I have examined here the traditional understanding of the theological virtue of faith as based on the intellect.
This has changed after Vatican II, when faith started to be presented more and more as something:
1) emotional; pertaining to our world of feelings rather than asking us for serious intellectual work, and
2) consisting in a process rather than in a result, or to use Amerio’s words in a tending rather than a knowing.
Please read what the French Bishops published in 1968 because what they have to say is indicative of so much that has been taught afterwards:
“For a long time faith has been presented as an adherence of the intellect, enlightened by grace and supported by the word of God. Today […] faith is presented as an adherence of one’s whole being to the person of Jesus Christ. It is an act of life and not only simply intellectual, an act addressed to a person and not only to a theoretical truth”
Note here that the Bishops start with a brilliant definition of faith as it has traditionally been taught; but then, they proceed to say that… henceforward they’ll do it better! What follows is an emotional flight which is not faith anymore, but rather the fruit of a confusion of faith with hope and charity.
When the Bishops say that faith is an “act of life”, they are confusing it with hope. When they talk of adherence to the person of Jesus, they are confusing it with charity. When they say that it is not simply intellectual, they ignore what faith as a theological virtue is. When they say that something is “simply a theoretical truth”, they ignore what Truth is and launch themselves into a sugary, emotional flight with no intellectual content instead. Truth is truth and is not less true because it is an intellectual one; to downplay it as “simply a theoretical truth” is an emotionally charged and, I dare say, effeminate view of things.
Or take the words of Cardinal Garrone in 1968:
In the last century theologians had been led to affirm the capacity of human reason to prove the existence of God. [..] Theologians have abandoned God in the hands of the philosophers. […] We must recognise that we made a mistake, because we have asked of philosophy what it could not give…
Again, look at the mentality clearly emerging here. Faith as an intellectual process leading to intellectual certainties is not even downplayed, but even discarded. “We have made a mistake”, says the chap happily pretending to forget that what he calls “mistake” is traditional Church teaching and has been solemnly proclaimed by the First Vatican Council. He simply discards the role of the intellect in giving proof of the existence of God.
With what does Cardinal Garrone then substitute the intellectual work of getting to God, attaining the Truth? With the usual sugary, sentimental, emotional and frankly not all too meaning series of slogans:
We must discover the attributes of God, not the abstract ideas of philosophy but the names, the true names of God. Our mission is to preach the faith, not ideas.
Intellectual truths are dismissed as “abstract ideas of philosophy”. Faith is now considered some very vague “discovering” (again: a process, a tending) rather than getting to the truth and staying solidly rooted in it.
Notice the strongly emotional language which doesn’t mean much in itself (“discover the attributes of God” is a vaguely blasphemous soundbite, as if the Church wouldn’t possess the truth about God already) but does sound oh so pure and piously striving. Let us say it once again: Cardinal Garrone was here so enamoured with his own “discovering” that he was evidently willing to discard traditional Catholic teaching – and the clear statements of the First Vatican Council – and to feed the masses with an emotional and very sugary soup instead; “we want to preach the faith, not ideas” very well describes this brainless but good sounding emotionalism.
In the following years, things didn’t get better. Who was the last priest telling you that faith as a theological virtue is based on the intellect? Who was the last priest telling you that God can be reached already on an intellectual plane? How often have you heard, instead, a mishmash of concepts mixing faith, hope and charity and rather discarding the intellectual knowing in order to privilege the searching, the tending, the process, the “feeling”?
If sound teaching is discarded it is no surprise that unorthodox ideas and currents start to pervade the life of the Church. If approximation and superficiality take the place of sound reasoning it is no surprise that all kind of nonsense is confused with correct teaching. If emotions are allowed to shut down the intellectual process it is no surprise that these emotions lead to the most extraordinary consequences.
It is high time to recover sound teaching on the matter of the theological virtues, explaining what they are and keeping them well separated. Without this there will be no proper understanding and without proper understanding there will be no orthodoxy.
One of the poisoned fruits of Vatican II is the watering down of the faith. This has happened because after Vatican II the Church has stopped teaching what faith is in the correct but technical way used in the past, and has started talking of faith in more “emotional” terms instead. This entry deals with the correct understanding of the theological virtue of faith as adherence of the intellect to revealed truth. A separate entry will be devoted to the purely emotional, “searching” approach all too often taught after Vatican II.
Faith as a theological virtue is nothing to do with emotions. It is not something you attain by crying hysterically and waving your arms in the air. Faith as theological virtue is a process taking place exclusively in your intellect.
We can see it as a process by which the will is the starter. To acquire faith, one must want it. This is where agnostics and atheists already stop.
If one is willing to acquire faith, then a purely intellectual process starts. By this process a man will know and recognise that his intellect is limited; he will then proceed to use the limited means he has at his disposal and will examine the objective, historic truth of the existence of Jesus; he will examine and persuade himself intellectually of the historical truth that the Old Testament announced and promised the arrival of the Messiah and provided a great number of ways to recognise Him when he would come; he will – always rationally, no waving of arms in sight 😉 – acknowledge that Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament and is, beyond doubt, the Messiah who was announced; continuing, he will grasp the very simple truth that this Messiah claimed to be God and will therefore conclude that if it is true that He was the Messiah announced by the Old Testament (which he undoubtedly is, according to pure historically recorded facts) than he must, rationally, be God as He says he is.
Here, the faithful arrives to the first great finishing post: he has grasped the existence of God (and of the God of the Scriptures, not of any other system of belief) due to the work of his intellect, supported by his will. But what is paramount here is the intellect, the will is merely what persuades a man to use his god-given intellect in the first place.
This is a traditional mainstay of Catholic teaching, which the First Vatican Council has beautifully and solemnly expressed with these words:
The one true God, Creator and Lord, can be known with certainty by the natural light of human reason
Notice the words: Known with certainty, not felt with certainty.
This is obviously not the end of the journey yet. The intellect has now reached the knowledge of the existence of the One True God of the Scriptures. It has learnt, understood, drawn the conclusions, attained the relevant knowledge. But this intellectual knowledge can never grasp supernatural truths. It cannot grasp the Trinity, it cannot truly understand a God who is All Divine and All Human, it cannot reach an intellectual proof of the existence of the Real Presence, and so on.
To grasp supernatural truths something additional is necessary: a supernatural virtue (also called faith) given by the grace of God. Through the God-given grace of faith, man is given a powerful tool to go beyond his own intellect and, building on the certainties he has acquired intellectually, believe in supernatural truths beyond his intellect’s grasp.
Still, even the supernatural grace of faith is not an emotional process. It is given by God, but it is always firmly rooted in reason, not in emotions or feelings. Faith is based in the intellectual process, because through the intellect I know that the supernatural truths are not in contrast with reason.
Seek, and you shall find. Exercise your will to activate your intellect to attain the Truth, and the supernatural grace of Faith will carry you even in those supernatural regions where your intellect alone cannot carry you anymore.
This is the traditional way to understand faith. No emotionalism. You take a fundamental decision that you want to attain faith; you do your homework, learn the facts, persuade yourself of the existence of God purely in light of your reason; then God’s grace intervenes and after your will has started your intellectual engine and your intellectual engine has caused your car to drive as fast as it can, faith gives your car a pair of wings and allows you to fly. At this point your faith is very strong; it is, as St. Paul says, “evidence of things not seen”.
The contrast with today’s shallow teaching (when there is a teaching in the first place) is striking, but the exam of post-Vatican II approximations and emotionalism is for another entry.