Moral Briefs – Chapter XX – Whence Our Belief: Grace and Will

cover of the ebook 'Moral Briefs' by Father John Henry StapletonTo believe is to assent to a truth on the authority of God’s word. We must find that the truth proposed is really guaranteed by the authority of God. In this process of mental research, the mind must be satisfied, and the truth found to be in consonance with the dictates of right reason, or at least, not contrary thereto.

But the fact that we can securely give our assent to this truth does not make us believe. Something more than reason enters into an act of faith.

Faith is not something natural, purely human, beginning and ending in the brain, and a product thereof. This is human belief, not divine, and is consequently not faith.

We believe that faith is, of itself, as far beyond the native powers of a human being as the sense of feeling is beyond the power of a stone, or intelligence, the faculty of comprehension, is beyond the power of an animal. In other words, it is supernatural, above the natural forces, and requires the power of God to give it existence. “No man can come to me, unless the Father who has sent Me draw him.”

Some have faith, others have it not. Where did you get your faith? You were not born with it, as you were with the natural, though dormant faculties of speech, reason, and free will. You received it through Baptism. You are a product of nature; therefore nature should limit your existence. But faith aspires to, and obtains, an end that is not natural but supernatural. It consequently must itself be supernatural, and cannot be acquired without divine assistance.

Unless God revealed, you could not know the truths of religion. Unless He established a court of final appeal in His Church, you could not be sure what He did reveal or what He meant to say. Because of the peculiar character of these truths and the nature of the certitude we possess, many would not believe at all, if God’s grace were not there to help them. And even though one could and would believe, there is no divine belief or faith proper until the soul receives the faculty from Him who alone can give it.

The reason why many do not believe is not because God’s grace is wanting nor because their minds cannot be satisfied, not because they cannot, but because they will not.

Faith is a gift of God, but not that alone; it is a conviction, but not that alone. It is a firm assent of the will. We are free to believe or not to believe.

“As one may be convinced and not act according to his conviction, so may one be convinced and not believe according to his conviction. The arguments of religion do not compel anyone to believe, just as the arguments for good conduct do not compel anyone to obey. Obedience is the consequence of willing to obey, and faith is the consequence of willing to believe.”

I am not obliged to receive as true any religious dogma, as I am forced to accept the proposition that two and two are four. I believe because I choose to believe. My faith is a submission of the will. The authority of God is not binding on me physically, for men have refused and still do refuse to submit to His authority and the authority He communicated to His Church. And I know that I, too, can refuse and perhaps more than once have been tempted to refuse, my assent to truths that interfered too painfully with my interests and passions.

Besides, faith is meritorious, and in order to merit one must do something difficult and be free to act. The difficulty is to believe what we cannot understand, through pride of intelligence, and to bring that stiff domineering faculty to recognize a superior. The difficulty is to bend the will to the acceptance of truths, and consequent obligations that gall our self-love and the flesh. The believer must have humility and self-denial. The grace of God follows these virtues into a soul, and then your act of faith is complete.

Herein we discover the great wisdom of God who sets the price of faith, and of salvation that depends on it, not on the mind, but on the will; not on the intelligence alone, but on the heart. To no man is grace denied. Every man has the will to grasp what is good. But though to all He gives a will, all have not the same degree of intelligence; He does not endow them equally in this respect. How then could He make intelligence the first principle of salvation and of faith? God searches the heart, not the mind. A modicum of wit is guaranteed to all to know that they can safely believe. Be one ever so unlettered and ignorant, and dull, faith and heaven are to him as accessible as to the sage, savant and the genius. For all, the way is the same.