Meditations for Layfolks - Pride in Faith

It is the perpetual platitude of the pious that reason puffs up and faith humbles us; and presumably there is something to be said for this. Reason is quite likely to produce in certain minds a perfectly conceited and foolish attitude, as though we were capable of understanding all things. Just because we find that there are certain things that we can understand, we may possibly take it on us to assert that we are only going to accept what we can prove. It is possible that we may take up this dogmatic position, and on the basis of this pure, unprovable prejudice proceed to refuse acceptance of divine revelation. Fortunately man is unable to remain for long obsessed by any such foolishness, but such an attitude is really common in the early stages of human development in the natural sciences. It was the snobbish attitude of the mentally nouveaux riches, the people who had just come into a fortune and pretended to despise others whose wealth was less showy, though much more valuable. But the terrible thing is that reason quite soon finds out, not its wonderful power, but its utter hopelessness when up against the problems of life. It discovers, not how much but how little it knows of the ways of God and man. It is oppressed by its limitations. It finds that the influence of the body upon it is considerable; this delicate instrument, whereby reason had hoped to discover the whole meaning of life, is at the mercy of all the elements. The slightest ache or pain robs reason of its keenness; weariness makes its movements impossible or fantastic; a serious bodily derangement can reduce it to absolute incapacity. Instead of reason being the plummet by which the depth of the universe is to be sounded, reason is discovered to be so faulty as to render any of its soundings suspiciously incorrect.

On the other hand, the whole effect of faith is the exact opposite. So eager are we made by the wonders about God which revelation brings to us, that we are reduced to disregarding the limits of our creaturehood. There is nothing sacred from our touch: the very sanctuary of God is invaded, and we speculate almost irreverently on the doings of God in His heaven. Open any book of theology and you will be amazed at the hardiness of the theologians who seem to dogmatize about all sorts of things of which they are almost quite ignorant. There is nothing that they are not willing to tackle and decide. Every possible point will be settled without any admission or any confession that all the while they are depending upon very slight grounds of argument. All this is not to destroy our confidence in the writings of theologians, but merely to say that the temper of reason and faith is really the very opposite of the popular conception. The effect of reason on anyone who is really intelligent is, by itself, to make one conscious of the little knowledge that the human race has amassed; it is to reduce us to a state of hopelessness: whereas faith is so illuminating that the chief danger is lest we ignore the vast difficulties that there are to be found in life. Place the believer and unbeliever side by side and ask which is the more conscious of the limitations of human endeavour. Ordinarily it is the agnostic who sees the real problems of life: It is not that they are not apparent to us, but faith is so inspiriting that we forget all about them. It is the Christian who is the optimist, the agnostic who is the pessimist.

For faith, then, the very infirmities of nature weakness, sleep, weariness, etc. that make reason so aghast, make faith, curiously enough, more active. Every obstacle to faith becomes its defence, and every enemy a new recruit. The physical sciences have given to Catholics a much more splendid vision of faith and God than they had before, enabling them to see the wonders of God in greater profusion. Every advance of the enemy only serves to show how intimate and how natural is the supernatural. An older generation startled us by telling us that all other religions contained in fragments what the Catholic Church held in a complete form, but we found on examination that this was one more reason for acknowledging the truth of revelation. If the Christian faith were really divine, then surely man must feel deeply the needs that it comes to supply, and, in consequence, will feebly and brokenly grope his way towards them. Because I can find every single doctrine of the Church taught by some religion or other, and because I can find them gathered together nowhere else than in her, then surely I am convinced that she has obtained, by the swift light of God, what they painfully and falteringly have partly discovered. Surely, then, this should give me a greater realization of the importance of my soul. It is, indeed, depressing to find that my reason is so at the mercy of the world, yet is it reassuring to find the world in turn at the mercy of my faith. Even the sorrows of existence, the triumph of evil, the apparent impunity that is guaranteed to crime, the early deaths of those that most promise good, find in faith an easy acceptance. We strive for their amelioration, but we are not troubled by their evidence. The despair with which my reason confronts the whole of life is turned into a rapture of entire sympathy with the power, wisdom, and love of God.

- text taken from Meditations for Layfolk by Father Bede Jarrett, O.P.