The formal object of faith precludes doubt as to its material objects

Again on the topic of faith and doubt: Lately I came across the following in one of A Sinner’s many excellent comments on this thread at Vox Nova (which I call a liberal Catholic blog, though its authors insist otherwise):

Faith never fully “satisfies” the intellect. Belief is not about “being convinced” in that sense; at most that can be a motive of credibility. But ultimately Faith is a CHOICE to believe unconditionally that the
magisterium of the Catholic Church speaks for God (in varying degrees) and to CHOOSE to submit intellectually to that authority.

You don’t have to buy this or that argument against contraception,…. But you still have to reject [contraception] at the end of the day even if the arguments don’t satisfy you. Without that, you’re just some guy who has a lot of quirky opinions, many of which happen to resemble Catholic beliefs, but some of which do not. And that’s not faith.

A Sinner introduces the concept of the formal object of faith: “As the formal object of faith is not primarily the articles but in submitting intellectually to the authority which teaches and interprets them. I find it dishonest … to claim to be Catholic [while rejecting] this formal element.”

The idea of the formal object of faith had first come to my attention a few days earlier via this post by Thomas Cordatus on Laodicea:

[A] formal object is indivisible. The whole point of talking about formal objects is that they are what make an act a certain kind of act rather than another kind of act. … And whenever St Thomas speaks of the formal object of faith, whether or not he mentions Scripture, he always mentions the Church. You can’t take away inhering to the Church as to an infallible rule and still have an act of faith, for St Thomas….

What is meant by the “formal” and “material” objects of faith, is illustrated by St. Thomas Aquinas using geometry as an example:

The object of every cognitive habit includes two things: first, that which is known materially, and is the material object, so to speak, and, secondly, that whereby it is known, which is the formal aspect of the object. Thus in the science of geometry, the conclusions are what is known materially, while the formal aspect of the science is the mean of demonstration, through which the conclusions are known.

S.T. II-II, Q. 1, A. 1

With regard to the objects of faith, the material object (the “matter” of faith) is the things in which we believe, the individual articles of faith; whereas the formal object (the “form” of faith) is that in virtue of which we believe them, namely because they are taught by God, who can neither deceive nor be deceived.[1]

In the case of the Catholic faith,

[T]he formal object of faith is the First Truth, as manifested in Holy Writ and the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the First Truth. Consequently whoever does not adhere, as to an infallible and Divine rule, to the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the First Truth manifested in Holy Writ, has not the habit of faith, but holds that which is of faith otherwise than by faith. Even so, it is evident that a man whose mind holds a conclusion without knowing how it is proved, has not scientific knowledge, but merely an opinion about it.

Or as A Sinner says above, if your faith is not a choice to submit intellectually to the teaching authority of the Church, then “you’re just some guy who has a lot of quirky opinions, many of which happen to resemble Catholic beliefs”.

St. Thomas continues:

Now it is manifest that he who adheres to the teaching of the Church, as to an infallible rule, assents to whatever the Church teaches; otherwise, if, of the things taught by the Church, he holds what he chooses to hold, and rejects what he chooses to reject, he no longer adheres to the teaching of the Church as to an infallible rule, but to his own will. Hence it is evident that a heretic who obstinately disbelieves one article of faith … has no faith in the other articles, but only a kind of opinion in accordance with his own will.

S.T., II-II, Q. 5, A. 3.

To sum up, faith has God’s Word given through the Church as its formal object. A Catholic who rejects or withholds assent from any of the Church’s formal teachings manifestly lacks faith in in the source of those teachings. It’s not a matter of major or minor teachings: If you can believe a biggie, like that Christ rose from the dead, surely a relatively minor teaching, like that birth control is immoral, is not less credible, coming from the same source; especially since the basis of their credibility is the source from which they come, and not the degree to which we find ourselves able to justify them using reason.

[1] For those who don’t happen to know, the formal and material objects of faith use Aristotle’s concepts of form and matter analogously. As a starting point for understanding hylemorphism (matter-form-ism), see this article.

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