Is faith circular?

[This is the first in a series of posts about faith.  Here all the posts in order: 1. Is faith circular? 2. Everyday faith. 3 How faith begins. 4. What revelation really is. 5. What is supernatural about faith? 6. Faith and love.]

One of the perks of college teaching is that even as you earn a paycheck you get to revisit questions of longstanding personal interest.  This year I am directing a thesis on the virtue of faith for an excellent senior at Wyoming Catholic College.  His questions have pushed me to take up something that first caught my interest when I was his age.

The question is essentially this:  How we can reconcile the fact whatever is believed by faith is believed on the authority of God revealing with the fact that one of the things that we believe by faith is that God exists and reveals.  Does this land us in a vicious circle?  Do we end up believing in God’s existence on his authority, and grounding his authority in his existence?

On the other hand, if we avoid the vicious circle then we seem to land in a different problem:  if the fact that God exists and reveals is not one of the things we believe on God’s authority, then it becomes difficult to find a role for faith at all.  I recall a conversation I had with one of my teachers, a man who later went on to hold an eminent position at my alma mater.  He maintained that we could reason our way with certitude from miracles and other evidence to the fact that the Church is what she claims to be and that God has really spoken through her; we could then conclude with iron-clad logic that, since God cannot lie, all the contents of the Catholic creed are true.  But of course, this leaves everything in the hands of reason and nothing in the hands of faith.  It takes away the very notion of faith.

It was only slowly that I came to my own way of solving the problem, based in large part on the Gospel of John, with additional help from Thomas Aquinas, Ratzinger, and my own experience of faith.  Although I have still to read some classics on the topic—Newman’s Grammar of Assent comes to mind—my student’s persistent questions have finally supplied the impetus to write out my thoughts here in a public forum where others can comment and, yes, criticize.  Stay tuned for the next several posts.

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Author: Dr. Holmes

Dr. Jeremy Holmes teaches Theology at Wyoming Catholic College. He lives in Wyoming with his wife, Jacinta, and their eight children.

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