We Have Seen His Glory: a Response to a Certain Philosophical Rejection of the Christian Faith

In a guest post on Artur Rosman’s blog last year, I wrote that I could no more abandon Catholicism than I could “kill my parents with my bare hands and eat their flesh.” But of course “let him who thinks he is standing see to it that he does not fall.” There is nothing absolutely impossible about my falling away from the Faith. Perseverance in the theological virtue of faith is an unmerited grace that can be lost.

An example of such a possibility is the anonymous author of the blog Entirely Uselesswho was a Catholic from a milieu similar to my own, but has through philosophical reflections come to the conclusion that the Catholic faith (and indeed “religion in general” [whatever that might mean]) is not true. In a recent post he makes some personal remarks on his path. I want to say at the outset that I think our anonymous friend is entirely sincere in his thinking. Philosophy is a difficult enterprise for embodied intellects, and the sources of error are numerous. I do not think that he is “foolish, wicked, arrogant, or possessed by demons,” and I am sorry that such insults have been thrown at him. I even find something to admire in the courage with which he has followed the logic of his positions even though they have led to “serious negative consequences for [his] social and personal life,” since he is now seen by many of his friends and relatives as a traitor.

I do, however, want to question one claim that he makes by applying it to my own case. Entirely Useless quotes Gregory Dawes about a ‘ministerial’ use of reason, in which philosophical arguments are used to assist the faith, but are considered a priori not to be able to threaten the truths of the faith. In a previous post he had quoted Dawes at greater length to argue that such a use of reason is unserious:

It follows that while the arguments put forward by many Christian philosophers are serious arguments, there is something less than serious about the spirit in which they are being offered. There is a direction in which those arguments will not be permitted to go. Arguments that support the faith will be seriously entertained; those that apparently undermine the faith must be countered, at any cost. Philosophy, to use the traditional phrase, is merely a “handmaid” of theology. There is, to my mind, something frivolous about a philosophy of this sort. My feeling is that if we do philosophy, it ought to be because we take arguments seriously. This means following them wherever they lead.

Now, there are two points that I would like to make about this. The first has to do with what exactly it means for philosophy to be the handmaid of theology. I certainly hold that she is, but in a slightly different sense from the one expounded by Dawes. Dawes (apparently following a certain interpretation of Luther) thinks that it means that reason an sich is to be the servant of an irrational (or at any rate non-rational) interior testimony of the Spirit. But I would see it rather as unaided reason serving reason aided by grace. The difference may seem to be small, but I think it is actually quite great. On my account faith is a strengthening of the intellectual faculty in us, allowing us to come to some truth that we could not attain without such strengthening (even though the attainment lacks something of the perfection of knowledge in the strict sense). I do not see anything contrary to the dignity of reason for its natural use to be subordinated to its supernatural use.

The second point that I would make would be on Dawes’s claim that to do philosophy seriously one must follow arguments wherever they lead. In a certain sense this is obviously true. But in another sense it is false. As the author of Entirely Useless very well knows, philosophical argument ought to proceed from what is more known to what is less known. It ought to unfold and explain what is contained in our first common conceptions of reality that are the most certain, but at the same time the most vague and confused of the things we know. It ought not to explain them away by means of more distinct, but less certain, secondary conceptions. Thus, for example, Aristotle in the Physics certainly takes the arguments of Melissus and Parmenides on the unity and immobility of being seriously in the sense that he carefully examines their evidence, and tries to see what led them to think thus. But he does not take them seriously in Dawes’s sense. That is, he is not open to being persuaded by their conclusion. And the reason is that the reality of plurality and motion in the world is more known to us than any of the abstract premises from which Parmenides and Melissus are working. There is nothing unserious about Aristotle’s approach. On the contrary there would be something unserious about approaching the question with an agnostic attitude toward the reality of plurality and motion. Similarly, there is something profoundly unserious about Descartes’s project of universal doubt, because it effectively takes certain abstract secondary conceptions as being more known to us than our common experience of the sensible world.

But what about the Christian faith? In one sense the Christian faith is certainly not “more known” than the truths that we know by natural reason. Indeed, in the strict sense of Aristotelian ἐπιστήμη it is not knowledge at all. Nevertheless, it has a property of ἐπιστήμη namely certitude. Whence comes this certitude? Entirely Useless has a great many posts on two kinds of evidence for the Faith: 1) preambles of the faith, that is demonstrations from natural reason for the existence and attributes of God, and 2) external signs of the credibility of Christian revelation, such as miracles, martyrdoms, conversions, consistency throughout the ages etc. Now both of these kinds of evidence are important. The preambles help us to understand the contents of Faith, and have also led certain persons to embrace the Faith (Edward Feser, for instance, was led to his conversion by a consideration of the preambula). External signs of credibility are also important— many persons have been converted or strengthened in their faith by witnessing miracles, for example. But neither of these is the primary source of the certitude of the faith for those who believe.

But nor is such certitude based on an entirely incommunicable interior witness of the Spirit. Certainly it is impossible without such illumination, but what such illumination enables is an encounter with Christ, as a witness who is both external and internal. It enables us to “see His glory.”

Speaking for myself, my certitude rests on having “seen,” that glory. That is— on an encounter with the witness that is of such a kind as of itself to make His witness entirely credible. I know that the author of Entirely Useless has never been much of a disciple of Hans Urs von Balthasar. I disagree with Balthasar on many things myself. But Balthasar’s theological aesthetics seem to me to be quite true and profound on this point (even if sometimes slightly overstated). In vol. 1 of The Glory of the Lord Balthasar refers to a line from the Christmas Preface:

For through the mystery [or sacrament] of the Word made flesh a new light of your glory has shone upon the eyes of our mind, so that, as we recognize in Him God made visible, we may be caught up [rapiamur] through Him in love of things invisible.

To see the glory of Christ is to be moved by that light to love the invisible realities of God, and to believe in them with an overwhelming certitude. Such certitude exceeds the natural power of reason, but it is not therefore irrational, it is the pinnacle of reason in this earthly life, and the faint inchoatio of the eternal vision of God in beatitude.

The glory of Christ is “visible” not only to those who saw Him in His earthly life, but also to those who encounter Him in His Church, through the written testimony of scripture, and even more through the unwritten reflection of His glory in the life, preaching, and sacraments of the Church.

You have not seen him but you love him, and now, not seeing him but believing in him, rejoice, with a joy which is inexpressible and glorious, as you win what is the end of faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8-9)

What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have watched and our hands have felt, concern­ing the word of life; and the life was revealed, and we have seen and attest and announce to you the life ever­lasting which was with the Father and was revealed to us; what we have seen and heard we announce to you also, so that you also may share it with us; and our sharing is with the Father and with his son Jesus Christ. And we write you this so that your joy may be complete. (1 John 1:1-4)

It is no longer because of your talk that we be­lieve; we ourselves have heard, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world. (John 4:42)

Looking at my own life, I can see how easy it would be to consider my approach to these questions “unserious;” as determined not by the evidence, but by my loyalty to my community, as tainted by what I called “confirmation bias.” But to me (as I tried to explain in my Cosmos The In Lost piece), the opposite seems evident. It would be unserious in me to approach arguments based on natural evidence as though they could ever disprove the overwhelmingly powerful evidence of the Faith. Presumably the author of Entirely Useless will disagree. But perhaps we can at least agree on this much: neither of us is “foolish, wicked, arrogant, or possessed by demons.”

30 thoughts on “We Have Seen His Glory: a Response to a Certain Philosophical Rejection of the Christian Faith

  1. By “religion in general,” I meant to say religion as a body of doctrines claimed to be revealed by God. Among other things I added that to exclude the interpretation that e.g. I have become a Protestant.

    I agree with you that you cannot disprove the more known by the less known. On the other hand, such a process would not be following argument wherever it leads, since argument leads from the more known to the less known.

    I read your linked piece. You describe this experience:

    “There is a kind of verification in experience. Living in the Church has awakened a deep desire and longing for God in me, and it has begun to satisfy that desire in such a way that it grows.”

    I lived the Catholic life as well. So I had the same experience, and other similar ones that you speak of. But I disagree with you about the meaning of those experiences, and I think St. Thomas does as well. In one place St. Thomas says, “No one would believe unless he saw a miracle or some equivalent.” Now I think he means “should believe,” not “would believe,” but the basic claim is that a person would not / should not believe unless his external motives of credibility are sufficient to justify the belief. Under your account, that would not be necessary. In fact, St. Thomas even says that it could be a mortal sin for someone to believe in Christ, although the circumstances supposed are not clear, perhaps not only when there is not much evidence available to him in favor of his belief, but also strong evidence against it.

    I do not think there is any substantial distinction between your position and one that claims an incommunicable interior testimony of the Holy Spirit, or between your position and what I have generally called “sola me” on my blog, even if they differ in details.

    It frequently happens with Anglicans that they have a very hard time converting to Catholicism, basically because of the Church’s declaration on the nullity of Anglican orders. This declaration implies that apart from exceptional cases, the Anglican Eucharist is just bread. And for them, that completely contradicts their lived experience. Just as you meet Christ in the Church, so they meet Christ in the Eucharist. And they say, “It is impossible for me to say that it was just bread.” I know of some who continue to say this even after they become Catholic. Nonetheless, the teaching of the Church implies that it was just bread anyway, regardless of their experience.

    You could respond that their experience was of Christ, and they misinterpreted it to imply the Real Presence. But as soon as you allow the possibility of misinterpretation, that possibility will apply to your own case. You may have truly experienced growing close to God; but perhaps it is simply a misinterpretation to suppose that this implies the doctrines you hold concerning Christ.

    This leads back to the idea that I called “sola me.” In order to hold your position, you need to determine exactly what it is that is more known. What does it mean exactly to say that natural evidence cannot disprove the faith? You would probably say that this applies to the divinity of Christ. Does it also apply to the infallibility of the Church? Does it apply to the impossibility of the ordination of women?

    Suppose you say yes to all of those. If the Church then ordains women, what conclusion would you draw? Yes, in the current circumstances you can say that hypothetical is impossible. Nonetheless, sometimes things that we thought impossible happen anyway. If it happened, what conclusion would you draw? Whatever it is, “The Church has not ordained women,” would be the wrong one. So you would be forced, one way or another, to admit that your supposedly more known thing was not more known. And even if this does not happen to you in fact, it does happen to many Catholics who suppose that doctrines are true which turn out to be false. Why should you believe that your judgment is more infallible than theirs?

    Going back to the question of experience, as I said, I experienced the Christian life as well, and I think it provides very good evidence for Christianity. But I do not think it is infallible evidence, nor that it is the thing most known to me.

    You could say that for some reason I never had the real experience, that for some reason it was lacking from the beginning. But what does that imply? That seems to verge on the kind of accusation that you wished to avoid (and thank you for that), since it seems the most likely way that could happen would be by failing to love Christ and his Church. And in fact, most others who have advanced a theory like yours have in fact accused me of being wicked, for that reason.

    On the other hand, suppose I had the real experience. Then what is the difference between us? Why do you think your experience is infallible and I do not think that mine is? I know many who remain Catholic and agree that I am correct about this, and that you are mistaken (including some members of my family.) If you are as one awake among sleeping people (and thus able to know that you are awake), are those other Catholics also sleeping?

    Like

    • Thanks for the thoughtful response. It has certainly made me think— especially the quote from St Thomas about no one believing unless he has grounds for thinking the credenda credible such as miracles etc. I’ve been looking at the commentators on that one. I think that you are right that in my CosmosTheInLost post I neglected that point. I agree that one has to have external reasons for thinking the Faith credible. But I think one ought not to exaggerate this point. I do not think that St. Thomas held that one has to have signs so evident that they amount to a proof of the supernatural authority of the witnesses. Indeed, this would seem to be contrary to what St. Thomas says in another place about how two can see the same miracle or hear the same sermon, and in one it leads to faith and in the other it doesn’t. Cajetan says that sufficient reason for credibility can be found not only in miracles (whether seen immediately or through their effects), but also in the death of martyrs, or simply the authority of the Church (presumably after the manner of “the authority of the wise” in dialectics):

      Quoniam nullus audiens aliquid vere ac prudenter credit illud nisi ad sensum cognoscat a viro fide digno illud asseri. Idem est autem videre hoc asseri aut assertum esse a fide digno, et videre hoc esse credibile: quoniam fide dignum testimonium constituit dictura in esse credibili. Et sicut solis illis qui viderunt nivem evidens est illa propositio, Nix est alba; ita solis illis apud quos iste asserens est fide dignus, et a quibus auditur, evidens est hoc dictum esse credibile. Et propterea stat unum et idem dictum ab uno videri in ratione credibilis et ab alio non : ex eo enim quod evidentia ista non convenit credibili ex parte rei semper, sed quandoque ex parte nostri, ut patet in exemplis datis, ideo variatur in diversis, et exigit aliquam conditionem obiecti in ordine ad nos. Et hoc directe consonat litterae dicenti quod propter miracula testificantia vel aliquid huiusmodi , puta auctoritatem Ecclesiae dicentis vel propter mortem martyrum, credens videt haec esse credibilia.

      Billuart even says that it is OK for young people and “rustics” to believe on no better external evidence than the apparent trustworthiness of a preacher. And I think he is right because the external evidence is not the most profound source of certainty. Although when it is considered in the light of faith it is certainly convincing.

      But the most profound source of certainty is the light of faith itself. And I do think there is an important difference here between the Balthasarian position that I proposed, and a “sola me” position, or an entirely interior and incommunicable prompting of the Spirit. Balthasar argues that the by which we “see” the mysteries of the faith is the same light that is revealed in Christ. This is also the teaching of St Augustine in the Tractates on John:

      Let this difference distinguish our ears and minds from theirs, and let us hear what the Lord answers to the Jews. Jesus answered and said to them, Though I bear witness of myself, my witness is true; because I know whence I came and whither I go. The light shows both other things and also itself. Thou lightest a lamp, for instance, to look for your coat, and the burning lamp affords you light to find your coat; do you light the lamp to see itself when it burns? A burning lamp is indeed capable at the same time of exposing to view other things which the darkness covered, and also of showing itself to your eyes. (35,4)

      And again:

      The witness of the light then is true, whether it be manifesting itself or other things; for without light you can not see light, and without light you can not see any other thing whatever that is not light. If light is capable of showing other things which are not lights, is it not capable of showing itself? Does not that discover itself, without which other things cannot be made manifest? A prophet spoke a truth; but whence had he it, unless he drew it from the fountain of truth? John spoke a truth; but whence he spoke it, ask himself: We all, says he, have received of His fullness. Therefore our Lord Jesus Christ is worthy to bear witness to Himself.

      Balthasar analyzes this self-Revelation of the glory of Christ in terms of the species/forma/Gestalt and lumen/splendor/Glanz. In the Christmas Preface quoted in my post, to which he refers, you have the visible Gestalt of the of the Word made flesh, and the lumen of eternal glory that radiates from him, when one sees the Gestalt one is enraptured by the light to a love of the invisible. Here is Balthasar on the Christmas Preface:

      I. to the ‘eyes of our mind’ which are struck by a ‘new light’ from God which then enables them to know visibly —contemplatively (visibiliter): an object which is actually ‘God’, but God as ‘mediated’ (per) by the ‘sacramental form of the mystery’ (mysterium) of the ‘enfleshed Word’.
      2. to a ‘mediating’ (second per) vision which occasions a ‘rapture’ and a ‘transport’ (rapiamur) to an ‘eros-love’ (amor) for those ‘things unseen’ (invisibilia) which had announced themselves by appearing in the visibleness and revelation of the Incarnation. In the first point, the emphasis is given to a certain seeing, looking, or ‘beholding’, and not to any ‘hearing’ or ‘believing’. ‘Hearing’ is present only implicitly in the reference to the ‘Word’ become man, just as ‘believing’ is implied in that what is seen is the mystery that points to the invisible God. But the all—encompassing act that contains within itself the hearing and the believing is a perception (Wahmehmung), in the strong sense of a ‘taking to oneself (nehmen)51 of something true (Wahres) which is offering itself. For this particular perception of truth, of course, a ‘new light’ is expressly required which illumines this particular form, a light which at the same time breaks forth from within the form itself. In this way, the ‘new light’ will at the same time make seeing the form possible and be itself seen along with the form. The splendour of the mystery which offers itself in such a way‘ cannot, for this reason, be equated with the other kinds of aesthetic radiance which we encounter in the world. This does not mean, however, that that mysterious splendour and this aesthetic radiance are beyond any and every comparison. That we are at all able to speak here of ‘seeing’ (and not exclusively and categorically of ‘hearing’) shows that, in spite of all concealment, there is nonetheless something to be seen and grasped (cognoscimus). It shows, therefore, that man is not merely addressed in a total mystery, as if he were compelled to accept obediently in blind and naked faith something hidden from him, but that something is ‘offered’ to man by God, indeed offered in such a way that man can see it, understand it, make it his own, and live from it in keeping with his human nature.

      This fits perfectly with my own experience of the faith: a seeing of a not-fully-understood glory, which fills with love (hence, as St. Thomas teaches, the will is always involved in faith).

      So, what is more known? I actually took part in a discussion with one of your relatives on the “sola me” question, and was partly convinced by him. But again it is important not to go to extremes. As Catholic, he would have to hold that one can have enough certitude about what is actually revealed by God to make some theological truths more certain to him than truths known by natural reason. Of course, what is absolutely certain is God’s own knowledge, and my subjective certainty is a kind of participation in that (as a friend of mine on Facebook put it). I am certain that it is God Whom I am believing, because of the light of the divine glory revealed in Christ. But as far as what concrete propositions can express what I believe, there I have far less certitude. I think we have here something similar to the distinction between primary and secondary conceptions in natural knowledge (I tried to explain this in my post on unwritten tradition). Just as in natural knowledge there are the first common conceptions of reality that are very certain, but very confused and vague, and then by thinking we make more distinct conceptions that are for that reason less certain; so in believing God’s revelation I think that one first believes in the mystery of Christ, and this is absolutely certain, but at the same time partly ineffable— one cannot easily enunciate in propositions what is contained in that mystery. But through the history of the Church more and more explicit propositions are made that are unfoldings of what is contained in that mysterium/sacramentum.

      So, I would say that what is ‘most known’ (in the sense of most certain) is Christ Himself. And then those propositions that are most immediately connected to the seeing of His glory are next in certitude. Certainly His divinity is known with great certitude. If (per impossibile) the Church were to solemnly contradict her faith in the divinity of Christ, then indeed I would know that it is all an illusion and a lie. But I think that that is really impossible. To take another of your examples, the impossibility of the ordination of women, I think both that this is contained in the revelation of the mystery of Christ, and that the Church has taught so authoritatively, but the possibility of my being in error about this Church being implicit in bridal mystery of Christ and the Church, or of my being in error about the degree of authority with which the Church teaches this proposition is of course much greater than in the other case. If Pope Francis were to allow the ordination of women tomorrow I would conclude that I had been mistaken about this being an authoritative truth of the faith.

      I am perfectly willing to believe that you have had a true experience of the Christian life, and have had the sort of vision of the glory of Christ that such a life implies. So, you ask, “what is the difference between us?” I think that the difference is that you have made a mistake about what was really more certain to you. Many persons have made similar mistakes (Descartes for instance on purely philosophical level), and many things can lead to such a mistake. I have no idea what led you to that mistake. (By the way, not to pry, but just to clarify how much ground we have in common, how much do you still accept of the preambula fidei that St Thomas establishes in the first 26 questions of the Prima Pars?)

      Like

      • Thanks very much for this response. I agree with some of what you have said here, but I also disagree with other parts. I think your thoughts here are not fully worked out, and that in the end there is a significant inconsistency. I’ll remark on some particulars and then get back to the inconsistency.

        I agree that in principle one does not necessarily require a large amount of external evidence in order for faith to be reasonable, basically for the reasons in this post: https://entirelyuseless.wordpress.com/2015/08/28/extraordinary-claims-and-extraordinary-evidence/

        Basically the very fact that someone claims that something is true is most of the evidence required in order for it to be reasonable to believe that thing. In principle something more may be required on account of context, but not much more. But in any case I did not come to the conclusion that the motives of credibility are insufficient in themselves, but that they are insufficient relative to the opposing arguments, i.e. that there are significantly better reasons for not believing, than for believing.

        I also agree that people can be mistaken about the nature of their own certainty, but I think this fact fits much better with my view than with yours. If people had the sort of certainty you claim, it should be virtually impossible to be mistaken about whether or not you had this certainty. I will explain this shortly, when I discuss the inconsistency.

        I think you are mistaken about the teaching of the Church about faith, and this is indicated when you say, “But the most profound source of certainty is the light of faith itself,” as well as, “As Catholic, he would have to hold that one can have enough certitude about what is actually revealed by God to make some theological truths more certain to him than truths known by natural reason.” Basically, my understanding is that you are claiming here that the faith requires you to hold that your subjective certitude with respect to some revealed things, or at least the fact that something is revealed in Christ, must be greater than your subjective certitude with respect to everything known by natural reason. This is the appropriate interpretation of your claim, since we begin from what is more known to us, not from what is more known in itself and not to us.

        I do not think that this is implied by the teaching of the Church. I have never believed that it was implied by the teaching of the Church, nor that it is true, at any time during my adult life. Among other times and places, I argued against this position at TAC, and that argument was at least partly responsible for the conversion to Catholicism of a non-Christian student there, one who would have otherwise waited, presumably indefinitely, for the supposed supernatural subjective certainty. So if I am wrong about this, it is a very old mistake (I did say in the original post that the process involved was one which took decades.) In fact, I think the position in question is virtually evidently false, both from my own experience and from the common experience of believers. If the Church were to teach such a thing, it would be very like teaching that transubstantiation is a change visible to the senses. I could say more about that why I consider this so evident, but leave this aside for the moment.

        St. Thomas says about faith:

        “But it must be observed that wisdom, science and understanding may be taken in two ways: first, as intellectual virtues, according to the Philosopher (Ethic. vi, 2,3); secondly, for the gifts of the Holy Ghost. If we consider them in the first way, we must note that certitude can be looked at in two ways. First, on the part of its cause, and thus a thing which has a more certain cause, is itself more certain. On this way faith is more certain than those three virtues, because it is founded on the Divine truth, whereas the aforesaid three virtues are based on human reason. Secondly, certitude may be considered on the part of the subject, and thus the more a man’s intellect lays hold of a thing, the more certain it is. On this way, faith is less certain, because matters of faith are above the human intellect, whereas the objects of the aforesaid three virtues are not. Since, however, a thing is judged simply with regard to its cause, but relatively, with respect to a disposition on the part of the subject, it follows that faith is more certain simply, while the others are more certain relatively, i.e. for us.”

        I think he is simply saying that faith is objectively more certain on account of the cause, but subjectively less certain. I do not see any sense in which he is saying that faith is more certain subjectively. Note that you said that a Catholic must hold that some theological truths are “more certain to him” than matters of reason. I don’t think there is a difference between “more certain to him” and “more certain for him,” so St. Thomas disagrees with you here. I would understand the same thing to be true of the teaching in the Catechism that “faith is certain.” As support for this, consider CCC 2005:

        “Since it belongs to the supernatural order, grace escapes our experience and cannot be known except by faith. We cannot therefore rely on our feelings or our works to conclude that we are justified and saved.” Technically, of course, this is referring to sanctifying grace, not to faith and the like. Nonetheless, they give a cause: “since it belongs to the supernatural order.” This implies that we can also say, “Since the theological virtue of faith belongs to the supernatural order, faith as supernatural escapes our experience and cannot be known except by faith. We cannot therefore rely on our feelings or our beliefs to conclude that we have a supernatural certainty.” Consider this in another way: if you are a formal heretic, you do not possess the theological virtue of faith, and your belief is a merely human belief. But it is evident that your belief in that situation remains subjectively indistinguishable from your belief as a faithful Catholic (assuming that you do not believe that you are a heretic, which might be the case even if you are formally responsible.) In other words, the greater certitude is an objective fact, not a subjective apprehension. In every subjective way, faith is equivalent to a natural belief, and thus it cannot have a greater subjective certainty than a natural belief has.

        Now for the inconsistency. Imagine this situation. The Church solemnly decrees in an Ecumenical Council:

        “It is revealed by God that 2+2=5 in the precise sense in which all normal humans deny it. Likewise, it must similarly be believed that it is false that 2+2=4, in the precise sense in which all normal humans believe it.”

        I understand that you hold the situation posited to be impossible. I agree that in fact the situation is historically, psychologically, and humanly impossible. In that sense I agree that it could not actually happen. Nonetheless, even the imaginary situation has consequences:

        Everything that would be involved in your recognizing that the Church did such a thing, is possible in principle. It is possible in principle for all the newspapers to print that the Church has made such a declaration. It is possible in principle for every Catholic priest that you speak to, to insist that the Church has in fact made such a statement, and so on. In other words, all of the external evidence that would prove that it had actually happened, is all possible in principle. So suppose you received this evidence, and continued to receive it without any temporal limit, in other words that there is absolutely no reason to believe that there is any fraud or deceit about it.

        What would you conclude in this situation? Presumably it would be like the case of the Church denying the divinity of Christ: it would prove that it is all a deceit. But note that all of the evidence involved is natural evidence, and the certainty of the evidence only has a natural certainty. Consequently, your subjective certainty that something is revealed in the Church must be less than your subjective certainty about your own sensible experience. And much more is your subjective certainty that 2+2=4 greater than your subjective certainty about matters of faith.

        The same thing is true about the divinity of Christ, and this is the actual inconsistency that I was talking about. You agree that if the Church were to deny its teaching about this (which I also admit is at least human impossible, at least within any reasonable timeframe), that would be a refutation of its teaching. But all of the evidence involved in recognizing that the Church had done that, would be natural evidence. So again, your subjective certainty about your sensible experience is greater than your subjective certainty of the divinity of Christ. If the latter were really greater, then in the situation supposed, you would simply say, “Despite the fact that everyone in the world knows that the Church has done it, I simply deny that the Church ever said this.” Likewise, if your subjective certainty about things declared by the Church was greater than all natural knowledge, then in the previous case you would simply begin to believe that 2+2=5, in the sense in which all normal humans think this is false. And if you would do these things, there would no longer be room for argument, just as Aristotle says there is no such room in the case of someone who rejects first principles.

        In fact, if you had such a subjective certainty, it would be nearly impossible to be wrong about it, because it would be exceedingly difficult to doubt matters of faith. It would in fact be easier to doubt that 2+2=4, than to doubt matters of faith, if your subjective certainty of the matters of faith were greater. The fact that matters of faith are voluntary does not change this, because in fact your assent to mathematical claims is also voluntary in principle, even though they are very difficult to doubt due to their great certainty. Consider the claim that 7069 is a prime number. It is surely possible in principle to doubt this, even after seeing a proof that it is true, because you can doubt that you have properly grasped the proof. There is no essential difference here if we choose 7 instead of 7069: it is also possible to doubt that 7 is a prime number, even though it is more difficult.

        I agree of course that it would be ridiculous to doubt such things, as you said of Descartes. But it is possible to doubt them, even if it is ridiculous, and consequently refraining from doubting them is in principle voluntary, just as refraining from doubting matters of faith is voluntary. The fact that it is easier for people to doubt matters of faith is a direct experience of the fact that they are subjectively less certain. This is why I said earlier that if the Church taught what you supposed, it would be like teaching that transubstantiation is sensible; it would directly contradict people’s experience of faith. St. Thomas speaks of the same thing when he says that matters of faith are less certain “for us” than science.

        Regarding the last question, there is a great deal about that on my blog. But basically I think that we are actually in the situation that St. Thomas speaks of hypothetically: one in which, for the most part, one can arrive at the truth about God only after a long time, with great effort, and with the admixture of error. I think that applies to St. Thomas, in the sense that various arguments he makes do not actually follow of necessity, and in the sense that various claims that he makes are not true at least in the sense in which most people would understand them. I think it applies to myself, and consequently would not claim a great deal of certainty about such matters, and generally I would tend to make more certain but more indistinct claims about God, rather than supposing that I can get every detail right. Some relevant discussion is here: https://entirelyuseless.wordpress.com/2015/09/10/all-call-this-god/

        Like

  2. I find this very interesting. The basis for my conversion was the Truth I saw that never changed in the Catholic Church over 2000 years. I had some very trying personal circumstances that challenged my Faith over the last 20 years, but it never crumbled. What has crumbled it is this current Papacy. I had a bad feeling back in March 2013, but I have to say, the charade of the two synods has shattered my belief and destroyed my Faith. I don’t say this lightly, but the very act of putting Christ’s clear words on divorce to a vote has shaken me to my core.
    I see with new eyes now, especially the history of the last 50 years of Vatican II, which I was too young to have a point of view on, though I’ve lived through it. I now see many, many instances of bedrock truths, and outward signs not only being questioned, but being over-turned, like Nostrae Atatae. I used to buy the arguments that these Vatican II documents could be read in continuity, but now I see plainly there has been a departure. I can’t tell you how much pain and anguish this has caused me. The daily drip, drip, drip of this papacy has driven me to despair because it has undermined my conversion, and try as I may, I can’t stop it. I don’t want this to happen, it is completely against my will. But any reading, indeed any prayer is completely unedifying; going to Mass simply compounds the problem; the abuses I see there now make a screeching sound that drowns everything out and makes my blood boil in anger.
    I’m truly stuck between a rock and hard place. Not only do I suffer now from physical pain, which I was previously able to bear, but the mental and spiritual pain this loss of faith has caused is excruciating.
    I hope my comments add to this discussion about faith, and loss of faith, and what can prompt them.

    Like

    • I am so sorry to hear about your suffering. On me the two synods had virtually the opposite effect. The very fact that although there was such a strong desire among many bishops, and apparently even the Holy Father himself, to accept the Kasper proposal, and that humanly speaking it would have been easy for them to do it, they nevertheless didn’t do it, seemed to me an indication of the supernatural protection of the Church. It seems to me the supernatural indefectibility of the Church is even more manifest when the rulers of the Church are manifestly weak and unsuitable instruments.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. There is a difference between the judgment of credibility (“this should be believed”) and the judgment of faith (“this is true”). The former, in the case of an adult who comes to the faith, is an act of natural reason, even if in a particular case it may be aided by actual graces, and rests on humanly demonstrable evidence: for example, miracles, fulfilled prophecies, the stability of the Church through history, the witness of Christ and the apostles made known through the Scriptures considered purely as historical documents, the harmony of the dogmas of the faith with themselves and with the teaching of philosophy. This, as I say, is sufficient to found a morally certain ‘judgment of credibility’, and so ensures that the act of faith will be produced in a way connatural to rational creatures. However, it is not yet the act of faith. Faith, at least according to St Thomas and the Thomist tradition (represented for example in the 20th Century by Garrigou-Lagrange, especially in his work ‘De Revelatione’), has the First Truth as its formal motive, which is why it cannot be produced by human effort but only received as a gift. It consists in the adherence to God bearing witness internally to a truth which is outwardly proposed by some human teacher. As such it participates in the infallibility of God; its certitude is intrinsic, and not a conclusion drawn from an experience that one has when believing. As St Thomas says in his Commentary on St John’s Gospel, by one and the same act I believe that God is bearing witness to a certain truth, I believe that God is truthful, and I believe this truth itself. This corresponds to the quotation given above from St Augustine in his treatises on St John.

    In principle it would be possible for an adult to come to faith without passing through the judgment of credibility, and without considering any outward signs. This would however be a kind of moral miracle, an exception to the way in which God normally works. It is perhaps what happened to Alphonse Ratisbonne http://www.marypages.com/ratisbonneEng1.htm

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It is not correct to say that St Thomas held that faith is only more certain than the other intellectual virtues in the sense that it has a more efficacious cause, divine truth rather than human reasoning. The ad 2 and ad 3 of 2a 2ae 4, 8 make this clear. The ad 2 says that the man of little learning who hears something from a great scientist is made more certain (‘magis certificatur’) about what he hears than he is about what he has seen for himself by his own reasoning. Even more explicitly, the ad 3 says that faith has a “certiorem inhaesionem” than the other intellectual virtues. In other words, it is not only the divine cause of the certainty which is greater in the case of faith, it is the human assent itself. The scholastic way of expressing these distinctions is to say that faith is more certain both ‘in se’ and ‘in nobis’ even though not ‘quoad nos’. St Thomas does not say that we do not assent to the truths of faith as certainly as we do to those of philosophy, but that we do not ‘assequi’ or ‘consequi’ them as *fully* (plene). We do not grasp them so fully, because they are not seen, and so there is room, as he says in obj. 1, for a ‘motus dubitationis’, which however is compatible with the ‘certiorem inhaesionem’ of the ad 3.

    If priests and newspapers etc were therefore to say that an ecumenical council had defined that 2+2=5, the proper course for a Catholic would be to assume that it was a practical joke or an illusion of the devil or something similar, and patiently wait for the truth to emerge in due course.

    Like

    • “The proper course for a Catholic would be to assume that it was a practical joke or an illusion of the devil or something similar, and patiently wait for the truth to emerge in due course.”

      If this is correct, it would also apply to the hypothetical case in which it appears that the Church has denied the divinity of Christ, and so Pater Edmund would be mistaken in suggesting that this would show the falsehood of the Faith. More importantly, this view implies that a Catholic should never conclude that the Catholic faith is false regardless of any evidence that he believes indicates this, since such apparent evidence could always be an illusion of the devil or something similar.

      The difficulty with this is that it implies further that no one of any religion should ever abandon his religion, assuming it has any notion of faith as being inspired by God. For by all the same reasons, he can take his religion to be absolutely certain since revealed by God, more certain than any argument from natural reason could be. Therefore, faced with any number of arguments against his religion, he can say, “Even if I see nothing wrong with these arguments, the fact that their conclusion is false is more known and more certain to me than the premises, and so I should not accept them, since argument must proceed from the more known.” Likewise, faced with any apparent evidence against his religion, he can say, to borrow the same phrase, that the proper course for him is to assume that it is an illusion of the devil or something similar, and to patiently wait for the truth to emerge in due course. And so there will never be any conversions, nor should there be, if this reasoning is correct.

      Like

    • I think your interpretation of St. Thomas’s responses is probably mistaken there. Those are from the same article that I quoted and should be read in the light of what he says in the body, where he distinguishes between what is more certain according to the cause and what is more certain according to the subject.

      It is true that we can be more certain of something heard from a teacher than we are of our own reasoning. Thus a student might be more sure of a mathematical conclusion because his teacher says that it is true, than he is by reasoning out the mathematical argument. But it is in comparison to this thing, not in general. At least reflectively, as Fr. Joseph describes it, he will not be more certain about the mathematical claim because of his teacher’s assertion, than he is of the fact that the teacher asserted it. So nothing in the second response indicates that faith has a greater subjective certainty than all natural knowledge, but rather that it can have a greater subjective certainty than some particular things have.

      As for the third response, he says two things there. First that the gifts of knowledge and understanding depend on the faith as on premises. Consequently those conclusions are less certain in every sense, even in regard to the subject. Then he speaks of natural knowledge, and refers back to what he says in the body, that it is less certain in terms of the cause.
      ;
      I think the reasonable way to understand the “more certain inhesion” is in reference to the first of these, which is when he mentions it. Basically he is saying that faith is more certain in different ways relative to different things, and he explains these ways.

      But if we interpret it to refer to both, that would not necessarily imply that St. Thomas believes that faith has a greater subjective certainty (i.e. experienced as being more certain by the subject.) It could be that the assent is “more certain”, and this refers to the relation between the subject and the act of assent, but this is an objective fact about the assent as a being in the subject, not a subjectively experienced fact.

      In fact, St. Thomas never denies what is asserted in the first objection, namely that on the part of the subject, certainty is opposed to doubt, and what is less capable of being doubted is more subjectively more certain. That some things are more or less capable of being doubted is part of our subjective experience, and in this sense, it is evident that faith is less certain subjectively than various other things. So if you want to say that St. Thomas is speaking of another subjective aspect, it would be your responsibility to point to that aspect. Saying that it is supernatural is not doing this, since it is not clear what experience you are referring to, and in general “faith is supernatural” is an objective claim, not a claim about how it is experienced subjectively. (And for the reasons I mentioned in relation to the Catechism, it is not clear that it would even be orthodox to assert that there can be a direct experience of the supernatural character of faith.)

      Regarding the 2+2=5 declaration, you are taking the example both more seriously and less seriously than it should be taken, in different respects.

      Clearly, if you actually saw such a story, you would assume it was a joke. So would I. But that is because the example is being taken too seriously: in real life it is a historical impossibility, so if we saw a case of a story like that we would assume it was a joke.

      In another sense, however, you are not taking the example seriously enough. The example is precisely something that neither of us expects to happen in real life, not even as a joke: not that we see it in a particular newspaper, but that our experience corresponds in every way to it actually happening. It is in all the papers, videos of the declaration are on the Vatican website, all priests insist that it actually happened, and so on. And in this case, insisting that it is delusion of the devil is simply unreasonable, just as unreasonable as it would be for traditionalists to say that Dignitatis Humanae was not issued by Vatican II, but that the whole thing is a delusion of the devil.

      Like

  5. Pingback: Sola Me and Claiming Personal Infallibility | Entirely Useless

  6. Pingback: Link Roundup: Feb. 7, 2016 | Semiduplex

  7. But I didn’t say that it is wrong for the Catholic to leave his religion on the ground that he has hitherto considered it as being revealed by God, but on the grounds that it *is* revealed by God, and that he has hitherto, if he has had faith, been believing God (‘credere Deo’) who can neither deceive nor be deceived. One who adheres to a false religion is not in this position, and so he would not ipso facto be acting against the truth by leaving it and converting to another. The judgment of faith is not the conclusion of a syllogism such as the following:
    If God has revealed x, then x is true;
    but a, b, and c show that God has revealed x;
    therefore x is true.
    If the judgment of faith were simply the conclusion of such a syllogism, then it would be a merely natural act (supposing that the two premises are naturally knowable), and it would not be more certain than the premises. In this case it would indeed be reasonable to allow new evidence to alter one’s view of the minor premise and consequently to weaken or even remove one’s adhesion to the conclusion. But the judgment of faith is an intrinsically supernatural act, which, according to the view that I am defending and which appears to me the authentically Thomist one, as well as that of the New Testament and of St Augustine, rests immediately and not just mediately on the testimony of God the first Truth as its motive. “He who believes in the Son of God has the testimony of God in himself” – not “in his books”.

    Again, being intrinsically supernatural, faith is itself a mystery; just as we shall only understand the Blessed Trinity and the Incarnation in the beatific vision, so it is only in this vision that we can understand the nature of faith.

    Liked by 1 person

    • If it is wrong for someone to leave his religion because it *is* revealed for God, then it is wrong for someone to leave his religion who believes that it is revealed by God, or for someone to leave his religion who does not believe this, but whose failure to believe this is culpable. But if someone’s failure to believe that his (prior) religion is revealed by God is not culpable, he is not culpable for leaving his religion on the grounds that it is revealed by God, as his “leaving the religion revealed by God” is, in this respect, involuntary. (The basics sketched by Aquinas in ST I-II q. 19, aa. 5-6).

      A (not so hypothetical) simplified case to illustrate: a child is baptized in the Catholic Church, and receives very little catechesis, yet enough for it to pray and make an act of faith. Still at a very young age, his parents convert to Islam, become, indeed, very fervent in their belief in it, and the children, naturally (and arguably reasonably enough), follows his parents in this conversion.

      In the majority of such cases, the child would not, in my opinion, be guilty of disbelief.

      One might, in logical consistency with a certain understanding of the certainty of faith, conclude that all such children are guilty of the (mortal) sin of unbelief, but this flies in the face of common sense, and raises the question, is not only the faith, but this particular understanding of the certainty of the faith, more certain than “everything known by natural reason”? (“Common sense” is used here as a kind of proxy for this).

      But if it is possible, in such a case, without sin, on the basis of external reasons (in the illustration, the example and exhortation of the parents and those preaching to the family), to abandon what was one’s religion up till the present, it is similarly possible in the case of adults.

      The “objective sin” in the sense of going astray, would of course only be present in the one converting from a true religion to a false one. There would be no such objective fault in the one converting from a false religion to a true one. But whoever converts from one religion to another on the basis of evidence, believes, of course, that he is, indeed, converting from a false religion to the true one.

      Like

    • As far as I can tell, this reply basically affirms my hypothetical conclusion that no one can ever reasonably depart from whatever religion he holds. To see this, just consider that an adherent of any other religion, for example Islam, can make precisely the same argument. “My adherence to Islam is not on the basis of the fact that I have hitherto considered it true, but on the basis of the fact that it _is_ true. I hold it not on the basis of natural evidence, but on the basis of the testimony of God himself. Catholics, on the other hand, hold their beliefs only on the basis of natural faith, not of supernatural faith, and therefore it is reasonable for them to change their beliefs on the basis of natural evidence, but it would not be reasonable for me to do so. Etc., etc.”

      Now, you may say that this is different because Islam is false and Catholicism is true; but the proponent of this argument will reply that Catholicism is false and Islam is true, and the arguments will proceed in parallel, perpetually. If identical arguments lead to opposed conclusions, the arguments do not work. One cannot simply say “this one works because it is true.”

      To see the problem more formally, note that the question I raised was this: Given what was said before, by what reasonable process of thought can a person come, e.g. from the belief that Islam is true and Catholicism is false to the belief that Islam is false and Catholicism is true? The proposed response, if I understand the first sentence correctly, invoked as a premise the claim that Catholicism is true, which begs the question. In general, it is always impossible to invoke as a principle of action the fact “X is true” _as opposed to_ the fact “I believe that X is true.”

      But I may be interpreting the argument incorrectly: The question-begging could be avoided if one asserts that there is actually a perceptible subjective difference between natural faith and supernatural faith, so that the non-Catholic could by introspection come to the conclusion that what he believes he holds by faith is only held by natural faith, and therefore not necessarily revealed by God. This works as an argument, but the premise is falsified by the universal experience of mankind. Neither non-Catholics nor Catholics can distinguish natural faith from supernatural faith within themselves, by introspection or by any other means. Proof of the former (speaking to Catholics) is that many non-Catholics believe that they hold various truths by supernatural faith; proof of the latter is that many Catholics believe false propositions that are not part of the faith, and even directly opposed to the faith as in heresy, while believing that they believe this by supernatural faith. And so the fact that something is held by supernatural faith cannot be given as a reason why it should not be doubted no matter what the apparent contradictory evidence, since one cannot know whether it is actually held by supernatural faith or not.

      Like

  8. I don’t see any obvious contradiction between the claim “assent to the articles of faith is immediate, being based on the divine light of faith, rather than being a conclusion from the two premises: God has said X; whatever God says is true”, and the claim “under certain conditions, we would no longer assent to the articles of faith”. That it is in my power to stop seeing something by turning my eyes away, closing my eyelids, or by seeing to it that my attention is drawn entirely to something else, doesn’t mean that my sight was derived from any of those voluntary things, but only that it presupposed certain conditions, conditions that could change.

    Similarly, conditions can arise under which one doubts something that one previously assented to as belonging to the faith; this does not imply that the assent given was only the assent of natural reason starting from a set of premises. The only immediate implication is that natural reason can pose an obstacle to that specific act of faith. A further suggestion, though not implication, is that at least the implicit possibility of natural reason reflecting on the act of faith and finding it reasonable on the basis of credibility discernible by natural reason, is a normal presupposition to the act of faith.

    A comparison with another type of faith or assent to something on authority can help clarify this.

    An illustration of this principle: I’m in a train station and want to go to Prague, but am confused about which train goes where. I ask an employee which train goes to Prague, and he tells me, “the train standing on track number 7 departs for Prague in 10 minutes”. On the basis of his statement, I am sure that the train on track 7 is going to Prague, and get on this train.

    Why do I believe that the train on track 7 is going to prague? I trust the employee, and I heard this assertion made by the employee. There need not be any actual reasoning involved here. I simply hear what he says, accept it. The reasoning comes in when I start thinking: “I need to get on the train to Prague; it is on track 7; I should get over to track 7 quickly to catch the train on time”. However, when I reflect on the situation, I recognize two conditions that must be present if it is to be reasonable for me to accept the employee’s utterance into my mind as a starting point for my own practical deliberation: (1) The employee is a credible witness to which trains go where, and (2) the employee has testified that the train on track 7 goes to Prague. Think about the second premise. Why do I believe that the employee has testified that the train on track 7 goes to Prague? I posed a question, and he spoke certain words, which I understood to be a serious answer to the question, rather than a joke or a polite way of avoiding the question, and which I understood to have a definite meaning.

    So, my belief that the train on track 7 is going to Prague, while relying on the witness of one who knows better than I do, relies implicitly on some things I’m more certain of than I am that this witness has given this testimony. Even if were to be more certain of the credibility of this witness than I am that I can understand what the language means, my acceptance of his witness in the form of a concrete, definite statement would still presuppose my understanding of what the language means, and so my (reflective) certainty of that concrete statement would be derived from my certainty of my understanding of the language. I put reflective in parenthesis because we do, in a way, accept the saying of a witness with an implicit confidence corresponding to the confidence we give the witness, and yet, on reflection, we know we could have misunderstood him, and so might abandon our conviction of that concrete statement even without abandoning our trust in the witness’s per se credibility.

    How does this apply to the articles of faith? All articulations of the faith are mediated through “Scripture and the doctrine of the Church” (essentially! — Formale autem obiectum fidei est veritas prima secundum quod manifestatur in Scripturis sacris et doctrina ecclesiae: ST II-II q. 5, a. 3); consequently, the possibility of our understanding the meaning of language at all, and more specifically, of understanding the specific statements found in Scripture and made by the Church, is a condition for our assenting to those formulated articles of faith. In this respect our assert to those propositions, or assert to those doctrines as formulated in those propositions, is less certain that the possibility of our understanding language at all is.

    The distinction between cause and condition for an act of faith in a given form I haven’t thought through as thoroughly as I would like, and may well be overlooking something here.

    But whether we consider it part of the cause or some other kind of condition, it is clear that the meaningfulness of language is a prerequisite for all articulations (in language) of the faith, and in this respect some “natural knowledge”, i.e., the meaning of language, is a prerequisite for articulations of the faith.

    Like

  9. [to Fr Joseph Bolin] you write: “If it is wrong for someone to leave his religion because it *is* revealed for God, then it is wrong for someone to leave his religion who believes that it is revealed by God.” I grant this. My point is not that one can never rightly pass from the belief that a certain religion, say Islam, is revealed to the belief that it is not, but simply that one cannot do so in the case of the Catholic faith. Of course a Muslim would say the same in reverse, but this just shows that it is not a good tactic to use in arguing with Muslims, not that it cannot be true in the case of the Catholic faith and false in the case of Islam.

    I do think that the child would be guilty despite the mitigating circumstances of having parents who had converted to Islam. One reason for this is that I do not think it is possible to be justified without faith in the Trinity and the Incarnation. St Thomas also says that while the simple faithful can be excused if heretics lead them astray in secondary matters, they cannot be excused ‘who followed the errors of Arius and Nestorius’. The child who had reached the age of reason would seem to be in the position of the simple faithful. St Peter Martyr is honoured for having remained faithful despite being raised by Cathars.

    [to Michael Bolin] you write: “Neither non-Catholics nor Catholics can distinguish natural faith from supernatural faith within themselves, by introspection or by any other means. Proof of the former (speaking to Catholics) is that many non-Catholics believe that they hold various truths by supernatural faith; proof of the latter is that many Catholics believe false propositions that are not part of the faith, and even directly opposed to the faith as in heresy, while believing that they believe this by supernatural faith. And so the fact that something is held by supernatural faith cannot be given as a reason why it should not be doubted no matter what the apparent contradictory evidence, since one cannot know whether it is actually held by supernatural faith or not.”

    The fact that non-Catholics may believe that they hold various truths by supernatual faith which are in fact false does not show that Catholics cannot know themselves to hold some truths by supernatural faith, any more than the fact that a man who is dreaming falsely believes that he is e.g. flying in an aeroplane means that a man who is awake cannot know himself to be flying in an aeroplane.
    The fact that some Catholic believe false propositions while believing that they believe them by supernatural faith (e.g. let us say – assuming it is false – that our Lady never died) does not show that no Catholic can ever know himself to believe a truth by supernatural faith, any more than the fact that a careless schoolboy may falsely believe that he has done a multiplication sum correctly means that a careful schoolboy can never know that he has done it correctly.
    I.e. it is not necessary that natural and supernatural belief should be always distinguishable by every man, only that they should sometimes be distinguishable by some man. I should argue that they are distinguishable at least for everyone who has faith as regards the truths absolutely necessary for salvation, and distinguishable for every well-instructed Catholic who has faith as regards all truths which he knows to have been defined by the Church.

    Liked by 1 person

    • St. Thomas asserts that when a person reaches the age of reason, he either commits a mortal sin or orders himself “as well as he can” to his last end, in which case he is justified by grace. This does not depend on whether or not the person knows anything about the Trinity or the Incarnation. I have had this discussion in the past and someone asserted that all such children either sin mortally or receive an immediate private revelation. But this is false, and the matter does not need to be argued. Consequently, according to St. Thomas, particular concrete beliefs are not necessary for justification. This also accords well with the current teaching of the Church on the matter; if the Church clarifies anything more on the matter, it is reasonable to believe that this is what they will say.

      Likewise, St. Augustine says that if someone believes that Christ is a mere man because he thinks this is the teaching of the Church, he is a Catholic and not a heretic. Consequently St. Augustine too denies that particular concrete beliefs are necessary for justification.

      There is no such analogy between dreaming and waking, and true and false beliefs, because the subjective experience of being awake is actually distinct from dreaming in noticeable ways, such as the commonly used fact that inflicting pain on yourself in a dream does not tend to work. The person dreaming may or may not be in a condition to notice the distinctions, but they exist.

      But believing that something is true and revealed by God, when it is true, and believing that something is true and revealed by God, when it is false, are not subjectively distinct in any way whatsoever. If you believe that they are, it is your responsibility to point to the distinction; saying “but this is really true” or “but this is really believing God” and the like are not relevant. These are things that a person believes whether his belief is true, or whether it is false; they make no subjective distinction for either the one who believes what is true or for the person who believes what is false.

      Like

    • “My point is not that one can never rightly pass from the belief that a certain religion, say Islam, is revealed to the belief that it is not, but simply that one cannot do so in the case of the Catholic faith. Of course a Muslim would say the same in reverse, but this just shows that it is not a good tactic to use in arguing with Muslims, not that it cannot be true in the case of the Catholic faith and false in the case of Islam.”

      I did not say that the Muslim would not be objectively in error, but that the process of reasoning described as being the reasonable one would prevent him from ever seeing that he is in error, no matter what arguments or evidence were provided. The fact that it is not a good tactic to use in arguing with Muslims also means that the Muslim cannot use it with himself.

      Again, the question is a question of process, not of objective truth. If there is, on your account, a reasonable process that the Muslim could follow to eventually convince himself that Catholicism is true, that process cannot assume the truth of Catholicism, or the falsehood of Islam, at any step along the way; that is supposed to be the conclusion. So in our hypothetical scenario, the Muslim begins by saying, “I agree that what is believed by supernatural faith ought never to be called into question for any reason. Now, I believe by supernatural faith that Islam is true. Therefore, I ought never to question this for any reason.”

      Now, what _would_ be a good tactic to use in arguing against this? It is evident that given the current state of his beliefs, this person cannot and should not be moved by any arguments to the effect that Islam is false. The recent direction of this discussion suggests that the Muslim is supposed to somehow see that he does not _really_ believe by supernatural faith, since his belief is false. But he might even agree about the possibility of subjectively distinguishing natural faith from supernatural faith, and he will still get nowhere. He will simply say, “It is apparent that _you_ cannot distinguish merely natural from supernatural faith, since you think that you believe, e.g., that God is a trinity by supernatural faith, whereas in reality this is false and you believe it only by natural faith. But even though you are one of those who can not so distinguish, I am not. I can distinguish them, and I know that I believe what I believe by supernatural faith. Furthermore, if you are somehow able to present reasons that might incline me to think that I believe this merely by natural faith, I shall assume that the seeming plausibility of your reasons is merely an illusion of the devil, and wait for the truth to emerge in due course. To do otherwise would be wrong of me, since it would be allowing myself to begin to doubt what I hold by supernatural faith.”

      This is all nonsense, of course. One cannot determine the truth about religion without appealing to various observable facts about the way the world is, and any attempts to do so will only produce this sort of perfectly parallel back-and-forth ad nauseam.

      Speaking of distinguishing natural from supernatural faith, your examples do not show what they need to show. It is true that just because one schoolboy may think he has the correct sum and be mistaken, it does not follow that another schoolboy who thinks he has the correct sum is also mistaken. But this is not relevant. The relevant question is whether a schoolboy who thinks that he has the correct sum has any means of deciding between possibility (a), that he thinks he has the correct sum and is mistaken, and possibility (b), that he thinks he has the correct sum and is not mistaken. The fact that sometimes possibility (b) does in fact occur does not in any way imply that the boy _has a way of deciding_ which of the two possibilities obtains in reality. In real life, the boy cannot adjudicate about this simply by looking within himself and asking “is my opinion that my sum is correct the kind of opinion that can be mistaken, or is it real knowledge?” Note that it is not merely the case that some schoolboys cannot do this; no one at all, ever, can determine whether a sum is correct by such means. Rather, he needs to adjudicate by checking his work again, getting an outside opinion, or some such means (of course, he has already begun this process in the very first working of the sum, so this does not imply that his opinion is totally indifferent to the truth to begin with). It is instructive to consider here what would be the parallel, in this situation, to the proposed view of faith. Suppose that the schoolboy has carefully double-checked his work and is convinced that his sum is correct, while in fact he has erred throughout and his sum is not correct. A friend wishes to show him his error, but this particular schoolboy, who currently believes that his sum is correct, lives by the rule that someone who has a correct sum should never allow himself to be moved, by any argument or evidence whatsoever, to the belief that his sum is incorrect. Assuming that he does not depart from this rule, is his friend going to succeed in convincing him of his error?

      So, then, the question remains: by what process is our hypothetical Muslim, who holds (1) that his belief that Islam is true is a belief held by supernatural faith, and (2) that what is believed by supernatural faith must never be doubted for any reason, and (3) that one must never allow oneself to decide that what one thought one believed by supernatural faith was only believed by natural faith after all, supposed to come around to the view that Islam is false?

      Liked by 1 person

  10. There is still one route to freedom for a Muslim who is trapped in the way that you describe, and this is by encountering a sensible reality so overpowering that it converts him to Christ before he has had time to reflect that such a conversion would be logically ruled out by the premises to which he habitually assents. Examples would be a miracle worked by a Christian preacher, or a vision. Such an overwhelming experience could lead to an immediate conversion, leaving him no time actually to reflect on the false premises which he habitually holds, and so he would not be guilty of acting against his conscience (conscience being an actual judgment).

    With regard to distinguishing natural (and, in fact, false) and supernatural faith, I made an analogy between falsely believing while asleep that one is flying, and knowing when awake that one is flying. The objection is made that for this to be a valid analogy, I need to be able to point to some subjective, experiential difference between a false, natural belief, and a true, supernatural belief. I deny the necessity: that is, I do not need to be able to describe them both in a way that will satisfy a person who denies the distinction between the two kinds of belief, or to mention some concomitant experience that accompanies one kind of belief but not the other. Similarly, when faced with a person who says, “Maybe we’re all really asleep, and this is all a dream”, I don’t need, in order rationally to deny his suggestion, to be able to describe the difference between waking life and dreams, nor do I need to be able to show that I can inflict pain on myself when I try (after all, he could just shrug and say, ‘well, maybe this is the kind of dream where inflicting pain on yourself does work’.) Antecedently to any attempted description or test, I know the difference between waking life and dreaming, or between waking from a dream and dreaming that one has woken from a dream, and this despite the fact that there is such as thing as being midway between dreaming and being fully awake; I know the difference between these things because I have reason, and reason is a power to know that which is, via the senses. Similarly, antecedently to any attempted description or test, I know the difference between natural and supernatural faith, and between coming to supernatural faith and falsely believing by natural faith that one has come to supernatural faith, and this despite the fact that one may have supernatural faith in some things and falsely believe that one has it in others, which is like being midway between sleep and waking; I know the difference between these things because I have received the gift of faith, and faith is a power to know that which God has revealed, via His prophets.

    Likewise with the schoolboys: the fact that one may mistakenly think that one has got a sum right, even after checking it, does not prove that one cannot know one has got a sum right. It is possible to check absent-mindedly, or falsely to think that one has understood some basic principle involved (e.g., with 9-5*4 to think that one is meant to take the 5 from the 9 then multiply the result by 4). But it is possible to know the principles, and to check carefully, and then for a sufficiently simple sum it is possible to know that one is correct. The difference between the two school-boys does not lie in a different feeling that arises within them when they contemplate their respective answers, but in the presence in the latter of the relevant intellectual virtues, together with his knowledge that he has done his work with sufficient care. This is an analogy for the knowledge of the Catholic that he holds a certain truth, e.g. the Assumption, with supernatural faith. He possesses the relevant virtue, and knows that he has sufficiently informed himself about the teaching of the Church.

    Like

    • The question in the first place is whether faith is subjectively absolutely certain, not whether it is objectively certain. If one thing is subjectively absolutely certain, and another is not, there is a subjective distinction between them. Denying this is equivalent to saying that things can be objectively distinct, but without an objective distinction.

      Like

    • “Similarly, antecedently to any attempted description or test, I know the difference between natural and supernatural faith, and between coming to supernatural faith and falsely believing by natural faith that one has come to supernatural faith, and this despite the fact that one may have supernatural faith in some things and falsely believe that one has it in others, which is like being midway between sleep and waking; I know the difference between these things because I have received the gift of faith, and faith is a power to know that which God has revealed, via His prophets.”

      With this, it appears that we must be done here. A genuine conversation is predicated upon certain conditions, and among those conditions is that the participants must be willing to offer an account for their claims. But here we see that, in response to the question, “how do you know that you have received the gift of supernatural faith and that it is not merely natural faith?” the reply given is, “Because I have received the gift of [supernatural] faith.” In its generic logical form, the reply says, “I know that my claim is true, because my claim is true.” You will understand why I find this argument unpersuasive. More importantly, this argument must of necessity put an end to conversation, since there is no use discussing the truth or falsity of a claim as long as one of the participants maintains that the truth of that claim is a first principle known without argument.

      Instead of presenting further theoretical arguments against the position, therefore, I shall close with some observations regarding its practical implications:

      1. The proposed procedure of conversion by miracle would not be an exception, but the only possible means of conversion for any non-Catholic adhering to the proposed account of faith (in reality, even this could not produce a conversion given the account, but I will let this pass). The proposed position therefore implies that evangelization is not only useless but also immoral, since it necessarily tempts a person to commit a subjective sin against faith.

      2. The implied consequence that conversion happens (to a reasonable person, i.e. one following the proposed view of faith) only by miracle, taken together with the previously-expressed view that explicit faith is necessary for salvation, strongly suggests that unbelievers are damned through no fault of their own, since not receiving a miracle is not one’s own fault. Nor can there be any talk of a “right disposition” for conversion, since on the proposed account of faith, the right disposition is a disposition which insists that one will not be moved by any argument or evidence whatsoever.

      3. For both of the foregoing reasons, and for the additional reason that it presents the act of faith to unbelievers as being a deliberately irrational act, I consider the position to be objectively scandalous. If you insist long enough that faith is unreasonable, you run the risk that people will eventually begin to believe you. At that point, the reassurance that when it comes to Catholicism, being unreasonable is the reasonable thing to do, is likely to sound rather hollow.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. “A genuine conversation is predicated upon certain conditions, and among those conditions is that the participants must be willing to offer an account for their claims.”

    Perhaps we have been arguing somewhat at cross purposes. So far, I have been intending to defend the claim that there is such a thing as supernatural faith, by which one may know oneself to be believing God’s revelation, with a certainty greater than that of any natural knowledge; by which one has, in Newman’s words, “a vivid perception, like sense, of things unseen”. Addressing myself to Catholics, I would refer to the authorities that I have already mentioned: St John’s teaching that the believer has the testimony of God in himself; the teaching of St Augustine quoted by Pater Edmund; St Thomas’s teaching in the Commentary on St John’s gospel and the Summa, on the adhesion of the intellect to the objects of faith as being more certain than its adhesion to the objects of wisdom and understanding, and on its being a single act by which the believer believes that God has spoken and believes what He says (which is only possible on the basis of a direct and therefore supernatural relation between the soul and God witnessing to the truth); the Thomist tradition summarised and defended by Garrigou in De Revelatione; Newman’s words, quoted above, from ‘Difficulties of Anglicans’. Addressing myself to any person, I would mention the capacity of the intellect to know being as such, and therefore to be brought into a direct relation with the first Truth.

    However, the main objection to what I have written so far seems to be that I have not given a subjective or experiential description of the act of supernatural faith by which it may be distinguished from two particular kinds of natural beliefs: (a) from the judgment of natural reason, based on external evidence and in principle revisable, that the Catholic faith is true; and (b) the natural belief of a formal heretic or of some kind of dogmatic pagan, such as a Muslim, that their religion is certainly true, and must never be doubted, whatever new evidence emerges. It is argued, I think, that unless I can characterise the experience of supernatural faith so as to distinguish it from (a), then there is no reason to suppose that the Catholic acts wrongly in revising his judgment as to the truth of his faith, since there is no reason to suppose that he ever had anything other than natural belief; and that unless I can characterise the experience of supernatural faith so as to distinguish it from (b), then (i) the duty which I have asserted of the Catholic’s not allowing anything to shake his adherence to that faith would also imply a duty on the part of a formal heretic or dogmatic pagan to do the same; and (ii) the certitude of the Catholic can be no more a guarantee of the truth of his faith than the certitude of the dogmatic Protestant or Muslim.

    (a) and (b) are very different cases, and need to be considered apart. Taking (a) first of all, I don’t think it is difficult to set forth an experiential difference between the natural judgment that the Catholic religion is true (what is called the judgment of credibility) and the act of supernatural faith. Many converts have testified to reaching a point where they were intellectually convinced of the truth of the Catholic faith, but still felt themselves to be lacking the faith necessary to become Catholic. The natural judgment is felt to be in principle revisable: “The Catholic scheme seems to me today to be the only one that covers the facts, but who knows how things might look to me in a year’s time?” Likewise, the will at this stage is not yet commanding the intellect to believe, so the natural judgment is not felt as a duty to be performed, simply as a position that results as it were inevitably from the evidence to hand.

    The judgment of faith, by contrast, is felt to be irrevocable: one who possesses divine faith feels that it would be a great sin in him to stop believing, to fail to use his will to continue to command his intellect to assent to the dogmas of the faith. So one subjective difference is clear, pertaining to the will. Another subjective difference pertains to the intellect: the believer is more convinced of the truth of the dogmas of faith than the man who has only the natural judgment of reason, and indeed more convinced of it than he is of any truth that he knows by nature alone; this is the ‘more certain adhesion of the intellect’ of which St Thomas speaks. That is the spirit in which the martyrs have gone to their deaths: “By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the fierceness of the king: for he endured as seeing (ώς όρων) him that is invisible.”

    And yet, because the object is not seen, and therefore does not satisfy the intellect’s desire for truth, and because the judgment of faith is not innate but dependent on a free act of the will, the object of faith can be freely doubted, and the adhesion to revealed truth can be lost. So the conviction of faith is greater and yet more vulnerable than that of reason alone, as an oak tree in a hurricane is more deeply-rooted and yet more vulnerable than a geranium in a green-house.

    To turn to (b). First, point (i). So far as I can see, the subjective difference between the Catholic who has faith and the formal heretic or dogmatic pagan is that the former has his certainty with a clear conscience, whereas the other does not. The formal heretic has deliberately denied a truth which he knew in his heart to be true (else he would not be a formal heretic). His ‘faith’ continues more or less consciously, but never entirely unconsciously, to bear the mark of this initial resistance to the known truth; but the gravity of his situation consists precisely in this, that the very nature of his sin is such as to turn away his contemplation from the difference between his current human belief and his former, supernatural act of faith. So while it is not true that the formal heretic’s belief is subjectively indistinguishable from that of the Catholic, it is true that the sin of heresy tends to prevent him from honestly adverting to the difference between them.

    Similarly with the Muslim. He has not necessarily turned away from the known truth, but he has, as St Thomas says at the beginning of the contra Gentiles, been guilty of rashness in believing (leviter credunt). Since his intellect was made for truth, and since he has been rash in the greatest of all matters, he himself will feel this rashness or else more or less consciously, but never entirely unconsciously, suppress the feeling of it: hence, in large part, his anger when challenged. So again, while his belief is not subjectively indistinguishable from that of the Catholic, his very sin of rash belief tends to prevent him from honestly adverting to the difference between them.

    The Catholic, however, who has not turned away from the known truth or believed rashly, is not troubled by these uneasy feelings. And yet while he can know himself to be free from them, the heretic or Muslim cannot look them in the face without ipso facto ceasing to be committed with certitude to their religions. So the analogy between waking and sleeping seems to me apt: the waking man can know himself to be awake, whereas the sleeping man cannot know himself to be asleep, and can dream that he is awake.

    The objection was that if the Catholic sins by allowing the possibility that he is wrong, since he is convinced that the content of his belief is revealed by God, then the formal heretic or dogmatic pagan sins for the same reason. I agree: the heretic or the dogmatic pagan is what moral theology calls perplexus. That is, he is in a condition where he sins either by beginning to doubt his belief (since he judges that it is revealed by God), and sins when he refuses to doubt it (since it is not revealed by God, and he is guilty for believing that it is). God could justly leave him in this state, but in His mercy offers him a way out. I have previously mentioned miracles and visions as a way in which the perplexus can be brought instantaneously to faith without having to act against his conscience. But there is another way. Such a person can, without acting against his conscience, simply pray for more light on religious truth. Such an act doesn’t involve admitting a deliberate doubt about his current beliefs, since even when one has true beliefs, or science, it is possible to have more light. Such a prayer, if made humbly and perseveringly, would impetrate operating graces by which God would cause the person’s false beliefs gradually, or even rapidly, to become less rooted in his mind until eventually they were taken away entirely.

    I think that this explanation covers the three practical objections to my position that were made in the previous comment.

    With regard to objection (ii), that unless there is some subjective difference between Catholic certitude and other kinds of religious certitude, then the certitude of the Catholic can be no more a guarantee of the truth of his faith than the certitude of the dogmatic Protestant or Muslim, I think I have already shown that there is such a subjective difference. However I would not say that it is the certitude of the Catholic’s belief that is the guarantee of its truth, whether to him or to others. Not to himself, since he doesn’t argue: “I am certain of this with a clear conscience, therefore it must be true”; rather, he is certain of it because he believes God who can neither deceive nor be deceived; though his clear conscience can be for him a subsidiary confirmation of the truth of his faith. As regards others, then the certitude of the Catholic’s belief cannot be a guarantee of its truth, since the other person cannot tell what the state of the Catholic’s mind is, or how it differs from the Muslim’s or the heretic’s.

    Finally, an objection has been made from the Catechism, para. 2005, which says: “Since it belongs to the supernatural order, grace escapes our experience and cannot be known except by faith. We cannot therefore rely on our feelings or our works to conclude that we are justified and saved.” The objection is that since faith also belongs to the supernatural order, one could also say: “Since the theological virtue of faith belongs to the supernatural order, faith as supernatural escapes our experience and cannot be known except by faith. We cannot therefore rely on our feelings or our beliefs to conclude that we have a supernatural certainty.” I should answer that the Catechism is affirming this of grace not in fact simply as supernatural but also as a certain abiding accident in the soul (for it is speaking of justification); and the same is indeed true of faith, considered as an abiding accident in the soul; this accident or habitus is not perceptible as such, rather the act of faith which proceeds from it is what is perceptible.

    I think that will have to suffice for now, even if others want to respond, since I had better get on with other things.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Also, a comment on the cited authorities. You attempt to assert here that you are simply defending the Catholic faith. But in fact you have been defending P. Edmund’s proposed position, namely that it is reasonable to insist that you would never change your mind in the light of any evidence or argument whatsoever. This is not asserted by any of those authorities, even if you believe that it follows from them. This is your personal opinion, not the Catholic faith; many honest and orthodox Catholics disagree with it, as we can see from this very thread.

      Like

  12. Post-script:-

    In my previous comment, I gave one explanation of how the Catholic’s subjective experience of supernatural faith differs from that of the formal heretic or dogmatic pagan, based on conscience. On further reflection, I think that this, while true, does not go to the heart of the matter. It was given primarily as a response to the following challenge from Michael Bolin:

    ‘In response to the question, “how do you know that you have received the gift of supernatural faith and that it is not merely natural faith?” the reply given is, “Because I have received the gift of [supernatural] faith.” In its generic logical form, the reply says, “I know that my claim is true, because my claim is true.” You will understand why I find this argument unpersuasive. More importantly, this argument must of necessity put an end to conversation, since there is no use discussing the truth or falsity of a claim as long as one of the participants maintains that the truth of that claim is a first principle known without argument.’

    I think it is simpler and truer to say that the believer’s knowledge that he possesses supernatural faith, that is, a faith that rests on the direct testimony of God, is indeed akin to a “first principle known without argument”. Hence just as the correct, and non-pleonastic, answer to the question “how do you know that you are awake and not dreaming?” is “because I am awake”, so the correct answer to the question “how do you know that you have received the gift of divine faith?” is “because I have received the gift of divine faith”. The fact that the Catholic is also aware of being in good faith in his belief is not by itself sufficient to account for his degree of certitude.

    Hence in regard to “the subjective difference between Catholic certitude and other kinds of religious certitude”, the fact that the former certitude includes the awareness of good faith and the latter, at least when it exists in the heretic or the dogmatic pagan, a more-or-less submerged awareness of bad faith or rashness, is only secondary. What is primary is that divine faith is a sui generis form of apprehension (Newman’s “vivid perception, like sense, of things unseen”) with a corresponding sui generis subjective certitude, which cannot be described to the satisfaction of one who does not have it, as sight, and the kind of certainty that it brings, cannot be described to the satisfaction of a man blind from birth.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The response where you suggest that there is a subjective distinction between the condition of the Muslim and the condition of the Catholic is vastly superior to your previous position, to which you revert in the last comment. I will return to your better position after addressing this one final time.

      “I know I am awake because I am awake” is not true in a sense which is relevant to the question, “How do you know that you are awake?”, in the same way that if someone says, “How do you know that 10 times 10 equals 100?” it is not correct to respond, “I know that because I am alive, while you need to be alive in order to know things.” In other words, saying “because I am awake” refers to the efficient cause, which is not what the question is about.

      Knowing that you are awake instead of dreaming does indeed depend on a subjective distinction between those conditions. And there are many: the pain issue is minor and secondary. The primary things are: 1)when you are awake, you are sensing, while when you are dreaming, you are imagining. Those are very different even subjectively, and even at the times when you are awake or dreaming, even if the person who is dreaming is not in a condition to notice the difference. 2) when you are awake, you are capable of remembering large parts of a past life which is historically connected to your present situation. When you are dreaming, you typically avert to no such thing. I could refer to other differences, but these two are enough, and are in fact the way we distinguish between waking experience and dreaming. If dreaming was subjectively indistinguishable from sensing, and involved remembering a past life, you indeed would not know whether you were dreaming or awake.

      Someone will respond, “If this is the case, someone could just speculate that there might be a kind of dreaming which matches those issues, so you won’t know that you are not dreaming in that sense.” The answer to this is that I know I am not dreaming in the ordinary sense of dreaming, which is subjectively distinct from being awake; if someone says there might be another kind which is not subjectively distinct, I indeed cannot know that I am not dreaming in that sense. But that sense of dreaming is probably consistent with being awake in the ordinary sense, precisely because my ordinary sense of being awake is taken from experience.

      Again, subjectively distinct things require subjective distinction: this is self-evident.

      For this reason your previous response is better and more reasonable, but there are still many flaws in it. If the subjective distinction is that Catholics are in good faith and Muslims are not, then this is a contingent matter that depends on their actual reasons for believing. Consequently some Catholics might be in bad faith, and some Muslims in good faith, depending on the actual evidence that they see for and against their religion. So this position cannot ground the intended conclusion (namely that a Catholic could never reasonably be convinced that natural evidence that his religion is mistaken.) This is the case for reasons such as e.g. those Fr. Joseph has already presented.

      There are also many absurdities in supposing that in most cases Catholics are in good faith and Muslims are not, in a general way. It is obvious that Catholic and Islamic children have basically equally good motives for believing their religions; and consequently if the Muslim has believed “leviter”, so has the Catholic, and if the Catholic has not, neither has the Muslim.

      Likewise, it is false and scandalous to assert that a Muslim who honestly prays for truth throughout his life will quickly (or slowly) cease to be a Muslim, in a general way. This is like saying that if someone prays for good things from God, only good things will happen to him, and if someone gets into e.g. a car accident, it shows that he was not praying enough. Most Muslims in Islamic countries remain Muslim throughout their lives; and it is evident that this will happen for the most part, regardless of their honesty, and regardless of whether they pray for truth. Supposing otherwise is nonsense. It is false and scandalous to suppose that you can avoid car accidents by praying enough, and it is equally false and scandalous to suppose that you can avoid believing false religions in this way.

      When the Catechism says that “grace escapes experience,” it is not only denying that one can know the presence of a supernatural habit, but that one cannot detect by experience the supernatural character of the act. This is evident, since habits in general, not only supernatural habits, are not seen directly in experience, but through their acts. So if you could determinately know the supernatural character of your act of charity from experience, you could know that you had the habit. Likewise, the supernatural character of faith is a matter of faith, not a matter of experience.

      Like

  13. entirelyuseless, you are certainly right that I hadn’t fully worked my thoughts on these things out, and that there was considerable inconsistency in my position. This thread has been very helpful and thought-provoking. It has also made me look delve into the commentators again. The Salmanticenses are particularly helpful. In their discussion of IIaIIae q4, a8, (https://archive.org/stream/collegiisalmanti11anto#page/152/mode/2up) they do indeed argue supernatural faith gives a subjective certitude about revealed truth greater than any natural certitude. They give a number of arguments from authority to show that this is indeed how Scripture and tradition understand the certitude of faith. For example Gal 1:8: “But even if anyone, we our­selves or an angel from heaven, announces any gospel that is contrary to the gospel we brought you, let him be damned.” This seems to clearly indicate that the subjective certitude that they have of the Gospel should be so strong that it cannot be shaken, *even if the witness whom they originally believed were to change his mind about it.* (p. 156) Or again from Augustine, “I could more easily doubt that I live than that those things are true which I have heard.”

    Moreover, they argue (along Fr. Crean’s lines) that this is really the position of St. Thomas, and explain the text accordingly.

    But finally they give expanded versions of his answers to the objections. For example, that nothing prevents the intellect from being elevated to a greater certitude by a supernatural light even though the object is less proportioned to the intellect. This is obvious in the case of the light of glory, why should it not be the case (in a lesser way) in the light of faith?

    On the question of whether one can know that one has supernatural faith oneself however, they are more inclined to answer in the negative. In their commentary on IaIIae q 112, a 5 ad 2 (https://archive.org/stream/collegiisalmanti10anto#page/n313/mode/2up) They argue that while one can have absolute certitude about the truths of the faith which one believes, the argument from that to the quality of one’s own faith has the nature of an inference, and is thus much less certain; it is not itself something believed with divine faith.

    Like

    • Thanks for this response. I think the position proposed unfortunately remains inconsistent, and I will explain why shortly. But a few other remarks first:

      1) I think (and have always thought) that the proposed position is not true, is not implied by the teaching of the Church, and is not the position of St. Thomas. However, I did not intend to suggest that it is merely your personal position and not held by anyone else. I realize that many Thomists hold that position, including Garrigou-Lagrange, as Fr. Thomas Crean pointed out. In fact, I remember reading his argument on the matter while in college and thinking that it was neither faithful to experience nor reasonable in itself. On the other hand, it is not universal even among Thomists, let alone being required by the Church. Very recently I was speaking to a Dominican priest who considers himself an extremely rigid Thomist (he told me, “you must think I have a slavish mind…”), but he agreed with me entirely on this matter, and in fact said in principle strong enough evidence could change his mind about religion. He was a convert to Catholicism and so understands what that is like; probably the same is true of Trent Horn, whom I quoted as implying the same thing.

      As canon law says that nothing is to be considered infallible unless it is clearly established to be so, it is inappropriate to suggest that it is un-Catholic to hold a different position, given the fact that many orthodox Catholics (orthodox by any reasonable measure and by the intention to be faithful to the Church) hold the position that I am arguing. Of course, you could hold that your position is ultimately necessary and that the Church will end up adopting it. But in the meantime, it is not appropriate to defend a particular position, even a Thomist one, and equate that with defending Catholicism; while you haven’t exactly done that, Fr. Thomas Crean did suggest that he was doing this.

      2) Again, the authorities mentioned do not assert the proposed position, even if it seems to you that they imply it. St. Paul of course thinks that someone proposing a different gospel would be wrong, and therefore that such a proposal is to be rejected; but he is hardly making a philosophical or theological point about the subjective certitude of faith. Likewise, the statement by St. Augustine is an exaggeration; clearly by whatever standard you measure it by, he is more likely to doubt his religion than the fact that he is alive, since, for example, if he doubts that he is alive he must also doubt that the things proposed to him by the Church are actually proposed to him by the actual Church, as opposed to by a ghostly Church. Dave Armstrong, for example, said something like, “yes, in principle I could change my mind about Catholicism, but I’m more likely to conclude that the moon is made of cheese.” And that is just an exaggerated way of saying that he is very sure: by no real measure is he more likely to think that the moon is made of cheese.

      3) “Nothing prevents the intellect from being elevated to a greater certitude…” I do not assert that something prevents it. I assert that it is not true, considered subjectively.
      – This is a matter of experience, which verifies, as Michael said, that neither believers nor unbelievers can subjectively distinguish natural or supernatural faith.
      – One of the common ways that the faith is defended is by saying that its truth was meant from the beginning to be “hidden,” to be seen only by those who search for it. Thus Christ appeared only to his friends and to a few, instead of appearing to many and to his enemies. Thus the Eucharist is sensibly indistinguishable from bread. And thus supernatural and natural faith are subjectively indistinguishable. Note the consequence if in fact they were subjectively distinguishable: once you experienced the act of faith, faith would no longer be necessary, since you would effectively have experienced a personal miracle. But this is not the case, and the nature of faith as supernatural must remain a mystery of faith.

      Ultimately, as I said at the beginning, I think the position proposed remains inconsistent. The authors you cite correctly note that you do not know by faith that you have faith: “I am not a formal heretic,” is not a matter of faith. And if you are a formal heretic, then you do not have supernatural faith, not even with respect to things like the Trinity and the Incarnation. Now you might know from experience that you are not a formal heretic: but that is not knowing by faith, but by your own intelligence and introspection. In a similar way you can know that you love God, but that is not the knowledge of faith, and it is not infallible. Just as St. Paul says “I am conscious of nothing, but I am not thereby justified,” you can be conscious that you are trying to be faithful to the Church, but that is not an infallible proof that you are not a formal heretic.

      Note the consequences: you do not have an absolute subjective certitude that you possess supernatural faith about anything, not even about the Trinity and the Incarnation, since if you are a formal heretic, and you cannot have absolute certitude that you are not, then you possess supernatural faith about nothing.

      But it is simply inconsistent to assert, “I have an infallible subjective certitude about the Trinity, but not about the fact that I possess infallible subjective certitude about some things.” Insofar as you might not have infallible subjective certitude about anything, you must be (to that degree) unsure that you have it about the Trinity; and if you are not sure that you have an infallible subjective certitude about the Trinity, then you definitely do not have such an infallible subjective certitude about the Trinity, since you might be wrong about having the certitude, and if you are wrong about having the certitude, you might be wrong about the fact itself. It would be consistent to say that you have an infallible objective certitude about the Trinity, i.e. that the act of faith cannot be false, but it would not be consistent to say that you have an infallible subjective certitude.

      Like

  14. Pingback: Commitment of Faith – Paths of Love

  15. Pingback: Amoris Lætitia | Sancrucensis

  16. Pingback: Links | Georgios Scholarios

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s