Tuesday, June 23, 2009

St. Thomas on Justification - Explicit Faith

In our last episode we saw that we receive grace through faith - whether that faith be explicit or implicit. In this post we see that explicit faith is required to the extent that this is possible for us.

It is written (Job 1:14): "The oxen were ploughing, and the asses feeding beside them," because, as Gregory expounds this passage (Moral. ii, 17), the simple, who are signified by the asses, ought, in matters of faith, to stay by the learned, who are denoted by the oxen. [ST II-II, Q2, A6]

This indicates that not merely that diminished capacity (as in the case of infants or the mentally handicapped) but even education is in view as something that affects one's obligation for explicit faith. But even thorough education doesn't imply an absolute duty for believing explicitly in literally every dogma of the Church, because the Faith is not a merely rational thing. It is supernatural, and exceeds the capacity of reason.

The unfolding of matters of faith is the result of Divine revelation: for matters of faith surpass natural reason. [ibid.]

People have varying measures of intellectual and educational capacity, but none of us is able to fully grasp every jot and tittle of the Faith. Still, those with greater gifts ought to be able to explicitly believe more than the rest of us, and consequently more is expected of them. And this, of course, is what the Bible teaches us.

And that servant, who knew the will of his lord and prepared not himself and did not according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. 48 But he that knew not and did things worthy of stripes shall be beaten with few stripes. And unto whomsoever much is given, of him much shall be required: and to whom they have committed much, of him they will demand the more. [Luke 12:47-48; emphasis added]

In the words of Ben Parker: "With great power, comes great responsibility."

This doesn't mean that those of less capacity are so off the hook that they can believe just anything: implicit faith doesn't imply no obligation whatsoever. We must still do the best we can, and our intent and purpose to believe the truth is surely part of what it means to have implicit faith – for those of us who are able to form such intentions. The grace that saturates the Gospel taught by the Catholic Church is surely evident in this, that God does not demand more of us than we can actually do (and even then it is his grace that enables us to do it).


Paul Hoffer said...

Hi RdP, I just thought to let you know that I have really enjoyed your latest series of articles on St. Thomas Aquinas' views on grace and faith. If I haven't been leaving comments, it is because there is nothing for me to ask or opine upon.

Thank you for taking the time to explain!

Reginald de Piperno said...

Hello Paul,

Thank you very much :-) I'm glad you have enjoyed them. It has been fun and an education for me.


Stephen Frankini said...

It seems to me the passage you cited from Luke is an argument in favor of the necessity of explicit faith.

"But he that knew not and did things worthy of stripes shall be beaten with few stripes."

Being ignorant simply lessens the punishment. What do you think?

Reginald de Piperno said...

Hello Stephen,

I'm inclined to disagree. The punishment is said to come not for being ignorant, but rather for the things done in ignorance. The fact that the punishment is less than for those who knowingly did wrong implies that ignorance is a mitigating factor.

Of course, if he is willfully ignorant, then his guilt would be multiplied: not only did he not do what he should have, but he deliberately avoided learning what he should have done. It seems pretty clear that this is not what the passage has in mind when it speaks of the ignorant, since such a man would deserve greater punishment, not less. The post is not meant to excuse those in this camp.

We have to do our best to have explicit faith according to the measure of our abilities and opportunities, as I said in the post.