I will posting a three-part series on the three theological virtues. These are articles I wrote for a newsletter put together by the seniors of Mother of Divine Grace School (MODG). The following is the first article in the series, and treats, naturally, of the virtue of faith.
THE three theological virtues, faith, hope, and charity, are not any ordinary virtues, acquired by a process of mere natural habituation. Rather, the theological virtues are infused habits, acquired by the supernatural means of grace which God pours into the soul. The virtues are called theological because they have God Himself as their object, and are directly involved in, and absolutely necessary for, the attainment of God as our final supernatural end. Human nature by itself is unable to attain eternal salvation. Thus, the supernatural grace of God is necessary, and the infused supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and charity, in order for man to be saved.
Faith, the first theological virtue, is that virtue which enables man to believe with firm certainty the truths and mysteries which are given by revelation. Thus, faith involves a kind of knowledge; and yet, this is not the knowledge which is reached after the struggle of reason which grapples with arguments, seeking to know the truth by rational proof. Rather, faith involves the certain knowledge of truths which are beyond the reach of reason, truths which man cannot know by the use of his reason. The First Vatican Council defines this virtue in the following words:
This faith, which is the beginning of human salvation, the Catholic Church professes to be a supernatural virtue, by means of which, with the grace of God inspiring and assisting us, we believe to be true what He has revealed, not because we perceive its intrinsic truth by the natural light of reason, but because of the authority of God himself, who makes the revelation and can neither deceive nor be deceived.Thus, the motive for faith is not any natural rational understanding of the mysteries, but a pure and simple trust in the authority of God, manifested to us in His holy Church. It is this pure and simple trust in God’s revelation that supernatural faith has its sole foundation, and it can therefore attain to truths of which the intellect could not otherwise have knowledge. Thus, Garrigou-Lagrange writes in The Three Ages of the Interior Life that “infused faith is like a higher spiritual sense which allows us to hear a divine harmony that is inaccessible to every other means of knowing.”
There are consequently four properties of faith which may be enumerated, according to Prummer’s Handbook of Moral Theology: the act of faith is supernatural: it has a supernatural object, God and the truths revealed by Him; it has a supernatural motive, the infallible revelation of God; its principle is sanctifying grace, the divine aid by which man is enabled to have this faith. The act of faith is free: whereas in rational knowledge, the intellect is bound by a kind of necessity to assent to the truths it grasps, in the act of faith the intellect does not grasp these truths rationally, and is therefore not bound by that same necessity. The act of faith is infallible: for it is founded on the infallible authority of God’s revelation, given to us through the medium of the Church, who is also infallible. And finally, the act of faith is certain and constant: we have no reason whatsoever to doubt or deny the truths grasped by faith; and this is because, as just stated, faith is infallible.
This faith, the Church teaches, is necessary for the salvation of man. Again, the First Vatican Council declares: “Since, then, without faith it is impossible to please God and reach the fellowship of his sons and daughters, it follows that no one can ever achieve justification without it, neither can anyone attain eternal life unless he or she perseveres in it to the end.” This teaching is drawn directly from the scriptures themselves: “And he said to them: Go into the whole world and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believes and is baptized shall be saved: but he that believes not shall he condemned” (Mark 16,15). And this is reasonable, for unless one believes in God in the first place, how can one come to Him and be saved?
The major vices contrary to the virtue of faith are infidelity, heresy, and apostasy. Infidelity is divided into material infidelity, in which one lacks faith merely because one lacks sufficient instruction in it; and formal infidelity, in which one is culpable for one’s lack of faith, having directly refused to believe in the truths of revelation. Heresy, the second vice against faith, consists in “a proposition that contradicts an article of faith,” and may, like infidelity, be divided into its material and formal manifestations. Material heresy consists in the holding of such a proposition simply because of a lack of sufficient instruction or some other circumstance which renders one inculpable. Formal heresy, on the other hand, does involve a subjective culpability, since it consists in “the pertinacious error of a Christian who repudiates some truth of the Catholic faith.” Apostasy is a kind of heresy, but it involves a rejection of the whole Catholic faith, whereas simple heresy merely involves a rejection of particular propositions of the faith. Apostasy may be defined as “the complete repudiation of Christian belief after it has been freely accepted.” Heresy and apostasy by definition only apply to those who are already Christian; Jews and Pagans are guilty not of heresy or apostasy, but of infidelity, whether material or formal.
To summarize, then: faith is the infused supernatural virtue, necessary for salvation, by which man is enabled to firmly and certainly believe in the truths of divine revelation, truths of which he could have no certitude by his natural powers of reason. By faith, one believes in what one cannot see, and with a belief that is stronger and more certain than even the knowledge of what one can see.