A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Aquinas on Virtue #5 (The Theological Virtues: Faith)

As stated previously, Aquinas did not believe that the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity were means between two extremes, unlike the moral virtues. While the moral virtue of courage could be exercised in an extreme way as reckless behavior, the theological virtue of faith was more virtuous the more it was habituated. In other words, it is not possible to have too much faith in God.

The virtue of faith "perfects the intellect." Faith is a virtue "because it is a habit of the mind." Faith is what allows us to assent to what is unseen. Yet, one misunderstands Aquinas if faith is interpreted in fideistic fashion, that is as something that is opposed to reason. For Aquinas faith and reason are not synonymous, to be sure, but they, nevertheless, work hand in hand. Indeed, for faith to be the theological virtue that perfects the intellect it has to be concerned with what makes sense. In one sense, faith believes what is unseen precisely because of what is seen and experienced, that is, what is known in this existence. But faith moves beyond this existence to encounter ultimate questions of why human beings exists asking questions that concern the purpose of the entire universe itself.

And yet caution is necessary, for to state the connection between faith and reason in this way can lead to serious misunderstandings of Aquinas as well if he is read superficially, particularly when it comes to faith in God. For Aquinas, the notion of mystery is not what the theologian falls back on when the discussion of God has been exhausted in human terms; rather mystery is what the theologian starts with before the deliberations over God's person and nature begin. Thus mystery is not employed once there is nothing else to say, but mystery provides the context as the finite attempts to understand the infinite. Such an approach to the discussion of God assists in safeguarding against the human tendency toward idolatry in theological discussion. To affirm mystery is to acknowledge that God is indeed God and human beings are not.

The virtue of faith makes it possible to embrace the large picture of human existence and believe in God in spite of the truth that there is so much men and women do not know, are uncertain of, and in fact doubt. What we do not know means that faith cannot be reduced to what is rational, but faith cannot be exercised without the rational. Without faith, reason can find no ultimate answers; without reason, faith is intellectual suicide. Faith does not ignore scientific knowledge, and indeed incorporates it in the habituation of one's moral living; but only faith can make ultimate sense of what we know of the world and the universe, as faith asks the ultimate questions of existence and purpose... as it asks the ultimate question of God.

Thus faith displays more than knowledge. It manifests wisdom. Such wisdom is not stagnant; it grows and develops and changes in the believer over time as he or she continues to search what is embraced by faith while many questions remain unanswered.

The theological virtue of faith precedes the theological virtue of hope; for without faith in God, one cannot hope in God.


Angie Van De Merwe said...

Faith is not anything that can be "taught". It is a choice to believe or not believe in the transcendant realm. You say, that if we have no faith, then we have no hope. That is questionable, as hope can be directed toward the future of a person's goals, which are personal values. These do not depend on transcendent values, necessarily. The individual does what he does for many reasons, and these are not easily evaluated. None of us are "pure"! And it is abusive to try to "discern" every motivational reason that someone does something...just "go somewhere" where you won't be under scrutiny.

Theological values must affirm indiviudal freedom of choice to believe, and commit, as it gives space to personal values. Otherwise, there is coercion. "Coercive" means that there are "higher priorities" than the individual and their personal life. God can be viewed as the all encompassing "goal", "hope" or "purpose", but this is BS and especially if there are "other ends" that might be "productive" or "fruitful".

It is immoral to take a life for anothers, no matter what substitutionary atonemment says...we are individually accountable for our choices.

If God is not concerned about the individual, but just the 'church", then he is not worthy. Period! And this is where I question being a Christian, as it becomes "group think"!

Allan R. Bevere said...


You're doing it again.

You quote me as saying that if we have no faith, then we have no hope. If you would read more carefully, you would note that what is actually said is that without faith "in God" one cannot hope "in God." And it is Aquinas who says it, not me, although I agree. And Aquinas mentions it only as why faith logically precedes hope. But once again, you miss the nuance.

You say "None of us are (sic) pure." Nowhere did I suggest otherwise.

"Coercion means that there are higher priorities than the individual." Really? Sounds like anachy to me. Societies exercise priorities higher than the individual all the time. That is why societies tax their citizens. That is why countries have a military and call on some to sacrifice themselves in war for a higher purpose.

You also say "if God is not concerned about the individual, but just the church, then he is not worthy." Where in my post did I ever suggest that God is not concerned about the individual? Once again, you're doing it again.

The truth of the matter is, Angie, I could post a recipe for chocolate cake and you would have exactly the same response.

Do me a favor... when you respond to my posts, do not use terminology like "BS" and "hogwash." In the future I will delete such posts.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Whenever I read anything, I am hypervigilant to legalism where it concerns choice, value, individuality, etc. (you are well aware of all of my pet values).

I started to give a reason why I am doing what I am doing. If anyone cares to know why, I will write about it on my blog site; angiespoint@blogspot.com. I won't take up any more of your time pr space.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I don't know if you recieved my response, but I do believe that i need reason. That is my point, as it is a defense against abuse, and it is realistically protective. And it is mandantory to evaluate faith on rational gruonds, especially in today's climate.But, I am reactionary at present, so I am thinking of putting the computor away for awhile.

bruce said...

Good post Allan! I like the way you are careful to point out the nuances in the thought and intent of the writer.