[This is the sixth 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.]
In the previous post, I mentioned that the object of faith and the object of charity are the same thing, namely “the ultimate end, insofar as he exceeds the knowledge of our reason,” as St. Thomas puts it. In this final reflection, I want to point out how this affects what we mean by the word “faith”.
The movement of will that first moves the mind to believe revelation is not a movement of charity. The supernatural love of God which is charity can’t happen without knowledge of the self-giving God of revelation, and that God is known only through faith. In the third post of this series I listed a few things that might incline the will to that first decision in favor of revelation, but none of those motivating factors can be the God who will only be known through the decision of faith.
But once that decision has been made, and the God of revelation becomes known precisely as he who gives himself to us and calls for our response—once that decision has been made, the normal thing would be for love to spring up right away. Faith is the mind’s adequate response to revelation, and love is the will’s adequate response to revelation; even though the will moves the mind to make its adequate response, the will’s own adequate response happens as a second step.
The point is worth repeating: the will is involved in getting the mind to respond rightly to revelation, but the will’s own right response comes after the mind’s.
The consequence of this tangled situation is that the will’s right response to revelation immediately changes the way that the mind’s own response is working. The mind may first have entrusted itself to God’s authority out of fear, or out of a vague desire for a better life, or out of some other motivation, but as soon as the will desires God as our supernaturally revealed goal then this new love becomes the driving force behind faith. Love becomes the way the will moves the mind to belief.
If this did not happen, then something would be wrong. Faith is not the mind moving on its own but the mind being moved by the will, so a lack in the will’s right response to revelation is really an imperfection in the mind’s response as well. Faith without love is still faith, but it is lacking something essential to it, something bound up in its very notion as the right response to revelation.
This is why the Catholic tradition says that faith without charity is “unformed” faith. The form of a thing is its nature, its essence or notion, and there is something lacking in the notion of that mind-will composite act we call faith if the “will” part is not responding rightly to the situation. It is not just that love is one of the “forms” that faith can have, but that love is the “form” that faith must have to be itself fully.
The punchline is this. If we say the word “faith” without any qualifying adjective or clarifying context, then we are speaking about the faith that works through love. That’s the default version, the simple meaning of the word, and that is the way Scripture most often speaks of it. A “faith” separated from love is “faith” in a real but secondary sense.