"Let unity, the greatest good of all goods, be your preoccupation." - St. Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to St. Polycarp)

Sunday, December 9, 2007

St. Thomas Aquinas on faith vs. individualism

"Neither living nor lifeless faith remains in a heretic who disbelieves one article of faith.

The reason of this is that the species of every habit depends on the formal aspect of the object, without which the species of the habit cannot remain. Now the 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. 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, is not prepared to follow the teaching of the Church in all things; but if he is not obstinate, he is no longer in heresy but only in error. Therefore it is clear that such a heretic with regard to one article has no faith in the other articles, but only a kind of opinion in accordance with his own will." (Summa Theologica IIa-IIae, q. v, art. 3)

2 comments:

contrarian 78 said...

Wouldn't this assessment view all who are not in full accord with the Church in a faithless estate? When I first read the quote which stated that such faith is "neither living nor lifeless", I thought Aquinas was going to provide a qualified twist and state that those who are not holding one point have a faith that is not lifeless but albeit defective.
But the last sentence would seem to state that all of those who cannot accept point X of the magisterium are infidels.

To put it another way, when we consider someone who has not accepted one aspect of the magisterium (for whatever reason), how does the individualism seen in that facet of the person's expression of their faith convert all their other orthodox affirmations into mere concurrence between the magisterium and the person's will? Isn't the more important question to ask is whether one accepts say, the Credo, out of faith, or out of what is palatable to them?

Can we not sin by failing to fully believe, as the father of a sick boy said to Jesus-- "Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief"?

Surely it may be that some who hold to the Credo but deny the primacy of Rome may be doing things out of a basis to have their "ears tickled", but I am skeptical that this is necessarily the case, as Aquinas seems to make it sound.

Regards,
Jonathan

Principium unitatis said...

Jonathan,

Thanks for your comment. Notice this line:

Hence it is evident that a heretic who obstinately disbelieves one article of faith, is not prepared to follow the teaching of the Church in all things; but if he is not obstinate, he is no longer in heresy but only in error.

Aquinas is talking about heretics, not merely persons in error.

The reason that the heretic has no faith is that he is a rationalist, believing what he believes because of his own will, apart from (and in spite of) the authoritative teaching of the Church. He says, "I don't care what the Church teaches; I believe x" [where x includes some denial of y, and y is a teaching of the Church].

Now if a person does not know that the Church teaches y, then he cannot be a heretic for believing x, though he can be in error.

The people you probably have in mind are those who do not know that the Church teaches y, in large part because they do not know where the Church is and what the Church is. They may not even know there is a Church, for they may think that the Church is merely the plurality of all believers, embodied and disembodied. Such people are not heretics, and only individualists by default (not by culpable fault), since they do not even know about the Church's teaching authority. Aquinas is talking about persons who know of the teaching authority of the Church, and yet still pick and choose for themselves what doctrines to believe. Such persons have no faith, even when they affirm orthodox doctrines. They have no faith, claims Aquinas, because they are believing these doctrines in the wrong way, i.e. on the wrong basis, according to their own authority, and not according to the teaching authority of the Church.

I hope that clears up your concern (which I agree is a legitimate concern).

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan