NATURE AND OBJECT OF FAITH

"He enlighteneth every man that cometh into this world" (John.1:9).

A few years ago, we stood on the shores of the Sea of Galilee or Lake of Tiberias, which is frequently mentioned in the Sacred Scripture.  On the shores of this lake once stood Magdala, the native place of St. Mary Magdalene. There stood Bethsaida, the birthplace of Sts. Peter, Andrew and Philip; Bersabee, the place of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. The Mount of Beatitudes stands in close proximity.  Near the shores of the lake, we stood upon the old ruins of the temple of Capharnaum where Jesus frequently spoke.  In fact, Capharnaum was the second home of our Saviour after He left Nazareth and entered upon the three years of His public life.

Along the shores of this lake He wrought many of His miracles. Here He raised the daughter of Jairus, the head of the synagogue, back to life. Here Christ cured Peter's Mother-in-law from a violent fever. Here it was, as we read in St. Mark (1:32-34), that "they brought all to Him that were diseased and that were possessed with devils. And all the city was gathered together at the door. And He healed many that were sick of divers diseases, and He cast out many devils, and He suffered them not to speak because they knew Him."

On the other hand, His enemies were not idle. The Pharisees too, gathered thither from all over Galilee, and even from Jerusalem, in order to draw the people away from their Divine Master, undermining their faith in Jesus. In spite of the many miracles they had witnessed, the people grew hostile towards "the son of the carpenter of Nazareth," as they maliciously called Him. Even His very disciples began to waver. Whereupon Christ, turning to them, addressed them in these curt words: "Why are you fearful, O ye of little faith?" (Matt.8:26).

And there was cause for complaint on the part of Our Lord. For religion is the binding link that unites man with his God. Religion comprises that system of truths, laws and practices which man must recognize and observe in paying honor to God. But religion, to be steadfast, must have a foundation. This foundation we call faith. Hence Our Lord wrought these miracles to prepare His followers for absolute faith and confidence in His leadership--for a faith that would prepare them to accept the divine truths and doctrines Christ would soon reveal to the world; a faith that would serve His followers as a beacon light; a faith that would be for them what formerly the fiery column was to the exiled Jews, preceding God's chosen people in their march from Egypt, directing them through the desert into the Promised Land. Realizing, therefore, its importance as the basis of all religion, we shall begin the consideration of the word 'faith' and its object today.

(O Jesus, assist us with Thy grace!)

Meaning of Faith:--What, then, do we mean by the word faith? "Faith" as our Catechism tells us, "is a virtue infused by God into our souls, by which we believe, without doubting, all those things which God has revealed and proposes by His Church to our  belief." "To believe" means, in general, to hold as true what another says, and simply because he says it. "To believe in God" means, therefore, to hold firmly and without doubting what God has revealed, and solely because He has revealed it, even though we can neither seeing or completely understand it. For faith is not founded on our seeing or complete understanding, but on the word of God. "Faith" says St. Paul, "is the evidence of things that appear not" (Heb.11:1).

Faith, we said also, "is a virtue--that is, a free gift from God that not only enlightens our intellect, but also moves our will to hold and believe what God has revealed to us.  We meet many good and enlightened citizens who, in their minds, know how to explain many divine truths as well as we do. Their minds are enlightened, but God has not granted them the virtue of Faith by which their hearts are moved to take that final step of embracing the faith that leads to salvation. If, therefore, we are so fortunate as to possess the true faith, it is to God that we should be thankful. "Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift" says St. Paul (II Cor.9:15). And if we do not possess it, or are in danger of losing it, we must ask God in the words of the Gospel: "I do believe, Lord, help my unbelief" (Mark. 9:23); or like all the Apostles when they cried out: "Lord, increase our  faith" (Luke, 17:5).

But again, let me repeat, faith does not destroy reason. Rather let us call faith the complement or handmaid of reason. Or, in the words of a famous preacher (Monsabre), "they are two sisters who dwell together in the same home. The hospitable doors of our soul are open to receive these two daughters of God. Faith dwells on high, reason a little tower. But faith will never kill her sister; she will not betray the hospitality accorded her to reign alone in the palace of them both.

Object or Sources of Faith.--But here a question arises, namely: "What is the scope of my faith? What must I accept on faith?" The correct answer is vitally important, since faith is the very foundation of all religion. And unless we have a correct conception of the true foundation upon which our entire religion rests, our eternal salvation may be jeopardized. Hence, it is not a matter of indifference what we believe, or how much we believe. We are bound to accept on faith all that God has revealed without distinction or division. Therefore, to rest secure, you and I must know, and know with certainty and exactness, what God has revealed to us for our benefit and belief. Where can this be found? Who can teach us this, and make us rest secure?

On this very first and fundamental principle of our holy religion our non-Catholic brethren differ greatly from us. We shall submit both views without bias and give reasons why we differ. Our Protestant friends will tell us that the Bible and Bible alone, privately interpreted, is their sole rule of faith. We, as Catholics, on the other hand, hold that the Bible and tradition, not privately interpreted but interpreted by the infallible and official magisterium of the Church, constitute our rule of faith.

Holy Scripture.--What do we understood by the words, "Holy Scripture" or "the Bible"? The Bible is a collection of books which were written under the special guidance and light of the Holy Ghost, and on this account, are recognized and honored by the Church as the Word of God. We have two main divisions, the Old Testament and the New Testament.

Old Testament.--The Old Law contains the things made known by God to man from the creation of the world to the time of Christ. From time to time God chose such men as Moses, the prophets and other holy writers. Under God's personal guidance or inspiration, they wrote down these divinely inspired truths.

(a) First, we find the 21 historical books. In these are recorded, for example, the history of the creation of the world; facts regarding the first members of the human family; their sins and their punishments; their dispersion over the earth; the Deluge and so on. Then the Jewish history under patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; how the Jews were led into captivity; how they returned from Egypt into the Promised Land; how Moses received the Ten Commandments from God on Mount Sinai. In short, the history of human race in general, and of the Jewish people in particular, from the time of Adam in paradise onward.

(b) Secondly, we find the devotional books, such as the Psalms, Book of Proverbs, Book of Wisdom, the Book of Job, etc. used by the Jews principally for devotion and personal edification.

(c) Lastly, in the Old Testament we find the seventeen prophetical books. In these God foretells the future history of the Jews, and especially all about the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ.

The New Testament : The New Testament contains the divine revelations as given to us by Jesus Christ Himself. This part of the Bible is divided as follows: (a) The four Gospels of St. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. In these Gospels are found: the history of St. John the Baptist who prepared the way for the public life of Jesus Christ; the birth of Jesus; His life as we know it; how He chose His Apostles and established His Church; His death, burial, resurrection, etc. (b) Secondly, we find what is called the Acts of the Apostles, a book telling us the history of the early Church,  and what the Apostles did after Christ ascended into Heaven. (c) Then we find 21 Epistles or Letters written by various Apostles to their converts. These record the growth of the early Church. Through these Letters of Epistles, the Apostles reminded the faithful of their duties and obligations, as the Apostles had learnt them from the sacred lips of Christ Himself. (d) Lastly, we find in the Bible the Apocalypse of St. John, sometimes called the Book of Revelations, foretelling the struggles that Christ's Church would have to undergo on this earth, and how she would triumph on the Last Day. This, in brief, constitutes the Holy Bible which properly is termed the treasure-house of our faith and the armory of  our holy Church.

Private Interpretation. -- But now comes the question: "Who is to interpret correctly this Bible for me? It was originally written in Hebrew or Greek, languages understood by comparatively few people today. Am I to sit down before the Bible, which I must first of all be sure is the correct translation from the original, then slowly find out for myself, according to my own private interpretation, what is necessary for my salvation? Is that the way I must establish my rule of faith?" This is exactly what many of our friends, not of our Faith, hold and believe.

But I would like to ask you, and I would like to ask them: (1) Does not experience prove how few take the time and trouble to go all through the Bible to find out what God wants them to do and believe? (2)  Secondly, even if you did take the time and trouble, there are still many passages in Holy Scripture hard to understand unless they are explained by scholars who have made a deep study of the Scriptures. But no one can do this for you; otherwise you would lose the right to private interpretation, as they contend. Yet, St. Peter warns us that in the Bible "are certain things hard to be understood which the unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other Scriptures, to their own destruction" (2 Peter. 3:16).

Our United States Constitution, written in plain, understandable language, covers a little more than ten pages of an ordinary book. Still, we do not allow every individual citizen of our country to interpret the Constitution according to his own private interpretation. Besides our ordinary law courts, we have the Supreme Court with its distinguished jurists as the court of last resort. But is not our eternal salvation of much greater importance than our temporal welfare? Is not the voluminous book we call the Bible much harder to interpret and understand than the Constitution?  Rightly, therefore, do we contend that Christ entrusted the deposit of faith with its official interpretation into the hands of His chosen Apostles and their successors in the Church which He founded.

Tradition : Christ commanded the Apostles to go forth and teach all truth. Hence, the deposit of faith, or the sum-total of Christ's revealed Truths, closed with the death of the last Apostle. But as we search the Scriptures, we find that many of the Apostles wrote very little, or nothing at all. Consequently, we note another important fact when Christ gave the command to go forth and preach the Gospel to all nations. Later, we find St. Paul address the Thessalonians in these words : "Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word or by our epistle" (II Thess. 2:14). From this, we conclude that many revealed truths were handed down by word of mouth from Apostolic times which were never recorded in Scripture. We call this divine tradition, which was committed to the Apostles and their successors to safeguard and protect us from corruption and error in the same way as the Bible itself. Therefore, while we respect the Bible as the word of God, we go a step further and declare that the Bible is not the sole rule of faith, as many others contend.

Our theory of tradition becomes more convincing when we consider other factors that cannot be lightly brushed aside.  For example, God wants all people to be saved. But how about those untold numbers even in our own day who can neither read nor write? How about those people who lived before the entire Bible was written? The last part of the Bible was not written until about the year 96, when the last Apostle, St. John, died. And all the Apostles were dead for many years before the entire New Testament was collected as we have it now. How could all these be saved, if the Bible and the Bible alone were the sole rule of Faith? Then also, up until about 1450, when Gutenberg invented the printing press, there were few Bibles to be had, and these few were procurable only at great expense, because they were written out by hand, which entailed countless hours of patient labor.

Furthermore, if the Bible were the sole rule of faith, why then did not Christ write? He preached and prepared His first priests and bishops by word of mouth. And to them, as stated before, he said: "Go forth and preach the Gospel to every creature." He said nothing about writing. All the Apostles went forth and preached but some wrote little or nothing at all. Hence, the Bible and tradition -- namely, teaching by word as well as by writing -- is our rule of faith which has preserved unity of faith and practice throughout the centuries. Private interpretation, on the other hand, has led to a Babel of confusion and sects without number.

Conclusion.-- In conclusion, therefore, I cry out with St. Paul: "Stand fast in the faith" (I Cor. 16:13).  It is our safe anchor that leads unerringly to a happy eternity. "O heavenly faith" cries our Chateaubriand, "you do more that the moving of mountains; you remove the pressing burdens that weigh upon the heart." Faith is the basis of all religion, and religion is the bond that unites us as creatures with God, the Creator. "Believe in the Lord, your God," says the Psalmist, "and you shall be secure; believe the Prophets, and all things shall succeed well" (Ps.20:20). "We see now through a glass in a dark manner, but then face to face" (1 Cor.13:12). Amen.