Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Fideism: Blind Faith as Heresy

(Latin fides, faith)A philosophical term meaning a system of philosophy or an attitude of mind, which, denying the power of unaided human reason to reach certitude, affirms that the fundamental act of human knowledge consists in an act of faith, and the supreme criterion of certitude is authority.

As against these views, it must be noted that authority, even the authority of God, cannot be the supreme criterion of certitude, and an act of faith cannot be the primary form of knowledge. This authority, indeed, in order to be a motive of assent, must be previously acknowledged as being certainly valid; before we believe in a proposition as revealed by God, we must first know with certitude that God exists, that He reveals such and such a proposition, and that His teaching is worthy of assent, all of which questions can and must be ultimately decided only by an act of intellectual assent based on objective evidence. Thus, fideism not only denies intellectual knowledge, but logically ruins faith itself.

from: Fideism in the Catholic Encyclopedia

There are "fundamentalist" adherents in every belief system who tend to answer all questions with a reference to an official document.  Their faith consists of: "the Powers that Be  say so and I believe it because they say so."  Fideists can be atheists who believe anything written at Skeptic.com as well as Catholics who've memorized the Catechism.

But the Church says that such an attitude is heresy, starting at least as far back as 1348.  Unexamined loyalty to the teachings of the Church, only because the Church says so, can indicate an absence of faith.
As it says in the Decree on the Reform of Ecclesiastical Studies:

...the Church follows ... cultural changes at work, which influence both her and society as a whole. Among the changes of the predominant culture, some particularly profound ones regard the concept of truth. ... mistrust in the capacity of human intelligence to arrive at objective and universal truth – a truth by which people can give direction to their lives.

This mistrust is evident in the argument of the atheist that as all the churches don't agree precisely on Truth, there is none. The fundamentalist Catholic displays his mistrust openly when states his own judgement is not worthy, and so adopts whatever he reads or is told by authority (Vatican, Bible, CCC, Bishop, Priest) and so becomes a functional atheist himself, as he places his faith in books or people instead of the God.  In fact, he makes it clear that this mistrust extends to all humans, he defines anyone who begs to differ with his recognized authorities as incontrovertibly wrong.

This issue is of such concern to the Church, that not only does the Decree to Reform increase the the amount of time necessary to study philosophy with an emphasis on metaphysics for an Ecclesiastical program, but states: that:
 An excessive mixing of philosophical and theological subjects ... ends up giving the students a defective formation in the respective intellectual “habitus”.... In order to avert the increased risk of fideism, and to avoid either a manipulation or fragmentation of philosophy, it is highly preferable that the philosophy courses be concentrated in the first two years of philosophical-theological formation.
The Vatican increases the philosophy study from two years to three in a five-year course of study, and wants the bulk of it to happen before any concentration of theology.  Yet, the fundamentalist described above is a creation of the Church he grew up in, most often.  Historically, the standard form of catechesis for a Catholic child is to teach them the rules first and foremost and to suppress the philosophical questions and ignore spiritual formation.  This is oddly and exactly the reverse of what Blessed John Paul understood was necessary for the true evangelization of the person.

What if, raised without spiritual formation, philosophy or encouragement to trust their own ability to discern, the Catholic thinks, I know the Church should be enough, but it just isn’t.  Why don't I feel anything?  Why is the Mass so empty?  What’s the point, anyway?  Does this make someone a "bad" Catholic, or just caught in the revolving door between fideism and metaphysics.  

No wonder so many Catholics, when faced with the reality of supernatural grace, of experiencing oneness with God, receiving a vision or gifted by a miracle, find themselves adrift in the midst of their Church.  They've been taught not to trust themselves, and to, instead, practice fideism.  They are often encouraged to ignore or deny their own encounter with the Divine, ("the devil can disguise himself as an angel of light!!" ) and mistrust their own perception of the Love, Joy and ineffable glory associated with their experience.(To read  my first experience of this, click the "Experience 1" tab.)

I love the Church so much, I quote here liberally from her documents.  I don't love the Church because the writings give me my faith, but because they validate my own rational conclusions concerning the revelations I receive through my own supernatural experiences.  That is, I believe in my own capacity to arrive at objective and universal truth, just as I believe in yours. And it is the Church, the body of two millennia of cumulative understandings of individuals, that confirms to those truths which are universal, or sometimes are only personal Spiritual Direction, yet equally truths. 

Next: the "centering prayer" controversy


  1. Many thanks for calling this Decree to my attention. It sounds far more like Pope Benedict's writing than John Paul II, doesn't it? It concerns me greatly that so much contemporary philosophy is atheistic, and taught by atheists or agnostics. Although I think priests do need to understand philosophy better so they can counsel people who are troubled by it, it seems to me more important for Church scholars to publish both effective refutation and also more clear and consistent statements of Church views.
    I try hard to believe all Catholic publications, but some seem inconsistent.

  2. I stumbled (or was guided) into the following passage in St John Cardinal Newman's Essay...on Grammar of Assent this morning:
    Our great internal teacher of religion is, as I have said in an earlier part of this Essay, our Conscience [Note 1]. Conscience is a personal guide, and I use it because I must use myself; I am as little able to think by {390} any mind but my own as to breathe with another's lungs. Conscience is nearer to me than any other means of knowledge. And as it is given to me, so also is it given to others; and being carried about by every individual in his own breast, and requiring nothing besides itself, it is thus adapted for the communication to each separately of that knowledge which is most momentous to him individually,—adapted for the use of all classes and conditions of men, for high and low, young and old, men and women, independently of books, of educated reasoning, of physical knowledge, or of philosophy. Conscience, too, teaches us, not only that God is, but what He is; it provides for the mind a real image of Him, as a medium of worship; it gives us a rule of right and wrong, as being His rule, and a code of moral duties. Moreover, it is so constituted that, if obeyed, it becomes clearer in its injunctions, and wider in their range, and corrects and completes the accidental feebleness of its initial teachings. Conscience, then, considered as our guide, is fully furnished for its office. I say all this without entering into the question how far external assistances are in all cases necessary to the action of the mind, because in fact man does not live in isolation, but is everywhere found as a member of society; I am not concerned here with abstract questions.
    Although St John didn't comment here on on an essential issue, his words led me to wondering about the your view of the semantic implications of Spiritual vs mystic vs psychic, For my part I greatly prefer to use the term Spirtual because I associate it with the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, and the Comforter.
    Similarly, I prefer the term Contemplation (and Adoration) to meditation or even Prayer, because I thinks it implies communion with the Divine Trinity, beyond the Praise, Thanks, and Supplication of Prayer.

  3. I have no view of semantic implications. People imbue words with meaning for many reasons - culture, experience, education. I often define words as I use them in writing so people know what I mean when I use the word. I do that for clarity, not to tell anyone what to think or how to define words.