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St. Thomas Aquinas
Catechetical Instructions

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  • WHAT IS FAITH?
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WHAT IS FAITH?

 

The Nature and Effects of Faith. - The first thing that is necessary for

every Christian is faith, without which no one is truly called a faithful

Christian.1 Faith brings about four good effects. The first is that through

faith the soul is united to God, and by it there is between the soul and

God a union akin to marriage. "I will espouse thee in faith."2 When a man

is baptized the first question that is asked him is: "Do you believe in

God?"3 This is because Baptism is the first Sacrament of faith. Hence, the

Lord said: "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved."4 Baptism

without faith is of no value. Indeed, it must be known that no one is

acceptable before God unless he have faith. "Without faith it is impossible

to please God."5 St. Augustine explains these words of St. Paul, "All that

is not of faith is sin,"6 in this way: "Where there is no knowledge of the

eternal and unchanging Truth, virtue even in the midst of the best moral

life is false."

 

The second effect of faith is that eternal life is already begun in us; for

eternal life is nothing else than knowing God. This the Lord announced when

He said: "This is eternal life, that they may know thee, the only true God,

and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent."7 This knowledge of God begins here

through faith, but it is perfected the future life when we shall know God

as He is. Therefore, St. Paul says: "Faith is the substance of things to be

hoped for."8 No one then can arrive at perfect happiness of heaven, which

is the true knowledge of God, unless first he knows God through faith.

"Blessed are they that have not seen and have believed."9

 

The third good that comes from faith is that right direction which it gives

to our present life. Now, in order that one live a good life, it is

necessary that he know what is necessary to live rightly; and if he depends

for all this required knowledge on his own efforts alone, either he will

never attain such knowledge, or if so, only after a long time. But faith

teaches us all that is necessary to live a good life. It teaches us that

there is one God who is the rewarder of good and the punisher of evil; that

there is a life other than this one, and other like truths whereby we are

attracted to live rightly and to avoid what evil. "The just man liveth by

faith."10 This is evident in that no one of the philosophers before the

coming of Christ could, through his own powers, know God and the means

necessary for salvation as well as any old woman since Christ's coming

knows Him through faith. And, therefore, it is said in Isaias that "the

earth is filled with the knowledge of the Lord."11

 

The fourth effect of faith is that by it we overcome temptations: "The holy

ones by faith conquered kingdoms."12 We know that every temptation is

either from the world or the flesh or the devil. The devil would have us

disobey God and not be subject to Him. This is removed by faith, since

through it we know that He is the Lord of all things and must therefore be

obeyed. "Your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about seeking

whom he may devour. Whom resist ye, strong in faith."13 The world tempts us

either by attaching us to it in prosperity, or by filling us with fear of

adversity. But faith overcomes this in that we believe in a life to come

better than this one, and hence we despise the riches of this world and we

are not terrified in the face of adversity. "This is the victory which

overcometh the world: our faith."14 The flesh, however, tempts us by

attracting us to the swiftly passing pleasures of this present life. But

faith shows us that, if we cling to these things inordinately, we shall

lose eternal joys. "In all things taking the shield of faith."15 We see

from this that it is very necessary to have faith.

 

"The Evidence of Things that Appear Not." - But someone will say that it is

foolish to believe what is not seen, and that one should not believe in

things that he cannot see. I answer by saying that the imperfect nature of

our intellect takes away the basis of this difficulty. For if man of

himself could in a perfect manner know all things visible and invisible, it

would indeed be foolish to believe what he does not see. But our manner of

knowing is so weak that no philosopher could perfectly investigate the

nature of even one little fly. We even read that a certain philosopher

spent thirty years in solitude in order to know the nature of the bee. If,

therefore, our intellect is so weak, it is foolish to be willing to believe

concerning God only that which man can know by himself alone. And against

this is the word of Job: "Behold, God is great, exceeding our knowledge."16

One can also answer this question by supposing that a certain master had

said something concerning his own special branch of knowledge, and some

uneducated person would contradict him for no other reason than that he

could not understand what the master said! Such a person would be

considered very foolish. So, the intellect of the Angels as greatly exceeds

the intellect of the greatest philosopher as much as that of the greatest

philosopher exceeds the intellect of the uneducated man. Therefore, the

philosopher is foolish if he refuses to believe what an Angel says, and far

greater fool to refuse to believe what God says. Against such are these

words: "For many things are shown to thee above the understanding of

men."17

 

Then, again, if one were willing to believe only those things which one

knows with certitude, one could not live in this world. How could one live

unless one believed others? How could one know that this man is one's own

father? Therefore, it is necessary that one believe others in matters which

one cannot know perfectly for oneself. But no one is so worthy of belief as

is God, and hence they who do not believe the words of faith are not wise,

but foolish and proud. As the Apostle says: "He is proud, knowing

nothing."18 And also: "I know whom I have believed; and I am certain."19

And it is written: "Ye who fear the Lord, believe Him and your reward shall

not be made void."20 Finally, one can say also that God proves the truth of

the things which faith teaches. Thus, if a king sends letters signed with

his seal, no one would dare to say that those letters did not represent the

will of the king. In like manner, everything that the Saints believed and

handed down to us concerning the faith of Christ is signed with the seal of

God. This seal consists of those works which no mere creature could

accomplish; they are the miracles by which Christ confirmed the sayings of

the apostles and of the Saints.

 

If, however, you would say that no one has witnessed these miracles, I

would reply in this manner. It is a fact that the entire world worshipped

idols and that the faith of Christ was persecuted, as the histories of the

pagans also testify. But now all are turned to Christ - wise men and noble

and rich - converted by the words of the poor and simple preachers of

Christ. Now, this fact was either miracle or it was not. If it is

miraculous, you have what you asked for, a visible fact; if it is not, then

there could not be a greater miracle than that the whole world should have

been converted without miracles. And we need go no further. We are more

certain, therefore, in believing the things of faith than those things

which can be seen, because God's knowledge never deceives us, but the

visible sense of man is often in error.21

 

 

 




1. "The Catechism of the Council of Trent," known as the "Roman Catechism"

(and so called throughout this book), thus introduces the explanation of

the twelve Articles of the Creed: "The Christian religion proposes to the

faithful many truths which either singly or all together must be held with

a certain and firm faith. That which must first and necessarily be believed

by all is that which God Himself has taught us as the foundation of truth

and its summary concerning the unity of the Divine Essence, the distinction

of Three Persons, and the actions which are by particular reason attributed

to each. The pastor should teach that the Apostles' Creed briefly sets

forth the doctrine of these mysteries. . . . The Apostles' Creed is divided

into three principal parts. The first part describes the First Person of

the Divine Nature and the marvellous work of the creation. The second part

treats of the Second Person and the mystery of man's redemption. The third

part concludes with the Third Person, the head and source of our

sanctification. The varied and appropriate propositions of the Creed are

called Articles, after a comparison often made by the Fathers; for just as

the members of the body are divided by joints (articuli), so in this

profusion of faith whatever must be distinctly and separately believed from

everything else is rightly and aptly called an Article" (Part I, Chapter I, 4).

 



2. Osee, ii. 20

 



3. In the ceremony of administering Ihe Sacrament of Baptism, the priest

asks the Sponsor: "N., do you believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator

of heaven and earth?"

 



4. Mark, xvi. 16.

 



5. Heb., xi. 6.

 



6. Rom., xiv. 23.

 



7. John, xvii. 3.

 



8. Heb., xi. 1.

 

 



9. John, xx. 29.

 



10. Hab., ii. 4.

 



11. Isa., xi. 9.

 



12 Heb., xi. 33.

 



13. I Peter v. 8.

 



14. I John, v. 4.

 



15. Eph., vi. 16.

 



16. Job, xxxvi. 26.

 



17. Ecclus., iii. 25.

 



18. I Tim., vi. 4.

 



19. II Tim., i. 12.

 



20. Ecclus., ii. 8.

 



21. For the meaning of the word "faith" see the "Catholic Encyclopedia,"

vol. V. The necessity of faith is explained in St. Thomas, "Summa

Theologica," II-II, Q. ii., 3, 4.






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