I believed that in two articles I would be able to summarize the doctrine of the Church on the virtues and gifts of the Holy Spirit; but as I was introduced to the subject, I saw that it was necessary to extend something further because of the urgent need to have a doctrine at hand that was summarized and at the same time solid and well structured.
What is virtue? Virtue is the habit or permanent quality of the soul that inclines the person to do good and avoid evil. Example: A person who always tells the truth is said to be sincere or to have the virtue of truthfulness.
There are two kinds of virtues: natural and supernatural
Natural virtues: These are those that we acquire by our own effort through the repetition of good acts. We grow in a concrete virtue as we continue repeating that same type of acts that potentiate a concrete virtue.
Supernatural Virtues: These are those that God instills in our souls without having to make an effort on our part. We grow in a supernatural virtue only by God’s action; an increase that God grants in proportion to the moral goodness of our actions. That is to say, all that increases sanctifying grace also increases infused or supernatural virtues. We classify supernatural virtues into theological and cardinal or moral virtues.
To have human faith means to believe in a person or in what that person tells us based on the person’s authority.
Example: I have never seen Saturn, but many scientists have seen it and assure me that it exists. Human faith can be wrong, in that it is based on man, and man can be wrong.
Saint Thomas defines this human faith in the following way:
“Faith is to retain certain intellectual affirmations for sure, under the influence and adhesion of the will.”
Thus faith, in its broadest sense, is a knowledge, an acquisition of truths based on the testimony of another person; it therefore has an aspect of adhesion to another person. These are truths that are not objectively shown to the mind of the receiver, but in which security is deposited because there is a witness who guarantees them and a trust in him.
There are different ways of taking a stand against truth: nescience (lack of knowledge not due), ignorance, error, doubt, opinion and certainty. This certainty is given in science and also – in a different way – in faith.
The certainty or full adherence of the mind to the truth is based either on the evidence of the object or on the authority of a testimony. In the first case the understanding is moved by its own object which is truth (it is the proper knowledge of the human and experimental sciences) and certainty is based on intuition or logical or rational deduction. In the second case the obvious is not the object, but its credibility, and certainty is arrived at because understanding is moved by will so that having no objective evidence there can nevertheless be certainty.
For certainty it is not absolutely necessary that the foundation of the mind’s adherence to the truth be the intrinsic evidence of it. Thus it happens in faith, assent to a truth that is not evident to reason. “We believe, says St. Thomas Aquinas, not by the faculty of knowledge but by will. It should be noted that faith founded on human witness, even if it does not give evidence of the object, is not mere opinion, because it gives not only probability, but moral certainty of what is believed.
Definition and object of divine faith: Supernatural or divine faith means accepting the truths revealed by God on the basis of his authority. Faith, as a supernatural virtue, can never be wrong because it is based on the goodness and omniscience of God.
We also say that authentic divine faith must be complete or total, inasmuch as it is an acceptance of all the truths revealed by God. God proposes to us a series of truths to believe; truths that by coming from Him are free from error. Man has to “accept” all those truths that God proposes to him. We are not the ones to decide what we can believe or reject.
Thus, properly speaking we define supernatural faith as the virtue by which we firmly believe all the truths that God has revealed to us and the Church teaches us.
Man can prepare himself to receive the supernatural gift of faith through “perseverance in doing good” (Rom 2:6-7), but by himself, despite all the good works he did, he could never attain to what faith carries with it if it were not given to him by God.
Vatican Council I defined it as follows:
“Faith is a supernatural virtue by which, with the inspiration and help of God’s grace, we believe that what has been revealed by him is true; not by the intrinsic truth of things perceived by the natural light of reason, but by the authority of the revealing God himself, who cannot deceive or deceive us.”
In this definition the various aspects of faith are evident:
It is a supernatural virtue: it is beyond man’s possibilities because it is the fruit of divine generosity which makes him participate in the very knowledge of God. It is, therefore, a grace; but it requires human collaboration.
What God has revealed is considered true: it is a mode of intellectual apprehension of the truth. It is an act of the intelligence, although all human powers also intervene. When God reveals, that obedience of faith by which man gives himself all to God must be given to him, surrendering to the God who reveals the full observance of his understanding and will and voluntarily nodding to the Revelation he has made.
It is believed not because of the intrinsic evidence of the objects, but because of the authority of God.
The material object of faith is God in His nature and in His redemptive work. The object of faith is everything revealed by God and proposed by the Church, more specifically the supernatural mysteries of divine life expressed in the dogmas of faith.
The formal object, that is, the reason for believing, is God himself, concretely his infinite Truthfulness, which cannot “deceive or deceive” us. The natural reasons that lead to faith are the “preambles of faith”, but their formal cause is only divine truthfulness.
The act of faith
By act of faith is meant the culmination of an interior process commonly called conversion, when viewed from the perspective of man, and justification, when viewed from the perspective of God. This path must be followed by all men, both those who received the baptism of children and their childhood developed in the bosom of a Christian family, as well as those who did not know Christianity and were not baptized until adulthood.
It can be said that every human being needs a first conversion that takes him out of the state of sin and disposes him to be introduced into the state of grace. In this state of grace, the Christian will have to carry out successive and new conversions, which will be based on that first conversion which constitutes the starting point of that process whose end is holiness.
Various factors intervene in the genesis of the act of faith: on the part of man, the understanding and the will and the whole human person; and on the part of God, the revelation, grace and love of God.
This act of faith could be divided into the following sections or moments:
Credibility Judgment: it is reasonable to believe; I can believe. For this moment, the intervention of supernatural grace is not necessary. It is the verification of the existence of God, which can be done with the light of reason; and the verification of the historical fact of revelation, which can also be done rationally with the various motives, signs or criteria of credibility. From this philosophical and historical analysis, it can be deduced that there are sufficient proofs, or reasons, for believing not to be an irrational blind act. The logical conclusion, not always easy, is that God exists and has manifested himself to men, so I can believe. It is the theme of the preambles of faith, for which the help of grace is not necessary, although in fact morally present graces are required most of the time.
Judgment of credence: one must believe; one must believe. In the judgment of credentity, one gives way to the consideration that to God we owe love, surrender, and obedience. This is an affirmation of a natural ethical order, independent of divine revelation. To what extent the help of divine supernatural graces is necessary here is a question discussed by theologians.
Decision or mandate of the will: I want to believe
Assent of the intellect: I believe. The last two moments (decision to believe and assent of the intelligence to the revealed truth) are already fully realized with the cooperation and influence of supernatural grace, without which man cannot in any way incorporate his understanding and will, his person, into the divine truth and love that revelation offers him.
This analysis or decomposition of the act of faith does not mean that chronologically the four moments occur like this, nor that they are all warned and distinguished in a reflex way: We must not forget that we are trying to analyze what in reality forms a vital process. With this warning it can be said that this analysis of the act of faith sufficiently explains the process and gives an account of the various elements (reason, freedom and grace) that intervene in it.