Rule of Faith

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St. Paul says that the just man lives by faith (Rom 1.17). This means that faith gives a direction to all his activity. His submission to the revealed word of God conditions the whole of his life and affects his attitude to things of this world and the next. In faith there is an immediate contact between God and the individual, and man submits totally to God's revelation.

But the commitment of the individual to God in faith does not mean that there is an interior intuition that determines a man's belief. This was the view of the Modernists (cf. Pascendi; H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, 3484). Private religious experience is important, but revelation comes to man as a member of society. In the pastoral Epistles πίστις (faith) is used more in an objective sense, i.e., the faith that one believes, than in the subjective sense of that whereby one believes (1 Tm 4.1; 6.10; 2 Tm 3.8; Ti 1.13). The source of this faith, this rule of life, is to be found in the deeds and teaching of Christ, and just as originally the message was addressed to all men not in the privacy of their hearts alone but as members of society by the preaching of Christ, so it is today addressed to men in this capacity through the Church.

The Church has the task of preaching the gospel not by adding to it but by expounding it according to the needs of mankind and so bringing sanctification to those who hear the word and obey it. The teaching Church, then, is the rule of faith for all men. It tells them what they have to believe and do to be saved.

In the Early Church. In the first years of Christianity it was natural that there should be drawn up outlines and summaries of Christian belief as a help in the instruction of converts and to give the faithful a simple rule to guide their lives. These formularies varied and at first did not insist on an exact form or words; they were prior to the formulation of set creeds and were known as the "canon of truth" (Irenaeus) or the "rule of faith" (Tertullian). The canon of truth was constant not in the sense of a universally accepted creed or formula of words, but in the sense that the doctrinal content did not vary wherever the Church was found. This was in contrast to the doctrine of the Gnostics, for whom there were several conflicting norms. In several places Irenaeus gave examples of this canon, which was much influenced by the text 1 Corinthians 8.6, belief in the one God the Father and one Lord Jesus Christ. Tertullian's rule of faith was very similar. It was the body of teaching handed on by the Church.

In the early apostolic Fathers there was expressed a primary concern to witness to the traditional faith, and this was manifested in the instructions, preaching, and prayer of the Church. Only later did this rule or norm become a way of distinguishing true doctrine from false. Later, too, a deeper reflection on this simple summary took place, and with men such as Origen one finds the first attempts to penetrate the content more profoundly and to explore its inner meaning. For this work human wisdom and reason guided by the Holy Spirit can be of great help. Such theology has to be guided by the rule of faith in another sense, viz, the preservation of that inner harmony that exists between one truth of faith and another. But important as this reflection may be in the history of Christian thought, the ordinary faithful were content with the rule of faith until the advent of serious heresy meant that the simple rule had to give way to the exact formularies of the creeds.

Scripture and Tradition. The authentic faith is to be found in the teaching and preaching of the Church, which has continued unbroken from the time of the Apostles. Thus the proximate rule of faith suited to all men is this universal teaching of the Church, the living magisterium. But now a further question arises. How does the Church itself know what is revealed? It is under the protection of the Holy Spirit and so cannot err, and yet the decisions of the Church are not arbitrary; they must be reasonable. What precisely are the reasons?

In deciding what is the ultimate rule of faith, the inspired writings have an important and unique place. The Bible has been entrusted to the Church, and it draws nourishment by prayerful meditation on the word of God. The Church has always to be checking its message by the standard of the inspired word so that it can teach nothing at variance with the Scriptures. The very authority of the Church itself is proclaimed in the Bible.

This is not to fall into the error of maintaining that the Scriptures are the sole rule of faith. The Holy Spirit, who inspired the Scriptures, is also with the Church, and it is through the living tradition of the Church that the Scriptures reach man. The Church itself tells men they are inspired; it is the Church that draws men's attention to them and assures men of a right interpretation. Written and oral teaching are really inseparable. Oral preaching of the gospel preceded in time the New Testament writings, but even this oral teaching was focused on the Old Testament writings that found their fulfillment in the deeds of Christ. The New Testament itself appeals to the oral teaching (1 Cor 15.18; Gal ch. 1 and 2; Col 2.6; 2 Thes 2.15; 2 Jn 12; 3 Jn 13; 2 Pt 3.1516).

When listening to the Scriptures in the liturgy or reading them privately at home the individual Christian can gain valuable insights into God's revelation, but these are not sufficient of themselves to constitute a rule of faith. The reformers very much minimized the part of the Church and overstressed the individual response to the Bible, but clearly this experience cannot be the final word, as one needs some authority to tell him what indeed are the inspired Scriptures and how they should be interpreted. Many of the reformers soon realized that the Bible cannot be left to individual interpretation and so soon began to allow for a further rule of faith such as the interpretation of the early Church (thus the convocation of 1571). The question of the canon of Scripture has always been a difficulty for this view.

On the other hand, Counter Reformation theology had to insist very much on the place of the Church and the importance of tradition; it tended to neglect the importance of the Bible. The ecumenical movement has meant there is a better appreciation by all Christians that both the Bible and the Church have their part to play in the rule of faith.

See Also: analogy of faith; article of faith; confession of faith; deposit of faith; dogma; revelation, theology of; tradition (in theology).

Bibliography: j. quasten, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 195765) 8:110203. j. n. d. kelly, Early Christian Creeds (2d ed. New York 1960). Early Christian Doctrines (2d ed. New York 1960). g. h. tavard, Holy Writ or Holy Church (New York 1960).

[m. e. williams]