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Chapter 20: The Relationship between God and Sinful Humankind

Question E: In what sense is the act of faith a gift of God?

1. As the Council of Trent teaches, living faith is more than a human act; it requires a divine gift, infused at baptism (see DS 1530/800). Vatican I definitively teaches that by living faith “with the inspiration and help of God’s grace, we believe that what he has revealed is true—not because its intrinsic truth is seen with the natural light of reason—but because of the authority of God who reveals it, of God who can neither deceive nor be deceived” (DS 3008/1789; cf. 3032/1811). Vatican II likewise teaches that “the grace of God and the interior help of the Holy Spirit must precede and assist” faith, while the same Spirit by his gifts “constantly brings faith to completion” (DV 5). Thus faith is both a human act and a divine gift.

2. Scripture teaches that no one comes to faith without being moved by God: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (Jn 6.44). Faith in Jesus is supported by the testimony of God the Father and the Spirit of truth (see 1 Jn 5.6–9).

3. However, this inward teaching by God does not add anything to the outwardly expressed content of faith (see S.t., 2–2, q. 6, a. 1). That content is made up of the openly communicated propositions by which we grasp the created, revelatory realities, especially Jesus’ humanity and career. Nothing in the Church’s teaching or Scripture suggests that God’s inward testimony adds to, alters, or in any way constitutes the content of faith.

On the contrary, Jesus manifested the whole content of revelation to his chosen witnesses (see Jn 15.15). The Spirit adds nothing to this content, but helps those to whom it is given to appropriate it (see Jn 14.26; 16.13–15). St. Paul’s teaching that Christian wisdom is revealed through the Spirit (see 1 Cor 2.10–16) does not support a different position, for Paul states that the content of “words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit” (1 Cor 2.13) derives from “my speech and my message,” and this message has “demonstration of the Spirit and power” (1 Cor 2.4).14

4. Even God’s self-identification as God is a particular truth—a primary item in the content—which is revealed (see Ex 3.14; Dt 5.6; Jn 8.24, 58). One who accepts this truth accepts all the rest. Thus, all the Spirit need certify is the identifying truth: for example, that Jesus is Lord (see 1 Cor 12.3; 1 Jn 4.15). In other words, God moves one to recognize him communicating in the revealing medium: God’s words and deeds at the Exodus and on other occasions, and definitively in the words and deeds of Jesus during his earthly life.

5. The certitude of faith cannot be accounted for by the factors which make it possible as a free human act but only by the fact, which is itself a teaching of faith, that it is a divine gift (see S.t., 2–2, q. 4, a. 8; q. 6, a. 1). The believer is aware of this absolute certitude, and this awareness is itself a datum which is an important sign of the divine source of faith.

6. Moreover, one’s share in divine life by living faith is due wholly to God’s gift. The transformation effected in us when the act of faith is made out of love of God does not come about by our own self-creative act; rather, the love of God is poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

7. There is no incompatibility between faith’s being a human act and its being a divine gift. Insofar as we share by faith in divinity, our love and the love of the Spirit are one; in this respect, it is exclusively by God’s gift that we accept him in faith. Insofar as we remain human persons in supernatural friendship with God, the Spirit’s giving of the gift is his, and our acceptance of the gift is ours; in this respect, we accept God in faith by our own free choice. But this free choice, like everything else of ours which is salvific, also is God’s grace.

14. It might be objected that in Galatians Paul takes a more radical view. But, however Galatians is understood, the teaching of Romans must be considered to present a more rounded and balanced expression: John W. Drane, “Tradition, Law and Ethics in Pauline Theology,” Novum Testamentum, 16 (1974), 167–78.