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Compendium Clips: What is faith?

In this segment of Compendium Clips, I would like to consider faith or belief, which is how a person responds to God and his revelation which, as we saw, has been make known through Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture.

Let’s start with the terms faith and belief so that we can get the basic ideas behind them. A person’s faith is typically expressed with the words “I believe.” Now, the word believe has a couple of different senses to it. For example, I can believe something in the sense that it’s my opinion, yet faith is not an opinion and this isn’t what Christians mean when they say, ‘I believe.’

There is, however, another sense of the word believe. It is seen, for example, in the words “I believe you.” In this case the word believe means to trust someone, and so one is willing to listen, to accept what is said, and to follow because the person who spoke is trustworthy. St. Paul called this kind of belief “the obedience of faith” (Rom 1:5).

So faith or belief first means completely entrusting oneself to God, and then from this, it means assenting to all the truths that He has revealed because He is trustworthy.

One of the greatest witnesses of the obedience of faith that we see in scripture is Abraham who is often called our father in faith because even when tested, he both believed God and accepted as true, as well as acted upon what God revealed.

But now that we have seen the basics of what faith or belief is, we need to consider some of its many characteristics. First and foremost, faith is a gift of God that is accessible to anyone and everyone who humbly seeks it. And yet while being a gift, it is also truly a human act whereby a person, hearing the truth of revelation, ascents to it with the mind or intellect. This happens through the prompting of will which is moved by the grace of God.

Now, because the truths of faith are founded not on opinion but on the Word of God, they are also certain. So faith deals with knowledge, yet it is more than knowledge; real faith is also living, and so through charity, as St. Paul says (cf. Gal 5:6), it gives rise to good works. This also means that the knowledge and practice of faith continually grow throughout one’s life as it is nourished by the Word of God and by prayer.

Next, faith is, even now in this life, a foretaste of the joys of heaven. Indeed, faith is necessary to reach heaven; Jesus said to his apostles, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mk 16:15-16).

And so, faith is also necessary for salvation. All of these many characteristics of faith are powerfully illustrated in another biblical witness, the Virgin Mary who humbly and fully responded to God’s revelation throughout her life. We see this, for example, when she was invited to be the mother of Jesus. She said, “let it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).

We can see, then, that faith is something deeply personal but it is also something essentially ecclesia or communal. For example, no one can come to learn the truths of faith on their own, just as no one comes to birth on their own. These things must be given by another. This helps us to understand why Jesus established the community of faith, the Church, who as a mother and teacher, precedes and nourishes the faith of each and every Christian. St. Cyprian of Cartage in the third century expressed this truth in a very succinct way when he wrote, “No one can have God as Father who does not have the Church as Mother.”

So the Catholic faith is personal and communal. We see the Church is made up of individuals with a diversity of languages, cultures, and rituals, and yet the Catholic faith is also one faith alone, since the Church professes with one voice the faith she received from the Lord and passes on through one Apostolic Tradition. She confesses one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one way of salvation, and believes with one heart the Word of God, whether handed down or written (cf. Eph 4:4-6; Acts 4:12; 2 Thess 2:15).

Now this one faith is also expressed in a common language by using formulas of faith such as those found in a creed, such as the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed. The word creed comes from the Latin word credo which means, “I believe.” These creeds, then, serve as a normative summary of the one faith and so are also called symbols of faith since they implicitly contain the whole of revelation.

The Apostles’ Creed, for example, is an ancient symbol or profession of faith from the Church of Rome, and the Nicene Creed is a symbol or profession coming from the first two Ecumenical councils of bishops who gathered in Nicaea in 325 and Constantinople 381. In the next several articles, we will be going through these creeds to look at the truths of faith.
To conclude, faith is our response to God’s revelation, by which we entrust ourselves to God and believe the truths He has revealed. Faith is both a personal and communal act. Faith is also a single reality and is expressed in a common language through formulas and creeds. In our next article we will begin considering the meaning of the first formula of the Apostles creed, “I believe in God.”

To view an illustrated video of this column and other “Compendium Clips,” visit www.compendiumclips.com.

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