For a true knowledge of faith it is above all things necessary to
understand that the Bible was adapted to the intelligence, not only of the
prophets, but also of the diverse and fickle Jewish multitude. This will
be recognized by all who give any thought to the subject, for they will see
that a person who accepted promiscuously everything in Scripture as being
the universal and absolute teaching of God, without accurately defining what
was adapted to the popular intelligence, would find it impossible to escape
confounding the opinions of the masses with the Divine doctrines, praising
the judgments and comments of man as the teaching of God, and
making a wrong use of Scriptural authority. Who, I say, does not
perceive that this is the chief reason why so many sectaries teach
contradictory opinions as Divine documents, and support their contentions
with numerous Scriptural texts, till it has passed in Belgium into a
proverb, geen ketter sonder letter - no heretic without a text? The
sacred books were not written by one man, nor for the people of a single
period, but by many authors of different temperaments, at times extending
from first to last over nearly two thousand years, and perhaps much longer.
We will not, however, accuse the sectaries of impiety because they have
adapted the words of Scripture to their own opinions; it is thus that these
words were adapted to the understanding of the masses originally, and
everyone is at liberty so to treat them if he sees that he can thus obey God
in matters relating to justice and charity with a more full consent: but
we do accuse those who will not grant this freedom to their fellows,
but who persecute all who differ from them, as God's enemies, however
honourable and virtuous be their lives; while, on the other hand, they
cherish those who agree with them, however foolish they may be, as God's
elect. Such conduct is as wicked and dangerous to the state as any that
can be conceived.
In order, therefore, to establish the limits to which individual freedom
should extend, and to decide what persons, in spite of the diversity of
their opinions, are to be looked upon as the faithful, we must define faith
and its essentials. This task I hope to accomplish in the present
chapter, and also to separate faith from
philosophy, which is the chief aim
of the whole treatise.
In order to proceed duly to the demonstration let us recapitulate the
chief aim and object of Scripture; this will indicate a standard by which we
may define faith.
We have said in a former chapter that the aim and object of Scripture
is only to teach obedience. Thus much, I think, no one can question.
Who does not see that both Testaments are nothing else but schools for
this object, and have neither of them any aim beyond inspiring mankind with
a voluntary obedience? For (not to repeat what I said in the last
chapter) I will remark that
Moses did not seek to convince the Jews by
but bound them by a covenant, by oaths, and by conferring benefits;
further, he threatened the people with punishment if they should infringe
the law, and promised rewards if they should obey it.
All these are not means for teaching knowledge, but for inspiring
obedience. The doctrine of the Gospels enjoins nothing but simple
faith, namely, to believe in God and to honour Him, which is the same thing
as to obey him. There is no occasion for me to throw further light on
a question so plain by citing Scriptural texts commending obedience, such as
may be found in great numbers in both Testaments. Moreover, the Bible
teaches very clearly in a great many passages what everyone ought to do in
order to obey God; the whole duty is summed up in love to one's neighbour.
It cannot, therefore, be denied that he who by God's command loves his
neighbour as himself is truly obedient and blessed according to the law,
whereas he who hates his neighbour or neglects him is rebellious and
Lastly, it is plain to everyone that the Bible was not written and
disseminated only, for the learned, but for men of every age and race;
wherefore we may, rest assured that we are not bound by Scriptural command
to believe anything beyond what is absolutely necessary, for
fulfilling its main precept.
This precept, then, is the only standard of the whole Catholic faith,
and by it alone all the dogmas needful to be believed should be determined.
So much being abundantly manifest, as is also the fact that all other
doctrines of the faith can be legitimately deduced therefrom by
alone, I leave it to every man to decide for himself how it comes to pass
that so many divisions have arisen in the Church: can it be from any other
cause than those suggested at the beginning of Chap. 8.? It is these
same causes which compel me to explain the method of determining the dogmas
of the faith from the foundation we have discovered, for if I
neglected to do so, and put the question on a regular basis, I might justly
be said to have promised too lavishly, for that anyone might, by my showing,
introduce any doctrine he liked into religion, under the pretext that it was
a necessary means to obedience: especially would this be the case in
questions respecting the Divine attributes.
In order, therefore, to set forth the whole matter methodically, I will
begin with a definition of faith, which on the principle above given, should
be as follows:-
Faith consists in a knowledge of God, without which obedience to Him
would be impossible, and which the mere fact of obedience to Him implies.
This definition is so clear, and follows so plainly from what we have
already proved, that it needs no explanation. The consequences involved
therein I will now briefly show. (I.) Faith is not salutary in itself,
but only in respect to the
obedience it implies, or as James puts it in his Epistle, ii:17, "Faith
without works is dead" (see the whole of the chapter quoted). (II.) He who
is truly obedient necessarily possesses true and saving
faith; for if obedience be granted, faith must be granted also, as the same
Apostle expressly says in these words (ii:18), "Show me thy faith without
thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works." So also
John, I Ep. iv:7: "Everyone that loveth is born of God, and knoweth
God: he that loveth not, knoweth not God; for God is love." From these
texts, I repeat, it follows that we can only judge a man faithful or
unfaithful by his works. If his works be good, he is faithful, however
much his doctrines may differ from those of the rest of the faithful: if his
works be evil, though he may verbally conform, he is unfaithful. For
obedience implies faith, and faith without works is dead.
John, in the 13th verse of the chapter above quoted, expressly teaches
the same doctrine: "Hereby," he says, "know we that we dwell in Him and He
in us, because He hath given us of His Spirit," i.e. love. He had said
before that God is love, and therefore he concludes (on his own received
principles), that whoso possesses love possesses truly the Spirit of God.
As no one has beheld God he infers that no one has knowledge or
consciousness of God, except from love towards his neighbour, and also that
no one can have knowledge of any of God's attributes, except this of love,
in so far as we participate therein.
If these arguments are not conclusive, they, at any rate, show the
Apostle's meaning, but the words in chap. ii:3, 4, of the same Epistle are
much clearer, for they state in so many words our precise contention: "And
hereby we do know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He
that saith, I know Him, and keepeth not His commandments, is a liar, and the
truth is not in him."
From all this, I repeat, it follows that they are the true enemies of
who persecute honourable and justice-loving men because they differ
from them, and do not uphold the same religious dogmas as themselves: for
whosoever loves justice and charity we know, by that very fact, to be
faithful: whosoever persecutes the faithful, is an enemy to
Lastly, it follows that faith does not demand that dogmas should be
true as that they should be pious - that is, such as will stir up the heart
to obey; though there be many such which contain not a shadow of truth, so
long as they be held in good faith, otherwise their adherents are
disobedient, for how can anyone, desirous of loving justice and obeying God,
adore as Divine what he knows to be alien from the Divine nature?
However, men may err from simplicity of mind, and Scripture, as we
have seen, does not condemn ignorance, but obstinacy. This is the
necessary result of our definition of faith, and all its branches
should spring from the universal rule above given, and from the evident aim
and object of the Bible, unless we choose to mix our own inventions
therewith. Thus it is not true doctrines which are expressly required
by the Bible, so much as doctrines necessary for obedience, and to confirm
in our hearts the love of our neighbour, wherein (to adopt the words of
John) we are in God, and God in us.
As, then, each man's faith must be judged pious or impious only in
respect of its producing obedience or obstinacy, and not in respect of its
truth; and as no one will dispute that men's dispositions are exceedingly
varied, that all do not acquiesce in the same things, but are ruled
some by one opinion some by another, so that what moves one to devotion
moves another to laughter and contempt, it follows that there can be no
doctrines in the Catholic, or universal, religion, which can give rise to
controversy among good men. Such doctrines might be pious to some and
impious to others, whereas they should be judged solely by their fruits.
To the universal religion, then, belong only such dogmas as are
absolutely required in order to attain obedience to God, and without which
such obedience would be impossible; as for the rest, each man - seeing that
he is the best judge of his own character should adopt whatever he thinks
best adapted to strengthen his love of justice. If this were so, I
think there would be no further occasion for controversies in the Church.
I have now no further fear in enumerating the dogmas of universal faith
or the fundamental dogmas of the whole of Scripture, inasmuch as they all
tend (as may be seen from what has been said) to this one doctrine, namely,
that there exists a God, that is, a Supreme Being, Who loves justice and
charity, and Who must be obeyed by whosoever would be saved; that the
worship of this Being consists in the practice of justice and love towards
one's neighbour, and that they contain nothing beyond the following
I. That God or a Supreme Being exists, sovereignly just and merciful,
the Exemplar of the true life; that whosoever is ignorant of or
disbelieves in His existence cannot obey Him or know Him as a Judge.
II. That He is One. Nobody will dispute that this doctrine is
absolutely necessary for entire devotion, admiration, and love towards God.
For devotion, admiration, and love spring from the superiority of one
over all else.
III. That He is omnipresent, or that all things are open to Him, for if
anything could be supposed to be concealed from Him, or to be unnoticed by,
Him, we might doubt or be ignorant of the equity of His judgment as
directing all things.
IV. That He has supreme right and dominion over all things, and that He
does nothing under compulsion, but by His absolute fiat and grace. All
things are bound to obey Him, He is not bound to obey any.
V. That the worship of God consists only in justice and charity, or
love towards one's neighbour.
VI. That all those, and those only, who obey God by their manner of
life are saved; the rest of mankind, who live under the sway of their
pleasures, are lost. If we did not believe this, there would be no
reason for obeying God rather than pleasure.
VII. Lastly, that God forgives the sins of those who repent. No
one is free from sin, so that without this belief all would despair of
salvation, and there would be no reason for believing in the mercy of God.
He who firmly believes that God, out of the mercy and grace with which
He directs all things, forgives the sins of men, and who feels his love of
God kindled thereby, he, I say, does really, know
Christ according to the
Spirit, and Christ is in him.
No one can deny that all these doctrines are before all things
necessary, to be believed, in order that every man, without exception, may
be able to obey God according to the bidding of the Law above explained, for
if one of these precepts be disregarded obedience is destroyed.
But as to what God, or the Exemplar of the true life, may be, whether
fire, or spirit, or light, or thought, or what not, this, I say, has nothing
to do with faith any more than has the question how He comes to be the
Exemplar of the true life, whether it be because He has a just and
merciful mind, or because all things exist and act through Him, and
consequently that we understand through Him, and through Him see what
is truly just and good. Everyone may think on such questions as he
Furthermore, faith is not affected, whether we hold that God is
omnipresent essentially or potentially; that He directs all things by
absolute fiat, or by the necessity of His nature; that He dictates laws like
a prince, or that He sets them forth as
that man obeys Him
by virtue of free will, or by virtue of the necessity of the Divine decree;
lastly, that the reward of the good and the punishment of the wicked is
natural or supernatural: these and such like questions have no bearing on
faith, except in so far as they are used as means to give us license to sin
more, or to obey God less. I will go further, and maintain that every
man is bound to adapt these dogmas to his own way of thinking, and to
interpret them according as he feels that he can give them his fullest and
most unhesitating assent, so that he may the more easily obey God with his
Such was the manner, as we have already pointed out, in which the faith
was in old time revealed and written, in accordance with the understanding
and opinions of the prophets and people of the period; so, in like fashion,
every man is bound to adapt it to his own opinions, so that he may accept it
without any hesitation or mental repugnance. We have shown that faith
does not so much require truth as piety, and that it is only quickening and
pious through obedience, consequently no one is faithful save by obedience
alone. The best faith is not necessarily possessed by him who displays
the best reasons, but by him who displays the best fruits of justice and
charity. How salutary and necessary this doctrine is for a state, in
order that men may dwell together in peace and concord; and how many and how
great causes of disturbance and crime are thereby cut off, I leave everyone
to judge for himself!
Before we go further, I may remark that we can, by means of what we
have just proved, easily answer the objections raised in Chap. 1., when we
were discussing God's speaking with the Israelites on Mount Sinai. For,
though the voice heard by the Israelites could not give those men any
philosophical or mathematical certitude of
God's existence, it was yet
sufficient to thrill them with admiration for God, as they already knew Him,
and to stir them up to obedience: and such was the object of the display.
God did not wish to teach the Israelites the absolute attributes of His
essence (none of which He then revealed), but to break down their hardness
of heart, and to draw them to obedience: therefore He did not appeal to them
with reasons, but with the sound of trumpets, thunder, and lightnings.
It remains for me to show that between faith or
there is no connection, nor affinity. I think no one will
dispute the fact who has knowledge of the aim and foundations of the two
subjects, for they are as wide apart as the poles.
has no end in view save truth: faith, as we have abundantly
proved, looks for nothing but obedience and piety. Again,
based on axioms which must be sought from nature alone: faith is based on
history and language, and must be sought for only in Scripture and
as we showed in Chap. 7. Faith, therefore, allows the greatest latitude in
speculation, allowing us without blame to
think what we like about anything, and only condemning, as heretics and
schismatics, those who teach opinions which tend to produce obstinacy,
hatred, strife, and anger; while, on the other hand, only considering
as faithful those who persuade us, as far as their reason and faculties will
permit, to follow justice and charity.
Lastly, as what we are now setting forth are the most important
subjects of my treatise, I would most urgently beg the reader, before I
proceed, to read these two chapters with especial attention, and to take the
trouble to weigh them well in his mind: let him take for granted that I
have not written with a view to introducing novelties, but in order to do
away with abuses, such as I hope I may, at some future time, at last see