Jacques Maritain Center : The First Principles of Knowledge

Chapter VIII.
Belief on Divine Testimony.


  1. Motive for adding to the philosophic account of certitude a little doctrine borrowed from theology.
  2. Difference between human and divine faith, when the latter is supernatural.
  3. A priori probability of Revelation.
  4. The supernatural revelation which has, in fact, been given.
  5. Responsibility of writing a treatise like the present.

1. So far the claims of reason have been asserted, and put higher than this sceptical age is inclined to allow. It is just that after the assertion of the prerogatives of reason, the claims of a superior power should be briefly indicated; otherwise a false impression might be conveyed as to the all-sufficiency of man's natural lights.

2. Faith in general is belief on the authority of a speaker; and if the speaker is human, so too is the faith; if he is divine, so too is the faith, at least in some respect, but not necessarily in the degree required for salvation. For there are arguments convincing to the natural reason both as to the fact that God has spoken, and as to the matter, what God has spoken, at least so far as regards the substantial parts of His message. Reason, too, affirms that what God says is to be implicitly received. Now, inasmuch as the revelation itself has been supernatural, this acceptance of God's word would be a faith founded partly on the supernatural; but it would not be simply what we call supernatural faith. For this further requires that the act be elicited by the co-operation of intellect and will, not as left to themselves, but as elevated by grace, and as using, for the sole motive which enters intrinsically into the very act of faith itself, the authority of God. It follows that what are called praeambula fidei, are the suitable preparatives for the assent called the act of faith; but they neither give to it its formal motive, nor lead by mere natural force to its being elicited. Hence the great error of those who are accustomed to regard supernatural faith as the mere outcome of reasoning upon the Christian evidences.

To repeat the same doctrine in other words. Supernatural faith normally presupposes at least some sufficient portion of the arguments which apologetics supply, and goes beyond into quite a higher sphere, into which the force of the apologetics could never raise it. In order to produce saving faith, grace, with the twofold office of enlightening the intellect and impelling the will, must enter into the soul and its powers. The mind so elevated elicits the act of belief. Thus the motive of faith, strictly so-called, is not found in the grounds for coming to the reasonable inference that God has revealed a certain truth, but in the word of God alone, in the divine authority, in the acknowledged omniscience and veracity of God revealing. " I believe this article on the divine word "-- such is the formula expressive of the act of divine faith. The presence of grace in this act is not usually a matter of direct consciousness: rather it is known by the secure trust we have, that God will do what He has promised to do, if we honestly endeavour to fulfil the conditions.

Faith so regarded will no longer be looked upon as a simple matter of intellect. Seeing its supernatural character, its only partial and extrinsic dependence on the natural preliminaries, we shall the more readily admit that God supplies in the ignorant the defect of scientific apologetics; that He sustains the really faithful in their conflict with learned infidelity; that the preservation of faith once received is no mere matter of examining every fresh objection and triumphantly solving it. Knowing that while reason is somehow at the basis of faith, it is not the whole basis -- that it is not simply the root out of which faith naturally grows -- we shall have a truer estimate of how reason stands to faith as its condition; so that there is no faith without reason, and yet reason alone is inadequate to the production of faith.

3.Faith in revelation being as described, it is left for us to consider how readily disposed we should be to acquiesce in the providential order, that unaided reason should not for us be all in all. A revelation is a priori probable. Its probability is suggested by our ignorance, which is only too keenly felt. For no sane man would say, I am so clever, I am above being beholden to the aid of a teacher. When a schoolboy shows no sign that he can be made aware of his own ignorance, then, whatever his "sharpness," our hopes for him are not great. Neither should we think very highly of any scientific man who had not realized the inadequacy of human science; who did not see that, even when we succeed in submitting physical phenomena to mathematical calculation, the mathematical aspect is but an aspect, and leaves other sides of the truth undiscovered. Mr. Tyndall represents himself as confounded with the vast mysteries left undiscovered in the universe, and as asking himself the pertinent question, Can it be that there is no Being who understands more about things than I do? Now, human ignorance, felt in matters of physical science, is a drawback, but does not touch on highest interests; whereas human ignorance felt, as the mass of men, when left to their natural resources, do feel it, about the very origin and end of their existence, certainly touches on highest interests. Hence it is a priori probable that the Creator has supplied, by some special communication, what He has left imperfect in our means of discovering truth for ourselves. Probably He has made an external revelation the complement of inner incompleteness. Not that we must exaggerate this latter defect, and speak as though reason were incapable of finding out man's destiny; but taking the bulk of mankind, we are safe in saying, that without revelation they have not a sufficiently easy, sure, and universally available means of keeping constantly in mind how they stand related to life, death, and after-death. Circumstances thus show the likelihood of a revelation.

4. As taught by the revelation which we have actually received, we know that in view of the strictly supernatural end to which de facto we are destined, revelation is not merely a matter of more convenient provision, but an absolute necessity. Not natural knowledge, but supernatural faith is the sole assent of intellect, which is now available for salvation; or, as St. Paul expresses it, Sine fide impossible es placere Deo --" without faith it is impossible to please God."

5. Reason, not faith, has been the main point of defence in the foregoing pages; but in defending reason we have been promoting the cause of faith. Vilify reason, and you will never make good the title of faith to be honoured; but secure to reason her due position, and she will be able to add to her own dignity by defending the dignity of faith, and claiming to herself her due participation in this higher light.

Such being the final use of that part of Philosophy which it has been the purpose of this book to explain, it is manifest how no one, who has a sense of responsibility, can offer to the public a treatise on this subject without feeling how much his work is "stuff of the conscience." It is an awful crime, in the spirit of levity, to meddle with the springs of human knowledge; to spread abroad heedlessly doctrines that may be infinitely mischievous; to allow an itching for novelty, or the display of ingenuity, to make the pen write what the sober judgment cannot acquit of rashness; or to permit fear of being thought old-fashioned and mediaeval, to dictate the adoption of what is new-fashioned and modern, and worldly-wise, yet all the time is an outrage, more or less conscious, upon the sacred cause of truth.

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