Saturday, November 19, 2011

From Faith to Faith

There is an odd phrase in St. Paul that has long been debated by scholars. Romans 1:17 -

For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith.

Paul seems to be saying that there is a kind of preliminary faith through which we are led to a deeper faith, in which the righteousness of God is revealed.

What, then, is this original faith? What is the first faith in "from faith to faith"?

Paul tells us right away, as he describes, by contrast, those non-Christians who have no original faith - that is to say who have no "good faith" and who approach the world in "bad faith". These are the unbelievers whose hearts are closed to belief, who see the evidence of God in the world around them, and who therefore know God at least in some inchoate way, but who neither glorify nor thank this not-yet-fully-known God. And though they have at least an inkling of Him, they become "vain in their imaginations", becoming fools with dark hearts who trade the source of creation for some petty part of creation that they worship in His stead. And, as Paul points out, with great psychological and spiritual insight, such folk of "bad faith" descend into a kind of ridiculousness and perversion.

Having been an atheist myself at a young age, I can attest to this. My atheism was not really an intellectual position - it was an exercise of ill will. It was crankiness. It was anger and disappointment. It was not a "good faith" philosophy, for it refused to acknowledge the truth and asserted instead the bile of my own dark heart.

We see this all the time, especially on the internet. Rarely will you find people arguing any subject in "good faith". Instead, you find people doing somersaults to justify their sins, and the venom that springs forth is called "argumentation". But it is not that. It is simply communication in "bad faith".

When (through drama) I began to see the mystery beyond my own petty tyranny, I began to approach the world in "good faith", which by the grace of God led, eventually, to the True Faith, the Catholic Faith.

At least in my case this was the meaning of "From Faith to Faith".


Matt said...

Could it simply mean that one small bit of faith will lead on to other "larger" faith? That the faith of the infant being fed on milk will lead on to the faith of the fully grown? That the faith of a mustard seed will grow to the lush plant that even birds can nest in? For, in this growth of our own faith through the gospel, we come to know more and more the righteousness of God.

Irenaeus of New York said...

Is it translated as 'faith to faith' or 'faith unto faith'? I think there is a slight difference because it would suggest sharing or giving. If it is unto, then I think he referring to the Jews as the first to have faith in the one True God, and it shared unto the Gentiles being the second to come to faith.

Kevin O'Brien said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kevin O'Brien said...

Matt & Irenaeus,

The greek is εκ πιστεω ει πιστιν. "From faith to faith" or "From faith unto faith" - an odd phrase either way, which in the context of the epistle as a whole means, I think, what all three of us are suggesting.

1. My reading: From the "good faith" of non-believers who accept natural proofs of God to the "true faith" in the revealed God. This reading is supported by what immediately follows, the discussion of natural religion and the Gentiles.

2. Matt's reading: From shallow faith to deeper faith - while this is not explicit in the epistle, it seems to be one of the "analogical" senses of the phrase and it certainly fits.

3. Irenaus' reading: From the faith of the Jews to the faith of the Christians. This is one of the main themes of the epistle and seems to be a valid interpretation of the phrase.

And as in all scripture, the human author (in this case Paul) might have had one intentional meaning in mind, while the divine author (the Holy Spirit) had a constellation of meanings in mind.