THINGS CATHOLICS ARE ASKED ABOUT
Outside the Catholic Church there is, for the most part, a more or less confused idea of what faith is. Even among Catholics, who, generally speaking, have a right understanding of faith, there are some who, if asked by a non-Catholic to explain what faith is, would be at a loss to do so satisfactorily. It may be said that it is a lack of the right understanding of faith that is responsible for many of the prevalent erroneous notions concerning religion. Some people think that revealed religion is a subject for their personal approval or disapproval. Hence they render a verdict on what they will accept or reject. They fail to realize that revealed religion, such as is the religion of Christ, is a communication from God to man. Man has a right to learn if the communication is from God. But once he knows that it is from God, his duty is to accept it, not to pass judgment on it with a view to acceptance or rejection. The very meaning of the word revelation signifies a showing, or a manifestation of something. Divine revelation means the showing of something by God, directly or indirectly. The fact that God makes known something is proof that what He makes known is true, since God can neither deceive nor be deceived.
Faith, therefore, means believing what God declares to us, not because we understand it, nor because we approve it, but simply because God, who speaks, is Truth itself, who can neither be in error nor declare what is erroneous. From the fact that we admit revelation we admit that God has declared something to us.
As said previously, revelation means a showing of something. It signifies the drawing aside of a veil, to let us see what is beyond it. Divine revelation means the drawing aside of the divine veil and showing us something about God, which otherwise we should not know.
We may know God in a degree from His work in the universe, and by the process of reasoning. But this is a very limited knowledge. “And hardly do we guess aright at things that are upon earth, and with labor do we find the things that are before us. But the things that are in heaven who shall search out? And who shall know Thy thought except Thou give wisdom and send Thy Holy Spirit from above?” (Wisd. IX. 16, 17).
By revelation God gave us knowledge of things beyond our capacity to learn by ourselves, enlightening us on divine things. Hence it is that St. Paul, referring to his mission, says: “My speech and my preaching was not in the persuasive words of human wisdom, but in the showing of the Spirit and power.” And again he says: “I give you to understand that the Gospel which was preached by me is not according to man: for neither did I receive it of man, nor did I learn it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Our divine Lord Himself plainly states the fact of revelation: “No man hath seen God at any time. The Only Begotten son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.” Faith, therefore, means believing what divine revelation declares to us. In faith our belief does not rest on our comprehension or understanding of what is revealed, but on the veracity of God who reveals. It may be said that this is clear and quite evident, but how are we to know that God has revealed something or that it is precisely what He revealed? This is the main point of the whole matter. Any one may say he has a revelation from above, but how are we to know if he really has such a revelation? If a monarch sends an ambassador with a communication to his subjects or to another ruler, the ambassador presents credentials, which attest that he is the accredited representative of the monarch. So with regard to revelation. Jesus Christ declared that He was the Only-Begotten Son of God, and moreover that His mission to mankind was to reveal divine truths and to direct mankind to eternal life. He proclaimed that He was God, and that His mission was divine. Realizing that divine credentials were necessary to confirm His claims, He proceeded to give them, presenting divine deeds, known as miracles, which were God’s seal on His mission. A miracle is God’s sign language, approving some person or thing. God could not permit a divine deed to be performed to uphold a false person or mission. A divine deed cannot be done without God’s help, and this He could not give to aid falsehood.
God is Truth. Hence when the Jews were astounded at Christ’s claim He said, “If you do not believe Me, at least believe the works that I do, they give testimony of Me.” He then proceeded to do what only God could do. By His own power He gave sight to the blind, made the lame walk, healed the leper, raised the dead, foretold the future, and commanded nature. He thus established His right to speak as God and to be believed as God. Having in this way presented His divine credentials, He revealed to us certain things about God and our future destiny which we should never have been able to acquire by human effort. He drew aside the veil of divinity, to a certain extent, giving us a view of God and His attributes and of the relationship between Him and ourselves.
He told us that God is not only the Creator, who made all things out of nothing, but that He is also our Father. Furthermore He informed us that God so loved us as to give His Only-Begotten Son for our salvation. He declared also that if we live as He ordains we may become children of God, partakers of the divine nature, members of the divine family. “To as many as receive Him He gives the power to become the sons of God.” But He also states that God is to judge all mankind, and that they who do not live as He ordains will be banished forever from His presence. These and many other things revelation teaches us.
Furthermore, Christ, having established His divine claim, founded a Church to perpetuate His mission, and endowed this Church with divine guarantees. By the same divine power, by which He manifested God to mankind, He guaranteed that His Church should teach truth only. In fact He did this to such a degree that He proclaimed that His Church taught with the same authority as Himself: “He who hears you hears Me” He said of it.
The meaning, therefore, of faith is that what revelation teaches, and what the Church teaches, must be believed by us as firmly as if God in person addressed us. Faith is not a high probability nor a strong persuasion, but a firm conviction. And this conviction is not based on the fact that the matter of belief is comprehended by us, nor on evidence in its behalf, nor on its reasonable appeal to us, but solely on the veracity of the one who reveals, namely God, who can neither deceive nor be deceived.
The Incarnation, for example, is not understood by any mortal intelligence. The Incarnation means that God became man. How this was accomplished we do not know. But revelation states that God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, became man. We believe it, and if necessary would die for our belief, not because we understand this mystery, but because God has revealed it to us.
It is the same with the Blessed Eucharist. No one understands how, by the words of consecration, the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. There is no evidence of this change, and moreover it is entirely beyond our comprehension, yet we believe it on the word of God. That is faith, believing not on the testimony of the senses, not on evidence, not on understanding, but on the veracity of God. It is the highest honor we can pay God, for by our belief we sacrifice our highest faculty, our judgment, on the altar of His veracity.
Of such importance is this worship of faith that Scripture declares that “without Faith it is impossible to please God.” Almighty God Himself sets such high value on it as to say, “I will espouse thee to Me in faith.” From this it is evident what an essential feature of religion is faith. We can pay no greater honor to our fellow man than to believe him, even when he tells us what we can neither understand nor prove. If you have evidence for belief in a statement you are obliged to yield consent, since evidence compels assent. God wants us to trust Him and to believe in Him simply because He is God. If He revealed only what met with our comprehension or approval there would be little or no credit in our believing. But when, as in the mysteries of Faith, we believe without evidence, and without comprehending, but solely on God’s word, we are truly paying Him an honor which is most worthy of Him and most acceptable to Him.
An illustration of human faith may help us to understand better the nature of divine Faith. Let us take the historical fact of the discovery of America by Columbus. Columbus believed that there was a land west of Europe. No one had ever seen that land. As far as human observation could determine, the Atlantic Ocean was the western border of the world. But the astronomical studies of Columbus, together with his close observation of natural phenomena, led him to believe that there was land west of the Atlantic. Finally he became firmly convinced of the existence of land beyond the ocean by the nature of certain driftwood washed ashore. This was entirely different from anything known to Europeans. Columbus concluded that it could come only from some land west of Europe. He had such firm faith in his conclusion that he devoted his life’s efforts to the discovery of this land. On what was the conviction of Columbus based? No one told him of the existence of America, no one had known of it. His conviction was based on reasoning. Strange and unknown wood indicated a strange and unknown land. This, together with his previous belief that the earth was round, made him conclude the existence of a land beyond the sea. That was the basis of his belief. But those who embarked with him on his voyage of discovery, on what did their belief rest? They were incapable of appreciating the astronomical argument, and they had not seen the strange driftwood which had so much impressed Columbus. Their belief in a far-off land in the Atlantic rested on their confidence in Columbus. They had faith in him. They knew him to be a learned man, a skillful navigator, and especially a man of careful and conservative character. Hence they trusted their lives to his venture. Accordingly they set sail with him, with what results we know. Having discovered America, Columbus and his crew had personal knowledge of a new world. Their knowledge was based on actual evidence. On their return to Europe they published their discovery to the astonished Europeans. The court of Spain and the people believed in the new land. On what did their belief rest? Not on evidence. They had not seen the new country. On what then? On the word of Columbus and the crew, corroborated by the evidence which was brought from the newly discovered country.
Our knowledge of things, therefore, may be acquired either by personal experience or by the testimony of others. Most of our knowledge depends on the testimony of others. All our knowledge of history depends on human testimony. Even the knowledge of so recent an event as our War of Independence, 1776, rests on faith in human testimony. No man now living witnessed that war. We have faith in those who recorded it, and on this faith our knowledge rests. Most of our knowledge depends on faith in others. Up to a certain age we take nearly everything on the word of our parents. Afterwards we take for granted as true what our teachers and text-books impart to us. Later on in life we put faith in our employers, physicians, lawyers and associates. Life would be impossible, and knowledge almost nil, unless we put faith in human testimony and human nature.
Of course our faith in people may occasionally receive a rude shock. But that is proof that such an experience was unexpected, out of the ordinary, and contrary to the rule. Hence, exceptions are said to prove the rule. If, therefore, mankind depends so much on faith for knowledge and for well-being, we should not be surprised that faith is an important element in our relationship with God. And if we put faith in human testimony, we should be more ready to place faith in divine testimony. God is the Creator of man. He is entitled to our trust and confidence much more than fallible man. Hence the apostle says: “If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater” (I John V. 9). And again he declares: “He that believeth in the Son of God hath the testimony of God in himself.”
God is a spirit. No mortal man has ever seen God, as God. We have seen Him in some of His effects; His power shown in the elements of nature, His goodness and beauty manifested in creation, His knowledge and greatness as displayed in the firmament. Finally we have beheld His love and His mercy by the revelation of Himself in the person of Jesus Christ, the God-Man. Christ is called in Scripture the Word. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . and the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us.” With man, a word is the manifestation of the invisible mind. So Christ, the Word, is the visible manifestation of the invisible God. “No man hath seen God at any time: the Only-Begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him” (John I. 18).
The mercy and tenderness and love of Jesus for mankind are the manifestations of God’s love and mercy and tenderness. Christ performed His divine deeds in order to show that He was indeed God. Since He spoke with the authority of God, and claimed the allegiance due to God and commanded that He be worshipped as God, He necessarily had to present the credentials of God. And this He did, not only by His personality, but also, and especially, by His miracles, the divine seal on His mission. Hence St. John in concluding his Gospel says: “Many other signs also did Jesus in the sight of His disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His Name.”
Faith, therefore, in Christ means the absolute belief in what He taught because He has taught it. “God so loved the world as to give His Only-Begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him may not perish, but may have life everlasting” (John III. 16). Faith, let me repeat, is not evidence, it is not the conclusion of a process of reasoning, it is not a logical inference, but it is simply the absolute belief in divine revelation because it is divine. We, may employ all our faculties in order to make sure that there has been a divine revelation. But once we admit revelation to be a fact our duty is belief, not debate. And let it be said emphatically that if there has been no divine revelation Christianity is the greatest fraud ever perpetrated on mankind. But if there has been a divine revelation it is to be accepted in its entirety and with the firmest belief. There is no room for question or doubt once God has spoken. That is why Catholic faith is so strong and so absolute. There can be no wavering or hesitation, no ifs or ands or buts when revelation has declared a thing. Hence faith means the firm assent of the will to what revelation teaches. Faith is not selective, it does not permit one to accept part and reject part of what is revealed. If any part of revelation is false it is all false, since nothing containing even the slightest error can be from God. Rather it should be said that it is not revelation if it is not all true.
Hence to admit revelation at all is to acknowledge that God has spoken, and consequently our duty is to accept His manifestation humbly and gratefully and absolutely. To say that we will not accept what we cannot understand is to dictate to God, and to limit Him in His relations with His own creatures. If a subject were to do that to his sovereign it would be impertinence and grossly offensive. If a soldier were to do that to his commander-in-chief it would be insubordination and severely punishable. God is Sovereign of creation and the Ruler of mankind. He gave us our reason, which we are so proud of, and we may be sure that having given it to us He will not want us to use it unreasonably. The whole matter of revelation resolves itself to this, has there or has there not been a revelation from on high? If there has not been such a revelation the sooner we reject Christianity the better. If there has been such a revelation, it is as true as God, and our part is to accept it in its entirety and to live by it. To believe certain parts of divine revelation and reject others is to insult God. To sit in judgment on God’s communication and accept what accords with our views is not believing in God, but putting God on trial for His prudence and veracity. He is the best judge of what to reveal and of the advisability of revealing it.
Faith is a virtue. Like every virtue it must be tested. If God revealed to us only what we approved of we should not be practicing faith, but censorship. And that is what many people are now doing in the name of religion. Instead of believing in God they are censoring God. They are willing to believe that God is love, but not that He is just, and a punisher of the wicked. They are willing to believe in heaven, but not in hell. In other words they believe in themselves, not in God. Faith is not that. Faith is the firm belief in what God declares because He declares it.
Being a supernatural virtue it requires God’s grace for its reception and practice. But God’s grace is at hand for all those who have good will and do their part to correspond with grace. Revelation has as good credentials as any fact of history. The Gospels are among the most authentic documents of mankind The greatest scholars of all creeds are agreed that the Gospels are genuine history. The Christ of the Gospels is a historic personage. His miracles are His credentials If we reject revelation we must reject Christ and regard Him as an impostor. They who do that must be prepared to do so when they face God in judgment. But if revelation be accepted, every part of it must be believed, believed so firmly that if need be we would die for our belief. That is the faith of the saints, the faith of the martyrs, the faith of the hundreds of millions who in every generation have lived in accordance with revelation, and were prepared to die for it. Christ is the Light of the world. His revelation is the beacon to eternal life. Blessed indeed are they who are guided by this light, for it leads them to the very house of God, and to membership in the family of God.
In conclusion let it be understood that a chain is no stronger than its weakest link. If any part of revelation be not true it is not divine revelation at all. If, therefore, we believe in revelation we believe it entirely and absolutely. Christ did not propose His doctrine for debate, but imposed it for our acceptance, as God alone can do. Hence His Church, which He constituted to be His voice to mankind, speaks with His authority and with His certainty. His Church is part of divine revelation, and the vehicle of conveying revelation to mankind. Faith, therefore, is the firm belief in all that revelation teaches, because it is God’s communication to mankind. Faith is not selective, permitting us to accept certain things and to reject others. We must accept revelation in its entirety or reject it altogether. In accepting revelation we are simply hearkening to God. We need not fear to go astray following that Voice.
Note by GADEL: Fr. Martin Jerome Scott (1865-1964) was a Jesuit Priest and scholar of the pre-Vatican II Church. He has authored many books including Introduction to Catholicism, God and Myself, The Hand of God, You and yours; practical talks on home life, Have you a God? what is He like?, Marriage problems, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John Were they fooled? – Did they lie? and No Pope can be wrong in teaching doctrine among others that shows how consistent the pre-Vatican II Church is with that of Vatican II.