Part 1 Faith – Week 8

Introduction to Christianity:
The rationality of faith

Last week we saw that Ratzinger defined belief as man’s humble acceptance of the gift of faith from God and his trusting choice to build his life on that gift. This decision, Ratzinger said, was capable of giving man far more safety and security, far more meaning, than the decision to trust only in himself, in his abilities to gain scientific knowledge and to construct a better world.  Today, he continues that reflection to explain why this Christian decision to trust in another is actually the better one, the one that is actually more ‘reasonable’ and worthy of man. Fundamentally, he says, it is because the Christian believes that the gift he is receiving in faith is not just meaning for his life, but actually for all of reality, that it is the meaning or logos woven into reality itself and that upholds all of reality that is revealing itself to him. Christianity is the certainty in faith that the logos of the world is giving itself to man as a gift, in other words, and that only by taking a stand on this logos, by building on this solid ground, which is far wider and more profound than the limits of man’s reason, can he truly find happiness and meaning.


Thus, starting from a quite general analysis of the basic attitude of “belief”, we have arrived directly at the Christian mode of belief. For to believe as a Christian means in fact entrusting oneself to the meaning that upholds me and the world; taking it as the firm ground on which I can stand fearlessly. Using rather more traditional language, we could say that to believe as a Christian means understanding our existence as a response to the word, the logos, that upholds and maintains all things. It means affirming that the meaning we do not make but can only receive is already granted to us, so that we have only to take it and entrust ourselves to it. Correspondingly, Christian belief is the option for the view that the receiving precedes the making—though this does not mean that making is reduced in value or proclaimed to be superfluous. It is only because we have received that we can also “make”. And further: Christian belief—as we have already said—means opting for the view that what cannot be seen is more real than what can be seen. It is an avowal of the primacy of the invisible as the truly real, which upholds us and hence enables us to face the visible with calm composure—knowing that we are responsible before the invisible as the true ground of all things.

If one ponders all this, one will note how closely the first and last words of the Creed—“I believe” and “Amen”—chime in with one another, encircling the totality of individual assertions and thus providing the inner space for all that lie between. In the harmony of “Credo” and “Amen” the meaning of the whole becomes visible, the intellectual movement that it is about. We noted earlier that the word “Amen” belongs in Hebrew to the root from which the word “belief” is also derived. Thus “Amen” simply says once again in its own way what belief means: the trustful placing of myself on a ground that upholds me, not because I have made it and checked it by my own calculations but, rather, precisely because I have not made it and cannot check it. It expresses the abandonment of oneself to what we can neither make nor need to make, to the ground of the world as meaning

Yet what happens here is not a blind surrender to the irrational. On the contrary, it is a movement toward the logos, the ratio, toward meaning and so toward truth itself, for in the final analysis the ground on which man takes his stand cannot possibly be anything else but the truth revealing itself.

The Christian attitude of belief is expressed in the little word “Amen”, in which the meanings trust, entrust, fidelity, firmness, firm ground, stand, truth all interpenetrate each other; this means that the thing on which man can finally take his stand and that can give him meaning can only be truth itself. Truth is the only ground suitable for man to stand upon. Thus the Christian act of faith intrinsically includes the conviction that the meaningful ground, the logos, on which we take our stand, precisely because it is meaning, is also truth. Meaning or sense that was not truth would be nonsense. The indivisibility of meaning, ground, and truth that is expressed both in the Hebrew word “Amen” and in the Greek logos at the same time intimates a whole view of the world. The way—-for us inimitable—in which words such as these embrace the indivisibility of meaning, ground, and truth throws into relief the whole network of coordinates by which Christian faith surveys the world and takes up its position in relation to it.


Questions for reflection:

Today we have seen how Ratzinger claims that the little word “Amen” communicates once again in its own way what belief means: the trustful placing of myself on a ground that upholds me, the abandonment of myself to what I can neither make nor need to make but can only receive, to the ground of the world as meaning that is giving itself to me… As Catholics, we say “Amen” after every prayer and when we receive Jesus in the Eucharist. Do we realize the importance of pronouncing that word? Do we see it as taking a stand, as grounding our faith and our lives in the hands of Divine Providence?

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