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The Bonds of Faith and Love

October 11, 2012

Over at Patheos, Tim Muldoon has an excellent reflection on his faith and why he chooses it.  He writes, “I choose faith in the God revealed in the life of Jesus, because I understand that faith to be a prerequisite for discerning meaning in the world, and even more importantly for acting in love.”  This. Seventy-times-seven times this.

The faith for which I strive doesn’t give me certainty about the origins of the cosmos or the ultimate destiny of humankind. It doesn’t rid me of doubts, and it doesn’t comfort me.  Instead, faith gives me the grace to give myself to another in love knowing that my love may bear no visible fruit and that it will inevitably break my heart and leave me irreparably broken.  Faith makes it possible for me to love with all my being while understanding only too well that those I dearly love may be taken from me at any moment.  To have this faith is to believe that love has no time constraints and that death does not invalidate the logic of love.  Time cannot constrain love, even if the time to show a lifetime of love lasts only for mere hours or minutes or a moment.

My faith is a response to the inevitability of death, but not because it provides me with a detailed map of all roads in the afterlife.  I cannot say for sure that such a place exists.  Rather, my faith nourishes and sustains my love for those I know will die and those who have passed beyond death’s horizon.  By faith I  affirm the being of friends and family who have passed into seeming nothingness.  By faith I remember and remain devoted to them.

Without faith, love is absurd and foolish.  Through faith, my love has been made eternal; and in my love for those facing death, I discern the face of a humble God.

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  1. October 11, 2012 2:45 pm

    I like this. There’s a quote from the Pope, I think, that I’ve been trying to find again where he said something like “Love means being unwilling to accept the other’s death” or something like that.

    However, I think you have to be careful with the word “certainty” and rejecting it. Faith, by dogmatic definition, is a certain type of certainty. You’ve responded before that “Yes, but I can’t know with the certainty of faith that I personally have faith” and that’s true and has long been recognized theologically. But if you’re going to speak under the assumption of moral certitude that you do have faith, it can be offensive to pious ears to hear you so blithely rejecting its status as certain. Faith admits no doubt, at least according to the strict theological definition of “doubt.”

    I give you the benefit of the doubt that you intend an orthodox sense to these statements, but why use modes of speaking that can scandalize the faithful with novel formulations and redefinitions of the long-standing and commonly understood meanings of words?

    • October 11, 2012 3:51 pm

      I’m not a traditionalist when it comes to diction. All formulations are situated in and products of history. Formulas matter, but ultimately we don’t believe in formulas but in the realities they express that faith allows us to touch.

      The catechism says that faith is more certain than all human knowledge because it is founded on the very word of God who cannot lie. Logically, I accept that, but saying logically that God cannot lie doesn’t mean that I’ve actually heard God or heard God correctly.

      • Agellius permalink
        October 14, 2012 4:10 pm

        “Formulas matter, but ultimately we don’t believe in formulas but in the realities they express that faith allows us to touch.”

        But note that those words themselves are a formula expressing a reality. The reality they express is, we don’t believe in words but in what words say.

        This is a distinction without a difference. If I have a brown cat, and I say, “I have a brown cat”; can you say, “I believe in what that formula expresses, but I don’t believe in the formula”? What would that mean? It would mean, believing that I have a brown cat, but not believing the words “I have a brown cat”. This makes no sense.

        • October 15, 2012 12:15 pm

          The difference is found in the distance between the formula and the expressed/referred to reality. Any language about God, for example, falls infinitely short of the reality of God. Our language about God develops in history, but because there is a difference and a distance between our finite formulas and God’s ineffable being, the reality of God does not develop with our formulas.

          You will notice also that I did not say we don’t believe formulas, but that we don’t *ultimately* believe *in* them. Ultimately, we put our faith, our trust, our belief in God and not in human formulas. We believe the formulas in so far as they direct us toward the Word that language cannot contain.

        • October 15, 2012 6:04 pm

          Maybe. I’m not saying what you say about certainty and doubt is heresy, as I said, I’m actually pretty sure you have a relatively orthodox intent.

          I’m pretty sure all you mean is what the Catholic Encyclopedia article on Faith (read it, people!) readily admits, namely: “The disposition of a believer is that of one who accepts another’s word for some statement, because it seems fitting or useful to do so. In the same way we believe Divine revelation because the reward of eternal life is promised us for so doing. It is the will which is moved by the prospect of this reward to assent to what is said, even though the intellect is not moved by something which it understands” and “temptations against faith are natural and inevitable and are in no sense contrary to faith, ‘since,’ says St. Thomas, ‘the assent of the intellect in faith is due to the will, and since the object to which the intellect thus assents is not its own proper object — for that is actual vision of an intelligible object — it follows that the intellect’s attitude towards that object is not one of tranquillity, on the contrary it thinks and inquires about those things it believes, all the while that it assents to them unhesitatingly; for as far as it itself is concerned the intellect is not satisfied.'”

          But this non-tranquility and non-satisfaction of the intellect, these natural “temptations against faith”…are simply NOT called “doubt” in our tradition, which implies a hesitation or conditionality or non-totality in assent which is a grave sin against faith.

          Given that the Church uses “certainty” and “doubt” in a certain way, with a specific technical meaning, and given that “doubt” is condemned as a mortal sin, as a sin against Faith (and thus worse than almost any other sin, which kill only charity and sometimes hope, but usually not faith)…why would you toss that word around so lightly and with this novel meaning given that it is clearly scandalizing people like Agellius and myself? Are you really so cavalier and arrogant? I don’t think so. Then you should think AND SPEAK “with the Church.” And the Church does not countenance “doubt.”

          Non-tranquility and non-satisfaction of the intellect (and how could our natural intellects ever be satisfied with supernatural propositions prior to the beatific vision? As the article again says: that’s like asking the eye to see a sound! or the ear to hear a color!) are simply not referred to as “doubt.” But by speaking of doubt in such a cavalier way, you may scandalize people into ACTUALLY doubting (ie, withholding total assent or making their act of assent conditional).

      • October 15, 2012 12:13 pm

        Good point, Kyle. As humans it may be easy for us to misinterpret God’s words either in part or in totality. We may not get the fullness of His message but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we haven’t understood the main point. The more we pray on God’s words the more likely we are to read His words correctly.

        • October 15, 2012 6:06 pm

          “1000 difficulties do not equal one doubt.” C’mon people, this is Catholic 101 type stuff. It shouldn’t still be an confounding semantic issue among people attempting to have a conversation in the Catholic context.

  2. crystal permalink
    October 11, 2012 5:55 pm

    Even those who don’t believe in God can love unconditionally and love beyond death.

    • October 11, 2012 8:44 pm

      No crystal, as a Christian I simply put no metaphysical value on the “love” my atheist friends and family members show me. Emotionally nice, I guess, but just sentimentalism without any sort of philosophical grounding that I, as a theist and a Christian, an willing to recognize as valid in any sense.

      • Rat-biter permalink
        October 12, 2012 12:49 am

        If atheists love, that surely is evidence of God’s grace at work in and through them. Is God limited to working only through Christians ?

        • October 12, 2012 11:31 am

          Love that is not Charity is just electric slime in the skull of a leaky bag of blood and bones.

      • Trellis Smith permalink
        October 12, 2012 12:57 pm

        Love can be so parsed? I find it hard to believe people are being nice or merely sentimental in loving the rather insufferable entity that I am nor would I expect to have the competence to place the metaphysical value of love given me other than expect it surely is a sign of grace.
        The opposite of faith is not doubt but certainty as I understand it.”Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1, The greatest sin of the bishops is to insist on prideful certitudes rather than to subsist in the ambiguties of faith.
        Doubt is not a scandal to the faith but a necessary tonic, a pruner of our bourgeois petty certainties and our boxing in of that which surpasses all understanding.
        Ultimately, faith for Christians is not about believing in a set of doctrinal statements but an experience of trusting in Christ who is the Substance of things hoped for, the evidence of the things not seen.

        • Rat-biter permalink
          October 12, 2012 6:38 pm

          “Love can be so parsed ?”

          ## I don’t see how it can be.

          “Ultimately, faith for Christians is not about believing in a set of doctrinal statements but an experience of trusting in Christ who is the Substance of things hoped for, the evidence of the things not seen.”

          ## Exactly, And even they can get in the way of trusting in Him.

        • October 13, 2012 3:38 pm

          From Catholic Encyclopedia on “Doubt”:

          “The faith demanded by the Christian Revelation stands on a different footing from the belief claimed by any other religion. Since it rests on divine authority, it implies an obligation to believe on the part of all to whom it is proposed; and faith being an act of the will as well as of the intellect, its refusal involves not merely intellectual error, but also some degree of moral perversity. It follows that doubt in regard to the Christian religion is equivalent to its total rejection, the ground of its acceptance being necessarily in every case the authority on which it is proposed, and not, as with philosophical or scientific doctrines, its intrinsic demonstrability in detail. Thus, whereas a philosophical or scientific opinion may be held provisionally and subject to an unresolved doubt, no such position can be held towards the doctrines of Christianity; their authority must be either accepted or rejected. The unconditional, interior assent which the Church demands to the Divine authority of revelation is incompatible with any doubt as to its validity.”

  3. Jordan permalink
    October 12, 2012 1:03 am

    As this is my last post, I want to thank the authors and contributors for very interesting conversations over the months I have read VN. I apologize for my frequent, verbose, and unproofread posts.

    I am entirely unsure that I understand the love of which Prof. Tim Muldoon speaks. I agree with Muldoon that discernment of the divine plan and the impetus to love well always proceed from the choice to accept divine revelation. Ideally, for most persons human love, both affective and sexual, are freely chosen and given as Catholics believe according to a divine plan. And yet, for God’s select vintage, homosexuals, human love is inescapably contingent on heterosexual experience.

    This last point, in perhaps unfairly broad strokes, summarizes my interpretation of Muldoon’s many posts on orthodox Catholic sexual and marital morality. I cannot do justice to his extensive and well thought out exposition of marital affective love and sexuality. Still, consider what Muldoon writes in his Patheos post “Gay Marriage and the Gamaliel Moment“:

    In such a context, the faithful friendships of gay people represent one kind of healing, a kind that many Christians fail to recognize as rooted in love. For a faithful friendship is better than the kind of transient sexual experiences that so many experience today. (2)

    The context of which Muldoon speaks is this: homosexual friendship is superior to heterosexual promiscuity because of the ability of homosexual friendship to surpass the mere physical pleasure of casual (hetero)sexuality. In the first page of his post, Muldoon speaks eloquently of the need to turn the question of gay marriage from the objectification of gay people and towards sexual brokenness in the heterosexual experience. Muldoon, then, is certainly no bigot. He understands what many Christians cannot or will not admit — that affective (not necessarily sexual) love between two men is quite real. I have experienced it myself quite intensely. I suppose that it is no less powerful than heterosexual attraction.

    I have long suspected that the cycle of victimization in the Church towards gay people (and even worse, violence by homophobic gay clergy and laity towards other gay Catholics) stems from a very dread realization derived directly from the contingency of homosexuality. Few Catholics want to say what Catholic sexual ethic has always demanded of gay people: the homosexual must crush his eros so that the married might not be scandalized and neglect their sacramental duty. This dread realization is my greatest block to the trust in faith which necessarily precedes Christian love. I would rather have my heart torn from me Azteca-style, still beating, than surrender the notion that my eros has no proper end. Why does God deserve my allegiance is he has created me only to live in frustration? What Father would watch his son be quartered and nailed to a stake?

  4. Trellis Smith permalink
    October 12, 2012 4:34 pm

    @ Jordan. I hope at the very least this would be the last post you will comment on and not your last comment. In any event, fond farewell. There is always an element of uncertainty in a life of faith that requires and open and curious mind. Any significant course of action in faith, indeed in life is marked by curiosity and risk. To take this risk requires courage. What we call religious certitude, nailed down in some ancient bronze age and for all time is not faith but dogma and it is all about safety and security. It is the sure shelter of the fundamentalists who CS Lewis describes as having the mentality of a dog, wherein you point at something in the distance and he looks at your finger!
    The turning point for most religious gays and lesbians is similar to that of an often cited situation faced by Mark Twain’s Huck Finn who believes that if he were to aid the escape of Jim the runaway slave he will go to hell. Jay Michealson describes the moment where Huck realizes that “he has befriended Jim, the runaway slave, and cannot turn him in. So, Huck decides at a pivotal moment in the book, “I guess I’ll go to hell, then.” That moment, of course, is not damnation but salvation. It is the birth of a mature conscience.”
    It is a moral act of courage, a leap of faith.

    • Rat-biter permalink
      October 12, 2012 6:41 pm

      Seconded – every word. (Not that anything needs adding to that post)

    • Jordan permalink
      October 14, 2012 11:10 pm

      re: Trellis Smith [October 12, 2012 4:34 pm]

      Huck’s sudden recognition of Jim’s absolute human dignity is also a vow to partake of Jim’s untouchable status. LGBT persons or any other persons marginalized by some Catholics must likewise embrace their untouchability in the quest for personal integrity. Indeed, the marginalized must magnify their untouchability until an unbreakable integrity overtakes the objectification imputed by the self-righteous on Others. The integrity of a person who refuses to be objectified is often more righteous than a person who believes that a facade of works-righteousness or a veneer of orthodoxy grants gravitas.

      A personal recognition of one’s untouchable status does not grant license to intimidate prejudiced persons. I have often wanted to say to a Catholic spouting platitudes and pitiful phrases about LGBT people, “just say the words you want to say to my face”. To paraphrase Lucinda Williams, the Damascus of a prejudiced person’s meeting cannot arrive from without. Often, prejudiced persons cannot resolutely turn towards reconciliation until the advent of a wholly self-actualized recognition of common human dignity. Most painful for not a few LGBT persons are encounters with others “in the tribe” who peak gaydars but all the while spout the worst homophobia. And yet, even those who despise their sexuality only to victimize others must wait upon their Damascus as well. An integrity born from a marginalized person’s intimate knowledge of untouchability opens an aperture onto possible reconciliation with even the most bitter persecutors.

      Kyle writes, “without faith, love is absurd and foolish.” I would counter that without personal integrity, faith is impossible. Respect for the self is the necessary precursor to the personal reconciliation which precedes the Temple sacrifice.


  5. Agellius permalink
    October 14, 2012 4:12 pm

    Frankly I can’t make heads or tails out of this post.

    You say what faith doesn’t do: It does not give certainty about the origins of the cosmos; it does not give certainty about the ultimate destiny of humankind; and it does not rid you of doubts; also it does not comfort you.

    First of all: Faith in what? Presumably in this context (a Catholic blog), you mean Catholic faith. But according to the Church’s teaching, faith does give certainty about the origins of the cosmos and the ultimate destiny of humankind; it does rid you of doubts; and it does comfort you.

    So apparently by “faith”, you are not referring to Catholic faith. So what faith do you mean?

    • October 15, 2012 12:34 pm

      Faith in what?

      In God, in the love of God, in the possibility of our participating in that divine love.

      But according to the Church’s teaching, faith does give certainty about the origins of the cosmos and the ultimate destiny of humankind; it does rid you of doubts; and it does comfort you.

      Does it? The Church has it that God has revealed (through myths and images and metaphors) truths concerning how the universe came to be and where ultimately it is headed, but this revelation doesn’t provide certain knowledge (apart from the logical certainty one would have that God, being God, cannot lie). We’re still in the dark about these matters, which is why we need faith. If you can see the path before you perfectly and have certainty of the course, then there’s no need for faith. You need faith to step into the darkness and continue on. As courage isn’t fearlessness, but the fortitude to face and overcome one’s fears; faith isn’t certainty, but the fidelity to God when God is unseen.

      • October 15, 2012 1:22 pm

        Okay, then what do you mean by “certainty.” Supernatural Faith is an infused habit. In other words, it is primarily a habit of the WILL (a virtue), not some sort of epistemological state of the Intellect. Of course Faith is not Vision, that’s the whole point. But it nevertheless provides absolute certitude in the sense of being a habit/choice which (unless revoked by God to punish intellectual pride) assures a choice to assent with no “conditions.” That is what certitude means; that the assent is unconditional (or, rather, conditional only on the assumption of the authority of God in revealing something).

        • October 15, 2012 5:06 pm

          Epistemological surety.

        • October 15, 2012 5:53 pm

          Gah! Then what is “surety”??

          That seems like a philosophical “ghost” created by words. If something is to be defined like that, it ultimately has to be defined in a “behaviorist” way. In other words, what does it mean for how we act. What does it “look like.”

          Faith is considered absolutely certain in theological language, because the choice of faith is a choice to assent (to act and speak and think in accord with that assent) that is unconditional. In other words, it is a leap holding nothing back; there can be no “hedging of bets” or conditionality (“well, IF this happened, I’d act or think differently…”) as with less certain opinions.

          Faith is unconditional, and in this sense is absolutely certain, because all “certainty” (or “surety”) means is that we ACT on a proposition with no hedging of bets or keeping of other options open, but go forward with full and total gusto. Faith is an act, the will moving the intellect to think and speak a certain way regarding “truth,” and that act, that choice…is an act of TOTAL commitment in supernatural Faith.

          And this is “certainty.” That’s what being “sure” means, it means we act (intellectually, at least) with no conditions or hedging or withholding for alternatives.

        • October 16, 2012 11:12 pm

          Disagree strongly. It’s possible to give full assent to an act in the name of X while uncertain, epistemologically-speaking, that X is true. Martyrdom, for example, doesn’t necessitate a soul free of all doubts and uncertainties. It necessitates rather an act of faith. One can choose X with full gusto even while granting theoretically that the truth could be otherwise.

        • October 17, 2012 5:30 pm

          Of course a martyr is free of uncertainty! Martyrdom is the ultimate act of certainty, for it means “following through” with assent even in extremis.

          I’m not sure what “granting theoretically that the truth could be otherwise” has to do with certainty one way or the other.

  6. trellis smith permalink
    October 15, 2012 2:56 am

    All I can say in response to the quote from the Catholic encyclopedia is that it is a categorical error and that in the prescence of such certainity one wouldn’t need faith at all. Tennyson’s famous quote summarizes it well for me in that “There lives more faith in honest doubt,.. than in half the creeds.” We are at the heart of it faced with a paradox.

    Ultimately it is not faith as Mr. Cupp’s otherwise admirable post suggests. “without faith love is absurd and foolish..” that is prime but with St.Paul, I recognize what is greatest and non negotiable is love.

    • October 15, 2012 1:29 pm

      Charity, not just “love.” But supernatural charity assumes supernatural faith (though, the theologians would traditionally also admit the existence of a natural charity based on natural faith) because charity isn’t just “loving someone” nor even “loving someone for their own sake” but rather “Loving someone for God’s sake” and that, of course, assumes belief in God. If someone cannot love me for God’s sake, then they’re loving me either for their sake or for my sake or for “humanity’s” sake…and all of that is worthless to me.

      As for certitude, see my response to Kyle above. I think there may just be a semantic disagreement over how the words “doubt” and “certitude” are traditionally used by the theologians. (Though, as I said right off the bat: Catholics should use terminology in a Catholic way to prevent such scandal and confusion!!!)

      “Certitude” isn’t a claim about the intellect only, but about a habit of Will. As the same Catholic Encyclopedia article says, “And here it should be noted that, as St. Thomas says repeatedly, the intellect only assents to a statement for one of two reasons: either because that statement is immediately or mediately evident in itself — e.g. a first principle or a conclusion from premises — or because the will moves it to do so. Extrinsic evidence of course comes into play when intrinsic evidence is wanting, but though it would be absurd, without weighty evidence in its support, to assent to a truth which we do not grasp, yet no amount of such evidence can make us assent, it could only show that the statement in question was credible, our ultimate actual assent could only be due to the intrinsic evidence which the statement itself offered, or, failing that, due to the will. Hence it is that St. Thomas repeatedly defines the act of faith as the assent of the intellect determined by the will.”

      The certitude of the Act of Faith (note: faith as an ACT, of the will, not as some immediately evident intellectual state) means a choice (an infused grace) of assent is given which is UNconditional. Or, rather, as I said, it’s conditional only on the assumption of God’s Authority alone.

      • trellis smith permalink
        October 16, 2012 3:12 am

        Simply put the three theological virtues are gifts of infused grace upon which no human effort can be made to obtain them. To be able to love one’s neighbor unconditionally (even conditionally) is evidence to me of an infused grace in whoever manifests this love, whether or not an agnosticism or atheism manifests itself as well.
        “Even if a unity of faith is not possible, a unity of love is”- H.Balthasar
        I don’t see St. Thomas contradicting this in any meaningful way.
        In that God is Love and all love emmanates from God then of course per the two commandments we would Love God for his sake and (as the second is like the first) we would love our neighbor(and our enemy) as ourselves most perfectly because of our love for God.
        The irony is of course that the second takes precedence over the first because the only way to manifestly obey the first commandment is to obey the second.”Whoever says, “I love God,” but hates his brother is a liar. The one who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love the God whom he has not seen.”

        Yet how do we see and love our brother, our lovers, our friends or enemies. I imagine differently to be sure, and imperfectly most likely as I am uncertain that unconditional love can only be a divine trait But again as Balthasar maintains -If God wishes to reveal the love that he harbors for the world, this love has to be something that the world can recognize, in spite of, or in fact in, its being wholly other. The inner reality of love can be recognized only by love.- St. Thomas may define love other then friendship with God as mere passion, but Scripture would not restrict the love of God but encompass all its manifestations-paternal and maternal,brotherly and sisterly,agapic and erotic love even the love of nature and beauty in all things. In some ways we cross paths defintionally and categorically but I don’t see Balthsar’s defintions upon which I may be relying(conscious or not) or formulations as less catholic though perhaps less Thomistic. But the formulations have real immediate implications if you were to dismiss simple acts of love or even feelings of goodwill of family or friends or strangers as not manisfestations of the biblical imperative based on an interpretation of Thomistic formulations. That would be the real scandal.
        As to faith I think again the divergence is categorical. There is a “hardness of heart’ that will fully reject the free gift of grace and its infused virtue of faith which can rise to the moral perversity cited in the article.
        But to me the article overstates as it oversimplifies and doesn’t speak in any proximity to the the lived reality of faith and to what I and others speak. Yes an act of faith is a sure and certain infusion of divine grace. Huck Finn’s recognition of his fate in his choice to preserve another is such an infusion of grace as is the quintessential act of faith, at the Annunciation, in the assent of Mary “full of grace”.
        But again as Mr.Cupp has commented that the full parameters were not marked out even for her as she as we ”see through a glass darkly” We can hope that we can act with the courage and faith of a young girl despite our doubts and even the hardness of our hearts.

  7. Agellius permalink
    October 15, 2012 2:44 pm

    Kyle writes, “Ultimately, we put our faith, our trust, our belief in God and not in human formulas. We believe the formulas in so far as they direct us toward the Word that language cannot contain.”

    Yeah, I get that. But I still think you’re pitting them against each other unnecessarily. You place them on a continuum in ascending order of priority: First the teaching, then the reality the teaching points to: The latter is more important than the former, and true faith focuses on it rather than the other. But looked at the other way around, the reality that the teaching points to, is what underlies the teaching and makes it credible in the first place. Placing our faith in the teaching is precisely *how* we place our faith in the reality.

    For example, the teaching “God is infinite” comes nowhere near the infinitude that it expresses. But we can never grasp that infinitude regardless. We believe in it based on faith in the formula that expresses it, which in turn is based on faith in the reality (Christ) which undergirds the teaching. It’s faith in that reality that *causes* us to place our faith in the teaching. You can’t place less faith in the teaching than in the reality, since in lessening your faith in the teaching, you simultaneously lessen your faith in the reality which is the source of the teaching.

    • October 15, 2012 5:17 pm

      I’m following the catechism (170): “We do not believe in formulas, but in those realities they express, which faith allows us to touch. All the same, we do approach these realities with the help of formulations of the faith which permit us to express the faith and to hand it on, to celebrate it in community, to assimilate and live on it more and more.”

      “Belief in” formulas ultimately results in a fundamentalist dogmatism, in which devotion is given not to the realities expressed, but to the precise human wording as if it encapsulated the things themselves. It is because our faith is not in formulas that we can have a vibrant development of doctrine.

      • October 15, 2012 6:11 pm

        That development only expands or extrapolates though, it doesn’t downright overturn or contradict. By using “doubt” in this new post-modernist sense, you are advocating something the word for which (“doubt”) has been outright condemned as a mortal sin against faith. That does not seem to respect the traditio (which does take place in words and formulas), and seems needless given that there are already traditional ways for describing the phenomenon you intend to indicate (“difficulty” rather than “doubt,” for example). To do that defiantly just seems scandalous.

        • grega permalink
          October 16, 2012 9:30 am

          :) A Sinner I can not put my finger on it but somehow I get the sense that deep down you are full of doubt – it might be intellectually much more honest to allow such doubt and than see where it takes you – I certainly doubt that the creator of the univerese would have any bone to pick with you for not at least.

        • October 16, 2012 4:14 pm

          One can’t have doubt “deep down” because doubt, in Catholic terminology, is an ACT, a free choice.

        • October 16, 2012 5:18 pm

          “Difficulty” doesn’t quite capture the difficulty. Contra your insistence, “doubt” is a broad term that can indicate a variety of meanings, some theological, some philosophical, some psychological and so forth. I get that being rooted in the tradition is your thing, A Sinner, but your insistence in my using “doubt” in a very narrow theological sense lest I cause scandal isn’t traditionalism; it’s fundamentalism.

          Let me try to state the difficulty in a nutshell: knowledge presupposes consciousness, but, as modern psychologists, philosophers, and others have shown, consciousness itself is uncertain and dubious, extraordinarily complex and altogether mysterious. Consciousness seems to be reliable, usually, but the prospect of false consciousness looms, especially when we step into realms like our beliefs and opinions and our motivations. I am a mystery to myself. An elusive and unsolvable mystery! I may, really, be otherwise than I think I am. So too may be the world. So too may be what I think I believe about God and the Church. Since, beginning with consciousness, I cannot be certain, I must, beginning with consciousness, choose to have faith in order to get moving and get anywhere. I am doubtful of the reliability of consciousness and what it seems to tell me; instead I have hope and faith that it guides me true.

      • trellis smith permalink
        October 16, 2012 3:31 am

        Excellent. If only I could be so succinct in defining hersey.

        • October 16, 2012 7:32 pm

          But no one claims Faith is “knowledge”…”certainty” refers to a habit of behavior , of choices, of acts. I’m not even sure what intellectual certitude without reference to the will would even mean. But there’s no need to deny cognitively meaningless concepts; they deny themselves.

        • Trellis Smith permalink
          October 16, 2012 8:14 pm

          In some ways you underscore A Sinner’s point, at least in the greater certitude of the act,the unconditional leap of Faith as it is as certain as anything we could experience and as it is an eternal attribute it possesses the unchanging ultimate certitude of the Divine. But that eternal attribute and the certitude it entails is the virtue of Faith itself and not in a certitude of he who believes. A believer, who before an act of Faith doubted his prior beliefs or after discarded aspects of the faith that inhibited his growth into a deeper conversion.How else would we grow in Faith?.. I feel pretty free in saying what I believed in prior was not correct given my current understanding.

          From Summa Article 8. Whether faith is more certain than science and the other intellectual virtues? Objection 1:…Now understanding, science and also wisdom are free of any doubt about their objects; whereas the believer may sometimes suffer a movement of doubt, and doubt about matters of faith
          Reply:This doubt is not on the side of the cause of faith, but on our side, in so far as we do not fully grasp matters of faith with our intellect.

  8. Ronald King permalink
    October 16, 2012 10:15 am

    Excellent discussion. I am going to miss your comments Jordan. We are wired for love and that love can only develop within an environment which responds to the distress of the developing being with a disposition of a secure and safe expression. This creates a bond of safety and this sense of safety at this primitive level of attachment plants the seeds of faith and begins hard-wiring the brain to develop the foundation of an identity which senses value in self and others. This is the beginning of love and faith. However, since we are created for perfect love we are always left with some experience of an absence of that perfect love, which then may plant the seeds of doubt. This is all perfectly natural in being human. The safer the bond to our primary caregivers the safer it is to express our distress and doubts to the other with the result being an even deeper and more rewarding bond which eventually is verbalized as love. This is a faith which develops from love. Empathy and intellect develop according to this foundation. What I have described is very complex in its details.
    When there is the bond of fear in a primary relationship then the developing being will exhibit the corresponding consequences of development to their sense of self, others and faith.

  9. Agellius permalink
    October 16, 2012 1:02 pm

    Kyle writes, “I’m following the catechism (170): “We do not believe in formulas but in those realities they express …”

    OK you got me. I was wrong to take you to task you for pitting the formula against the thing the formula points to, based on that wording alone.

    But the real point of my argument was that you speak as if the formulas expressing our faith may be disregarded, so long as you believe in “what the formulas point to”; for example when you say that faith doesn’t give you certainty and doesn’t rid you of doubts, even though the Church’s formulas say clearly that it does.

    The quote you use against me from the Catechism, is quoting St. Thomas. In the same article from the Summa from which this quote is taken, is the following:

    “Faith is a mean between science and opinion. Now the mean is in the same genus as the extremes. Since, then, science and opinion are about propositions, it seems that faith is likewise about propositions; so that its object is something complex.”

    He says that although our faith does not terminate in propositions, nevertheless faith is about propositions from our perspective, since we can’t know the ultimate object of faith directly. Thus in the same vein he says, “Accordingly the object of faith may be considered in two ways … Secondly, on the part of the believer, and in this respect the object of faith is something complex by way of a proposition.”

    Since you got me started on St. Thomas, under the article, “Whether the articles of faith are suitably formulated?”, against the objections that they are not suitably formulated he says this: “On the contrary stands the authority of the Church who formulates the articles thus.”

    And under the next article: “The universal Church cannot err, since she is governed by the Holy Ghost, Who is the Spirit of truth: … Now the symbol [the Creed] is published by the authority of the universal Church. Therefore it contains nothing defective.”

    This is basically the same as my argument above, where I say that we demonstrate our faith in God by placing our faith in the Church’s teachings.

    Regarding doubt and certainty, in another article under the same question he says, “[T]he intellect assents to something, not through being sufficiently moved to this assent by its proper object, but through an act of choice, whereby it turns voluntarily to one side rather than to the other: and if this be accompanied by doubt or fear of the opposite side, there will be opinion, while, if there be certainty and no fear of the other side, there will be faith.”

    Clearly pitting doubt against faith: when someone persists in doubt then all he has is opinion; whereas when he has faith there is certainty.

    “Because science is incompatible with opinion about the same object simply, for the reason that science demands that its object should be deemed impossible to be otherwise, whereas it is essential to opinion, that its object should be deemed possible to be otherwise. Yet that which is the object of faith, on account of the certainty of faith, is also deemed impossible to be otherwise; and the reason why science and faith cannot be about the same object and in the same respect is because the object of science is something seen whereas the object of faith is the unseen, as stated above.”

    Science and faith are equally certain, the only difference being that science is certain about things that it sees, whereas faith is certain about what is unseen.

    All of the above quotes are from “Question 1: Faith”, which may be found on this page:

    • October 16, 2012 5:22 pm

      With respect to St. Thomas Aquinas, I have to disagree with him here about certainty. For as to why, permit me to state again what I wrote above in another conversation: knowledge presupposes consciousness, but, as modern psychologists, philosophers, and others have shown, consciousness itself is uncertain and dubious, extraordinarily complex and altogether mysterious. Consciousness seems to be reliable, usually, but the prospect of false consciousness looms, especially when we step into realms like our beliefs and opinions and our motivations. I am a mystery to myself. An elusive and unsolvable mystery! I may, really, be otherwise than I think I am. So too may be the world. So too may be what I think I believe about God and the Church. Since, beginning with consciousness, I cannot be certain, I must, beginning with consciousness, choose to have faith in order to get moving and get anywhere. I am doubtful of the reliability of consciousness and what it seems to tell me; instead I have hope and faith that it guides me true.

      • Ronald King permalink
        October 16, 2012 6:54 pm

        Kyle, Do you believe there is a difference between being conscious and self-aware?

        • October 16, 2012 11:14 pm

          Consciousness is broader than awareness, yes? We can speak also of the subconscious and the unconscious, in which cases we leave the field of awareness.

      • October 16, 2012 7:26 pm

        But you don’t disagree with him, really, because he defines faith as choice too. Indeed, the difficulties with knowledge that you point out aren’t some new discovery, they’ve always been addressed by Catholic epistemology. The problem Agellius and I see is refusing to speak of these things in the way the Church does. The Church means something by “certainty” and by “doubt” that seems to be different than what you intend. Yet you keep insisting on these controversial words

        • October 16, 2012 11:36 pm

          Catholic epistemology has long recognized the limits of our knowledge; Socrates got there even earlier, but the modern human sciences, especially studies of the subconscious and the ways in which our thoughts are not our own but rather heavily products of culture and history, have shined new light on just how shaky our grasp on reality is.

          I’m far from convinced that the Church’s usage of “certainty” and “doubt” are as restrictive as you claim–“Help my unbelief!”–but even granting that the narrow meanings you insist on are a part of the tradition, so what? These are words that have significance in multiple fields. For all its glory, the Church doesn’t get to be the dictatorial dictionary for all use of language. Quite the opposite, in fact. The Church has always had the wisdom to learn and adopt the language of other fields of knowledge.

          For my part, I’m not refusing to use these words in your narrow senses: I’m pointing out that these words have valuable real world meanings besides them. If you want to converse with the world–a prerequisite for evangelization!–then you can’t limit yourself to using words in ways not widely shared by others.

        • October 17, 2012 5:22 am

          Their real world meanings are also broader than what Catholic faith allows too. For example, while “doubt” may have a “real world meaning” that indicates merely the non-satisfaction of the intellect in an object not properly its own…it almost certainly ALSO still includes the sense which is a mortal sin; namely, an act of assent that is less than unconditional. Indeed, today, I see many people assuming that they cannot even give assent any higher than conditional opinion to truths that are not self-evident to their intellect. I’d think Catholics would want to address this confusion using our tradition that already has a very robust epistemology that addresses all this. Instead, it sounds like you’re just conceding or even advocating it.

  10. trellis smith permalink
    October 17, 2012 11:53 am

    The tradition and the dogmatic formulas often do more harm than good especially when they are proposed as coming directly from divine relevation.They are culturally conditioned time bound and god forbid relative expressions that cannot be used in absolutist fundamentalist terms even in determining orthodoxy ( necessitating a constant rehabilitation of history). The problem with dogma is that it becomes a juridical code giving the clerical caste something to do as they devise new methods of committing mortal sin and a venial episcopacy shouting in an echo chamber. To the faith we give assent is not to a conformity of thought, to a teaching we grant authority only in so far it is expressed as the art of assisting discovery. All the other crud is just boring.

    • October 17, 2012 5:37 pm

      This sounds like garden-variety Modernism, though, as if “The Faith” is really an “experience” that is constant and the formulas change to preserve that experience in any given age.

      In reality, the Catholic Faith is the opposite: the dogmas remain constant and the experience changes in each age.

      I’d much rather have the objective sphere remain absolute and then be allowed diversity in the matter of experience…than have only one “experience” considered real and altering everything so that people have the same experience.

      • trellis smith permalink
        October 18, 2012 2:22 am

        Actually its a garden variety catholicism that is from the Oriental churches where culturation and semantic barriers have indeed brought it into conflict with the holy office. These churches hold the core dogmas of the faith but reject the concept of unchanging unmediated formulations thereof. A constancy of dogma or the experience is a foriegn metaphysical conception

  11. Agellius permalink
    October 17, 2012 1:15 pm

    Kyle writes, “…consciousness itself is uncertain and dubious… I may, really, be otherwise than I think I am. … So too may be what I think I believe about God and the Church,” etc.

    It’s fine if you just want to say that everything alike is fundamentally uncertain, and use that as your baseline. Nevertheless in relation to that baseline, everything is more or less certain. Basically, you just preface every statement you make with something like, “[I’m not sure that I’m actually conscious while saying this, but assuming that I am] I love you.”

    So if you want to say “[I’m not sure that I’m actually conscious while saying this, but assuming that I am] I believe in God, the Father almighty…” etc., I wouldn’t necessarily have a problem with that. At least in that case the uncertainty is not with any fact in particular, but with reality in general. Thus you would not be denying the certainty of the doctrines of the Church in particular. Which is good since the Church’s teaching simply doesn’t allow you to do that and remain a faithful Catholic.

    But actually, in a way you are doubting the doctrines of the Church in particular, since you go around insisting publicly that you cannot have certainty of the truth of the Church’s teachings — yet you express no uncertainty as to the doubtfulness of consciousness. In that regard you apparently place complete, unreserved trust in the showings of “modern psychologists, philosophers, and others” — evidently certainty is possible after all! — yet decline to place your trust to the same degree in the teachings of the Church.

    Any way you slice it (this is not personal, just an assessment of what you’re saying), it seems to me that the evidence points to you lacking faith, by definition. As St. Thomas writes (and there’s no reason to think the Church disagrees with him): “[I]f this [assent] be accompanied by doubt or fear of the opposite side, there will be opinion, while, if there be certainty and no fear of the other side, there will be faith.” Since your assent to the Church’s teachings is accompanied by doubt, if falls into the category of opinion, not faith.

    And again St. Thomas writes, “[I]t is essential to opinion, that its object should be deemed possible to be otherwise.” Since you deem it possible that the object of your faith is actually otherwise, this confirms that your “faith” is actually opinion.

    • October 17, 2012 3:44 pm

      On the contrary, Agellius, I have absolute certainty of nothing, not even consciousness. I disagree with Descartes’ “I think; therefore, I am.” At bottom, the assertion “I think” or “I am conscious” is an assertion of faith. All evidence indicates that I do in fact consciously think (how well we’ll put aside), but this evidence actually presupposes that which is seems to prove: consciousness. Now, assuming that consciousness does in fact exist, its study has produced evidence for how it works, and this evidence indicates its unreliability and uncertainty. Is this evidence and conclusion above questioning? Not at all. Like all truth claims, it can and should be questioned. At present, my sense is that consciousness has a double uncertainty: 1) that it exists and 2) that it discloses the world as it really is. In light of this double uncertainty, St. Thomas’s distinction between faith and opinion is much too simplistic and at bottom wrong. Of course, it could be otherwise. Perhaps we can have certainty of consciousness and what is given in consciousness. I’m inclined to think not, but I’ll entertain the arguments.

      • Ronald King permalink
        October 17, 2012 4:31 pm

        Where is the like button?

      • October 17, 2012 5:11 pm

        An amendment: I do agree with Aquinas where he says, “Faith implies assent of the intellect to that which is believed.” I agree also that this assent of the intellect called faith is a choice. It is also worth noting that Aquinas says these things as part of an argument showing that faith is not of things seen by the senses or the intellect. Faith implies the unseen. Where I disagree with Aquinas is with his much too neat divisions of seen/unseen, voluntary/involuntary, and certainty/doubt, divisions that more recent study has deconstructed. I don’t fault Aquinas here, as the structures and functions and overall problem of consciousness were not on his radar.

        • October 17, 2012 5:40 pm

          Consciousness may be whatever. Choice is not. The difference between doubt and certainty there is clear cut.

      • October 17, 2012 5:48 pm

        I’m not even sure how you’re defining “existence” apart from consciousness. “Existence” is what is (at least, potentially) accessible to consciousness. “Reality” for humans is a construct defined, ultimately, with reference to consciousness, or starting from “within” consciousness. “Consciousness exists” is a “by definition,” not a claim or argument. Does it get the world “as it really is”?? In any individual case (hallucination, dreams, etc) not necessarily. But in general? Of course, because there is no “reality” outside consciousness that humans could ever access (because we could only ever access it through or “from within” consciousness.) Speaking of some “really real” that is not accessible to consciousness is just meaningless.

      • Agellius permalink
        October 17, 2012 10:38 pm

        Kyle writes, “Perhaps we can have certainty of consciousness and what is given in consciousness. I’m inclined to think not, but I’ll entertain the arguments.”

        I don’t see how you can entertain arguments about the reliability of consciousness when you’ve already poisoned the well. Now matter how good my arguments might be, you can always say that their seeming validity is itself unreliable. If you’re going to take as your first principle the proposition that no knowledge is certain, are you not proof against being shown otherwise?

        In any event, you say you’re not certain that consciousness is uncertain. Fair enough. But one thing is certain: That you spend more time arguing the that the Church’s teachings are uncertain, than that consciousness is reliable; i.e. you’re evidently more certain of the unreliability of consciousness, than of the truth of the Church’s teachings. So again, you give more weight to the findings of modern psychologists, philosophers, etc. than to the teachings of the Church. Thus I’m still reasonably certain that you lack faith (which, interestingly, you didn’t deny when I said it the first time).

    • October 17, 2012 5:43 pm

      Another problem I have with all this is what I said above: there is no need to deny a cognitively meaningless concept, it denies itself.

      So when I hear you saying something like “assuming consciousness exists”…it just sounds silly. If “consciousness” is a meaningful concept, then it exists. If it is not a meaningful concept, then this whole statement is meaningless.

      Saying you can never be certain of reality…implies simultaneously that “certainty” is both a meaningful concept and an illusion. This makes no sense. If “certainty” is a real phenomenon, then you must be able to have it somehow. If it’s not a real phenomenon, then it’s just a word, syllables with incoherent associations connected to it, and at that point there’s no need to deny it at all, because there is no “it” to deny in the first place.


  1. Why Faith?
  2. Faith and the Afterlife « Catholibertarian
  3. Newman on universal doubt « Agellius's Blog

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