The Apostolate of the Laity

Waxing philosophical in communion with one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

My Photo
Location: Portland, Oregon, United States

I am just a sinner who holds fast to the notion that every human being on the planet is the result of a thought of God.

Friday, February 08, 2008

The Substance of Faith

Describing faith tends to lend itself to the use of subjective thinking. No where does this prove truer than when one examines the reason behind the existence of some 40,000 Protestant denominations who have separated themselves from the Church Christ gave to humanity. Each has fashioned its own take on what faith in Christ really means. The two more common tenets of course are found in the once saved always saved soteriology and the notion that all of God's revelation is found in the King James version of sacred scripture, though interpretation of said scripture waxes on the side of personal opinion of the pastor in charge of whatever ecclesial community he or she leads.

The very notion of a magisterium has no place in a community which holds to an individualistic philosophy on one's relationship with Jesus. There really cannot be a communion as each of its members functions as islands unto themselves with regard to their personal relationships to Our Lord. So their sect of Protestantism functions more as a collective of believers who may share like interests, but still each of her members functions on a fiercely independent basis.

The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me.
(John (RSV) 17:22-23)

Perfectly one. These words from The Christ do not point to a world of 40,000 different opinions. The Savior did not pray that He have an independent relationship with each individual apostle. He asked God for not just unity, but communion itself. The entirety of John 17 cries out for this union between Church and Christ. There remains no room for subjectivity in His desire so eloquently expressed in this perfect prayer for His disciples.

Consider the reality that faith is not just a feeling, an opinion, or a body of knowledge, but actually part of one's very essence with a divine origin. What if faith is not subjective but rather very objective?

In Pope Benedict's Encyclical, Spe Salvi, the Holy Father brings this issue to light by examining the definition of faith as presented in Hebrews 11:1, which translated into English perhaps loses much of its original meaning:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews (RSV) 11:1)

Regarding this passage Pope Benedict teaches:

For the time being I shall leave this central word untranslated. The sentence therefore reads as follows: “Faith is the hypostasis of things hoped for; the proof of things not seen”. For the Fathers and for the theologians of the Middle Ages, it was clear that the Greek word hypostasis was to be rendered in Latin with the term substantia. The Latin translation of the text produced at the time of the early Church therefore reads: Est autem fides sperandarum substantia rerum, argumentum non apparentium—faith is the “substance” of things hoped for; the proof of things not seen.
Pope Benedict XVI - Spe Salvi

Substance. Proof. Those two solid nouns leave little room for subjectivity. Aristotle spent a good amount of time (he didn't have the Internet, television, or video games as distractions) looking into the nature of things. A fundamental building block of his philosophy states that a substance exists in its own right in its natural state. For example a rock is, well, a rock. It doesn't exist as anything else. It might be used to make a wall, but it never stops being a rock.

So when St. Paul states that faith is the hypostasis/substance of things hoped for suddenly this faith takes on a more solid meaning. It loses its subjectiveness that the men of the Reformation tried to give to it, and it takes on a more tangible and even absolute quality. After all, this faith is a gift from God.

The Pope continues:

Faith is not merely a personal reaching out towards things to come that are still totally absent: it gives us something. It gives us even now something of the reality we are waiting for, and this present reality constitutes for us a “proof” of the things that are still unseen. Faith draws the future into the present, so that it is no longer simply a “not yet”. The fact that this future exists changes the present; the present is touched by the future reality, and thus the things of the future spill over into those of the present and those of the present into those of the future.
Pope Benedict XVI - Spe Salvi

From this one sees that the substance of faith has an eternal nature. Faith far transcends a simple default position to explain the unobservable or that which proves difficult to understand. For the Protestant thinker, Christ gets neatly packaged into a past event that one can learn from to apply to today. It even comes with it's own instruction manual, the bible. The hope is that one day He will emerge again and that if one accepts the action of Christ in the past one gains salvation in the future regardless of one's present condition. Jesus in the "now" exists mostly as a symbol of what was or what is to come. Oh, the spirit of Christ might be felt, but as to Our Lord's physical presence among His people, that is reserved for an "on that day."

The Catholic's faith might well be described as the embracing of the continuum of love exchanged between God and his people. It began at the creation of man; it is ever present; and it lasts forever. God became man to suffer with man and take on his sins. He remains ever present in body, blood, soul, and divinity; however a physical vision of Him is veiled by our unglorified and sinful state yet Catholics know that Christ remains actually, physically present through the sacraments He gave to the Apostles.

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood.
(1Corinthians (RSV) 13:12)

So faith is not wishful thinking, but rather an objective understanding of one's own existence in accepting one's communion in the reality of the mystical body of Christ yesterday, today, and forever. Communion with Christ is all that one hopes for. Proof of Him is found in the sacraments of His Church. It is an experience to be lived in the here and now.

Giving the Holy Father the last word:

Thus the word indicates a lived hope, a life based on the certainty of hope. In the New Testament this expectation of God, this standing with God, takes on a new significance: in Christ, God has revealed himself. He has already communicated to us the “substance” of things to come, and thus the expectation of God acquires a new certainty. It is the expectation of things to come from the perspective of a present that is already given. It is a looking-forward in Christ's presence, with Christ who is present, to the perfecting of his Body, to his definitive coming.
Pope Benedict XIV - Spe Salvi


Post a Comment

<< Home