Faith and Assurance

The assurance of faith is often talked about in terms of feeling. We feel assured, we feel a conviction in our hears, we feel confident of a belief or hoped-for outcome. And there is no doubt an aspect of assurance that involves feelings. The difficulty however is that feelings are fleeting. They come and go. We may feel assurance about something, but days or weeks or months later, no longer feel that assurance. And then after a time, we once again feel that assurance. If that’s assurance, that’s not very sure.

Part of the dilemma is that we normally associate conviction with knowledge. If we know a thing to be true, we are convinced of it. But if we are uncertain about something, then we normally assume we don’t have enough knowledge about the thing. Or, worse, we assume that we lack faith. Because if we have faith about a matter, we believe we also will have strong feelings about it. We separate out faith and knowledge. And, tragically, since we tie faith and feeling so closely together, we lose a vital aspect of faith, which is to bring assurance to our hearts. Or, to say it another way, assurance is the expression of trust. We are certain of a matter, because we trust that it is true or will come to be true. Assurance is the exercise of faith itself.

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Faith, Reason, Knowledge V

The Union of Faith and Reason in the Heart

I have previously written about how it is that faith and reason have become divorced from one another in human understanding, such that it is generally agreed among thinkers today that the only real knowledge that counts for anything is the knowledge of the mind, of reason. But that is demonstrably false. I have spoken about how faith is, indeed, productive of knowledge, though of a different sort than reason, and how there need be no divorce between the knowledge produced by faith and that produced by reason, but rather how the knowledge produced by each can complement and reinforce one another. I wish now to address how it is that faith and reason can be united in the heart, and on what grounds this union takes place.

But I must confess at the beginning: my words will be more from theoretical understanding than from personal experience. For I am only beginning to have some insight into this union, and have not yet begun to faithfully practice it. Further, wherever I am in error, according to the wisdom of the Church and her Scriptures, then I need correction. It is my intent to summarize what I understand the Church to teach, not to assert my own theory.
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Faith, Reason, Knowledge IV

Knowledge, the Product of Faith and Reason

I have already noted how faith and reason are united in the heart. I want to dwell further on this and to reflect on the heart as the instrument of knowing in the human person. As you may have guessed from the outset, what I will eventually come to is an assertion that faith, indeed, is productive of knowledge, though knowledge of a different quality than that of reason.

As I have noted previously, since Plato, knowledge has generally been understood to be “justified true belief” (though again, I note that even in the Theaetetus, where this definition is discussed, it is problematic). That is to say, knowledge is belief with some foundation or guarantee of its truth, that guarantee being one which satisfies reason’s demands. So, for example, a body of knowledge must be internally consistent, must not violate the strictures of logic, must conform to generally recognized principles that themselves have been tested by reason and have been taken to be authoritative. But note that what this particular body of knowledge must satisfy is reason’s searching investigation. If a body of knowledge in any way fails to fulfill the demands of reason, then it can be little better than an established opinion, but it cannot be knowledge.

But this assumes that the only measure of knowledge is reason, and that reason is, in this way, the only real source of knowledge. Knowledge is not grounded in or derived from the gods, religion, human feelings, or mythology. The intellect is that from which knowledge flows.

But this is, I assert, a grave mistake.
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Faith, Reason, Knowledge III

One of the important matters related to this understanding of the relationship between faith, reason and knowledge is our ability to know God, and to know God we must come to some conclusion about whether or not he exists. If it is granted that he does exist, then what are his attributes? How can we know them?

I want to say more about faith, reason and knowledge specifically, but it has been helpful for my thinking to lay the groundwork for further discussion by running through the ancient sceptical arguments against whether one can dogmatically assert God’s existence and make claims about his attributes. I will use the third chapter of Book III of Sextus Empiricus’ Outlines of Pyrrhonism, especially paragraphs 6-12, as my working text.
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Faith, Reason, Knowledge II

Christ is risen!

The Union of Faith and Reason

One need not spend much time talking about faith and reason before encountering the split between them. From questions about whether or not it’s possible to “prove” the existence of God, to whether or not the Genesis account can be taken as a “literal” description of the origins of the earth especially given what science has to say about cosmogony, to questions about the place of faith and religion in public life, we generally operate under an assumption of the dichotomy between the two. These questions have further implications, such as, to speak specifically, the nature of faith itself and the whole question of “believer’s baptism.”

The relation of faith and knowledge can be seen from two crises: that of an intellectualized faith, or sometimes a pietized intellect, or, more usually, a dichotomized life of intellect versus pietism. That is to say, the intellect subsumes faith under its own rubric leading usually to a variant of secularism, or faith subsumes the intellect leading to fundamentalism, or, more usually, the intellect and faith are compartmentalized, leading to a split life of secularism and pietism. In all cases, the problem is a lack of union between faith and knowledge.
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Faith, Reason, Knowledge I


This past winter (yes, it’s officially spring, though one barely can tell here in Chicago) I reflected on what it meant for a Christian to think faithfully, that is to say, what foundations lay under a Christian’s mind in the various tasks of thinking. I would like to turn my attention now to a related question: can faith, specifically Christian faith, provide knowledge?
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