Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Anthropological Structure of Faith

Below is my first esay submitted for my Fundamental Theology class....

“On the Anthropological Structure of Faith”

In The Nature and Mission of Theology, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger defines theology as “faith seeking understanding”, implying that theology necessarily entails faith.[1] But, does faith also entail theology? Despite the objections of Heidegger and Jaspers, who claim that because theology is connected with philosophy, and that faith has already answered all the questions, faith excludes philosophy, Ratzinger answers yes. Moreover, he claims that the anthropological structure of faith necessitates his assertion.[2]

Faith is one of the capacities of man which set him apart from the rest of creation. Because man (homo sapiens) can grow in wisdom, knowledge, and understanding, he can also be convinced that something is a truth or a falsity. He can believe. Generally, when we speak of knowing something, we mean we are certain of its truth. We have assented to it. In many cases, this certainty is gained through a convincing experience, or set thereof, or by some scientific demonstration, which presents enough evidence to compel us into assent. However, faith must always be a free response of the will, not a forced reaction to evidence. Therefore, the assent of the believer occurs differently in the structure of faith, than assent to other forms of knowledge.

A Concise Dictionary of Theology refers to three different types of assent, taking its distinctions from John Henry Cardinal Newman. Many of today’s Christians “believe” with notional assent, meaning they accept the abstract ideas of the Truth, but without fully being touched and changed by it, or, put more practically, without living according to the Truth. However, the belief of true faith requires “full assent to truth, especially concrete rather than abstract truths”.[3] This real assent is the assent of faith which the early Christians claimed when they stated “I believe.”

When the Church fathers composed their statement of faith, they used the Latin word credo, “I believe.” Etymologically credo comes from the Latin words cor (heart) and do (to give).[4] Therefore, when they stated their belief in Jesus as Christ, they were giving their heart to him. Moreover, biblically, the word for heart corresponds with what St. Thomas Aquinas refers to as the will.[5] In other words, the ancient Christians testified that in believing in Jesus, they were giving their hearts, their wills, indeed their entire selves, to him, God enfleshed. But from what does this assent of faith come? To what exactly are we assenting?

Contrary to scientific knowledge or other types of certainty, the assent of faith comes from a personal encounter with God. He reveals himself to us, and we respond with the assent of faith. “Through being touched in this way, the will knows that even what is still not ‘clear’ to reason is true” and it assents to faith in God. “When the heart comes into contact with God’s Logos, with the Word who became man, this inmost point of his existence is being touched.”[6] Or, put another way, “just as a person becomes certain of another’s love without being able to subject it to methods of scientific experiment, so in the contact between God and man there is a certainty of a quite different kind from the certainty of objectivizing thought.” [7]

Therefore, in opposition to Heidegger and Jaspers, Cardinal Ratzinger rightly explains, “in the act of believing the assent comes about …by an act of the will, in connection with which the thought process remains open and still under way.”[8] In other words, although the heart has assented to give itself fully to the truth, because the assent has not come by means of reason, the thought process, the search for understanding, must strive to catch up with the assent of the heart and is therefore open, and, furthermore, spurred on, to search for deeper understanding. Within this search, what Thomas calls a contrary motion (motus de contrario), arises, which can either mislead the search for understanding and distract from the assent or can further “be the challenge summoning forth a deeper knowledge.”[9]

Reviewing the good Cardinal’s thoughts and reflecting on our own experiences of faith, we can see the uniquely human structure of faith, which requires those human capacities which indicate to us that we are indeed made in God’s image: willing, loving, and knowing. God has spoken his Word into our hearts. In response, we, being unable to deny the depth of his love, assent in our heart, our will, to faith in him. But, because our assent has been given by our heart and not based upon reason, our thought is ever striving to catch up to our assent of faith. In this striving to understand what the heart knows, thought must overcome this motus de contrario. In order not to get lost in our search, we must always refer back to the light of faith and Word of Truth, lest our seeking of understanding become errant. For, any movement which is contrary to the Eternal Word of Truth, which therefore will inevitably be of worldly thought, will, whenever viewed in perspective of the Eternal Word, be “motion in reverse after all.”[10] Therefore, wherever there is the assent of faith, and thus the contrary movement, there must also be theology so that we may overcome the motus de contrario and grow in knowledge and wisdom in support of our faith. Consequently, the assent of faith, which jumps ahead of thought inexorably “challenges thought and sets it in a restless motion that produces results,” that produces theology.[11]


Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal. “Faith and Theology.” In Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith. San Francisco: Ignatius, 2005.

____________________. The Nature and Mission of Theology. San Francisco: Ignatius, 1995.

Guengerich, Galen. 2003. “Living by Choice.” New York, NY: All Souls NYC. On-line. Available from the Internet, , accessed 19 September, 2006.

O’Collins, S.J., Gerald and Farrugia, S.J., Edward G. A Concise Dictionary of Theology, rev. and expanded ed. Macwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2000.

[1] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Nature and Mission of Theology (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1995), 16.
[2] Id., “Faith and Theology,” Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2005).
[3] Gerald O’Collins, S.J. and Edward G. Farrugia, S.J., A Concise Dictionary of Theology, rev. and expanded ed., (Macwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2000): 20.
[4] Galen Guengerich, Galen. “Living by Choice” [sermon on-line] (New York, NY: All Souls NYC, 2003, accessed 19 September 2006,); available from http:// ggsermons/living-by-choice.html; Internet.
[5] Ratzinger, “Faith and Theology,” 23.
[6] Ibid., 24.
[7] Ibid., 19.
[8] Ibid., 22.
[9] Ibid., 28.
[10] Ibid., 26.
[11] Ibid., 27.

1 comment:

SaintInTraining said...

Hey Josh,

Thanks for the comment on my blog. I find myself in agreement with you. I need to explain that post a little bit better with regards to mortification and penance.

Anyway, Lienhard's book is really good. It's an easy read and filled with information. I only read the chapters that dealt with the formation of the canon, because that was the focus of my class, but I'm sure the chapters on the Church's authority are just as interesting.

Good essay! I have a paper I just wrote for my Fundamental Theology class as well. I might post it on my blog even though is not related.

God bless and good luck with upcoming finals or papers!