The intellectual labor of faith

Faith has a lot of meanings outside of Christianity, but as a theological virtue it is to believe in proposition T because God and the saints are convinced that T is true. It might not hurt to believe in T for other reasons, but none of these other reasons is the theological virtue of faith.

Relative to this, the sense of Peter’s Lord I believe, help my unbelief is that our belief in T isn’t aways wholly motivated by God being convinced it is true. We might believe because our parents did or our culture does or because arguments for T are convincing, and though these are fine auxiliaries to faith and channels though which it can come, they are not faith. Someone with faith could address each petition of the Creed to God and follow it with because you know it to be the case, though this leaves many of us with the sense that our faith needs more intellectual work.

Ignatius’s infamous rule 13 for believing with the Church: What seems to me white, I will believe to be black if the hierarchical Church so defines generalizes as a rule for faith. Ignatius simply treats the Church as the oracle of faith, and so taken the rule follows in strict logic. I have been convinced of all sorts of things that were in fact false but it would be impossible for God to be so, and so if T = “snow is black” then the reason for believing T is true is stronger – infinitely stronger – than the reason for believing it is false. I don’t think that there are any T’s remotely like this in the Creed or the deposit of faith, though someone like Bart Ehrman or Richard Carrier might disagree.

One can defend or assist the faith with reasons, or by societies that treasure it, or by religious experiences or even miraculous happenings that confirm it, but one can’t formally cause it with any of these, and to the extent that faith rests on them it is infinitely more fragile than it is called to be. That, and it can’t save us.

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