Certitude of Faith

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Unlike the motives for certitude that characterize the natural and philosophical sciences, the certitude of faith is based on the fact that a truth is revealed by God, who can neither be deceived nor deceive. Such certitude is not based on evidence that is internal to the truth in question but rather on the omniscience and veracity of God, who has revealed. It is of the nature of moral-historical certitude in that it depends upon testimony, but is elevated above this type of certitude since the Person testifying is God. The certitude of faith does not depend upon the certitude surrounding the preambles of faith. Regardless of the rigor of the reasoning employed in arriving at the judgment of credibility or even of credendity regarding the deposit of faith, the act of faith itself transcends such reasoning and remains entirely free, since an act of supernatural faith cannot be made on the basis of natural reason alone. Faith is a mutual and free gift that is exchanged between God and the believer. The act of faith is congenial to the truths of natural reason that are used in explanation or amplification of it but does in no way depend upon them.

Apart from scattered remarks in several of the Fathers, dealing with God's fidelity, the question of the certitude of faith did not receive serious theological consideration until the early Middle Ages. With the scholastics, and especially the commentators on St. Thomas Aquinas, the doctrine of the formal object of faith began to develop until it achieved final form in the definition of Vatican Council I. According to Vatican I, the certitude of faith depends upon two facts: that God has revealed and that He can neither deceive nor be deceived. Once the fact of revelation is recognized (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum ed. A. Schönmetzer (32d ed. Freiburg 1963) 428, 3004, 342026), and the fact that God cannot be deceived nor deceive (ibid., 3008), there results in the believer a freedom from the fear of error that forms the basis for a loving commitment to the content of revelation. The fact that this commitment is free, however, means that it is not compelling in the way that conclusion compels assent once the premises are known. A number of intellectual, nonintellectual, or even unconscious influences may interfere with man on his way to the certitude of faith (ibid., 3876) or in his possession of it. Faith depends on the action of grace both for its inception and for the certitude that follows from it (ibid., 3004, 3015).

See Also: faith; faith, beginning of.

Bibliography: a. chollet, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 190350; Tables générales 1951) 2.2:215568. m. c. d'arcy, The Nature of Belief (New York 1931; new ed. 1958). r. aubert, Le Problème de l'acte de foi (3d ed. Louvain 1958). a. gardeil, La Crédibilité et l'apologetique (Paris 1908). j. pieper, Belief and Faith, tr. r. and c. winston (New York 1963).

[j. p. whalen]