Monday, March 09, 2009

What is Faith?

Here is the definition of faith which Julián Carrón gave in New York last January:
"What method can be applied to the knowledge of a historical event? The only way to
grasp any historical event in which I didn’t participate is through an indirect method of knowledge, through a witness. This is called faith. Faith then is a natural method of knowledge, a method of indirect knowledge, a knowledge that comes through the mediation of a witness."

He then quotes this bit from Alexis de Tocqueville:

“If man were forced to demonstrate for himself all the truths of which he makes daily use, his task would never end. He would exhaust his strength in preparatory demonstrations without ever advancing beyond them. As, from the shortness of his life, he has not the time, nor, from the limits of his intelligence, the capacity, to act in this way, he is reduced to take on trust a host of facts and opinions which he has not had either the time or the power to verify for himself, but which men of greater ability have found out, or which the crowd adopts. On this groundwork he raises for himself the structure of his own thoughts; he is not led to proceed in this manner by choice, but is constrained by the inflexible law of his condition. There is no philosopher in the world so great but that he believes a million things on the faith of other people and accepts a great many more truths than he demonstrates.”

Faith in the sense described above — a method of indirect knowledge — is essential to the construction and functioning of society and any common endeavor in life (which is to say life itself). The current economic turmoil is a crisis of faith. The journalists would have us believe that this faith is foolish, and that we should never trust anyone... but then where would the journalists be? O, that's right: they're scrambling for jobs like everybody else. 

Whatever else faith may be as a theological virtue, it has to at least be this first: a method of indirect knowledge which depends upon the testimony of another. Otherwise, faith becomes something disconnected from reality, like believing in Casper the Friendly Ghost (as Fr. Meinrad likes to say). Or, like our commentator Scott (A Future Metaphysician) quotes from Mark Twain, "Faith is believing what you know ain't so."

Here is faith. It's something common, something natural (remembering of course that all of nature is a gift, a grace); and thanks to Scott again for recalling the situation of a child and his mother. My question is how do we move from this reality to faith as a theological virtue, saving faith? I ask because I would like to understand faith better — appreciate it more. I remember that this very question is discussed heavily in the first half of John's Gospel... among other places. 
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