Faith, Act of
FAITH, ACT OF
Faith, the name for the response to revelation, is never faith in the abstract but a human act in a special situation, social condition, and historical period. What characterizes faith at the present time is the forms it takes in the context of contemporary atheism, secularism, and religious pluralism, which, as Vatican Council II's Constitution on the Church in the Modern World notes, put belief to a test and refine it (Gaudium et spes 19–21). The confrontation is partially due not only to the intrinsic difficulty of faith but also to the neglect or failure of Christians to live up to the Gospel ideal of witnessing to Christ. At the same time present-day problems challenge believers to lead a stronger and purer life of faith. The varieties of contemporary atheism grew out of the 18th-century Enlightenment and the declaration of the "death of God," with human reason and freedom declaimed in God's stead. Man is tempted to believe in his own inevitable progress and perfectibility to the point of an assurance that he can create the world and take destiny into his own hands. To this secular "faith" the universe no longer reflects God; he is increasingly irrelevant to and absent from it. Man has passed from a divinized into a hominized world, into a post-Christian or dechristianized age.
Is real faith, then, possible in a secularized age? The secularism begotten of scientific and technological progress and a sense of human mastery of the world can be beneficial to the Christian faith. It no longer identifies God with the once humanly uncontrollable forces of nature. An earlier and less enlightened faith may have hidden rather than revealed the true face of God. The chief object of the Christian faith remains the same—but through secularization God has been made to recede from the world and to appear more transcendent than ever. The act of faith puts a positive construction upon the rise of secular society and seeks the meaning of the Gospel within it. It looks less to the signs of space than to the signs of the times, where God proves himself to be the Lord of history. The Christian draws on the heritage of faith to find the answers to the existential questions of the order, meaning, and goal of life.
While there is the shift away from a medieval Christian view, away from a spatial to a temporal view of reality, the act of faith today is no less intellectual than formerly. Even when it does not grapple with questions of the truth and verifiability of how God rules all things "from above," or with a set of propositions for belief, it still has to perceive and acknowledge the mysterious presence of the living God within the events of time. Man is made more responsible to God for the world and society. He is to trust that the unseen is more real than the seen.
In accordance with the New Testament term for faith, πíστεύειη, which can mean "to rely on, to trust" as well as "to believe," the element of trust looms larger in the life of faith today. Faith involves risk, insecurity, uncertainty, doubt, a Kierkegaardian "leap" into a future that rests with God. It dictates a reliance on the will of the God who knows what is best for human fulfillment. Faith is not only an act of obedience, made once-for-all, but a lifetime commitment to the divine summons. Convinced that the Word of God is trustworthy, the believer faces the unpredictable and incalculable future with courage. He cannot weather the present-day crisis of culture without "a more personal and explicit adherence to faith," which will instill him with "a more vivid sense of God" (Gaudium et spes 7).
The fact that a child is born into a Christian family, baptized, educated in his environment, does not dispense him from making a free, personal, adult life-decision for or against Christ; he will act upon that decision seriously, superficially, or not at all. The ratification is not so much a matter of a single act or acts as of a basic, life-long orientation to the whole of reality with its values, including God, Christ, his Church.
The total and unconditional surrender to God in the act of faith precludes an exclusively intellectualist view but does not exempt the Catholic from orthodoxy (see Vatican II, Dei Verbum 5). It is inaccurate to say that belief stems merely from the will to believe, without consideration of the truths normative for faith. So-called ortho-praxis without orthodoxy will not check the decline or forestall the loss of religious faith. The Catholic ideal is to fuse the two, doctrine and practice: faith ought to be a visible quality of human life, a character development. Genuine faith should affect the whole man and the totality of human living, even if it would be foolish to expect the perfect correlation of belief with life and action.
If faith and secular life are not to be left polarized, then Christians must take the fact of a pluralist world into account. The Christian faith brings home a transcendent way of life rather than a source of theoretical doctrine. A way of life is familial, social, historical, ecclesial. So it is possible for Christians to live together and witness to Christ on the basis of a love-inspired faith. Without disregarding the ecclesial framework of their faith, they must realize they have major interfaith areas where they can live and work for unity of faith. Faith, living and active, leads to the religious experience of love, and love will attract believers spontaneously to the same values, to a sense of what is morally good in interpersonal relationships, to a share in that connatural knowledge which faith and love—the resonance of love in faith's act— make of transcendence, unity, and fidelity.
Bibliography: l. dewart, The Future of Belief: Theism in a World Come of Age (New York 1966). r. panikkar, "Faith—A Constitutive Dimension of Man," Journal of Ecumenical Studies 8 (1971) 223–254. k. rahner, Do You believe in God? (New York 1969). b. sizemore, jr., "Christian Faith in a Pluralistic World," Journal of Ecumenical Studies 13 (1976) 405–419. p. surlis, ed., Faith: Its Nature and Meaning (Dublin 1972). c. williams, Faith in a Secular Age (New York 1966).