V. THE CHRISTIAN FAITH
1. Christian faith is the firm conviction, arrived at with the grace of God, that all that Jesus Christ taught on earth is true, as well as all that the Catholic Church teaches by the commission she has received from Him.
At the Last Supper Our Lord said “This is My body,” “This is My blood.” Although the apostles had the evidence of their senses that what lay before them was only bread and wine, yet they believed that the words of Christ were true. The holiness of the life of Christ, the numerous miracles that He worked, the predictions of His that were fulfilled, had convinced the apostles that He was the Son of God, and that therefore every word that He spoke was true. God promised Abraham many descendants, and then commanded him to slay his only son. Abraham obeyed, because he knew that God’s word must come true (Heb. xi. 19; Rom. iv. 9). This was a splendid example of faith. St. Paul (Heb. xi. 1) calls faith “the evidence of things that do not appear.”
Christian faith is at the same time a matter of the understanding and the will.
Before a man believes, he inquires whether what he is asked to believe was really revealed by God. This inquiry is a duty, for God exacts of us a reasonable service (Rom. xii. 1), and warns us that “he who is hasty to believe is light in heart” (Ecclus. xix. 4). But when once a man has arrived at the conviction that the truth which is in question was really revealed by God, then the will must at once submit to what God has laid down, even though the reason cannot fully grasp its meaning. If the will does not submit, faith is impossible. No man can believe unless he wills to believe.
2. Faith is concerned with many things which we cannot perceive with our senses and cannot grasp with our understanding.
Faith is a conviction respecting that which we see not (Heb. xi. 1). We believe in God, though we do not see Him; we believe in angels though we have never seen them. We believe in the resurrection of our bodies, though we do not understand how it can be. So, too, we believe in the mysteries of the Blessed Trinity, of the Incarnation, and of the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. This is why faith is so pleasing to God. “Blessed are they,” says Our Lord to St. Thomas, “who have not seen but have believed” (John xx. 29).
Faith never requires us to believe anything that is contradictory to human reason.
The mysteries of faith are above and beyond our reason, but are never opposed to reason. For God has given us our reason, and it is the same God Who has given us the teaching of Christ and of the Church. He who rejects any doctrine of the Church ultimately finds himself involved in a contradiction. Hence Bacon truly says: “A little philosophy takes a man away from religion, but a sound knowledge of philosophy brings him back to religion.”
3. We act quite in accordance with reason when we believe, because we trust ourselves to God’s truthfulness, and because we know for certain that the truths of faith are revealed to us by God.
A short-sighted man believes a man with longer sight when he tells him that a balloon is floating in the heavens. A blind man believes one with sound sight when he tells him that the map before him is a map of Europe. We believe in the existence of the cities of Constantinople, Pekin, and Buenos Ayres, though we may never have seen them. In so doing we act reasonably. But how far more reasonably do we act when we believe God! Man may be mistaken, or may be deceiving us, whereas God cannot err and cannot deceive us. It is the truthfulness of God on which we rely when we make an act of faith. We must, however, previously be certain that the doctrine or fact which we are asked to believe is one that has really been revealed by God. God bears witness to Himself as the Author of the truths of faith by many actions that He alone can perform, such as miracles and prophecies. The man of good will can always find a sufficient reason for believing, a man of bad will an excuse for not believing.
We believe the words of Christ, because He is the Son of God, and can neither deceive nor be deceived. Moreover He has established the truth of what He taught by the miracles that He worked.
It would be a blasphemy to suppose that Our Lord, Who is truth itself, could ever have, in one single instance, deceived us.- Hence faith gives us a greater certainty than the evidence of our senses. Our senses can deceive us God cannot deceive us. Christ Himself appeals to the miracles He wrought, when He says, “If any one will not believe Me, let him believe the works” (John x. 38).
We believe the teaching of the Church because Christ guides the Church to all truth through the Holy Spirit, and guards it against all error, and also because God, even up to the present day, has confirmed the truth of the teaching of the Catholic Church by miracles.
Our Lord before His ascension said to His apostles: “Behold I am with you all days even to the end of the world” (Matt. xxviii. 20). And at the Last Supper: “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Paraclete, that He may remain with you forever, the Spirit of truth” (John xiv. 16). The Holy Spirit is therefore still in the midst of the Church, just as He was on the Day of Pentecost. God moreover still works miracles in the Catholic Church. Witness, e.g., the countless miracles of Lourdes, and those that take place at the well of St. Winifred in Wales; and also those that must precede every beatification. Witness again the numerous bodies of the saints that have remained incorrupt for long years after their death, as those of St. Francis Xavier, St. Teresa, St. Elizabeth of Portugal, St. John of the Cross, and many others. Witness again the head of the Venerable Oliver Plunkett in the Dominican Convent at Drogheda, which not only remains incorrupt, but emits a most delicious fragrance. Most of these bodies were buried in the earth for years, and were found incorrupt when their graves were opened. Witness again the miracle which takes place at Naples every year, when the blood of St. Januarius becomes liquid on being brought near the silver case in which the head of the saint is kept, and again solidifies as soon as it is removed. Faith gives us a more certain knowledge than that which we gain through our senses, or that which we arrive at by our reasoning powers. Our senses can mislead us, God cannot; e.g., a stick, part of which is in the water, looks bent; a sound that strikes against a flat building seems to come from the opposite quarter to that whence it really proceeds. Our intellect, too, can deceive us, weakened as it is by original sin. As we see better with a tele scope than with the naked eye when the object is far away, so faith sees further and better than reason. We must not confuse faith with opinion. Faith is certain and sure, opinion is not.
4. The Christian faith comprises all the doctrines of the Catholic faith.
He who willfully disbelieves a single doctrine of the Catholic Church has no true faith, for he who receives some of the words of Christ and rejects others, does not really believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that He guides the Catholic Church.
A faith which does not comprise all the doctrines of the Catholic Church is no faith at all. It is like a house without a foundation. A man who believes all other Catholic doctrines, but rejects the infallibility of the Pope, has no true faith. What insolence it is on the part of men to treat God like a dishonest dealer, some of whose goods they accept, and others reject! What utter folly to think that we know better than God! As a bell in which there is one little crack is worthless, as one false note destroys a harmony, as a grain of sand in the eye prevents one from seeing, so the rejection of a single dogma makes faith impossible. He who willfully rejects a single dogma sins against the whole body of doctrine of the Catholic Church. Hence no heretic, if he is so through his own fault, can make an act of faith, even in the existence of God or the divinity of Jesus Christ.
Although it is necessary to faith that all the teaching of the Catholic Church should be believed, yet it is not necessary to be acquainted with every one of her doctrines. But a Catholic must at the very least know that there is a God, and that God directs the life of men, rewards the good, and punishes the wicked; he must also know that there are three persons in God, and that the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity has become man, and has redeemed us on the cross.
St. Paul tells us that “He that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is the rewarder of them that seek Him” (Heb. xi. 6). This was the minimum required before the coming of Christ, and is now required of those who have never come within reach of the Gospel. In a country where the Gospel is preached the case is quite different, and no one can be admitted to the Sacraments of Baptism or Penance until he has been instructed in the above-mentioned truths.
He who has an opportunity of being instructed must also learn and understand the Apostles Creed, the commandments of God and of the Church, and also he must have some knowledge of the doctrines of grace, of the sacraments, and of prayer, as set forth in some Catechism authorized by the bishops of the country where he lives.
5. Faith is a gift of God, since the power to believe can only be attained through the grace of God.
St. Paul tells us “By grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God” (Eph. ii. 8). And Our Lord says, “No man can come to Me, unless it be given to him by My Father” (John vi. 66). God gives us the gift of faith in Baptism; hence Baptism is called “the sacrament of faith.” Until the newly baptized child comes to the use of reason, he cannot use this power of believing, or make an act of faith. He is like a child who is asleep, who has the faculty of sight, but cannot use it until he opens his eyes. Then he -can see the objects around him under the influence of the light. So the child who attains to reason is able to believe the truths of religion under the influence of the grace of God.
God bestows the knowledge of the truth and the gift of faith chiefly on those who (1), strive after it with earnestness and per severance; (2), live a God-fearing life; (3), pray that they may find the truth.
An earnest desire after truth is a sure means of attaining to it, for Our Lord has said that “Those who hunger and thirst after justice shall have their fill” (Matt. v. 6). And again God says through the mouth of the prophet, “You shall find Me when you seek Me with your whole heart” (Jer. xxix. 13). The Roman philosopher Justinus was an instance of the fulfillment of this promise, for God rewarded his earnest desire for truth by causing him to fall in with an old man on the banks of the Tiber, who instructed him in the truths of the Christian faith. A life in accordance with the law of God will also obtain the grace of faith. “If any one shall do the will of God, he shall know of the doctrine” (John vii. 17). To such a one God will give an interior light, or will send some one to instruct him, as He did to Cornelius (Acts x. 30 seq.). So Cardinal Newman prayed for long years for the “kindly light” which at last brought him to the door of the Catholic Church and the same was the case with countless other converts from Protestantism. Sometimes God in His mercy gives the gift of faith even to the enemies of the Church, as He did to St. Paul, but it is for the most part to those who are in good faith in their errors.
“When God bestows upon a man the gift of faith, He either employs one of the ordinary means of grace, such as preaching, or in some cases an extraordinary means, such as a miracle.
The ordinary means are preaching, reading, and personal instruction. St. Augustine was converted by the preaching of St. Ambrose in the Cathedral of Milan, St. Ignatius of Loyola by reading the lives of the saints, the Ethiopian eunuch by his conversation with St. Philip. Extraordinary means are those of which we find many at the beginning of the Christian era; such as the star that the Magi followed, the light that shone upon St. Paul on his journey to Damascus and the voice that he heard from heaven; the great cross that the Emperor Constantino saw in the sky, with the words “In hoc signo vinces;” the vision of Our Lady that Ratisbonne saw in the Church of St. Andrea in Rome in the year 1842. So the heathen boy Theophilus was converted by the roses that fell at his feet in the month of January, after the martyrdom of his playmate Dorothea (A.D. 308).
Many men fail to attain to the Christian faith through pride, self-will, and an unwillingness to give up the indulgence of their passions.
It is the lack of good will that debars many from the faith. Our Lord is the true light that enlighteneth every man that comes into the world (John i. 9). It is the will of God that all men should come to the truth. Men too often shut their eyes to the light, because they are unwilling to change their evil life; “they love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil” (John iii. 19). Pride is also a fatal hindrance to faith. God loves to make use of simple means to bring men to the knowledge of the truth and this the proud resent, just as Naaman resented Eliseus advice to go and wash in the Jordan. So Christ was rejected and despised by the Jews, and especially by the Scribes and Pharisees, because He was born of poor parents and lived in a town that was held in contempt: “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John i. 46.) So the upper class at Rome were unwilling to receive the truth from a nation that was despised by them, and from men who were in general very deficient in culture or position. So, too, in the present day God allows His Church to be oppressed and persecuted and looked down upon. Hence there is no miracle at which the proud do not scoff. God hides the secrets of His providence from the proud, and more than this, He positively resists them (1 Pet. v. 5).
6. Faith is necessary to eternal salvation.
Faith is like the root of the tree, without which it cannot exist; it is the first step on the road to heaven; it is the key which opens the treasure-house of all the virtues. How happy is the wanderer when he lights on the road which will carry him to his journey’s end; how far happier is he who has been wandering in the search after truth when he attains to a belief in the Catholic Church; he has found the road to eternal life. The saints always set the greatest store on the possession of the faith. “I thank God unceasingly,” said the good King Alphonsus of Castile, “not that I am a king, but that I am a Catholic.” Without faith there is no salvation. Our Lord says “He that believeth not shall be condemned” (Mark xvi. 16). St. Paul says that “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Heb. xi. 6). Faith is like a boat; as without a boat you cannot cross the sea, so without faith you cannot arrive at the port of eternal salvation. It is like the pillar of the cloud which led the Israelites across the desert, or like the star that guided the Wise Men to Christ. Without faith we can do no good works pleasing to God, or which will merit for us a reward in heaven. Acts of kindness, etc., done from a natural motive earn a reward in this life, but not in the next. They are like a building which has no foundation. Just as from the root placed in the ground arises the beautiful plant, with its leaves and flowers, so from the root of faith arises good works. Faith in God gives rise to a love of Him, and confidence in Him, and this enables us to labor and suffer for Him. Faith in our eternal reward encourages us in our toilsome journey through life. It gave Job his patience, Tobias his generosity to the poor, and the martyrs their constancy. Faith provides us with the means of resisting temptation; it is the lighthouse which enables the mariner to avoid the hidden rocks and quicksands. It is the shield that enables us to extinguish all the fiery darts of the wicked one (Eph. vi. 16). On the amount of our faith depends the amount that we possess of the other virtues, and the amount of grace that we receive from God.
7. Faith alone is not sufficient for salvation.
It must be a living faith; that is, we must add to it good works and must be ready to confess it openly.
A living faith is one which produces works pleasing to God. Our Lord says “Not every one who saith to Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doth the will of My Father Who is in heaven” (Matt. vii. 21). He who has done no works of mercy will be condemned at the judgment (Matt. xxv. 41). Such a one is like the devils, who believe and disobey (Jas. ii. 19). “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (Jas. ii. 26). Faith without works is like a tree without fruit, or like a lamp without oil. The foolish virgins had faith, but no works. Good works, such as are necessary for salvation, can only be performed by one who is in possession of sanctifying grace, and loves God in his heart. Hence St. Paul says, “If I should have all faith, so that I could remove mountains and have not charity, I am nothing” (1 Cor. xiii. 2). We must also be ready to confess our faith. “With the heart we believe unto justice; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Rom. x. 10). Man consists of body and soul, and therefore must honor God, not only inwardly, but also outwardly. Christ promises the kingdom of heaven only to those who confess Him before men (Matt. x. 32).
VI. THE MOTIVES OF FAITH
1. The external motives which move us to believe are chiefly miracles and prophecy.
It is through these that we attain to a certain knowledge that this or that truth of faith is really from God.
The veracity of God is of course the ultimate motive of faith, for we make an act of faith in the truths revealed by God, because we know that God is true and cannot deceive or be deceived. But no reasonable man can make an act of faith in any truth, until he is quite sure that it is one of the truths revealed by God. For this reason the external evidences through which God establishes the fact that He has really spoken are for men a most important and necessary motive of faith. It was in great measure because the apostles had seen the countless miracles worked by Christ, and had seen the prophecies of the Jewish prophets fulfilled in Him, that they believed Him without doubting when He said, “This is My body, this is My blood.” The miracle of the gift of tongues at Pentecost moved three thousand men to believe in Christianity; that of the healing of the lame man at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple moved two thousand more; the wonders wrought by the apostles induced the heathen to accept the Christian faith. How many were led to believe or confirmed in the faith by the fulfillment, in the year A.D. 70, of Our Lord’s prophecy respecting the destruction of Jerusalem, and again by the failure of the attempts to rebuild the Temple in A.D. 361! Besides miracles and prophecy there are also other motives of faith, such as the constancy of the martyrs, the wonderful spread of Christianity, and its still more wonderful permanency in the face of all the persecution and opposition that the Church has had to endure, the four attributes of the Church, etc.
The greater number of miracles were performed in the early days of the Church, because they were the means God employed for the spread of Christianity.
God is like a gardener who waters his plants while they are still tender and small.
2. Miracles are such extraordinary works as cannot be performed by the mere powers of nature, but are brought about by the intervention of a higher power.
An extraordinary work is one that fills us with astonishment, because we have never seen or heard of anything like it and are unable to find any natural explanation of it: e.g., the telegraph and the phonograph were extraordinary wonders at the time of their first invention. But their unwonted character is not sufficient to constitute these things as miracles; a miracle must also surpass all the forces of nature. Thus the raising of the dead to life is not only an extraordinary fact, but it is one that no amount of skill or knowledge will enable a man to perform. Miracles are thus exceptions to the ordinary course of nature; they appear to transgress the laws of nature, but they do not really do so. The laws of nature still hold good, but they are suspended in their action by an intervening power.
There are true and false miracles.
The former are worked by the power of almighty God, the latter appear to surpass the powers of nature, but are really the effect of the employment of the powers of nature by evil spirits, who by reason of their greater knowledge and power are able to produce results that deceive and mislead us. Miracles are divided into miracles of the first class and miracles of the second class. The former are those which altogether surpass all the powers of nature, as the raising of the dead to life. Miracles of the second class are extraordinary actions which might have been performed by the powers of nature, but not in the same way or in the same space of time, as the healing of a sick man by a word, or the sudden acquisition of the knowledge of a foreign language.
3. Miracles are wrought by almighty God only for His own glory, and especially for the confirmation of true doctrine.
Sometimes it is to show that a man is a true messenger sent by God; sometimes to bear witness to the holiness of one who is dead, or to his virtue or justice. God never works a miracle in confirmation of false doctrine.
All important documents must bear the stamp or signature of the person sending them out, as a mark of their being genuine. God also has His stamp, by which He certifies that some doctrine is from Him, or that some messenger is sent by Him. This stamp consists in miracles. It is one that cannot be counterfeited. Our Lord Himself appeals to His miracles as a proof of His divine mission (Matt. xi. 4, 5; John x. 37). Elias did the same (3 Kings xviii.). Miracles still continue to be worked in the Catholic Church in proof of the truth of her teaching. God also works miracles in proof of the holiness of the dead, often at their graves, as at that of Eliseus (4 Kings xiii. 21), or for those who invoke them. Two miracles must be attested as having been worked by the intercession of a servant of God, before he is beatified, and others before he is canonized. Under the Jewish covenant the saints worked miracles chiefly during their life; under the Christian covenant they work the greater number after their death. God also works miracles to manifest His goodness and His justice, as when the water flowed in the desert to supply the thirsting Israelites, and when Ananias and Saphira were struck dead. God never works miracles in proof of false doctrine, though He sometimes permits wicked men to be deceived by the false miracles worked by the devil. Thus the devil sometimes heals the sick rapidly or suddenly through his superior knowledge of the powers of nature.
4. In working miracles God usually makes use of the intervention of man, sometimes even of wicked men.
Those whom God has created can only work miracles when God gives them the power. The saints always worked miracles in the name of God, or of Our Lord. Our Lord alone could work miracles in His own name. Bad men are sometimes employed by God as the instruments of the miracles by which He establishes the truth (Matt. vii. 22, 23). We must not be too ready to have recourse to the hypothesis of a miracle, if the fact supposed to be miraculous can be accounted for in any other way.
5. Prophesies are clear and definite predictions of future events that can be known to God alone.
Prophecy also includes a prediction of future events, which de pend on the free will of man, for such events can only be foreseen by God Himself. The most thorough knowledge of material causes avails nothing. They are often just the opposite of what our previous knowledge would have led us to expect, e.g., the denial of Our Lord by St. Peter (Cf. Mark xiv. 31), which Our Lord predicted. Prophecies may be called miracles of the omniscience of God, as distinguished from the miracles of His omnipotence, for prophecy requires an acquaintance with the heart of man such as God alone possesses (Is. xli. 23). The oracles of the heathen correspond to the false miracles of which we have already spoken. They were mostly obscure and sometimes ambiguous, as when the oracle at Delphi told Crossus that if he crossed the river Halys with his army he would destroy a mighty kingdom, but did not say whether that kingdom was to be his own or that of his enemies. Many predictions were given by the oracles and the heathen soothsayers which were not true prophecies, but were guesses made from a knowledge of the laws of nature and from the laws that regulate the general course of human development. The evil spirits, through their superior knowledge, were often able to foretell events that men could not foresee, such as the approach of a storm or pestilence, or the death of some individual.
6. God for the most part entrusts the prophesying of future events to His messengers, for the confirmation of the true faith or for the benefit of men.
Thus God entrusted the prophets of the Jewish covenant with the prophecy of a Redeemer to come, in order to confirm the belief in Him, to convince those to whom He came that He was the true Messias and those who have lived since His coming of the truth of the Christian religion. He sent Noe to prophesy the Flood, in order to lead men to do penance. Sometimes He revealed the future to wicked men, as when to Baltassar He foretold his coming destruction by the handwriting on the wall. Sometimes He employed wicked men as the instruments through which He foretold the future, as e.g., Balaam (Numb. xxiv. 1 seq.), and Caiphas, as being the high priest of the year (John xi. 49). But in general He only employed as instruments of prophecy His own faithful servants, revealing the future event either through a vision, or by an angel, or through some interior illumination. Thus the archangel Gabriel was sent to instruct Daniel during the Babylonian captivity respecting the time of the coming of the Messias. The prophecies of the Apocalypse were mostly put before St. John in the form of a vision. Such communications were given to the prophets only from time to time. None of them had a permanent knowledge of future events. Thus Samuel did not know who was to be the future king of Israel till David was actually presented to him (1 Kings xvi. 6-12).
The gift of prophecy is therefore, generally speaking, a proof that he who possesses it is a messenger from God.
The fulfillment of the prophecy is, of course, necessary before we recognize it as a proof that he who utters it is a messenger from God. It must not contradict any revealed doctrine, or be inconsistent with the holiness of God. It must be edifying and profitable to men (1 Cor. xiv. 3). It must be uttered with prudence and calmness, for it is a mark of false prophets to show no control of self.
VII. ON THE ABSENCE AND LOSS OF FAITH
Faith is the road to heaven. Unhappily there are very many who are wanderers and strangers to the Christian faith.
1. Those who do not possess Christian faith are either: (1) heretics or (2) infidels.
1.Heretics are those who reject some one or more of the truths revealed by God.
Heretics are those who hold to some of the doctrines revealed by God, and reject others. Those who induce others to a false belief are called leaders of heresy, or arch-heretics. It is always pride that leads them away from the truth. Among these arch-heretics was Arius, a priest of Alexandria, who denied the divinity of Christ, and was condemned at the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325; Macedonius, who denied the divinity of the Holy Ghost, and was condemned in the Council of Constantinople A.D. 381; Martin Luther, who assailed the divine institution of the Papacy and the right of the Church to teach; Henry VIIL, King of England, who threw off the authority of the Pope and proclaimed himself the Head of the Church in England, because the Pope refused to declare invalid his valid marriage with Queen Catherine; Dollinger, who was a professor in the University of Munich, and was celebrated for his literary labors, but on the definition of the infallibility of the Pope refused to accept the dogma, and was excommunicated. He died in 1890 without being reconciled or giving any sign of repentance. Dollinger was the chief mover in the establishment of the sect of “Old Catholics.” Most of the founders of heresy were either bishops or priests. They are like the coiners of false money who put into circulation worthless metal in the place of the pure gold of truth. Or like dishonest traders, who mix the pure wine of the Gospel with some injurious compound. They are murderers of souls, for they take men away from the road that leads to eternal life, and tempt them into that which leads to eternal death. It is of them that Our Lord says “Woe to them by whom scandals come,” and again, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in the clothing of sheep, but inwardly they are ravening wolves “ (Matt. vii. 5). Their object is not to spread the faith in its purity, but to satisfy their own evil inclinations, their pride, their sensual desires, or their love of money. Their religious teaching is only a cloak for these. They look out for the weak side of human nature, as Satan does. Thus Luther tempted princes with the spoil of churches and monasteries, and priests with the bait of marriage. To the class of heretics belong also those schismatics who accept, or profess to accept, all Catholic doctrine, but will not acknowledge the supremacy of the Holy See. Thus the Greek Church is a schismatical Church, though its denial of Papal infallibility constitutes it, since the Vatican Council, heretical also. Heresy is one of the greatest of all sins, when it is not the result of invincible ignorance. St. Paul writes to the Galatians that if an angel from heaven preached to them any Gospel different from that they had received, he was to be anathema or accursed (Gal. i. 8). St. Jerome says that there is no one so far removed from God as a wilful heretic.
At the same time, he who lives in heresy through ignorance for which he is not himself to blame, is not a heretic in the sight of God.
Thus those who are brought up in Protestantism, and have no opportunity of obtaining a sufficient instruction in the Catholic religion, are not heretics in the sight of God, for in them there is no obstinate denial or doubt of the truth. They are no more heretics than the man who takes the property of another unwittingly is a thief.
2. Rationalists or unbelievers are those who will not believe anything unless they can either perceive it with their senses, or comprehend it with their understanding.
Thus St. Thomas was an unbeliever when he refused to believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, unless he should put his finger into the sacred wounds of Our Lord’s hands and feet, and put his hand into His side (John xx. 24). There are many in the present day like St. Thomas; they will believe nothing except what they can see with their eyes, or grasp with their reason; all else, e.g., all the mysteries of the faith, they reject. “Unbelief,” says St. John Chrysostom, “is like a sandy soil, that produces no fruit however much rain falls upon it.” The unbeliever does God the same injustice that a subject would do to his king, if he refused to acknowledge his authority in spite of the clearest proofs of it.
Unbelief springs for the most part from a bad life.
The sun is clearly reflected in pure and clear water, but not in dirty water. So it is with men; a man of blameless life easily finds his way to the truth, but the sensual man does not perceive the things that are of the Spirit of God (1 Cor. ii. 14). A mirror that is dim reflects badly, or not at all. So the soul, which is a mirror on which the light falls from God, cannot receive the truths of faith if it is dimmed by vice.
2. Faith is for the most part lost either: (1), By indifference to the doctrines of faith; (2), By wilful doubt respecting the truths of faith; (3), By reading books or other literature that is hostile to the faith; (4), By frequenting the assemblies of those who are hostile to the faith; (5), By neglecting the practice of one’s religion.
He who through culpable indifference does not trouble himself about the doctrines of faith, gradually loses the gift of faith. He is like the plant that is not watered, or the lamp that is not filled with oil. Such men know that they are very ignorant of their religion, and yet they take no pains to get instructed; they are engrossed with this world; they never pray or hear a sermon, and if they are parents, they take no pains to get their children properly instructed. Perhaps they fancy themselves men of enlightenment, and look with pitying contempt on those who are conscientious and earnest in the practice of their religion. The body must be nourished, else it will perish from hunger; the soul must be nourished, else it, too, will perish. Its nourishment is the teaching of Christ. He Himself says, in His conversation with the woman of Samaria, that the water that He would give her, i.e., His divine doctrine, should be to her a well of water, springing up unto life everlasting (John iv. 14). And in the synagogue of Capharnaum “I am the Bread of life; he that cometh to Me shall not hunger, and he that believeth on Me shall never thirst” (John vi. 35). This is why the careful instruction of children and of converts is so all-important. When converts fall away, the cause very often is that they have not been well instructed before their reception into the Church. The Catholic must not suppose that he is freed from the study of the doctrines of faith, because he has been duly instructed in his youth. The plant must be watered even when it is grown up; the soul of the adult needs to renew its acquaintance with the truths of faith by hearing sermons, reading pious books, etc., else it will soon lose the vigor of its faith. He who allows himself willfully to doubt of any of the doctrines of the Church, commits a serious sin against faith, and is sure, little by little, to lose his faith altogether. That house is sure to fall of which the foundations are loosened. He who doubts any revealed truth seriously offends God. Sara doubted God’s promise that she should bear a son in her old age and was reproved by God for her in credulity (Gen. xviii. 10 seq.). Zacharias doubted the announcement of the angel that John Baptist should be born to him, and as a punishment lost for a time the power of speech (Luke i. 18 seq.). Yet doubts that come into our mind involve no sin, if we do not willfully consent to them. If doubts come into our mind we should not argue with them, but should make an act of faith and pray for more faith. Those however, who are outside the Church, and have not the faith, are bound, if they doubt, to search and inquire, until they have found the truth; with them doubt is no sin, so long as their search after truth is made in a spirit of humility, and with a sincere desire to arrive at truth. Faith is also destroyed by the reading of books hostile to the faith. In this way John Huss, who disseminated false doctrine over Bohemia, is said to have been corrupted by the works of the English heretic, Wyclif. It was the writings of Luther that chiefly contributed to the apostasy of Calvin and Zwingli. Julian the Apostate (A.D. 363) is said to have lost his faith by reading the writings of the heretic Libanius during his expedition to Nicomedia. In the present day the books against the faith are countless. Among the most mischievous are the works of Rousseau, Voltaire, Zola, Renan, Gibbon, Ingersoll, Huxley, etc. The Church, like a good mother, seeing how books dangerous to faith were on the increase, established in 1571 the Congregation of the Index, through which the Apostolic See forbids to Catholics a number of books, which are judged to be a source of danger to faith or morals. Any one who reads such books, prints them, or even has them in his possession without permission from his ecclesiastical superiors incurs the penalty of excommunication reserved to the Pope. The penalty, however, is not incurred by any one who reads such a book without knowing that it was forbidden. At one time all books had to be sanctioned by the bishop of the diocese, but this was afterwards limited to books touching on religion. By these means the Church sought to preserve the purity of Christian doctrine. Many, too, have lost their faith by habitually reading newspapers hostile to the faith. As the body cannot remain in health if it is fed with unwholesome food, so the mind becomes diseased -and corrupt if a man feeds it with unwholesome and pernicious literature. The process may be a slow one, but it is like the solid rock which wears away little by little as the drops of water fall upon it. Bad reading is like unwholesome food, which ere long induces sickness and even death. Among the enemies of faith are the Freemasons. In Protestant countries they seem harmless enough, and many converts who have be longed to the Masonic order have borne witness that they have never encountered anything in it which was opposed either to throne or altar, but the real object aimed at by the leaders of Free masonry is to destroy all authority that comes from God, and all revealed religion. Their secret oath of obedience, taken as it is with out any reserve, is absolutely unlawful, and the symbolism of many of its lodges is grossly blasphemous and insulting to Christianity. The idea of Freemasonry is taken from the Masonic guilds of the Middle Ages, the members of which employed themselves in the construction of cathedrals and churches. It professes to have for its object the construction of a spiritual temple to humanity and enlightenment, but Freemasons are invariably the bitter foes of Christianity and of the Catholic Church. Every one joining them is ipso facto excommunicate, and the Pope alone can restore him to the member ship of the Church, except at the hour of death, when any priest has power to do so.
3. All men who through their own fault die without Christian faith are, by the just judgment of God, sentenced to eternal perdition.
Unhappy indeed are those who have not faith; “they sit in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Luke i. 79). Our Lord says, “He who believeth not shall be condemned” (Mark xvi. 16), and again “He who believeth not is condemned already 7 (John iii. 18). Of heretics St. Paul says that they are condemned by their own judgment (Tit. iii. 11). We ought to pray often for heretics and un believers, that God may in His mercy bring them to the true faith.
VIII. ON THE DUTY OF CONFESSING OUR FAITH
1. God requires of us that we should make outward profession of our faith.
Christ says, “So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father Who is in heaven” (Matt. v. 16).
We are bound in our words and actions to let men know that we are Christians and Catholics. It is by the open profession of our faith that we help others (as we see from the above words of Our Lord), to know God better and to honor Him more. We also thereby lead them to imitate our good deeds; for men are like sheep, which though lazy in themselves and unwilling to move, will follow where one of them leads the way. The open profession of our faith also strengthens us in all that is good, for “practice makes perfect.” Unhappily men are too often cowards. For fear of being laughed at by those around them, or through the dread of suffering some injury in their business, or some disadvantage in their worldly affairs or interests, they have not the courage openly to profess their faith, or to defend their religion when it is attacked; they laugh at indecent or profane stories, join in immodest conversation, or in talk against the Church, priests, and religious, eat meat on Friday in order to escape the jests of their companions, and miss Mass on Sunday without excuse. They forget that those who laugh them out of doing what is right only despise them in their hearts, and would respect and honor them if they stood firm. They forget, too, that at the Day of Judgment the tables will be turned, and that those who now mock at them will be full of terror and of shame, and those who have been loyal to their religion will be the objects of the envy and admiration of their persecutors, who will bitterly lament their folly and wickedness (Wisd. i. 1-5). Among the splendid instances of those who were faithful to their religion and fearlessly made confession of their faith, were the three young men who refused to adore the golden image set up by Nabuchodonosor (Dan. ii.); the holy Tobias, who alone of all his kindred refused to go to the golden calves at Dan and Bethel, and went up every year to the Temple in Jerusalem (Tob. i. 5, 6); Eleazar, who preferred death to even appearing to eat swine’s flesh (2 Mach. vi. 18 seq.); St. Ignatius the martyr, St. Agnes, St. Lucy, St. Maurice and the Theban legion, and countless other Christian martyrs and confessors. It is by way of an open profession of her faith that holy Church has instituted processions like those of Corpus Christi, processions of Our Lady, etc.
We are only bound openly to confess our faith when our omission to do so would bring religion into contempt, or do some injury to our neighbor, or when we are in some way challenged to declare and make profession of our religion.
We are not bound always and on all occasions to confess our faith, but only when the honor due to God, or the edification due to our neighbor requires it. If officious people question us about our faith, we are not bound to answer them; we can refuse to answer, or turn away. But if we are questioned by some one who possesses legitimate authority to do so, we are bound to confess our faith, even though it should cost us our lives, as Our Lord did when questioned before Caiphas, and as thousands of the early Christians did when called upon to sacrifice to the idols. In such cases the words of Our Lord apply, “Fear not them that kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul” (Matt. x. 28). To fear man more than God is to bring down on us His anger. We also should try and avoid all wrangling discussions and controversies about religion, which generally do harm and embitter men against the truth. Our faith is so holy a thing that it must be spoken of with great discretion and prudence.
2. Our Lord has promised eternal life to him who fearlessly makes profession of his faith.
For He has said “Every one that confesseth Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father Who is in heaven” (Matt. x. 32).
St. Peter made a bold profession of his faith before his fellow apostles, and Our Lord made him at once the head of the apostles, and the foundation of His Church (Matt. xvi. 18). The three young men in Babylon confessed their belief in the true God, and God delivered them from the fiery furnace, and caused them to be raised to high honor. Daniel confessed his faith by disobeying the king’s edict and continuing his prayers in the sight of all men, and God saved him from the lions.
A great reward in heaven will be given to those who suffer persecution or death for the sake of their religion.
“Blessed are they,” says Our Lord, “that suffer persecution for justice sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you untruly, for My sake. Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in heaven” (Matt. v. 11-13). Those who suffer great persecutions for the sake of their faith are called confessors; those who are put to death for their faith are called martyrs. A martyr goes straight to heaven at his death, without passing through purgatory. “We should be doing injustice to a martyr,” says Pope Innocent III., “if we were to pray for him.” A martyr possesses the love of God in the highest degree, since he despises life, the greatest of all earthly goods, for God’s sake. Every martyr is a conqueror, and is therefore depicted with a palm in his hand, since the palm is the mark of victory. Yet no one is bound purposely to seek after persecution or a martyr’s death. Any one who does so without an express inspiration from almighty God, is almost sure to yield to the persecutors. Nor is it forbidden to flee from persecution. “When they shall persecute you in one city,” says Our Lord (Matt. x. 23), “flee into another.” Our Lord Himself fled before persecution (John xi. 53-54). So did the apostles and many of the saints, e.g., St. Cyprian and St. Athanasius. Yet the pastors of souls must not fly when the good of the faithful requires their presence. “The hireling fleeth, because he is a hireling,” says Our Lord, “and careth not for the sheep” (John x. 13). Yet they may fly if their presence is not required, or if it seems likely to give rise to fresh persecutions. The heretic who dies for his heresy is no true martyr, for St. Paul tells us that if we give our body to be burned, and have not charity, it profits us nothing (1 Cor. xiii. 3). John Huss, who was burned at Prague in 1415, rather than give up his heresy, was no martyr, nor were Cranmer, Ridley, nor Latimer, who were burned at Oxford in the reign of Queen Mary. A man is a true martyr who receives a grievous wound for the sake of the faith and afterwards dies from the effects of it. So, too, are those who suffer imprisonment for life for their faith, or who die in defence of some Christian virtue or some law of the Church. Thus St. John Nepomucene, who was put to death because he would not violate the seal of confession, and St. John the Baptist, whose death was the result of his defence of the law of purity, were true martyrs. The whole number of the martyrs has been estimated at sixteen millions.
The man who denies his religion through fear or shame, or apostatizes from the faith, is under sentence of eternal damnation, for Christ says, “He that shall deny Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father Who is in heaven” (Matt. x. 33), and again, “He that shall be ashamed of Me and of My word, of him the Son of man shall be ashamed, when He cometh in His majesty and that of His Father and the holy angels” (Luke ix. 26).
He who denies the faith denies Christ Himself. In the times of persecution there were many who denied their faith. Even now there are some who, through fear of worldly loss or of being dismissed from their employment, deny their religion. Others from the same motives, though they do not explicitly deny that they are Catholics, yet do so implicitly by attending and taking part in the services of a false religion, or by being married in a Protestant church, or by a merely civil marriage, or by taking Protestants for the godfathers or godmothers of their children, or by allowing their children to be brought up in a false religion. (But there is no sin in attending a Protestant funeral or marriage out of courtesy, so long as no part is taken in the service.) Others again, though they do not deny their* religion, are ashamed of it, because in many countries it is the religion of the poor, or because Catholics are not allowed to believe what they like. Those who deny or conceal their religion out of human respect are only despised by non-Catholics. The Emperor Constantius, father of Constantine the Great, once ordered all those of his servants whom he knew were Christians to sacrifice to the false gods. Those who obeyed he dismissed from his service, those who refused he promoted to the places of those he sent away. He who apostatizes from the faith is even worse than he who denies it from worldly motives. Solomon, whom God had filled with divine wisdom, in his old age was persuaded by his heathen wives to apostatize from the true religion and to worship their false gods. The Emperor Julian the Apostate fell away from the Christian religion and became a cruel persecutor. In the present day it too often hap pens that Catholics give up their faith through motives of worldly interest, or because they want to marry a Protestant, or sometimes because they quarrel with the priest. A vicious and sinful life often prepares the way for an apostasy. No good man, from the time of Our Lord fill now, has ever fallen away from the Catholic faith. The tree must be rotten within before it is blown down by the wind; the wind does not scatter the grains of corn, but the empty husks. He who apostatizes crucifies the Son of God afresh. He commits a sin almost unpardonable; he ceases to belong to the Church, and can no longer call God his Father, for as St. Cyprian says, “He cannot have God for his Father who has not the Church as his Mother.” The Catholic must therefore keep far away from all occasions which could endanger his faith, for “he who loses his goods loses much; he who loses his life loses more; but he who loses his faith loses all.”