A Prelude to Faith

There is a certain definite behaviour of the human mind in reference to the Divine Mind constituting a function which Catholic Theology calls Faith. I am concerned with a critical analysis of that function. It were therefore a clear begging of the question if I were to assume on faith the principles I shall use in criticizing it. I must examine by the light of human reason the meaning and validity of the act which the Catholic mind supposes itself to be eliciting when it subscribes to an Article of Faith. And if the criticism is faulty, I and not my religion am to blame.

It is not pleasant to analyze the functions of one’s mind. It is like destroying a beautiful tapestry in order to assure oneself of the substantiality of the threads that go to make it. One could say with trust of Faith what à Kempis has said of compunction, “I would rather have it than know its definition.”

It will be impossible for me to examine here the validity of one’s belief in a body of doctrine as complex as the Catholic deposit of Faith. This question could never be resolved in a single article, nor could all the reasons and judgments of the mind leading up to it be recaptured and enumerated. Asking one why he believes in the truths of the Catholic Church is like asking a child why he loves his parent. For ten thousand reasons, not for one. A welter of all one has thought of, reasoned about, and prayed for is involved in the motive of any individual act of Faith, concretely. It is my business to analyze the function of Faith in its general aspect, in reference to religion itself rather than to my own religion in particular. And much as one hates to dissect and tear to pieces this most beautiful operation of the mind in order to see what it is made of, still a ruthless logical examination of some kind is necessary if we are to protect ourselves against those who are undermining the value of all religion, who have faith only in faithlessness, and know only their own doubts.

I do not suppose for a moment that each mind goes laboriously through the process as I shall describe it. The human mind is naturally logical. Its quest is for truth, and when it is not led astray by prejudice, sin, and evil example, it runs to truth by swift leaps and bounds, having no doubts about its certainties, and not bothering to analyze explicitly the principles by which it has arrived at its conclusions. And thank God it is this way. Otherwise the meaning and purpose of life would be secrets locked in text-books and known only to dry logicians and dour dialecticians.

An analysis of Faith, therefore, along scientifically logical lines is a work of maturity, when one, confronted by opposition, goes back and examines the implicit judgments contained in one’s act of belief, and verifies them step by step through a long process of formal logic. Somewhat like a man who, when he has crossed the road, sits down and philosophizes about how he did it. Was there a road? Could he walk? Why did he escape being hit by traffic? How did he manage to move his legs in the right direction? And so on.

In order to piece out the intricate meaning of Faith, we must give it, first of all, some simple and generic definition capable of easy examination and verification. Wherefore I propose to define it, at the outset, in this way: It is an act by which a human being worships and adores through his highest faculty, his intellect, the intelligence and truthfulness of God.

If a Supreme Intelligent Being exists, His paramount and essential functions will necessarily be apprehended as twofold: the conscious possession of all truth which makes Him divinely intelligent, and the exercise of perfect love for the truth He possesses which makes Him divinely truthful. All apprehension of the Supreme Reality must ultimately be sifted down to this. For no other of His acts will explain the intrinsic perfection of his own being. Omnipotence will concern God’s power of production outside Him; Immensity will concern His local relationship to things outside Him; Mercy will regard His act of compassion for a created order below Him. So all the other attributes of the Divine Nature must be subordinate to those which He exercises in the eternal and unconditioned possession of Himself. God powerful, God merciful, God benignant, God patient, God forgiving, is God with the connotation of a creature. But God knowing and loving is the core of the Divine Reality itself. And if these are His highest and most sublime functions, they are the phases of Him most worthy of adoration and praise.

Similarly can the acts of my own nature be analyzed. My mind and my will are the roots of my human excellence. Knowledge and love constitute my spiritual activity. They are my greatest possessions, and were there someone to whom I might give them, my greatest possible donations.

But knowledge is the fundament and condition of love. I can love only what I know. It is knowledge that makes love possible, gives it an object, lures it into operation. My intellect is, therefore, my primary and most fundamental faculty.

And so hypothetically if there is a Supreme Intelligent Being to worship, I shall reverence Him with my highest power through my intellect, and tough Him in His highest power by letting His intellect by the term of my surrender.

This surrender constitutes the generic notion of Faith. It is the subordination of a creature in his noblest attribute to a Creator in His noblest attribute. It is finite intelligence worshipping Divine Intelligence, fundamental manhood adoring fundamental God. This is love’s superlative tribute, to render to the Great Loved One the substance of its own act. Beyond this worship cannot go. It can increase in intensity and externalize itself efficaciously in outward performances, even to the ready and joyful acceptance of martyrdom, but martyrdom is nothing more than the body’s supreme expression of the mind’s supreme sacrifice.

Is this theoretical adoration possible?… Before I can answer this question I must first discover with absolute certainty by the light of human reason that God exists. I must find a Divine Intelligence, at least in some general way, before I can adore it. An acknowledgment of the existence of a Supremely Intelligent Being is, in itself, neither an act of faith nor an act of worship. It is merely an act of confidence in my own intellectual power of apprehending Him. The affirmation or denial of His existence depends entirely on the measure of respect I have for the sanity of my own mind. It is not to God’s intelligence but to my own I pay tribute in affirming His objective reality. And that tribute to my own power of reasoning correctly I must either pay, or break my mind to pieces and unfit it for any knowledge whatsoever; for on the simplest logical behaviour of the human mind does the validity of God depend. Let us see how.

This universe is a collection of intelligent and unintelligent entities. The intelligent entities have had nothing whatever to do either with the production or intelligent ordering of the material forces about them. In not one of these material forces is there the slightest evidence of the power either of intelligence or of self-sufficiency. Each object is merely a link in a series of contingent realities each depending on another for its existence and its form. Whether these series ultimately verge into one series, or whether they go back by straight lines to their own separate origins, in neither case can the number of successions be prolonged infinitely. To locate the ultimate cause of a definite effect at a point so distant that the process of efficiency could never be progressively retraced in order to reach that effect, is simply to attempt to explain an effect by leaving it unexplained. An infinite number of contingent beings is merely a multiplication of insufficiencies to exist. An infinite number of hungry men are still hungry. Unless there is an absolute, abiding and intelligent reality behind what we experience and see, this universe is plainly an infinite number of potential nothings with nobody to start them on the road to be something; in which hypothesis the world would not only have refrained from coming into existence at all, but much more would it have refrained from ordering itself intelligently, and most of all would it have refrained from producing beings who are themselves intelligent.

This universe therefore has a cause outside itself. And the Being who caused it was Himself uncaused, else the whole process begins over again to find where He came from. Now this Uncaused being is a necessary Being, that is to say, existence is His Essence. Nobody caused him and He could not have caused Himself, for a being cannot operate before it exists. And if existence is the very essence of the Uncaused Being, He is the one and only God, the first cause not only of this universe but also the first and sole cause of all reality that exists apart from Him. For the perfection of existence is exhausted by that being who possesses it as His very nature. If there could be a Divinity A and a Divinity B each with an essence and an individuality identical in concept, they themselves would be identical. Two beings identical in concept with a third are identical with one another. There can by only one God, for the very concept under which I apprehend Him in the role of a Necessary Being makes Him the sole possessor of the perfection attributed to Him by that concept as well as the sole author of all that can exist apart from Him. For we are touching the very root of all existence when we reach it in the form of a being whose very nature it is to possess it.

This metaphysic which employs only two premises: the principle of contradiction and the principle of causality (the former of which merely assumes that nothing and something are not identical, and the latter that nothing cannot produce something) is the fundament not merely of all religion but of all thought as well. In some simple terms it can be explained to the most unlettered mind who sees in it the foundations of its own intelligence. It grasps the notion of God easily and naturally because it has agility enough to see, apart from the technical training in logic, the absurdity of everything beginning, everything being dependent, everything being imperfect. It wants to know the why of things and it sees clearly and decisively that the answer is not contained in multiplying its “whys” indefinitely. It also sees the insanity of scepticism which bids it go on asking why interminably or else forbids it to ask why at all. And an atheist must take refuge in scepticism or perish. He must either prove or assume that his own mind is an illogical instrument. If he proves it, then he retroactively vitiates the very process of his proof. If he assumes it, he commits intellectual suicide and kills all thought before it can be born.

In establishing the fundaments of logic every mind must sit in judgment on the thought of the whole world. It cannot think at all until it has determined implicitly by its own private acts what thought itself is. My neighbor, whether he be my friend or my foe, in denying the existence of God is clashing with me on the first principles that govern correct thought. And one of us is thinking unintelligently. Charity can hardly demand of me that I surrender my own mind in order to establish his. Charity will lead me to endeavor to find excuses for the insanity of his statement, but certainly not to make myself insane in doing so. Perhaps he would prefer to call the Divine Reality another name than God; perhaps he refuses to examine the objective truth of God’s existence apart from its devotional and emotional implications; perhaps he is temperamentally unable to separate for purposes of logic the God of reason from the God of revelation; perhaps he objects to the ethical obligations implied in the existence of the God of reason; perhaps he is refusing to apply his mind to the evidence at all, and is denying what he is unwilling to think about.

I am anxious in charity to allow an atheist any of the excuses I have enumerated and am prepared to suppose there may be other excuses I have not thought of. But I am not willing to have him know what I am saying and deny it is so. My sanity is not at stake. My mind is now against the wall. It must either strike back or be itself annihilated. I am intelligent, and thought is possible to me only by virtue of the principles by which I have proved God’s existence. And rather than surrender the foundations of my own intelligence, I must be prepared to say that I am the only intelligent being in the world.

I am now prepared to add one more notion to my generic definition of Faith.

Faith is an act of worship addressed by a human intelligence toward a Divine intelligence, which consists not in the mere acknowledgment of Deity who has a superior intelligence, but in an adoration of the truth He possesses by reason of being a superior intelligence, which truth He has condescended to reveal to me.

What God knows by reason of His great mind, I do not know, and must wait for His revelation of it to me before I can be aware of it. If He is unwilling to make a revelation to me of what truth or truths His superior intelligence has afforded Him, then Faith shall be forever impossible to me. I shall continue to know that He exists and is superiorly intelligent, but shall be entirely in the dark as to the truths possessed by His Divine mind.

Being the source of all truth, God must also be the source of all truthfulness. His love for truth must be equal to His possession of it. If He were able to make a revelation to me which was a lie, then He would be capable of eliciting less love for Divine Truth than I possess for human truth. He would have equipped me with an urge for holiness and sanctity greater than He Himself possesses. And if He, who is the source of all things, were the source untruthfulness, then I who am His creature, would be incapable of anything but falsehood, or of ever telling anything but a lie.

Granting that a human mind exists, and a Divine mind exists, the possibility of a revelation must follow. God must know something that I do not know, and presumable might want to tell me what it is. His revelation would be a true revelation, because He is the source of all truth, and a truthful revelation because He is the source of all truthfulness. Now, before attempting to discuss whether a Divine revelation has been made or not, let us first examine what effect it is going to have on human conduct when it is made and apprehended.

If God wishes to share with me both the what and the how of His Divine knowledge– in other words, if He wishes not merely to affirm what it is that He knows, but to impart to my mind a vision of the truth as He himself knows it,– that will not be revelation. That will be rather lifting my mind to the plane of His own beatific life and letting me partake of His own Divine nature by direct vision. One does not need to go to the bother of proving that man does not possess God by direct vision in this life.

If, however, God wishes to tell me what He knows, but not to lend me as yet the mode and perfection of His own Divine mind in knowing it, three things must follow: 1) I shall never by physically necessitated to accept a truth on His authority, because every intelligence, whether human or divine, can be forced to assent only to what it apprehends by intuitive experience; 2) I shall be capable, in the event of a discovered Divine Revelation, of offering God a supreme act of tribute and worship with my mind, by humbly accepting a truth on His say-so; and 3) Since my mind can be at peace about a truth completely only when it knows both what is true and how it is true as well, unless God wants to proclaim mysteries merely for the sake of being mysterious, and torture the human mind with false bait and vain urges to a superior life, in the event of His making a revelation at all, He is conditioned by His own goodness to see to it that my loving and obedient acceptance of a mystery through faith, will be ultimately my passport to an understanding of the mystery itself through vision. His willingness to share with me the facts of His own proper knowledge must be an indication of His willingness to share with me ultimately an intuitive perception of them. The promise of vision, therefore, is implicitly contained in the overture of faith, and is the only just and adequate fulfillment thereof.

But to know by vision what God Himself knows is to be God. It is an intimate participation in Divine Life, unto which reward I can put no meritorious act by virtue of any natural power. If any creature could appropriate Divine Life to Himself by his own natural resources, all distinction between God and man would cease, and Pantheism would be nature’s own law.

If, therefore, my acts are ever to have any value on a Divine plane, God must come and dwell within me and share directly in the causality of my acts. God must join forces with me, and my intellect must operate as a vital instrument in His hands. This gratuitous dispensation of the Deity, Catholic theology aptly describes when it calls it: Supernatural Grace. It is supernatural because it is an especial and extraordinary operation of God above the routine of natural law; and it is grace because it is a sublime favor.

It is not accurate, therefore, to make an adequate division between Faith and reason, for Faith is an act of reason. It is an assent of my reasoning faculty, motivated by God’s authority and elicited with God’s assistance. The distinction were better made between faith and ordinary reason, that is to say, between reason unassisted by grace and revelation, and reason equipped with this assistance.

Faith is an intellectual assent to a Divine truth on the authority of God revealing and assisted by direct Divine cooperation. Faith is distinctively and residentially an act of the human mind subscribing to a proposition of the authority of God. Faith is set in motion by three principles: first, by previous acts of the mind in the field of direct evidence, which tell me that the God, whom I know exists, has made a Divine revelation, that it has been discovered, and that it is logical and rational to assent to it because a Divine mind is going to bail for the truth of what is being stated; second, by the free will of man wishing to pay tribute to the intelligence and veracity of its Creator by accepting a fact on His say-so; and third, by the influx of Divine grace cooperating with man in this double performance of intellect and will, and rendering the act– because of God’s collaboration in it– a supernatural thing and worthy to be coined in terms of an eternal reward. It is my mind which assents; it is my will which chooses to assent; and it is God’s grace that flows into this operation of my spirit and makes its effort Divinely fruitful.

I believe in a revealed truth (a) because I ought to, (b) because I want to, and (c) because God helps me.

Faith is a gift. It is a gift in many ways. It is a gift to mankind that God should choose to make a revelation to it at all. It is due to God’s providence and beneficence that He has put my mind in touch with the credentials offered to establish the authenticity of His revelation, and has cleared it of the irrational prejudices and emotional complications that would prevent my affording Him the tribute of intellectual adoration. And finally, it is a sublime gift that He should cooperate with me in the act of believing and give my poor effort such Divine importance by sharing the causality of what I do and informing my act with His own Divine life and excellence. But it is I who freely and willingly appropriate this gift to myself when it has been presented, for Faith is always free, God’s freely to give, and mine freely to accept. He will not adopt my nature into the life of the Godhead and work in it for His own all-perfect, beautiful and eternal purposes, unless I am willing that it should be so. Faith is no physical tyranny of God over man. Once receive, it does not work automatically till the hour of death. It is a constant warfare to preserve it. Faith is a free, intelligent and grace-informed surrender of the human mind to the Divine mind, seeking to be tyrannized of its own accord by the One Beautiful Mind which can teach it all truth. Is it intelligent of me to make this free and unnecessitated surrender? If it is not intelligent for a finite mind to surrender itself to an infinitely knowing and truthful mind so that all knowledge and all truth shall be its portion, then in God’s name, how shall we define intelligence?

The last question to be decided by the human mind before it undertakes to make an act of Faith, obviously, is this: Has a Divine Revelation been made, and where with certainty shall I find it?

In solving this problem I cannot escape the role of special pleader, for no mind can decide a priori the whereabouts of a Divine revelation, except to be fairly certain that it does not reside in the possession of those who cannot make up their minds what it is.

I might begin looking for it in Mohammedanism. That “there is no God but God” I know, and it might be profitable to determine whether or not Mohammed is His prophet and with right to speak in His name. Unfortunately, however, Mohammed is dead, and a prophecy without a prophet becomes an undecipherable code when there is no living voice to interpret it.

If I am sincerely in search of a Divine Revelation, might it not be profitable to inquire if there are any traces of its having occurred right within the religious culture in which I find myself, rather than first searching for it in territories alien and strange to me? Would it not be intelligent of me, not to speak of its being loyal, first to look within the area of my own religious tradition, preferably to going into pagan lands, so as to discover — no matter what confusions, misunderstandings and mistakes have been made by groups of Christians here and there within the orbit of our Western Civilization — to see if there is amongst us a) An evidence of a prophet sent by God and with right to speak a Revelation in His Holy Name, and b) an evidence of a living and infallible voice set up by Him to keep the prophecy intact and free from error?