Faith and Sacraments: The Nature of Faith

Dave “the Soul of the New Media” VanVickle and Mike Gormley complete their discussion of the church document “The Reciprocity Between Faith and Sacraments.” This discussion is primarily concerned with the nature of faith. What is faith? What are the different aspects of faith?

Snippet from the Show
When we talk about the dogmas, we are revealing the full face of Christ. We are revealing who he is. He is the Truth.”


Today we continue reading The Reciprocity between Faith and Sacraments and discuss the nature of faith and its different aspects.

a) Lights from the path of faith of the disciples

42. [Growth of Faith]. Peter, as spokesman for the disciples, in response to Jesus’s question, formulates a confession of faith: “You are the Christ” (Mk 8:29 and par.). However, Peter had to mature this initial faith because when Jesus begins to explain that he is a Messiah after the manner of the suffering Son of man, a Messiah who will be crucified, Peter rejects him and Jesus harshly reproaches him (Mk 8:31-33). Thus, Peter had to realize a path of growth in faith, combining his unconditional adherence to Jesus as Christ with the knowledge of the doctrinal aspects that this adherence implied. This not only concerns Peter, but reflects the reality of each believer. The apostles themselves show us the way with their petition to the Lord; “Increase our faith” (Lk 17:5). Paul warns about this gradual growth and counts on it, since it refers to “the measure of faith which God has given to each one” (Rom 12:3; cf. 12:6). He also admonishes the Christians of Corinth, whom he is to treat as “children in Christ,” giving them “milk” instead of solid food (cf. 1 Cor 3:1-2). The letter to the Hebrews echoes this difference by speaking to members of the Christian community (cf. Heb 5:11-14). Going beyond the basic rudiments of Christian doctrine and faith, solid food is directed to believers who in their Christian lives exercise discernment of good and evil, to those whose entire existence is illuminated by the light of faith.[47]

43. The disciples and other admirers of Jesus, the crowd, captured something special in the figure of Jesus before Passover. In particular, in the context of healings we are told of a “faith.” The phenomenology we find is quite varied: Jesus performs miracles without express mention of faith (e.g. Mk 1:14-45; 3:1-6; 6:33-44); thanks to the faith of petitioners who intercede on behalf of another person (Mk 2:5; Lk 7:28-29); in spite of a faith that considers itself scarce (Mk 9:24); or precisely, thanks to faith (Mk 5:34). The disciples are encouraged in many ways to grow in faith (Mt 6:30; 8:26; 14:31; 16:8; 17:20), in faith in God and in his power (Mk 12:24) and in understanding the unique position of Jesus in God’s plan (Jn 14:1).

44. The death of Jesus put this initial adhesion of the disciples to the test. They all dispersed and fled (Mk 14:50). The women who went to the tomb very early in the morning intended to anoint the corpse (Mk 16:1-2). However, with the novelty of the resurrection and the gift of the promised Spirit (Jn 14:16-17, 26), the faith of the disciples is strengthened, to the point that they will be able to initiate others and strengthen them in their faith (Jn 21:15-18; Lk 22:32). Pentecost marks the pinnacle of the disciples’ journey of faith. Not only do they fully adhere to Jesus, dead and risen, as the Lord and Son of the living God, but they become bold witnesses, full of parresia, able to speak of God’s deeds and transmit faith in all languages thanks to the Spirit. Now they will be witnesses, even martyrs, proclaiming Jesus as the crucified and risen Messiah, Son of the living God, Lord of the living and the dead. In this figure of faith, the believing adherence to Jesus includes the doctrinal content of the resurrection and the unfolding of its meaning. According to the sources, this passage to faith in the resurrection was neither easy nor automatic, particularly for those who, like us, did not benefit from an apparition of the Risen One (Thomas: Jn 20:24-29). The pericope of Emmaus (Lk 24:13-35) provides some valuable clues for initiating others on the path of faith.[48] Walking at the pace of those who, although disappointed, express some concern. Listen to their concerns and welcome them. Contrast them patiently with the light of salvation history reflected in Scripture, stimulating the desire to know more and better the plan of God. This opens the way to a faith that matures in the sacramental and ecclesial dimensions proper to faith.

45. [Need to Discern with Patience]. The Bible, a reflection of salvation history, presents a multitude of situations in which faith, as a dynamic and vital reality with advances and setbacks, finds itself in multiple positions, from the search for a tangible benefit, which looks exclusively at personal interest, to the extreme generosity of confessional love. Jesus categorically rejected hypocrisy (e.g., Mk 8:15), called for conversion and belief in the Gospel (Mk 1:15), but he magnanimously welcomed many who came to him longing in some way for God’s salvation. For this reason, one must appreciate the value of incipient faith, the faith that is on its way to maturity, the faith that in its desire to know God does not exclude unresolved questions and hesitations, the imperfect faith finds some difficulty in adhering to the totality of the contents that the Church holds as revealed. It is the task of all pastoral agents to help in the growth of faith, whatever its stage, so that it may discover the whole face of Christ and the record of doctrinal elements which includes the believing adhesion to the dead and risen Lord. Because of this diversity, the same faith is not required for all sacraments or in the same circumstances of life.

b) Modulations of Faith

46. [Need for Some Clarifications]. Classical reflection on faith and sacraments has highlighted the articulation both of the irrevocability of the gift of Christ (ex opere operato) and of the necessary dispositions for a valid and fruitful reception of the sacraments. These provisions are misunderstood at their roots if they are seen as a sort of arbitrarily imposed hindrance to impede or make more difficult access to the sacraments. Nor do they have anything to do with “elitism,” which would despise the faith of the simple. It is simply a matter of highlighting the interior dispositions of the believer to receive what Christ freely wants to give us in the sacraments. That is to say, what is manifested in these dispositions is the adequate adjustment between faith and the sacraments of faith: what faith by its very nature do the sacraments of faith ask for? Without losing the gains acquired during the course of theological reflection, it is convenient to expound on some of the various aspects of personal faith, and then discern in the following chapters how they come into play in the sacramental celebration understood as a dialogical encounter.

47. [Theological Dimension]. The peculiarity of faith lies in the fact that it is expressly inscribed in the relationship with God. Theology distinguishes different aspects within the one act of faith.[49] This is the difference between “credere Deum,” believing in God, which refers to the cognitive element of faith, to what is believed (fides quae). The proper thing about faith is to be directed towards God. That is why faith has a theo-centric character. “Credere Deo,” to believe in God, expresses the formal aspect, the reason for giving assent. God is also the cause for which one believes (fides qua), so faith has a theo-logical character. Thus, God is the object believed and the reason for faith. With these fundamental aspects, however, the act of faith is not reflected in its integrity. There is also “credere in Deum,” believing toward God. Here the volitional aspect is more clearly manifested, inasmuch as integrating the two previous moments; faith also includes a desire and a movement towards God, the beginning of a journey towards God, which will be consummated in the eschatological encounter with Him in eternal life. For this reason, faith has a theo-eschatological dimension. The act of faith in its entirety presupposes the concurrence of the three aspects. This occurs in a characteristic way in the “in Deum,” which includes the other two.

48. [Trinitarian Dimension]. In Christian faith, believing in God implies believing in Jesus Christ as the Son, thanks to the Spirit. Characteristically, the symbol repeats three times “in Deum,” referring to each of the divine persons, marking the Trinitarian dimension. The formulation refers to the difference with any other act of comparable trust, for example, in a human person.[50] The relationship with the Trinitarian God is distinguished from the relationship with that which has been produced or created by Him. In Deum credere represents the perfect figure of personal relationship; it includes hope and love,[51] or as Augustine describes it: “to adhere by believing God, him who does good, in order to do good by cooperating with him.”[52] This is the true form of faith, which includes the two dimensions already mentioned: believing in God and believing God (credere Deum and credere Deo) .[53] The formula “credo in Deum” is not reduced to expressing a confession and a conviction, but the process of conversion and surrender, the way of faith of the believer. It is precisely this personal dimension that endows the symbol and its various articles with coherence. This occurs especially intensely in sacramental celebrations, proper to the economy of the Spirit,[54] in which it is perceived that faith is always ecclesial[55]:

In the celebration of the sacraments, the Church hands down her memory especially through the profession of faith. The creed does not only involve giving one’s assent to a body of abstract truths; rather, when it is recited the whole life is drawn into a journey towards full communion with the living God. We can say that in the creed believers are invited to enter into the mystery which they profess and to be transformed by it.[56]

49. In the Trinitarian faith there is implied a personal relationship of the believer with each one of the persons of the Holy Trinity. By faith, the Spirit leads us to the knowledge of the whole truth (Jn 16:12-13). No one can confess Jesus as Lord except in the Spirit (1 Cor 12:3). Thus, the Spirit dwells in the believer and empowers him to walk in the Spirit towards God, to bear witness to his faith, to spread Christian charity, to live in hope, to reach the maturity of the fullness of the believer, to the measure of Christ (cf. Eph 4:13). Therefore, the Spirit acts in the believer both in the subjective act of believing itself, as well as in the contents believed and, of course, in the vital dynamism that it imprints on the believer. This dynamism implies a deeper appropriation of the Beatitudes, a portrait of the heart of Christ and, therefore, of the disciple.[57] With his gifts, the Spirit strengthens the individual believer[58] and the Church. By faith we confess Jesus Christ as the Lord, the Son of the living God; we become his disciples, walking towards conformity with him (cf. Rom 8:29). Through faith, and thanks to the mediation of the Son and the Spirit, we know the plan of God the Father, we enter into relationship with him, we praise him, we bless him and we obey him as beloved children. We set out to fulfill his will for us, for history and for creation.

50. [The Reformation and its Influence]. The Reformation has exerted an influence that is hardly overestimated on the supremacy of the individual act of faith over the confession of ecclesial faith. The singular characteristics that stand out are the concentration of faith in one’s own justification, the qualification of the act of faith as an appropriation of grace, and the identification of the certainty of faith with the certainty of salvation. This trending subjectivization of truth has also influenced part of the theology of faith in recent Catholicism, when it, under the umbrella of personalism, has taken on a unilateral subjectivist orientation. For this reason, in these approaches faith is described less as confession than as a personal relationship of trust (faith in someone), and, at least tendentially, is opposed to doctrinal faith (faith in something).

51. [Fides qua: fides quae]. If the dialogue of God with man involves a sacramental nature, which crosses the whole of revelation, then the response, through faith, will also have to take on a sacramental logic, impelled and made possible by the Spirit. There can be no subjective understanding of faith alone (fides qua), which is not linked to the authentic truth of God (fides quae), handed down in revelation and preserved in the Church. There is therefore “a profound unity between the act by which we believe and the contents to which we give our assent. The apostle Paul helps us to enter into this reality when he writes: “one believes with the heart and one confesses with the mouth” (cf. Rom 10:10).”[59] It is the sacramental signs of God’s presence in the world and history that inspire, express and preserve faith. In the Christian conception it is not possible to think of a faith without sacramental expression (in the face of subjectivist privatization), nor a sacramental practice in the absence of ecclesial faith (against ritualism). Where faith excludes identification with confession and the life of the Church, this faith is no longer an integration in Christ. The privatized and disincarnated faith of the Gnostics runs through the history of Christianity like a temptation.[60] But there is also often the opposite tendency, namely, an outward faith, which adheres verbally to the confession of faith without appropriating it through personal understanding or prayer. Subjectivist privatization and ritualism mark the two dangers that the Christian faith must overcome at all costs.[61]

52. [Fundamental equality of all believers in the faith]. The personal faith of each believer can have varying degrees both with regard to the intensity of the relationship with the Trinitarian God and with regard to the degree to which its contents are made explicit. Faith being a relationship of a personal nature, it inherently belongs to its own dynamics the capacity to grow in both dimensions: in the knowledge and appropriation of the truths of the faith and its internal consistency, on the one hand, and on the confidence and the determination to orient all existence from the intimate relationship with God, on the other hand.[62]

53. In the history of theology, the question of the indispensable minimum has been raised with regard to the reflex knowledge of the content of faith, as well as the role of the so-called “implicit faith.” The scholastic theologians showed a great appreciation of the faith of the simple (simplices, minores). According to Thomas Aquinas, not everyone should be required to have the same degree of explicitness in terms of knowing how to reflect the contents of faith.[63] The difference between “implicit” and “explicit” faith refers to certain contents of the faith that are either included in the same faith and, in that sense, are settled in the act of believing- implicit-; or they are believed reliably and consciously (actu cogitatum credere)-explicit-. It is not necessary that simple believers know how to give a detailed intellectual account of Trinitarian or soteriological developments. Implicit faith in itself includes the fundamental predisposition to identify with the faith of the Church and to unite oneself to it.[64]

54. [The Creed: Minimum Content of Faith]. According to St. Thomas, all the baptized are obliged to believe explicitly the articles of the Creed.[65] Therefore, it is not enough to believe in a general saving will of God, but in the incarnation, passion and resurrection of Christ, which is only possible through faith in the Trinitarian God. This is the faith “in which all attain new life,” in which every Christian is baptized.[66] At the time of the Fathers, the rule of faith played a similar role: it functioned for all believers as the compendium of the fundamental content, as well as the guideline of verification of the binding elements of faith.[67] St. Thomas argues that this knowledge of the faith does not presuppose other prior knowledge, but is accessible to simple people; moreover, because of the festivities of the liturgical year its content is present to everyone. The obligation of an explicit faith in the symbol for all members of the Church means, correlatively, the recognition of the equal dignity of all Christians.

55.[Notes on Lack of Faith]. The opposite of faith is not the scarcity of knowledge, but the obstinate rejection of some truths of faith[68] and indifference. In this line, Hugh of St. Victor clearly distinguishes two groups. There are believers who have little intellectual insight into the faith and who are also not characterized by a deep personal relationship with God, who nevertheless cling to belonging to the ecclesial community and put their faith into practice in their lives.[69]Others, however, are only believers “in name and by custom.” These “receive the sacraments together with the other believers, but without any thought for the goods of the world to come.”[70] Here a crucial element of the Christian faith is mentioned: whether “future goods are expected” (cf. Heb 11:1), and whether this believing hope is strong enough to guide human action.


Meet Your Hosts


Michael “Gomer” Gormley

Michael spent 17 years in full-time parish ministry and is now the Mission Evangelist for That Man Is You!, a men’s apostolate for Paradisus Dei. Michael is a frequent speaker at conferences, retreats, and parish missions all over the US and Canada.

He is the founder and creative director of, and hosts three Catholic podcasts: Every Knee Shall Bow, Catching Foxes, and Becoming God.

He is married to his college sweetheart, Shannon, and has four beautiful and hilarious children: Kateri, Cecilia, Noah, and Thomas.


David “Dave” VanVickle

Dave VanVickle

Dave VanVickle fell in love with the Lord at the age of fourteen and has since dedicated his life to bringing others into a radical relationship with Christ.

He is a speaker and retreat leader who focuses on proclaiming the universal call to holiness, authentic Catholic spirituality, spiritual warfare and deliverance. Additionally, Dave has over ten years of experience assisting Priests with their ministries of exorcism and deliverance.

Dave married his late wife Amber in 2010. He now resides in Pittsburgh with his five children: Sam, Max, Judah, Josie and Louisa.


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