Theological Faith and Contrary Vices


This treatise is divided into three chapters : 1. the nature of faith ; 2. the necessity of faith ; 3. vices contrary to faith.


186. Definition. St. Paul defines faith in the following terms : “ It is that which gives substance to our hopes, which convinces us of things that we cannot see ” (Heb. xi, 1). The Vatican Council defined it in this way: “Faith is the supernatural virtue whereby under the inspiration and help of God’s grace we believe that what lie has revealed is true not because of the intrinsic truth of the matters grasped by the natural light of reason but because of the authority of God Himself revealing, who can neither deceive nor be deceived.” In order to explain these two definitions more carefully it is necessary to consider separately the act and the virtue of faith.

Art. 1. The Act of Faith

187. The immediate subject of the act of faith is the intellect, since the act of faith is an assent and not a mere confidence in the divine mercy, as taught by Protestants. Although the act of faith is formally and immediately an act of the intellect, the will also has an important role to play since it has to command the assent in the act of faith. The objects of faith — the truths accepted on faith — are not evident in themselves but are obscure, and therefore they do not compel the assent of the intellect in the same way as natural truths. Consequently the will under the influence of grace commands the assent of the intellect.

The remote subject of the act of faith, viz., the persons capable of making the act, are : a) ail men alive on earth, with the exception of formal unbelievers ; b) souls in Purgatory, since they do not yet enjoy the Beatific Vision. Neither the angels and the blessed in Heaven who gaze on God’s essence nor the damned in Hell who lack grace possess faith in the strict sense of the word.

188. The formal object of faith (obiectum attributionis) is the primary and essential Truth, viz., the divine essence, which is primarily and principally attained by faith ; everything else is believed in reference to that divine essence.

The internal motive of belief (obietum fomiale quo) is the authority of God revealing — the primary truth in speech. For if any Christian is asked why he believes, he immediately replies that it is because the articles of faith have been revealed by God.

The material object of faith is that which is formally and certainly revealed by God. Consequently the Vatican Council has stated : “By faith which is both divine and catholic everything must be believed that is contained in the word of God, whether written or handed down, and also that which the Church through her solemn or ordinary judgement and universal magisterium proposes for belief as a truth revealed by God.”

189. The properties of faith. Faith is supernatural, free, infallible and certain.

1. The act of faith is supernatural a) in its object (the truths believed), b) in its motive (revelation by God), c) in its principle (sanctifying grace), since no one can make an act of faith without the help of divine grace. Hence the Council of Trent has defined (Sess. 6, c. 3 de iusdf.) : “ If anyone shall say that it is possible for man to believe as he ought without the prevenient inspiration of the Holy Ghost and His help . . . A.S.”

2. The act of faith is free, since the intellect gives its assent to truths which are obscure and not evident in themselves. Thus the Vatican Council has declared : “ If anyone shall say that the assent given to the Christian faith is not free but necessarily results from arguments of human reason, A.S.”

3. The act of faith is infallible since it rests on the revelation of God and on the teaching authority of the Church, both of which arc infallible.

4. The act of faith is certain and constant— that is to say, no reason at all permits man to doubt and deny its truth.

Art. 2. The Virtue of Faith

190. Its existence. The virtue of faith exists in everyone possessing sanctifying grace and also in the sinner, provided he has not committed a grave sin of disbelief.

This sin of disbelief will be discussed later. The Council of Trent has declared that faith certainly remains in the sinner (Sess. 6, c. 28 de iustif.) : “ If anyone says that faith is always destroyed at the same time as grace is lost through sin, or that the faith which remains is not genuine faith even though it is not a living faith, or that a person who possesses faith without charity is not a Christian, A.S.” The faith possessed by the sinner is called deformed faith.

191. Increase and loss of faith. Faith is increased at the same time as sanctifying grace and in no other way ; it is lost by the act of disbelief only (formal heresy).

The reason is that a person who steadfastly denies even one of the articles of faith denies also the infallible revelation of God and the infallible teaching authority of the Church, and consequently destroys within himself the very foundation of faith.

CHAPTER II. Necessity of theological faith

192. Definitions. Both the habit and the act of faith are necessary both as means of salvation and by precept. A necessary means of salvation is an absolute condition without which it is impossible to attain to eternal life. A precept makes something obligatory for salvation when a special command is made by a legitimate superior who imposes something as a condition of salvation but not in such an absolute fashion that salvation could not be obtained otherwise. Therefore no excuse is permissible when there is question of a necessary means ; on the other hand, moral impossibility is usually taken to excuse from things that are necessary from precept.

This chapter is divided into two articles : 1. the necessity of faith as a means of salvation : 2. the necessity of faith from precept.

Art. 1. Necessity of Faith as a means of Salvation

Principle. The habit of faith is a necessary means of salvation for all men ; so is the act of faith for all adults.

The reason for the first part of the principle is that faith has been established by God as the substance, viz., the primary foundation, of things to be hoped for, i.e., eternal happiness. The Vatican Council made the following declaration : “ Since without faith it is impossible to please God and to attain to fellowship of His sons, consequently no one can attain to justification without it ; neither can anyone attain to everlasting life without persevering in faith.” The second part of the principle rests on Christ’s words : “ He who does not believe will be condemned ” (Mark xvi, 15). Furthermore, how could an adult merit eternal life unless he first believed in its existence and in the means necessary to attain to it ?

In an adult neither the desire for faith nor faith in the wide sense of the word are sufficient, as some theologians have thought ; there is required explicit faith and faith in the strict sense of the word.

193. Truths to be believed.

1. With at least implicit faith one must believe everything revealed to man by God and which the Church proposes for belief.

2. With explicit faith one must believe that God exists and that He rewards the good and punishes the wicked. For St. Paul says : “Nobody reaches God’s presence until he has learned to believe that God exists, and that He rewards those who try to find Him ” (Heb. xi, 6). Theologians are not agreed whether there are other truths which should be accepted with explicit faith as necessary means of salvation. There is a probable opinion which must be followed in practice that explicit faith in Christ as redeemer and in the Blessed Trinity is necessary for salvation. Therefore one cannot baptize or absolve anyone who does not give explicit belief to those four truths (Cf. S. Offic., die 25 Jan. 1703). It is sufficient for the uneducated to accept with divine faith these mysteries, even though their grasp of them may be imperfect.

Art. 2. Necessity of Faith from Precept

In relation to faith two things are commanded : 1. the internal act of faith ; 2. the external manifestation or profession of faith.

§ 1. Obligation to Elicit the Interior Act of Faith

194. Principle. There exists a divine precept commanding internal explicit acts of faith regarding at least the chief articles of faith.

The existence of such a precept is presupposed by St. John when he writes : “ What He commands is, that we should have faith in the name of His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John iii, 23). The following proposition was condemned by Innocent XI : “ Faith is not included under any special precept and in itself.”

This precept extends to all men and embraces at least the following four things : the Apostles’ creed, the Lord’s prayer, the Ten Commandments, the Sacraments which are necessary for all. Many theologians maintain that the faithful should commit to memory the Apostles’ creed, the Lord’s prayer and the Ten Commandments, but there is no agreement on the existence of a strict obligation. — The faithful should endeavour to have a good knowledge of matters belonging to the Catholic religion, and parish priests are bound to instruct the faithful carefully in matters of faith and morals.

195. The time of the obligation. The precept of eliciting an act of faith obliges of itself— that is to say, independently of every other obligation —

1. when God’s revelation has been sufficiently proposed to man. So far as Catholics are concerned this occurs when they attain the perfect use of their reason, but for heretics and pagans the time arrives when they realize the truth of the Catholic religion. Therefore, such heretics and pagans are obliged to be converted immediately in their heart to the true religion, even though their public conversion may be deferred for just reasons to a more opportune moment.

2. when a new dogma of faith is proposed by the Church.

3. frequently during life. And therefore Innocent XI condemned this proposition : “ It is sufficient to make the act of faith once in life.” It is not possible to determine the exact number of times that the act of faith should be made, but men living a Christian life satisfy this precept abundantly in performing their various religious duties.

4. probably at the hour of death, because at that moment, most of all, man is obliged to believe that God is a merciful and just rewarder. There is an incidental obligation to make the act of faith : a) when this is necessary in order to fulfil some obligation which presupposes faith, such as in the reception of the Sacraments ; b) during serious temptations against some virtue which cannot be overcome without faith.

§ 2 . External Profession of Faith

Both God and the Church command the external profession of faith.

196. I. The divine precept to profess one’s faith externally is easily gathered from the words of St. Paul: “The heart has only to believe, if we are to be justified ; the bps have only to make confession, if we are to be saved ” (Rom. x, 9-10), and it follows from the very nature of man himself who must worship God not only with his mind but also with his body.

This precept is both affirmative and negative in character. Its negative aspect forbids man to deny his faith externally, which he may do either directly — by formal infidelity — or indirectly, by some action which externally gives a clear indication of denial of faith even though the agent himself has no intention of denying his faith. Thus, for example, a person indirectly denies his faith by partaking of the Protestant communion even though in his own mind he does not believe that Christ is present in that communion. It is never permissible to deny one’s faith either directly or indirectly, because every denial of faith is a grave insult to God since it undermines the authority of God and the reverence due to Him. Hence Christ’s threat : “ Whoever disowns me before men, before my Father in heaven I too will disown him ” (Matt, x, 32). But although it is never lawful to deny one’s faith, occasions do arise when it is permissible to conceal or dissemble one’s faith, as will be explained later.

According to St. Thomas the divine precept obliges man to make an external profession of his faith when failure to do so would detract from the honour due to God or cause injury to the spiritual welfare of one’s neighbour. 1

1. The honour due to God demands an external profession of faith : a) when a man is questioned by public authority (not by private persons) about his faith ; b ) when a person is provoked even by private individuals through hatred of religion to a denial of his faith in word or deed.

2. The spiritual welfare of our neighbour requires an external profession of faith when grave scandal would ensue from its omission (v.g., Libellatici amongst the early Christians).

197. II. The ecclesiastical precept demanding the external profession of faith obliges the following, according to the existing discipline of the Church (c. 1406) :

1. those about to be baptized,

2. persons returning to the fold of the Church,

3. subdeacons elect,

4. all who have the right to be present at a Provincial Council or diocesan synod,

5. confessors and preachers before they are granted their faculties,

6. all beneficiaries, such as parish priests and canons,

7. officials in episcopal curias and ecclesiastical courts,

8. officials in the Roman Congregations and courts,

9. all professors in seminaries and religious institutes, and all who receive university degrees,

10. all religious Superiors in clerical religious orders.

198. Concealment and pretence of faith. It is permissible to conceal or dissemble one’s faith provided there is sufficient reason and it does not entail either a direct or indirect denial of faith. Thus, for example, a heretic (or pagan) who cannot return in public to the Church without involving himself in serious temporal inconvenience may do so secretly ; a priest while passing through dangerous places inhabited by unbelievers may wear lay attire. Many other examples are given in the author’s Man. Theol. mor. I, 507.

1 The Code of Canon Law (c. 1325, § 1) expresses the precept in the following manner : “ Christ’s faithful are obliged to profess their faith publicly whenever their silence, subterfuge, or manner of acting imply an implicit denial of faith, a contempt of religion, or an insult to God, or scandal to the neighbour.”




1 99. Sins against faith are those of commission and those of omission.

1. Sins of omission contrary to faith are : a) the non-fulfilment of those precepts which enjoin internal and external acts of faith (cf. n. 194 sqq.) ; b) deliberate ignorance of the truths of faith which ought to be known.

2. By commission a person sins against faith either by excess or by defect.

Sins of excess contrary to faith are rash credulity and superstition. A man commits the sin of rash credulity when he believes as part of faith truths which in fact are not, such as a man who gives credence to private revelations too easily. Superstition, which is a form of profession of disbelief through an external act, is contrary both to faith and to the virtue of religion (cf. below, n. 430).

Sins of defect contrary to faith are committed by infidelity whether negative or positive. Negative (material, involuntary) infidelity is the lack of faith in a person to whom the faith has never been sufficiently declared. Positive infidelity (formal) is the culpable lack of faith in a person who does not want to believe. Paganism, Judaism, and heresy are three types of positive infidelity. Apostasy which is a complete lack of faith in a person who previously possessed the faith is a form of heresy. Schism is distinct from heresy, inasmuch as there exists a stubborn refusal to be obedient to the Pope. Therefore schism, although not directly contrary to faith, is nearly always conjoined to heresy, because schismatics not only refuse obedience to the Pope but also deny his primacy.

In this chapter we shall consider separately : 1. paganism and Judaism ; 2. heresy and apostasy ; 3. dangers to faith.

Art. 1. Paganism and Judaism

200. First Proposition. Negative infidelity is not sinful; positive infidelity is an extremely grave sin.

Negative infidelity is the result of invincible ignorance and therefore is not blameworthy. Consequently the following proposition of du Bay was condemned : “ Purely negative infidelity in those to whom Christ has not been preached is sinful.”

The reason for the second part of the proposition is that positive infidelity reveals : a) a serious contempt for the authority of God revealing ; b) a rejection of a necessary means of salvation. Therefore Christ issued this solemn warning : “ He who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark xvi, 16).

Second Proposition, a) Although pagans and Jews must not be forced to embrace the Catholic faith, yet they should he compelled to refrain from placing obstacles in the way of Catholic worship and from offering insults ; b) their rites and worship may he tolerated by Christian rulers for grave reasons.

The first part of the proposition derives its truth from the fact that no one can be compelled to believe, since the act of faith is a free act ; at the same time no one can legitimately attack the Catholic faith.

The reason for the second part is that even God Himself tolerates many sins in order to avoid greater evils.

Art. 2. Apostasy and Heresy

201. Apostasy is the complete repudiation of Christian belief after it has been accepted freely (c. 1325, § 2).

Therefore apostasy consists in the voluntary rejection of the Catholic faith by a person who previously professed it. We are not speaking here of apostasy from Holy Orders and from religion. Apostasy to the Masonic sect is very often equivalent to apostasy from the faith.

202. Heresy, considered objectively, is a proposition that contradicts an article of faith ; in its subjective and formal aspect heresy is the pertinacious error of a Christian who repudiates some truth of the Catholic faith.

Therefore for formal heresy there is required error in the intellect and pertinacity in the will ; consequently the following are not formal heretics :

a) those who from fear or some other motive make an external denial of faith while inwardly preserving their consent to it;

b) those who make some error in their faith through ignorance even though vincible, since the error is not pertinacious;

c) those who deny a truth held as revealed but which the Church herself has not yet proposed as revealed.

If the error is not pertinacious the heretic is a material heretic, such as Protestants who have been instructed in heresy since their infancy.

The evil of apostasy and heresy. Material heresy is not sinful since it is not voluntary ; formal heresy is a grave sin which admits of no slight matter since it implies a formal contempt of the truthfulness and authority of God. Apostasy is not specifically distinct from heresy, but is simply a circumstance that greatly aggravates the guilt.

Ecclesiastical penalties. Formal heretics and apostates who profess their heresy publicly incur :

1. Excommunication latae sententiae specially reserved to the Holy See in the internal forum. However, should the offence of heresy or apostasy be brought before the external court, absolution may be granted by the local Ordinary (c. 2314, §§ 1 and 2).

2. Irregularity both because of the delinquency (c. 985, n. 1), and because of the defect, if they have adhered in public to some non-Catholic sect because of infamy in law (c. 984, n. 5) ; the children of non-Catholic parents are debarred from receiving Orders so long as their parents continue in their error (c. 987, n. 1), but not after their death — a probable opinion.

3. If they do not repent after due warning, they are deprived of benefice, dignity, pension, office and any other office which they may possess in the Church ; they shall be declared infamous and, if clerics, after admonition a second time they shall be deposed.

4. Refusal of church burial (c. 1240, § 1 n. 1) and notoriety (c. 2314, n. 3), if they have publicly adhered to a non-Catholic sect.

203. Scholium. Doubts against faith. Since faith is most certain, any voluntary doubt against faith is gravely sinful. The following points should be borne in mind :

a) A Catholic who has a positive doubt concerning some article of faith is a heretic, since he has undermined the infallibility of God revealing. Hence the saying : “ dubius in fide infidelis est.”

b) A Catholic who suspends his assent regarding an article of faith (negative doubt) is bound to fight such doubts vigorously ; otherwise he sins.

c) A Protestant who positively doubts the truth of his sect is bound to enquire diligently into its truth ; otherwise he sins, without becoming a formal heretic since his error is free of pertinacity.

Art. 3. Dangers to Faith

204. Dangers to faith arise either from within, v.g., from pride, greed, immoral life, etc., or from outside, v.g., from co-operation with heretics, from mixed marriages. Here we shall consider external dangers to faith.

§ 1 . Co-operation with Fagans and Heretics

205. Definitions, i. Co-operation with heretics and pagans is either civil in matters concerning man’s civil life, or religious in matters pertaining to worship and religion.

2. Religious co-operation is either active or passive, depending on whether a Catholic takes part in unorthodox worship or a non-Catholic co-operates in Catholic worship. Active co-operation is either formal or material ; it is formal when a Catholic takes part in unorthodox worship with the express intention of worshipping God ; it is material when a Catholic assists at non-Catholic worship externally without the internal desire to co-operate.

First Rule. Civil co-operation between Catholics and non-Catholics is not now forbidden by the law of the Church, but very often it has to be discouraged owing to the dangers involved. It is frequently the source of doubts against faith, indifferentism, and sometimes complete defection from the faith.

Second Rule. Passive religious co-operation with heretics (but not with excommunicated persons who are to be avoided) is lawful, as a general rule.

Therefore non-Catholics may be present at Catholic services, but they cannot publicly participate in the Sacraments, sacramentals, indulgences, etc.

Third Rule. Active and formal religious co-operation is always forbidden (c. 1238, § i).

Such co-operation is simply a denial of Catholic faith and a recognition of an unorthodox form of worship. Thus, for example, a Catholic cannot be a godparent at an heretical Baptism.

Fourth Rule. Active and material religious co-operation is sometimes permitted for a sufficient reason (ibid. § 2).

The reason is that such co-operation in itself is not intrinsically evil, provided there is no danger of scandal or perversion. Thus, for instance, it is permissible to attend non-Catholic funerals as a mark of courtesy, to enter non-Catholic Churches in order to listen to music, etc.

§ 2. Attendance at non-Catholic Schools

206. Non-Catholic schools are either positively non-Catholic where non-Catholic doctrine is openly and deliberately taught, or neutral (lay, mixed) from which all positive religion is excluded and exclusive attention given to secular instruction.

Principle. It is never permissible to attend non-Catholic schools, unless it is possible to remove the proximate danger of perversion.

The reason is obvious — one can never expose oneself to the proximate danger of perversion.

Means that may be used to remove this proximate danger are : 1. the exercise of diligent care that Catholic pupils suffer no harm from bad books, from their fellow pupils or from their teachers ; 2. the provision from another source of sufficient instruction of Catholic pupils in their religion and in good conduct ; 3. the encouragement of Catholic pupils to persevere in a holy and religious manner of life.

The Code lays down the following admirable directive (c. 1374) : “ Catholic children shall not attend non-Catholic, indifferent, schools that are mixed, that is to say, schools open to Catholics and non-Catholics alike. It rests with the local Ordinary alone to decide in harmony with the instructions of the Holy See under what circumstances and with what safeguards to prevent loss of faith it may be tolerated that Catholic children attend such schools.”

§ 3. Reading Heretical Books

207. There is almost nothing so harmful to a man’s religious life as the reading of bad books. Consequently the Church throughout the ages has taken care that Catholics should not suffer harm from the reading and printing of evil books. The present discipline in this matter was outlined by Leo XIII in his Constitution ‘ Officiorum et munerum,”

2 5 . 1896 and has been amplified further in the Code, bk. iii, tit. xxiii. Cf. the author’s Man. iur. can. q. 414 sqq.

§ 4. Mixed Marriages

208. Another baneful danger of perversion is mixed marriages of which the Church has always expressed her disapproval and which she only tolerates with special precautions to be discussed later in the treatise on marriage. Therefore a Catholic who contracts a mixed marriage without observing these precautions commits grave sin, and incurs excommunication if the ceremony was performed in the presence of a non-Catholic minister.