What is Faith?

When Catholics use the word Faith as in …saved by Faith in Jesus…does it have the same meaning as it has for say an Evangelical or AOG person? I seem to pick up that it may well be defined differently and leads to our talking past one another.

For some non-Catholics, “faith” is mental assent that requires nothing further from the person involved. I don’t mean that they don’t truly convert, I’m not saying that at all. However, when a Catholic says “faith” they mean “faith that works” - an active, living faith that is shown by what we do for “the least of these.” Things like feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving to the poor, etc…A non-Catholic (generally) would say those are good things to do but are not tied to our salvation in any way.

Does that help?

I don’t know. Faith for me is like a total adherence on every level to God and also to what he says. Sort of like how we are to be loving God with our heart, mind, soul, strength, everything. But I’m Catholic. Perhaps other groups place the emphasis somewhere else.

Great question. I believe that this is a fundamental misunderstanding between Catholics and non-Catholic Christians.

In short, Protestants use “faith” to mean what Catholics mean by “faith, hope and love (or charity)”

That is Protestants say for example that faith alone is needed for salvation. If you substitute “faith, hope and charity” in that phrase, Catholics would agree…

Faith in God, hope for heaven, charity or works toward mankind.

If we could just agree on the terminology, I think we’d realize how much we have in common!

If I am Christian, believing Jesus is Truly Man and Truly God…what a strange ‘faith’ it would be to have faith in Jesus but not putting any faith in His Life and Words and, indeed, his insistance to abide by what He had to say at all times.

Second Letter of St. James:


But some man will say: Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without works; and I will shew thee, by works, my faith. 19 Thou believest that there is one God. Thou dost well: the devils also believe and tremble. 20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?

Peace and Joy…Barb:) *

Laudatur Iesus Christus.

“Faith” means both trust and loyalty.

The two Latin words at issue are “credo,” which means “give credit to, rely upon, or more crassly ‘to bet on,” and “fides,” which is the noun expressing the substance of the verb “credo,” namely “trust, faith, confidence, reliance, credence, belief.”

Thus “Faith” means relying on Jesus as the basis for one’s life and understanding. Empiricists rely on material things and the way they behave. Those with Faith in God rely rather on God, sometimes without understanding. Those with Faith in Christ rely on Jesus as the key and basis for knowledge of God and of material things and their motions.

Let watchmen count on daybreak and Israel on the Lord. (Ps 129(130).)

Because Jesus is the “Logos,” the “Truth,” and the true God, there is no choice to be made, material reality, subjective perception, and divine revelation are all coherent, consistent, and substantiated by the teachings of Jesus and His Church.

Thus Faith is how we know that what we know by any means is reliable and worthy of our trust. This determines our actions, intentions, and thoughts.

Spiritus Sapientiae nobiscum.

John Hiner

Faith has one definition…
A belief in something Not yet seen. This is how the bible says it… this is how Webster defines it.

If you have any definition to this word that exceeds this you are twisting the meaning of a word (even if unintentionally) There is NOTHING in Catholic teaching that goes beyond this, though it may SEEM. Last time I said this, someone provided the definition to the word faith from the CCC. But failed to realize that the CCC was defining faith in euphemisms…

Example… If I said getting a drivers license means you are free, you have earned independence, you are one step closer to complete freedom from your parents… Is this definition wrong? no, but is this what a license is? Nope…

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE becareful with the word faith… It has one meaning everywhere in the bible…

When you change the meaning of the word Faith, you change the meaning of the bible!

In Christ

Laudatur Iesus Christus.

Dear Heisenburg:

I am not sure if your admonition was directed to me or not. However, St. Paul wrote: “Now faith [pistis] is the substance [hupostasis] of things to be hoped for, the evidence [elegxos] of things [pragmatawn] that appear not. Hebrews 11:1 (Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition.) (I suspect that this is the reference you had in mind; if I am mistaken, please let me know.)

I submit that the “substance” of things hoped for and the “evidence” (or testing or argument) of things (or actions done) are different than mere belief in unseen things. In this sentence, “faith” or “trust” is presented as a foundation on which other things rest and a test for the explanations that people offer.

This seems to explain the role of “pistis” or “faith” in life and philosophy, not to give a description of its essence or source.

I suggest that the common meaning of the words “pistis” is the “definition” of the word in the way that you mean it and that St. Jerome’s use of “fides” (and its common meaning in Latin) is an elaboration and aid to understanding what is intended by St. Paul.

After thinking all of this through it amounts to taking Jesus’ word for *everything *– something that we cannot do without taking the Church’s word for a great number of things.

This ultimate founding of all of Revelation on Jesus might be one of the meanings of St. Paul’s statement in the next verse: “For by this [faith] the ancients obtained a testimony," (Hb 1:2). This is one reason the Resurrection is so central to the Faith; it validates and endorses all that the Old Testament says and endorses Jesus’ teachings as true and reliable.

If we adopt the definition you suggest, then faith becomes unreasonable, which would be contrary to Jesus as the “Logos” or “Word,” as the Pope argued at Regensburg. If we loose this tie between faith and reason, we fall into several pitfalls, which we do well to avoid.

Spiritus Sapientiae nobiscum.

John Hiner

I find that the CCC definition of faith is anything but euphemistic – in fact, it is the picture of precision and beauty:

FAITH: Both a gift of God and a human act by which the believer gives personal adherence to God who invites his response, and freely assents to the whole truth that God has revealed. It is this revelation of God which the Church proposes for our belief, and which we profess in the Creed, celebrate in the sacraments, live by right conduct that fulfills the twofold commandment of charity (as specified in the ten commandments), and respond to in our prayer of faith. Faith is both a theological virtue given by God as grace, and an obligation which flows from the first commandment of God ([see also CCC sections] 26, 142, 150, 1814, 2087).
CCC Glossary

perhaps i shouldn’t have used the word euphemism… but the example I used does describe the definition of the word faith in a not so direct way…

And no I wasn’t directing it at anyone. Just a general comment… Faith is the substance of something not seen… no problem with that…

my issue is when people take a definition, say Faith is trust and obedience… which is in a way true, but not the actual definition, and use THAT when reading scripture… it changes the meaning.

Some go and say faith is when you completely submit to god and adhere to his will… Again, in principle, it is true, but it is not the literary meaning. It is more like a symbolic meaning…

When you take symbolic meanings and apply it, you get chaos…

I always point to Hebrews 11 to make the point…

Read it with the various definitions and you get different meanings to scripture.
Some say Faith means you are completely transformed and cannot go against his will…

“Because Abraham was completely transformed and could not go against His will, He put his son on the alter” - this is how this verse sounds with the given defintion

Or… If Faith means a gift from god we cannot attain of our own…

“Because Abraham received the gift of faith from god, with out doing anything to earn it, he placed his son on the Alter” - This is in line with the definition provided

Or, it the word FAITH simply means a believe in something not yet seen, which is how both the bible and the dictionary define it…

“Because Abraham believed in the lord god, even though he had no proof, he trusted the lord and put his son on the alter”

In the first case, the verse means Abraham did it and had no choice in the matter

in the second case, the verse means Abraham did it in response to the lord

in the third case, Abraham did it because he trusted the lord…

Three completely different meanings from the same verse

This is why I am such a stickler about the word faith…

If you use symbolic meaning over literary meaning, it alters the meaning of scripture…

Hopefully I explained my position a little better…

In Christ

Laudatur Iesus Christus.

Dear Heisenburg:

I am not sure if we are agreeing or not – though we may be.

I would agree with the phrase “Abraham did it because he trusted the Lord.” I also agree that the other two interpretations which you lay out would be overstated and dangerously off base.

I am asserting, however, that the intended concept of trust is not independent of evidence or reasons to trust. The Lord gives evidence to support His trustworthiness. This is the gist of much of the Old Testament and a paramount meaning of the Resurrection. Both are bases for concluding, reasonably, that the Lord is trustworthy.

The Lord expects this sort of analysis of evidence and weighing of His actions. He complains when we ignore the evidence:

Today listen to the voice of the Lord:
Do not grow stubborn, as your fathers did in the wilderness,
when at Meriba and Massah they challenged me and provoked me,
Although they had seen all of my works.

(Psalm 95, English Breviary’s translation (1975).)(Emphasis added).

Thus “faith” in the Church’s sense means “trust in the Lord.” This trust is the basis of our hope and the test of the validity of theories about things that cannot be directly seen – either because they are invisible, or because they are removed from us in time or space. However, it should be clear that the basis for this “faith” or “trust in God” is diverse and has a great deal of evidence and many arguments supporting it.

If your intended meaning allows for this, then I agree with your insistence on care being given to the meaning. Mistaking “faith” for a mystical “substance” or an “involuntary attribute” are both errors, which divert people outside the clear meaning of the Gospel.

If I am mistaken, please explain how our understandings differ.

Thank you for your help in clarifying this issue for me; your last post was helpful in making the matter clearer.

Pax Christi tecum.

John Hiner

I find when I am in this discussion (specifically with fellow catholics) after much finagling, we essentially agree. Usually, what happens, is that one side is looking at the theological aspect of Faith… Which I agree with the CCC completely… I am arguing on the words literary meaning being used…

In other words, I am not looking at the theological meaning, and all it stands for… I am looking at the more basic, communicative aspect of the word faith…

Words are used because they have a certain specific meaning. But, there are also symbolic meanings. The CCC defines it symbolically, not in a literary aspect. It is a symbol I completely agree with, but a symbol all the same.

When I say we have to use the dictionary/bible (heb11) definition. I am not arguing against the theological, and symbolic meanings, I am arguing that we MUST use the literary meaning of the word in a give sentence to extract the theological value of a specific verse…

Again, as mentioned, if you use symbolic definitions, as exampled, you run the risk of destroying the meaning of the verse.

One reason I always point out Hebrews 11, is many many people I have talked to that Adhere to OSAS, view having faith as meaning we have been completely transformed, and can do nothing but his will… To them, when they see “Abraham had faith in the lord and placed his son on the alter” they see proof in their believe because they see “Abraham was transformed and could not do anythign but the lords will, so, he placed his son on the alter…”

As a Catholic, we baulk at such an interpretation, but because some use this definition, they see this verse not to talk about Abraham’s trust in the lord, but as an example of someone that was transformed and could do nothing against His will…

So, this is why I say, When reading, we MUST use the literary meaning, not symbolic meaning… otherwise, you end up destroying the original intent of scripture…

Imagine, if you ascribed to the definition of Faith as has been described to me by OSASers, how the bible would sound… everywhere you see the word faith, you equate that to someone who was completely transformed and couldn’t do anything opposed to His will…

In essence, they are not using the same language we are, and interpreting the bible using that language…

If we cannot trust in the definitions of words… how can we ever even begin to hope to spread the Good News… It is this very reason that we are told NOT to argue about words or the meaning of words, lest it bring you to ruin

In Christ

Thanks so far. So are we saying that an OSAS person sees Faith as meaning “transformed and only able to do God’s will.” While Catholic’s see it as trusting God enough to believe in His Church and all it teaches even those things like heaven, purgatory, and hell which we cannot see as well as the presence of Jesus under the appearances of bread and wine, and so forth. Is there more to the non-Catholic definition than what is quoted above?

I can understand Faith as a virtue which empowers us to believe in, accept, trust, and act on all that the Church teaches. Then Hope and Love as virtues would seem in some way to further strengthen Faith.

My impression is that maybe even Catholics do not agree on a basic definition when talking about Faith. Incorrect impression?

Catholics can have their personal opinions all day, but what matters is what the Church teaches, and that means what is found in the Scriptures and official teachings such as the Catechism definition I provided above.

Catholicism isn’t like Protestantism where, on the basis of *Sola Scriptura *and private interpretation, there are arguably 33,000 potential differing --and legitimate-- definitions.


I don’t know if that was meant as an indirect slap at me or not, but i just wanted to point out that I am not in a disagreement with the church. As mentioned, i am not looking at the theological definition, but the literary so that we can properly understand scripture…

IF my understanding of faith ever comes counter to what the Church teaches, then I am in error…

That being said, when the arguments I put forth are properly understood, it is not in disagreement with the church. You are right in the the way the CCC defines it is a very beautiful and meaningful way, but as mentioned, it is at the Theological level of what it means to believe in something not yet seen. It is not the actual Webster definition, but it is also NOT in disagreement with a Webster definition

In Christ

It was not directed at you at all, but was addressing the comment by rwoehmke where he said.

My impression is that maybe even Catholics do not agree on a basic definition when talking about Faith.

That’s why I included his comments in my post. Sorry for the misunderstanding.

no problem… sorry for being jumpy :smiley:

OK, I now have a pretty fair fix on what Catholics mean by Faith, but it is not clear to me whether the separated brethren hold the same understanding when using the term “faith.” Can anyone enlighten me on that aspect?

Sigh. :frowning: I left out a word, so this may be part of Heisenburg’s thought process. I meant “also to *believe *what he says.” I didn’t realize that I had omitted a word until I read something he wrote. Clearly, someone can have faith and also sin at the same time. By “says” I mean “reveals”. You believe what he reveals. By “says” I didn’t mean tells you to do and you do it. Sorry. Here are two semi-helpful CCC quotes to go towards what I had been thinking.

**143 **By faith, man completely submits his intellect and his will to God. With his whole being man gives his assent to God the revealer. Sacred Scripture calls this human response to God, the author of revelation, “the obedience of faith”.

150 Faith is first of all a personal adherence of man to God. At the same time, and inseparably, it is a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed. As personal adherence to God and assent to his truth, Christian faith differs from our faith in any human person. It is right and just to entrust oneself wholly to God and to believe absolutely what he says. It would be futile and false to place such faith in a creature.

About rwoehmke’s most recent question, some separated brethren hold to a type of faith that appears to encompass hope and charity within it or as an inevitable result of it. I might say that you can have faith and still be in a state of mortal sin (no charity). I’m not sure how the separated brethren I mentioned might respond about that.

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