points out, will and intellect are the matters with which “faith is concerned”.


#16

He said

“I think faith ought to be understood as TRUST. Faith is a matter of surrender, not judgement.”

He’s wrong. The way he’s putting it, faith is only about trust because he says in the very next sentence that it doesn’t concern judgement. Faith does concern judgement -the judgement to accept the proposed belief in the will.

I used the word “merely” because that’s what Prodigal_Son implied.

Maybe I’m wrong but that’s what it looked like to me…


#17

I think you’re exactly right. The “act of choice” which again resides in the will, can only become Faith when accompanied by the intellect seeing the truth of the belief propsed. Because there is no truth in the belief in the god Vishnu, there can’t be that intellectual component of “seeing the truth” In the case of believing in the god Vishnu, one would not only not have Faith, they wouldn’t even have right opinion. They’d just be wrong.


#18

There is none. It is what I have heard atheists call the Christian faith. And not just atheists, some Christians have also used that terminology when they think of themselves as learned men who understand and have faith by their own power of reason.

I think you’ve misunderstood the text and the context.

The majority of the Chapter is about seeing and believing. Look at the episode when Peter and John run to the crypt.

John 20:88 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed;

Then, remember, all of those who surrounded Thomas, had also seen

John 20:25 So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.”

and were witnessing, the risen Christ. They also did not believe, until they saw Jesus Christ. Remember how they doubted the women’s story:

Luke 24:21 But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel; and besides all this, it is now the third day since this took place. 22 Some women from our group, however, have astounded us: they were at the tomb early in the morning 23 and did not find his body; they came back and reported that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who announced that he was alive. 24 Then some of those with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women had described, but him they did not see.” 25 And he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!

Jesus was contrasting between those who had seen and believed. And those who had not seen and would yet believe.

St. Thomas Aquinas commentary on this verse says:

2566 When Christ said, Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed, he was praising the readiness of others to believe; and this applies especially to us. He says, “have believed” rather than “shall believe” because of the certitude [of his knowledge].

Luke seems to say the contrary: “Blessed are the eyes which see what you see” (Lk 10:23). Thus, those who have seen are more blessed that those who have not seen. I answer that blessedness is of two kinds. One is the actual state of blessedness, which consists in God’s reward, where the better one sees the happier, the more blessed, he is. In this respect, the eyes that see are blessed, because this is the reward of grace. The other blessedness is the hoped‑for blessedness, which is based on one’s merits. And in this case the more one can merit the more blessed he is. And, the one who believes and does not see, merits more than one who believes when he sees.


#19

@De_Maria,

I appreciate your efforts here, but the very context you provided clarifies my point. When they had to see to believe, the angel chastises them. He refers to the fact that they already had proof through the prophets and were refusing to believe it. The prophets had already established themselves as reliable in their testimony of God’s words.

So, I hope you see that, to refute my reading of the story of Thomas that Thomas already had enough proof that he should have believed, you provide me with the testimony of an angel declaring that Thomas (and others) already had enough proof for belief.

The faith you speak of happens without proof. But the verses you cited demonstrate these individuals should have believed without seeing because they already had proof.

Second, as you mentioned, there is no definition that matches yours in a Catholic source. Whether we call it “blind faith” or anything else, it isn’t defended by Catholic teaching.


#20

I say that “blind” faith is superior even to purportedly “reasonable” faith where the person thinks that he has come to faith by the power of his intellect.

You used John 17:20 as evidence that one should “believe in God without any basis in human reason or logical/historical proof” (quote from my words, which you were responding to).

Basically. Of course, there must be some intellect applied. I find it hard to express any faith if one is incapable of any reason whatsoever.

But John 17:20 is, as you point out, speaking of those …

Because they are historically, based on trust. We don’t pass on the faith by reproducing miracles. Well, not primarily. Primarily, the faith is passed on by word of mouth. Father to son. Generation to generation.

After all, one of the few examples we see of the actual context of those words …

The Eunuch can be contrasted to the Thessalonicans who ran St. Paul out of town. He also appealed to their reason.

Regarding the 70,000 who witnessed the miracle at Fatima - I agree. … The people at Fatima were not asked to believe in God blindly. He gave them proof.

But many of the people of Fatima, were believers even before the children were born.

“All we need to do is give a witness.” You give Paul’s words here. Again, I’m not disputing that witness can be powerful, but you and I are disagreeing on what the context of that witness is. Did Apollos ask people to believe in Christ as God without any reason or logic? If so, how do you know that?

The point I’m making is that they all, the Apostles, gave their witness on the same terms. Yet some believed and some didn’t.

To test this poinnt, what if your child said he accepts the Book of Mormon out of faith because he has a warm feeling in his heart that he believes to be God speaking directly to him. Would you accept this faith as virtuous? Would you accept it as superior to reason?
[/quote]

I don’t know how I’d react, because I trust my children’s spiritual instincts more than mine. I would certainly look into what my child was saying.

Without intending it, I think that partially answers the question on, “what is faith”. I have enough faith in my children to take them seriously on matters of faith.

However, I contrast myself with many of the people that I grew up with. They remained in the Church, I didn’t. The faith had to be proved to me. Not to them. Yet, here we are in the same place.


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