Moral Briefs – Chapter XXI – How We Believe

cover of the ebook 'Moral Briefs' by Father John Henry StapletonFaith is the edifice of a Christian life. It is, of itself, a mere shell, so to speak, for unless good works sustain and adorn it, it will crumble, and the Almighty in His day will reduce it to ashes; faith without works is of no avail. The corner stone of this edifice is the authority of the word of God, while His gratuitous grace, our intelligence and will furnish the material for building. Now, there are three features of that spiritual construction that deserve a moment’s consideration.

First, the edifice is solid; our faith must be firm. No hesitation, no wavering, no deliberate doubting, no suspicion, no take-and-leave. What we believe comes from God, and we have the infallible authority of the Church for it, and of that we must be certain. That certainly must not for a moment falter, and the moment it does falter, there is no telling but that the whole edifice so laboriously raised will tumble down upon the guilty shoulders of the imprudent doubter.

And of reasons for hesitating and disbelieving there is absolutely none, once we have made the venture of faith and believe sincerely and reasonably. No human power can in reason impugn revealed truths for they are impervious to human intelligence. One book may not at the same time be three books; but can one divine nature be at one and the same time three divine persons? Until we learn what divinity and personality are we can affirm nothing on the authority of pure reason. If we cannot assert, how can we deny? And if we know nothing about it, how can we do either? The question is not how is it, but if it is. While it stands thus, and thus ever it must stand, no objection or doubt born of human mind can influence our belief. Nothing but pride of mind and corruption of heart can disturb it.

If you have a difficulty, well, it is a difficulty, and nothing more. A difficulty does not destroy a thesis that is solidly founded. Once a truth is clearly established, not all the difficulties in the world can make it an untruth. A difficulty as to the truth revealed argues an imperfect intelligence; it is idle to complain that we are finite. A difficulty regarding the infallible Church should not make her less infallible in our mind, it simply demands a clearing away. Theological difficulties should not surprise a novice in theological matters; they are only misunderstandings that militate less against the Church than against the erroneous notions we have of her. To allow such difficulties to undermine faith is like overthrowing a solid wall with a soap-bubble. Common sense demands that nothing but clearly demonstrated falsity should make us change firm convictions, and such demonstration can never be made against our faith.

Not from difficulties, properly speaking, but from our incapacity for understanding what we accept as true, results a certain obscurity, which is another feature of faith. Believing is not seeing. Such strange things we do believe! Who can unravel the mysteries of religion? Moral certitude is sufficient to direct one’s life, to make our acts human and moral and is all we can expect in this world where nothing is perfect. But because the consequences of faith are so far-reaching, we would believe nothing short of absolute, metaphysical certitude.

But this is impossible. Hence the mist, the vague dimness that surrounds faith, baffling every effort to penetrate it; and within, a sense of rarefied perception that disquiets and torments unless humility born of common sense be there to soothe and set us at rest. Moral truths are not geometric theorems and multiplication tables, and it is not necessary that they should be.

Of course, if, as in science so in faith, reason were everything, our position would hardly be tenable, for then there should be no vagueness but clear vision. But the will enters for something in our act of faith. If everything we believe were as luminous as “two and two are four,” a special act of the will would be utterly uncalled for. We must be able, free to dissent, and this is the reason of the obscurity of our faith.

It goes without saying that such belief is meritorious. Christ Himself said that to be saved it is necessary to believe, and no man is saved but through his own merit. Faith is, therefore, gratuitous on His part and meritorious on ours. It is in reality a good work that proceeds from the will, under the dictates of right reason, with the assistance of divine grace.