Faith and Doubt

Moderator introduction: I’m please to introduce guest blogger Thomas Savoie. Like his name sake and and 20th great uncle Thomas Aquinas, he reminds us that reason and a searching intellect go hand in hand with us on our journey of faith.

 

The Nature of Faith and Doubt

Intellectual pain is an underrated cost of following Christ.   If I didn’t care about following Christ, I wouldn’t care so much about being honest, seeking truth, facing reality.   I would be more tempted to simply go with the flow, take the easy way, and maybe anesthetize my intellectual pain instead of persevering through it toward the truth.”                                                                                                                                                                                                    —Brian Mc Laren

Introduction

Among the more troubling aspects of my Catholic faith have been my misunderstandings and confusion concerning the nature of Faith and Doubt.  I believed that my doubts weakened my soul, displeased God, and hindered my quest for salvation.  Others around me didn’t seem to experience the number of doubts, disbelief and turmoil in their faith life that I did.  As a child I believed everything I thought Catholicism told me to believe.  How and why did my faith get so far off track?  I began to believe that my lack of faith put my soul in jeopardy.

About two years ago I resolved to carefully examine my beliefs on faith and doubt through a structured reading plan.  I’ve read much of the Catholic Catechism; Catholic Doctrine; Catholic Dogma; and the writings of theologians, early Church Fathers, and contemporary authors.  I learned that many of my assumptions about Faith and Doubt were just flat wrong.  My troubled attitude towards my faith began to lift.

This blog article is a humble attempt to summarize what I’ve taken away from my reading program.  I offer no assurances that the Church would agree with all my findings.  Nor do I recommend you accept my conclusions without doing your own “due diligence”.  If this blog article causes you to prayerfully reflect on your own Catholic beliefs, then publishing this article in Joe’s blog will have been worth my effort.

This article uses a Question and Answer format.  I wanted the article to be an easy but thought-provoking read.  I hope I’ve succeeded.   Your questions and comments are always appreciated.

Q  What conclusions did you find most surprising in your study of faith and doubt?

  1. First, both experts and lay people offer widely differing views concerning the nature of faith and doubt. Some theologians, clergy and religious authors appear to draw opposite conclusions concerning the nature of Faith and Doubt.  Catholic laity seems to largely rely on grade school religious education to support their adult beliefs.
  2. Second, some Christians, particularly Christian Fundamentalists, consider doubt to be the work of the devil and a hallmark of a troubled or weak faith. Some preach that doubt is something to be cast out if one wants to attain salvation.  Through my studies I now believe every man or woman has experienced doubt as a part of their faith journey.  Popes, saints, even Jesus Christ, struggled with doubt.  St. Teresa of Calcutta suffered spiritual torment and feelings of abandonment by God for nearly 50 years.   During Christ’s anguished night before His death He prayed “Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.” Later, He cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Surely we must consider doubt as a benign part of our faith.
  3. Third, doubt can often be a doorway to spiritual growth, but not always. Author Brian McLaren reminds us that all Christians are committed to lifelong spiritual growth. That means five years from now, your set of beliefs will likely be different from today’s set of beliefs. Hopefully your beliefs will be more judiciously considered, more mature, and more balanced. What causes us to examine a belief and test it?  Perhaps it’s that something inside us isn’t at rest about a particular belief … something in you doubts that belief.
  4. Lastly, many Christians (myself included) who professed a strong faith in God, could not list what they consider the most important or essential beliefs of their faith. This begs a question in my mind. Have I carefully considered which specific beliefs of my faith I am totally committed to believe, and those I disbelieve or doubt?

Q  Is faith an emotion?  Is it the same as belief?

Feelings are of no account.  Faith is not a feeling, but an act of will.  God reveals the truth of his love to us and empowers us to believe and trust.  Though love and faith can sometimes spring from the emotions, they are nourished and sustained in the will.  As one author put it “I am not moved by what I see. I am not moved by what I feel. I am moved only by what I believe.”

Faith is a gift of enlightenment given to us by God.  It’s not the same as belief.   Once enlightened, we then choose to believe truths and make them a part of our faith.

Q  Is doubt the “work of the devil”?

Fundamentalists have little tolerance for any doubt and a strict literal interpretation of the Bible. Some Fundamentalist and Evangelical Christian authors warn “Christians with doubts are on a sure path to wickedness because doubt is a device of the Devil.  Satan wants to rob us of our faith in the Word of God because it leads us straight into sin. Satan is the source of all doubt.”  Fundamentalist preach a literal translation of the bible.  “Interpreting the Bible is the bane of Fundamentalism and a primary cause of wicked doubts.”

On the other hand, a Second Vatican Council document on Divine Revelation points to the importance of considering history, culture, literary forms and the intentions of the sacred writers when interpreting Scripture.

Most mainstream Christian denominations acknowledge that doubt and imperfect faith are part and parcel of every person’s faith journey, saints included.  And it’s more than just possible, even probable, to have a weak faith and to achieve salvation.

Author Madeline L’engle wroteThose who believe they believe in God but without passion in the heart, without anguish of the mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, and even at times without despair, believe only in the idea of God, and not in God Himself.”

My conclusion is that doubts do not necessarily endanger your chance for salvation.  As St Augustine wrote, “Doubt is but another element of faith.”

When Thomas the Apostle required forensic proof of Jesus’s resurrection before he’d believe, Jesus showed immense patience and love toward his doubting Thomas.  I am greatly comforted by that, and firmly believe Jesus accepts our doubts with patient love.  I continue to pray that Jesus will gift me with a deeper faith that will reveal over time other beliefs critical to my faith life.

Q  Isn’t doubt a sign of a weak or flawed faith that could cause you the loss of heaven?

As I mentioned earlier, at one time I was plagued by this fear, and I brooded over my many doubts.  Interestingly, most of my serious doubts had little or nothing to do with Catholic dogma.  The majority of my doubts were focused on elements of Church doctrine, i.e. teachings, traditions, papal pronouncements, church rules, and seemingly endless explanations and embellishments of Jesus’ words and actions.

It may be useful at this point to review the differences between doctrine and dogma.   In general, doctrine is comprised of all Church teaching in matters of faith and morals. Dogma is more narrowly defined as that part of doctrine which has been divinely revealed and which the Church has formally defined and declared to be believed as revealed.  An example may illustrate the differences:  Some Catholics have lobbied Rome to elevate Mary’s status beyond Virgin Mother of Jesus.  Some wish Mary to be referred to as the Mother of Salvation, the Co-Redeemer, and the Mediatrix of all Graces.  These titles for Mary are considered by some in the Church to already be a part of Church doctrine.  But the changes haven’t been elevated to Church Dogma.  Supporters say they will not rest until they are successful in their efforts to raise Mary to Co-Redeemer with Jesus.

  1. What are the sources of Catholic Dogma and Catholic Doctrine?

As a result of my study of Faith and Doubt, I’ve tried to narrow what I consider the essential beliefs of Catholicism.  Interestingly, in my opinion, nearly all the essential beliefs are sourced from Church Dogma, the revealed word of God, rather than from Church Doctrine.

The full body of beliefs that define our faith would fill hundreds, if not thousands of volumes.  There is a huge array of sources that have become important for the practicing Catholic to heed.  Sources include Church Dogma and Church Doctrine, with Doctrine being the far more detailed set of the two.  Doctrine includes Church Teachings, Catholic rules, traditions, Pastoral Letters, papal Encyclicals, Papal Bulls, etc.  Conversely, Dogma is the set of beliefs that have been Divinely revealed.  In my opinion, Catholic Dogma comprises most, if not all Catholicism’s most essential core beliefs.

If Catholics simply claim full faith in everything contained in Doctrine and Dogma, without really knowing which specific truths they claim to believe, do they not feel the need for a rational basis for what they claim to believe.   I wonder how many Catholics shrug their shoulders, say that they believe everything a Catholic should believe, and then walk away comforted that they have near perfect faith.   I have come to find it preferable to focus my faith on Catholicism’s most essential core beliefs rather than simply claim that I believe everything the Catholic Church says and teaches.

Q  What specifically does the Church consider the essential elements of Catholic Dogma

The essentials of Church Dogma are, for the most part, clearly laid out for us in clear, concise, terminology.  These are elements of Catholicism that we either fully accept as true and believe, or that we make an explicit act of will to believe.  Further, beyond believing, remember that we are called to live in full accordance with those beliefs.

I’ve made a partial list of dogmatic sources that include essential statements of belief of the Catholic faith.  There are other sources of Dogmatic truths I have not included.  This is just my current list and is enough to fill my plate for the time being.

Some Essential Sources of Dogma:

  1. The New Testament
  2. The Lord’s Prayer
  3. The Nicene Creed
  4. The Apostles Creed
  5. Statement of Faith from the Rite of Catholic Baptism

Celebrant:    Do you reject Satan?

Parents & Godparents:  I do.

Celebrant:    And all his works?

Parents & Godparents:  I do.

Celebrant:    And all his empty promises?

Parents & Godparents:  I do.

Celebrant:    Do you believe in God the Father, almighty, creator of heaven and earth?                                                                   

Parents & Godparents:  I do.

Celebrant:    Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, died, and was buried, rose from the dead and is now seated at the right hand of the Father?               

Parents & Godparents:  I do.

Celebrant:   Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?

Parents & Godparents:  I do.

Celebrant:   This is our faith.  This is the faith of the Church.  We are proud to profess it, in Christ Jesus our Lord.                                                      All:  Amen

Summary

The New Testament is at the top of my list of sources of Catholic Dogma.  I suggest you reread the four gospels.  They are a treasure trove of dogmatic faith essentials.   As you may know, some New Testament texts are printed with Jesus’ words in a red font.  When you read those words, you are reading our Catholic Dogma.  There are no more essential truths than Jesus’ own words.

I fully embrace the Divinely Revealed Truths of Catholic Dogma as the bedrock of my Catholic faith.  I humbly acknowledge there are parts of Church Doctrine I doubt and that remain as yet unresolved in my heart.  I fully trust that Jesus will have gentle patience with me if I prayerfully remain open to discern other important faith elements that may be gifted to me by Him.

 

3 thoughts on “Faith and Doubt”

  1. Thank you for your beautiful, rich sharing, Tom. You offered a great list for guidance toward understanding our faith better. I would add Fulton J. Sheen’s The Mystical Body of Christ (1935), and a very quick, but excellent read is Devin Rose’s book, The Protestant’s Dilemma (2014).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. the knights templar in new portugal were manichean . they had the book of giants and some magian traditions rejected by the vatican. if you want to learn the earlier ways study about mani buddahism and the zoroatrian faith

      Like

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