St. Thomas Aquinas On the Creed, Part Six
“The Evidence of Things that Appear Not.”—But someone will say that it is foolish to believe what is not seen, and that one should not believe in things that he cannot see. I answer by saying that the imperfect nature of our intellect takes away the basis of this difficulty. For if man of himself could in a perfect manner know all things visible and invisible, it would indeed be foolish to believe what he does not see. But our manner of knowing is so weak that no philosopher could perfectly investigate the nature of even one little fly.
Belief is the proper and honest disposition of any intelligent soul in the presence of reality. Reality is a complexity of substances and operations that forever escape our knowledge and understanding. Humans cannot come to know the whole of reality or the intricate mystery of its multifarious parts. Humans cannot hope to understand or know the effects or the causes. Humans cannot hope to comprehend creatures in themselves and as they are known by God. Creation is a summary of effects that can be traced back to God. If we cannot know perfectly what is closest to us in the created effects, how can we claim to know their First Cause. Faith is the disposition of intellect that trusts and believes in the whole truth that is awaiting our discovery. Faith seeks out meaning and the possibility of explaining it. Faith believes in order to continue to study, ponder, explore, investigate, and discover what it never yet comprehended fully. The effects are full of truth waiting to be discovered. The First Cause is full of truth waiting to be discovered. Faith believes in the infinite depths that forever reveal and manifest truth and yet simultaneously recede beyond our reach, tempting us to follow further and to wade deeper so that we might know something in addition! Faith seeks and comes to know in part. The partial nature of knowledge demands a return to faith so that the mind’s journey into creation and Creator might continue. I believe in order to understand, and yet with all my understanding, I know that I understand so little. Thus, I must return to faith, believing fully that there is so much more to discover. Faith is that profoundly rational state of the soul through which a man knows himself and in knowing himself is properly positioned to discover what is forever more and more beyond him. Faith believes that there is an inexhaustible depth of content waiting to be discovered in God and His works.
We even read that a certain philosopher spent thirty years in solitude in order to know the nature of the bee. If, therefore, our intellect is so weak, it is foolish to be willing to believe concerning God only that which man can know by himself alone. And against this is the word of Job: “Behold, God is great, exceeding our knowledge” [Job 36:26]. One can also answer this question by supposing that a certain master had said something concerning his own special branch of knowledge, and some uneducated person would contradict him for no other reason than that he could not understand what the master said! Such a person would be considered very foolish. So, the intellect of the Angels as greatly exceeds the intellect of the greatest philosopher as much as that of the greatest philosopher exceeds the intellect of the uneducated man. Therefore, the philosopher is foolish if he refuses to believe what an Angel says, and far greater fool to refuse to believe what God says. Against such are these words: “For many things are shown to you above the understanding of men” [Sir 3:25].
Faith is also necessary for opening the human soul or mind to what lies above it by reason of its frailty, weakness, and finite nature. Man knows that he cannot save himself. Man knows that he has no formula for any such desire. Man knows that he cannot generate mediation sufficient to reconcile him to God. Man knows that he cannot produce redemption and salvation for his sorry and lost fallen state. Faith believes that God’s wisdom, power, and love can save him. Faith believes in what God does to generate salvation for his fallen nature. Faith believes that God’s Word has been revealed to fallen man and that the record of this communication is found on the pages of Holy Scripture. Faith believes that God’s Word has sought out his people in order to lead them into salvation. Faith believes that God’s Word alone can save and that in the peculiar and unique mission and ministry of Jesus Christ, God’s Word has been made flesh and has become man’s salvation. Faith believes that God alone knows how to save, in what way to save, and in whom to save. Faith believes in what is above and beyond man’s understanding and yet in what comes down to man’s level in order to be understood. Faith submits itself humbly to God’s instruction because only then can it begin to learn and understand of the way, the truth, and the life which, while above it nevertheless gets behind and beneath it in order to lift it up again into Heaven’s embrace.
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