11 August 2015

Personal and propositional faith, the 4 logical steps to explicit propositional faith, and the medium of Revelation

Abstract

I examine the complete definition of faith, involving both personal and propositional faith, and the four steps that are logically necessary to arrive to explicit propositional faith in response to divine Revelation, which is the "strict" traditional definition of faith. Then I focus on the medium of divine Revelation, whose identification is the third of those steps. I propose the theses that holding the foundational knowledge on theism and on the medium of divine Revelation, even when it is based on rationally apprehensible data, requires, at least for a significant subset of people, "an act of the intellect assenting to the ... truth by command of the will moved by God through grace", where the specificity of my thesis is "moved by God through grace", and thus is a kind of propositional faith distinct from its "strict" definition, which leads me to propose a "broad" definition of propositional faith.

The four logical steps to explicit propositional faith in response to divine Revelation

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) provides a "complete" definition of faith (as opposed to the "strict" traditional definition) in #150:

"Faith is first of all a personal adherence of man to God. At the same time, and inseparably, it is a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed. As personal adherence to God and assent to his truth, Christian faith differs from our faith in any human person. It is right and just to entrust oneself wholly to God and to believe absolutely what he says. It would be futile and false to place such faith in a creature."

Faith thus defined involves two aspects, the second being a necessary consequence of the first:

- a personal adherence of man to God: faith as vital attitude, personal faith;

- a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed: faith as knowledge, explicit propositional faith.

This "complete" definition of faith corresponds exactly to the calling by Jesus at the beginning of his ministry: «The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent [1] and believe in the gospel.» (Mk 1:15).

- "repent": personal faith;
- "believe in the gospel": explicit propositional faith.

Let's try to identify the logical steps involved. To "please God" one must "come to Him" (Heb 11:6), "adhere personally to Him". This personal adherence («repent»), which as we will see is step 2:

- pre-requires (step 1) to "believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him" (Heb 11:6). To note, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews affirms that this belief in the basic tenets of theism, just by itself, constitutes faith, which is clear since he is talking about Enoch, the seventh patriarch (Heb 11:5-6), who lived before God made any revelation and who therefore could not have believed in any truths revealed by God "because of the authority of God Himself who reveals them". Since the belief "that God exists and that He rewards those who seek Him", which is affirming a proposition, is the necessary foundation for both personal faith and believing that God has revealed any truths and the revealed truths themselves, I call it "theistic foundational knowledge", which, in contrast with faith, which is based on the authority of God, is based on rationally apprehensible praeambula fidei (Rom 1:19-20).

- necessarily includes the disposition to believe whatever God has revealed in the past and/or will (at least in principle) reveal in the future, before (at least logically) knowing whether God has actually made any revelation at all. I call that disposition "implicit propositional faith" in response to the Revelation that God has made and/or will (at least in principle) make.

To note, Christians do believe that divine Revelation has been "sealed" with the death of St John Evangelist. However, this belief derives from what God has actually revealed, not from an a priori notion that all divine Revelation must already have taken place.

Now, it is clear that, to be able to "assent to the whole truth that God has revealed" (step 4), it is necessary first to identify the medium through which God has revealed and/or (at least in principle) is currently revealing/will reveal in the future (step 3). Since the identification of the medium of Revelation, which is affirming a proposition, is the necessary foundation for believing what God has revealed through said medium, I call it "foundational knowledge on the medium of Revelation", which, in contrast with faith, which is based on the authority of God, is based on rationally apprehensible motives of credibility (Jn 10:37-38).

In the mentioned case of Jesus' preaching in Mk 1:15, his audience, composed by Israelites, already held the basic truths of theism (step 1), and were able to identify Jesus as the medium through which God was revealing on the basis of the miracles that Jesus performed (step 3). Thus they were able to simultaneously perform steps 2 «repent» and 4 «believe in the gospel».

Thus we have the four logical steps to faith and their results:

1. Believe in God as Absolute Being and therefore Absolute Good, specifically OUR Absolute Good = theistic foundational knowledge, based on rationally apprehensible praembula fidei.

2. Adhere personally to God, which includes the disposition to believe whatever God has revealed and/or will reveal = personal faith, including implicit propositional faith.

3. Identify the medium of divine Revelation = foundational knowledge on the medium of Revelation, based on rationally apprehensible motives of credibility.

4. Believe in all the truths that God has revealed through the medium identified in step 3 = explicit propositional faith in response to divine Revelation, based on the authority of God who reveals.

The result of the last step, explicit propositional faith in response to divine Revelation, is what theologians and the magisterium traditionally refer to when speaking of "faith", and it could be called the "strict" definition of faith.


Stages and structure of the medium of divine Revelation

In the case of "sealed" views of divine Revelation, such as those held by Jews, Christians and Muslims, i.e. of a divine Revelation that has been fully completed in the past, the medium of Revelation which must be identified includes two stages:

- the original medium through which God has revealed in the past, and

- the proximate medium that currently holds the "deposit" of what God has revealed through the original medium and, in some views, provides authoritative identification and interpretation of that Revelation.

Regarding the original medium, and focusing on the "ultimate" such medium, Jews, Christians and Muslims identify it with Moses, Jesus Christ and his Apostles, and Mohammed respectively.

Regarding the proximate medium, there are two main views on its structure:

A. It is a book plus a tradition, both interpreted by a divinely assisted and authoritative magisterium, which is the belief held by Rabbinic Jews and Roman Catholics/Eastern Orthodox. (To note, I do not know the specific beliefs of the Orthodox and Conservative branches of Rabbinic Judaism about whether the consensus of rabbis is divinely assisted or just authoritative.)

B. It is just a book, which is the belief held by Karaite Jews, Christian Protestants and Quranist Muslims.

The views of the main denominations of Islam, i.e. Sunni and Twelver Shia, seem to be intermediate between these two, as they recognize the Quran and also the oral traditions about Mohammed (hadith), which were eventually written down in collections of books, different for each denomination.

In the Catholic Church, the doctrine of the proximate medium of Revelation was stated magisterially first by the Ecumenical Council of Trent and then by the Ecumenical Council Vatican I, in its Dogmatic Constitution "Dei Filius", which quotes Trent:

"Furthermore, this supernatural revelation, according to the faith of the universal Church, declared by the holy Synod of Trent, is contained "in the written books and the unwritten traditions which, received by the Apostles from the mouth of Christ himself, or from the Apostles themselves by the dictation of the Holy Spirit, have come down to us, transmitted as it were from hand to hand" [Council of Trent]." (ch. 2 "On Revelation")

"For the doctrine of faith, which God has revealed, has not been proposed as a philosophical invention to be perfected by human ingenuity, but has been delivered as a divine deposit to the Spouse of Christ, to be faithfully guarded and infallibly declared (fideliter custodienda et infallibiliter declaranda)." (ch. 4 "On faith and reason")

Identification of the medium of divine Revelation

Clearly the "strict" definition of faith, e.g. by the Ecumenical Council Vatican I in its Dogmatic Constitution "Dei Filius", ch. 3 "On faith":

"The Catholic Church professes that this faith, which is the beginning of human salvation, is a supernatural virtue, by means of which, with the inspiration and assistance of the grace of God, we believe that the things revealed by Him are true, not because the intrinsic truth of the 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."

cannot apply to the identification of the medium of divine Revelation, lest the epistemic situation be circular, as a person should have to identify M as the medium through which God reveals by an assent to the truth that "God reveals through M" based on the authority of God who revealed (through M) said truth (i.e. that He reveals through M)!  Thus, the medium of divine Revelation must be rationally identified, based on its motives of credibility.

"Dei Filius", in line with its quoted teaching on the proximate medium of divine Revelation, states clearly that only the Catholic Church exhibits real motives of credibility of being such a medium:

"And, that we may be able to satisfy the obligation of embracing the true faith and of constantly persevering in it, God, through his only-begotten Son, has instituted the Church, and has bestowed on it manifest notes of that institution, so that it may be recognized by all as the guardian and teacher (custos et magistra) of the revealed word. For to the Catholic Church alone belong all those things, so many and so marvelous, which have been divinely established for the evident credibility of the Christian faith. Moreover, the Church by itself, because of its marvelous propagation, its exceptional holiness, and its inexhaustible fruitfulness in all that is good, because of its Catholic unity and invincible stability, is a great and perpetual motive of credibility and an irrefutable evidence (testimonium) of its own divine mission." (ch. 3 "On faith")


Could coming to hold the knowledge from steps 1 and 3 be a kind of propositional faith?

To answer this question, I will start by quoting four passages by St. Thomas Aquinas.

"Faith implies assent of the intellect to that which is believed. Now the intellect assents to a thing in two ways. First, through being moved to assent by its very object, which is known either by itself (as in the case of first principles, which are held by the habit of understanding), or through something else already known (as in the case of conclusions which are held by the habit of science). Secondly the intellect assents to something, not through being sufficiently moved to this assent by its proper object, but through an act of choice, whereby it turns voluntarily to one side rather than to the other: and if this be accompanied by doubt or fear of the opposite side, there will be opinion, while, if there be certainty and no fear of the other side, there will be faith.

Now those things are said to be seen which, of themselves, move the intellect or the senses to knowledge of them. Wherefore it is evident that neither faith nor opinion can be of things seen either by the senses or by the intellect." (ST II-II, q. 1, a. 4, resp.).

"All science is derived from self-evident and therefore "seen" principles; wherefore all objects of science must needs be, in a fashion, seen.

Now as stated above (Article [4]), it is impossible that one and the same thing should be believed and seen by the same person. Hence it is equally impossible for one and the same thing to be an object of science and of belief for the same person. It may happen, however, that a thing which is an object of vision or science for one, is believed by another" (ST II-II, q. 1, a. 5, resp.).

"believing is an act of the intellect assenting to the divine truth by command of the will moved by God through grace." (ST II-II, q. 2, a. 9, resp., quoted by CCC #155).

"As stated above (Question [1], Article [4]; Question [2], Article [1]), the believer's intellect assents to that which he believes, not because he sees it either in itself, or by resolving it to first self-evident principles, but because his will commands his intellect to assent. Now, that the will moves the intellect to assent, may be due to two causes. First, through the will being directed to the good, and in this way, to believe is a praiseworthy action." (ST II-II, q. 5, a. 2, resp.)

With this in mind, let's compare theistic foundational knowledge, or basic theistic belief, and faith strictly defined, i.e. explicit propositional faith in response to divine Revelation, in two respects:

A. the way by which the intellect reaches the truth to be assented to,

B. the basis on which the will commands the intellect to assent to that truth.

In faith strictly defined (step 4):

4.A. The intellect arrives at the truth to be assented to by listening to divine Revelation.

4.B. The will commands the intellect to assent to that truth on the basis of the authority of God who revealed it, who can neither deceive nor be deceived.

In coming to hold theistic foundational knowledge or basic theistic belief (step 1):

1.A. The intellect arrives at the truth to be assented to by reasoning metaphysically from created things.

1.B. There are two possibilities for the assent of the intellect to that truth:

a. The intellect may be moved to assent to it by its very object, which is the case when it "sees" as self-evident the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR), i.e. the presupposition that reality is ultimately rationally explainable, so that rational demonstrations are reliable even when dealing with metaphysical issues like the ultimate cause of the universe.

However, I proposed in a previous article as "Thesis 1" that holding the PSR is equivalent to, or presupposes, holding theism ( why else should we assume that reality is ultimately rational?). If that thesis is correct, it would make plausible the case that many people may not "see" the PSR in itself as a self-evident first principle, but have to assent to it through an act of choice. Which leads to the second possibility for the assent of the intellect to basic theistic knowledge:

b. The will commands the intellect to assent to the PSR, and thus indirectly to the truths derived on its basis by reasoning metaphysically from created things.

Thus I propose in another article the following thesis, of course subject to its compatibility with the definitions of the Magisterium of the Church:

Thesis 2: "The inspiration and assistance of the grace of God" may be required by a significant subset of people for holding the PSR, or equivalently that reality is ultimately, metaphysically rational. It is in that sense only that holding the basic theistic belief may be a kind of propositional faith.

We can follow an analogous reasoning with step 3, the identification of the medium of divine Revelation:

In coming to hold the foundational knowledge on the medium of Revelation (step 3):

3.A. The intellect arrives at the truth to be assented to by reasoning on the basis of historical and documentary reliable data.

3.B. The will commands the intellect to assent to that truth on the basis of 1) the reliability and cogency of the collected data, and 2) trust on the infinite goodness of God, Who out of his love for us would not allow that we were exposed to misleading data that were so reliable and cogent.

leading to the following thesis, which as the former is subject to its compatibility with the definitions of the Magisterium of the Church:

Thesis 3: "The inspiration and assistance of the grace of God" may be required by a significant subset of people for the assent of the intellect to the correct identification of the medium of Revelation.  It is in that sense only that holding the foundational knowledge on the medium of Revelation may be a kind of propositional faith.

Thesis 3 is, then, that the identification of the medium of Revelation is, for many people, "an act of the intellect that assents to the ... truth at the command of the will moved by God through grace;" (ST Part II-II, q. 2, a. 9, resp., quoted by CCC #155), where the specificity of my thesis is "moved by God through grace". That is, I propose that the assent of the intellect to the correct identification of the medium of Revelation, though "by no means a blind movement of the mind" as it is based on rationally apprehensible motives of credibility, yet cannot take place, at least in some people, "without the inspiration and illumination of the Holy Spirit, who gives to all facility in accepting and believing the truth" (Dei Filius). If this is the case, the knowledge resulting from this step can be called "propositional faith", since "God has revealed through medium M" is a proposition.

The difference between this kind of faith and the "strict" definition of faith is that, whereas by the latter "we believe that the things which he has revealed are true, not because we perceive the intrinsic truth of the things by the natural light of reason, but because of the authority of God himself who reveals them," by the former we believe that "He has revealed through medium M", assenting to the intrinsic truth of that proposition perceived by the natural light of reason.

The opposite view to Thesis 3 is that assenting to the correct identification of the medium of Revelation is not a form of faith, but a purely human act of the intellect "inevitably produced by the arguments of human reason" and for which the grace of God is not necessary. Which IMV is problematic because it seems to base the whole edifice of faith on a weak foundation, as God would provide his assistance for believing the truths He has revealed but not for identifying the medium through which He has revealed those truths, which He would leave exclusively to our own forces [2].


Proposed qualified definitions of faith on the basis of their scope

If the proposed theses are correct, we could speak of propositional faith in a broader sense than the "strict" definition of faith. For that, I propose a "broad" definition of faith, so that all three definitions would be:

"Complete" definition (steps 1 .. 4): personal faith + explicit propositional faith;

"Broad" definition (steps 1, 3 and 4): explicit propositional faith in response to both rationally apprehensible data and divine Revelation;

"Strict" definition (step 4): explicit propositional faith in response to divine Revelation.

As said above, the "strict" definition is what theologians and the magisterium traditionally refer to when speaking of "faith".


Is it possible that a person who has identified partially incorrectly the medium of Revelation still has faith?

Now, since Jesus described the Holy Spirit as "the Spirit of truth" who "will guide you into all the truth" (Jn 16:13), do we have to assume that whoever has identified partially incorrectly the medium of Revelation, e.g. as just the Bible, does not receive any "internal assistance of the Holy Spirit", so that his assent to even actual truths revealed through the partially incorrectly identified medium of Revelation is NOT an act of faith but just the embracement of a human opinion? Regarding this question, I propose as Thesis 4 (subject to ...) that its answer is "it depends on the concrete historical circunstances of each case".

Let's consider the case of a non-Christian who receives for the first time the announcement of (a partially incorrect and incomplete version of) the Gospel from a preacher of a Christian denomination that incorrectly identifies the medium of Revelation, e.g. by holding the view of "Sola Scriptura". Thus the fully correct identification of the medium of Revelation is not an available option for that person at that time, as he is constrained to choose between believing in the version of Christianity he has learned about and remaining non-Christian. Regarding this case, we can adopt one of two possible views:

- the Holy Spirit provides his inspiration and assistance to this person, so that his assent to what is true in the (partially incorrect and incomplete) announcement of the Gospel he has received is an act of faith, and he is justified when baptized.

- the Holy Spirit does NOT provide any inspiration or assistance to this person, so that his assent to even what is true in the (partially incorrect and incomplete) announcement of the Gospel he has received is NOT an act of faith but just the embracement of a human opinion, and he is NOT justified when baptized.

Thesis 4 is, then, that the first view is correct. (To note, this view might have already been established in magisterial pronouncements I am not aware of, in which case it would be incorrect to refer to it as a thesis of mine.)


Notes

[1] In case Spanish-speaking readers find the term "repent" in Mk 1:15 somewhat strange, since contemporary Spanish translations have "convert" ("convertíos") instead, I will try fo facilitate seeing that both renderings are correct.

On the one hand, "conversion" has two meanings:
a. conversion to God, "turn to Him with all your heart and with all your soul" (Tob 13:6);
b. conversion from one religion to another.

Clearly "μετανοεῖτε" in the preaching of John the Baptist (Mt 3:2) and Jesus (Mt 4:17; Mk 1:15), as well as the variant "Μετανοήσατε" in the preaching of Peter (Acts 2:38, 3:19), have the first meaning, and the CCC speaks of "conversion" in this sense in points 1427-1433.  Thus, the Spanish rendering "convertíos", since it is universally understood according to that first meaning, is wholly correct.

On the other hand, by checking http://biblehub.com/mark/1-15.htm we can ascertain that no English translation renders "μετανοεῖτε" as "convert", but almost all of them as "repent" (*). This rendering is also correct since "a conversion to God with all our heart" necessarily includes "a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed" (CCC #1431).

(*) The only exceptions being God's Word Translation: "Change the way you think and act" and Young's Literal Translation: "reform ye".

[2] Thesis 3 originated from a comment that Ray Stamper ("Monk68" in Prof. Feser's blog) posted on February 13th, 2011 in the "Called to Communion" site, under article "Son of a tu quoque" (comment #39):
http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2011/02/son-of-a-tu-quoque/#comment-15211

For all the reasons that Andrew just reviewed concerning the nature of “historical” proofs, I continue to think that the “motives of credibility” themselves – and not just the dogmas of faith – require a grace enabled “act of the will” to “believe” the very reasonable claims such motives support.

To note, I do not know whether Ray Stamper stills holds that view.

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