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Lumen Fidei and Taking the Right Stand

If you do not take a stand, you will not understand. Understanding requires standing. These are the culminating themes of the account of the concept of faith in Joseph Ratzinger’s 1968 Introduction to Christianity, in which faith is named as “taking up a position” and “to take one’s stand on something.” Ratzinger is trying to identify faith with a certain type of stance toward reality, rather than with any formulae, claiming that faith is the prerequisite of all real human understanding. Without faith, he suggests, all understanding eventually is reduced to “making” – that is, not to standing somewhere, but to remaking the world in one’s own image. (By “faith” here, I hasten to add that Ratzinger is speaking more broadly that about “the Faith” – he’s showing that understanding is really only possible if there is acknowledgment of meaning in the world that is PRIOR TO my own definitions, and to acknowledge such meaning is to trust, have faith.

Chapter 2 of Lumen Fidei quotes Isaiah 7:9, “Unless you believe, you will not understand,” the very verse on which Ratzinger bases his reflection in his 1968.

The hand of Benedict is very much present here, weaving a complex reflection on how love, the senses, and reason all work together in fruitful concert when grounded in faith, a faith that itself must be embodied in the community of the Church (chapter 3) and in service to the common good (chapter 4).

The overall outline of the document suggests its central concern, set out in the initial paragraph, to counter the idea that religious faith is in fact a form of “darkness.” Rather, faith means standing somewhere, taking a stand, one that illuminates rather than darkens. In the first chapter, the existential or dynamic (rather than propositional or doctrinal) aspect of what faith means is vividly described, in particular using Abraham. The first chapter is filled with an exploration of these dynamic experiences – call, response, promise, love – and all of this oriented toward the salvific communion with God and others that is the Church. The second, third, and fourth chapters then extend this experience of faith into the areas of intellect (chapter 2), ecclesial community (chapter 3), and social community (chapter 4).

Elsewhere, at, I’ve posted some of the insights that jump out of the encyclical, but here I want to mention the “affirmative orthodoxy” that John Allen highlights as a distinctive continuity between Benedict and Francis. I have always thought that there is no necessary conflict between a strongly Christocentric conception of faith and a conception that appreciates the broad experience of non-Christians. Ultimately, this is a false dichotomy that leads to a real dead end for both Christians and non-Christians. We need to figure out ways of speaking, and more especially acting, in which "taking a stand" does not somehow mean "standing against" - and in particular, standing against those who really do live out a dedication to love, service, and beauty. The encyclical nicely weaves these affirmations:

"The more Christians immerse themselves in the circle of Christ’s light, the more capable they become of understanding and accompanying the path of every man and woman towards God."

It insists that maintaining the distinctive faith in Jesus in fact allows recognition of the content of those who are not “believers.”

"Because faith is a way, it also has to do with the lives of those men and women who, though not believers, nonetheless desire to believe and continue to seek. To the extent that they are sin­cerely open to love and set out with whatever light they can find, they are already, even with­out knowing it, on the path leading to faith. They strive to act as if God existed, at times because they realize how important he is for finding a sure compass for our life in common or because they experience a desire for light amid darkness, but also because in perceiving life’s grandeur and beauty they intuit that the presence of God would make it all the more beautiful. Saint Ire­naeus of Lyons tells how Abraham, before hear­ing God’s voice, had already sought him “in the ardent desire of his heart” and “went through­out the whole world, asking himself where God was to be found”, until “God had pity on him who, all alone, had sought him in silence.” Any-one who sets off on the path of doing good to others is already drawing near to God, is already sustained by his help, for it is characteristic of the divine light to brighten our eyes whenever we walk towards the fullness of love." (35)

On the one hand, we can only “take a stand” on love, beauty, and peace insofar as we recognize that it is Christ who manifests this content. We can only know that the “object of faith” is not an object, but a subject, because we have encountered God in the face of Christ. On the other hand, it is unfortunate that Christocentrism often expresses itself in exclusivist ways. What Christocentrism should make clear is the anti-deistic claim that we encounter God as love because God acts in history:

Our culture has lost its sense of God’s tan­gible presence and activity in our world. We think that God is to be found in the beyond, on anoth­er level of reality, far removed from our everyday relationships. But if this were the case, if God could not act in the world, his love would not be truly powerful, truly real, and thus not even true, a love capable of delivering the bliss that it promises. It would make no difference at all whether we believed in him or not. Christians, on the contrary, profess their faith in God’s tangible and powerful love which really does act in history and determines its final destiny. (17)

The claim that “God acts in history” has been misused, by Christians and by other religions alike. But the response – to remove God from history – is not an answer. Rather, the key argument must be how we recognize God acting in history. For this, it seems to me, we must always place our trust in Jesus as the revelation of the nature and intent of God’s activity. To focus on Jesus is, I think, to be able to have a trustworthy standard for where and how God is acting, in all people. The “Christian difference,” such as it is, might be captured in this notion of “radical openness":

 "Faith’s new way of seeing things is cen­tered on Christ. Faith in Christ brings salvation because in him our lives become radically open to a love that precedes us, a love that transforms us from within, acting in us and through us." (20) 

While this openness to all that precedes us is seen in the broad human experiences of wonder, love, and commitment, Christians are called to radicalize this openness. Do we manifest this? Do we allow this love to be active in and through us? The encyclical suggests that, if and when we do, we are indeed the light of the world. But if not, perhaps we contribute to the darkness.



Commenting Guidelines


thanks for the post. I want to echo a point you make at the catholic moral theology blog: Lumen fidei offers "a remarkably rich foundation for theological work and spirituality."

Over at the America site, I speak of it as deserving to be "pondered and prayed."


Real good synopsis. I hope to take some time to ponder and pray, as Fr. Imbelli suggests, very soon. Certainly summer reflection.

This quote:

Our culture has lost its sense of God’s tan­gible presence and activity in our


world. We think that God is to be found in the beyond, on anoth­er level of  reality, far removed from our everyday



put me in mind of one of my favourite quips of Emily Dickinson


“They say that God is everywhere and yet we always think of him as somewhat of a recluse.”





The most mysterious aspect of conscience is the involuntary message we receive from time to time.  Where and how does it come to us when we have not summoned it or been deliberating?


I've only skimmed the encyclical, but one thing stands out to me as new:  the idea that faith (n some sense of the word) sometimes communicates something personal to the hearer.  in such cases it isn't a grasp of what all the faithful can see.  It is an illumination of what an individual needs to know at some point in his or her life.  In other words, faith  is not only what the community needs to know for the common good (what is codified in dogmatic statements) -- it also illuminates what an individual needs to know in particular circumstances in order to live his or her own particular holy life.

I don't think the encyclical clarifies any theological vocabulary, but there is a surprising  bow  to what Wittgenstein said about the value of love in seeking certainty.  Let's hope that this is a sign that Benedict is starting to take Witt. seriously.   Witt. has so much to teach the theologians, I think, about the many sorts of "language" and the many ways that language is actually used in different contexts.  Such analysis, I think, could assist in the development of liturgy as well as in theology.  How great it would be if Benedict turned into a theological linguistic analyst in his very old age:-)


These are no doubt unwelcome words to some --

36.  Theology also shares in the ecclesial form of faith; its light is the light of the believing subject which is the Church. . . . because it draws its life from faith, theology cannot consider the magisterium of the Pope and the bishops in communion with him as something extrinsic, a limitation of its freedom, but rather as one of its internal, constitutive dimensions, for the magisterium ensures our contact with the primordial source and thus provides the certainty of attaining to the word of Christ in all its integrity.

A beautiful letter from Francis.  I urge everyone to read it in its entirety.

But is it really FROM Francis?  He may have signed it but how much of it is Benedict?

The first few pages at least are very recognizably from pope (emeritus) Benedict. Lost of logical connectors, tight reasonings, lists that make sense, no redundancies, and a few favorite turns of phrase such as "I think first and foremost of...". 

Does it contain instances of what I thought were Benedict's least likeable features, namely, occasional drifts into rants against the secular world with lists full of negatives not balanced by anything comparable on the positive side? 

I must say that I am not yet familiar with pope Francis's style, aside from his inimitable expressions: are there any of those in there? 

On the other hand: is it so important to know who wrote what? I believe the style can betray the author, but Pope Francis subscribes to everything written in there, to the point of attaching his own name to it. Is it anything other than an idle amusement to look for stylistic clues?


you mean he had his fingers crossed when he signed?

If encyclicals are supposed to speak what the whole Church already believes, at least implicitly, how appropriate is it for popes to use the first person singular in them?  

Maybe there should be a new papal genre, one containing very-serious-epistles-from-the-pope which in form would be essays for the Church to consider seriously  rather than dogmatic statements which include the form "I think that".

Tina Beattie, of the Digby Stuart Research Centre for Religion, Society and Human Flourishing at the University of Roehampton, had this reaction in The (London)Tablet, entitled “Francis' first encyclical? It's really Benedict's last testament”


Fr. I: Francis did say that it was an encyclical from four hands, but he didn't say how weighted was the input from each pair of hands.

As Beattie said:

 “Only in one short section which comes about half way through its 88 pages does it acknowledge the possibility that faith might be found outside the doctrines, magisterial authority and sacramental unity of the Catholic Church. This section, titled ‘Faith and the search for God', is so different in tone that it leads me to suspect that here we detect the influence of a quieter, more pastorally sensitive authorial voice, and a hint of a different vision which is about to emerge.”


Here's is what I wrote on the "America" website (beating Ms Beattie by 24 hours):

"we are witnesses to an extraordinary collaboration that might equally be called the Testament of Benedict and the Inaugural Address of Francis."

I certainly second her assessment that the encyclical is "Pope Benedict's last and perhaps greatest encyclical." My point above is that Francis appropriated and endorsed his Predecessor's Christ-centered vision of faith.

As for her suggestion that Section 35, "Faith and the Search for God," is "different in tone" and represents "a quieter, more pastorally sensitive authorial voice," may I politely say: humbug!

Anyone who has heard Benedict preach of the Magi on the Feast of the Epiphany, anyone who has followed his pastoral initiative in sponsoring "The Courtyard of the Gentiles," will recognize his pastoral voice here. Moreover, when the Section speaks of seekers who "strive to act as if God existed," it employs a classic Benedict term -- and all this without mentioning that the Section's two footnote references are to St. Irenaeus and "Dominus Iesus!"

For a much more informed and, to my mind, accurate, exegesis of authorship,  see Luigi Accatolli here.

But the decisive point is that "Lumen fidei" is signed "Franciscus" and bears the authority of the present Bishop of Rome.

Francis signed Lumen Fidei signifying that he is in agreement with both the letter and the spirit of the encyclical.  

Meanwhile, I wonder how Benedict is doing? I read that he and Pope Francis were together on Friday morning for the release of the encyclical, and looked for pictures, but have not found any.

What is the word for "faith' in the original Greek versions of the Bible?  I found that in, for instance, 2 Corinthians 1:24 "faith" is used to translate the word"piste", and my online dictionary says that "piste" means "belief without proof'.  

However, Benedict and Francis give the word "faith" many more meanings than "belief without proof", for instance, it's said to be  a kind of illumination, trust, a kind of gift (grace).  Yet faith is "not a private matter": It's also a  kind of truth "meant to find expression", and, further "the ecclesial Magisterium is … one of its constitutive elements".  (Now there's a huge claim!)  And those are just some of the things BenFran say it is in the first two chapters.

While there are some valuable insights in the text (when you can settle on one of the various meanings of the word "faith"), I find that it's a very muddy text  because "faith" is said to be so many different things.  If faith were viewed as a process with many different parts it might be more comprehensible.  

(Does Scripture talk about a distinct virtue called "faith" as in "faith, hope, and charity"?   Does it simply mean "belief without proof" in that phrase?  Where does that phrase come from?)

Ann Olivier: You might want to take a look at James L. Kinneavy's book GREEK RHETORICAL ORIGINS OF CHRISTIAN FAITH: AN INQUIRY (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Pres, 1987). Kinneavy comes from a Roman Catholic background. I believe that he was at one time in the Jesuits.

Claire, the two Popes were together for the dedication of a new statue to St Michael in the Vatican Gardens. The Encyclical was presented by Ouellet, Fisichella and Müller, probably at the same time. You should be able to find pictures of Francis and Benedict in the garden next to the angel defeating a serpent...


Pistis, faith, is everywhere in the NT. St Paul has major commentaries in Romans and Galatians, but comments on it in every letter I think. Faith hope and love are the three things that last according to 1 Cor 13. Faith is the substance of things hoped for in Heb 11. While "belief without proof" is adequate for a dictionary, the encyclical builds on that to present a glimpse of the word's rich meaning in Scripture. Many books have been written on faith's significances, undoubtedly including some that describe it as a multipart process.

Thomas F. --

Thanks for the recommendation.  Must be a very good book -- it's out of print already!  I can get a copy for $256 from England, and there's one other used.



JIm McK. --

I was hoping there was some particular, non-everyday Greek word that has been translated into English as "faith", a Greek word that might  have been used to convey a core meaning that goes beyond "belief without proof".  The meanings of "faith' (the English word) that I remember from Scripture and that BenFran use are so very varied that it loses its meaning for me -- one doesn't know which meaning is intended. 

I have real trouble with "faith is the substance of things hoped for".  Taken literally it would seem to refer to God Himself (the object hoped for), but that would identify acts of faith with God, which would be heresy.  So what  does that "definition" mean?

I also have trouble with the meaning of "hope".  In 1 Corinthians Paul distinguishes it from faith and love, but sometimes "hope" seems to be an element in the meaning of "faith",  as in "I have faith that Christ will return".  There it means both "I believe and hope He will return". 

Are faith, hope and charity words which signify the parts of a process, a sequence which proceeds from believing a proposition, to hoping that it will be satisfied, to finally seeing-and-loving the truth that is Love?


When two authors collaborate, and especially when one  has written the first draft of a piece, and the other speaks modestly of having added a few touches, it might be rash to assume that they agree on all the details of the final project. It might at least be wise to wait until we have a more extensive body of work on which to base an assessment of exactly where Francis stands on some of the topics Benedict addresses in Lumen Dei.  Given the situation, it was the gracious thing for Francis to do to allow Benedict to complete his set of Encyclicals, and to add no more than a few touches himself. To find out what he thinks,  I think we must look to what he says for himslelf.

I would be very hesitant in getting into the game of speculating about "who is speaking" in an encyclical. George Weigel infamously tried to separate a supposed "authentic voice of Benedict" from supposed interlopers from the Office of Justice and Peace - the effect, unfortunately, was to suggest much more about Weigel's views than about any author. Similarly, it seems to me that Lumen Fidei doesn't suggest any "contrast" between Benedict and Francis. There is little evidence that these two men have "different visions" - that they have different styles is certainly true, and that matters, but I think any sense that they have different stands on significant Church teachings is quite unlikely. I wouldn't want to drive a wedge between them, any more than I would want to drive a wedge between John Paul II and John XXIII. On Ann O's question: the whole concept would be difficult to boil down to a dictionary definition, but certainly Heb 11 is the classic locus (e.g. Aquinas uses it as the basis of his articles on the virtue of faith). It has always helped me to keep in mind a few things. First, much of our "knowledge" is in fact based on "faith" - that is, we trust in authorities and such, even when we expect good reasons and have some basis (not proof) for having such trust. Second, faith involves both subjective trust and objective content - we always "believe in" something or someone, but the act of belief is not simply saying yes to content, but involves a deeper sense of trust and commitment. Third, the fundamental model of faith, Abraham, is usually used to suggest that ultimately faith is in God's promise for the future. It is an unfortunately effect of the Enlightenment that we draw a strong, almost absolute contrast between "proven facts" and "opinion" or "faith" - as if one is completely settled, and the other is just a complete shot in the dark. There are moments of faith that feel like shots in the dark, but when we believe in someone's promises (i.e. the heart of Christian faith, but also what we do in marriage, in friendships, in good business relationships, etc.), while we can't "know" the future, we can normally point to reasons why it makes sense to trust in their promises.

Whoops. Sorry. Lumen Fidei of course, and " himself," in my comment above. 

Ann Olivier: Wow! That's a pricey used book.

OK, let's start with something you know. Here's a well-known syllogism:

Major premise: All men are mortal.

Minor premise: Socrates is a man.

Conclusion: Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

According to Aristotle, the conclusion of properly worked out syllogism like this one is a certainty.

However, not all reasoning lends itself to syllogistic reasoning, so not all reasoning lends itself to establishing conclusions with certainty. Pistis is going to be a catch-all term for all manner of reasoning that cannot produce certainty. But we have to make decisions based on reasoning that often involves few or no certainties. In such circumstances, we are persuaded by a number of considerations. In his treatise on civic rhetoric, Aristotle refers to appeals to logos, ethos, and pathos. In principle, appeals to logos could perhaps at times include using syllogistic reasoning. But more often than not include carefully worked out examples of syllogistic reasoning.

So is religious faith in the canonical New Testament texts portrayed as the conclusion of syllogistic reasoning? Do people use syllogistic reasoning to conclude that they should have faith? No,not quite. In the NT, faith is more like pistis -- something that people come to feel  persuaded by.

Does it follow that the various NT writers knew Aristotle's treatises in formal logic and his treatise about civic rhetoric? No.

But it does appear that the NT writers knew an ancient Greek term that Aristotle understood.


"On Ann O's question: the whole concept would be difficult to boil down to a dictionary definition, but certainly Heb 11 is the classic locus (e.g. Aquinas uses it as the basis of his articles on the virtue of faith). It has always helped me to keep in mind a few things."

David C. --

I don't think that simply boiling down the meanings to one meaning is what is needed.  We need a whole palette  of words and phrasesof which whose varied meanings include all the insights that so far go by the one word "pistes" or "faith".  In other words, the word "pistis/faith" is trying to do too many things at once, so we need to widen the vocabulary to maintain the various insights.  If the theologians settled on just one symbol plus one relatively simple meaning that would sacrifice a lot of important insight. 

In order to retain some continuity with the old uses, maybe there should be the recognition that "faith" is a family resemblance term -- there is no one meaning that all the uses share in common, but no matter which meaning you choose it will be like least some one other meaning (but not all of them).  Maybe we should use complex words, like faith-as-action and faith-as-knowledge.

Different meanings of "faith" can lead to fundamentally different theological positions about crucial matters.  For instance, if you think that the word "faith" means *only* a kind of knowing or knowledge, then you must reject the notion that faith *commands* good works, for merely to know is not to command.  

You also say:

 "… faith involves both subjective trust and objective content - we always "believe in" something or someone, but the act of belief is not simply saying yes to content, but involves a deeper sense of trust and commitment."

It seems to me that the last word here (commitment) gets at that notion of faith as including command.  Because it commands, we must commit to certain actions demanded by the commands (and I'd say these includes good works).

Maybe a semantic compromise would be to describe/define "faith" as a process including a complex number of steps, beginning with understanding, then going on to believing, followed by commitment, and then action, and probably some little steps in between.  Then the clever theologians could go on to invent some nice new words for those elemental steps. 


P. S.  And a definition/description of the faith process should also include the grace of God which pushes us towards  belief and the grace-strength accompanying the other steps which enables us to keep us firm in our commitment.  That is the faith-strength that, I think, Heb 11 is talking about, and the faith-strength of the martyrs which we call their "strong faith".

Ann Olivier wrote: What is the word for "faith' in the original Greek versions of the Bible?  I found that in, for instance, 2 Corinthians 1:24 "faith" is used to translate the word"piste", and my online dictionary says that "piste" means "belief without proof'.  

Pistis (in its various forms) appears 244 times in the NT books included in the King James bible. 239 times it is translated by the one word "faith "

Here is a page with links to the verses in which it is used and summarizes different meanings proposed by scholars. None suggest "belief without proof"

John H, --

Thanks for the Bible Study Tools site.  it seems ot reduce "pistis" to a conviction of one sort or another about one thing or another.  But it seems to me that that's too narrow for what Benedict and Francis -- and St. Paul -- are talking about.


Faith, first as the Greek pistis and then as the Englsh faith, has survived for 2000 years. It has been subjected to all kinds of analysis, including the dissection you propose.  Most attempts to clarify meaning tend in the opposite direction, specifying a meaning when the word should be more open to a variety of meanings.

We have an inspired text that is our starting point. We can specify components of faith, modalities, etc. but we have to remain true to the inspiration that used a single word. It raises some big questions; does merely knowing sometimes command? St James addresses that question in his letter, as does St Paul in a more nuanced fashion. The language has to be able to question us, to spur us to insights, or it has no claim to being inspired. Using a single word 'faith' is truer to the text than a more nuanced proliferation of terminology that may seem more comprehensive and more comprehensible. It is more important to be faithful to the text.

The voice is Joseph's voice but the hands are the hands of Francis.

Assuming that there was a posting glitch on my part rather than a deliberate erasure by someone, I'll repeat what I thought that I posted a couple of days back:  I call myself Jim because I prefer to be called Jim.  I have never liked the name James and my parents knew that early on in my life.

Interesting article by Drew Christianson over at America:

Pope Francis's first encyclical Lumen Fidei concluded that faith is ultimate grounded in love’s knowledge of God in Christ. Faith belongs to the order of interpersonal knowledge because God is personal....

If you were puzzled, as I was, at how Pope Francis could move from Benedict’s truths of the faith to the truth revealed by love in the latest encyclical, it was the pioneering work of Pierre Rousselot, with the mediation of his disciple Henri De Lubac, that made it possible.

Worth reading, I think


Interesting article by Drew Christianson over at America:

Pope Francis's first encyclical Lumen Fidei concluded that faith is ultimate grounded in love’s knowledge of God in Christ. Faith belongs to the order of interpersonal knowledge because God is personal....

If you were puzzled, as I was, at how Pope Francis could move from Benedict’s truths of the faith to the truth revealed by love in the latest encyclical, it was the pioneering work of Pierre Rousselot, with the mediation of his disciple Henri De Lubac, that made it possible.

Worth reading, I think



That reminded me of this quote from one of Francis's homilies back in May


The faith of the People of God – observes the Pope - is a simple faith, a faith that is perhaps without much theology, but it has an inward theology that is not wrong, because the Spirit is behind it." The Pope mentions Vatican I and Vatican II, where it is said that "the holy people of God ... cannot err in matters of belief" (Lumen Gentium). And to explain this theological formulation he adds: "If you want to know who Mary is go to the theologian and he will tell you exactly who Mary is. But if you want to know how to love Mary go to the People of God who teach it better. " The people of God - continued the Pope - "are always asking for something closer to Jesus, they are sometimes a bit 'insistent in this. But it is the insistence of those who believe



Text from page

of the Vatican Radio website 

I don't remember ever seeing Esquire linked here, but this is an article by a self-identified atheist on why "Pope Francis is Awesome"

'"We have an inspired text that is our starting point. We can specify components of faith, modalities, etc. but we have to remain true to the inspiration that used a single word."

Jim McK. --

Forgive me for getting somewhat technical, but sometimes the technical can help with riddles.  

We have *many* inspired texts which use the "one word", and there's the problem I'm talking about:  "one word" can mean either  1) a groups of  of marks that you see on an actual page such as -->  w o r d,  or 2)  it can mean all of the groups of marks that look like that group of marks I just pointed to with that arrow, or 3) it can mean each of those similar groups of marks with each of their respective different meanings.  When you have many such groups of marks with many meanings you have a semantic problem.

But, as you say, Scripture does include "one word' (a set of similar groups of marks  in  the original SS texts).  

I assume, because Scripture uses  one word in the third sense (many similar groups of marks with somewhat different meanings) that the author intends some kind of unity of meaning.  And ISTM thst the only way to have any sort of *unity of different meanings* is to interpret "faith" in its fullest sense as a complex process whose parts include the varied meanings found in Scripture.  The big question then becomes:  how are those parts related in real life?

John H. --

Thanks for that quotatioin about the faith of the people of God.  Could Francis be suggesting to the trads that he is considering reviewing that the Vatican's teaching on contraception?

reviewing that the Vatican's teaching on contraception?


Lets hope not... 


Back in 2005, liberal historian Stephanie Coontz observed that the deconstruction of traditional marriage (and the growing acceptance of same-sex marriage) was a predictable consequence of the separation of sex and procreation.

Heterosexuals were the upstarts who turned marriage into a voluntary love relationship rather than a mandatory economic and political institution. Heterosexuals were the ones who made procreation voluntary, so that some couples could choose childlessness, and who adopted assisted reproduction so that even couples who could not conceive could become parents. And heterosexuals subverted the long-standing rule that every marriage had to have a husband who played one role in the family and a wife who played a completely different one. Gays and lesbians simply looked at the revolution heterosexuals had wrought and noticed that with its new norms, marriage could work for them, too.

Bruce, to Coontz's insights we could add two wrinkles: The hetero trashing of marriage continues apace. They live together, and when they book a church for their marriage production it's only because granny is getting close to the end and she always wanted to see Mimsy in a bridal dress. (Most of the blushing young couples signing up for premarriage counseling in our part of the world list the same address.)

Meanwhile, those of the officially disordered inclinations march in the streets, picket, pack legislative chambers and file lawsuits to win the right to be married. From which one might infer that if marriage is to be saved, it is the LGBT community (sic) which will save it.


Although I completely agree that the word faith has multiple meanings and nuances of meaning, I don't see why you would only be concerned to obtain the Greek word and its associations as key to the Christian understanding. Why not Hebrew as well? Indeed, many of the subtle and not so subtle differences in meaning of the term faith in the Christian tradition might be said to derive from the fact that the amalgamation of contexts in which the word appears in BOTH the Old and New Testaments requires Christian believers to take into account a very rich palatte of colors from which our understanding is drawn.

So, to regard faith as trust, as something "I can pound my tent peg into" savors of the nomadic past of father Abraham, and offers a concrete analogy of the function of faith in human life understood as journey and temporality. Faith and right worship are inextricable in the prophetic literature, because of the question of the object of faith or to whom one pledges one's trust. To say "Amen" means belief and trust at the same time. When Jesus praises the faith of certain of the people he encounters, readers of the New Testament are not so much given a distillation of abstract meaning but rather myriad examples of the orientation toward God that proves fruitful in welcoming God's reign in Jesus. And so it goes. My point here is that the narrative theology embodied in the Scriptures is really essential to understanding faith as the many-layered concept that it is. 

Rita --

I strongly agree that interpretation of Scripture must include Scripture as written in the Hebrew language, and also in the Aramaic one that Jesus spoke.  This, of course, complicates interpretation even more.  But when asked how many meanings does Scripture have, Aquinas answer that it has as many meanings as it has true interpretations!  (Sorry, I read that many years ago and have forgotten where he is supposed to have said it.)

But for me at any rate complexity and ambiguity is not necessarily a fault, though many people crave the quick, easy certainty of simple speech.  Sadly, many people will tolerate only simple speech.

Would you or anybody else know which were the Hebrew and Aramaic words that are used in Scripture and what their connotations were?  Should be very interesting.

(N. B.:  "Scripture" itself is a collective noun signifying all the original texts and their approved translations!) 


Here's an interesting article in today's NYT about  some experiments testing one benefit of mindfulness meditation:   The experiments show that mindfulness meditation increases compassionate feelings and action.

It has long been established that *all* kinds of meditation have many mental and physical benefits as well as valuable spiritual benefits in many cases.  "Meditation" is usually defined these days as the mental state in which the brain produces alpha-waves, at least predominantly, and this includes many religious practices (see Centering Prayer and the Jesus Prayer).  In most cases meditation involves withdrawing one's  attention from the external world and concentrating on something mental or focusing attention on sensations of one's own body.  For instance, one classical Hindu method concentrate on one's breathing, while other methods focus on the mental acts flowing through consciousness.  However, some techniques concentrate on some one simple thing in the world, e.b., a brick or a paper clip would serve. 

Centering Prayer and the Jesus Prayer (and many other Christian, Jewish and Muslim practices) are similar to mindfulness meditation in that they withdraw attention from the external world, but also from the body, and in the case of Centering Prayer consciousness focuses only on the presence of God within one's soul.  it is one of the simplest methods, and difficult because of that simplicity -- it is terribly easy to become distracted!  But practice makes perfect, or, rather,  makes it sometimes suggessful :-) 

Mindfulness meditation usually is not a religious sort of meditation.  It is used by Buddhists as a preliminary to their more advanced methods.  But certain mindfulness techniques can be used in preparation for religious meditation of various sorts.  It's sort of like stretching before running.

I should add that many, many people achieve a  meditative state when concentrating on the meanings in the Rosary.  So probably there are people on this blog who have already experiences this sort of altered state of consciousness.  Pace, Mother Angelica.

From which one might infer that if marriage is to be saved, it is the LGBT community (sic) which will save it.


Unforntunately Tom, you cant save an institution by destroying it.  The LGBT push for marriage 'rights' is nothing if not destructive.


Thanks for your comment at 1:03 pm, July 9. After our exchange, I was moved to look around on my shelves for more about biblical vocabulary for faith. Here's what I found. (Those better educated in Scripture than I am may want to say more.)

Jean Duplacy writes in Xavier Leon-Dufour's Dictionary of Biblical Theology that there exists a great variety of Hebrew vocabulary for faith.

Two roots are, however, dominant: aman (cf. amen) suggests solidity and sureness: batah, security and confidence. 

He goes on to discuss the Greek vocabulary:

The Greek vocabulary is still more diverse. Greek religion, in fact, hardly allows any place to faith. The LXX not having at their disposal, therefore, appropriate words for rendering the Hebrew, have groped. To the root batah correspond especially: elpis, elpizo, pepoitha (Vulg. spes, sperare, confido); to the root aman: pistis, pisteo, alatheia (Vulg. fides, credere, veritas). In the NT later Greek words relative to the domain of knowledge become clearly predominant. Study of the vocabulary already reveals that faith, according to the Bible, has two poles: the confidence that is directed to a "faithful" person and involves the whole man; and, on the other hand, a movement of the intelligence to which a word or signs permit access to realities that are not seen (He 11,1).

(I apologize that I cannot put diacritical marks on the Hebrew words. The new Commonweal comment box does a lot better than the old one, but it too has limits.)

Duplacy did not discuss Aramaic vocabulary.


Rita --

Thanks for looking all that up!  Curiouser and curiouser.  Interesting to see how the later words became more and more specific  -- the people didn't  invent new words for their more specific meanings, they seem to just use the word with the closest meaning to theirs.  I guess "Good enough" is a criterion of language use -- we just don't care all that much about accuracy, or maybe we just don't need to be all that accurate, not always anyway.

On the other hand, it seems to me that the poets  *do* seem to care about exact use of words -- that's how they get to write the most effective poetry.  So I'm wondering how those words for faith are used in, say the Psalms and Isaiah and Jeremiah.  Hmmm.  Must look them up when my copy of Leon-Dufour comes in.  (Just ordered it.)

Rita --

I just read half of Isaiah looking for "faith".  In that half "faith" appears once referring to "the righteous nation that keeps faith", but the word there doesn't seem to mean "faith" in the sense of acceptance of religious truths.  "Faithful" appears a couple of times, but only with the usual sense of remaining constant when challenged.  "Trust" appears several times, I assume with our ordinary sense of the term, i.e.,  something we do relative to someone else rather than something which we believe.

What I found most interesting was that *other* words are used which apparently refer to the Jews' beliefs about God. The text  does not include equivalent words for "belief" or "revelation', but they do include  "wisdom" and "knowledge" of the Lord,  and in one place it says that the Lord "teaches" them, which does imply something to be be believed.  Plus in another place it says that certain grumblers will "accept instruction".  So there does seem to be some body of knowledge involved in the faith of the Jews.  


We oppose belief and doubt, and the text I read can easily be interpreted in spots as being about belief.  However, the text doesn't include a correlative word for our word "doubt" nor even suggest any doubts, except, perhaps, for the grumblers.  I wonder if the ancient Jews ever doubted the prophets and/or their teachings,  They ignored the prophets, certainly, but I wonder if they ever doubted them.  And if they didn't, was it perhaps because they had no word for doubt?  (Some languages have no word for "blue" and the people don't seem aware of that color.)  Which takes us far from Lumen Fidei, but not too far from the Courts of the Gentiles.

Complexity, etc. 

Ann, much of what you seem to be seeking is covered in Lumen Fidei, for example:

"It might seem that the Greek version of the Bible, by translating “be established” as “understand”, profoundly altered the meaning of the text by moving away from the biblical notion of trust in God towards a Greek notion of intellectual understanding. Yet this translation, while certainly reflecting a dialogue with Hellenistic culture, is not alien to the underlying spirit of the Hebrew text."

The passage from Isaiah 7:9 being discussed uses two related Hebrew words to underline the connection between believing and being established. Clearly the Greek translation was adopting and augmenting the concept of faith. It was not substituting a different term with a different meaning, but layering new understanding on an important basic concept.



About the Author

David Cloutier is associate professor of theology at Mount St. Mary’s University and editor of He is the author of Love, Reason, and God's Story: An Introduction to Catholic Sexual Ethics (2008) and is working on a book on the moral problem of luxury in contemporary economic ethics.