Reflection & Dialogue: The theological virtue of faith

Today’s second reading from the Epistle to the Hebrews which reminds us that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”, invites us to reflect on how this text leads to dialogue with an active humanistic, atheistic movement in our own day. This question of the current clash between faith and humanism is so large that only bare essentials can be touched on here. Pope Benedict XVI had almost completed an encyclical letter on faith before his retirement. It was published (under the title Lumen fidei¸ “the light of faith”)in June 2013 by his successor Pope Francis. An English translation under this title is available on Google. The Pope notes (paragraph 2) that in speaking of the light of faith we can hear the objections of many of our contemporaries. According to them, in the view of modernity, that light might have been considered sufficient for societies of old, but was felt to be of no use for our times, for a humanity come of age, proud of its rationality and anxious to explore the future in novel ways. Faith thus appears to some as an illusory light, preventing mankind from boldly setting out in quest of knowledge. Faith was thus understood either as a leap in the dark, to be taken in the absence of light, driven by blind emotion or as a subjective light, capable perhaps of warming the heart and bringing personal consolation, but not something which could be proposed to others as an objective and shared light which points the way. The Pope goes on to say that there is need, then, to see once again that faith is a light, for once the flame of faith goes out, all other lights begin to dim.

            It will be for future discussion to return to points arising from this. For the moment, in keeping with the second reading, we may say that faith is not just a human opinion or human conviction. It is a divine gift, a theological virtue, giving assurance and conviction of things unseen. The certainty it gives comes from the divine light of God’s gift, which no human arguments can undo.

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