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Dear Father Angelo,

I would like to submit for your attention a few doubts that arose while I was reading the writings of a well-known Catholic writer, whom I usually appreciate

greatly. My doubts concern especially the way this author interprets the nature

of the act of faith, and the relationship between faith and works. 

For the sake of clarity and completeness, I will quote all of the statements which I find to be “suspicious”.  I leave you the choice to omit some of them, if this will help to make the exposition simpler and more fluid. 

Last month we meditated about the act of faith as an alive relationship with God: having faith is all about believing in God’s love. 

Believing in God’s love, trusting in the existence of this relationship of love and wishing to be part of it in order to taste the bliss of eternal life: this is what we are called to experience, or rather to perceive, during our earthly lives. Faith is precisely this abandonment, this opening of the soul that is willing to receive the gift.

Believing means entrusting ourselves totally to God, living an utmost dependence on God: the act of faith implies a total, alive, conscious abandonment in the hands of God.

We discussed the trust (fides fiducialis) we should place in God.  Our entire spiritual life stems from this trust, namely faith, and subsists on it. The Council of Trent says: «[fides est] fundamentum et radix totius justificationis». However, although faith provides the foundation for our journey, it does not set out for it. What gets the journey started is always hope, that is to say fides fiducialis, namely a trustful faith. It is a faith that promptly transforms itself in the strength that sets you in motion and elicits a response in you.

In my opinion, these statements about faith seem difficult to reconcile with those found in a renowned manual of Dogmatic Theology from a Thomistic perspective:

According to the teaching of the Council of Trent, faith is «the beginning of human salvation, the basis and the root of all justice». […] As far as the content of justifying faith is concerned, the so-called fiducial faith does not suffice. What is demanded is theological or dogmatic faith (confessional faith) which consists in the firm acceptance of the Divine Truths of the Revelation, on the authority of God Revealing. […] According to the testimony of the Holy Writ, faith and indeed dogmatic faith is the indispensable prerequisite for the achieving of eternal salvation. Mk 16,16: «Preach the Gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved, But he that believeth not shall be condemned». John 20,31: «These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God: and that believing, you may have life in His name». Hebr 11,6: «Without faith it is impossible to please God. For he that cometh to God must believe that He is: and is a rewarder to them that seek Him». Cfr. John 3,14 et seq.; 8,24; 11,26; Rom 10,8 et seq.

The passages adduced by the opponents, which strongly stress the element of confidence (Rom 4,3 et seq.; Mt 9,2; Luke 17,19; 7,50; Hebr 11,1) do not exclude dogmatic faith; for confidence in the Divine Mercy is a necessary consequence of faith in the truth of Divine Revelation. A real Patristic proof of the necessity of dogmatic faith for justification is the instruction of the catechumens in the truth of Christian Faith and the making of the confession of faith before the reception of the Sacrament of Baptism. […] St. Augustine says: «The beginning of the good life, to which eternal life also belongs, is the true faith» (Sermo 43, I,1). (LUDWIG OTT, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, edited in English by James Canon Bastible, D. D., translated from German by Patrick Lynch, Ph.D., Tan Books and Publishers, Rockford (Illinois) 1906, pp. 152-153).

Relying on your kind helpfulness, I send you my warmest regards and I promise to remember you in my prayers.


The priest’s answer

Dear Tommaso,

1. The word “fiducial faith” should not mislead you. The two authors use it in different ways because “the renowned author” you mention and what Ott says are on different levels of meaning.

2. The first writer does not lecture from a theological standpoint, but rather speaks in pastoral terms.

The words he uses are pastoral because, strictly speaking, faith cannot be defined as «believing in God’s love». As you can see, such a definition includes something (“believing”) that is already in the question, because faith is precisely the act of believing. In itself, this statement would be a petitio principii, but it is understandable because it aims at explaining what it means to believe in existential or pastoral terms.

3. When the “renowned author” talks about “fiducial faith” he does not assign to this terminology the same meaning that Ott does. He does not refer to what has been condemned by the Council of Trent. The “renowned author” simply means opening ourselves to God.

4. On the other hand, Ott does a theological treatise on faith and he rejects the fiducial faith advocated by Luther, who claimed that what really matters is not what God revealed, but rather trusting in Him.

Well, of course trusting in God does matter, because it is appropriate and fair, nonetheless it is important to know Whom we trust, and what is the truth we put our confidence in.

The heritage of revealed truths that Saint Paul calls “depositum fidei” in 1Tim 6,20 and in 2Tim 1,14 is just as important as fiducial faith. As a matter of fact, it is the premise for fiducial faith, because if God were not believable, why should we trust in Him?

5. This is the reason why the Catholic Church highly values the purity of the doctrine of faith, whereas in the Protestant world there is no Magisterium, therefore anybody is allowed to believe whatever he wants and to create a new church according to his own ideas.

But if it were so, we would cease to believe in God. It would be fitting to say that everybody believes in himself and in his own purportedly infallible way of reasoning.

6. Finally, it is true that the Truths of Revelation are the object of faith, but even before the object of faith is the Self-Revealing God. For this reason, what Ludwig Ott wrote has to be complemented with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, that in the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum defines faith as follows:

“The obedience of faith” (Rom. 16:26; see 1:5; 2 Cor 10:5-6) “is to be given to God who reveals, an obedience by which man commits his whole self freely to God, offering the full submission of intellect and will to God who reveals,” and freely assenting to the truth revealed by Him. To make this act of faith, the grace of God and the interior help of the Holy Spirit must precede and assist, moving the heart and turning it to God, opening the eyes of the mind and giving “joy and ease to everyone in assenting to the truth and believing it.” To bring about an ever deeper understanding of revelation the same Holy Spirit constantly brings faith to completion by His gifts.

This definition is complete.

The object of faith is God who reveals.

Faith in its dynamism is the answer that man gives to God who reveals.

This answer encompasses the acceptance of everything that He has revealed.

While thanking you for the prayer you promised me, I wish you to progress in faith ever and ever, I remember you to the Lord and I bless you

Father Angelo

Translated by Alessandra N.

Verified by Sara B.