What You Believe Matters

Reading the masterpiece of Catholic spirituality, The Interior Life Simplified and Reduced to its Fundamental Principle, I came across a passage that speaks eloquently of the importance of faith to one’s moral worth. (The passage may be viewed in context here — bottom of page 107, continuing to the next page.) No, it is not the autonomous conscience, the doing of one’s own will, or the maintaining of one’s own standards (or “values”) that makes a man good. He is good only when he conforms himself to an objective standard of goodness. He is only supernaturally good when he subjects himself to the divine standard of goodness, and it is faith (divine faith, Catholic faith) that makes us know that standard. Without it, we not holy; without it, we are lost.

“Dogmas make nations.” So says M. de Bonald: such is one of the most profound remarks of this profound thinker. And if they make nations, they also make men. “I shall never cease saying or thinking,” says another deep thinker, M. de Maistre, “that a man’s worth depends upon his belief.” [De Maistre, Lettres a Mme. de Stourdza.] Man’s worth does, indeed, depend upon his ideas, and he is what he thinks. It is the weakening of truth that makes sanctity vanish from amongst mankind. [Defecit sanctus, quoniam diminutae sunt veritates a filiis hominum (Ps. xi. 2).]

Hence, my most urgent and primary necessity is to rectify my ideas as to myself, as to creatures, and as to the use I ought to make of them. As long as these remain uncorrected, nothing will be restored in me ; as long as my efforts are not directly brought to bear upon this point, they will remain fruitless. It is faith that purifies the heart. [Fide purificans corda eorum (Act. xv. 9).] Faith is the vision of the truth; truth is God’s glory seen in everything. And truth is the primary element which directs piety. When I have this clear, habitual, and dominant vision, my heart will soon be purified, my life devout.