The Fideist's Anathema

Kevin Beckman's picture

It's been said that St. Thomas Aquinas as knew the objections to the faith better than the objectors themselves did. Thomas regretted the medieval Church's tendency to burn heretical books, because he believed that by refuting the strongest arguments for error we can arrive at a better grasp of the truth. For example, the canons of the First Vatican Council declared the following about the nature of God:

  • If anyone says that
    • the one, true God, our creator and lord, cannot be known with certainty
      • from the things that have been made,
      • by the natural light of human reason:

    let him be anathema.

Let that sink in. The Church is teaching us that anyone who denies that the existence of God can be proven by human reason alone is not just wrong but anathema. If we doubt, set aside, or deny the rational preambles to the faith, then hope and charity are robbed of their foundation. Instead they become based on our subjective feelings or experience of the divine, which is characteristic of Modernism. It won't do to say that reason alone can prove that the possibility of God's existence is reasonable. Common sense tells us that since the existence of God does not involve a contradiction, it is possible that he exists. But that is not what the Church teaches. The Church teaches that God's existence is real, not merely possible, and that the reality of God's existence can be reached through human reason alone. If God's existence can be proven through reason alone, then what does it mean to have the supernatural virtue of faith?

Reason cannot demonstrate supernatural truths such as God being a Trinity of persons or the Real Presence in the Eucharist. These are truths revealed by divine revelation and accepted on faith. The act of faith does not rob Christianity of its rational character. Reason must recognize that there are knowable truths beyond its own limits. Reason assents to these truths not because of logical necessity stemming from evidence, but with the supernatural aid of grace. Faith is the supernatural virtue that resides in the intellect. How is it that we learn of the Catholic faith? It is taught to us by other people: our parents, our priests, our catechists, our RCIA instructors, etc.
The fact that there has been a divine revelation to us is knowable through history. The authority of that revelation is also something that can be shown through reason. We don't accept God's authority solely on God's authority. We accept divine revelation as authoritative because of arguments showing that it comes from a God whose authority can be known through an analytical examination of the concept of God. Thus the sources of Catholic authority are grounded on reason. Reason submits to authority because reason itself sees that it must submit. Our grounds for believing rest not on our own limited capacities but in the truth of God's own Being.

Modernism holds that our faith is produced by our subjective feelings and experience of the divine, and that whatever conceptual truths that the intellect holds are just expressions of our feelings. Liberal society finds it gauche to assert that rational certitude is the preamble to faith. We value searching more than finding, doubt more than certitude. It sounds like the more humble position, to value the journey more than the destination, but it is in reality a form of immense pride. What is it we really value when we say we prefer the search to the truth? We value our subjective movements, our ego, more than the Good our intellect and will was designed to find. Faith is the virtue specifically related to our intellect. Tending toward God is hope.
The ground for the certainty of faith lies outside of the believer. For the true believer, this certainty is the most unshakeable of all certainties no matter what his subjective experiences. "Even if I am damned, Christ reigns." Supernatural truth (the Trinity, the Real Presence, etc.) is neither discoverable nor verifiable by reason. The believer must simply receive it and accept it. To believe with Catholic faith - that is, based on the authority of God - is to believe that no argument ever devised or that ever will be devised will ever prevail against the faith. It is to know that every argument ever marshaled against the Catholic faith is false, inconsequential, riddled with contradictions, or readily answerable. Reason cannot lead us to supernatural truths, but it can refute every argument made against them. Are you prepared to solemnly swear that nothing that ever has or ever will be discovered by the light of human knowledge can ever disprove the Catholic faith? If you are not so prepared, then you do not have Catholic faith.


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