What is Faith?
If we would attain the end for which we have been created, namely, the salvation of our souls, it is of vital necessity that we know the Lord our God, by whom all things are made and have their being, and who is from all eternity. To acquire this knowledge limited human reason is greatly aided by faith. Now faith is a virtue and gift of God, whereby, knowing God’s infallible truthfulness, we hold for certain whatever He has revealed and has presented through His Church for our acceptance and belief.
Faith in general may be defined as follows: It is to hold for true whatever another tells us, upon his authority, and without requiring from such person any proofs of the truth he affirms. As soon as we know that a truth has been revealed by God, we believe it without exacting the proof of its certainty, knowing, as we do, that God cannot err, nor assert falsehood, since He Himself is eternal and infallible truth. This is religious faith, or faith in the proper sense of the word.
How do we obtain such belief? How little do those people who are deprived of the light of faith know of God and their own destiny! Of the nature of God and the three divine persons in God they know nothing. They know not who redeemed them nor who sanctified them. Though able to distinguish between good and evil, their knowledge of it and of Christian virtues, such as chastity, charity, etc., is necessarily most imperfect.
A faith which teaches these truths can not proceed from human reason alone, but must necessarily come from God. Faith is a gift of God Saint Paul received this gift or grace of faith while journeying to Damascus with the avowed intent of persecuting the Christians. We receive the grace of faith in the Sacrament of Baptism, as well as in the other sacraments by our zealous and continual prayer. All our study, science, and labors can not give us faith. Hence Saint Paul writes, “By grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, for it is the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8)
Yet God, while granting us faith, does not force our belief. We have our free will, which may either accept or reject faith. If we accept and preserve through life the faith given to us by God, if we direct all our thoughts, words, and actions in accordance with the law and requirements of faith, that faith or belief within us becomes a real virtue, and then, and only then, may we call ourselves believing Christians, truly believing Catholics. The true faith of a Catholic Christian is, therefore, a virtue and a gift of God, by which we hold for true whatever God has revealed.
Object of Faith, Sources of Faith
It is not a matter of indifference what we believe, or how much we believe. We are bound to accept with belief all that God has revealed, without distinction or division. He who would gainsay the smallest part of divine revelation, or refuse to accept the whole, would deny God’s own truthfulness.
It is not enough to know that what God says is true, because God is the eternal and infallible truth: we must know, and know with certainty and exactness, what God has spoken to us. Who teaches this?
Saint Paul writes, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets: last of all, in these days, hath spoken to us by His Son, whom H£ hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also He made the world.” (Hebrews 1:1,2) When the fulness of time was come, and sin had reached its most enormous proportions, God sent to men His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, that He might teach them and save them. Jesus Christ possessed the fulness of the Godhead, and hence the fulness of truth. This truth He imparted to His apostles, who became the leaders and teachers of the Church which He established then. “As the Father has sent Me,” said He to them, “so do I send you. Go, teach all nations.” To these also Christ sent the Holy Spirit, who was to remain with them and their successors during all time, teaching them all truth and preserving them from error. Moreover the apostles wrote down not all but only a part of the teachings of Christ, and of His doings. These writings compose the Scriptures of the New Testament. Whatever else they had learned from Christ and His Holy Spirit, they communicated to their hearers by word of mouth. Such teachings, so delivered to the early Christians, are called traditional. Whatever the Church presents to us for our belief, she has drawn from Holy Scriptures and Tradition, and hence her doctrines are nothing other than what was originally taught and revealed by God Himself through Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son. Because the chief objects of our belief are contained in Holy Scriptures and Tradition these are termed the sources of faith.
In opposition to us Catholics, the Protestants take as their source of belief the Holy Scriptures only, denying the validity and utility of Tradition. But it is easy to prove that Tradition is as good a source of faith as Holy Writ itself.
Thus we know and understand the meaning of the proposition: The faith of the Catholic Christian is a virtue and a gift of God, whereby he holds for true and certain whatsoever God has revealed and the Catholic Church holds up for our belief.
Contents of Holy Scriptures
The Holy Scriptures are a collection of books which have been written under the special guidance and light of the Holy Ghost and, on this account, are recognized and honored by the Church as the word of God.
Holy Scriptures, or the Bible, are divided into parts called the Old Testament, and the New Testament. As the Holy Scriptures contain and express the final and unquestionable declaration to man of God’s will, they are termed a Testament. They are sometimes termed a Covenant, because they set forth the teachings and the will of God, with the promised agreement that all those who accept these doctrines with belief, and fulfill the word of God, will obtain everlasting happiness. It is as if God made a covenant with men. The word “bible” means the book of books.
The Old Testament contains the things made known by God to man from the creation of the world to the time of Christ. For this purpose God made use of Moses, the prophets, and other holy writers, by whom the divinely inspired truth was left to His people in many volumes. These books are divided, in regard to their contents, as follows:
The historical books
These are 21 in number, namely, the five Books of Moses; the Books of Josue, Judges, and Ruth; the four Books of Kings; the two Books of Chronicles, or Paralipomenon; the Books of Esdras, Nehemias, Tobias, Judith, Esther; and the two Books of Machabees.
The chief contents of the five Books of Moses are the history of the creation of the world, of the first members of the human family, of their sins and punishments, of their dispersion over the earth, and of the chastisements inflicted on the world by the Deluge and on certain cities by fire and brimstone. They also contain the records of Abraham and the other patriarchs, of the growth of the people of Israel, their liberation from Egyptian bondage, their wonderful journey through the desert, the promulgation of the ten commandments, and of the laws prescribing the various religious rites and ceremonies. In a word, these books form the records of early mankind in general and of the Jewish people in particular, down to the time of Moses’ death. The other books contain the history of the conquest of the Promised Land, of the wars of the Israelites with the neighboring nations, of the building of the Temple, of the dismemberment of the kingdom, and of the fate of each portion, till their conquest and their reduction into the Asiatic and Babylonian captivity; then of their return, and of their doings down to a period of one hundred and thirty-four years before the birth of Christ The Books of Tobias and Judith contain simply the domestic history of two God-fearing families.
The devotional books
These are so called because they contain little other than moral precepts and maxims. They are entitled as follows: the Book of Job; the Psalms; Proverbs; the Preacher, or Ecclesiastes; the Canticle of Canticles; the Book of Wisdom; and Sirach, or Ecclesiasticus.
The Book of Job narrates the sufferings and the wonderful patience and resignation of Job, and his confidence in God. The Psalms are one hundred and fifty sacred songs, chiefly composed by David to the honor and glory of God, and for man’s comfort and encouragement in the perplexities of life. Some of these Psalms contain, too, prophecies concerning the future Redeemer. The Proverbs of Solomon form a golden rule of life, mostly in the form of maxims. Ecclesiastes shows forth the vanity of earthly things and exhorts us to fear God and to keep His commandments, for such is the way to become perfect men. The Canticle of Canticles is so called because it is the most beautiful of the sacred songs composed by Solomon. In tender strains it portrays the love that ought to exist between God and the just man’s soul, and also between God and His Church on earth. The Book of Wisdom and the Book of Sirach contain various doctrines and precepts for the spiritual instruction and edification of righteous men.
The seventeen prophetical books
These are composed chiefly of prophecies concerning the future history of the Jewish people, and the coming Messias, Jesus Christ The prophets are Isaias, Jeremias, Baruch, Ezechiel, Daniel, Osee, Joel, Amos, Abdias, Jonas, Micheas, Nahum, Habacuc, Sophonias, Aggeus, Zacharias and Malachias.
The first four of these are called the Greater Prophets, because their writings relate to greater events and have a wider scope than have the predictions of the other twelve, who are called the Minor Prophets. Isaias was an agent and an instrument of God, chosen to reform and save Juda and their city, Jerusalem. In his prophecies the reader meets such clear and striking forecasts of the Redeemer that Saint Jerome himself said of him, “Isaias is rather to be called an Evangelist than a prophet.” He lived seven hundred years before Christ. Jeremias foretold to the Jewish people the punishments about to be inflicted upon them by God for their faithlessness.
Among these chastisements were the Babylonian captivity, the destruction of Jerusalem and of the Temple, on the ruins of which the prophet sang his Lamentations at a later day. Ezechiel predicted the approaching misfortunes of Israel, and lived with Daniel during the Babylonian captivity, from 605 to 535 years before Christ. Daniel was descended from a royal stock, and lived at the court of King Nabuchodonosor. His predictions extend chiefly to the succession of the worldly kingdoms, namely, the Babylonian, the Persian, the Macedonian, and the Roman. In Daniel’s writings we meet some of the plainest prophecies concerning the Redeemer, the time of whose coming he defines by the weeks of years, and whom he thus describes, ” One like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven. . . . and the Ancient gave Him power and glory and a kingdom: and all peoples, tribes and tongues shall serve Him; His power is an everlasting power that shall not be taken away, and His kingdom, that shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13,14) The Lesser Prophets at different periods foretold the history of the Jewish people, the coming Messias, His forerunner, and other matters. The latest of all the prophets was Malachias, who lived 450 years before the birth of Christ
A prophecy is a sure prediction founded on supernatural knowledge received from God either directly or indirectly, of some future event which can not be foreseen by mere human knowledge or calculation.
The truth of a prophecy can not be reasonably denied. As an all-knowing God foresees the future, so, too, has He the power and the right to unveil that future to the mental vision of His chosen servants. A prophecy uttered by a man who has proved himself to be sent by God, is in itself a proof of his divine mission, and hence a proof, too, of the divinity and truth of his teachings. For God can not establish or confirm an error by a miracle.
The New Testament contains the divine revelations as given to us by Jesus Christ Himself. The writings of the New Testament are:
1. The four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
2. The Acts of the Apostles.
3. The twenty-one Apostolic Briefs, or Epistles. Fourteen of these last are by Saint Paul, and the remaining seven by other apostles. The Epistles of Saint Paul were addressed to particular churches and to private individuals, as follows: one to the Christians at Rome, two to the Corinthians, one to the Galatians, one to the Ephesians, one to the Philippians, one to the Colossians, two to the Thessalonians, two to Timothy, one to Titus, one to Philemon, and one to the Hebrews, that is to say, to those Jews in Palestine who had become Christians. The other seven Epistles are: one by Saint James, two by Saint Peter, three by Saint John, and one by Saint Jude.
4. The Apocalypse, or Revelations.
The four Gospels give, us details of the history of the precursor, Saint John, and his family, the genealogy and birth of the Saviour, the perils and sufferings of Himself and His parents, His public career, His calling of the apostles, His teachings, works, and miracles, and also His later sufferings, His death, burial, and resurrection, His sending out of the apostles and His ascension into heaven.
Matthew and John were witnesses of what they relate. Saint Mark was a disciple and companion of Saint Peter, at whose suggestion he wrote his Gospel, as Saint Luke wrote his at the instance of Saint Paul, whose disciple and companion he was. Each Gospel has its own peculiar characteristics and beauties, and although the four were written without any concerted plan, and one sometimes supplies histories of incidents which another Evangelist has omitted, yet they harmonize beautifully together. In most modern languages “gospel” is expressed by a word meaning “joyful message” (Evangelium in Latin).
It is so termed because it contains the only message that can bring gladness to men, and is the message brought by the Son of God, made man, to His creatures, whom He came to redeem.
The Acts of the Apostles describe the sending of the Holy Ghost, the career of the Christian Church during the first thirty years of its existence, and more particularly the history of Saint Paul down to the date of his first imprisonment in Rome.
The Epistles of Saint Paul are occasional writings which he addressed, as circumstances required, to those people whose names they bear. In them the parties addressed are exhorted to constancy and perseverance, and are advised concerning those truths which the saint found it necessary to impress more forcibly upon their minds.
The Epistles of Saints James, Peter, Jude, and John, on the other hand, not being addressed to any persons in particular, but to the Church at large, are, for that reason, called Universal, or Catholic, Epistles.
Revelations, or the Apocalypse of Saint John, is essentially a book of prophecies foreshadowing in mysterious figures the history of the Christian Church as God’s kingdom on earth, its struggles, and its final triumph on the Last Day. These mysterious revelations and forecasts were manifested to Saint John on the island of Patmos, while he was living in banishment there by order of the Emperor Domitian, a violent persecutor of the Christians.
Such, in brief, are the contents of the Holy Bible, which is properly termed the treasure-house of our faith and the armory of our holy Church. By the holy Fathers and teachers of the Church these Scriptures are likened to a letter addressed to mankind by our loving and merciful Father in heaven. Saint Augustine says of the Holy Scriptures, ” From that celestial city out of which we have been withheld till now, a letter has come telling what God in His love has done for us, and teaching us what we out of love should do for Him.”
The authority of the Scriptures is divine, hence we call them Sacred Writings. The writers of both the Old Testament and the New Testament were men chosen by God, and were so elevated and guided by the Holy Spirit that they could not fall into error. Of this we find testimony even among the Jews. One of their greatest historians, Josephus Flavius, states, “It is perfectly plain and certain that we may repose full faith in our books, for, although a long time has elapsed since they were written, no man has dared to add anything to them, to take from them, or to alter them. It is, as it were, born with all Jews to consider these books as the word of God, to adhere faithfully to them and, if it becomes necessary, to die willingly for them.”
That the Holy Scriptures are inspired by the Holy Ghost, and consequently are of divine import, has been testified by Jesus Christ and confirmed by His apostles; for they themselves appealed to them and taught expressly that they emanated from the Holy Ghost. “Men, brethren,” said Saint Peter to the hundred and twenty disciples, “the Scripture must needs be fulfilled which the Holy Ghost spoke before by the mouth of David concerning Judas.” (Acts 1:16) Again the prince of the apostles writes, “Understanding this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is made by private interpretation. For prophecy came not by the will of man at any time, but the holy men of God spoke, inspired by the Holy Ghost.” (2nd Peter 1:20,21) The Fathers in all ages have taught the same truth. The holy Pope, Saint Clement, says, “Read the Holy Scripture, for it is the expression of the Holy Ghost.” (Epistle to the Corinthians) Irenaeus says, writing against the heretics, “The Holy Scripture is perfect, for it has been pronounced by the Holy Ghost.”
Such was at all times the belief of the whole Catholic Church, which always considered and honored the Holy Scriptures as the divine treasury of its doctrines and laws. From the earliest times, too, the Church with decided care and solicitude has taught what books belong to Holy Writ and what do not. In this way the Church, in the long lapse of ages, has preserved the word of God pure and intact. Hence it is that today we honor as inspired the same books which the Council of Nice, in the year 325, declared to be such. In all this, too, the Church has been guided by the Spirit of God, who can not permit His teacher and representative on earth to fall into error.
Whoever would read the Sacred Scriptures for his own instruction and edification must be careful to obtain a correct translation as approved by the local Catholic authorities, a translation accompanied with notes explaining the most difficult passages. For in the Bible there are many things “hard to be understood,” as Saint Peter says, “and which the unlearned and the unstable wrest to their own destruction” (2nd Peter 3:16). Having taken such precautions the good Catholic may then read the Scriptures safely and profitably. The Church can never tolerate the doctrine that each individual may draw and arrange his faith for himself, for such a system is opposed, not only to the plain letter of the Holy Scriptures themselves, but also to the unity of belief, and, therefore, sullies and distorts the purity of Christ’s doctrines.
It was not Luther who made the first translation of the Bible, as has been erroneously maintained by Protestants. Before he was born there were in circulation several editions of that holy Book, in various languages.
Nature and Necessity of Tradition
Tradition embraces all those teachings concerning faith and morals imparted by Christ Himself, or by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, to the apostles, and which they preached orally although they did not commit them to writing.
Christ did not put His teachings into a written form, neither did He order the apostles to do so. He went about preaching and teaching (Matthew 4:23). To His apostles He simply said, “Go ye into the whole world and preach the Gospel to every creature…. But they going forth preached everywhere, the Lord working withal, and confirming the word with signs that followed.” (Mark 16:15,20) It was preaching, therefore, that is, the verbal expounding of the doctrine of Jesus, which, in conformity to the will of God, was to be foundation for faith, and not simply written forms. If some of the apostles wrote a few pages, it was always done to meet certain exigencies and for some personal and local purpose, and not, by any means, with a view of giving even a summary or totality of the doctrines to be believed by all men unto salvation. This truth is explicitly laid down by Saint John. He had written his Gospel later than the three other Evangelists, and partly with the intention to supply many things overlooked and omitted by them. Yet at the end of his work he said, “Many other signs also did Jesus in the sight of His disciples, which are not written in this book. There are also many other things which Jesus did, which, if they were written every one, the world itself, I think, would not be able to contain the books that should be written.” (John 20:30; 21:25)
Thus it is not difficult to discover that the apostles, their disciples, and the faithful generally, never depended on any writing as the only and exclusive rule of faith. On the contrary, hear what Saint Paul says of communication by word of mouth, or Tradition. Writing to Timothy, he exhorts: “Thou, therefore, my son, be strong…and the things which thou hast heard of me by many witnesses, the same command to faithful men who shall be fit to teach others also.” (2nd Timothy 2:1,2)
Moreover the Church of Christ could not have existed, nor would it exist today, if deprived of oral Tradition; for there was no written rule of faith for full ten years after the coming of the Holy Ghost Then, too, Holy Writ is silent concerning many important doctrines, such as the number of the sacraments, their administration, the baptism of infants, the observance of Sunday instead of Saturday, the lawfulness of oaths, the inspiration of the Scriptures, and others. Again, doctrines mentioned in the Bible are not fully and satisfactorily explained. Necessarily the Holy Scriptures must be not only corroborated by Tradition, but also made clear and intelligible.
The assumption that the Holy Scriptures are the only rule of faith from which every man must draw his belief, involves and produces countless absurd consequences. For instance, what is to become of those persons who cannot secure a copy of the Bible? Before the invention of printing, a modern event, such persons were counted by millions. Others can not read, and no man is sure that his translation is true and exact.
The recognition of Tradition as a source of belief when combined with the written word, is as ancient as the Catholic Church itself. Fathers of the apostolic times, such as Saint Ignatius and Saint Polycarp, who lived in the first and second centuries, exhorted the Christians of their day to preserve faithfully their religious traditions and preachings. In the second century we find Saint Irenaeus complaining of the heretics, that they rejected Holy Scriptures and Tradition, although the latter had come from the apostles and had been sacredly preserved in the Church through all succeeding bishops. Beside these there are countless other testimonies to the same effect.
In the course of time these ancient oral traditions were gradually committed to writing by the Fathers and were carefully handed down in the Church from generation to generation.
Sources of Tradition
The various sources whence ecclesiastical Tradition is drawn and then imparted by the Church teaching, are, first, the decrees and definitions of Councils; secondly, the writings of the Fathers; thirdly, the recorded acts of martyrs and confessors; fourthly, the ancient books containing the history, teachings, and discipline of the Church; fifthly, the different rites, ceremonies, and prayers of the Church.
Whatever is laid down in these writings as universal doctrines of the Catholic Church, is, after the Sacred Scriptures, our second source of belief. Such it has been, too, from the earliest times* As early as the fifth century Saint Vincent of Lerins wrote, “We hold fast to that which has been believed by all, everywhere and in every age, for such is truly and undeniably Catholic.”
Necessity of Faith
Why is faith, or belief, absolutely necessary to salvation?
Since God has not only enabled us to know Him by the use of reason, but has made Himself and His holy will more fully known to us by divine revelation, we must believe. It is not allowed to man to be free in the sense that he may believe or not believe, as if unbelief were no sin for him. On the contrary, it is our simple duty to accept the faith, to preserve it, and to live in it and by it. . It is only by fulfilling this duty imposed upon us by God that we can hope to obtain heaven. Hence, belief is absolutely necessary. “The just man liveth by faith.” (Romans 1:17) Faith is the life of the soul. Without it there is no justification meritorious before God. Hence, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” (Hebrews 11:6)
Consider, Christian reader, how enormous is the sin of unbelief. Not to believe is nothing other than to repel from one’s self divine truth, to oppose the Creator who has made Himself known to us, and to wish to know nothing of Him and His holy will. And as the Lord God has sent His Son to bring us the tidings of salvation, and, as that Saviour was judged, and died, in order to save us from judgment, to refuse to believe is nothing more or less, on our part, than to concur willingly in the sentence and judgment of the Saviour. This is what Christ means when He says in John 3:18, “He that doth not believe is already judged.” The unbeliever can not escape responsibility. How foolish then for any man to say, “I do not need to believe as long as I do right.” The Lord, on His side, says, “He that believeth not shall be condemned.” Thus it is that the wisdom of man would array itself against the express law of God, and that the world would set itself up in opposition to its Maker and His holy Gospel.
Not every or any form of belief can secure man’s salvation, but only the faith of Jesus Christ. The Son of God brought down the unknown truth from heaven and opened to us the mysteries of the divine kingdom. Equally with the eternal Father He is the fountain of truth. He is the truth itself. And He is, beside the truth, the way and life. Hence we can believe in none other than in Jesus. Now, whoever believes in Him is on the right road. Only such as believe in Him have life and come to life everlasting. No other belief can lead to salvation, “for there is no other name under heaven given to men whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Hence the Lord says, “He that believeth in the Son hath life everlasting, but he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36). On the Day of Judgment it will be made manifest that only the followers of Christ can be saved. Their great protecting shield against condemnation will be, on that day, the powerful name of Jesus.
Christ was pleased to make His Church the depositary of truth. He Himself, having ascended into heaven, is no longer with us. To whom could He entrust the true faith? Men can err, though they be saints. No system of belief has any value unless the things to be believed are purely and certainly true. Now, in order that this most precious of all goods might be preserved unimpaired for the benefit of all generations, Our Lord bequeathed it as a legacy to the Church founded by Himself. The Church received it in the persons of the apostles, and has ever guarded it jealously. The bishops in all ages have guarded this deposit of faith like trusty and fearless watchmen, while they have not ceased to cry out to all men in the words of Saint Paul to his friend Timothy, “That keep which is committed to thy trust, avoiding the profane novelties of words, and oppositions of knowledge falsely so called” (1st Timothy 6:20) Any system of belief not founded on Christ is not wisdom, it is foolishness. What folly it would be to suppose that Christ had exposed His sacred word, the fountain of salvation, the treasure of faith, to every change; that He had neglected those precautions necessary to keep the light of faith burning clear and undisturbed before the eyes of those who were created to be guided and saved by it!
Consider, Christian reader, the great grace which God conferred upon you when He permitted you, without any merit of your own, to be born in the bosom of the holy Catholic Church. That Church is the city of God of which we must be the citizens, if we hope to enjoy His protection and favor. In this city you were born, and by the free gift of God you are entitled to all the citizens’ rights. How many thousands are deprived of the blessings which you enjoy! Your name is inscribed in the book of life. You have but to comply with your duties as a citizen. You have but to have faith in God. But you say, “That is just my greatest trouble. I can not believe. I can not overcome my doubts in matters of faith. My reason shows me nothing but contradictions.”
Then you are acting foolishly. Let me ask you, as Saint Theophylus asked Autolicus, “Why do you not believe? Do you not know that faith prevails in all things and in all places, human as well as divine? What farmer could gather his crop if he did not first have faith enough to confide the seed to the earth? Who would trust his life at sea if he had not faith in the vessel’s captain and crew? Belief in a physician and confidence in his treatment must precede the restoration of a patient. How can any one learn a science, or acquire an art, if he do not first of all surrender his mind to his preceptor? If, then, the farmer believes in the elements, the seafarer in his officers, the sick man in his doctor, how can you distrust God, from whom you have received so many evidences of truth? While you refuse to believe, your soul is sick. If faith do not illumine your pathway in life you are a pitiable wanderer.”
Then, Christian reader, embrace faith, keep it, defend it, let no bribe induce you to part with it, for, as Saint Augustine says very beautifully, ” there is no more solid wealth, no greater treasure than Catholic faith. Pray, strive, wrestle with God for the sake of your faith, as Jacob of old did wrestle to obtain God’s blessing, and that same blessing will attend you as it attended Jacob.”
Our Faith must be Universal
First of all we must believe all that God has revealed and the Catholic Church believes and teaches.
We believe because God is truthful.
To believe only partially in Him, who is all truth, is the same as not to believe at all. For if we believe one truth and reject another, we believe, not because God is truth, but because it pleases us so to believe. It is as if one said, “I believe not God; I believe myself.” Such belief is of no value.
Our Faith must be Firm
Firm and unshaken faith or belief is only a natural result of the very nature of faith. To better understand this we must remember that there are many sources of evidence, that is to say, many grounds by which we can become convinced of the truth of a thing.
These may be drawn from the realm of nature and are then called natural grounds of belief; or they may be founded above the sphere of nature, and are therefore called supernatural proofs or grounds.
Natural sources of belief may be designated thus:
1. The testimony of other persons, that is, where we hold a thing to be true because we have heard it from others.
2. The testimony of our senses, that is, where we are convinced of the existence of an object because our eyes, our ears, or some other sense, assure us that it exists.
3. The testimony of our reason, that is, where a process of reasoning makes a thing clear to us.
The first kind of belief is called natural, or human, faith; in the two latter we have natural human knowledge. We are convinced of a thing on supernatural grounds when we hold to be true whatever God says and because He says it, or when God permits us to see a truth in His light, as is the case with the blessed in heaven. In the former case we have supernatural divine faith; in the latter supernatural divine knowledge.
Now, it is not difficult to comprehend that it is far more probable that our fellow-men will deceive us, than our senses and reason. Hence, natural knowledge is based upon a higher grade of testimony than is human faith. But our daily experience teaches us that even reason and our outward senses may deceive us and that, consequently, human knowledge can never be raised above all suspicion of doubt
On the contrary, if we hold a thing to be true, relying on the testimony of God, we can not fail, for God is eternal and infallible truth, who can neither deceive nor be deceived. Hence supernatural faith or belief affords us greater certainty than a merely human faith affords, or even human knowledge, and we must believe more firmly the testimony of God than the testimony of all men, or the testimony of our senses and intellect. Hence the saying, we are led captive by our understanding. Nothing should be able to make us waver in our divine faith.
Our Faith must be Living.
Any one of us may say, “Lord, I believe; Lord, I doubt nothing.” But we must also make our faith a living one by doing good and avoiding evil, as the law prescribes. Good works infuse life into faith. “As the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” (James 2:26) Christian life is a tree whose vital roots are planted in faith. But if the tree bear no fruit it will be cut down, for it is of no use, let it be ever so fair. Now, the blossoms and fruits on the tree of Christian life are our works. It is, therefore, a soul-destroying error to deny the necessity of good works. “By their fruits you shall know them.” (Matthew 7:20)
Our Faith must be Steadfast
Faith should give proof of its genuineness and steadfastness, more especially when the profession of it is attended with danger, when the Christian confessor is threatened with chains, prison, loss of position, and of his livelihood. It is in trials only that proof is furnished whether our faith is firmly planted in our hearts or whether it is only on the surface and is worn as a garment which may be laid aside at the pleasure of the wearer. The Christian martyrs, who confessed their belief in Christ amid scourgings, racks, and in prisons, had a real, genuine, constant faith.
Fall from Faith
Any belief devoid of any one of the above four qualities is a vain faith. It is not genuine faith. This real faith is, indeed, a precious gift from God, a free gift — why should we therefore, despair of securing it? Fervent and persevering prayer, like that of the apostles, will obtain it for us. But we usually do the opposite of what we ought to do. Instead of humbly bringing into captivity our understandings unto the obedience of Christ, as Saint Paul did (2 Corinthians 10:5), we are puffed up with pride and conceit, and seek with wrong motives to fathom the profoundest mysteries of religion. The scoffers of our day do not wish to believe, they want to know. But as they are weak creatures and are liable to go astray they fall from one blunder into another. They do not discharge the duties of their religion, but lead a wicked life, hence they do not even know that the truth makes them free (John 8:32). “But he that doeth truth cometh to the light” (John 3:21), saith the Lord. Therefore the unbelievers remain in darkness because they follow the blinded impulses of their reason. Only he who complies with God’s word can feel within himself a consciousness that he belongs to God.
Many deaden within themselves their belief, for they read bad books and do not fear to associate with those persons who have no religion. To those who are not of the true faith, do all the good you can, but if they do not wish your help leave them and go where you will find strength and food for your own faith. A good apple placed among decaying ones does not make them sound. It soon becomes tainted itself. How can you make friends of those who have no faith? On what basis can a friendship be established if not on religious convictions and for religious motives? A society in which a man dare not mention his religion without raising a contention, is replete with danger instead of pleasure. Most men resemble Eve. When the serpent speaks to them they tarry and listen. And since the children of this world are wiser in their way than the children of light, since they can not govern their passions, like Eve they will forfeit their happiness and be driven from the paradise of their innocence.
If we undertake to choose our own belief, and to reject it at every whim, God will not sustain us; but if we seek refuge in God and work with Him, He will assist us. “God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.” (James 4:6)
Means of Preserving Faith
In order to preserve our faith untainted and undiminished it is necessary that we should not be guilty of the smallest fault against it. We must not at any time deny our God, not even in appearance; on the contrary, we must seize every opportunity to prove ourselves Christian Catholics by word, writing, and works. Especially in all those circumstances in which the Catholic Christian is distinguished from others by his demeanor, must we acknowledge our faith, as, for example, when passing by a cross, before a church, when the bells ring for the Angelus, when the Blessed Sacrament is passing by, when we sit down to, and rise up from, meals away from home or where others do not say grace. If we are ashamed to give outward expression to our belief in such circumstances how would we act if our profession were attended with danger? Let no Catholic be ashamed of the sign of the cross. It is by this sign especially that the Catholic Christian is known. But it is more than his badge, it is also his weapon of defense against the attacks of the evil spirit; hence he crosses himself when threatened with danger to body or soul. It reminds him at once of his Redeemer, and he blesses himself in order that he may be blessed. Under this standard he battles and wins the victory. By this token he implores the protection of heaven. He rises and lies down with this sign because he rises and lies down with his crucified Master. By this sign he proclaims the Lord before the world, and the Lord, on the Last Day, will acknowledge him before the world. “The cross of Christ shall not be made void.” (1st Corinthians 1:17) Let us say, with Saint Paul, “God forbid that I shall glory, save in the cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 6:14)
The Apostles’ Creed in General
Having now obtained complete instruction concerning the necessary qualities of faith, we may go farther forward and consider the subject of faith, that is to say, those things and truths which the Catholic Church has to believe. All this may be summed up, included, and expressed, in its briefest form, in the words, “I believe in God the Father, in God the Son, and in God the Holy Ghost. Amen.” For belief in these three divine persons embraces and includes within itself belief in the revelations, teachings, and doings of these three divine persons. The chief mysteries, those which compose the subject-matter of Christian faith, are set forth in the twelve articles of the Apostles’ Creed, or profession of faith, which is nothing other than a development of the above-named form.
This formula of faith is termed a creed or symbol, that is to say, a distinguishing code or sign by which Christians are known as such to themselves, to one another, and to those who do not believe. It is an acknowledgment, or a solemn compact, which Christians utter, and whereby they obligate and bind themselves to a practical profession of their belief. This two-fold meaning is contained in the word “symbol” or “creed”. This apostolic symbol, therefore, is the sworn covenant of the Christians, by which they recognize one another, and which compels them, as Christian soldiers, to strive bravely under the banner of the cross for the kingdom of Jesus Christ, as the soldier of the world strives under the banner or ensign that animates and impels him to struggle and die for his country.
This formula of faith is a plain and simple sign or mark by which Christians are distinguished from non-Christians, who profess either no creed at all or else a false and defective one. This formula of belief is called the Apostles’ Creed, because it is highly probable that the apostles themselves compiled it.
Beside the Apostles’ Creed there are three other creeds, or formulas of belief, authorized by the Church. These are:
1. The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, more simply the Nicene Creed. It is a testimony against the errors of Arius concerning the divinity of Christ, and was formulated and adopted at the Council of Nice in the year 325 and at Constantinople in the year 381. It is the creed recited by the priest during Mass and known to us as the Credo.
2. The Athanasian Creed, so called from Saint Athanasius, who died in the year 373. It has been inserted in the Roman Breviary.
3. The Creed of the Council of Trent, which, during the sessions of the Council held from to 1563, was formulated by the assembled Fathers as an exposition of the principal Catholic doctrines in opposition to the new and false teachings of the Protestants. It is the form usually pronounced as a solemn abjuration of Protestantism by converts to the Church.
Rufinus, a Church historian of the fourth century, informs us that the apostles, after the descent of the Holy Ghost, when they were about to disperse to preach the Gospel throughout the world, compiled and adopted this formula or creed in order to have a fixed and uniform foundation on which to base their teachings. A certain legend tells us that each apostle made an article, as follows: Saint Peter made the first article, “I believe in God”; Saint Andrew, the second; Saint James the Greater, the third; Saint John, the fourth; Saint Thomas, the fifth; Saint James the Less, the sixth; Saint Philip, the seventh; Saint Bartholomew, the eighth; Saint Matthew, the ninth; Saint Simon, the tenth; Saint Thaddeus, the eleventh; and Saint Matthias, the twelfth and last
The different portions of the Apostles’ Creed are termed articles, that is to say, members, for of such members is the body of the Creed composed. And as the human body, when deprived of any one of its members, is seriously disturbed and disabled, so is the whole body of the faith paralyzed when even one article is denied. The name “Creed” is derived from the first word of the formula, “Credo,” which is Latin for “I believe.”