Choosing faith

Our contributor, Alan, has asked: “…what limitation is there on faith or any faith based claim?”. Let me give you some thoughts.

I start with the (philosopher) Hume’s dictum: “If we take in our hand any Volume; of Divinity or School Metaphysics, for Instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract Reasoning concerning Quantity or Number? No. Does it contain any experimental Reasoning concerning Matter of Fact and Existence? No. Commit it then to the Flames: For it can contain nothing but Sophistry and Illusion. “

Hume clarifies here that experimental reasoning (the deductions of science), unlike metaphysics, can be falsified by empirical evidence. By definition the truth of religious faith cannot be so falsified, so we shall find none of Alan’s limitations here. Of course we can identify evidence which points that way – properly investigated miracles for instance – but the theist is hard put to show what empirical evidence would prove or falsify this belief.

The difficulty arises, I suggest, because we are faced by a category error. No comparison can be made between belief and empirical evidence. I proceed by analogy. Our relationships with others require a level of trust. Were we so cynical that we refused to trust anyone under any circumstances, social life would become impossible. Indeed we would regard some levels of cynicism as pathological. However, trust requires us to go one stage beyond the evidence. We have to choose, or decide, to trust – even if that decision is unconscious.

Imagine that you let a room to a new lodger. Initially the evidence for trust is quite small – a judgment of first impressions backed up by more formal references. And we have to choose whether we trust that evidence enough to conclude the arrangement. But, in the early days, we keep a weather eye open for evidence which supports or questions trustworthiness. With the passage of time we get to a stage where we feel that we can trust completely. But, even then, there will be a tiny reservation. Were we to be asked to give the evidence for that trust it would be based on the assumption that what happened in the past will continue into the future. And that remains a leap in the dark. Ironically, it was Hume who said that we cannot know that the sun will rise tomorrow morning, but we act as though it will, merely on the grounds that it always has.

Is this a good analogy for our trust (or faith) in God? Yes, I think so. The evidence may be various. For example, we may have inherited it early from our parents: we trust them, and, in turn, trust their beliefs. Or we may have been impressed by the virtues of others – we admire their virtues and look to the beliefs which underpin them. At a more intellectual level, we may ask questions like why does anything exist?, or is there any meaning in life?, or a need to explain the obligations of morality? We may find that the only satisfactory answers require an ultimate source in a personal God. But we may, in all such cases, end up with strong evidence but no conclusion. Finally, we must, as in all matters of trust, leap of over the divide by an act of our will. Our faith is not the necessary QED of an argument, it is a choice we make.

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
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78 Responses to Choosing faith

  1. Vincent says:

    Yes, I understand Quentin’s approach, and think it to be right. But he does refer to evidence as underlying the decision of faith, and that takes us back towards Alan’s question. What characteristics must this personal God have to attract me? If I see love as my most important value then I would expect to find it in God. So that would exclude a God who could not be described as loving. I would find the Old Testament, where the emphasis seems to be on power and punishment, hard going. But the New Testament. through the person of Christ, is a different matter. Yet even there I would have difficulty: he presents us with an exclusive religion — either you belong to the community or your inevitable fate is eternal fire. That doesn’t sound too loving to me.

    • G.D. says:

      Vincent could the OT be man journeying of development an understanding of God. The traits and attitudes portrayed an ‘approximation’ of God’s reality?
      Could not the ‘community’ of the NT Jesus speaks of be ‘humanity’ in union with God – as he was in union – and the development of ‘eternal fire’ be another inclusion of man trying to make sense of God?
      (I read somewhere, i think, that Jesus was talking about the local rubbish dump, Gehenna(?), that was always burning).

      Man has an either or perspective; there must be an opposite to ‘inclusion’ for him. The completeness/unity is lost to us.
      Or maybe ‘eternal fire’ is a reality? … But i can’t see it myself.
      I can see (if i stretch my imagination, then only just) souls ‘burning’ with desire to unite with God, and being unable to for whatever reasons.
      And God ‘eternally’ giving them the love to do so; because God knows they will accept eventually.

  2. G.D. says:

    The best explanation of faith i have ever found is from ‘First Sight. The Experience of Faith ‘ by Laurance Freeman …. in the introduction p.xvi.
    ” Faith as i understand it, means an unpredictable journey rather than a value of fixed content. It is an inborn capacity of humanity that makes growth and development happen. As we grow, so does faith, and we grow the more by exercising this capacity.”
    He is talking about faith in/from God (i think?) and describes it as …. “mysterious because it is renewable energy of expansion on a self-transcending scale that runs from the personal to the cosmic.” …

    I see this ‘inborn capacity’ (faith given by God to mankind) as that which enables us to reach beyond our own subjective desires & perspectives, enabling us to embrace the ‘cosmic subjectivity’, the source of life. (Trinity in my personal belief).
    The more we embrace this faith the more we (individually & collectively) grow in the image of God.

    The subjective choices & actions we make, and the objective ‘things’ we put our trust in, become more godlike when we rely on faith for our ‘knowing’. Not knowing from our own intellectual understanding, but ‘knowing in mystery’ by the love of God experienced via our opening to, accepting of, and acting upon this inborn faith.
    (Not reying on or needing proofs empirical or metaphysical).

    By this ‘First Sight’ we know faith in others, grow in unity with them, and with God.
    It is an active function in it’s own person – the (objective) Word of God is alive and active; also (a subjective) choice of our spirit(?) united to the Holy Spirit.
    I believe it is uniting this objective Word with the subjective spirit in union with the Holy Spirit that underpins all growth in the image & likeness of God. Particularly as Trinity in my understanding (Whatever name, or no name, God is given subjectively).

    This way of ‘being’ in faith takes nothing away from our human functions, we still use all of them. Only they become secondary to the ‘First Sight’.

    I could go on, but literally know nothing! ….. I only conjecture … have no ‘proof’ of any kind … only have my experience with (as i believe) the objective Word alive and active in others, with The Spirit in subjective meditation and, with the Father in prayer. Which is a subjective/objective relationship of Faith.

  3. Brendan says:

    My thanks first to G.D.for focusing my mind on a difficult subject , and Vincent for pointing out a certain paradox ( in the Christian mind ) of Gods mercy/love which theology says acts in the same way , but remains somewhat obscure in our materialist existence ….. except for the Christian at least , through subjective ‘ faith ‘ of a God -in -Christ.
    For those of us not schooled in Philosophy , I take the point of irony that Quentin makes about Hume……. Could it be that a little more of ‘ he of a materialistic pragmatism ‘ could have found a ‘religious faith ‘ ?
    First of all to answer Alan’s question ; I don’t believe there are any limitations to faith or faith based claim s. Can I prove it ? No. As Quentin poses ; to do so would be a question of confusing two categories – the physical and metaphysical in such away as to produce meaningless sophism.
    Ultimately , religious faith can only ‘ caught ‘ by free will ( through choice ) , reason alone not necessarily required , because ‘ faith ‘ is beyond reason : demonstrated and spread to others through the gifts ( grace ) God- in-the -Spirit uses , through believers ( oneself ) as catalyst . to all peoples ….. which I think is G.D.’s point.
    Lastly to back up my firm belief with you Quentin ; that … ” it is not a necessary QED of an argument, it is a choice we make [ from direct divine calling ] ”……I refer us to St Paul’s Conversion in coming to Christ.
    For myself : it was my own free choice that led me – after imbibing years of Christian example in living – ultimately through the experience of the mysterious , indubitable , healing power of God though the Spirit , that brought me to Christ ( a subjective faith ..not in name only )
    In being too rational about our ‘ faith journey ‘ in Western Culture , many of us sadly are prepared to ” commit it to the Flames ”.

  4. Brendan says:

    Of course analogy is the only the logical , sensible way to argue in defense of a metaphysical truth. There is no doubt that Saint Paul spoke and acted in a different way as a ‘ Christian ‘ than when he was a ‘Pharisee’ : to which end he gave lifelong gratitude for his new moral, bene-ficial ( blessed state ) being , to the author of this change ….. Christ the Lord. St. Paul’s documented life accepted as correct ,testifies to this right up to his death in 67-68 A.D. in his second letter to Timothy Ch. 4, 6-8…. a strong affirmation of his own faith and readiness for death. This cannot be said of me ; but that germ of truth – that he lived and died that way – is testified down through time by countless ordinary but remarkable people , like us , who finally lived and died with the same all-embracing faith while being the same physical person …. ” it is no longer I, but Christ living [ in me [ and with me ]”.Gal. 2,20

    • Brendan says:

      From Gods estimation of us , it is simply this….. ” Before I formed you in the womb I new you… Jeremiah Ch.1,4

  5. Nektarios says:

    I think it is important to fully understand what is meant by faith. What is it that the Apostle Paul is communicating to us in and through his Epistles on faith?

    I will set the ball rolling with this categorical statement negatively or subjectively. If one brings anything to faith, adds anything to it; if one adds their piety, fastings, prayers, baptism,good deeds, or service in the Church, then one does not have faith as the Apostle Paul declares it, and is not a Christian.

  6. Brendan says:

    Am I right in supposing Nektarios : you are meaning that it is no a personal choice for us that at issue/ correct; but that God is the one who does the choosing – with for us all its implications ?

    • Brendan says:

      I don’t wish to bombard you with to much; but another explanation of your statement is that of ; one living in the metaphysical sphere rather than physical reality. In which case what of St.Paul’s statement on ‘ charity ‘ ( which in essence is recognised in action ) allied to the Epistle of St. James on ‘ good works ‘.
      I sense we have been here before . Surely ” by your fruits you will know them [ His Church ].” Does my thinking mark out a difference between the Catholic and Orthodox Christian ?

  7. Hock says:

    What Nektarious is ‘supposing’ is that the way to salvation is to be a Protestant.

    • Nektarios says:

      Hock
      If I add to faith anything of man, be it Protestant, RCC or Orthodox then it is not faith and one may be religious within the denominations, but adding that to faith, one is not a Christian.the word

      Brendan
      To answer you, the Apostle Paul’s use of the word faith has to do with unity.
      To illustrate: Be fore God we are all sinners, we now find ourselves in the dock before the Judge.
      God has declared that we have all sinned and we are deserving punishment eternally.
      The Judge then pronounces they are all forgiven. They are all justified by faith, just as though they had never sinned.
      Faith is a gift of God and those who have it, receive Him, are justified upon the finished work of Christ on the Cross, death of us. There is nothing to add.
      As to choice – One can choose to reject it, but God gives faith as a gift. Nothing to add.

  8. ignatius says:

    Please, please, please let us try and make at least a little sense of this marvellous topic:

    Firstly a definition or two:
    Hebrews ch11 v1:
    “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

    CCC 26:
    “Faith is man’s response to God, who reveals himself and gives himself to man, at the same time bringing man a super-abundant light as he searches for the ultimate meaning of his life”

    So ‘faith’ is somehow a response to Gods invisible reaching out to us..everyone ok with that?

    We will get nowhere with Alan’s question because it is not sufficiently clarified as to have any single meaning. However if you asked me what was the evident limitation of faith then I would answer you that it was presumption.The point at which faith fails is when man takes it for himself, otherwise all things are possible for him who believes.

  9. tim says:

    Side issue – Hume’s dictum, as quoted by Quentin.

    Is it “abstract Reasoning concerning Quantity or Number?” I think not. “Does it contain any experimental Reasoning concerning Matter of Fact and Existence?” Hardly.
    Is it then itself “Sophistry and Illusion”?

  10. ignatius says:

    So, just to clarify the issue of faith and presumption. There can be no limit to what God wills because God is God. The miracles attest to the fact that God is able, if God so chooses, to upend the very laws of nature. However in the interactions of faith it seems to depend more on the extent to which man can believe along the line of God than anything else. So if Moses can hold out his hand in accordance with Gods wish then Gods kingdom comes, if the man holds back then the Kingdom still comes but not right at that moment and God is not pleased.

    For myself this means that I can go into prison and have strong faith that God is able to turn mens hearts to him so that they will not re offend.This faith propels me into an active relationship with God. What I cannot do is say WHICH person will or will not re offend, or how many or in what circumstance. Were I to begin to predict thus then I would have become presumptuous. You can see this kind of thing easily in Christian ministry, the one who tries to chart his own course usually comes to grief but the one who realises that even his own faith lies in Gods hands will usually fare better at least in terms of personal happiness..

    • Peter Foster says:

      Ignatius.
      “So, just to clarify the issue of faith and presumption. There can be no limit to what God wills because God is God.”
      In his Regensburg lecture Benedict xvi explores the idea whether God can contradict himself and concludes the he cannot; that the Greek idea of non-contradiction is not an accidental cultural addition in Church thinking but fundamental. [a limitation?]

      “The miracles attest to the fact that God is able, if God so chooses, to upend the very laws of nature.”

      Strictly, to say the God upsets the laws of nature in miracles would only be possible if the miracle could be repeated at will, and investigated.

      • ignatius says:

        Peter,
        “In his Regensburg lecture Benedict xvi explores the idea whether God can contradict himself and concludes the he cannot; that the Greek idea of non-contradiction is not an accidental cultural addition in Church thinking but fundamental. [a limitation?]…”

        No. A limitation in your mind but not in the mind of God. God can change his mind and does so explicitly in the bible in his discussions with Abraham. However once Gods mind is directed in a certain way there can be no inherent contradiction…inherent contradiction is in the mind of man. I guess it is possible to dream up an ‘angels on a pin head’ situation in which God might appear to contradict God self but this would be our minds working not God. A bit like the way News reporters try to catch out politicians by dreaming up fanciful scenario’s for them to stumble in while being interviewed on TV.

  11. Brendan says:

    Thanks Ignatius for CCC 26 and settling us down a bit.
    God tell us so , but how do we and the world know we are justified in our ‘ faith ‘ ?……
    ” Through the goodness of human deeds and actions we sense God’s mercy. ” – The three Bishops of the Welsh Province in preparation for The Year of Mercy .

  12. Peter Foster says:

    “…what limitation is there on faith or any faith based claim?”.

    In our current understanding the physical world is constrained by rules of conservation such as for matter and energy and by thermodynamic rules.

    A faith based claim, such as that there is a God, is beyond such physics.

    However, our faith is elaborated through the Old and New Testaments and the history of the Church. It is thereby open to disturbance through discoveries,for example as was proposed for the Dead Sea Scrolls.
    It might also be disturbed by statements in the Testaments: for example Matthew ch.15: v.15-28 in which Jesus refers to a Canaanite woman as a dog which would be the view of a Jew at that time. [not very Christian!!]

  13. St.Joseph says:

    We are now approaching the Feast of the Nativity, In a couple of days the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.
    A true leap of faith.
    Jesus said unless you become like little children you can not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.

    Black Friday made me very sad at the thought of the consumerism attitude towards ‘the sales’.
    (an American source)

    Black Friday I associate with Good Friday-yes we thank God for sending His only Son ,that which we celebrate soon.
    That is where I place my faith.!

  14. ignatius says:

    Peter Foster:

    “Strictly, to say the God upsets the laws of nature in miracles would only be possible if the miracle could be repeated at will, and investigated…”

    Peter, I’ve read this several times and can’t make any sense of it at all, could you explain simply and with an example what it is you are trying to say? I ask this because I cannot see why walking on water or turning water into wine etc should need to be ‘repeated at will’ or even what the phrase ‘repeated at will’ means in your thinking, repeated by whom at will, for example?. If you could please elaborate a little then I might be able to reply.

    • Peter Foster says:

      Ignatius:
      The miraculous events described in the Gospels are singular events and are therefore not valid evidence in a scientific argument: whether to establish that the laws of physics were suspended or to in infer a power of God to interfere or alter them.

      On the other side, the use of a scientific argument to deny that they took place conflicts with the evidence of witness.

      We do not know whether the mechanisms of “miracles” are open to be understood by us, for example as psychological mental events or almost infinitely improbable but physically possible events; or whether they are events of a wholly unknown order.

      To avoid getting entangled in defective arguments, I suggest it is more satisfactory to accept them as mysteries.

  15. ignatius says:

    Ok, I get it now. You want to submit God to scientific rigour?

    Seems to me that the ‘repeated at will’ bit is wrong. Jesus mentioned in Matthew 17.v28 that a man might move mountains if he had enough faith. However we have already noted that faith has to be an interaction with God, the power to move the mountain is divine. So the mountain would only perambulate, dance or even only shrug it shoulders were it Gods purpose at that moment. This means that the second the intent was to put on a show of the mans powers then the mountain would grind stubbornly to a halt. From the gist of your thinking above it seems to me you are expecting God to have to demonstrate his mountain throwing skills to a sceptical audience of scientists…maybe and maybe not,he did it for Elijah to defeat the prophets of Baal but perhaps they were a bit less demanding. God does say quite definitely here and there that his ways are his ways and not our ways so I’m not sure that subjecting him to random double blind testing would work…

    • Vincent says:

      Gospel miracles cannot, I suggest, be proved. You either accept them on faith grounds or reject them.
      But we can do more with ‘modern’ miracles. Some of the ones used for beatification processes look a bit thin to me. But alleged miracles at Lourdes are very carefully investigated by experts, who deliberately employ a sceptical approach. The very few which survive this get a verdict that the cure cannot be explained through natural means, and that we are free to accept them as miracles, but we are not obliged to do so.

    • tim says:

      ignatius :
      (December 6, 2015 at 7:36 am)
      Random double blind can’t work here. That requires both the experimenter and experimental subject to be in ignorance of what is going on. God is accordingly not a suitable subject for such experiments.

  16. Brendan says:

    Indeed Ignatius … ” his ways are his ways and not ours .. ”
    Before he made us in the ” womb ”., there is an innate sense in which He has chosen us and us not chosen Him. Our freewill to accept or refuse , being primordial in humankind. It seems that by Gods presence in us ( His Grace ) that that choice becomes irrelevant / unknown as we become transformed in Him. . A state of First Perfection ( pre-pimordial ) and knowledge of Promises to Come ?

    • Brendan says:

      Eg., in Acts 16:14 [ the conversion of Lydia ]… ” The Lord opened her heart to what Paul had said . ” Do we then choose as well as being first chosen ?

  17. ignatius says:

    Peter,
    “We do not know whether the mechanisms of “miracles” are open to be understood by us, for example as psychological mental events or almost infinitely improbable but physically possible events; or whether they are events of a wholly unknown order.
    To avoid getting entangled in defective arguments, I suggest it is more satisfactory to accept them as mysteries.”

    Yes, I pretty much agree with your conclusion which is why I was keen that Alan’s original question be elucidated:

    “…what limitation is there on faith or any faith based claim?”
    Limitations by who and how placed? This in itself would open a huge arena for debate.

    The catechism puts the matter well:
    “For the truths that concern the relations between God and man wholly transcend the visible order of things, and, if they are translated into human action and influence it, they call for self- surrender and abnegation” CCC37

    I find the catechism to be invaluable in discussions like this because it gives a framework to avoid the defective arguing you speak of.

  18. Brendan says:

    John 15;16 ” You did not choose me, no, I chose you : and commissioned you to go out … ”( NJB) There is a deep mystery here over and above our material world, God breaks all ‘ rules ‘ and at the same time gives full reign to free will in humankind. . No wonder we can only use analogy!

    • Quentin says:

      Indeed a mystery. How is it that our good actions are both free and completely sourced in grace? So even our final, free, leap of faith is wholly ours and wholly God’s grace. The nearest I can get to this is that we are mistaken once we start thinking of grace as something granted by God from outside. It is granted by God from inside, and at a depth which is beyond human understanding. Paul gives us just a clue: “I live, now not I, God lives in me.”

    • St.Joseph says:

      Brendan.
      I often think that the Bible translation can confuse.
      The Jerusalam Bible ‘ says Ordained -is there a difference to commissioned?

      • Brendan says:

        I think not St. Joseph- If anything com-missioned is slightly stronger than ordained .I don’t know about the Jerusalem Bible ( 1962 ) ; but the good Fathers who revised the former into the ‘ New Jerusalem Bible ‘ may have had it in mind to strengthen the meaning ,evangelically speaking. However , I’m not competent to decide on Bible translations.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Brendan.
        Thank you..
        It was only a thought like ‘Ordained’ in Priesthood.
        We are all priesthood of the Laity, but as Jesus said ‘Many are called but few are chosen.The Ordained Priesthood havde a duty to teach the faith, the laity have a duty to keep it ,unless chosen for anything else.
        My mind just runs away with itself at times.

  19. Alan says:

    Perhaps I can help explain my question further by describing what I was thinking at the time. Clearly there are limitations on what evidence is able to tell us. Besides areas where we have little or none there is the problem of being able to interpret it correctly. Reason too has boundaries – or at least a boundary. As has been pointed out we cannot use reason to validate reason itself. We can perhaps trust – or have faith in it! – it for its effectiveness in every other situation, but that never closes the gap.
    So I was wondering what, if any, limit or criticism could be placed on faith. Does it “suffer” the same shortcomings? Is there, for example, any problem with holding to the view that faith is an effective tool based on faith alone? Or must I be able to measure its effectiveness at revealing something about the “real” world? How would I do that?
    Lots of interesting things in the discussion so far. A medical cure that cannot be explained being considered mysterious sits quite well with me. I can then decide to accept it as a miracle of God based on faith, because neither evidence or reason can tell me what it is. But I’m not obliged to. I can instead wonder if we aren’t just missing something and leave it as a mystery still to be resolved.
    And so it is for me with the biggest of questions too. Take perhaps the biggest question of our origin. Last week Quentin characterised it as our universe having just appeared – as if from nothing. And indeed, “something from nothing” is how it is often portrayed in contrast to the requirement for a Creator. On a scale of “requiring little/less faith” I can see why God might come off as more likely or plausible here. But these aren’t the only options in my mind. In considering creation we are about as short on empirical evidence as we could possibly be. I would suggest that reason and intuition are stretched too. The very ideas of “nothing” or “beginning” makes no more sense to me than our universe having always existed. They are all problematic. What I have then is not two points on my scale, but three. “Something from nothing”, “God”, and a third option “we don’t know nearly enough about this stuff”. And “we don’t know nearly enough about this stuff” beats both “something from nothing” and “God” by a very long way for me. Smarter people than me wonder if we might not mistakenly be asking “What’s north of the north pole?” on this issue. With respect, I’m not convinced that the people putting their faith in God as the less faithful answer know the natural/material world well enough to be making this comparison.

  20. Brendan says:

    Alan – the consensus seems to be that the physical and meta – physical world are two different conscious worlds – the ‘ cloud of unknowing ‘ between and beyond is a barrier to humankind . Reason and understanding as we know it , cannot ‘explain ‘ the deep mystery of ‘ faith ‘.
    It is surely not necessary to ‘ know ‘ the ”natural/material world ” or make comparison to come to faith in God: only trust is needed .. ” to be as children ” Math. 18:3 . Reason and understanding just makes us human … because that’s what we are wherever it is made manifest.

    • Alan says:

      Brendan – “It is surely not necessary to ‘ know ‘ the ”natural/material world ” or make comparison to come to faith in God: only trust is needed .. ” to be as children ” Math. 18:3 . ”

      I can’t fault that as a possibility. But I can apply it much more widely than to just the Christian faith/God. Beliefs held by any number of other religions or cultures don’t need knowledge of or comparison with the natural/material world either. Faith does not seem limited in the slightest in that respect. Is that something to recommend it though?

      • overload says:

        Alan, the point about ‘believing’ that God made the universe out of nothing is not so much that such a belief—in and of itself, as a concept—requires greater faith or has greater merit than believing some other idea. But rather as an expression of our relationship with God: who we believe did and does and can create something out of nothing. All things are possible for us in and through Jesus because all things were created and are sustained in and through Him according to the freewill of God.

  21. Nektarios says:

    I am down with a bad cold presently, so will keep this short.
    Can we get back to the questionI asked earlier, ‘What is faith actually?’ We have gone all around it
    but yet not looked at faith really yet?
    If I may, pose a few questions to focus in on faith such as where does this Christian faith come from? what is it supposed to do? what is its potential? What was God aiming at in giving man faith?
    How does the Bible describe faith? What is the end game concerning faith?
    Does faith act on the natural nature of man at all, if so how and what does it do?

    • ignatius says:

      Er we did have a stab at defining faith awhile back using Hebrews as a jumping off point. However:
      ” Faith is first of all a personal adherence of man to God. At the same time, and inseperably, it is a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed. As personal adherence to God and to assent to his truth, Christian faith differs from faith in any human person. It is right and just to entrust oneself to God and to believe absolutely what he says, it would be futile and false to place such faith in a creature…”
      CCC150

      I’m using the CCC as a reference here because of its succinct and clear use of simple language which can be readily understood by all. Most of the time on here we herd fog through lack of clarity, not so with the catechism which provides here a useful fulcrum for an otherwise impossible discussion.

      • Nektarios says:

        Ignatius

        In addition to what you say, Ignatius, it is what precedes the gift of faith from God that is the key to it all and that is, regeneration.
        That which is dead in trespasses and sin cannot respond, it’s dead, hence regeneration.

        This is why in OT times there was prophets, and servants of God, armies of God, whom God spoke to, showed His glory to.
        Those people were heirs to the promise, God regenerated them, and they had faith.
        From the OT believers, the Israelites, we can see something of the plan of Salvation
        by God, something of the workings of faith, looking forward to the coming of the Messiah.
        We are looking back, the Holy Spirit has been sent, His activity regenerates us. He enlightens our mind and quickens( brings to life) our hearts, applies the blood of Christ and
        makes us Children of the Most High God. God alone is the power behind our Salvation, the giver of regeneration that activates faith in one born of the Spirit and gives us the life of Christ, and such will never die. That’s faith, OT. and faith NT and Apostolic teaching on faith.

    • Brendan says:

      I hope you recover well enough for Christmas , Nektarios.

      • Nektarios says:

        Brendan
        Thank you bro! Many blessings of Christmas. May they fall on you like a benediction.
        And the same to all the contributors and readers of the SS blog.

  22. G.D. says:

    (Laurence Freeman) …… “an unpredictable journey rather than a value of fixed contents” “faith is mysterious … on a self- transcending scale that runs from the personal to the cosmic” !

    Brendan say’s ‘Reason and understanding just makes us human … because that’s what we are wherever it is made manifest.’ …… And to be fully human (as the ‘sinless’ Jesus the Christ is, the image of God) reason and understanding are perfected, united, transcended as individual concepts; and …..

    As you (Brendan) quote St. Paul ‘ “it is no longer I, but Christ living [ in me [ and with me ]”.Gal. 2,20 ‘
    or … ‘I live NOW, not I, but CHRIST LIVES in me’ as another translation puts it. (emphasis mine of course!)
    (I live as Christ Jesus IS, or Christ John is or Christ Brendan is or …. )

    Have the mind of little children, note little, prior to differentiation compartmentalisation & needing ‘ownership’ (ego). …. Love your neighbour as youeself. ….. ‘Let go, let God’ Be. Is faith.
    ……… from the personal to the cosmic …….

    I only conjecture, certainly don’t live it. But, in faith i want too, and by God’s grace will!!

  23. G.D. says:

    Maybe after this exhilarating discussion by you all it might be worth re-reading my post …….G.D. says: December 4, 2015 at 11:21 am

  24. Brendan says:

    G.D. – What you are describing ( I take it, from Laurance Freemans ‘ First Sight ‘ ) as I sense it , is a ‘ conversion experience ‘ or as St Paul says – metanoia. A complete change of the whole person when encountering/ enveloped by God . While one can attempt a description of the experience; one cannot find words to adequately describe/ explain the process – which remains mystery. Perhaps after The Second Coming we will need to ‘ understand ‘ such things ?

    • St.Joseph says:

      Brendan.
      I wonder if Adam and Eve had thought like that and they had not eaten the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge when the devil tempted them telling them that .they would become like God!
      How would the world have progressed.?. Probably we would all be living in harmony with each other! Maybe!

      • Brendan says:

        St.Joseph – For this kind of fantasy one has to have a sense of humour ! Personally, I never look back to regret – humankind is better for this I think. The point is to love ones detractors ( enemies ) is too me the essence of being ‘god-like ‘. We can in a sense hope to mirror Adam and Eve.
        As to the idealised Adam and Eve ; there lies another mystery. God -the -father ( in the Trinity) has all knowledge – past , present and future , but at the same time allowed them freedom to choose. However many times we fall then , God never gives up on us – that’s why He sent His Son for our future happiness.

  25. St.Joseph says:

    Brendan.
    Thank you although I am inclined to have a different thinking on the subject.and only wish I could believe it to be fantasy and be as optimistic as you.
    Of course God gives us freedom to choose, however the freedom He gave us is to choose Him, and God knows Jesus suffered enough for that reality .
    I was never brought up to fear God but to love Him through Jesus Christ.
    God will never give up on us. however how long will Our Blessed Mother hold back his Hand in restraint.
    Jesus speaks a lot about the end times and how we will be living-He Knows now the Good News has reached the four corners of the earth, He also knows who will be with Him for all Eternity.
    I pray that eyes will be opened before the second Coming of Christ.
    We already have the warnings.

  26. St.Joseph says:

    P.S.
    I believe the above is not the bearer of doom but the Good News!

  27. Brendan says:

    Let’s all join together in This Year of Mercy , in being instruments of His Divine Mercy, in a world that badly needs to know His presence through us , so that its ” eyes will be opened ” to the promises of things to come.
    ” Christ has no no body but yours , no hands , no feet but yours…” – St. Teresa of Avila.

  28. Brendan says:

    We have come full circle Alan. I cannot hope to explain the ” process ‘ of ” metanoia – ‘ ipso facto ‘ it ( subjective faith ) appears limitless. In which case Hume appears to be right – but not in rejecting it outright for the material world ( My thanks to Quentin here ).
    While the material world can be tested empirically however, and our history shows while it is satisfying – for a while – seeming to confirm to ( those with an open mind ) in so many ways , Gods presence in our world; only a ‘ lived faith ‘ can satisfy our human need to ‘ know ‘ and propel us to our eternal happiness ( life-in-Christ ) … the limits of knowledge.
    ” Our heart is restless Lord, until it rests in you ” – St. Augustine of Hippo ”.
    Recommend It ? In colloquial speech… a no-brainer !

    • Alan says:

      Brendan “Recommend It ? In colloquial speech… a no-brainer !”

      Given what you say I assume you mean for what it can offer those who have it in terms of answers and hope/happiness etc.?

      I should have been more specific. With its lack of limitations and wider application than the Christian faith, is that something to recommend it in terms of an effective tool for exploring the truth?

      • ignatius says:

        Its not to late to be specific now, in simple terms what do you mean? I must say that I slowly becoming convinced that if a question cannot be couched in simple terms then it is simply not a real question.

  29. overload says:

    “…what limitation is there on faith or any faith based claim?”
    Limitations by who and how placed? This in itself would open a huge arena for debate.
    “For the truths that concern the relations between God and man wholly transcend the visible order of things, and, if they are translated into human action and influence it, they call for self- surrender and abnegation” CCC37

    On the other hand, self-surrender and abnegation can only be truly realised according to our (collective & individual) measure of faith…
    “Right is it to doubt, right is it to question what is doubtful and what is not clear. In a doubtful matter wavering does arise.”

  30. Nektarios says:

    Overload
    Some seem to be hooked on the word ‘limitation’. So let me ask, is there a limitation to loving God, or loving the saints or our enemies?
    There is also an assumption when we use the word ‘limitation’ regarding faith, there is a well defined measure which we all know.
    When we are not loving towards our neighbour or whatever, we know it, but cannot measure it.
    I think there is a possibility it is the same with ‘limitation’ of faith. We have an inkling of what it is, but no clearly defined measure?

  31. ignatius says:

    Overload:

    “On the other hand, self-surrender and abnegation can only be truly realised according to our (collective & individual) measure of faith…
    “Right is it to doubt, right is it to question what is doubtful and what is not clear. In a doubtful matter wavering does arise.”

    No. It is perfectly possible to get on your knees in complete bafflement and with very little conscious ‘faith’..I do it quite often. Its quite possible to say things like:
    “Well I don’t get any of this and I don’t even like it, but I’m bringing my anger and my lack of understanding, my frustrations and my ignorance, all to you..here they are and I’m going to stay here for another 2 minutes like this then I’m going for a coffee….”
    It is important to understand that for large chunks of our live we feel blind, wandering in the dark, banging our heads against a brick wall and utterly bereft of confidence. The practice of faith includes proceeding forwards as best you can despite your own misgivings. Personally I do not feel as if I ‘have faith’… but my actions tell me I do.

  32. Brendan says:

    Alan – I’ve gone back on your previous posts and my replies – but I am not clear on your current line of enquiry – however , here goes !
    Due to its obvious long term limitations ” experimental reasoning ” may lead us to the truth , in that our ” real ” world is included as God is omnipresent. ….. ” For in Him we live and breathe and have our being .. ” Acts 17:28 . Because it is all of a oneness with God ; ultimately there can be no conflict between religious truth and scientific truth. So even the atheist unknowingly can stumble on the ‘ truth of God ‘ without acknowledging the ‘fact’.
    I’m being a little presumptuous perhaps , but I see for example a ‘ Richard Dawkins ‘ awaiting that spark of the Holy Spirit to bring him to fuller understanding of his own scientific beliefs / theories , perhaps ?
    I hope I’ve answered your question in some way.

    • Vincent says:

      I wonder if we are making things too complicated. At the empirical level limitations are clear. So if A claims that water boils at 100 degrees centigrade and B claims it’s 120 degrees, we have a simple way of deciding who is right. We measure it. If, on the other hand, we have two religions which claim differing world views, how do we decide which is right? And, we were to succeed in this, how would we measure our chosen religion against secular humanism?

    • Alan says:

      Vincent – “If, on the other hand, we have two religions which claim differing world views, how do we decide which is right?”

      You express the heart of my question better than I did. I was trying to say roughly the same thing only much more generally and I think that only obscured my meaning.

      Take the “properly investigated miracles” that are claimed as perhaps pointing to God’s work. The miraculous healings that were mentioned earlier for example. Is it the lack of any natural explanation that indicates God’s work? That seems to be what is being suggested. Does then everything that lacks scientific/natural explanation suggest God? Unexplained deaths also? A staggeringly unlucky or tragic series of events? I don’t remember ever hearing such a claim. Something other than a lack of natural explanation looks to be deciding these issues for people. “Confidence in what we hope for” seems very applicable. Coincidentally (?) one of the things honest scientists go to great lengths to remove when trying to determine the truth of something.

      • Vincent says:

        It’s rather more than simply interpreting the lack of natural explanation. There has to be clear diagnoses before and after. The cure must be apparent, and taking place over a time period too short for natural healing, and the cure must be sustained. Any other reasonable natural explanation has priority over the miraculous. No wonder there are few occurrences! I would expect such evidence would convince anyone without an a priori position that miracles are impossible.

      • Alan says:

        Vincent – “Any other reasonable natural explanation has priority over the miraculous.”

        Allowing for the possibility of the miraculous, you are confident in placing what we don’t know about the natural world of healing/biology into a poor third place based on these cases?

      • Vincent says:

        That rather depends. If a ‘patient’ had an advanced cancerous tumour which cleared up immediately, following a visit to Lourdes (and no other instances of a rapid cure without direct treatment were known) I would be confident. But it would not be a confidence of faith, but merely a human judgment. But I do not put much weight on such miracles (invaluable to the sick, of course). I am with St J at 12:19 below.

  33. overload says:

    Ignatius, thanks for your reply. Yes.

    Nektarios, grappling with your reply, my thoughts:

    Is there a limitation to loving? We are told that when Jesus was Baptised He received the anointing of the Holy Spirit “without measure”. On what basis do we presume that He has given us a limitation of what he himself received of God without limit?

    The limitation is I think the limitation of a proxy faith: the interference of ego, weak conscience, ill-conditioning, experience, law, expectation/judgement/measurement, short-sightedness, and ultimately confusion & ignorance. We can perhaps identify/measure this limitation according to how our professed faith contradicts itself (and there is a real need to do so?). However—and this is fundamental—we are not to measure ourself or any other according to any such perceived limitation. For here-and-now, the Word of God alive and active in me, in us, between us, us in Him, reaching unto all: there is no limitation. Divine mercy. We have already been set free .

  34. G.D. says:

    ‘By your love for each other you will be known’ (misquoted but you know the verse). And that love is only possible because we have faith it is the right & just way to be.

    (Apologies to Nektarios) I take this to include anyone who tries to sincerely love others and the world. And leave it up to God to decide who that is.

    Faith leads us to be able to transcend (without leaving behind!!) our own subjective (personal) take on ‘reality’, and see the greater perspective of the Unity.
    In that sense it’s the relationship in love that counts.

    Faith is not a ‘thing’ to be measured categorised controlled or ‘owned’ as mine. It is a living energy, as freedom is, as love is, as any true ‘reflection of God’ (in my terminology) is.

    When we put ‘A THING’ (faith, truth, beauty, electrons, DNA, et) under the microscope – be that physical theological philosophical or metaphysical – we need to keep one eye on the larger picture too.
    The relationship between the parts and the whole is what gives reality it’s substance and value and, reveals the true substance and value.

    Why must we ‘ measure our chosen religion against secular humanism? ‘ or any other religion?
    We can state what we believe, what we are about how we do it et. It’s just saying this is me/us. As others can. And should.
    Anyone who won’t allow that freedom of belief & expression of faith, is not in love.
    Anyone who desires to control the faith of another (or desires for it to be controlled) is not in love.

    All of God Is God; and God is a unity, a whole. ‘Father may they be one as we are one’.
    ‘One’ exists as ‘we’.

    When we try and divide this unity (yes, as we must in certain circumstances for various reasons!! Not the least being our disunited selves) we need to keep one eye on the Unity, or we lose sight of how and where the parts, and ourselves, ‘fit’. (Are incarnated)
    And end up at opposite ends of the paradox(es) that we experience as ‘either or’. Convinced my either is the only ‘right’, your or is ‘wrong’.

    It’s always ‘both &’ (transcendence); that reveals (revelation) the Unity – that God is. That is Faith ….. Hope & Love. It happens NOW. ‘Now is the time’

    There is no ‘thing’ to be measured in that. It just IS.
    And anybody and everybody has a perspective on what is.
    So, Alan, there are no limits, everyone has faith of some kind, even if they have no concept of the Unity.

  35. G.D. says:

    OverLord, I wish i had read your post before struggling to write mine! YOu say it so much more concisely! Thank you.

  36. Nektarios says:

    Overload
    It is not a presumption, but a fact. God has not given limitations of the Holy Ghost, rather it maybe r the other way round. Our limitations to appropriate thing of the Spirit, produces its own limitations, but the Father has sent the Holy Ghost to help us through our limitations you mention and many others and to overcome them, even death itself.

  37. Nektarios says:

    To continue
    In Acts 2 we read of Peter’s preaching to the huge number of people and somethings were happening that were inexplicable. People were hearing this message delivered by Peter in their own language.
    Secondly, what Peter gave them in his sermon was not clever arguments, but history, their history,
    their prophesies foretelling of the coming Messiah.
    When it comes to prophesy, if one gives a prophesy it may come true or not, but there are many dozens of prophesies about Christ. Where He would be born, how he would be born, his living in poverty, what things he would say and teach, his death, his resurrection, ascension and his coming again – all prophesied some hundreds of years before the event of Christ coming into this world.

    As the people stood their listening they were pricked in their hearts because some of these people just some days earlier were saying, Away with him, crucify him, and that is what was carried out and they were witnesses and participants to it all.
    This is the same state of the world today, ‘mob rule’. This is the same as the cults with their mob rule all shouting the same thing, and people following after, the blind leading the blind.Understanding little or nothing themselves or life.

    But this was something completely different that was happening, Men and brethren, what shall we do? This was the work of the Holy Ghost bringing them under conviction of sin. but to cut this short,
    3000 souls were added to the Church that day. It is inexplicable.

    If I were to ask, what is it to become a Christian, how would you answer? It is inexplicable.
    Oh yes one can take up Christian Science or join a church, but by definition, one cannot take up Christianity, it is something that takes us up. It’s inexplicable!
    So like our forebears on the day of Pentecost, they too were faced with a limitation affecting us all and that is, the inexplicable actions of God in us.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Today is the Feast Day ofJuan Diego.
      December is the Feast Day of Our Lady of Gaudalupe.
      This is a Miracle that happened in 1531 in Mexico. Extradionary things have shown through science on the Cloak of Juan Diego in the eyes of Our Blessed Mother-him kneeling down in front of Her . ..

  38. Brendan says:

    Thank you St. Joseph – A timely reminder of the ‘ miracle ‘ of faith as manifest through the use of science. The Turin Shroud had similar mysteries to unfold . Th sun ‘ dancing ‘ at Fatima …. etc….as it attempts an explanation

    • Brendan says:

      P.s. There’s a thought for you Alan !

      • St.Joseph says:

        Jesus showed His marks of His Crucifion to Thomas. who doubted.
        I believe God will sometimes show to His Friends what seems impossible to His .
        Blessed are those who hath seen and believed. But more Blessed are those who believe and hath not seen!
        St John- cant remember where at the moment!

  39. Brendan says:

    John 20 :29 . Amen !

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