To make provision for future doubt, is to doubt at present

Just as Cardinal Newman argued that present faith and present doubt are incompatible, it’s equally incompatible with faith to allow for the possibility of future doubt:

It is … perfectly true, that the Church does not allow her children to entertain any doubt of her teaching; and that, first of all, simply for this reason, because they are Catholics only while they have faith, and faith is incompatible with doubt. No one can be a Catholic without a simple faith, that what the Church declares in God’s name, is God’s word, and therefore true. A man must simply believe that the Church is the oracle of God; he must be as certain of her mission, as he is of the mission of the Apostles. Now, would any one ever call him certain that the Apostles came from God, if after professing his certainty, he added, that perhaps he might have reason to doubt one day about their mission? Such an anticipation would be a real, though latent, doubt, betraying that he was not certain of it at present. A person who says, “I believe just at this moment, but perhaps I am excited without knowing it, and I cannot answer for myself, that I shall believe tomorrow,” does not believe now. …

When, then, Protestants quarrel with us for saying that those who join us must give up all ideas of ever doubting the Church in time to come, they do nothing else but quarrel with us for insisting on the necessity of faith in her. Let them speak plainly; our offence is that of demanding faith in the Holy Catholic Church; it is this, and nothing else. I must insist upon this: faith implies a confidence in a man’s mind, that the thing believed is really true; but, if it is once true, it never can be false. If it is true that God became man, what is the meaning of my anticipating a time when perhaps I shall not believe that God became man? this is nothing short of anticipating a time when I shall disbelieve a truth. And if I bargain to be allowed in time to come not to believe, or to doubt, that God became man, I am but asking to be allowed to doubt or disbelieve what I hold to be an eternal truth. I do not see the privilege of such a permission at all, or the meaning of wishing to secure it:—if at present I have no doubt whatever about it, then I am but asking leave to fall into error; if at present I have doubts about it, then I do not believe it at present, that is, I have not faith. But I cannot both really believe it now, and yet look forward to a time when perhaps I shall not believe it; to make provision for future doubt, is to doubt at present. It proves I am not in a fit state to become a Catholic now. I may love by halves, I {217} may obey by halves; I cannot believe by halves: either I have faith, or I have it not.

John Henry Cardinal Newman, essay entitled “Faith and Doubt” from Discourses to Mixed Congregations (emphasis added).

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.

St. Thomas Aquinas on faith and doubt

More on one of my favorite themes, the incompatibility of faith and doubt (see previous posts here, here and here):

Faith implies assent of the intellect to that which is believed. Now the intellect assents to a thing in two ways. First, through being moved to assent by its very object, which is known either by itself (as in the case of first principles, which are held by the habit of understanding), or through something else already known (as in the case of conclusions which are held by the habit of science). Secondly the intellect assents to something, not through being sufficiently moved to this assent by its proper object, but through an act of choice, whereby it turns voluntarily to one side rather than to the other: and if this be accompanied by doubt or fear of the opposite side, there will be opinion, while, if there be certainty and no fear of the other side, there will be faith.

S.T., II-II, Q. 1, A. 4.

Thus St. Thomas, like Cardinal Newman, clearly pits doubt against faith: When doubt persists, then all one has is opinion; whereas when authentic faith is present there is certainty.

Because science [1] is incompatible with opinion about the same object simply, for the reason that science demands that its object should be deemed impossible to be otherwise, whereas it is essential to opinion, that its object should be deemed possible to be otherwise. Yet that which is the object of faith, on account of the certainty of faith, is also deemed impossible to be otherwise; and the reason why science and faith cannot be about the same object and in the same respect is because the object of science is something seen whereas the object of faith is the unseen, as stated above.

S.T., II-II, Q. 1, A. 5, Ad. 4.

Thus according to St. Thomas, science and faith are equally certain, the difference being that science is certain about things that it sees, whereas faith is certain about what is unseen (cf. Heb. 11:1): “Now those things are said to be seen which, of themselves, move the intellect or the senses to knowledge of them. Wherefore it is evident that neither faith nor opinion can be of things seen either by the senses or by the intellect.”

[1] “Science [in this context] is not taken in the restricted meaning of natural sciences, but in the general one given to the word by Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas. Aristotle defines science as a sure and evident knowledge obtained from demonstrations. This is identical with St. Thomas’s definition of science as the knowledge of things from their causes.” New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia, article on “Science and the Church”

What it means to assent based on faith, part 2

I previously wrote about what it means to assent based on faith, relying partly on a quote from Cardinal Newman. I also posted on whether doubt and faith are compatible, in other words, once you have decided to place your faith in a source of information, can you simultaneously continue not placing your faith in that source?

Here is some more Cardinal Newman on what it means to assent based on faith:

From the time that I became a Catholic, of course I have no further history of my religious opinions to narrate. In saying this, I do not mean to say that my mind has been idle, or that I have given up thinking on theological subjects; but that I have had no variations to record, and have had no anxiety of heart whatever. I have been in perfect peace and contentment; I never have had one doubt. I was not conscious to myself, on my conversion, of any change, intellectual or moral, wrought in my mind. I was not conscious of firmer faith in the fundamental truths of Revelation, or of more self-command; I had not more fervour; but it was like coming into port after a rough sea; and my happiness on that score remains to this day without interruption.

John Henry Newman, Apologia pro Vita Sua, p. 238.

Me too.

The incoherence of the “right to dissent”

It appears the one doctrine liberals would like to have precisely defined and understood (and from which, ironically, they will brook no dissent) is one whose basis is much less firmly established than those concerning, for example, female ordination or artificial contraception. That doctrine is the one which allegedly says that dissent from non-infallible Church teaching is permissible.

They claim that this doctrine — which, by the way, I have not found stated in any formal magisterial teaching — allows one to dissent, in good conscience, from doctrines which have not been taught infallibly, provided you “have tried sincerely, but without success, to keep the directives of the Church”, etc. (see the first comment in this thread).

But the existence of such a doctrine, if it exists, introduces a paradox (on which I have commented before): Granting for the sake of argument that it is an established teaching of the Magisterium of the Church, still, if it has not been infallibly defined, does it not fall into the category (which allegedly exists) of those doctrines from which Catholics, in good faith and in accord with individual conscience, may dissent?

Therefore, am I not allowed to dissent from the doctrine that says dissent is permissible (provided I have “tried sincerely”, blah blah blah)? Am I not free, as a faithful Catholic, to believe that dissent is *not* permissible?

But here’s where the paradox comes in: In dissenting from the teaching that dissent is permissible, I am denying my own right to dissent. But denying the right to dissent is itself an act of dissent. Thus, you can’t avail yourself of the right to dissent to this doctrine, without denying the very doctrine which gives you that right.

Do we not have to conclude therefore, that for the Church to teach, as a matter of doctrine, that dissent is permissible, would be logically incoherent?

What does it mean to assent based on faith?

While I was still undergoing the conversion process I had a lot of questions about particular doctrines, which I wasn’t sure I agreed with because I wasn’t sure I understood. So I would make appointments with the local pastor to hash them out.

One day I made an appointment and said, “You know I’m pretty much convinced that the Church is the true one. The only thing still holding me back is the Marian doctrines. [I had a Protestant roommate at the time, who you might say was pulling me in another direction.] Now if you could just explain this and this to my satisfaction I might be ready to join …”

The pastor interrupted me and said basically, “You know, I could spend weeks trying to answer all your difficulties. But the decision to become a Catholic isn’t based on the Church’s having satisfactory answers to a thousand individual questions. The decision is based on a single, core belief: That the Catholic Church was founded by Christ to preach the Gospel and to administer the sacraments in his name. Once you believe that, you have satisfactory grounds for believing everything that it teaches: You believe based on its authority, which in turn is based on your faith in Christ.

“You are trying to find a way to believe in the Church’s doctrines before assenting to the authority of the Church that teaches them, as if belief in the Church’s teachings came before belief in its authority. This is backwards: We believe because we are taught by God (through the Church), who can neither deceive nor be deceived; we don’t believe the Church’s doctrines apart from faith in its authority to teach. If you were to enter the Church with that attitude, your beliefs would never be settled because they would be based not on faith but on your own reason.”

Or as St. Augustine said, we don’t understand that we may believe, we believe that we may understand.

It was on this understanding that I made the decision to become Catholic. So yes, there have been teachings of the Church that didn’t make sense to me at one time. And even now, if left to my own devices, I might not draw the conclusion that birth control, for example, is immoral. But since I made the act of the will by which I placed my faith in the Church’s authority to teach in Christ’s name, I have not had any difficulty giving my full assent to the Church’s formal magisterial teachings.

Here is a passage of Cardinal Newman’s that I think is apropos:

[A] child’s mother might teach him to repeat a passage of Shakespeare, and when he asked the meaning of a particular line, such as ‘The quality of mercy is not strained,’ or ‘Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied,’ she might answer him, that he was too young to understand it yet, but that it had a beautiful meaning, as he would one day know: and he, in faith on her word, might give his assent to such a proposition,-not, that is, to the line itself which he had got by heart, and which would be beyond him, but to its being true, beautiful, and good [based on his mother’s telling him so].

[U]nless he did assent without any reserve to the proposition [told him by his mother] that lucern was food for cattle, or to the accuracy of the botanical name and description of it, he would not be giving an unreserved assent to his mother’s word ….

It is indeed plain, that, though the child assents to his mother’s veracity, without perhaps being conscious of his own act, nevertheless that particular assent of his has a force and life in it which the other assents have not, insomuch as he apprehends the proposition, which is the subject of it, with greater keenness and energy than belongs to his apprehension of the others. Her veracity and authority is to him no abstract truth or item of general knowledge, but is bound up with that image and love of her person which is part of himself, and makes a direct claim on him for his summary assent to her general teachings.

Grammar of Assent, Chapter 2

So: Is the Church your mother, or not?

Is belief in dogma necessary for salvation?

[This is adapted from a comment of mine on Kelly Wilson’s post, Ratzinger’s Neglected Child.]

It is often argued that belief in doctrine is extraneous to salvation. The parable of the Last Judgment (Matt. 25:31-46) is cited to show that Jesus wants us to help the poor and less fortunate, and that’s pretty much all that’s needed.

All you need is love?

Kelly Wilson posted a paraphrased excerpt from Josef Ratzinger’s book, What it Means to Be a Christian (published in 1965 and republished in 2006 by Ignatius), in which Ratzinger writes, “In this parable [of the Last Judgment], the Judge does not ask what kind of theory a person has held about God and the world. He is not asking about a confession of dogma, solely about love. That is enough, and it saves a man. Whoever loves is a Christian.”

This made me wonder:  Is Ratzinger saying that membership in the Church is irrelevant to salvation?  Though you can be saved outside the Church, can you be saved just as easily outside as in?

Not having read the book I asked Kelly that question, but he didn’t seem to have a direct answer.  However I did find this excerpt from Ratzinger’s book:

[W]hat faith basically means is just that this shortfall that we all have in our love is made up by the surplus of Jesus Christ’s love, acting on our behalf. He simply tells us that God himself has poured out among us a superabundance of his love and has thus made good in advance all our deficiency.

Ultimately, faith means nothing other than admitting that we have this kind of shortfall; it means opening our hand and accepting a gift. In its simplest and innermost form, faith is nothing but reaching that point in love at which we recognize that we, too, need to be given something. Faith is thus that stage in love which really distinguishes it as love; it consists in overcoming the complacency and self-satisfaction of the person who says, ‘I have done everything, I don’t need any further help.’ It is only in ‘faith’ like this that selfishness, the real opposite of love, comes to an end. To that extent, faith is already present in and with true loving; it simply represents that impulse in love which leads to its finding its true self: the openness of someone who does not insist on his own capabilities, but is aware of receiving something as a gift and of standing in need of it.

He seems to be saying that faith is necessary to true loving, since in order to love, we need to give up our “complacency and self-satisfaction” and admit that our love is deficient, and therefore need God to “[pour] out among us a superabundance of his love” to make up for our deficiency.

But to make such an admission implies our assent to certain definite propositions, for example that God exists, and that Jesus Christ exists and is able to “[act] on our behalf” to make up the shortfall in our own love, let alone willing to do it.

It also implies faith in the Church from which we learn of the existence of God and of Jesus Christ, since how else would we know about Jesus except from the scriptures which come to us through that Church, or else through that Church’s own preaching?

Yet Ratzinger writes, “[I]t remains true, consequently, that those people who are truly loving, who are as such also believers, may be called Christians.”

He mentions those who are “as such” also believers; in other words, believers by virtue of being truly loving — which seems to turn on its head what he said before: That you become truly loving via Christian faith, i.e. admitting that your loving deficiency needs to be made up for by Christ. Now is he saying that you become Christian by truly loving? Which comes first?

Continue reading

Are doubt and faith compatible?

I have encountered people who say that faith and doubt not only can, but should co-exist, in the same person at the same time, and as to the same object.  An acquaintance has gone so far as to assert that faith without doubt is inhuman, immature, and cowardly.

I say that faith and doubt are incompatible.

To my mind, “doubt” is basically indecision: We have not yet determined whether to believe or assent to something. We don’t believe it’s true, and we don’t believe it’s false. If we believed it were true, we would no longer be doubting; and if we believed it were false, we would no longer be doubting; for in either case our mind would be made up.

To have faith is to decide to believe that something is true. Once we have so decided, we are no longer in a state of doubt. If doubt re-enters the picture, then we are no longer in a state of faith. It’s certainly possible to waver between belief and unbelief, but it’s not possible to do both at once.

Cardinal Newman writes that there are three types of propositions:  Interrogative, conditional, and categorical.  You may ask a question (interrogative); you may draw a conclusion (conditional, since it depends on premisses); or you may make an assertion (categorical).  He writes further that these types of propositions correspond to three modes of holding propositions in the mind:  Doubt (interrogative), inference (conditional), and assent (categorical).

Applying these three modes to revealed religion, Newman writes that a man is either a skeptic towards religion; a philosopher, having arrived at the conclusion that it is more or less probable based on logical inferences; or a believer, having an unhesitating faith in it.

You may alternate between these states at different times.  Also you may infer and assent simultaneously; but you can’t infer and doubt, or assent and doubt, at the same time.

To put it another way:  When you are in a state of doubt, you are questioning whether a thing is true.  It is simply not possible to question and assent to the same proposition at the same time.

The Permissibility (or Not) of Dissent

This is my response to Kelly Wilson ( in a discussion he and I have been having regarding the permissibility of dissent, specifically in regard to the issue of birth control. Since the post to which I am responding seems to have been taken down, I am including Kelly’s latest comment, to which I am responding here, at the bottom. Here’s my response:


In response to my first question, apparently you do believe that dissent from the teaching of Lumen gentium is permissible.

With regard to my second question, you did not provide any magisterial statement which says specifically that direct, knowing disobedience to express, longstanding papal teaching is permissible.

You did give a Theological Commmission’s reply to an emendation to Lumen gentium proposed by three bishops at Vatican II. But this is not a magisterial statement (not that you said it was), since for one thing it teaches nothing nor defines any doctrine, but only describes sources that are to be consulted. In fact it was not even a public pronouncement.

Also let’s not overlook the fact that the emendation — which if I’m reading you correctly, proposed to include in Lumen gentium a statement that dissent for ‘well founded reasons’ was permissible — was rejected, since it does not appear in Lumen gentium. Therefore we have an absence of magisterial statements giving specific permission to disobey papal teaching, and also a specific rejection of such a statement when one was proposed at Vatican II.

At any rate, from one of those “approved treatises” you glean a quote from Lercher in which he says that “it is not unthinkable that the error (on part of the Church) should be excluded by the Holy Spirit in this way: that the subjects [of the Church] recognize the decree to be erroneous and cease to give their assent to it.”

Unfortunately we don’t seem to have the quote in context, since I only found it online in Curran, and you found it in Sullivan. But we have to work with what we have, so why not take a look at it and see what it says, and what it doesn’t say.

It says that it’s possible, theoretically, that God could correct error on the part of the Church, by having the people recognize a “decree” (is this the same as a “teaching” or a “definition”? or could it be more like an instruction or a direction? the context might tell us) to be wrong and refuse their assent. I say “theoretically” because of the way it’s phrased: It says “it’s not unthinkable”, which is very tentative, like saying “it’s barely possible” or “in theory it could happen” — as opposed to saying “it’s likely”, or “it’s happened several times”.

Let us also note that it’s a statement about what the *Holy Spirit* could do: he *could* correct error by having Catholics recognize a decree as erroneous. It is not a statement of what Catholics *may* do: it does not give any specific permission.

You apparently extrapolate from this quote — based on the fact that the treatise in which it appeared was an approved treatise, and that the Theological Commission of Vatican II directed the bishops to consult such treatises — that the Church permits the laity to dissent from non-infallible magisterial teaching. But given that the quote gives no specific permission, and that Lumen gentium itself expressly states that the laity are required to submit internally to noninfallible papal teaching, this is a very tenuous extrapolation.

But suppose it does give the laity some kind of permission. How then does it work in practice? Does it mean that Catholics are supposed to take it upon themselves to judge every non-infallible teaching handed down by the Magisterium, as to whether or not it’s correct, and decide for themselves whether or not to obey it? But if a significant number of them end up rejecting and disobeying it, who is competent to judge that this was due to the influence of the Holy Spirit rather than, say, some other spirit? The laity, or the Magisterium?

Also, for the laity’s rejection of a magisterial teaching to be judged a movement of the Holy Spirit, does it have to be an immediate rejection, or can they assent to it for 1,000 years and then finally begin refusing assent? But if that happened, how would we know which was due to the Holy Spirit’s inspiration: the former assent or the current dissent?

And again, how many of the laity have to reject a magisterial teaching for their rejection to be considered an expression of God’s will: Is 51% sufficient? But how do we know what proportion is dissenting? Do we take a vote? In that case shouldn’t it become the Church’s usual practice to have the laity vote, thumbs up or thumbs down, on every magisterial document?

I conclude that you are pitting a non-magisterial statement which is apparently theoretical in nature, and which in any case is vague as to how it would work in practice and who would judge whether it has taken place, and which gives no permission nor direction to the laity to act in any way to bring it about; against the specific teaching of an ecumenical council — that is, the teaching of the actual Lumen gentium which was ratified by the Council and the Pope, not a theoretical Lumen gentium which might have included something supportive of your position if only the Council had not rejected it — that internal submission of mind and will is required. Do you argue that the former trumps the latter?

Finally, your position creates quite an irony, in my view: You say that the magisterial teaching on birth control is open to dissent since it’s non-infallible. But the teaching on the permissibility of dissent (assuming for the sake of argument that such a teaching exists) is less clearly defined, if it’s defined at all, than the prohibition of contraception. Therefore if the prohibition of contraception is open to dissent, surely the permissibility of dissent is open to dissent.

But what would it mean to dissent from the permissibility of dissent? A person inclined to rebel in that manner would find himself undermining his own dissent, since he would have to deny that it is permissible to dissent, yet in doing so would be dissenting!

I ask you to consider that a position which results in such an absurdity simply has to be wrong.


Kelly’s comment to which I am responding follows:

[quoting me]

“-Do Catholics have the right to dissent from the teaching of Vatican II which says, “This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will”? (Lumen Gentium, 25.)

“-What magisterial statements say specifically that direct, knowing disobedience to longstanding papal teaching is specifically permissible, notwithstanding that Lumen Gentium specifically says that submission is required?”

These two questions are connected: While no Vatican II document mentions
the possibility of dissent, with regards to the exact paragraph of Lumen
gentium that you cited, something very relevant can be discerned from
the Theological Commission’s reply to an emendation proposed by three
bishops who “invoke a particular case, which is at least theoretically
possible, in which a certain learned person, in the face of doctrine
that has not been infallibly proposed, cannot, for well founded reasons,
give his internal assent.” The response given is that the approved
theological treatises should be consulted. Lercher would be one of those
sources, and I have already recorded what he said. I distinctly remember
you being more entertained by Lercher being referenced in Curran, than
with what he said. I took him from Sullivan, whose works “Magisterium”
and “Creative Fidelity” I would strongly recommend, which I will attempt
to reread over the summer.