Human life becomes impossible if one can no longer trust other people and is no longer able to rely on their experience, their knowledge, on what is already provided for us. That is one aspect of faith, the positive side. On the other side it is naturally the expression of a lack of knowledge and to that extent of an attitude of inferiority: it would be better to know. [This type of faith] bears the character of what is insufficient and provisional: it is a purely initial preliminary stage of knowledge that whenever possible one will strive to pass beyond. But alongside this there is something quite different: this kind of ‘faith’ is a mutual trust, a common sharing in understanding and in mastering the world, and this aspect is unessential for the organization of human life. A society without trust cannot live.
To Look on Christ, 12-13.
Reflection – Who do you trust? Who, when they tell you something is so, do you believe? Anyone? Perhaps it might depend on the question – people in MH sometimes (once in a while) trust me on questions of theology or scripture, but they sure don’t trust me on auto mechanics or proper silk screening techniques (and rightly so!).
But that is the species of faith Ratzinger is talking about here. Not the supernatural theological virtue, but ordinary choices to believe a trusted authority. But without this, as he points out, life gets pretty difficult. Who of us can know everything about everything? We all have to make some decision to trust other people’s say so, even on mundane matters. If someone tells me they were working in the garden in the morning, I more or less take it at face value, even if I didn’t personally witness the momentous event.
Ratzinger’s point here (and of course he’s always addressing his opponents the logical positivists and their anti-faith bias) is that this is, in fact, a good thing. Yes, it is good to know everything from our own knowledge. Yes, it is good to have tested things out and determined to our own satisfaction the truth of this or that matter. It would be really great if I did know all about auto mechanics and handicrafts—but my brother
knows, and I trust him. My sister Anne Marie knows, and I trust her. And this is the basis of social life—the bonds of trust that come from our mutual need, our mutual ignorance, and the little acts of faith we engage in every day without hardly noticing it. Bryan
So the ideologues who deny that any act of faith is valid, that it is always an abdication of the intellect and its rigors to engage in faith, have a very steep hill to climb, don’t they? Better fix your own car, tend your own illnesses, drive yourself wherever you go (surely you don’t trust the pilot, do you? Have you seen, and can you personally authenticate, his credentials?). Better grow your own food while you’re at it, and generate your own power—in fact, you’re basically going to have live off the grid, if you’re going to live without faith in your life.
Every human action is a faith-based initiative. And if this is true of food and housing, medicine and travel, why should we exclude faith from the fundamental matters of life and death, meaning and purpose? I choose to trust my mechanic with my car; why, if I determine that this book or that Church is trustworthy, should I not trust them with myself?Yes, it’s more important, more consequential. Hence it’s a more important decision. But if faith is allowed in all these lesser matters, by what rational argument do we exclude it from the larger?