Further, the gift of understanding is compatible with faith, even though the notion of understanding implies insight and comprehension, whereas faith implies that what is assented to is in some sense not comprehended. Thomas draws two distinctions. The first is between the central mysteries of the faith e. The second distinction is between perfect and imperfect understanding. There are lots of everyday examples of this sort of thing, many having to do with interpersonal relationships.
Thomas agrees with the objectors that we cannot have perfect understanding of the central mysteries of the faith, though we can have such understanding in principle of some truths subordinate to them the preambles of the faith. On the other hand, we can have imperfect understanding of them; that is, we can understand that we should not back away from them just because we do not see how they cohere with external appearances. And it is clear that this sort of imperfect understanding is compatible with the epistemic limitations involved in faith.
In the next article, St. Thomas argues that the gift of understanding is not just theoretical or speculative but also practical, at least in the sense that the theoretical truths which are its primary object provide the stable framework within which we live our lives and carry out our good works, since our works are ordered to the end of union with God and regulated by the eternal law, which guides us toward that end. But our knowledge of our final end and of the eternal law is theoretical knowledge that provides a framework within which practical reason operates.
Thomas next claims that the gift of understanding is had by everyone in the state of grace. For to be in the state of grace is, first and foremost, to have charity, i. But some understanding of the truth about God and salvation is necessary in order for us love God and seek our salvation. Thomas makes clear that this level of understanding, which is common to all in the state of grace, does not mean that every such person understands fully plene the mysteries of the faith.
Well, just what do they understand beyond those things that are absolutely necessary for salvation? Thomas replies as follows: Conversely, and this is again important for grasping the interplay of affective and cognitive elements in faith, no one who is not in the state of grace has the gift of understanding. As the objections point out, this seems contrary to appearances.
First of all, there are those who seem to have a relatively deep understanding of the deposit of faith and yet lack the will to follow it. Again, in the Gospels we hear of people who have prophesied in Christ's name which, presumably, takes understanding , but whom the Lord will disown on the day of judgment. More generally, we have already seen that it is possible to have the habit of faith without habitual grace unformed faith. So why hold that the gift of understanding is had only by those in the state of grace? Thomas first recalls the nature of a gift of the Holy Spirit.
It is a disposition to respond expeditiously to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Thus, understanding is an intellectual disposition to respond to the Holy Spirit's giving us intellectual illumination that makes us see more clearly what it is that we believe and ought to believe by faith.
But our response itself presupposes a due orientation to our ultimate end: Thomas next explains the difference between the gift of understanding and the six other gifts to wit, knowledge, wisdom, counsel, piety, fortitude, and fear of the Lord. First of all, understanding is a gift of the cognitive faculty and thereby differs from piety, fortitude, and fear of the Lord, which are gifts of the appetitive faculty.
But the distinction among the gifts of the cognitive faculty, viz. Thomas has this to say:. Hence, it is necessary for some things to be proposed to man for belief not as seen, but as heard, and to these he assents by faith. Now faith is primarily and principally related to the First Truth, secondarily related to certain considerations concerning creatures, and extends beyond that to directing human actions as well, in so far as it works through love--as is clear from what was said above 4, 2, ad 3. Therefore, two things are required on our part with respect to things proposed to faith for belief.
The first is that the intellect penetrate or grasp the objects of belief both theoretical and practical , and this pertains to the gift of understanding. The second is that man must have correct judgment concerning them, so that he might determine that he should adhere to these and withdraw from their opposites.
With respect to divine things, this sort of judgment pertains to the gift of wisdom ; with respect to created things, it pertains to the gift of knowledge ; and with respect to its application to individual actions, it pertains to the gift of counsel. So understanding has to do with the grasp of the doctrines of the faith, whereas the other with making good judgments about a the central mysteries of the faith wisdom , created things knowledge , and particular actions counsel.
Thomas makes the connection between the gift of understanding and the beatitudes. More specifically, understanding is connected to the sixth beatitude, "Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God. Thomas's discussions of the gifts and the beatitudes in the treatise on virtue. The reason for this connection should be fairly clear by now.
This sort of cleanness results from the virtues and gifts of the appetitive power. In a second sense, however, cleanness is a trait of the intellect insofar as it is purged of error and false imaginations and open to grasping the truth and rejecting heretical falsehood. This is the cleanness that results from the gift of understanding. In the next life, the gift of understanding finds its perfection in the face-to-face vision of God, whereas in this life it helps us to grasp that the more perfectly we know God in our present state, the more we realize that he surpasses all that our mind comprehends.
Lastly, we turn to the relation between the gift of understanding and the fruits of the Holy Spirit, specifically, the fruits of faith and, ultimately, joy. In the context of the fruits, the fruit of faith is the certitude of faith , which perfects the intellect. This, in turn, engenders joy , which brings the appetitive power or will to completion.
Note the reply to obj. The objection was that faith precedes understanding and hence cannot be its fruit: For a man could not assent to things proposed for belief unless he understood them in some way or other. Further, in ad 1 we learn that the gift of knowledge gives us a share in God's own simple and non-discursive knowledge of created things. And in reply ad 2 to the objection that many holy people seem to be unlearned in matters of faith, he gives the following interesting reply that helps us to distinguish the gift of knowledge, strictly speaking, from the sort of knowledge of the faith that faithful intellectual inquirers have:.
The first is a knowledge by which a man knows what he ought to believe, distinguishing what is to be believed from what is not to be believed. Knowledge in this sense is a gift [of the Holy Spirit], and it belongs to all holy persons. The other is a knowledge concerning matters of belief by which a man not only knows what he ought to believe, but also knows how to explain the faith, induce others to believe it, and refute objectors.
Knowledge in this sense is numbered among the graces given to the already graced gratiae gratis datae , which are given not to all, but [only] to some. Hence Augustine, after the words quoted [in the objection], adds: The next three articles revisit the specific subject matter of the gift of knowledge see 8,6 above.
Thomas says, it seems that the gift of knowledge has created things as its subject in the sense that by it we are prompted to assess created things correctly and order them to God instead of putting them before God in some way: This is the knowledge of holy things, according to Wis. The upshot, as I understand it, is that the gift of knowledge gives one the sort of theoretical perception of created things which enters directly into practical reasoning art.
This is why it corresponds to the third beatitude, "Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be consoled. So by this knowledge we are led to God as the highest good and the fulfillment of what we seek in all created goods. In simple non-believers unbelief is a punishment for original sin rather than a punishable sin in itself. In other words, if simple non-believers are damned, they are damned because of sins other than active unbelief.
As for the origins of active unbelief, St. Thomas identifies pride, "through which it happens that a man is unwilling to subject his intellect to the rules of faith and to the sound understanding of the Fathers. The argument for the claim that active unbelief is the greatest of sins is that faith is necessary for our having the correct orientation to our final end. Thomas accepts this argument in part. On his view, carefully laid out in the treatise on sin and vice in ST , every sin involves both a a turning away aversio from God, which constitutes the formal character of a sin, and b a simultaneous turning toward conversio some created good in preference to God.
Active unbelief constitutes the maximal turning away and distancing oneself from God, since one who has a false conception of God "does not approach him but is instead distanced from him" and "cannot have any cognition of him at all, whence what he thinks about is not God. So active unbelief is in itself or by its nature or genus the greatest of sins. Still, circumstances might mitigate the degree of guilt incurred by this sin. And, indeed, Augustine "hesitated to decide between an evil Catholic and a heretic who is not otherwise sinning, since, even though it is more grave by its genus, the heretic's sin can be mitigated by some circumstance--and, conversely, the Catholic's sin can be aggravated by some circumstance" ad 1.
Thomas elaborates on this by pointing out that with respect to sins other than active unbelief, the Catholic, other things being equal, sins more grievously than an unbeliever because of the knowledge of the truth he has from faith i.
Furthermore, it is not the case that an unbeliever's every act is sinful just because of his unbelief. Thomas reiterates his claim, made in the treatise on sin in ST , that mortal sin and original sin, for that matter does not completely destroy "the good of [human] nature. Note, though, that St.
Thomas takes for granted what he argued in the treatise on grace in ST , viz. Here the reply to the 3rd objection is interesting, since St. Thomas takes the occasion to clarify the status of Cornelius Acts 10 before his conversion. Cornelius had been mention in the sed contra: Therefore, not every action of an unbeliever is a sin. Thomas comments that this consideration is beside the point, since Cornelius was not in fact an unbeliever before his baptism; otherwise his acts would not have been accepted by God i. Thomas here divides active unbelief into various species.
One sort of active unbelief consists in rejecting the faith without ever having embraced it. This is the unbelief of the "pagans and gentiles. There are two cases here: There are some interesting points made in ad 1. Once again we can consider the "formal object" of a sin to be either the good to which the sinner turns conversio or the good away from which the sinner turns aversio.
It is the differences in the former that give us various species of sin under a given genus. In the case of faith, the species can be considered either by looking at the various general ways in which the faith is rejected, and this is what was done in the previous paragraph, or by looking at the various false beliefs that unbelievers adopt in rejecting the faith--and in this case there is no determinate number of species of unbelief, since there are infinitely many possible false opinions and combinations thereof.
As we might expect, St. Thomas holds that from the perspective of its relation to the faith, heresy is a more serious sin than the unbelief of the Chosen People, and their unbelief is a more serious sin than the unbelief of pagans and heathens. That is, to reject the faith once accepted either in its explicit or prefigured forms is a worse sin, generically speaking, than to reject it without ever having accepted it in any way.
On the other hand, heathens and pagans are worse off, even if their sin is less grievous, because they are farther from the saving truth. Thomas goes on to examine various questions having to do with the relations between believers and non-believers including, but not limited to, active unbelievers.
These questions are interesting and, in part, reflect the historical context in which St. However, our main interest in them has to do with what St. Thomas assumes or says about certain theoretical topics concerning a the modus vivendi of a missionary community the Church composed of both inquirers and non-inquirers and b the relations of that community to individual non-believers and communities of non-believers.
Remember that he has already divided unbelievers into a heathens and pagans Muslims seem to count as heathens , b Jews, who fall into a separate category because of their status as the People of God under the Old Law, and c heretics and apostates, i. Some of the things he says apply to all non-believers and others to just some of them. In article 7 the relevant problem is whether believers ought to engage in disputes or exchanges with unbelievers. The answer is that this depends on circumstances.
In particular, the main question is whether or not the Christians in the audience are "well-instructed and firm in the faith. In all other circumstances such disputations can confuse and undermine the faith of simple believers and ought not to be engaged in. Note right away that St. Thomas assumes that only a proper subset of believers are fit to be either participants in or hearers of such disputations without danger to their faith. In essence, they are the children of the family of the Church. His view is thus "paternalistic," i. We will later have the opportunity to contrast this approach with Mill's liberalism.
In article 8 St. Thomas agrees with the objectors that non-believers should not be compelled i. However, they can legitimately be compelled not to hinder the faith by blasphemy, false persuasions, or persecution. Of course, the context here presupposes that the political regime is openly Catholic; article 10 addresses the other possibility, though even here what St. Thomas says can be adapted to the question of what the Church should sponsor within its own purview.
As for heretics and apostates, St. Thomas has no problem with their being compelled them, even "corporeally," to fulfill their promises and hold to what they at one time accepted. Physical punishment would be carried out by the political power, and its justification would be preservation of the common good. Though this sort of thing is repulsive to those of us who live in liberal democracies, it has its roots in the Socratic idea that care of souls is much more important than care of bodies.
The problem is to say what the reasonable limits of this care are. In a sense, that is the issue that St. Thomas is addressing in these articles. Article 9 addresses the question of whether or not believers should "communicate with," i. Once again, when we are talking about those who have never received the faith, the Church does not forbid believers from communicating with non-believers, as though these non-believers were being punished by the Church with excommunication.
For the Church does not have the authority to exercise spiritual judgment over them. Nonetheless, in certain circumstances the Church can legitimately forbid some believers--especially those who are less firm in the faith--to communicate, at least unnecessarily, with non-believers, and this in order to safeguard their faith.
Article 10 has to do with the legitimacy of non-believers exercising political or domestic authority over believers. Thomas believes in general that it is not good for non-believers to exercise authority over believers. Indeed, believers should resist the initial establishment of such a regime or domestic situation. On the other hand, already established political or domestic regimes are not made illegitimate by the mere fact that non-believers exercise power over believers, even though the Church has the right, often not exercised out of prudence, to do away with the right of non-believers to exercise such power over believers.
As for the toleration of the rites of unbelievers, in art. Thomas makes a distinction between the Jews, whose rites foreshadow the truth of the faith, and the rites of other unbelievers. The rites of the Jews are to be tolerated because they bear witness to the faith in their own way, whereas the rites of other unbelievers should be not be tolerated except for the purpose of avoiding scandal or social unrest.
Finally, in art Thomas argues that Jewish and heathen children ought not to be baptized against the will of their parents before they have reached the age of reason. This is mainly a matter of natural justice, according to which children belong to their parents. Dullness of sense hebetudo sensus. Just as dullness in sensory cognition connotes a certain lack of perceptual acuity in one or more of the corporeal senses, so too mental dullness of sense connotes a lack of the intellectual insight intelligentia by which one comprehends the nature of a thing, even with regard to the smallest details, upon apprehending its properties or even its effects.
So someone who is dull with respect to such insight needs many things explained to him and even then cannot penetrate through to everything that pertains to the nature of the thing in question. So dullness of sense "connotes a certain weakness of mind in the consideration of spiritual goods," whereas blindness of mind connotes a complete absence of the cognition of such things.
- Treatise on Faith!
- POSTMODERNITY: Christian Identity in a Fragmented Age (Guides to Theological Inquiry).
- Apologetics Press - The Many Faces of Unbelief [Part I];
- See a Problem?.
- Andanzas y recuerdos (Spanish Edition)!
- Cat Talk?
Both blindness of mind and dullness of sense arise paradigmatically from carnal sins such as lust and gluttony--which is a good reason for cultivating abstinence or restraint with respect to the desire for food and chastity with respect to sexual desire. This is one way to make sense of the old saying, "Masturbation will make you blind. Thomas argues that it was fitting for the Old Law to contain precepts concerning understanding and knowledge. He notes that knowledge and understanding can be considered in three ways: The object of faith 1,1: Thomas first claims that even though there are many revealed truths pertaining to "the humanity of Christ, the sacraments of the Church, and the condition of creatures, etc.
To show this he draws a distinction between the material objects of faith , that is, the various revealed propositions, and the formal object that provides the 'formality' under which these material objects of faith are assented to , that is, that through which they are known. The revealed truths assented to through faith are propositional enuntiabilia even though the act of faith is terminated not in the propositions but in the things themselves that are known through the propositions.
This is because our mode of cognizing is through composing and dividing terms.
THE “FREEDOM” OF UNBELIEF
In patria our mode of cognition will be simple instead of, as it is now, complex. The reason is that we will see God face to face as he is in himself and see other things "in" him. The interior act of faith 2,1: Augustine's characterization of the act of faith as "cogitating with assent. He begins by noting that 'to cogitate' can be taken either a very broadly for any sort of "actual consideration by the intellect," or more strictly for either b intellectual inquiry before it reaches the certitude of evidentness with regard to a truth involving purely general or universal concepts intentiones or c the inquiry of the sentient 'cogitative sense' before it reaches the certitude of evidentness with regard to particulars.
Thomas argues that it is necessary for salvation to have faith with regard to something that surpasses natural reason: Therefore, the perfection of a rational creature consists not only in what belongs to it by its nature, but also in that which is given to it by a sort of supernatural participation in God's goodness But man cannot attain the vision of God except by way of learning from God as a teacher.
Now every student must first take things on faith in order to come to perfect knowledge. Neither question is easy to answer because usually the person doing the asking wants a simple, quick, concise response.
THE MANY FACES OF UNBELIEF
It has been my experience that rarely is there a single reason for unbelief, because rarely is there a single reason that can explain adequately why a person thinks, or acts, as he does. This stands to reason, considering Who God is.
- God: The Oldest Question: A Fresh Look at Belief and Unbelief - And Why the Choice Matters!
The Bible describes Him as being, among other things, a God of love 1 John 4: The truth of the matter is that God did not create mankind as some kind of robot to serve Him slavishly without any personal choice in the matter. For example, when Joshua—who had led the Israelite nation so faithfully for so long—realized that his days were numbered and his hours were few, he assembled the entirety of that nation before him and, in one of the most moving, impassioned pleas recorded within the pages of Holy Writ, admonished his charges to employ their personal volition in a proper fashion.
The Israelites, individually and collectively, had the ability, and yes, even the God-given right, to choose whether or not they wished to follow Jehovah. As the text continues, it indicates that on this particular occasion they chose correctly. Years later, however, the people of Israel—employing that same heaven-sent personal volition—freely chose to abandon their belief in, and obedience to, God.
Within the pages of the New Testament, the principle is the same. When Jesus condemned the self-righteousness of the Pharisees in John 5: But while the Israelites to whom Joshua spoke chose at first to heed his plea and obey Jehovah, the Pharisees to whom Christ spoke chose to ignore His plea and to disobey God.
Where is Your God? Responding to the Challenge of Unbelief and Religious Indifference Today
Two chapters later, when Jesus addressed the Jews in their own temple, the text indicates that they marveled at His teaching John 7: But Jesus demurred, and said: God has imbued mankind with the ability to choose. If a person wills , he can accept God and His teaching, but God never will force Himself on that person. As the apostle John brought the book of Revelation to a close, he wrote: But what of he that will not?
Freedom is accompanied by responsibility. With freedom of choice comes the responsibility to think carefully, choose wisely, and act forcefully. Freedom of choice always works best when tempered with wisdom and good judgment. Thus, in every human activity the process of recognizing, believing, and properly utilizing truth is vitally important. Especially is this true in the spiritual realm.
Jesus tried to impress this upon His generation when He said: What we as humans so often fail to realize is that we are not involved in a search for truth because it is lost; we are involved in a search for truth because without it we are! They are the spiritual descendants of the first-century Pharisees; they could come to a knowledge of the truth, but they will not. The simple fact of the matter is that we are responsible for what we choose to believe. Using the personal volition with which God has endowed us, we may choose freely to believe in Him, or we may choose just as freely to disbelieve.
The choice is up to each individual. And once that individual has made up his mind to disbelieve, God will not deter him, as Paul made clear when he wrote his second epistle to the Thessalonians. What, exactly, was Paul suggesting? Was the apostle teaching that God purposely causes men to believe error?
No, he was not. In his commentary on the Thessalonian epistles, Raymond C. Kelcy addressed the fact that men often prefer the consequences of a certain belief system, and that as a result. There is an exact parallel in the instance of the Pharaoh who sparred with Moses and Aaron over the release of the Hebrews from Egyptian bondage. Concerning the rebellious Israelites, Paul wrote in Romans Zerr put it well when he said:. Unbelief is more or less tied into this pervasive and subversive aspect of evil, and consequently the rejection and denial of God feed on the continual diffusion of this inhumane spectacle, daily beamed around the world.
The vast majority of non-believers and the indifferent are not so for ideological or political reasons, but come from the pews of Christianity and describe themselves as deluded or unsatisfied. They express "debelief" or a disaffection towards belief and its practice and perceive it as meaningless, dull and irrelevant. The cause is often tied to a negative or unpleasant event experienced in the Church, often during adolescence; the protest or rebellion of a moment transforms itself over the course of time into a general rejection and finally indifference.
This does not mean total closure, for often a desire to retain a good relationship with God remains. On this note, it is good to focus on the "restarters", i. Among the causes internal to the life of the Church which push people away, what is most obvious is the apparent absence of a spiritual life in some priests and religious. Whenever some of these lead an immoral lifestyle, many people feel disturbed.
Among the causes of scandal, by far the worst due to its objective moral gravity, is sexual abuse of minors. Also scandalous are the superficiality of spiritual life and the exaggerated search for material wellbeing and financial gain, especially in areas where the population is subject to extreme poverty. As many Christians identify the faith with its moral principles, it follows that, faced with certain scandalous behaviour - particularly those in which the protagonists are members of the clergy, many of the faithful suffer a deep crisis in their spiritual journey.
Deeds of this kind, orchestrated and amplified, are used by the mass media to damage the reputation of all the clergy of a country, and to confirm the suspicions exacerbated by the dominant culture. One consequence of the process of secularisation is the growing difficulty faced in handing on the faith through catechesis, through the school, the family and the homily .
These traditional channels for the handing on of the faith struggle to fulfil their fundamental role. There is a real problem in the handing on of the faith within traditionally Christian families, especially in the cities. The causes are manifold: The transformation of living and working conditions and the meagre size of apartments has led to separation of the nuclear family from grandparents, who are now often excluded from the important processes of handing on both faith and culture.
Moreover, in many countries children spend little time in the family home as they spend long hours at school and in extra curricular activities such as sport, music, and various associations; at home they are often immersed in and isolated by the computer, by video-games, and by the television leaving little space for constructive dialogue with their parents. In traditionally Catholic countries, the growing instability of family life, the rise in the number of so-called "civil marriages" and the increasingly prevalent so-called "common law marriage" accelerate and amplify this process.
This does not of course mean that parents have become non-believers, for often they ask for the baptism of their children and wish for them to make their first holy communion, but beyond these sacred rites of passage the faith does not seem to have any role in the family setting, hence the question: In other countries, for example in Africa and parts of Latin America some of the content of the faith and a certain religious sentiment is handed on, but the lived-experience of the faith which requires a personal and living relationship with Jesus Christ is often faulty.
Christian rites are followed, but are perceived only as cultural expressions. In various countries some Catholic schools have had to close as a result of a lack of resources and personnel, while a weakening, or a rupture in the handing on of the faith in some schools and even Catholic universities, results from a growing number of teachers void of commitment and a solid formation. Too often teaching in these schools has little to do with the faith and Christian morality. The phenomenon of migration also destabilises schools when the large non-Christian presence is used as an excuse to justify abandoning an explicit teaching of the faith, rather than to seize on this opportunity to propose the faith, as has long been the tradition of Church's missionary activity.
Western materialism has projected a lifestyle characterised by success, money, unrestricted competition, individual pleasure, etc. In many countries there are no theoretical factors in favour of unbelief, but rather purely practical ones marked by social patterns where little time is available for the human community and for space to experience the transcendent. It is the conceit of a full-up society. This religious atony is far more dangerous for the faith than the ideological materialism of the Marxist-Leninist atheistic countries.
Treatise on Faith
The improvement of the level of life and economic development necessarily imply a wholesale cultural transformation which often provokes a loss of faith if it is not matched by adequate pastoral activity. The fires of indifference, practical materialism, moral and religious relativism are stoked by globalisation and the so-called opulent society.
The ideals and models of life proposed by the mass media, through advertisements and by the protagonists of the public, political and cultural society are often vectors of a consumerism which is radically anti-evangelical. The culture of globalisation considers men and women an object to be evaluated according to exclusively material, economic and hedonistic criteria.
This domain provokes in many people, by way of compensation, an interest in things irrational. The need for spiritual experience, to live or return to living an inner dimension of life, as well as the psychological and relationship difficulties often caused by the frenetic and obsessive rhythms of life, push many self-confessed believers to seek other alternative experiences and head for "alternative religions" which offer a strong dose of "affective" and "emotional" participation, without any moral or social responsibility.
Hence there are many "do-it-yourself religions" on offer, a sort of spiritual supermarket in which one is left free to pick and choose from day to day according to one's own transforming tastes and pleasures. The Mass Media , by nature ambivalent, can serve both good and bad alike. Unfortunately, often they amplify unbelief and favour indifference, by relativising the religious factor and sometimes ignoring or even deforming its proper nature. Even from countries where Christians are in the majority, certain parts of the Mass Media, newspapers, magazines, news and current affairs programmes, documentaries and films zoom around the world offering often flawed, distorted or partial visions of the Church.
Only rarely are they met with a pertinent and convincing response. A negative perception of the Church results, impeding her credibility to transmit her message of faith. Alongside this lies the Internet, in which information claiming to offer truth about religious matters circulates.
The abundance of pornographic material on the internet is also to be condemned: Hence a pastoral approach to the mass media is of prime importance . While the movement known as the New Age is not a cause of unbelief, by its nature it contributes to the growth of religious confusion .
This is probably one of the greatest challenges to the Catholic Church, particularly in Latin America. The most serious objections and criticisms made by these sects against the Church are that she fails to face up to reality, that she portrays an image of herself which is far distant from the reality, and that her proposition of the faith is not incisive and is incapable of transforming daily life. These sectarian communities developing in America and Africa attract the youth in large numbers and lead them away from the traditional Churches, but do not manage to satisfy in the long term their religious needs.
For many they are the exit-points from religion. Only exceptionally do they return. The problem is not that of secularisation, understood as the legitimate autonomy of the temporal realm, but of secularism, "a concept of the world according to which the latter is self-explanatory, without any need for recourse to God, who thus becomes superfluous and an encumbrance" Evangelii Nuntiandi , n. Many who call themselves Catholic, and similarly those who belong to other religions, give in to a lifestyle in which God, or religion, is of little importance.
The faith appears void of substance and no longer requiring personal engagement. There is incoherence between the faith-as-professed and the faith-as-lived. People no longer dare declare explicitly their belonging to a religion and the hierarchy is systematically criticised. Where there is little witness of Christian life, the abandonment of religious practice ensues. It is not simply a matter, as in times gone by, of a simple abandonment of sacramental practice, or of a scarce vitality in living out of the faith, but of something which strikes at its very roots.
The disciples of Christ live in the world and are often influenced and moulded by the surrounding culture which shows no need for God and no thought for God. In a context so uninvolved and unresponsive to the very idea of God, many believers, above all in the more secularised countries, are overcome by a hedonistic, consumerist and relativist mentality. The observant critic of our societies sees the lack of clear references in the minds of those who make public opinion and who reject all moral judgement when important aspects of society are thrown into the spotlight by the media, leaving such to the individual appreciation of every individual under the guise of a "tolerance" which simply puts convictions apart and anaesthetises consciences.
Moreover laxism in lifestyle and morality, and the attached pansexualism, have negative effects for the life of the faith. Premarital and extramarital cohabitation have become the norm in many traditionally Catholic countries, especially Europe, even among those who later marry in Church. The manner of living out human sexuality has become a purely personal question. For many believers, divorce does not cause problems for the conscience. Abortion and euthanasia, denounced by the Council as "abominable crimes" Gaudium et Spes , n. There is too a levelling out of the fundamental dogmas of the Christian faith: The doctrine of reincarnation is quite widely held by those who identify themselves as believers and who frequent Church, alleging that it is easier to believe in than the immortality of the soul after death and the resurrection of the body, as it offers a new life within the material world itself.
The standard of Christian life in some countries seems quite mediocre, which underlines a difficulty to explain their own faith. It is a difficulty caused not only by the influx of the secularised culture, but also by a certain fear of taking decisions on the basis of faith, the consequence of a weak Christian formation which has not empowered people to trust in the power of the Gospel and has not recognised the importance of a meeting with Christ through prayer and the sacraments. Hence a form of practical atheism is spreading even among those who consider themselves Christian.
Alongside the spread of religious indifference in the more secularised countries, a new aspect clearly emerges from the inquiry on unbelief. It is often identified as the return of the sacred for those who find difficulty in opening themselves to the infinite, to go beyond the immediate, and to set out on and follow an itinerary of faith . It is a romantic form of religion, a religion of the spirit and of the self which has its roots in the crisis of the subject who remains more and more narcissistic, and rejects all historical and objective elements.
Hence it is a strongly subjective religion, almost an exclusive reserve for the spirit, in which one can take refuge and contemplate matters in an aesthetic research, where the individual is under no obligation to give an account of his reasons or behaviour. The new religiosity is an adherence to a God that often has no face nor personal characteristics. Questioned about God, both declared believers and declared non-believers affirm that they believe in the existence of a force or superior transcendent being, but who has no personal attributes, much less those of a Father.
The fascination of oriental religions, transplanted into the West, resides in the depersonalisation of God. In scientific circles, the old atheistic materialism is giving way to the return of pantheism, where the universe itself is divine: Deus sive natura sive res. The Christian proposal is based, however, on the revelation of the God-in-three-persons, in the image of Whom each person is called to live in communion. Faith in the tri-personal God is the basis of the whole Christian faith and also of the constitution of an authentically human society.
Further awareness of the concept of person seems necessary in all fields: The constitutive element of the new religiosity is that it is centred on the self , on me. If the humanist atheism of the past was the religion of humanity, post-modern religiosity is the religion of the Self , based on personal success and the achievement of one's own goals.
Sociologists speak of a "Biographical Do-It-Yourself Religion" in which each person creates a new image of God at different stages of their lives, starting from divers material as though it were some form of "Holy Patchwork". This religion of "me" is a far cry from Christianity, the religion of "You" and of "Us", of relation which has its origins in the Trinity, in whom the divine Persons are substantial relations. The history of salvation is a process of loving dialogue between God and man, marked by successive covenants which feature this experience of relation as both personal and personalising.
One constant feature of Christian spirituality is the call to interiority and to put at the heart of life, the mysteries of the cross and resurrection of Christ, the supreme sign of a relation which goes to the extent of gift of self for the other. Another characteristic trait of this new religiosity is the lack of interest for the question of the truth. The teaching of John Paul II in his encyclicals Veritatis Splendor and Fides et Ratio , respected even by unbelieving intellectuals, does not seem to have been adequately received by the faithful even in the Catholic Universities, although there are exceptions.
At a time in which "weak thought" pensiero debole is dominant, strong convictions meet with rejection: Hence the very questions on the truth of Christianity and the existence of God are put aside and considered irrelevant and meaningless. The question of Pilate, in reply to the explicit declaration of Christ is still relevant: For many, truth has a negative connotation, associated with concepts such as "dogmatism", "intolerance", "imposition", and "inquisition", on the grounds of a few historical episodes in which the truth was exploited to impose choices of conscience, which had nothing to do with respect of the person and the search for the Truth.
In Christianity however, Truth is not merely a theoretically defined thought, an ethically valid judgement, or a scientific demonstration, but it is a Person whose name is Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of the Most Holy Virgin Mary. Tertullian observed that Christ said: Today to speak of the truth of the Gospel is a task that requires facing up to the fact that Truth appears in the poverty of the impotent, of He who for love accepted to die on the cross.
In this sense, truth and love are inseparable: In addition, there is a widespread belief that one should use the truth even against love or vice versa. But truth and love need each other. St Teresa Benedicta is a witness to this. At the same time, with her whole being she sought the truth […]. St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross says to us all: And do not accept anything as love which lacks truth! One without the other becomes a destructive lie" . So "only love is worthy of faith", love becomes the great sign of credibility of Christianity, because it is inseparable from the Truth.
This new religiosity springs from the contemporary secularised, anthropocentric and self-centred culture, and pretends to do without objective historical reference points. What is important is the capacity to find ways of feeling well.
Where is your God?
In the past, religious criticism was often orientated at representative institutions, and was based more on the lack of coherence and of living witness of its members. Today, the very existence of an objective mediation between the divine and the subject is denied. The return of the spiritual seems then to deny the transcendent, with the consequent uselessness of religious institutions, and the refusal of the historical dimension of revelation and of the personal character of the divinity.
Such denial is supported by some widespread publications and broadcasts which seek to destroy the historicity of biblical revelation, its main protagonists and its central events. The Church however is tied to history. In the Creed there is even the reminder of the figure of Pontius Pilate, who anchors the faith to a particular moment of history. Hence adherence to the concrete realities is fundamental for our faith and responds to the needs of many who desire to find accordance between the truth of Christianity and biblical revelation and historical data.
The Church is sacrament of Christ, it is the extension through history of the incarnation of the Word of God, years ago. Bossuet, l'aigle de Meaux said it in clear words: To complete this brisk description, as a response to the appearance of this nameless and faceless multiform religiosity, there appear some new forms of the religious panorama of the contemporary culture. The existence and vitality of these movements, answers the new spiritual search, witnesses for a strong and non-narcissistic religiosity, and above all is rooted in the personal and ecclesial encounter with Christ, in the sacraments of the faith, in prayer, in the liturgy, lived and celebrated as Mystagogy, in the participation in the mystery of the living God, spring of life for each person.
This responds to the need for spiritual and cultural identity in a world in prey to deep changes. Fundamentalism is the negative aspect of the new religiosity. This arises from the need to find common symbols and an ethic founded on democratic consent. The reawakening of values tied to nationality, the search for an ethical consent, through the creation of ad hoc committees, the symbolism of major sporting occasions such as the Olympic games and the Football World Cup now seem to show the need to rediscover transcendent values in the solid-shared basis of human society in a pluralist culture.
By integrating these phenomena in their positive and negative aspects, the Church's pastoral approach to culture seeks to respond to the challenges that the new religiosity presents to the announcement of the Good News of Christ. A challenge is not an obstacle. The challenges of today's cultures and of the new religiosity offer Christians the chance to deepen their faith and to seek ways of proclaiming the Good News of the love of Jesus Christ to reach those in the prey of unbelief and indifference.
The Church's mission is not that of impeding cultural transformation but ensuring that faith in Christ is transmitted at the heart of cultures undergoing profound change. Dialogue with non-believers and the pastoral approach to unbelief spring from the twofold mandate given to the Church to announce the Gospel to people and to cultures: This missionary task belongs to the whole Church without exceptions.
It can not be separated from the whole life of the Church, nor is it a specialised activity to be entrusted to a few experts. The mission is transversal and includes catechism and teaching, liturgy and ordinary pastoral activity in families and parishes, seminaries and universities. Every pastoral initiative in the face of unbelief and indifference springs from the life of the Church, a community life grounded in the Gospel.
Without the dynamism which springs from a lived-out faith, any pastoral proposal would remain void of apostolic value. Inviting us to make holiness the primary and indispensable part of every pastoral programme, the Holy Father reminds us of the importance of prayer, the Sunday Eucharist, the sacrament of reconciliation, the primacy of grace, listening to and proclaiming the Word .
In this presentation of concrete proposals, the dialogue with those who declare themselves explicitly non-believers is accompanied by the proclamation of the Gospel addressed to all, be they baptised, non-believers, misbelievers, the indifferent, etc. Rather than unbelief, we do well to remember we are addressing non-believers; each atheist and agnostic has his own story.
Hence the most appropriate pathway is the dialogue which is personal, patient, respectful, loving, sustained by prayer, and which has at its heart the proposition of the truth in appropriate ways, at the just time, and in the firm belief that the truth is only imposed on its own terms , and moved by the desire "that all come to know you, Father and he whom you have sent, that is Jesus Christ" Jn Friendly dialogue must be accompanied by intercessory prayer. It has members spread across 50 countries of the world.
Sure of the power of intercessory prayer, they commit themselves to pray each day for those who are distant from God. The following formula can serve as a model for other initiatives:. Dated and Signed . Monasteries, places of pilgrimage, sanctuaries and centres of spirituality carry out an important role by their prayer, by offering spiritual guidance and direction, by listening and paying personalised attention to all those who seek spiritual help.
A fertile terrain for dialogue with non-believers can be found in an anthropological approach centred on the fullness of the human person and without instrumental fragmentation. We can not succumb to the temptation to stand by as though impotent and watch the "calm apostasy". On the contrary, we are called to reengage on our apostolic initiatives in faithfulness to the mandate of Christ cf. Our mission is to meet this person, taking his hand if necessary, but without pretending to create an ideal according to our needs and desires, to then pretend to be the guides for a perfect humanity, i.
Such an error would mean that we reply to questions never asked, and find ourselves as safe and sure guides, but with nobody to lead. Suffering is an inevitable travelling companion for every person, shouldered in total syntony by the man of sorrows , and an anthropological meeting ground. Faced with sickness, suffering and death, pain provokes the loss of meaning and a kenosis , and makes space for the search for a word, a face, someone capable of offering a ray of light in the depths of darkness.
The Gospel mission asks us to make our faith be believed through strong spiritual experiences, and it pushes us to become, not intransigent crusaders, but humble witnesses, true signs of contradiction at the heart of the cultures on the earth, in rejoining our brothers without constraining them or wiping them out, but in accepting to "lower" ourselves for their benefit.
The anthropological category of interhumanity has a particular meaning for our mission. It evokes this globalised world where the person risks being reduced to an "anthropological slumber". It is with this person that we have been called to enter into dialogue, because, it is the person, who is in every culture, who is the way of the Church cf. Redemptor Hominis , n. The challenge is ever present, particularly when the sacraments of Christian initiation are requested from within the families of non-believers or the indifferent.
Indeed, through the meetings to prepare for the sacraments with those parents who do not believe or who are indifferent, sometimes it is possible to discern human and religious resources that are ever present, but often imprisoned. As believers, we cannot ignore this anthropological dimension: Meeting with these people gives us the chance to recognise that baptism represents something deeper, even beyond what the same parents might be prepared to admit.
In fact, if their children are not baptised, in a sense there will be a hole in the history of the family. So we find ourselves in a seemingly paradoxical pastoral situation that brings us into contact with non-believers and the indifferent, but always grafted onto strong ancestral religious roots: Hence, sincere and friendly human contact, prayer, a disposition marked by welcoming, listening, respecting, openness, courtesy, trust, friendship, politeness, graciousness, esteem and other such virtues are the basis on which it is possible to build in a personal rapport a pastoral approach in which each person feels respected and welcomed, for what he is, often without knowing it, a Being personally loved by God.
Constructive dialogue with non-believers, rooted in study and pertinent observation, can focus on some privileged themes:. In some circumstances dialogue with non-believers takes on a more formal aspect and acquires a public nature, with discussion and debate with organisations that are explicitly atheist.
While individual dialogue from person to person is the task of all the baptised, public dialogue with non-believers needs well-prepared agents. Hence the then Secretariat for Non-believers published the document Dialogue with Non-believers , containing useful suggestions. In France, the members of the service Incroyance et Foi often participate at debates, colloquia and round table meetings at cultural centres and educational institutes, be they Catholic or other. In Italy, the "Chair of Unbelief" run by the Archdiocese of Milan permits dialogue between belief and unbelief , in a sincere meeting of Catholics and others under the guide of the Archbishop .
In Lisbon, the Patriarch has engaged in specific dialogue with intellectual atheists through correspondence published in a major newspaper . Within the context of dialogue with non-believers Fundamental Theology, as a renewed form of apologetics, has the tasks of giving an account of faith 1 Pt 3: It has its place in the Ratio Studiorum of seminaries, Faculties of theology and centres of formation for the laity in as much as it "should show how, in the light of the knowledge conferred by faith, there emerge certain truths which reason, from its own independent enquiry, already perceives" Fides et Ratio , n.
The evangelisation of people does not exhaust the mandate entrusted by Christ to His Church. It is also necessary to evangelise the conscience of a people, its ethos , its culture cf. Evangelii Nuntiandi , n. If culture is that by which man becomes more man, the spiritual atmosphere within which he lives and carries out his activity, it is clear that the spiritual health of man hangs on the quality of the cultural air which he breathes. As unbelief is also a cultural phenomenon, the Church's response must wrestle with the cruxes of the culture of every society and every country.
The evangelisation of culture aims at letting the Gospel penetrate the actual situation of the lives of the people of a given society. More than at convincing, such evangelisation aims at preparing the ground and at enabling listening, a type of pre-evangelisation. If the basic problem is indifference, the necessary task is to attract attention, to stir up the interest of the people. Identifying the footholds or points of anchorage for the proclamation of the Gospel, the proposals here outlined offer various guidelines — nova et vetera — for a pastoral approach to culture which will help the Church to proclaim the faith in response to the challenge of unbelief and religious indifference at the dawn of the new millennium.
The visible presence and tangible action of the Church, universal sacrament of salvation, in a pluralist society is today more necessary than ever to put the people of the world in contact with the message of the Truth revealed in Jesus Christ. It is a widespread and diversified presence, in the great debates, social events, and meeting places capable of raising the attention, interest and curiosity of the indifferent world, so as to present the person of Christ and His message in a manner capable of holding the attention and provoking reception of the dominant culture:.
A public witness which involves the youth , such as the World Youth Days meets with and provokes surprise, marvel and attention up to the point of attracting the young people often devoid of reference points and religious motivation.