The characteristics of faith

Cathal Barry takes a look at the Church’s understanding of faith

Faith is a grace, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. ìFaith is a gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by him,î it says.

The Church teaches that faith is also a human act. The Catechism states that believing is possible only by grace and the interior helps of the Holy Spirit. However, it is no less true that believing is an authentically human act, it says.

What moves us to believe is not the fact that revealed truths appear as true and intelligible in the light of our natural reason: we believe, according to the Dogmatic Constitution, Dei Filius; ìbecause of the authority of God himself who reveals them, who can neither deceive nor be deceivedî. However, ìin order that the ëobedienceí of our faith should be ëconsonant with reasoní, God has willed that to the internal aids of the Holy Spirit there should be joined external proofs of His revelationî.

Thus the miracles of Christ and the saints, prophecies, the Churchís growth and holiness, and her fruitfulness and stability ìare most certain signs of a divine revelation, and are suited to the intelligence of allî, which show that the assent of faith is ìby no means a blind movement of the intellectî.

The Catechism states that faith is also certain. ìIt is more certain than all human knowledge because it is founded on the very word of God who cannot lie,î it says. To be sure, revealed truths can seem obscure to human reason and experience, but the certainty that the divine light gives is greater than that which the light of natural reason gives. As St Anselm put it: ìTen thousand difficulties do not make one doubt.î

The Church accepts that faith seeks understanding. It is intrinsic to faith that a believer desires to know better the One in whom he has put his faith, and to understand better what He has revealed.

According to the Catechism, the grace of faith opens ìthe eyes of your heartsî (Ephesians 1:18) to a lively understanding of the contents of Revelation: that is, of the totality of Godís plan and the mysteries of faith, of their connection with each other and with Christ, the centre of the revealed mystery. In the words of St Augustine: ìI believe, in order to understand; and I understand, the better to believe.î

Although faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason.

Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth.