A World in Need of Faith

Author: Pope Paul VI


Pope Paul VI

In his address during the PublicAudience on Wednesday June 13, the HolyFather spoke warningly of the dangers to all arising from the general lack of faith in our materialistic world.

Beloved Sons and Daughters,

For you, dear visitors and dear pilgrims to the tomb of the Apostle Peter, there rise to Our lips the words which Jesus spoke at the Last Supper to his remaining disciples, eleven after the departure of the traitor: "Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, and believe also in me" (Jn. 14,1). Yes; that is Our wish for you and what We commend to you. Have faith in God and have faith in Christ. That is the theme of the year which, with the end of this month, draws to a close, the year which, to the memory and honour of the centenary of the martyrdom of SS. Peter and Paul, We have appropriately called the Year of Faith.


In speaking these solemn and blessed words, We have in mind the contrast they make to the tempestuous ideas current in the world today concerning the holy name of God, ideas which like a great wave are submerging faith in so many men of our time. You will certainly hear tell of these ideas, maybe will feel them aggressively bearing down your spirits, too, and perhaps insinuating themselves with some kind of logical and convincing seduction. They are many, weighty and involved, these ideas, and they assume new and strange names; secularization, demythologization, descralization, global questioning, and finally atheism and antitheism, that is, non-existence or negation of God. This last has a hundred faces, according to the philosophic schools from which this rejection of God derives, or it comes from the social and political movements which defend and propagate it, or from the disregard in practice of every religious sentiment and reverence.


How dark is the tempest that rages today against faith in God! So much so that We can reduce it all to one question: Is it still possible today to believe in God? That is a formidable question and it would require volumes to answer it. But We put the question here not so much to discuss it as would be done in an adequate treatise on the subject, but in order to remind you again of the words of Christ already mentioned: Have no fear. Have faith. That is to say, it is sufficient now for us to reassure you with that exhortation of our divine Master: Yes; it is still possible today to have faith in God and in Christ. We can press this statement yet further; today better than yesterday it is possible to have faith in God, if it be true that today the human intelligence is more developed, more educated in thinking, more inclined to look for the inner and the ultimate reasons of everything.


For everything lies in this—the ability to think well. When We say this, it is necessary to remember that in the great question which We put, the word 'faith' is understood by Us in its primary meaning of natural knowledge of God, that is to say, knowledge of the divinity which can be had through our ordinary powers of thought. For if We were to speak of 'faith ' as a true and supernatural knowledge of God, coming from his revelation, then Our ordinary powers of thought are indeed necessary and to be used, but they are not enough. They have in be supported by a special help from God Himself, which we call grace. Faith is, in this case, is a gift which God Himself grants us; it is that theological virtue which, even in the obscurity that most ever surround God, gives us the certainty and the enjoyment of so many truths about Him. Now, however, We are referring to the primary meaning, which can be called the rational knowledge of certain religious truths, and first among them that of the existence of God, a truth so much under discussion today and so much contested.

We maintain that this a basic truth, not to be defeated by the innumerable objections raised against it. And let us take heed. It is one thing to state that God exists; it would be another thing to state who He is: We can know with certainty the existence of God, but out the other hand we know always very imperfectly the essence of God, that is to say, who He is (cf. S. Thomas Summa contra Gentes I, c; 14).


To arrive at certainty about that ineffable and sovereign existence, it is sufficient, as We have said, to think well. We have a guarantee of that from the First Vatican Council which, summarizing the agelong doctrine of the Church and, We may add, of human philosophy, affirms that "God, beginning and end of all things, can be known with certainty by the natural light of reason through the medium of things created" (Denz. S. 3004). Why then do so many men, even learned ones, maintain the contrary? Because, We reply, they do not use their minds in accordance with the authentic laws of thought in the search of truth.

We know that this is a serious statement to make; but such is the case An endless discussion could be entered upon as to the duty and art of thinking well, in accordance with the requirements and criteria of true human wisdom and with the logic demanded by science itself and by the honest and correct mode of speech proper to common sense. Religious thought along those lines, which seems so obvious and ingrained both in man's normal mind and in the relationship of truth which such a mind succeeds in establishing with things known, is today contested as an ingenuous and antiquated pretension, whereas it is and will always be the main path leading the human spirit unfailingly from the world of sense and science to the threshold of the divine world.


We deliberately omit that mention which might be due to the philosophical systems relative to this greatest of problems; the elementary nature of our talk forbids Us this. We will limit Ourselves to alluding to one amongst the major obstacles which today obstruct the progress of thought towards its final object, namely God, which gives, meaning and value to human knowing. We refer to the technical mentality which has its roots in the scientific bent of mind and is happy with its fruitfulness in the wonderful array of innumerable powerful instruments placed in men's hands, proud of its inventions, freed from physical fatigue, and has advanced into the realm of science-fiction where everything seems explainable and everything possible, without there being any recourse, either in thought or in prayer to a transcendent and mysterious God. The mastery over natural things and forces, the primacy accorded to practical and utilitarian activity, the totally new organisation of life resulting from the many forms in which technical know-how is employed, these take away from man the remembrance of God and quench in him the need for faith and religion. Already in 1953 Our predecessor Pius XII, of venerable memory, in a remarkable analysis of this theme given in his Christmas broadcast, spoke of the "technical spirit" with which the modern mentality is imbued, and he defined it as consisting "in what is considered to be the highest human value, and extracts the greatest profit from the forces and elements of nature" (Discourses XV, p. 522). And again: "The technical concept of life is nothing else than a particular form of materialism, in that it offers a mathematical and utilitarian-based formula as the ultimate answer to the question of existence" (ib. p. 527).


But even if this, as the Council recognized, "may often render more difficult the approach to God" (Gaudium et Spes n. 19), it does not of itself impede this approach; on the contrary it should facilitate it with the discovery of the existential deeps of nature and with the experience of human intelligence which does not invent those deeps but discovers and makes use of them. It is a matter of keeping the eyes open, that is to say of using the intelligence, as it can and should be used, to look beyond the screen of the senses and search for both the essential and the final causes of things.


Then is the realm of the divine revealed in all its clarity, and far from depreciating the realm of nature and the science which explores that realm or the technology which controls it, these stupendous values are illumined with a new beauty which gives freedom to the world of technology and takes away from it that sense of oppressive organisation and consequent frustration, resulting from the very limitations of the materialist roundabout, and now in these days is breaking out into violent and irrational rebellion, as if in denunciation of the basic insufficiency of our desacralized civilization to satisfy the inalienable demands of the human spirit. God is necessary, just as the sun is.

And if we moderns have to bring ourselves to such a pass to become aware of this, it is a sign that we must clear up the common false notion we often have of the divinity and must make an unceasing effort to give to the name of God the boundless richness of his unfathomable transcendence and the ineffable sweetness, replete with reverence and love, of his universal presence. We must "believe in God".


But is it not too difficult for us, this effort for which the modern mentality has so brain-washed us as to accustom us to the blasphemous cry of our blindness: "God is dead"? Difficult it is. But now comes the Master who adds: "Believe also in Me ". Christ enables us to believe, with both natural and supernatural faith. St. Augustine reminds us: " In order that (man) may make his way with greater confidence towards the truth, Truth Itself, God the Son of God who became man without ceasing to be God, established... and founded faith, so that man's path towards God might be opened up to man through the God-man. He is the mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ" (De Civitate Dei XI, 2, P. L. 41, 318).

Listen once again, dearest children to his voice: "Believe in God, and believe also in me". It is the voice of truth and of salvation. Meditate on it, with Our Apostolic Blessing.  

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

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