Moral Briefs – Chapter XIX – Whence Our Belief: Reason

cover of the ebook 'Moral Briefs' by Father John Henry StapletonMy faith is the most reasonable thing in the world, and it must needs be such. The Almighty gave me intelligence to direct my life. When He speaks He reveals Himself to me as to an intelligent being and He expects that I receive His word intelligently. Were I to abdicate my reason in the acceptance of His truths, I would do my Maker as great an injury as myself. All the rest of creation offers Him an homage of pure life, of instinct or feeling; man alone can, and must, offer a higher, nobler and more acceptable homage – that of reason.

My faith is reasonable, and this is the account my reason gives of my faith: I can accept as true, without in the least comprehending, and far from dishonoring my reason, with a positive and becoming dignity – I can accept! – but I must accept – whatever is confided to me by an infallible authority, an authority that can neither deceive nor be deceived. There is nothing supernatural about this statement.

That which is perfect cannot be subject to error, for error is evil and perfection excludes evil. If God exists He is perfect. Allow one imperfection to enter into your notion of God, and you destroy that notion. When, therefore, God speaks He is an infallible authority. This is the philosophy of common sense.

Now I know that God has spoken. The existence of that historical personage known as Jesus of Nazareth is more firmly established than that of Alexander or Caesar. Four books relate a part of His sayings and doings; and I have infinitely less reason to question their authenticity than I have to doubt the authenticity of Virgil or Shakespeare. No book ever written has been subjected to such a searching, probing test of malevolent criticism, at all times but especially of late years in Germany and France. Great men, scholars, geniuses have devoted their lives to the impossible task of explaining the Gospels away, with the evident result that the position of the latter remains a thousandfold stronger. Unless I reject all human testimony, and reason forbids, I must accept them as genuine, at least in substance.

These four books relate how Jesus healed miraculously the sick, raised the dead to life, led the life of the purest, most honest and sagest of men, claimed to be God, and proved it by rising from the dead Himself. That this man is divine, reason can admit without being unreasonable, and must admit to be reasonable; and revelation has nothing to do with the matter.

A glaring statement among all others, one that is reiterated and insisted upon, is that all men should share in the fruit of His life; and for this purpose He founded a college of apostles which He called His Church, to teach all that He said and did, to all men, for all time. The success of His life and mission depends upon the continuance of His work.

Why did He act thus? I do not know. Are there reasons for this economy of salvation? There certainly are, else it would not have been established. But we are not seeking after reasons; we are gathering facts upon which to build an argument, and these facts we take from the authentic life of Christ.

Now we give the Almighty credit for wisdom in all His plans, the wisdom of providing His agencies with the means to reach the end they are destined to attain. To commission a church to teach all men without authority, is to condemn it to utter nothingness from the very beginning. To expect men to accept the truths He revealed, and such truths! without a guarantee against error in the infallibility of the teacher, is to be ignorant of human nature. And since at no time must it cease to teach, it must be indefectible. Being true, it must be one; the work of God, it must be holy; being provided for all creatures, it must be Catholic or universal; and being the same as Christ founded upon His Apostles, it must be apostolic. If it is not all these things together, it is not the teacher sent by God to instruct and direct men.

No one who seeks with intelligence, single-mindedness and a pure heart, will fail to find these attributes and marks of the true Church of Christ. Whether, after finding them, one will make an act of faith, is another question. But that he can give his assent with the full approval of his reason is absolutely certain. Once he does so, he has no further use for his reason. He enters the Church, an edifice illumined by the superior light of revelation and faith. He can leave reason, like a lantern, at the door.

Therein he will learn many other truths that he never could have found out with reason alone, truths superior, but not contrary, to reason. These truths he can never repudiate without sinning against reason, first, because reason brought him to this pass where he must believe without the immediate help of reason.

One of the first things we shall hear from the Church speaking on her own authority is that these writings, the four relations of Christ’s life, are inspired. However a person could discover and prove this truth to himself is a mystery that will never be solved. We cannot assume it; it must be proven. Unless it be proven, the faith based on this assumption is not reasonable; and proven it can never be, unless we take it from an authority whose infallibility is proven. That is why we say that it is doubtful if non-Catholic faith is faith at all, because faith must be reasonable; and faith that is based on an assumption is to say the least doubtfully reasonable.