Papal Supremacy Series: What is Faith?

I am starting a series on papal supremacy. It will go over my thought process, from my presuppositions to my conclusions. It will show how I worked my way through papal supremacy and its inevitable contradiction. For Scriptural citations, I will be using the Douay-Rheims for this series. Please let me know what you think.

Faith is the virtue, given by God, which enables man to believe and accept what God has revealed. As St. Paul teaches, faith is “the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not” (Hebrews 11:1). By faith, as St. Thomas Aquinas teaches, man believes and holds onto God as the object of his faith (ST IIa-IIæ, 4). God is not faith itself but its object.

The end goal of faith is charity: perfect obedience to, and life with, God. As St. Paul writes, “And now there remain faith, hope, and charity, these three: but the greatest of these is charity” (1 Cor. 13:13). When the man of true faith is in heaven, he no longer has faith nor hope; he only has God who is charity (1 John 4:8). St. John Chrysostom concurs in his commentary on this verse: “How then is love the greater? In that those pass away” (Homily XXXIV).

While on earth, however, faith enables man to know God and what He has revealed. To believe something contrary to what is revealed by God is to have a different faith.

It is important that every member of the Church believe certain core doctrines. To have a different faith—a false faith—is to have a different object of faith—a false god. For example, it is essential to believe that Jesus Christ is ὁμοούσιον (consubstantial) with the Father. To believe anything else is to change the identity of God. While there are areas of theology which are difficult to discern and where there is dispute, these are not doctrines de fide (of faith) until definitively resolved within the Church.

Faith is not Obedience

If faith is so important and so great, how can any man have it? Every man sins, acting against what he claims to believe. Is that not a denial of one’s faith? While faith should lead to charity, faith itself is not charity. Faith moves man to believe; charity moves man to obey. We see in the Church men who believe the truth but do not live it. As Our Lord teaches, “both bad and good” are brought into the Church (Matt. 22:10). And as the Roman Catechism teaches, the baptised who lack charity can be members, though dead members, of the Church. Those who are the dead members may still have faith but lack charity. However, sadly, some members lose faith, and we need to know what that means for the faithful.

Faith Against Heretics

St. Paul teaches that guarding the gift of faith is more important than any other human, or even angelic, authority. Faith is essential to God working salvation in man. As St. Paul teaches, sinful man, bound to the “servitude of corruption”, is called by God to the “liberty of the glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21). God brings about this liberation by “grace through faith” (Eph. 2:8). Since faith is so central to salvation and comes from God, there is no authority able to change it. As St. Paul commands the Galatians,

But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema.

Galatians 1:8

St. Anselm of Canterbury, reflecting on Isaiah 7:9, argues that in order to understand what you believe, you first need to believe—to have the gift of faith (Proslogion).

This is also taught in Vatican Council I’s Dogmatic Constitution on faith. It teaches,

faith, which is the beginning of man’s salvation is a supernatural virtue whereby, inspired and assisted by the grace of God, we believe that what he has revealed is true.

Dei Filius, D. 3008

So, when faith is received and cultivated, how does a Christian encounter the contents of the faith? The Christian learns the contents of the faith primarily through the Scriptures. Even if he receives it by means of his parents or a priest or a bishop, the source and reason for learning comes ultimately from the Scriptures. As St. Paul writes to Timothy,

All scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice, that the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work.

2 Tim. 3:16-7

Reflecting on this passage, St. John Chrysostom writes:

For thence we shall know, whether we ought to learn or to be ignorant of anything. And thence we may disprove what is false, thence we may be corrected and brought to a right mind, may be comforted and consoled, and if anything is deficient, we may have it added to us…Thou hast the Scriptures, he says, in place of me. If thou wouldest learn anything, thou mayest learn it from them. And if he thus wrote to Timothy, who was filled with the Spirit, how much more to us!

Second Epistle to Timothy: Homily IX

St. Athanasius also teaches this doctrine. He writes against the heathens,

To be sure, the sacred and divinely inspired Scriptures are sufficient for the exposition of the truth.

Contra Gentes, par. 1

St. Vincent of Lérins also teaches this,

the canon of Scripture is complete, and sufficient of itself for everything, and more than sufficient.

Commonitory par. 5

St. Thomas Aquinas further explains that

sacred doctrine makes use of these authorities as extrinsic and probable arguments; but properly uses the authority of the canonical Scriptures as an incontrovertible proof.

ST I, art. 84

This does not mean that just anyone’s interpretation is sufficient, though. St. Vincent rightly understands that Scripture is not interpreted in whatever way but must be rightly understood according to principles like catholic consent: how it has been understood always, everywhere, and by all. And while the Christian receives Scripture and instruction from his parents, priest, or bishop, he holds to their teaching because—and inasmuch as—it conforms to Scripture. Even Tradition simply reiterates and reinforces the truths established in Sacred Scripture.

Due to this, the individual believer, having faith, is responsible for cherishing the Scriptures. And when presented with the contents of the faith, he must—by means of his rational intellect—understand, analyse, and probe them. When accepted, it is truly a rational acceptance, “nevertheless in harmony with reason”. Therefore, this personal acceptance of faith is maintained by a personal understanding and interpretation of the contents of the faith.

This personal interpretation is not to destroy, lessen, or obscure the contents of the faith but, rather, is an indication of the Holy Ghost moving within every Christian to understand it more deeply within his own context. As the Psalmist says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. A good understanding to all that do it” (Ps. 110 (111):10) and “I have believed, therefore have I spoken” (Ps. 115 (116):10) and “Thy word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my paths” (Ps. 118 (119):105) and “my soul knoweth right well.” (Ps. 138 (139):13) The foundation of faith for the psalmist is the Word of God. As St. Augustine of Hippo notes in regard to Psalm 118 (119):105, the lantern is “the word which is contained in all the holy Scriptures” ().

The psalmist, deeply aware—and in awe—of his faith, reasons through the truths of faith in relation to his own situation. This continues to be true in the new covenant and the life of the Church. Faith, known through the Scriptures, is foundational and personal yet common to the People of God.

It is this principle of individual yet common faith that enables St. Paul to give the command presented at the beginning. St. Paul was the means by which the Lord gave faith to the Galatians. St. Paul recognises himself in another letter as a true authority in the Church:

Therefore, brethren, stand fast; and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word, or by our epistle.

2 Thess. 2:14

Exercising his authority, he commands fidelity to the truth faith. However, the Thessalonians hold to the true faith not because of the command but, as Vatican Council I teaches, “because of the authority of God himself who reveals” (Dei Filius, D. 3008). Therefore, to the Galatians, having received the divine faith, he commands them to hold it. And, if holding it so requires, they must reject St. Paul and the apostles and their successors, if they were to attempt to present a false faith.

This rejection of false doctrine is not just a prerogative of the Church but of each Christian to the best of his ability. Therefore, if the individual Christian, given the Scriptures by his bishop, discerns a discord or rupture between those same Scriptures and the rest of his bishop’s teaching, then he—by Pauline mandate—is to reject the latter to preserve the former.

As St. John Chrysostom teaches, reflecting on St. Paul’s anathema:

In that he anathemized evangelists and angels, he included every dignity, and his mention of himself included every intimacy and affinity. “Tell me not,” he exclaims, “that my fellow-apostles and colleagues have so spoken; I spare not myself if I preach such doctrine.” And he says this not as condemning the Apostles for swerving from the message they were commissioned to deliver; far from it, (for he says, whether we or they thus preach;) but to show, that in the discussion of truth the dignity of persons is not to be considered.

Homily on Galatians Chapter 1

Therefore, would an apostle, even the Pope himself with his curia, fail to teach truth but instead a heresy, each Christian would be able and obliged to reject it out of love of the precious gift of faith received and out of love for the Scriptures.


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