Are You Smarter than a Fifth-Grader?
Dominican Brothers of the Province of St. Joseph
You see the computer screen flicker and a blue screen pop up. You read there has been a fatal error. Not knowing what to do, you take out your cell phone and call your brother-in-law.
I think we’ve all had this experience before. In the world today, no one can be an expert in everything. Whether it’s a plumber, an electrician, a mechanic—or your brother-in-law the computer guru—we need to trust experts in different fields. Having faith in matters of human expertise is so normal we hardly think about it. We couldn’t live in society, or pass a single day if we didn’t.
Why does faith make sense? The answer is fairly simple. We look for people who are certified, who have experience, and who know how things work. Since they have “vision” or direct knowledge about their skill or field of expertise, it makes sense to enter into a relationship of trust with them and rely on them.
This is why the Catholic faith also makes sense. The substance of the Catholic faith is above earthly experience. We won’t literally “see” the truths of the faith until we are with God in heaven. But God knows these truths. God “sees” them. And in heaven, we will see them finally. Since we cannot see them now, we have to rely on God’s authority to receive them. This is what St. Thomas Aquinas is getting at in his famous hymn about the Eucharist where he says, “what God’s Son has told me, take for truth I do;/ Truth Himself speaks truly or there’s nothing true.”
This shows us the connection between our personal relationship with God and believing all of God’s truth. This is why the Catechism of the Catholic Church says that faith is first of all “a personal adherence of man to God,” and “at the same time, and inseparably, it is a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed” (CCC 150). Believing in God, we also believe everything He tells us. So the Catechism says that believing means first believing the Person and then believing the truth, “by trust in the person who bears witness to it” (CCC 177).
Jesus Christ Himself—both God and man— revealed the fullness of the truth of God. The apostles handed on the truth of Jesus Christ in its fullness, and entrusted to the bishops of the Church in communion with the Pope the authority to teach in their name. So when we receive the faith of the Church we receive it, “not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:13). For this reason, our personal faith must always completely acknowledge the Church’s faith to be authentic. Perhaps this is why St. Cyprian says, “No one can have God as Father who does not have the Church as Mother” (CCC 181).
As we gaze upon God in faith, let us exclaim that intensely personal and creedal confession of the Apostle Thomas: “My Lord and My God!” (John 20:28).
5 Replies to ““I know Him in whom I have believed.””
First, let me say I enjoy the premise upon which this series is based, but I don’t think this entry measures up. I understand the main point about the necessary connection between the Word of God and its mediation through the Church, but I think that this blog entry oversimplifies faith to a dangerous level, and portrays faith as a list of dogmas requiring mere intellectual assent rather than as a lived experience of Grace.
“The substance of the Catholic faith is above earthly experience”, but the Incarnation makes clear that the substance of the Catholic faith is profoundly connected to earthly experience.
St. Thomas went to great lengths to demonstrate how the faith is, to a certain extent, knowable by individuals–we can and should apply our intellect to come to a deeper understanding of what we believe.
There is an over-arching presumption here that for the initiated but non-ordained, “faith” means simple (uncritical) obedience to the hierarchical magisterium because they have been given direct authority by Jesus. I don’t deny the authority of the magisterium, but Jesus also gave authority and a mandate to all the baptized: we are created by God, in the image of God, for God, and we bear the indelible character of Christian initiation and the responsibility to bring Good News to the world and to build God’s kingdom.
This blog would be appropriate for teaching fifth graders, but in my opinion isn’t likely to convince an adult.
Thank you for your comments. We’re glad that you enjoy the premise of the series, “Are You Smarter than a Fifth-Grader?”
To respond to some of your points:
First of all, faith unites us to God, really. The act of faith actually joins us to God. That is something for all of us to ponder! When we talk about faith, we are talking about the theological virtue, which is infused into the soul. While “dogma” is certainly not absent from the very definition of faith, it is not – to be clear – the formal object of faith. Dogma is part of what that Saint that you quote – Thomas Aquinas – understands as the material object of faith, which are the things revealed by God.
Additionally, faith is a grace. By faith, we are called to participate in the divine action of God working in our souls. Faith calls for our personal response.
You mention obedience. The context is important: for faith, as St. Thomas Aquinas explains, is an intellectual virtue. The obedience of faith can never be seen as a mere obedience of will, if that is what you mean. Our explanation was that the content of the faith must be True. The question we raised was: how do we know what is True? In this sense, we are talking about the revealed truths of the faith, which are found in Scripture and Tradition, whose authentic interpreter is the Magisterium.
Interesting point, but your premise is based on false equivalence. The our faith in the ability of a plumber, electrician, or other earthly expert to perform their function is founded on clear and tangible evidence. The faith of the Catholic religion is not so black and white and requires believing in the ability of something that is not tangible or in earthly form.
Dear “DC Catholic,”
Thank you for your comment.
I think we agree in part, but I’m not exactly sure what you mean by “clear and tangible evidence.”
If you are saying that we trust the plumber because his knowledge is based in his human experience, an experience that we too could gain if we took the time, then I agree that this is different from the Catholic faith. In the post, we stated that “The substance of the Catholic faith is above earthly experience.” We cannot apply scientific tests to our knowledge of God.
That said, we do not want to say that our faith in God is not based on clear evidence in general. Our confidence about our faith is based in the trustworthiness of God, with whom we enter into communion by that faith.
You are correct in my meaning of “clear and tangible evidence”, and I wholly agree with your point that “our faith is based in the trustworthiness of God.” But I argue that your premise detracts from this point and the point of the post in general.
As was stated within the post, “Catechism says that believing means first believing the Person and then believing the truth, “by trust in the person who bears witness to it” (CCC 177).” Yet, this is not necessarily comparable to how we develop “faith” in everyday life (such as faith in the plumber to plumb;) instead I argue that in everyday life, we first believe the truth (i.e. I have knowledge, based on experience, that a plumber can plumb) and then believe the person (i.e. I choose the plumber to plumb because of my knowledge of their ability.)
I find the point I illustrated above is the opposite of the basis of Catholic faith you demonstrate in the post; one first believes in the Person (I choose God because of his knowledge) and then believes the truth (since God knows all, I can believe the Word as true).
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