Thursday 14 July 2016

Faith & Knowledge

There are some who like to define faith as "believing in something which you know is not true." Others, less sneeringly perhaps, opt for "belief which exists in the absence of evidence." The weakness of these definitions is that they presume religious belief falls into the same category as, say, belief in a demonstrable fact (Lincoln was President during the Civil War) or an irrefutable theory (gravity exercises an effect on all material objects.) Christian belief, however, is faith in a person, Jesus, based upon what we know of Him as sufficient evidence. St Mark gives us an example of this-
"Jesus led them on, while they were bewildered and followed him with faint hearts"
Mark 10:32

This text describes the final journey to Jerusalem. The Apostles knew that the authorities would use the opportunity presented by having Jesus within their jurisdiction to do Him harm. They, the Apostles, also knew that they possessed no earthly power through which they could resist the authorities and their minds had not yet been fully opened to the spiritual power concealed in our Lord. Nonetheless, because they knew Him as well as they did they followed Him into danger. The evidence of His person itself was enough to give them the faith necessary to walk into hazard so long as He led them. Where they could not see clearly themselves; where their reason and their fears told them one thing they consented to do another because they willingly conceded their judgement to One who could see more clearly, reason more perfectly and conquer fear more completely.

It is of course possible, indeed common, for humans to place their faith in persons, causes or ideas which are not worthy of receiving such an high trust. Holy Church, aware of this, proposes that faith should always be allied to hope and love since an object worthy of these last two is likely to be worthy of the first also. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews writes-
"Turn your minds to Jesus, the apostle and the high priest of our profession of faith."
Hebrews 3:1
As apostle, which means messenger, Jesus lays before us; through His life, His actions and His words the hope which we, as Christians, can have. The certainty of a new life in Him, by the will of the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit, a new life which begins now, today, in this life and continues through death to eternal life in His blessed presence. As high priest He offered Himself on the Cross at Calvary, a gift of pure love, perfect love, overflowing love for us and for our salvation.

So, our Catholic faith is belief in Jesus based upon our knowledge of Him as our hope, our Saviour, and the foundation of our new life. And these constitute our evidences for belief. How do we gain this knowledge of Him? We encounter Him in Sacred Scripture, clearly and openly in the Gospels, under veiled forms and types in the Old Testament. We encounter Him in prayer, in silence and in stillness. We encounter Him in the sacraments and liturgies of His body which is the Church. We encounter Him in His saints those in heaven and those we live beside here on earth. Each such encounter increases our knowledge of Him and so strengthens our faith, our hope and our love.

Or, at least, they should so strengthen these things. Hebrews once more-
"We have been granted a share with Christ only if we keep the grasp of our first confidence firm to the end."
Hebrews 3:14
The definitions with which I began have this much truth in them: A faith which begins as alive can end as dead. Our life in the Spirit can fade, our joy in Christ can pass away and we can profess our faith out of habit not conviction. The evidences which we once possessed we may possess no longer. If we do not renew ourselves daily in Christ, drinking from the fountain of life and love which flows from His wounded side then we will lose Him. And that means that we shall have lost ourselves too.

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The painting is Christ in the Wilderness byIvan Kramskoy

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