When Christ had fulfilled His promise of dying on the Cross and rising from the dead on the third day, we find Him presenting Himself in a glorified state to His faithful Apostles. Yet, even after many years of fellowship and camaraderie, one Apostle betrayed Him, one denied Him and a third doubted Him. This doubting Apostle is, of course, St Thomas, whom we celebrate on the 3rd July. He tells Christ he is not sure this man in front of him is truly the same man he had known, walked alongside and eaten with. Christ asks him to approach Him, put his finger in His side and recognise Him.
St Thomas obeys and believes; “blessed are those who have not seen, yet believe”, is Christ’s reply. This is often read as a rebuke of St Thomas, but another interpretation is possible. Earlier the Apostles had doubted Christ and he responded with an admonition: “oh ye of little faith”. But this did not mean that the doubts of Thomas and the others could not be remedied. Some do not need to see, some are more easily convinced, but St Thomas needed the extra aid and he was offered it. We often recognise that faith is not a mere emotion, constant and warm. In the Anima Christi prayer, we say “in your wounds, comfort me”. There, like Thomas, we can find solace in Christ’s pierced side: in the very real, physical nature of a mutilated body, a well-spring of redemptive blood, we find our consolation – not in the comforts of pleasant feelings.
Doubt is, therefore, a form of faith. This statement might strike some readers as contradictory, but a moment of reflection will show that this must be the case. To doubt is to have a doubt about something, to stand in relation to something. You must have a good degree of faith in order to doubt it – otherwise, you would reject it and no longer have faith. We do not speak of those who lack faith as doubting, but rather as rejecting faith. You might doubt Christianity’s claims to truth, regarding it from a sceptical posture, yet you do not doubt your faith in this case, for there is no faith to begin with. Moreover, doubt helps us relate to our faith, and spurs us on to question it, coming out of the process stronger. If our faith is true, it must be able to withstand any amount of criticism and questioning – in short, any amount of doubt.
Scripture is replete with stories of doubt. Jacob wrestled with God. Christ Himself, according to G. K. Chesterton, seems for a moment to have been an atheist when he called out for His Father who had forsaken Him. And in the Old Testament, we see in the life of Gideon (book of Judges) a man who began in doubt but ended in faith. There is a sound philosophical basis for this association between doubt and faith. In Socrates’s Apology, Plato says that Socrates believes that piety is putting the word of God to the test. The oracle at Delphi had said Socrates was the wisest of men, yet Socrates doubted the oracle and wanted to test the claim. This may seem impious, but once we recall the distinction that Socrates (according to Plato) held between opinion and knowledge, it makes sense.
For something to be known, we must make it our own. We cannot merely repeat a tenet, but must challenge it in order to better comprehend it, to find a way in which we can appropriate it and communicate it to others clearly and convincingly without being mere ventriloquists. Browsing Scripture, we may be confronted with many apparent contradictions, which is an invitation to ask questions and see how the whole fits together and what it has to tell us. Even with the magisterium of the Church, this can be a challenging process, peppered with doubts. Yet once we have made the truth ours, we can more readily convey it to others. Similarly, if we have never had a moment’s doubt, we can rightly wonder if we have ever truly tested the resolve of our faith.
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