Skepticism

Credo ut intelligam is an axiom of St Anselm, Doctor of the Church, (1033-1109 AD). Understanding the Gospel with assent does NOT precede faith, and never will. Whatever progress we make in understanding the Gospel, incrementally, in our lives, incredibly slowly, is preceded by faith. Faith is required.  Pray for it.  Pray for me.

The reason many people find Christianity bizarre is they try and understand it the same way they understand everything else new, ever, in their lives.  They research it, analytically.   Anselm posits, it will NEVER make sense to anyone that way.  Christian faith is a product of supernatural grace and supernatural faith.  Not natural faith, “I believe in the law of gravity.”  Not mortal grace, whatever that is.  But, a gift, a mystery.  Recall the Catholic use of the word “mystery” is inverse to the English use of it.  Catholic mystery is infinitely knowable. “I believe, so that I may understand.” Help my unbelief, Lord.

“…skepticism…stems from the fear of making a mistake, and is based on its own form of spiritual paralysis and even despair…Reasonable openness to God, then, is a source of spiritual youth in any person or culture…Refusal of the mystery of God makes us the unique masters of ourselves, but also imprisons us within the ascetical constraints of our own banal finitude…Posing questions about God opens the human being up to new vulnerabilities, and therefore also to new forms of happiness that the artificial limitations of skepticism cannot foresee.

Augustine noted that deep-seated skepticism is a luxury item that the true intellectual cannot afford. He points out that belief—faith in what others tell us for our instruction—is fundamental for the intellectual life.17…Concretely, human faith in authentic teachers is nearly always the basis for true growth in understanding…Augustine then draws up a key set of distinctions. On one side, there is extreme skepticism, by which a person remains in a conventional posture, and risks nothing but also can gain nothing. On the other side, there is credulousness, a foolish form of faith by which we mistakenly entrust ourselves to a poor teacher, or even to a true teacher, but fail to understand the material for ourselves, remaining infantilized or rudimentary in our insight. Faith that “merely believes what it ought to believe” is “dead.”18

Between the two extremes is the middle way of “faith seeking understanding,” one that is both human and Christian. We should accept instruction but also examine it critically and studiously, seeking to find the truth in what is said, to test it…Likewise there is a discipline of the mind in becoming a Christian, learning the truth as revealed by God, and developing an intellectual understanding of God’s mystery.

…human beings tend to live “above” the merely empirical dimension of life…So too with the transcendent God, we can learn from Him personally only through faith.19

To receive this instruction requires supernatural faith, which is itself a grace. This grace, as Aquinas notes, is received into the intellect, allowing us to judge that a given teaching comes from God and is about God.20…supernatural faith is like natural trust in a teacher, but it provides something more: direct access to the mystery of God Who reveals Himself to us and teaches us. To seek to know God entails risk, undoubtedly, but it also entails an irreplaceable possibility: that we could truly come to know God personally, find friendship with God, and live with Him by grace. If this possibility is real, and not a mere myth or human conjecture, then it is the greatest of possibilities, and one that we should not dismiss through fear, resignation or complicity with the conventions of our age. As Anselm writes:

“Indeed, for a rational nature to be rational is nothing other than for it to be able to discriminate what is just from what is not just, what is true from what is not true, what is good from what is not good. . . . The rational creature was made for this end: viz., to love above all other goods the Supreme Being, inasmuch as it is the Supreme Good. . . . Clearly, then, the rational creature ought to devote his entire ability and his entire will to . . . understanding and loving the Supreme Good—to which he knows that he owes his existence.”21

The real opposition, then, is not between faith and reason, but between a skeptical reason that is reductive, and a magnanimous, studious reason that engages in faith. Expansive desire for the truth breaks away from conventions, and awakens human beings to our true nobility, against temptations to self-diminishment. The Christian vocation of “faith seeking understanding” is both dynamic and restful. It gives us something greater than ourselves to ponder, and takes us out of ourselves toward God as our teacher. But it also allows us to know ourselves as rational beings, able truly to ask and even answer the deeper religious questions. Faith therefore creates a learning community. The Church is a place where human beings have the conviction to patiently seek the truth together, in a shared life of charity, one that is both cosmopolitan and personal, both reasonable and religious, both philosophical and theological. This communion in the truth is made possible, however, only because people have first accepted to be apprenticed to revelation through a common effort of learning the truth from Another (i.e., God), Who is the author of Truth, and from one another.”

-White, OP, Rev. Thomas Joseph (2017-09-13T23:58:59). The Light of Christ: An Introduction to Catholicism (Kindle Location 656, 665-667, 679-673, 676-681, 685, 688, 693-694, 696-697, 702-719). Catholic University of America Press. Kindle Edition.

Love & truth,
Matthew

17. Augustine, On the Profit of Believing, pars. 10–13, 22–27.
18. Thus Anselm, Monologion, par. 78, echoing Augustine; trans. J. Hopkins in A New, Interpretive Translation of St. Anselm’s Monologion and Proslogion (Minneapolis, Minn.: Arthur J. Banning Press, 1986).
19. Augustine, Concerning Faith of Things Not Seen, par. 2.
20. Aquinas, Summa Theologiae II-II, q. 1, a. 1; q. 2, a. 1 [hereafter “ST”]. All translations of ST are taken from Summa Theologica, trans. English Dominican Province (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1947).
21. Anselm, Monologion, par. 68.

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