All theologians admit that the knowledge which we have by Christian faith, in spite of its obscurity, is absolutely certain. But they do not agree in the way in which they explain this certainty. For several centuries there have been two main schools of thought. One school teaches that the formal motive of faith is not itself known by faith; the other teaches that this formal motive is known by faith.
In the first school of thought are the Nominalists, Durandus, Gabriel Biel, Scotus, Molina, Ripalda, Lugo, Franzelin, Billot, Bainvel, van Noort and Harent. These authors teach that the infallible motive of faith (i.e., the authority of God revealing and the revelation itself) is an object of natural knowledge, because through natural knowledge we know that God can neither deceive nor be deceived, and through certain signs miracles, in particular we know the fact that He has actually spoken.
Criticism : One obvious difficulty may be raised against this position. The certainty of infused faith is quite definitely based materially and extrinsically on the rational knowledge of the "signs" of revelation. Formally and intrinsically, however, it is based on something higher. If this were not so, it would mean that a higher certitude would be based on a lower one. Moreover, very few of those who believe have actually seen miracles with their own eyes. Very few have been able to examine them sufficiently well to judge their supernatural origin. Normally, therefore, those who believe have, in the natural order, only moral certainty of the "signs" of Christian revelation, a certainty which depends on human testimony, known only in an uncritical way.
If, therefore, as many other theologians point out, the certainty of Christian faith is based ultimately on this moral certainty of the "fact" of revelation, confirmed by various "signs," it would only be firm and infallible hypo-thetically, i.e., on the supposition that one is certain for some other reason that God has revealed the Trinity, the Incarnation and Redemption, and the infallibility of the Church when it proposes these mysteries to our belief. One should have to presume, in other words, that the preaching of these mysteries is not due to the natural evolution of the religious sense in the subconsciousness of the prophets and Christ. This is what the Modernists held. For them, faith was an accumulation of probabilities.
A second theory is defended by Thomists and, to some extent, by Suarez. They teach that by infused faith the believer infallibly and supernaturally knows the formal motive of faith as that by which one believes and that which is believed (id quo et quod creditur). This act of knowledge is not discursive, but simple and firm, surpassing by far the knowledge, which is at least morally certain from apologetics, that the mysteries of faith are clearly credible the "fact" of revelation, in other words, confirmed by definite signs.
In my book De Revelatione (t.I, c. xiv, pp. 467-497), I have cited many texts from St. Thomas and from both early and modern Thomists to support the second theory. This second theory is based on three arguments:
(1) the absolute infallibility of faith; (2) the essentially supernatural nature of the motive of faith; and (3) the supernatural nature of faith itself.
1. Absolute infallibility of faith
The fact that there has been a revelation is proposed to us with moral certainty by history, which tells us of the preaching and miracles of Christ. But it is also infallibly proposed to us by the Church, which defines that this revelation is strictly supernatural and has not evolved from the subconscience of prophets. What is taught infallibly by the Church, however, must be accepted by all on supernatural faith. It follows therefore that those who believe must accept on supernatural faith the fact of revelation as well as the mysteries revealed. St. Thomas says: "By one and the same act we believe God revealing and God revealed (uno et eodem actu credimus Deo et Deum)."1 And infused faith so perfects the intellect, says St. Thomas, "that the intellect infallibly moves toward its object."2
If the formal object of faith were only naturally known by human testimony, the certainty of faith would not be absolutely, but hypothetically infallible. The words of St. Paul would not, therefore, be infallibly true: "When you had received of us the word of the hearing of God, you received it not as the word of men, but (as it is indeed) the word of God who worketh in you that have believed" (I Thess. 2:13).
2. Essentially supernatural nature of the motive of faith
Truth and being are convertible, for truth is being as it is known by the intellect. Consequently, whatever is essentially supernatural cannot, formally as such, be known in a natural way. But the formal motive of faith is essentially supernatural, because it is the authority of God the Author of grace and glory, the authority of God revealing mysteries essentially supernatural. This formal motive of faith is supernatural to an even greater extent than a miracle. He who reveals is God, not as Author and Ruler of nature, but precisely as Author of grace and our Father in Heaven. That is why Christ says: "I confess to thee, O Father, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to little ones" (Matt. 11:25). He says also: "Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona, because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 16:17).
The formal motive of infused faith, like that of infused hope and charity, is inaccessible without grace. Otherwise it would not be necessary to have these infused virtues at all.3
3. Essentially supernatural nature of faith itself
Revelation teaches us that faith is a gift of God (Eph. 2:8), the "substance of things to be hoped for" (Hebr. 11:1), a supernatural virtue (Vatican Council, Denz. 1789). But habit and act are specified by both formal objects, quo and quod, of the same order. Therefore the formal object quo, or the formal motive by which infused faith is specified, must be of the same order as faith, and cannot, therefore, be known without faith. Otherwise, infused faith would not be absolutely indispensible in order to believe in the way necessary for salvation. It would be indispensible only in order to believe more easily and more firmly, as the Pelagians taught. Similarly, infused hope and infused charity, or the state of grace, would be necessary merely in order to perform acts of these supernatural virtues with greater ease.
Thus, as St. Thomas says, in one and the same act of faith we believe God revealing (Deo) and God revealed (Deum).4 Faith is thus more certain than every natural knowledge; its infallible certainty is vastly superior to that which people normally reach after a careful examination of apologetical writings.
Fr. Lacordaire expressed very well the supernaturalness and infallibility of faith: "There is the learned man who studies Catholic teaching and who says continually: 'You are lucky to have the faith; I would like to have it as you have it, but I am unable.' He is right; he is not yet able . . . but one day this learned man kneels down, becomes conscious of man's misery, raises his hands to heaven and says: 'From the depths of my misery, O my God, I cry to you.' At that moment something happens to him, the scales fall from his eyes, a mystery is accomplished in him, and behold, a change! He is a man gentle and humble of heart: he can die now, he has reached the truth. (A mystery is accomplished in him; the infused light of faith has been given to him.) A sympathetic intuition between two men can accomplish what logic could not do in many years. Occasionally, even a sudden illumination can enlighten the spirit. A convert will tell you: 'I have read, I have reasoned, I have willed, but I could not accept it; and one day, without knowing why, at the corner of a street, beside my hearth, I changed, I believed . . . and what took place within me at the moment of my final conversion is absolutely different from what preceded it, . . . You remember the two disciples who were going to Emmaus.'"5
Infused faith, therefore, is like a higher spiritual sense, like an infused sense of music which makes one hear the heavenly harmony of divine revelation. And so, in truth, "faith is the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not" (Hebr. 11:1). In this way we see how its firm certainty, which excludes every deliberate doubt, is, in spite of its obscurity, far above that moral certainty which one normally gains from a study of apologetics.
From this it follows that the loss of infused faith is the cause of very great unhappiness. Faith, however, is lost only by a mortal sin directly contrary to faith itself. A sin against the external profession of one's faith Peter's sin, for example, during the passion of our divine Lord would not be sufficient.
Even in the state of mortal sin this faith remains very firm, but in that case it is called informis or dead i.e., not enlivened by charity. Thus, for example, works of mercy performed in that dead state are called "dead works." When faith is informed by charity it is called a living faith, and when it is perfected by the inspiration of the gifts of wisdom, understanding, and knowledge, it is called faith illuminated by the gifts, a faith which is penetrating and discerning, the contemplation of things divine.
We find a confirmation of this doctrine in the passive purification of the spirit, in which we see the profundity of the formal motives of faith, hope, and charity, in that these motives are so infinitely above every other secondary motive, such as the harmony of supernatural mysteries with natural truth and the aspirations of man's heart. This harmony is no longer apparent; it is hidden in a mist, and the motives of the three theological virtues appear as three great stars in the night of the spirit. It would not be of much use then to read a good book of apologetics; but one has to pray to obtain the actual grace needed amid the vehement temptations of this passive purification for an acceptance which is very firm and very meritorious. The soul finds at last its immutable refuge in the authority of God who reveals.
We have said enough of the supernaturalness and infallible certainty of infused faith. Now we shall speak of the spirit of faith or the supernatural spirit.
NOTES TO CHAPTER 1
1. S.T., 2-2, q. 2, a. 2.
2. Ibid., q. 4, a. 5; see q. 4, a. 8.
3. See Ibid., q. 6, a. 1.
4. Ibid., q. 2, a. 2; see q. 4, a. 8.
5. Jean Baptiste Lacordaire, 17' Conference de Notre Dame.