The cardinal virtues, courage, justice, temperance and prudence, can be practiced by anyone, regardless of religion. These four virtues outline civilized society and morality. Faith, hope and charity are considered theological virtues. This is because these virtues can only be practiced by those who believe in God. The theological virtues are directed at God and are gifts of God.
This week, we’re looking at faith. True theological faith can only be defined by your relationship with God, according to Thomas Aquinas. The modern usage of faith is much different than the theological definition. The secular meaning of faith does not do the virtue justice.
Understanding Faith Isn’t Easy
Faith is defined as “complete trust or confidence in someone or something.” C.S. Lewis suggests that Christians use the word in two different ways. In the first usage, faith is belief, but faith can be much more than simple belief. It’s what a Christian holds on to, regardless of changing circumstances, moods or emotions. Among Christians, faith is a debated topic. It can mean faithfulness and loyalty, rather than belief and trust.
Hebrews 11, referred to as the Faith Hall of Fame, lists numerous men and women who were commended for their faith. These people were credited with faith through their actions based on listening to what God said. The great men and women who had faith were obedient to God based on his word. This chapter provides the best theological definition for faith.
In verse 1, the author of Hebrews defines faith as “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” The chapter goes on to describe instances from the Bible in which faith was practiced. Noah built the ark and saved his family through faith. Abraham went to a place unknown to him because of faith. Jacob blessed his sons by faith. Moses’ parents hid him by faith, because they believed that he was a special child.
Moses gave up his place as Pharaoh’s daughter’s son to be a child of God. He instructed the Israelites to prepare for the first Passover by faith. He led the Israelites into the wilderness through faith. The walls of Jericho fell because of the faith of the people who marched around the walls for seven days. There’s no shortage of people who acted in faith found in the books of the Bible. Many never received the promised reward, but they never wavered and were commended for their faith.
In Luke 7, the story of the centurion is told. The centurion came to Jesus and asked Jesus to heal his servant. Jesus was willing to go to the centurion’s house, but the centurion believed that he was unworthy to have Jesus in his home. The centurion told Jesus to “say the word” that the servant would be healed. The centurion trusted that it would be done. Jesus says he has never found such “great faith.”
Today, people use the word faith quite loosely. You might have faith that the Red Sox will take the pennant this year or in your mom’s chocolate cake recipe. This may make the theological sense of the word less strong.
Theological faith is a divine revelation that is much deeper than your own understanding. Knowledge and reason are important to faith, but the virtue of faith is beyond natural reason. Many theologians believe that faith is difficult to understand on its own. It’s probably true that you could study faith for decades and still have more to learn.
Pope Benedict XVI said, “Faith, hope and charity go together. . . . Faith, which sees the love of God revealed in the pierced heart of Jesus on the Cross, gives rise to love.” In the next installment of this series, we’ll be looking at charity, which should help your understanding of faith.