The Challenge to Our Faith

Author: Pope Paul VI


Pope Paul VI

During the General Audience on Wednesday June 5th the Holy Father emphasized the importance of the Year of Faith by an exposition of the objections to Faith facing the faithful today, together with the answer to those objections.

As we approach the latter part of this year which, in the centennial commemoration of the two great apostles and martyrs, first witnesses of the christian message, Peter and Paul, We called the Year of Faith, many questions may well arise within ourselves: Have we, for example, taken seriously the invitation to reflect on so fundamental a theme as the Faith for the directing of our life in face of the fatal dilemma "Yes" or "No" in regard not only to our religious destiny but to our future existence? (Remember the words of Christ, as set down by St. Mark the Evangelist: "He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be condemned" Mk. 16, 16). Have we clarified our minds on this question, so elementary and yet at the same time so profound and complex? And have we been able to formulate some resolution in regard to our Faith in the light of the commemoration of the aforesaid centenary and, still more, in the light of the formidable and chaotic problems existing at this present moment of history?

Facing the problems raised by Faith

Faith, a gift of grace, an act of the mind in search of truth and a decisive movement of our will, remains ever a source of vital problems. Again, the Faith as an objective collection of sublime truths surpassing our intellectual capacities, seems so very far removed from the sphere of our ordinary knowledge. The Faith is not acquired once and for all, and it is not exhausted by the small amount we know of its content. It demands of us a continuous awareness of spirit, an unfailing interior profession of our belief, attention to its gradual acquisition. (Remember again the very human and characteristic exclamation of that father who was begging from Our Lord a miracle for his son: "I do believe, Lord; help thou my unbelief" — Mk. 9, 23). Are we to any extent trained to this hard yet strengthening exercise of faith? Our religious state today depends in great measure upon a watchful and operative awareness to ensure our adhesion to the Faith; it is the pedestal from whose height we view the world-panorama under the light that comes from God; or else it is the stumbling-block which stands in our way in the twilight region of personal ideas and of easy doctrinal apostasy. Faith, that is to say, raises a number of questions and objections which it would not be honest, nor indeed of benefit, to avoid if we would be victorious in and through its means: "This is the victory," writes St. John the Evangelist, "which overcometh the world, our faith" (1 Jn. 5, 4). And each one of us, with the help of good books or good masters, with patient reflection ready to gather what signs the Holy Spirit gives and with prayer asking for enlightenment, each one of us must strive on his own account to take stock of the great and persistent difficulties which he will meet with along the path, often arduous, often mysterious, of Faith.

Does Faith hamper thought?

In this brief and simple talk, We offer you one amongst the many objections which modern thinking opposes to Faith, namely: What is the use of it? Accustomed as we are to judge things from the point of view of their usefulness rather than of their intrinsic reality, we readily ask ourselves, even as regards Faith, what advantage does it bring us; it certainly does not admit of any economic evaluation, which would be indeed a radical offence against it. And what other advantages does it produce, if it constitutes an obstacle in the intellectual order, being something outside the normal development of our thought, attuned as this is to positive methods pertaining to the physical and natural sciences which are taken to be the basic norm of truth? To the modern scientific mind Faith seems to be lacking entirely that strictness of thought which belongs to the exact sciences. The very nature of the knowledge it offers, founded on witness, seems to upset and to atrophy the autonomy of the intellect, confident as it is that it can discover for itself and check for itself the truth it possesses.

The modern insistence on action

Then again in the matter of action, how does Faith avail? Modern man is all eager for action, practical action, doing something. Even in this regard is not Faith an obstacle, a source of doubts and scruples, inducing a loss of internal energy and of external time? An entirely empiric and unjust objection this, but how strong it is, seeing that it draws so many away from religious ideas and practice, those people who maintain that they have neither the mentality not the time at their disposal to take account of the worth and therefore of the demands which the Word of God, resounding throughout history and resounding here and now in the world of conscience and of actual happenings, causes to arise in regard to man and his responsibilities.

Is Faith a soporific?

There is yet another category of objections which have found lively expression in contemporary writings, objections which reject Faith precisely because of certain advantages which it brings to souls. These objections accuse Faith of offering illusory remedies which favour softness, weakness, in those who are desirous of comfortable dreams; the so-called comforts of Faith (it is said) weaken and bewitch the soul that receives them; the very beauty of Faith, upon which its defence so much depended in the last century, is rejected as being too seductive. Faith, according to this criticism, is presented as something too good to be true; the high-toned courage of a certain kind of modern humanism rejects the seduction of a consoling faith. And so it goes on. This kind of difficulty, contesting the usefulness of Faith, has a very rich repertory, so much so that it is now impossible to make an inventory of it; you will doubtless have come across it, living as you do in these days of ours.

Utility versus truth

But We feel sure, dearest children, that as a result of your own experience and reflection you will have found the answers to the objections which We have alluded to and to such other similar ones as You have met with along the intellectual and spiritual path. Objections of this sort usually err by their simplicity. They lack respect for truth; they prefer utility. It goes without saying that Faith offers aspects of real utility for the life of man as a whole, so much so that it should indeed be regarded as a veritable piece of good fortune.

The stimulus of Faith

It is not true, for example, that Faith means a paralysis of thought and that its dogmatic pronouncements interfere with the search for truth; the very contrary is the case. Dogma is not a prison-house of thought; it is all acquisition, a certitude which stimulates the mind to contemplation and research, whether it be into its own content, ordinarily so profound as to be unfathomable, or into its development in concert with and in the derivation of other truths. Intellectus quaerens fidem, the intellect pursuing its enquiries into Faith, in the words of St. Anselm, the medieval theologian who even now is well worthy to be Our master; and he adds fides quaerens intellectum. Faith has need of the intellect; it gives confidence to the intelligence, respects it, requires it, defends it; and by the very fact that it involves the study of divine truth, it obliges the intelligence to all absolute honesty in thought and to all effort that, far from weakening it, .strengthens it in the natural as well as the supernatural order of enquiry.

Neither is it true that Faith is a bar to action; here again the very contrary is true. Faith requires action; it is a dynamic principle of morality (iustus ex fide vivit; the just man draws his very life from Faith; that statement sums up the thought of St. Paul — Heb. 10, 38; and St. James puts it very clearly: "faith without works is dead"— 2, 17). Faith demands action, expresses itself in charity, that is in works, moved thereto by the love of God and of the neighbour.

"The victory which overcometh the World"

In the same way there is no foundation for that unworthy rejection of Faith, as though it were all artificial soporific for human suffering and a false myth which separates man from the realities of life. Nay; it is truth, splendid and consoling, for it reveals to us the wonderful designs of divine goodness. It is not meant to lull man to sleep in the midst of his dangers and toils, but to make him aware of them and to give him the energy to sustain them with manly fortitude. That is what Faith means; it takes away that despair, that scepticism, that rebelliousness with which modern man, no longer supported by Faith, is plagued; instead it gives him meaning of life and of its affairs, gives him hope in wise and honest activity, gives him strength to suffer and to love.

Yes indeed; Faith does serve some purpose, and what a purpose—our salvation!

May you be assured of this, clearest children, with Our Blessing.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
13 June 1968, page 1

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