The word faith (pistis) is used in Orthodox terminology to denote two specific meanings. The first is strictly objective. It concerns the facts of faith and its creeds as they are expressed in the Bible and literally recorded by the canons of the Church. Here, faith is stated in fixed, unalterable expressions and technical terms set by the authority of the church councils and the opinions of distinguished theologians. In this objective sense of faith, divine truth and reason cannot cohere except by the intervention of grace.
The second sense of faith is totally subjective. It concerns the ability of one’s heart to respond directly to God in person, but only in conformity with the creeds of faith. In this subjective meaning of faith, man submits his whole being to God, and therefore to all his commandments.
This is to be done in love and obedience and not by reason or logic. Reason and logic may enter afterward as servants to love and obedience but not as initiators or authorities: ‘Faith works through love’ (Gal 5:6).
From these two definitions of faith we can infer that objective faith needs the riches of man’s thought, reason, logic, and study. However, he can never reach the stage of belief except by grace. As for subjective faith, it needs love, obedience and personal intimacy. A profound relationship with God is composed of fidelity and absolute confidence in God in all affairs, conditions, or situations. This will result in total reliance on him and absolute surrender to his will, no matter how such fidelity may collide with so-called reality or reason.
Hence, the Orthodox Church maintains that in both its objective and subjective senses, faith is a gift of grace. Objective faith depends on the incarnation and the resurrection, both of which are supernatural works. Equally the demands of subjective faith also require a supernatural bent of mind. For he who believes in God is required neither to covet nor to fear anything, and both of these proscriptions are requirements that surpass the laws of nature: ‘Apart from me, you can do nothing’ (Jn 15:5).
Matthew the Poor, Orthodox Prayer Life
Reflection – This is Orthodoxy week on Ten Thousand Places, and today we have the sublime contemporary Coptic Orthodox monk from Egypt, Matthew the Poor. It is lovely to see that on this point of the nature of faith there is no difference at all between the Orthodox tradition and the Catholic.
Abba Matthew here is neatly describing the distinction between the fides quam and the fides qua of our Latin theology—the faith we believe, and the faith by which we believe. Faith has content—creeds, facts, definitions; faith also is an attitude of heart, of loving obedience to God. And the two are one reality—the loving obedience of our hearts by which (qua) we believe requires the submission of our minds to the facts and creeds, to the quam that we believe.
He is very strong here on the totally supernatural nature of both species of faith. The facts of our faith—the incarnation and the resurrection centrally—are supernatural events by definition, and cannot be strictly reasoned towards. The attitude of faith of the heart is utterly beyond us, too. ‘He who believes in God is required neither to fear nor to covet anything’. That is a sentence worth pondering for some time. Like, a lifetime, perhaps.
It is unassailable on pure logical grounds, of course. If we believe in God, and understand even dimly what that means, then all covetousness must wither away like the dead thing it is. ‘Who possesses God wants for nothing,’ Teresa of Avila tells us.
And fear is a direct result of covetousness, if you think about it. Fear comes because we may lose something that is precious to us—our own life or health, the life or health of one we love, our possessions and material security. But if we believe in God, then all of that falls away in that faith—our own life, the lives of those we love and certainly the things we surround ourselves with, all are disposed in the loving will of God. If you really have faith, the only thing you ‘want’ is that God’s will be done each day, and since that is precisely what happens, fear has no purchase in our minds and hearts.
But of course, for us poor humans of flesh and blood it is impossible to free ourselves from desire and from fear. So it is all grace—toute est grâce, St. Therese of Lisieux tells us. And it all flows from Christ Himself – the man Jesus is the source of our faith, and the one who brings it to perfection (Heb 12:2). It is all, always, about personal relationship and personal communion with this man who brings us into this impossible degree of faith and trust in God. So, let’s seek the Lord today, and confide our lives to Him, so He can free us, gradually and as He wishes, from all covetousness, all fear, and anything else that binds and hinders us in living a life of faith, hope, and love.