Dear Donagh, I was left rather baffled by your answer to last month's questioner; or rather, by the verse you quoted from the Gospel, where Jesus praised the faith of a pagan. You asked a question yourself but didn’t answer it: "What does faith mean if Jesus can praise the faith of a pagan?" Could you comment on this, please? James H.

    Dear James, thanks for your letter. Clearly, in the context described in the gospel, faith cannot have meant an intellectual formulation. That Roman pagan did not have a theology; what he had was great trust in Jesus' ability and willingness to heal his servant (Luke 7:6-9). This shows that trust is the primary ingredient in faith. A faith (or even a theology or a philosophy) that made verbal formulation its primary concern would be about nothing. The rational mind is good at analysis, which is a secondary thing - because it requires that there be something to analyse. A faith that was constructed only on intellectual positions would not be faith at all. The great tragedy is that it has often been presented (even to children) as if it were just that.
    "Faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love" wrote St Paul (1 Corinthians 13:13). They are a kind of trinity; they are three and also one. Faith and hope will pass away in eternity - there will be no need for them. They will not pass away into nothing; they will pass into love. If so, they must be one with it already in essence. We may speak about them as if they were different, because we can say only one thing at a time; but when we speak about one of them we are really speaking about all three.
    Catholic theology has tended to speak of trust (fiducia) under the heading of hope. Martin Luther in the 16th century insisted that it was the essence of faith. And so there followed another tragic chapter of misunderstanding among Christians. It doesn’t seem to me to matter much how you file it or how you describe it - so long as you have it. But this much is clear from experience: if we think there can be faith without trust (hope), we will present to the world a barren logic in place of the word of God. A great deal of Catholic preaching is descended from that dismal vision. It's not surprising that it doesn’t engage the interest of many people. Jesus did not come to give us a few religious axioms for safe keeping in our minds; he came to save "the weak, the sick, the wounded, the strayed, the lost" (see Ezechiel 34). For this he required in people an attitude of faith. We are to understand this primarily as trust. Of course this later becomes elaborated into theologies, but they have to be such that they do not distort its meaning.
    Let me know if this throws any light on the subject for you.

Donagh O'Shea

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