Life without faith is impossible. Consider this.
Human Faith. To live in families and in societies we all must be willing to accept truths we cannot directly verify because we are obliged, by reason, to believe the word of others who are trustworthy. Faith is an act of intelligence. Kierkegaard exaggeratingly said that faith is “a leap in the dark,” but that presumes it is unreasonable to ever put aside hesitation and doubt in order to assent to a trustworthy witness. We all have to trust other people, in fact we begin life that way and as we mature almost everything we learn is in some way fiduciary. We even have to decide when to trust our senses.
Ordinary human faith is necessary and reasonable, not at all an ignorant disposition to belief on weak or insufficient grounds. Such an act of the intellect and of the will is reasonable because through relationships with other people we learn, by experience, whether what they say is true, and so we learn to trust those people. It is not the strength of the evidence other people give or even that the other people declare they can be trusted that inspires us to have faith. Ultimately we have faith in the word of another person because of who that person is, who we know that person to be in totality through time in the relationship.
Christian Faith. The Christian places faith in the Word of God revealed by Christ as taught by the Catholic Church. Truths that come from God the Creator of everything must be objectively true. Is this faith a “leap in the dark?” Christian faith and human faith do differ. They are not the same thing, but they are analogous. We can know God exists through reason, but the great mysteries of faith could not be discovered by human reason – they had to be revealed. We cannot directly verify revealed truths. So, they are forever closed to those unwilling to trust God, in the same way that love is closed to anyone unwilling to trust even a truthful friend.
We can, however, see the intrinsic truth of God’s mysteries by the signs revealed to us. If we recognize in genuine certitude that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, then we can trust what he has taught us because God is Truth, and therefore cannot deceive. We have signs from his lifetime such as the fulfillment of prophecies, miracles of healing and casting out demons, and his Resurrection from the dead. We cannot verify those but we have the witness of the Catholic Church that has passed these truths down through history.
How do we know the Church is trustworthy? Her manifest unity, inclusiveness, continuity, and holiness give witness to the Church as a trustworthy miracle.* We profess that the “Church Is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.” The visible Church is a pilgrim church who takes on the appearance of this passing world and requires continual purification and reform. (Romans 8:19-22)
But in spite of the faults of the human members, the Church herself is a “moral miracle” because she transcends what is possible for a merely human community. As the First Vatican Council noted, the “Church herself, with her marvelous propagation, eminent holiness, and inexhaustible fruitfulness in everything good, her catholic unity and invincible stability, is a great and perpetual motive of credibility and an irrefutable witness of her divine mission.” The Church shows the presence of Christ in the world being transformed by the Holy Spirit in the past, present and into the future.
For that reason, Christian faith is not unreasonable at all.
Benedict M. Ashley, O.P., Living the Truth in Love (NY: Society of Saint Paul, 1996).
Avery Dulles. Craft of Theology: From Symbol to System. (NY: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1992).
* For an extensive treatment see the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium Promulgated by His Holiness Pope Paul VI, November 21, 1964. Sections 48-51.