Some definitions of faith are highly negative: “blind trust, in the absence of evidence, even in the teeth of evidence” is how Richard Dawkins describes it in The Selfish Gene. Needless to say, this definition is entirely his own and not from any Catholic theological source.
What, then, is faith in a theological sense? In two of his sermons, “Faith and Love” and “The Religion of the Day”, St John Henry Newman makes the point that the external world, as we experience it, is ambiguous.
On the one hand, this world communicates a sense of supra-human order and intelligence that is consistent with the existence of God. On the other hand, the world does not reveal the will and purpose of God or enable us to know and love God in a covenantal manner. Without additional divine help, the beginnings of the supernatural love of God implanted in our hearts with Baptism would be snuffed out quickly, like a candle in a hurricane.
Fortunately, however, God helps us by revelation implanted in the world, a revelation that consists principally of his Incarnate Son, Jesus Christ, and the fruits of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, including scripture, tradition and the Catholic Church.
Faith is not trust in the absence of evidence, but about belief with consent to what has been revealed, for much of which there is ample evidence, especially from those who have been close to God.
For believers, this faith is the defender of love, like the fence around the garden of our souls that protects the life of grace from being snuffed out, enabling our souls to mature and bear fruit for the Kingdom of Heaven.
Fr Andrew Pinsent is in the faculty of theology and religion at the University of Oxford
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