And the warld kent Him na

It is amusing, or perhaps not, to discover while reading Newman that he directly contradicts something one wrote oneself, recently. This was in (the eleventh of) his Discourses to Mixed Congregations, during a lively discussion of what faith is — as distinguished from what it is not. The Blesséd gentleman says plainly that “two plus two is four” is not an act of faith. I said it was, t’other day in my Catholic Thing column. So I take it back, over here.

It is a belief, and to my mind, a reasonable one, based on considerable evidence; enjoying, too, a consensus among mathematicians and scientists, greater than that for anthropogenic global warming. I myself have, quite frankly, always believed that two plus two will make four, and never come across an exception. Would I go to the stake for it, however? … Nah.

Whereas, Faith (let’s give it a capital sometimes) is different in kind. It involves a “belief” in God, so to say, and in the truth of God, and in the truth of God’s revelation, and of God’s chosen messengers of that truth, and thus the truth of His Church, all following from the absolute assurance: that God would not lie to us. He would not tell us one thing one day, and another on another. He is not, for instance, the God of the Koran who changes his mind and contradicts himself from one surah to another. God, for our weakness, even goes so far as to explain what might appear a contradiction to us, as Jesus does in the Gospels. (“Moses for the hardness of your hearts,” &c.)

Humans may fail, and that most certainly includes the humans embedded in the hierarchy of the Church at any given historical moment. But we can know they have failed: when they begin to preach what is contrary to God’s Revelation. Men can be faithless, as (Newman points out) most men who claim to be Christians are faithless, and therefore stray from the same Holy Church, or remain within her but neglect her demands. For there is nothing in Faith that is or could be conditional.

Given our finitude, and God’s infinitude, when we are puzzled we must assume that we are puzzled, and not presume that God is puzzled, or is puzzling us. Our doubt is for our own understanding, and fear is for our own Faith: that it cannot withstand even the slightest challenge. Faith thus cannot even entertain the “scepticism” that validly applies to any act of reasoning.

“In the ordinary course of this world we account things true either because we see them, or because we can perceive that they follow and are deducible from what we do see; that is, we gain truth by sight or by reason, not by faith.”

Faith is of another order: the order of Hope and Charity. For neither of those is conditional, either.

“Faith is not feeling,” as I like to say, but it is also not reason. It goes beyond reason, to what reason cannot prove (much though it may be consistent with reason). It may also be said to precede reason, logically. It is not founded in Nature, but in what transcends Nature. “The heavens and the earth will pass away, but my Word will never pass away.” Faith is in the eternal, not in the transient; from which I would say it follows, that the Eternal is reflected in Faith, rather as we are ourselves to be understood as existing “in God’s image.”

Newman is quite right, and I was quite wrong, except, words are words, lower case. Even the word “faith” requires some context, and it was in a particular, analogical context that I said “two plus two” requires faith. Rather, I should have said, for clarity: it is like faith, insofar as we do not doubt it. Yet it is also unlike Faith, for it is the product of reason.

By another analogy, getting up in the morning requires faith, and even more, going to bed at night. I was saying, or intending to say, that reason itself rests upon Faith, and very much not the contrary.

Faith transcends reason, though reason may sometimes seem to be catching up. In the same Catholic Thing column (which is here, incidentally) I touched upon the finitude of the universe. We know it must be so from Faith; and through centuries Christians believed it to be so, even in the face of overwhelming scientific consensus that the universe in which we live must be infinite. We could not know the how and why of it, only that our universe must have a beginning and an end — for God had actually told us so, and God does not lie. However, we could not know this by reason, until Georges Lemaître’s “cosmic egg” hypothesis (a.k.a. “big bang”) made the fact of its beginning accessible to reason. And as I added, there, the more recent discovery that the same universe is expanding at a constantly accelerating rate, points us towards some ultimately calculable end. But that remains “just reason,” and is not Faith (as Monsignor Lemaître himself made quite plain).

“Good faith,” as opposed to “bad faith,” is similarly analogical: for the man of good faith does not even consider — or if he considers, immediately rejects as sinful — the possibility of acting in bad faith. He does not, like some utilitarian, reason that good faith will work out better for him and for everyone, than bad. Rather the Christian, from his Faith in God, does what God requires of him; and does it without question.

Needless to say, this subject is not exhausted. Yet I would rather gentle reader were in Newman’s hands, than in my own, for a fuller explanation. His tenth discourse sets stage for the eleventh, and the whole of the book to which I alluded (some eighteen discourses on fundamental propositions of Catholic teaching, and a marvellous catechizing experience for any intelligent reader) is especially worth attentive study for anyone today who is losing his way through the Cafeteria of Catholic decadence, and not much helped when he turns to Rome. He needs to take the Theological Virtues seriously. He needs to put himself in a position where he will not be prey to heresy and rubbish.

God sends His messengers, and in a way more miraculous than we can begin to conceive, He sent as His messenger, in addition to angels and prophets and signs, Himself. “I Am that I Am” came down from Heaven and on His eighth day among us, He took a Name. He became, incredibly, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Which mystery of Faith is embodied in today’s Old Mass: a truth beyond reason, and any worldly understanding.

In Nomine Jesu. …