Saturday, January 5, 2013

Faith Gives Us Something

[This follows up on yesterday’s post on faith as substantial reality]. To Luther, who was not particularly fond of the Letter to the Hebrews, the concept of “substance”, in the context of his view of faith, meant nothing. For this reason he understood the term hypostasis/substance not in the objective sense (of a reality present within us), but in the subjective sense, as an expression of an interior attitude, and so, naturally, he also had to understand the term argumentum as a disposition of the subject.

In the twentieth century this interpretation became prevalent—at least in Germany—in Catholic exegesis too, so that the ecumenical translation into German of the New Testament, approved by the Bishops, reads as follows: Glaube aber ist: Feststehen in dem, was man erhofft, Überzeugtsein von dem, was man nicht sieht (faith is: standing firm in what one hopes, being convinced of what one does not see). This in itself is not incorrect, but it is not the meaning of the text, because the Greek term used (elenchos) does not have the subjective sense of “conviction” but the objective sense of “proof”…

Faith is not merely a personal reaching out towards things to come that are still totally absent: it gives us something. It gives us even now something of the reality we are waiting for, and this present reality constitutes for us a “proof” of the things that are still unseen. Faith draws the future into the present, so that it is no longer simply a “not yet”. The fact that this future exists changes the present; the present is touched by the future reality, and thus the things of the future spill over into those of the present and those of the present into those of the future.

Spe Salvi 7

Reflection – This is really so very beautiful, even if we have to wade through unfamiliar Greek, Latin, and German vocabulary to get to it. Sometimes, it’s worth it.

Faith gives us something. That alone is worth pondering, eh? What does faith give you? Not on the level of subjective feelings, but objective reality. Not the promise of pie in the sky tomorrow and forever, but here and now today—what does faith give you? I think this is one of those questions we should have a ready answer for. Do you?

Because, of course, the world may question this, and may at times deride this idea. To it, faith can be either an irrelevancy, an exercise in juvenile magical thinking, or a heavy moralistic burden. What objective reality—what earthly good—does faith deliver to us?

Faith gives us the living presence of God, a substantial reality that comes to us daily, Who we can touch and embrace and be embraced by. Faith gives us God as food and drink in the Eucharist, and as mercy poured out in Reconciliation, and as the very life of the soul continually through the indwelling of the Spirit.

Faith gives us, then, an orientation of our life towards this God and His kingdom. Faith shapes every action we take, every day of our lives, towards this kingdom. In other words, faith gives us hope, and hope is not some airy-fairy yearning for an imaginary cloud-cuckoo paradise. Hope gets us off our duffs and into the fray of life, to lay our lives down for the sake of this kingdom which is not ours yet, but which the presence of God assures us will be one day.

Faith gives us, then, a way of life that is already an extension of this future kingdom. The kingdom begins now, today, in you and me insofar as we receive the gift faith brings. In other words, faith brings us love, a life lived for others, laying down our lives in service and friendship, in works of mercy and in compassion for the ‘least of our brothers.’

Not one bit of what I am describing here is abstract or subjective feeling or some ethereal hocus-pocus. Because of faith our lives can be transformed, here and now, into an expression of the Gospel, ordered towards the eternal reality of heaven but lived in such a way as to bring the heavenly life down to earth, ‘on earth as it is in heaven,’ as we pray every day.

This is what being a saint is all about, and faith ultimately delivers to us the road to holiness. Insofar as we believe, receive faith’s gifts, and live from those gifts, we become saints, and the light of God shines forth anew in the darkness of the world. There’s nothing else worth doing in this life, you know. So let’s try to live our faith today and let hope and love guide all our choices today.


  1. While I like the article, I am curious here - as to your assertions about Luther's position - especially in regards to the objective sense. I don't think Luther is in disagreement with your basic concept - that faith is substantial, that it brings the very Kingdom of God, that it transforms our lives.

    When I went through my process of leaving my non-denom brotherhood (which was really a denom) one of the things that struck me was the objective sense of Luther's writings - especially about faith and justification. It was different than other battles between objective and subjective that I had seen - because the attitude of Luther was to keep them in tension - it wasn't objective verse subjective.

    This is seen in the Small Catechism, in the answers to the first three sections of the Lord's prayer - where we pray, recognizing the objective truth, but praying that it may be known in our midst subjectively.

    It is also seen in his battle with Karlstadt - who would take everything far more subjectively, and further divide the spiritual from the secular - as Zwingli did.

    Thanks for the article.

    1. God bless you. Well, it's not my point about Luther, it's Pope Benedict's. I'm just quoting the encyclical, which is the basic format on this blog: quote the Pope, talk about the quote!
      I am truly no expert on Lutheran theology or reformed theology at all, but my understanding is that Joseph Ratzinger (like many German Catholic theologians) is pretty familiar with him, and often refers to him in his writings. It has always struck me that Luther's influence in German Christianity (Catholic and Protestant both) is profound.
      Thank you for your helpful input - it is always a good thing to hear from other voices within the Christian perspective. God bless you.

    2. Actually, this reminds me of a post I did a few weeks ago, where the Pope talked at length about Hinduism and Christianity... I also know very little about Eastern religions (I'm kinda an ignoramus, really!), but blog away I did... quote the Pope, talk about the quote! I always hope smart people will show up here and modify anything that needs modifying.


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