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I am confused on the probative force of the motiva credibilitatis. My understanding of Church teaching is that we can have - indeed, we must have - certain knowledge of the fact of Revelation prior to the assent of faith. Hence, Innocent XI condemns the following proposition:
" The supernatural assent of Faith necessary for salvation is compatible with merely probable knowledge of Revelation, nay even with doubt whether God has spoken."
How can we acquire this certain knowledge? The Church seems to teach that it is acquired from a scientific investigation of the motiva credibilitatis. The First Vatican Council, for example, decrees that the divine origin of the Christian religion can be known and proven by "certain signs" (i.e., the motiva credibilitatis). And the Catholic Encyclopedia article on fideism harshly criticizes the view that the motiva credibilitatis provides only probable knowledge of the fact of Revelation:
"As to the opinion of those who maintain that our supernatural assent is prepared for by motives of credibility merely probable, it is evident that it logically destroys the certitude of such an assent."
It is clear to me, then, that the Church teaches that we can and must have certain knowledge of the fact of Revelation prior to the assent of faith and that the motiva credibilitatis furnishes this knowledge.
Here is the problem. The Church also seems to teach (or, at least, her theologians) that the motives of credibility only furnishes probable knowledge of the fact of Revelation, directly contradicting what I showed above. Of course, this discrepancy could only be apparent and due to a misunderstanding on my part, but I have hard time resolving it. Take a look at the Catholic Encyclopedia article on faith. Under the section "Motives of Credibility," you'll find this apparent discrepancy. It quotes the earlier condemnation of Innocent XI, but then it goes on to limit the probative force of the motives of credibility to a mere "accumulation of probabilities," in agreement with Newman.
Take a look at another apparent discrepancy from "A Manual of Catholic Theology" (emphasis mine):
"The Catholic Church therefore teaches...that these external and manifest facts which accompany the proposition of Revelation can produce a perfect certitude of the fact of Revelation in the minds of all." (124)
"Besides this primary liberty of Faith, there is also a secondary liberty, arising from the non-cogency of the motives of credibility, which allows the will to withhold its consent and leaves room for doubt and even denial" (132)
"In order to elicit an act of Faith, we must know Revelation... the fact... of Revelation,"
What gives? Can we have certain knowledge of the fact of Revelation or not? And do the motives of credibility provide that knowledge or not?
Also, on a related issue. Assuming that we can have a certain knowledge of all these things prior to the assent of faith, what room does that leave for the freedom of the act of faith? Doesn't one come under an obligation to have faith after having that kind of knowledge?
Hello! I realize this thread was started very long ago, but perhaps you will look at my response - I have also looked at this strange apparent discrepancy. Firstly, I would like to give a plain and clear answer to your question - yes, we can and do have absolutely certain knowledge of the fact of Revelation. Pope Leo XIII taught, as we see in the Catholic Encyclopedia article on Faith, that the Gospel message has been accompanied by "definite proof of a definite truth" - definite, not probably. And the First Vatican Council taught, as we also see quoted in the same article, that the Church herself is an "irrefragable" or "irrefutable" witness to her divine mission - that which is irrefutable is absolutely certain, not merely probable. And perhaps the most straightforward is the quotation of Pope Innocent XI you mentioned - probable knowledge of revelation is not compatible with faith, nor is doubt of Revelation. I will mention a hypothesis that came to my mind - perhaps the meaning of Newman is that they are an accumulation of probablities in the sense that each is a probability in itself, but when combined they are absolutely certain. This may well be inadequate, and even false. I would recommend reading Laying the Foundations, an apologetics book by Father Joseph Clifford Fenton, with a forward by Dr. Scott Hahn. He mentions a scientific historical certitude regarding Our Lord and His miracles, which in itself can hardly be termed a probability. Also, the miracles at Lourdes can hardly be termed a probability, particularly when considered in conjunction with the scientifically demonstrated Eucharistic miracles, the incorruptibles, etc... Also, don't worry, the Church does NOT teach a probable knowledge of Revelation. At best, Cardinal Newman does as a personal theologian, with no magisterial authority whatsoever. But the proof is in the magisterial pudding. The First Vatican Council, along with informing us that the Church herself is an irrefutable witness to her Divine commission, tells us that the Divine origin of the Christian religion can be proved by miracles - no probability, only absolute and certain proof. Also, there are Pope Leo's words concerning definite proof, and the words of Pope Innocent. THAT is what the Church teaches. I am sorry to see this odd, apparent inconsistency in the CE article. But, I will reaffirm what it got correct - the motives of credibility afford us definite and certain knowledge of Divine Revelation, not probable knowledge. And that is the truth. God bless you my friend!
Kyle T. :)