Today’s Catechism topic is the characteristics of Faith. Supporting information provided by the Angelic Doctor himself – St. Thomas Aquinas.
III. The Characteristics of Faith
Faith is a grace
153 When St. Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus declared to him that this revelation did not come "from flesh and blood", but from "my Father who is in heaven".24 Faith is a gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by him. "Before this faith can be exercised, man must have the grace of God to move and assist him; he must have the interior helps of the Holy Spirit, who moves the heart and converts it to God, who opens the eyes of the mind and 'makes it easy for all to accept and believe the truth.'"25
Faith is a human act
154 Believing is possible only by grace and the interior helps of the Holy Spirit. But it is no less true that believing is an authentically human act. Trusting in God and cleaving to the truths he has revealed is contrary neither to human freedom nor to human reason. Even in human relations it is not contrary to our dignity to believe what other persons tell us about themselves and their intentions, or to trust their promises (for example, when a man and a woman marry) to share a communion of life with one another. If this is so, still less is it contrary to our dignity to "yield by faith the full submission of... intellect and will to God who reveals",26 and to share in an interior communion with him.
155 In faith, the human intellect and will co-operate with divine grace: "Believing is an act of the intellect assenting to the divine truth by command of the will moved by God through grace."27
Faith and understanding
156 What moves us to believe is not the fact that revealed truths appear as true and intelligible in the light of our natural reason: we believe "because of the authority of God himself who reveals them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived".28 So "that the submission of our faith might nevertheless be in accordance with reason, God willed that external proofs of his Revelation should be joined to the internal helps of the Holy Spirit."29 Thus the miracles of Christ and the saints, prophecies, the Church's growth and holiness, and her fruitfulness and stability "are the most certain signs of divine Revelation, adapted to the intelligence of all"; they are "motives of credibility" (motiva credibilitatis), which show that the assent of faith is "by no means a blind impulse of the mind".30
157 Faith is certain. It is more certain than all human knowledge because it is founded on the very word of God who cannot lie. To be sure, revealed truths can seem obscure to human reason and experience, but "the certainty that the divine light gives is greater than that which the light of natural reason gives."31 "Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt."32
158 "Faith seeks understanding":33 it is intrinsic to faith that a believer desires to know better the One in whom he has put his faith, and to understand better what He has revealed; a more penetrating knowledge will in turn call forth a greater faith, increasingly set afire by love. the grace of faith opens "the eyes of your hearts"34 to a lively understanding of the contents of Revelation: that is, of the totality of God's plan and the mysteries of faith, of their connection with each other and with Christ, the centre of the revealed mystery. "The same Holy Spirit constantly perfects faith by his gifts, so that Revelation may be more and more profoundly understood."35 In the words of St. Augustine, "I believe, in order to understand; and I understand, the better to believe."36
159 Faith and science: "Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth."37 "Consequently, methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God. the humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are."38
The freedom of faith
160 To be human, "man's response to God by faith must be free, and... therefore nobody is to be forced to embrace the faith against his will. the act of faith is of its very nature a free act."39 "God calls men to serve him in spirit and in truth. Consequently they are bound to him in conscience, but not coerced. . . This fact received its fullest manifestation in Christ Jesus."40 Indeed, Christ invited people to faith and conversion, but never coerced them. "For he bore witness to the truth but refused to use force to impose it on those who spoke against it. His kingdom... grows by the love with which Christ, lifted up on the cross, draws men to himself."41
179 Faith is a supernatural gift from God. In order to believe, man needs the interior helps of the Holy Spirit.
180 "Believing" is a human act, conscious and free, corresponding to the dignity of the human person.
181 "Believing" is an ecclesial act. the Church's faith precedes, engenders, supports and nourishes our faith. the Church is the mother of all believers. "No one can have God as Father who does not have the Church as Mother" (St. Cyprian, De unit. 6: PL 4, 519).
182 We believe all "that which is contained in the word of God, written or handed down, and which the Church proposes for belief as divinely revealed" (Paul VI, CPG # 20).
Here is Aquinas’ perspective on Faith as a grace from God and the act of human assent (Summa Theologica 2,2,6):
Article 1. Whether faith is infused into man by God?
Objection 1. It would seem that faith is not infused into man by God. For Augustine says (De Trin. xiv) that "science begets faith in us, and nourishes, defends and strengthens it." Now those things which science begets in us seem to be acquired rather than infused. Therefore faith does not seem to be in us by Divine infusion.
Objection 2. Further, that to which man attains by hearing and seeing, seems to be acquired by him. Now man attains to belief, both by seeing miracles, and by hearing the teachings of faith: for it is written (John 4:53): "The father . . . knew that it was at the same hour, that Jesus said to him, Thy son liveth; and himself believed, and his whole house"; and (Romans 10:17) it is said that "faith is through hearing." Therefore man attains to faith by acquiring it.
Objection 3. Further, that which depends on a man's will can be acquired by him. But "faith depends on the believer's will," according to Augustine (De Praedest. Sanct. v). Therefore faith can be acquired by man.
On the contrary, It is written (Ephesians 2:8-9): "By grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves . . . that no man may glory . . . for it is the gift of God."
I answer that, Two things are requisite for faith. First, that the things which are of faith should be proposed to man: this is necessary in order that man believe anything explicitly. The second thing requisite for faith is the assent of the believer to the things which are proposed to him. Accordingly, as regards the first of these, faith must needs be from God. Because those things which are of faith surpass human reason, hence they do not come to man's knowledge, unless God reveal them. To some, indeed, they are revealed by God immediately, as those things which were revealed to the apostles and prophets, while to some they are proposed by God in sending preachers of the faith, according to Romans 10:15: "How shall they preach, unless they be sent?"
As regards the second, viz. man's assent to the things which are of faith, we may observe a twofold cause, one of external inducement, such as seeing a miracle, or being persuaded by someone to embrace the faith: neither of which is a sufficient cause, since of those who see the same miracle, or who hear the same sermon, some believe, and some do not. Hence we must assert another internal cause, which moves man inwardly to assent to matters of faith.
The Pelagians held that this cause was nothing else than man's free-will: and consequently they said that the beginning of faith is from ourselves, inasmuch as, to wit, it is in our power to be ready to assent to things which are of faith, but that the consummation of faith is from God, Who proposes to us the things we have to believe. But this is false, for, since man, by assenting to matters of faith, is raised above his nature, this must needs accrue to him from some supernatural principle moving him inwardly; and this is God. Therefore faith, as regards the assent which is the chief act of faith, is from God moving man inwardly by grace.
Reply to Objection 1. Science begets and nourishes faith, by way of external persuasion afforded by science; but the chief and proper cause of faith is that which moves man inwardly to assent.
Reply to Objection 2. This argument again refers to the cause that proposes outwardly the things that are of faith, or persuades man to believe by words or deeds.
Reply to Objection 3. To believe does indeed depend on the will of the believer: but man's will needs to be prepared by God with grace, in order that he may be raised to things which are above his nature, as stated above (2, 3).
Here is what the Dogmatic Constitution, Dei Filius has to say about faith:
Chap. 3. Faith
Since man is wholly dependent on God as his Creator and Lord, and since created reason is completely subject to uncreated truth, we are bound by faith to give full obedience of intellect and will to God who reveals. But the Catholic Church professes that this faith, which is the beginning of human salvation, is a supernatural virtue by which we, with the aid and inspiration of the grace of God, believe that the things revealed by Him are true, not because the intrinsic truth of the revealed things has been perceived by the natural light of reason, but because of the authority of God Himself who reveals them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived. For, "faith is," as the Apostle testifies, "the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not" [Heb 11:1].
However, in order that the "obedience" of our faith should be "consonant with reason" [cf. Rom 12:1], God has willed that to the internal aids of the Holy Spirit there should be joined external proofs of His revelation, namely: divine facts, especially miracles and prophecies which, because they clearly show forth the omnipotence and infinite knowledge of God, are most certain signs of a divine revelation, and are suited to the intelligence of all. Wherefore, not only Moses and the prophets, but especially Christ the Lord Himself, produced many genuine miracles and prophecies; and we read concerning the apostles: "But they going forth preached everywhere: the Lord working withal and confirming the word with signs that followed" [Mk 16:20]. And again it is written: "And we have the more firm prophetical word: whereunto you do well to attend, as to a light that shineth in a dark place" [2Pet 1:19].
Moreover, although the assent of faith is by no means a blind movement of the intellect, nevertheless, no one can "assent to the preaching of the Gospel," as he must to attain salvation, "without the illumination and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who gives to all a sweetness in consenting to and believing in truth" (Council of Orange). Wherefore, "faith" itself in itself, even if it "worketh not by charity" [cf. Gal 5:6], is a gift of God, and its act is a work pertaining to salvation, by which man offers a free obedience to God Himself by agreeing to, and cooperating with His grace, which he could resist.
Further, by divine and Catholic faith, all those things must be believed which are contained in the written word of God and in tradition, and those which are proposed by the Church, either in a solemn pronouncement or in her ordinary and universal teaching power, to be believed as divinely revealed.
But, since "without faith it is impossible to please God" [Heb 11:6] and to attain to the fellowship of His sons, hence, no one is justified without it; nor will anyone attain eternal life except "he shall persevere unto the end on it" [Mt 10:22; 24:13]. Moreover, in order that we may satisfactorily perform the duty of embracing the true faith and of continuously persevering in it, God, through His only-begotten Son, has instituted the Church, and provided it with clear signs of His institution, so that it can be recognized by all as the guardian and teacher of the revealed word.
For, to the Catholic Church alone belong all those many and marvelous things which have been divinely arranged for the evident credibility of the Christian faith. But, even the Church itself by itself, because of its marvelous propagation, its exceptional holiness, and inexhaustible fruitfulness in all good works; because of its catholic unity and invincible stability, is a very great and perpetual motive of credibility, and an incontestable witness of its own divine mission.
By this it happens that the Church as "a standard set up unto the nations" [Is 11:12], both invites to itself those who have not yet believed, and makes its sons more certain that the faith, which they profess, rests on a very firm foundation. Indeed, an efficacious aid to this testimony has come from supernatural virtue. For, the most benign God both excites the erring by His grace and aids them so that they can "come to a knowledge of the truth" [1Tim 2:4], and also confirms in His grace those whom "He has called out of darkness into his marvelous light" [1Pet 2:9], so that they may persevere in this same light, not deserting if He be not deserted. Wherefore, not at all equal is the condition of those, who, through the heavenly gift of faith, have adhered to the Catholic truth, and of those, who, led by human opinions, follow a false religion; for, those who have accepted the faith under the teaching power of the Church can never have a just cause of changing or doubting that faith. Since this is so, "giving thanks to God the Father, who hath made us worthy to be partakers of the lot of the saints in light" [Col 1:12], let us not neglect such salvation, but "looking on Jesus, the author and finisher of faith" [Heb 12:2], "let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering" [Heb 10:23].
24 ⇒ Mt 16:17; cf. ⇒ Gal 1:15; ⇒ Mt 11:25.
25 DV 5; cf. DS 377; 3010.
26 Dei Filius: 3: DS 3008.
27 St. Thomas Aquinas, STh II-II, 2, 9; cf Dei Filius 3; DS 3010.
28 Dei Filius: 3 DS 3008.
29 Dei Filius: 3 DS 3009.
30 Dei Filius: 3: DS 3008-3010; Cf. ⇒ Mk 16 20; ⇒ Heb 2:4
31 St. Thomas Aquinas, STh II-II 171, 5, obj. 3.
32 John Henry Cardinal Newman, Apologia pro vita sua (London Longman, 1878) 239.
33 St. Anselm, Prosl. prooem. PL 153 225A.
34 ⇒ Eph 1:18
35 DV 5.
36 St. Augustine, Sermo 43, 7, 9: PL 38, 257-258.
37 Dei Filius 4: DS 3017.
38 GS 36 # 1.
39 DH 10; cf. ⇒ CIC, can. 748 # 2.
40 DH 11.
41 DH 11; cf. ⇒ Jn 18:37; ⇒ 12:32.