In a recent post, “Moses, Pharaoh, & Why We Preach The Gospel” I touched on a few of the limitations we run into in arguing for the Faith out in the world, and why we should nonetheless continue to do so. There is, of course, much more to say on this topic than I cover in my little blog post. For instance, I often hear Catholic apologists say that it is enough to convince people that the Catholic Faith is a “reasonable” faith; it is not necessarily their job to “close the sale.” This may at first seem like aiming too low: aren’t we trying to save souls? Don’t we want people to embrace the fullness of the faith?
St. Augustine of Hippo, Bishop and Doctor of the church
Of course, we do need to promote the faith in its entirety, but to be successful we need to take into account what the Faith teaches us about the nature of humanity, about what it means to be both body and soul, made in the image and likeness of God. Human reason is finite and fallible, so it needs to be guided by faith. That’s why St. Augustine, in a commentary on John’s Gospel, says: “Therefore do not seek to understand in order to believe, but believe that you may understand; since, 'except you believe, you shall not understand.'”
This, unfortunately, is the sort of quote that those who do not share the faith can easily misunderstand, or even attempt to use against Christian belief. It can appear that Augustine is rejecting reason in favor of "blind" faith, but that's not the case; rather, he is recognizing that our imperfect human reason is subject to our wayward desires, which tend to cloud our reason, and that “to perceive . . . more accurately, we need the Lord Himself for expounder.” The “belief” to which he refers does not simply mean accepting a set of propositions, but entrusting ourselves to God; after all, he says, “even the devils believed him, but they did not believe in Him.” After embracing God, the source of all Truth, and rejecting the false gods our wayward human desires put in our way, our reason can proceed on a firm foundation.
True Faith, therefore, involves first the heart, and then the head. A mistaken belief that the faith is unreasonable can keep people from even considering Christian belief. For that reason we must, as St. Peter tells us, “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope within you” (1 Peter 3:15). Once both the heart and the head are open to the His message Christ's Gospel can begin to take root.
(This Thursday Throwback is based on a discussion in my Sunday Snippets post of 28 February 2015)