Fides Quae & Fides Qua

The faith of the Church does not change.

After talking to a number of fellow seminarians and priests having been recently interviewed by the news media regarding Pope Benedict’s upcoming visit to the United States, I was not surprised to hear the continuation of an age-old fallacy regarding the Tradition of the Catholic Church. It seems to be the opinion of many (and often proposed as a foundational tenet of reality) that the Catholic faith can and ought to change, based on its societal context and the progress of modern man. Many reporters believe—as it seems from my conversations—that the Holy Father will devise a new and unique element of the faith upon his American journey, somehow radically redefining how and what is meant by “Catholic faith.” Quite obviously, this is not the case; the Tradition of the Church has always preached the same Jesus Christ as the fullness of Truth, and that truth is both unchangeable and unchanging. However, no matter the constant doctrine of the faith that has subsisted for 2,000 years in the Catholic Church, and the same Church’s recognition that such a faith is unchanging and forever based in the person of Christ, something still eludes the grasp of those who believe and teach otherwise. What is it?

The ‘answer’ is twofold. First, it is spiritual; there is no ‘answer’ to the ‘problem’ of faith in the modern world, only resolutions to the mysteries it presents us. This basic point is absolutely necessary in being able to articulate and teach correctly the faith of the Catholic Church. The Church has always been a mystical institution, one formed not only by an earthly component—the ‘Church militant’—but also by celestial components—the ‘Church suffering,’ in Purgatory, and the ‘Church triumphant,’ in heaven. The this very definition of “Church,” something more than human is automatically and immediately understood; there is no Church without the mysterious participation of Christ and his saints in the eternal kingdom of heaven. Thus, making a ‘problem’ out of faith, which is in some manner ‘solvable’ by intellectual or moral progress is ultimately un-Catholic and completely opposed to the Tradition of the true Church.

The second part of this ‘answer’—which we now see as more of a resolve to contemplate a greater mystery—is that we are to use our human capacities of thought and action not to change the faith, but to develop our understanding thereof. There is a huge difference between changing something and developing a capacity for it; one transforms the objective reality of faith (the fides quae in Latin: “the faith of” the Church) while the other increases the understanding ability of the subjective faith (or fides qua: “the faith with” which one believes individually). This tension between fides quae and fides qua is one of the great beauties of the Catholic Tradition, wherein objective reality in Christ and subjective reality in the Christian life are held in life-giving tension. One cannot look to the fullness of Truth without being convicted of that Truth in his or her own life. One serves the other, and both serve the glorification of God.

Needless to say—particularly in relation to my post about objective reporting and the media’s proper capacity to convey events and not higher truths—the misunderstanding that Benedict will somehow redefine Catholic teaching is simply unfounded. A basic understanding of the faith shows this. But a basic understanding of the faith requires a basic submission to the faith, and this is what is lacking for most secular critics. The great mystery of the Church is precisely the fact that knowledge only comes through submitting the intellect to the Love of God, namely in the person of Jesus Christ, who gives perfect understanding of the Father in his own Paschal mystery: in life, death and Resurrection. The Cross, in the end, is the only way to life and to knowledge.

  1. gravatar

    # by umblepie - April 28, 2008 at 7:26 AM

    Thank you Andrew for 'Fides quae and Fides qua'. An excellent article.