Pope Francis gives the homily during Mass at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Rome earlier this year. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
“To believe is immediately an act of the intellect, because the object of that act is the true,
which pertains properly to the intellect. Consequently, faith, which is
the proper principle of that act, must needs reside in the intellect.”
St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, II-II, 4, 2.
‘we can recite the Creed, theoretically, even without the faith.’ He
(Pope Francis) said, ‘and there are many people who do so! Even the
demons.’” Pope Francis, Homily, Santa Marta, February 21, 2014.
Francis’ “style” is more familiar to us. Every morning, he diligently
gives a sermon that reflects on the daily readings, but can touch on
just about anything that comes to his mind. Obviously, these morning
reflections are prepared, but are not written so that they might someday
appear in a “collection” of papal sermons. But some gathering of these
lively sermons will certainly be made available. What we have in L’Osservatore Romano
is a summary, with many direct quotations, of what the Pope has said
that morning. Not a few of these somewhat off-handed papal comments,
like his reference to Robert Hugh Benson’s novel, The Lord of the World, make morning headlines throughout the world.
Mass readings were from the Epistle of James, the letter that Martin
Luther did not at all like. Though many of these things have long been
hashed out in Catholic-Lutheran dialogues, the initial impression was
that Luther did not like James because of the latter’s insistence that
faith had also to result in works. In this sense, it seemed that sola fide,
faith alone, was not enough. With proper distinctions, both Catholics
and Lutherans hold that both are necessary. Our faith should result in
some positive action in the world, But if we have no faith, our deeds
will appear to mean that we can gain heaven by just working for it on
our own with no need for grace to attain our highest purpose.
Francis tells us that St. James wants to explain what the faith is. In
the Pope’s words, “Faith that does not bear fruit in works is not
faith.” The question, of course, becomes: “What is a ‘work’?” The Pope
is annoyed by people who say they believe the Creed or have great
“faith,” but in fact “lead a lukewarm, weak” life. Such a passage
continues what seems to be a characteristic theme of Francis, namely,
that the problems of the world are centered, not so much on unbelievers,
but on the quality of faith of believers themselves manifest.
St. James speaks of faith, Pope Bergoglio continues, “He speaks
precisely about doctrine, about the content of the faith.” If we do know
all the doctrines and their intricacies of belief, but this belief
leaves us inert, what good is it? He adds that “even demons” can recite
the Creed, a most interesting thought. What follows is the Pope’s
reflection on the knowledge and faith of demons. The demons know the
truth of the faith. As someone remarked, the one thing Lucifer is
certain about is that he is not God.
This certainty is why, if
Lucifer too, or any fallen angel, is to be “active,” he has to act in
such a way as to thwart God’s plan for us. The demons know they cannot
replace God. The Devil cannot do anything about God and knows it. The
Pope puts it in this rather amusing way:
demons know very well what the Creed says, and they know it is the
truth. The Apostle says that “they tremble,” because they know it is the
truth” even though they do not have faith. The demons know the whole of
theology, they have Denziger memorized, but they do not have faith.
Having faith is not a matter of having knowledge; having faith means
receiving God’s message brought to us by Jesus Christ, living it out and
carrying it forward.
The “Denziger” in the previous passage refers to the Enchiridion Symbolorum,
a compendium that contains in an orderly manner the exact statement of
all the things that the Church has defined to be held with their degree
of certainty. It is of some interest to reflect that while demons know
the elements of faith, the modern mind proposes itself to be a creator
so that nothing is to be known in nature or revelation. The demons know
everything; modernity knows nothing but itself.
assuming that St. James and the Pope are talking about fallen angels, do
not have “faith” because they “know.” They have made their final choice
and can only seek to interfere with our destinies. Faith is a virtue of
the intellect, as St. Thomas saysthat is, it explains the
intelligibility of revelation once we accept it. The difference between
what we know by faith and what we know by reason is not concerned with
whether one is true and the other is false. Both are, or can be, true;
just as there can be a false faith or erroneous reason In the case of a
truth we know by reason; we rely on evidence and argument from first
principles. In the case of a truth of faith, we rely on the credibility
of the witnesses like St James and the Pope who attest to the truth of
The notion that faith and reason are opposed as
“myth” to truth completely misses the point of their relation. Both
contain truths. In our daily lives, most of what we rely onthat the
food we eat or the automobile we drive are safeis the result of faith
in someone else’s testimony. The testimony that grounds the truths of
faith descends from Christ to the Apostles, and to the Church. Its
integrity is that it does not claim for itself to be anything but a
witness to hand on what the Church has received from Christ who was the
Word, the Son of God. With truths or doctrines now in existence as known
by faith, we think further about then; compare them with what we else
know. We see that the intelligibility of faith is addressed to the
intelligibility of reason.
Two contrasting realities confront us,
Pope Francis concludes, “There are those who have doctrine and know
things”, and there are those who “have faith”. Between them stands a
certainty. Faith always leads to witness. “Faith is an encounter with
Jesus Christ, with God...Faith that does not really involve you and that
does not lead you to bear witness, is not faith. It is words and
nothing more than words.” But we do not forget that Christ was revealed
to us as Logos, as the Word made flesh. The virtue of faith is
in the intellect, where the truths that we use to understand this
revelation are needed to deal with “those who have doctrine and know
things,” but who lack faith.
On the following day, in his sermon,
the Pope cited a passage from Pope Paul VI which was “particularly dear
to me.” Paul VI said: “It is absurd to love Christ without the Church,
to listen to Christ but not to the Church, to follow Christ on the
margins of the Church.” It is interesting that survey after survey of
Catholics and Christians today say precisely this that Christ is loved
outside the Church and that real faith is on the margins” (See S.
Weddell, Forming Intentional Disciples).
It is worthwhile
to take a look at demons who can recite the Creed and have memorized
Denziger when we have no clue about the coherence of the faith. And it
is always good to encounter the Apostle James, who tells us that the
faith was given to us to change our lives and do something about what
needs to be done. The conclusion I would draw from these papal comments
at an early morning Mass in February is not that we need not
know the truth of the Creed, but that knowing it through belief in the
Person of Christ, faith and reason begin to cohere for us.