Of the seven fundamental virtues,1 Faith, Hope, and Charity are the Theological virtues because they orient us to God; Prudence, Courage, Justice, Temperance, are the Moral Virtues because they orient us to others in the human community. Love God, Love Your Neighbor, as yourself; as God Loves you. These two sets of virtues correspond to the two tablets of the Ten Commandments and the two “Greatest of the Commandments” given by Christ. They are inherent attributes of human nature, and can be acquired and practiced by any human being. In the non-baptized person, however, these virtues have a temporal objective; infused into the soul at Baptism, on the other hand, they are supernatural, given by God, and have a salvific objective with a trajectory toward eternal life.
In this discourse, I would like to look at the Theological Virtue of Faith and in particular the certitude of Faith.2
To say that something is intelligible is to say that it is knowable, whether by direct observation, or by drawing a conclusion from other evident truth. This is the foundational dynamic of rational thought and philosophy, more specifically. As rational creatures, we have an inclination to wonder; and this wondering discovers intelligible truth. In the science of rational thought, there is a distinct delineation between philosophy and theology. Both follow the dynamic of rational thought, of observing and acknowledging truth, as well as drawing truth from truth, based on an evidential base of principles and established truth. The line is crossed from philosophy to theology when Divine Revelation3 (Scripture and Apostolic Tradition) becomes a layer in our evidential base. It has been said that “philosophy is the handmaid of theology,” meaning that philosophy serves theology in that one cannot do theology without first understanding, and participating in, the science of philosophy. Philosophy can, and has, advanced human thought to elevated levels of understanding reality, and culminates in Metaphysics, which is the understanding of the realities of essences and existence, traversing the material and non-material realms. In its highest achievements, philosophy (particularly the Greeks, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle) reaches a brink when it posits the possibility of God, and the immortal human soul. These conclusions are all accomplished within philosophy (rational thought) without the informative evidence of Divine Revelation. It is here then, on the brink of philosophy, that we begin our search for the certitude of Theological Faith.
Although we begin prior to the horizon of Divine Revelation, we can see that Divine Revelation acknowledges this starting point as outside of itself. God tells us that He can be known, that He is intelligible to the human mind prior to Him revealing Himself to us.
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims the work of his hands. Day unto day conveys the message, and night unto night imparts the knowledge. (Ps 19:2-3)
The wrath of God is indeed being revealed from heaven against every impiety and wickedness of those who suppress the truth by their wickedness.
For what can be known about God is evident to them, because God made it evident to them.
Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made. As a result, they have no excuse; for although they knew God they did not accord him glory as God, or give him thanks. Instead, they became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened. While claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for the likeness of an image of mortal man, or of birds, or of four-legged animals, or of snakes (Rom 1:18-23).
From these two excerpts from Scripture we see that God reveals Himself first through creation itself. That what we see of the universe, as we gaze at the sky (“the heavens”) and the very ground and earthly things that surround us (“the firmament”), creation itself “proclaims” and “imparts knowledge” of God. In St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, he speaks of the foolishness of disregarding the intelligibility of a providential God. Paul sees clearly that those who deny God are suppressing an evident truth. In other words, the wonderings of the rational mind can know God; it does not require Scripture or preaching/teaching. Therefore, to say, “no there is no God” requires a constructed (irrational) denial of the rational thought process.
This natural, rational knowledge of God is referred to as First Truth; that God is the first truth. If there is an observable ordering of the universe; if it is true that things do not create themselves; if it is true that this ordering and emergence of things is not random chance (the very complexity rejects random chance;) then (therefore) there is first an uncreated, creating, ordering entity, with intention and willfulness. In other words, if the things that are observable are true, there must be a truth prior to these, or a truth that is first. To deny this first truth, as St. Paul says, is foolishness. So we begin understanding Theological Faith with this first truth which is God. That there is a God does not require faith, it only requires rational thought.
The Dynamic of Intellect and Will
St. Thomas Aquinas begins his teaching on the relation of intellect and will by giving us this balance of thought:
Reason [the intellect,] as apprehending the end, [goal] precedes the appetite [the will] for the end: but appetite for the end precedes the reason, as arguing about the choice of the means, which is the concern of prudence.4
What he is saying, however, seems to be circular logic. The intellect understands or grasps what the object is prior to the will desiring it; yet, the will determines ways of achieving the object, prior to the intellect, knowing what the object is. Furthermore, this dual statement implies dual movement. That the intellect, knowing what the object is, moves the will to desire it; likewise, the will, devising ways to attain the object, moves the intellect to determine what the object is. The circularity is that, in regards to the object, it seems that the will moves the intellect, and the intellect moves the will. In strict rational thought, one cannot move another and be moved toward the same object at the same time.
Aquinas doesn’t leave us hanging on this however. He explains that knowing of the object, and the calculating desire for the object are natural attributes of the intellect and will respectively. In other words, as the intellect and will are elements of human nature, the natural function of the intellect is to know what is good, and the natural function of the will is to desire what is good. So the intellect naturally knows that a thing is good, or not good. Intellect apprehends the good object, or grasps the concept of the object even without encountering the object. St Thomas, expanding on the philosophy of Aristotle, gives the definition of truth as when the concept of an object in the mind encounters the actual object in reality, external to the mind.
Here, we must go back to simple terms: the intellect is oriented to the truth, the will is oriented to the good. In this natural dynamic then, the intellect, through the natural rational process, determines that there must be an all loving, all knowing, all powerful entity from which all things come, and by which all things are ordered, and this would be the ultimate good. Simultaneously, the will by its natural orientation to the good, considers that to be in relation to ultimate good, one must be good, which is accomplished through the virtues which are inherent to human nature (to do good and avoid evil.) The result is that the intellect is specifying what the ultimate good is, and the will is proposing proper disposition to orient the human person toward that ultimate good, and prepare the person for the encounter. Hence, from natural inclination respectively, the intellect moves the will by specification, and the will moves the intellect by exercise or act.
faith vs. Faith: Now, faith is the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not (Heb 11:1).
If we consider this definition closely, we can see the distinction that we have been trying to establish. Earlier, I made the point, and stated simply that “believing that there is a God does not require faith, it only requires rational thought.” Therefore, faith being “the substance of things hoped for,” God is not one of those things “hoped for,” He is presupposed as first truth. Nor is He one of the things for which faith is the evidence. If God is presupposed, as demonstrated above, what is it that we hope for? We of faith certainly have faith in God, but that is not the same as faith of God. We have natural knowledge of God, but what we have faith in is the potential of what will result in having a relationship with God. In other words, we have faith in what God promises us. What God promises us, however, does not come from natural knowledge; it comes from God revealing His promises to us, and we call this Divine Revelation. If we consider this proposition, it becomes obvious that knowing that there is a God based on natural inclination (intellect and will), and observance of sense-based reality, of this first truth, there is no indication of Trinity, salvation, redemption, eternal life with God, and the many other things we learn through Scripture, and the life and teaching of the Church.
Furthermore, in the natural scheme of things, even Divine Revelation, in itself, is not enough. St Thomas explains this by saying that . . .
Two things are requisite for faith. First, that the things which are of faith should be proposed to man: this is necessary in order that man believes anything explicitly. The second thing requisite for faith is the assent of the believer to the things which are proposed to him. Accordingly, as regards the first of these, faith must needs be from God. Because those things which are of faith surpass human reason, hence they do not come to man’s knowledge, unless God reveal them. . . As regards the second, viz. man’s assent to the things which are of faith, we may observe a twofold cause, one of external inducement, such as seeing a miracle, or being persuaded by someone to embrace the faith: neither of which is a sufficient cause, since of those who see the same miracle, or who hear the same sermon, some believe, and some do not. Hence, we must assert another internal cause, which moves man inwardly to assent to matters of faith.5
The final sentence in this excerpt is the statement of our quest. The final interior move “to assent to matters of faith,” is what we call certitude. The other “internal cause, which moves man” to this certitude is another question. Certitude is the surety that what Divine Revelation tells us of the promises of God are true! This surety or certitude comes from the “internal cause,” but what is this “internal cause” and where does it come from? As St. Thomas says, and we all know, some read the Bible and believe, and some read the Bible and don’t believe.
The answer lies in the difference between faith and Faith. Previously in our discourse, we have made this distinction in a more general sense. There is acquired virtue and there is infused virtue; natural virtue and supernatural virtue. With the natural virtue of faith, a person can read the Bible, be drawn to attend church or Bible study, and from what they read and hear, they decide to believe (assent.) This is an intellectual or academic assent. They simply consider what is being said and say “yes, this makes sense, I believe.” With the same level of intelligence, however, (as St. Thomas has pointed out) another person might consider what is being said and say, “no, this doesn’t sound right, I don’t believe it.” Any and all virtue must be practiced, to come to maturity, and approach perfection, even supernatural virtue. The more a person reads and hears the Word of God, the more it “makes sense” and the stronger their belief becomes. It is possible that a non-believer who continues to read and give consideration to what he hears, might eventually convert and believe; or maybe not. Even the person who initially believes may later change his mind.
At this point we are talking about the natural or acquired virtue of faith. The infused virtue of Faith is similar in that it must be practiced and perfected, but it also has that “other internal cause” that moves the person to certitude.
Faith Infused – A Graced Encounter
In the mystery of Baptism, in the pouring of the water, and the vocal, Trinitarian formulary, the soul of the person is infused with a complexity of supernatural gifts:
• Restoration of Sanctifying Grace lost to human nature in Original Sin,
• the Holy Spirit and the indwelling of the Holy Trinity,
• the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, and
• the seven supernatural (infused) virtues of Faith, Hope, Charity, Prudence, Courage, Justice, and Temperance.
In the subsequent life, all these things must be nurtured, replenished, practiced, (respectively), and applied with intention, but from Baptism all of these gifts are resident in the soul. Regarding the Infused Theological Virtue of Faith, as we are trying to discern it in this discourse, the certitude lies in the complexity of the gifts of this mystery.
As the intellect and will are naturally resident faculties of the soul, they are immediately, and intimately, affected by Baptism, especially in regards to Faith. We have spoken much about these two faculties, particularly that the intellect seeks the truth and the will seeks the good. Another way of saying this is that the intellect seeks knowledge and the will seeks love. So it is that the human soul is motivated to know and to love; ultimately to know God, and to love God, who is ultimate truth (God is First Truth) and ultimate love (God is Love.),
With the supernatural gifts now resident in the soul from Baptism, including God Himself, the narrative of St. Thomas cited above finds completion. In its natural state (prior to Baptism) the soul apprehends (knows) the concept of God in the intellect, and formulates the application of natural virtue in the will as a disposition conducive to encountering God. The will desires (loves) and acts toward what the intellect specifies (knows.) With Baptism, the anticipated universal knowledge of God, and the preparatory love (natural virtue) for what is anticipated, encounters God in a particular way. The concept of God encounters the reality of God, and truth occurs.
The dynamic of this encounter is Sanctifying Grace. Although the complexity of Baptismal Gifts, (including the indwelling of God,) work together to provide internal certitude, Grace is the enabling force that activates and causes the movement. It must be said here that the presence of God, per se, is Grace, uncreated Grace (God Himself;) Sanctifying Grace, on the other hand, is created Grace, a grace that is the bond between human nature and Divine nature. Sanctifying Grace is created by God for human nature; to elevate the soul to the supernatural end that it naturally desires. Without Sanctifying Grace, the presence of God (divine nature) would not meld in union with the soul (human nature.) With Sanctifying Grace, the universal notion of God encounters the particular reality of God; all of which is happening within the interior of the soul, as opposed to an external acquisition of knowledge through miracles and/or preaching. Therefore, it is this infusion of complex supernatural gifts that is the “internal cause, which moves man inwardly to assent to matters of faith” which St Thomas refers to in the above excerpt.
Lumen Fidei – The Light of Faith and Fulfillment of All Desire
In language and grammar, analogy, metaphor, and simile are similar, being distinct primarily in their phrasing. All three are used as symbolic reference or comparison of two things in topical context. Analogy, however, even in language usage, but especially in philosophy and theology, contains a truth or truths common to both objects of comparison. In other words, in philosophy/theology, two objects of an analogy are both true in the same way, but in different respects. Light, particularly in theology, is such an analogy. Material light which illumines objects so that the eye can see them, is analogous to intellectual light which illumines concepts so that the mind can see them. The Light of Faith is of the latter kind. It is not “like” material light, metaphorically, it is light analogously; it illuminates objects of Faith so that the intellect can see them.
The Light of Faith, fueled by Sanctifying Grace, shines on God present in the soul, and the intellect sees God and, as John the Baptist said to the Pharisees and Scribes, the intellect says to the will, “this is the one of whom I [have been telling you about.]” The will, for its part, Loves God now specifically, rather than in an anticipatory way.
In conclusion let me make a few final points that, hopefully, brings our thoughts and understanding of Theological Faith together.
- Without the infusion of the Baptismal Gifts, faith is an academic assent that is constantly subject to doubt and opinion. Doubt is when assent is withheld because multiple alternative possibilities seem equally plausible; whereas opinion is assenting to one of the multiple possibilities while acknowledging that any of the other alternatives might be true. Relativism results from opinion; atheism, or non-belief, results from doubt. In the certitude of Infused Faith, there can be no doubt, nor can there be opinion. St. Augustine acknowledges however, that [infused] Faith is a faith that is “thinking with assent.” What he means by this is that although the soul is moved to the certitude of Faith, the intellect remains restless. As seeker of truth, the intellect is constantly seeking a deeper understanding of the things of faith. St. Anselm, the Father of Scholasticism, seven hundred years later, and two hundred years before, St. Thomas, gave us the axiom of “Faith Seeking Understanding” which is St. Anselm’s definition of theology. The intellect seeks an understanding of what we believe, but this has no relation to doubt or opinion. St. Augustine, in another place, puts it this way: “I believe so that I might understand, not that I seek to understand that I might believe.”
- At the juncture of reason and faith, and in particular Infused Faith, just as St. Paul says that it is foolishness for the rational mind to deny the existence of God, St. Augustine says that the denial of God. and the things of faith. after the infusion of Baptismal Gifts, is a “sin” against reason. Of course. it is a sin against God, but the foolishness of denying reason is one thing, the denial of the encounter of First Truth within the soul is quite another.
Although we speak, in this discourse, primarily of Theological Faith and its certitude, in the complexity of the sacramental moment of Baptism, the triptych of Theological Virtues—Faith, Hope, and Charity are inseparable, yet their residence are in the couplet of the Noble Faculties of the soul. Hope and Charity, infused, reside in the Will; whereas Faith, infused, resides in the Intellect. Faith pertaining to Truth, Hope, and Charity pertaining to Love. In Hope and Charity, the Will recognizes the Love that it seeks and that they are in relation to ultimate good. In Faith, the Intellect recognizes the Truth that it seeks and that it is in relation to ultimate truth. The concept or apprehension of truth encounters the indwelling of God in the soul (Faith) and truth occurs. The anticipation of love encounters the indwelling of God in the soul (Hope and Charity) and love occurs.
With this St. Thomas concludes that, “the saints are united to God by knowledge and by love.”6
- Faith, Hope, Charity (Theological) and Prudence, Fortitude, Justice, Temperance (Cardinal) ↩
- The synthesis of this essay is based on the Thomistic theology of faith expressed in the book (particularly Ch. 4):
Michael S. Sherwin, O.P., By Knowledge & By Love, Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2005. ↩
- Divine Revelation is God’s revealing himself in the inspired word of Scripture and the Apostolic Tradition of 2000 years of living the faith in the Church. ↩
- Summa Theologiae I-II.58.ad 5 ↩
- Summa Theologiae II-II.6.1 ↩
- Summa Theologiae, III.2.10 ↩