Belief, Epistemology, Trust
The sixth presupposition is belief is more than acknowledging a set of truths. Rather, it is about following a person. It is not enough to lay a framework of reasonable exegesis. One must also take into account how truth is ascertained in other areas of life. Cardinal Ratzinger defines belief as “a decision calling on the depths of [man’s] existence, a decision that in every age demanded a turnabout by man that can only be achieved by an effort of the will.”Belief is risky because man is a sensible creature. It is difficult to assert primacy of the invisible over the visible. “Christian belief means opting for the view that what cannot be seen is more real than what can be see.”In addition to belief, the question of epistemology must be addressed.
Man often restricts what constitutes knowledge. This is particularly true for the Catholic who is steeped in a rationalistic understanding of truth. A brief discussion of philosophy concerning truth and knowledge is required within the context of doctrinal discussions. Philosophy understands that there are two types of knowledge, which help man to arrive at the truth of something. According to Augustine, one type of knowledge is from authority and the other type of knowledge is from reason or experience. Augustine states, “Certainly no one doubts that we are impelled toward knowledge by a two fold force; the force of authority and the force of reason.”The force of authorityis what most of us base much of our knowledge on in our day-to-day lives. Few of us have ever personally measured the height of Mount Everest but we acknowledge it is the highest mountain. Knowledge from the act of belief in regards to authority requires a relationship of trust. John Paul says, “we entrust ourselves to the knowledge acquired by other people.”
Once it is understood that knowledge from authority is reasonable and typical, the question for faith then becomes, following Ratzinger’s view, “Who is the trusted authority worth the risk of myself?” Again, one refers to the life of Christ, based on the testimony of the Apostles, on whom the Church rests with guidance from the Holy Spirit. Sacred Scripture is a reliable source of information concerning Christ. “Professor White, an eminent historian of Roman times chides New Testament critics for not realizing what invaluable historical resource the New Testament books are, especially in comparison with many of the sources for Roman history with which he must work.”The historical life of Christ recorded in Scriptures can be trusted in the same way one trusts that Cicero existed. However, Christianity’s claim about Christ goes beyond his physical life to his physical resurrection.
The seventh presupposition is educated Catholics have been formed in the atmosphere of a Hermeneutic of Suspicion. It is necessary to counter this suspicion with confidence in Sacred Scripture’s exposition. The witness of the apostles to Christ’s Resurrection as an authority worthy of belief is credible. “Eusebius himself a great historian emphasizes: if we distrust these men [disciples of Jesus] then we must distrust all writers of history and records.”The Apostles sacrificed comforts, they left their families, were subjected to tortures, and eventually cruelly killed. The Apostles are not behaving like liars. In addition to the hardships endured by the Apostles they also worked miracles in the Lord’s name.
The miracle of raising Tabitha from the dead by Peter in Acts 9:40 gives reliable testimony that the power of the risen Christ extends through space and time communicated through the Church. John Paul II states, “Miracles belong to evangelical history and the accounts contained in the Gospel are as reliable as and even more so than those contained in other historical works.”Miracles confirm in the visible world the priority of the invisible world. The signs point to the one signified, Christ. Miracles help those who are weak of faith to be strong in the hope of Christ. More than indicating an insensible world, the miracles demonstrate love.
The miracle accounts show the love and compassion of God. “[Christ’s miracles] reveal God’s love for humanity particular for those who suffer, who are in need, who implore healing, pardon and compassion.”Christ is both all-powerful and all loving. Each person is called to a relationship with Christ in his mystical Body. “[Miracles] essential purpose is to indicate that the human person is destined and called to the kingdom of God.”Those persons in the kingdom of God who give a particularly trustworthy witness to Christ are the martyrs. As John Paul states, “The martyrs are the most authentic witnesses to the truth about existence.”
The lives of the martyrs throughout the ages compel attention. As in the case of the Apostles, the martyrs gave up everything to follow the Lord. Martyrs have lived in every age and come from all walks of life. “The martyrs stir in us a profound trust because they give voice to what we already feel, and they declare what we would like to have the strength to express.”They show that it is possible to commit to something in totality and they give us courage to follow Christ in less demanding circumstances. If Paul Miki can suffer joyously during his brutal death, perhaps following the dictates of the Church in areas of sexual morality or other areas of human life are not as daunting.
Jesus Christ, the God-Man, is worthy of obedience and trust. He alone gives joy to man. Catholics can confidently follow Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. The rationality of this conclusion is reached from starting with the segments of the faith understood and working to those areas poorly comprehended. Philosophy and epistemology must be addressed. Knowledge received from authority was shown to be a common occurrence and thus this same mode of understanding can be extended to matters of faith. The hermeneutics of suspicion was discussed and countered so that the reliability of Scriptures is realized. The Church, which is the mystical body of Christ, founded on the Apostles, is a continuation of Scriptures through history. Finally, the lives of the martyrs were considered in the life of the Church. The martyrs give hope that following Christ is possible regardless of circumstances. They show to all where our true joy lies. By understanding the presuppositions of the Catholic believer, efforts in the new evangelization will confidently present the doctrines of the faith in an authentic manner, one that fosters an encounter with Christ.
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Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nded. Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 1997
Craig, William L., Knowing the Truth About The Resurrection: Our Response to the Empty Tomb, Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Books, 1981.
Groeschel, Benedict J., Augustine: Major Writings, New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1998.
John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, New Hope, KY: St. Martin De Porres Lay Dominican Community Printshop, 1998.
John Paul II, Jesus, Son and Savior: A Catechesis on The Creed, Boston: St. Paul Books & Media, 1996.
John Paul II, Redemptor Hominis, Boston: St. Paul Books & Media, 1979.
Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal, Introduction to Christianity. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004.