Exploring True Belief





For a deeper appreciation of the “faith-mission” relationship, one necessarily must delve into the meaning and dimensions of the gift of faith. A simple, descriptive definition of faith can serve us: Faith includes our whole life in God, Father, Son and Spirit; it is our free, reasonable, and total response to a loving, Trinitarian God – and His personal revelation. Another brief description might be: Faith is a fundamental act or disposition by which human beings respond to God’s revelation and then enter into a saving relationship with a personal God.

Traditionally, faith was clarified with the terms: fides quae and fides qua. Fides quae (“faith which”) refers to the knowledge and acceptance of revealed truth as content, teaching, doctrine, or dogma. The Church has always had a concern for correct doctrine; this involves knowledge and an intellectual assent to propositions which describe the very content of what is believed. Fides qua (“faith by which”) refers to a personal, self-surrendering act of trust to a personal God who reveals His inner divine life and invites individuals into a personal relationship of communion and friendship. Belief in doctrinal teaching is integral and necessary for a complete understanding of faith; yet it is secondary and subordinate. The primary and essential element is one’s personal commitment to the God of love, revealed definitively in the person of Christ. The Youcat (Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church) defines faith using these two traditional categories: “Faith is knowledge and trust” (No. 21). 

A contemporary, integral understanding of faith certainly incorporates these two dimensions; however, emphasis is also to be placed on a third aspect of faith. One might term this third dimension the “missionary” or “witnessing” dimension of faith. Emerging from one’s personal friendship with God in Christ, as well as a genuine acceptance of revealed truths, one actively seeks to share one’s God-experience with others; one is impelled into mission, desiring to evangelize others. One’s faith-encounter leads to active witness and dynamic evangelization. Thus, faith demands entrusting oneself to God, knowledge and acceptance of basic Church teaching, and a dynamic commitment to spread the faith, to “tell the world of His love!” Indeed, where one or another of these three characteristics is lacking, faith must be judged to be immature or imperfect.


Schematic Expressions of Integral Faith. The three pivotal elements essential to a complete understanding of faith can be expressed using a variety of terms and images; although various expressions are employed, the same three dimensions of faith are always expressed. A schematic – and often alliterative – presentation will hopefully elucidate the profound meaning of holistic faith. And, at the same time, one will perceive why mission and evangelization are always integral to genuine faith. Blessed John Paul II’s assertion that “Mission is an issue of faith” (RM 11) is probably best understood within this triple perspective of faith. Faith always includes (see illustration above):


Various Approaches to Understanding Faith. The Jesuit Cardinal Avery Dulles wrote extensively on many areas within theology. Among his significant contributions, one finds his effective application of the use of “models” within theology. His first very successful work in 1974 was Models of the Church where he presented a popular, yet balanced and integrated theology of the Church. Dulles went on to apply models to other areas such as revelation and faith. His “models method” aims to be a simple and helpful approach to both grasp and express a multifaceted theological reality. A model functions by encompassing several elements in one heuristic structure; it progressively opens one to a deeper penetration of a complex and even mysterious reality – like faith itself.

In his varied writings on faith, Dulles has elucidated several models of faith. In The Assurance of Things Hoped For Dulles examined seven models of faith (propositional, transcendental, fiducial, affective, obediential, praxis, and personalist). In another essay in the book The Faith that Does Justice, edited by John Haughey, Dulles focused only on three pivotal dimensions of faith (these are used in this essay): intellectualist, fiducial, and performative approaches. These simple citations of some written sources reveal the rich depth of meaning to be found in exploring the multifaceted beauties of faith.

The intellectualist approach to faith focuses on faith as a kind of knowing; this approach has deep roots in the Church’s Patristic and Scholastic tradition. Dulles writes: “The value of faith, according to this outlook, is aptly summed up in Anselm’s famous formula, Credo ut intelligam. ‘For I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe – that unless I believed, I should not understand’.” Whatever one may say of possible limitations of this approach to faith, it certainly cannot be dismissed; time-tested, authenticated formulas of faith, especially those drawn from the early Councils of the Church, are of great importance for communication of the truths of the Christian faith. In recent decades, the Church has produced such source-books of faith as the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church and the 2004 Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. 

The fiducial approach highlights the personal relationship of the believer to God. Faith involves a personal trust in God as a credible witness. This dimension of faith is much in evidence in the Synoptic Gospels; various persons rely on the power and person of Jesus to heal, to forgive sins, to bestow salvation and life. For example, Jesus praised the Roman centurion who implored His help to cure his sick servant who was at the point of death (Lk. 7:1-10): “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found faith like this.” When the two blind men expressed deep trust in Jesus’ ability to heal them, Jesus replied: “Your faith deserves it, so let this be done for you” (Mt. 9:27-31).

Dulles himself noted the need to move to the performative dimension of faith. He noted: it is “necessary, I believe, to go beyond the fiducial concept of faith, just as the fiducial concept goes beyond the intellectualist. I turn, therefore, to the third major approach, which may be called performative.” Dulles believes that, in the Vatican II era of the Church, one finds “frequent insistence that the Gospel cannot be heralded by word alone, and that authentic evangelization must release energies tending to transform the world in which we live…. Faith is never a matter of disembodied words…. Faith must correspond to the actual historical situation…. Faith is not a merely passive virtue by which we accept and rely upon God’s promises; it is an active engagement in the service of the Kingdom.”

While Dulles noted his enthusiasm for the performative dimension of faith, he says: “I am not of the opinion that this theory of faith should be simply substituted for the earlier intellectualist and fiducial theories. Rather, I would say that the theories are mutually complementary and mutually corrective…. Faith, therefore, is more than intellectual assent, more than hope in what God will do without us; it is also a present participation in the work that God is doing – that is to say, in the task [mission] of bringing forth justice to nations.” 


Examples Illustrating Integral Faith. This description of faith, understood with its three-fold dimensions, might best be illustrated with some few concrete examples. What does it mean to say: “Jesus is Lord” (1 Cor. 12:3), in the power of the Holy Spirit? On the doctrinal level, one affirms that Jesus, in light of His death and resurrection, is Messiah and Savior, Son of God and Son of Mary; this is a confessional statement about the person of Jesus. On the affective and fiducial level, Christians commit their life to Jesus; they develop a relationship with Him as their personal Lord, praying to Him and worshipping Him. On the level of mission, believers enthusiastically proclaim the Lordship of Jesus to others, witnessing their faith through proclamation, deeds, and a convincing lifestyle. Notice that having faith in “Jesus as Lord” integrates all three aspects of integral faith.

Another concrete example of holistic faith would be the Blessed Virgin Mary. Both John Paul II and Benedict XVI continually invited the Church to imitate Mary’s faith-and-mission response to God. When Mary proclaims in faith her fiat, her “yes” to Gabriel’s message, she struggles to believe that the child she bears “will be holy and will be called Son of God” (Lk. 1:35). Yet, Mary responds with a personal act of faith: “Let what you have said be done to me” (Lk. 1:38); she accepts that God “has looked upon His lowly handmaid” and “the Almighty has done great things for me” (Lk. 1:48-49). Then Mary responds with a missionary action; she “set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country” (Lk. 1:39) to visit Elizabeth and to serve her needs for three months. Benedict XVI writes (2010) in Verbum Domini (VD): “Let us recall the words of Saint Elizabeth: “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord (Lk. 1:45). Mary is blessed because she has faith, because she believed” (VD 124). Indeed, Mary, woman of faith, “treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Lk. 2:19; cf. Lk. 2:51).

One might point to the lives of several contemporary saints where the three-fold dimensions of faith are clearly found. Saint Damien de Veuster, popularly known as “Damien the Leper,” lived in a climate in Belgium where the teachings of the Church were clearly emphasized. Yet, his faith – and ultimately his missionary commitment – grew to maturity through his family and religious community where traditional pious practices were the routine of the day. His faith blossomed when he was sent to mission in Hawaii, where he served for twenty-five years, the last sixteen of which were with the lepers on Molokai (1873-1889). One can only marvel at the intense “performative” faith of Saint Damien!

On a personal note, it is the belief and experience of this author that most vocations to the priesthood, religious life, and missionary service arise in families where there is strong devotion joined to the daily living of the faith. Frequently enough, in ordinary Catholic families, the intellectual dimension of faith is present in the background. The faith that encourages committed Christian service, including missionary witness, springs primarily from fiducial faith coupled with genuine performative faith.


Renewing Faith for Mission. Popular opinion may possibly judge that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI would heavily favor the intellectualist approach to faith. Undoubtedly, he certainly values the importance of Church teaching and dogma. However, he has also expressed himself eloquently on the “performative” dimension of faith. Benedict XVI writes in Spe Salvi that Christianity is “not only ‘good news’ – the communication of a hitherto unknown content. In our language, we would say: the Christian message was not only ‘informative’ but ‘performative.’ That means: the Gospel is not merely a communication of things that can be known – it is one that makes things happen and is life-changing” (SS 2). Again, Benedict XVI has written: “We have raised the question: can our encounter with the God, who in Christ has shown us His face and opened His heart, be for us, too, not just ‘informative’ but ‘performative’ – that is to say, can it change our lives, so that we know we are redeemed through the hope that it expresses?” (SS 4).

Some years ago, the Asian bishops made this observation when they were speaking about various motives for evangelization. They wrote: “Unfortunately for many Catholics, faith is only something to be received and celebrated. They do not feel that it is something to be shared. The missionary nature of the gift of faith must be inculcated in all Christians. All must be helped to realize that God has called us to be Christians not only so we may be saved, but that we may collaborate in the work of the world’s salvation, and invite those whom God draws to the Church to share in our faith.” This statement is a clear invitation by the Asian bishops to emphasize the performative dimension of faith; only in this way will the Church – both in Asia and throughout the world – become “missionary by her very nature” as Vatican II has asserted (Ad Gentes 2).


Joyful Evangelization. Truly, the missionary task of evangelization in the contemporary world is genuinely complex and awesomely challenging, demanding committed faith. Indeed, no individual can hope to accomplish any more than a small fragment of the total task. Thus, it is imperative that all segments of the Church collaborate in this daunting endeavor, believing that, as John Paul II affirmed, “God is preparing a great springtime for Christianity…. Christian hope sustains us in committing ourselves fully to the new evangelization and to worldwide mission” (RM 86).

In 1975, Paul VI issued two interrelated apostolic exhortations: Evangelii Nuntiandi: EN (Evangelization in the Modern World) and Gaudete in Domino: GD (On Christian Joy). The Pope constantly asserted that if the Gospel is not heard from “joyful evangelizers,” it will not be heard at all by contemporary humanity. The lack of joy and hope is an obstacle to effective evangelization. Paul VI believed that joy would enable the world of our time “to receive the Good News not from evangelizers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervor, who have first received the joy of Christ, and who are willing to risk their lives so that the Kingdom may be proclaimed and the Church established in the midst of the world” (EN 80). 

The success of missionary evangelization requires renewed evangelizers, men and women filled with faith and joy. This affirmation is well expressed in the title of the final message of the Tenth Plenary Assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) held in Vietnam (December 10-16, 2012): “Renewed Evangelizers for New Evangelization in Asia.” Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once wrote: “Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.” Joy is convincing; joy evangelizes. All the complex dimensions of the “new evangelization” will not overwhelm those whose lives have been transformed by a joyful encounter with the Risen Lord. Everyone must listen frequently to the admonition of Saint Paul: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near” (Gal. 4:4). Be transformed by joy. Become a herald of the new evangelization! Surrender in faith to the Lord for He is: Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring! 


Common Abbreviations: AG (Ad Gentes), Missionary Activity (Vatican II). DCE Deus Caritas Est, God Is Love (Benedict XVI). EN Evangelii Nuntiandi, Evangelization Today (Paul VI). GD Gaudete in Domino, On Christian Joy (Paul VI). PF Porta Fidei, Door of Faith (Benedict XVI). RM Redemptoris Missio, Mission of the Redeemer (John Paul II). SS Spe Salvi, Christian Hope (Benedict XVI); VD Verbum Domini, Word of the Lord (Benedict XVI). 


James H. Kroeger, M.M., who holds a doctorate from the Gregorian University in Rome, teaches mission theology at Loyola School of Theology, East Asian Pastoral Institute, and Mother of Life Catechetical Institute in Manila, Philippines.

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