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Faith and Belief: the difference between them – Wilfred Cantwell-Smith

May 21, 2016

FABTDBTCantwell Smith addresses how, why, and with what implications our understanding of the terms faith and belief has altered with time.

Is what, or whether, one believes the significant religious question?

Although the religious communities differ in belief, how much do they really differ in faith?

Do two people who assert a particular statement of belief necessarily share the same faith?

Written by a highly respected scholar in the field of comparative religion, these issues are directly addressed in this investigation of the personal quality of faith, and its relationship to the concept of belief.

He takes on historians of religion cum phenomenologists for addressing religious objects and patterns, but not the persons related to them. After all, one doesn’t study religions, one studies people

The word ‘belief’ in the English Bible is no longer an adequate translation of the concept of those who wrote the text. Smith suggests that there are three modern usages of ‘belief.’ First, it may be used in the sense of a person reporting that another recognises a particular fact. Second, it may imply that one is of the opinion that a particular fact is the case. Third, it may mean that one imagines a particular fact to be true. The differences are subtle but important. In the first instance, recognition of a fact, both those reporting and those believing are certain that the fact in question is correct. By contrast, the second possibility, opinion about the veracity of a fact, implies that there is a large measure of doubt on the part of the person reporting the fact and possibly also on the part of the person said to hold that opinion (although this is not necessarily the case). The third possibility, of imagining a fact, implies that the person reporting the belief is sure that it is incorrect, fanciful even. Smith contends that belief used to imply recognition but has come to imply opinion or even an imagining. To suggest that the Bible’s authors hoped people would come to hold a certain opinion about God makes a mockery of them. No. They hoped people would recognise the truth they had also seen, that this would have an existential impact upon people’s lives. The modern meaning of ‘belief’ as opinion, Smith contends, has no place in an honest translation of the Bible, possibly with the single exception of the ‘belief’ of demons in God found in the letter of James.

For most of history, the words ‘I believe’ have been essentially a declaration of faith, but of belief only in very general, overarching terms. ‘I believe’ once spoke more of the commitment and engagement of the individual who uttered the phrase than of the specifics of what was or was not believed. In general, today, phrases such as ‘he believes’ or ‘they believe’ are more common than the phrase ‘I believe’ and indicate a particular set of specific facts believed in (or perceived to be believed in) by the individuals who are the subject of the comment. ‘I believe’ still usually indicates that what follows is not so much a list of specific facts, but a declaration of commitment to and engagement with a particular tradition (or, conceivably, an amalgamation of several traditions).

He backs up my assertion that the Creed is not a list of propositions we have to assent to but is a badge of belonging.

You don’t have to make a mental effort to say you believe in the list of doctrines contained in the creed, rather you say you commit yourself to a journey of faith, using the Christian story as your symbolic guideposts.  It is what some theologians, following Sts Augustne and Anselm call fides quaerens intellectum = faith seeking understanding. For St. Bernard of Clairvaux, the faith expressed in the Creed was an anticipatory apprehension, a foretaste, a sipping of truth yet to be fully grasped.

You get involved first, then beliefs follow.  Credo is close to the Sanskrit word sradda – a compound of srad = heart and dha = to put.  One analogy might be a wedding – you say ‘I do’ and thus commit yourself to the journey of relationship, wherever that may take you. St. Bonaventura believed that the journey of faith begun at baptism ended in God’s ravishing of us.

If the creed was a list of propositions requiring assent, it would start with the Latin opinere – it is my opinion that…It doesn’t.  It starts credo cf credit (I entrust this loan to you), cordis – heart, concord etc. And do – from dere – to put = I put my heart into

German belieben still means this today – to hold dear, to be loyal to, to value highly cf. libido; lieben = to love.

So saying the creed in the past would mean that I pledge my loyalty to and trust in God, about whom people have said these things….

Creeds originated in vows take upon being baptised.  The vows were similar to those taken when joining the Roman army – a vow of allegiance, not a list of propositions.

‘Belief’ continued, in English to mean something about loyalty and love. Wyclif’s translation of Acts 26:19 talked about being ‘unbelieveful’ – nowadays translated ‘I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision’ i.e. I did not fail to act out in practice what I saw to be God’s will.

Nowadays, ‘belief’ is more like: Given the uncertainty as to whether there is a God or not, my opinion is, yes there is.

Aquinas was blamed for accommodating Islamic views – Averroes

Nearly half this book is taken up with very detailed footnotes.


‘fides quaerens intellectum’, faith in pursuit of self-understand­ing, in the new and rich and enriching sense of fides humana, the faith, the involvement, the final truth of humankind. It is the search for con­ceptual clarification of man’s relation to  transcendence.

To speak more concretely, many persons in modern times have found, awe they have penetrated beyond the outward patterns to the quality personal life that those patterns nourish, that there is less difference een the faith of Christians and that of Muslims and of Hindus than is among the formulae and symbols by which that faith is visibly ressed. Secondly, they have found that the faith of a particular Christ­ian may, once the outward wrappings are set aside, differ from the faith a Muslim or a Hindu less than it differs from the faith of another Christian, next door or in a different denomination or a different cen­tury. Scholars have counterpart experiences in studying ancient texts.

affirm that there is a “further shore”. This phrase echoes through his teachings. He was adamant in refusing to describe it in words, or to encourage his followers to speculate as to what it might look like when they got there. His teaching was concerned not to eluci­date the nature of that “further shore”, but to delineate how to attain it, to invite people aboard the raft that he saw, and preached, would carry one to it. His seeing that it would carry one across constituted his Vision, his Enlightenment, his Buddhahood. The name of that Other Shore is Nirvana.

It has sometimes been said that early Buddhist preaching is pessi­mistic. This is simply wrong: it is a gospel, good news, a joyous procla­mation of a discovery of a truth without which life is bleak, is suffering, with which there is not merely serenity but triumph. It is indeed ate for man that he has been born into a universe where evanescence the last word. Because there is Dharma, he can be saved.

It was pointed out to him by Mara, the Evil One, that other men are obtuse and distracted, that they would not understand his teaching, nor know it if they did—why should he not simply enjoy the bliss to which his own struggles had finally brought him? The Buddha rejected this, and spent the next forty-five years of his life walking up and down the length and breadth of much of India proclaiming to all mankind the vision that he had seen, the avenue to the release from sorrow and bondage that he had discovered, and knowledge of which he wished share with a suffering humanity. Nor was his decision adventitious: part of the truth that he had found was precisely that to live for others the way to live one’s own life well.

What I wish to submit is that early Buddhists believed this to be true (although they did), that they found it to be true. It is on this that the whole matter finally turns (both historically, for them, and theoretically, for us). Through Buddha’s character and personality and impact, through the move­ment that he launched and the teaching that he formulated, men and women were enabled to recognize, yes, but more important, to discover, that transcendence is not another world, afar off; it is this world lived in truly, compassionately.

the Qur’an has no word for “belief” in the modern sense

in the official (erstwhile Royal) Egyptian edition of the text, now standard, one or other of the two chief terms for occurs on the average more than once per page’.

of the terms that do occur in the Qur’an and that have been ted as “believe”, two stand out, and constitute the crux of our inquiry….. regularly been translated—we would say, mistranslated—into English as “believing” illumi­our whole matter. One means, “to have faith”. They are, first, amana iman, “faith”, as its verbal noun”); and second, zanna, in modern “to think”, “to opine”, to hold an opinion……The term for faith, iman, is itself a verbal noun, and it is of some significance t the more strictly verbal forms predominate; so that it is more just peak not of faith, simply, but rather of the act of faith. Faith is some­thing that people do more than it is something that people “have

There are two or three terms used for the act of rejecting the invita­tion. Of these the most strident is k-f-r, from which the word usually translated “infidel” is derived, with its radically pejorative sense of “spurner”.

Meanwhile, the Qur’an provides another example from which its orientation may be illustrated quite sharply. Let us consider the concept normally translated “polytheist”. The Arabic term is mushrik. This desig­nates what would be rendered in modern-day terminology as a man who—if one must use the term—”believes” in many gods. Now in a sense the Arabic term does indeed mean polytheist, but with a difference that, though at first it may seem subtle, is in fact radical, and of crucial import for our entire discussion. The word is formed from a root sh-r-k) meaning “to associate”, which in technical Islamic vocabulary 2rovides also the concept (shirk: again basically a verbal noun) that is translated “polytheism” but that means, more literally associating other beings with God—which in the Islamic scheme is expliciity the unforgivable sin. It means, one soon enough realizes on reflection, treating as divine what is in fact not so. God is seen as being one, alone; He only is to be worshipped. This overwhelming affirmation is, of course, funda­mental to the Qur’an’s whole presentation; so that to associate any second being with Him is stupid, wicked, and wrong.

am a mushrik” is at the intellectual level a logical self-contradiction, since if one actually did believe that there are more gods than one, then this term would not describe that belief. It describes and analyses such a position from the point of view of those who reject it. It is a mono­theist concept for a polytheist.

At still another level, to-day: the man who worships money, or devotes himself to the advancement of his own career, or panders to self-gratification, is an “associator” (mushrik) not in the sense that he recognizes the existence of these distractions—we all know that they exist—but in that he is as­sociating them with God in, a modern might phrase it, his scheme of values, is consecrating his life in part to them rather than consecrating it solely to the only reality that is worthwhile, worshipful, worthy our pursuit: namely, God.

In much the same fashion the so-called “creed” of the Muslims is not a creed at all, if by creed one means an affirmation of belief. It is, rather,  explicitly a “bearing witness” (shahada).

This root occurs in various forms seventy times in the Qur’an. Thus it is reasonably common—although the verbs signifying to have faith or make the act of faith (amana), and to know (alima), each occur more inn ten times as often. We must not overstate our case: among the seventy occurrences of zanna, perhaps as many as twenty, certainly some fifteen, have various other connotations than the one to which we here draw attention. These include half-a-dozen or so where the usage implies a pondering, reflecting upon, entertaining in the mind, even occasionally of religious realities (falling into The Fire; the Resurrection; the en­counter with the Lord), as well as a few that are ambiguous, and some casually neutral, plus three or four where the judgement being reported is clearly seen as correct”. In the great majority of cases, however, some forty-nine or fifty (roughly seventy percent) the term is used for persons’ having an opinion about God or His doings, but one that is woefully and manifestly awry.

Outsiders say that Muslims “believe” in them; Muslims—since they are set forth in the Qur’an—that they do and should recognize them. Yet it would not do to ust Ihere the verb amana. For it would be patently wrong for Muslims to give their allegiance to those jinn, rather than to God. Nor did the cti­ture give its loyalty to them, put its faith in them”.

Neither, however, could the verb zanna be used. If amana is too positive, this is too negative. It would not merely imply, but specify, that tic notion was a mere human conjecture. And there is no neutral term. Ile fact is that the modern proposition that Muslims have believed in have believed that there are jinn, is not capable of being rendered in Qur’anic Arabic. The reason is simple: that this concept of believing part of another, skeptical, way of looking at the world. It does cannot—occur in the Qur’an.

Faith is that movement (the word is basically a verb, and even the noun is a verbal noun) of the person con­fusion of a whimsied self of impulses and unrealism (ahwa’, batil), to participate in a community (ummah) that in turn participates in, is en­gaged in the movement towards and in accord with, the final truth and goodness of reality”.

No doubt, notions of intellectual apprehension, of the mind’s aware as among the avenues that lead man to salvation or to reality, have highly important for Hindus, to put it mildly. To see the universe truly is, many have insisted, is a central, even a saving, virtue. Questions other than believing, however, are here at stake. One might speak r of knowing. Yet even this is gross. With this facet of religious life, beyond the level of “believing”, there come into play at least two different levels of human knowledge or awareness. As the higher, there i supreme knowledge (designated usually by the word jnana). This is not a “knowing that . . “, but an immediate knowing of a direct knowledge’ edge of Reality with a large capital R, a transcendental knowledge – – ultimate truth (Brahman). Such knowledge should not be said — to salvation so much as to constitute salvation. It not merely transcends but negates the lower truths of discursive reasoning and propositional knowledge.

The usual terms found in crucial passages are more exactly “to appre­hend”, “to perceive”, “to recognize”, and the like—especially as used in the relevant contexts.

Some sort of sociological motivation might perhaps be urged for an apparent functional equivalence, as it were, between “atheist” and nastika, since the nastika person has been looked upon in Indian society in some­what the same way as was an atheist classically in Western society: as the renegade who stood out against the central traditions and primary values of the culture. It might be understood as specifying the one who repudiates. Yet it is unquestionably inaccurate to call him an atheist, for what he repudiates is not a belief in the gods. India has not only known devout atheists but has accepted them, and has explicitly enumerated atheistic religious positions as within the Hindu complex, even intre­grally so; they are among the “orthodox” alternatives proffered. And in general the astika/nastika division is hardly in terms of what one be­lieves”. The Mimamsa school, for example, hears the Vedic Word as fully authoritative (this is sometimes proffered as the decisive criterion for astikya: we shall return to this) but apprehends it as an imperative, not an indicative; as communicating not propositional truth, not a state of affairs, but an injunction to be obeyed. The authority, therefore, is moral, ritual, practical, rather than doctrinal. Belief, if not quite optional, is mundane, and radically subordinate to practical obedience”. The Sam­khya school, on the other hand, while it takes ontology with high serious­ness, and is equally in “the establishment”, has, as is well known, a care­fully-wrought atheistic position conceptually”.

A Muslim, on the other hand, is outside the pale for Hindus, is nastika, despite his intense theism, because he is not reverential to the Hindu heritage, not subservient to it. Here we begin to see the crux of the astikya/ nastikya polarity. It is not what a man believes, nor what he practices, that makes him a Hindu or an outsider. Rather, it is his attitude to the inherited tradition.

Astikya, as we have seen, is the affirmative religious attitude, the posi­tive rather than negative stance on moral and spiritual matters, the “yes” response to the meaning of the cultural tradition of India. Buddhi, the second term of this compound, has lent itself, however inadequately, to being associated by certain modern exponents with believing, since it has to do with the mind: with intelligence, understanding, reason. Less reifyingly, buddhi is awareness, perception, discernment. It comes closer, consequently, to knowing than to neutral believing, since it designates ap­prehension by the mind, not fabrication by the fancy. The root meaning of the word is “to be awake”: accordingly, to be conscious, to appreciate what is going on, to be alert to one’s environment.

Hindus have rather consistently spoken in terms of another element in man’s involvement: a prior element, decisive, underlying all else. This is sraddha; this is faith”.

it seems first of all to ye been set forth as related to ritual performance of cult, and then to lave been developed subsequently as a quality with which a person undertakes any or all of the whole range of forms of the religious life: the liturgical, but also the intellectual, the devotional, the mystical, or whatever. It classically almost constitutes the differentiating characteristic that qualifies any human activity as religious”.

What does the term signify? In one sense, the answer is altogether simple and straightforward. It means, almost without equivocation, to i set one’s heart on. It is a compound of two words, srad (or srat), heart, and dha, to put’. Indeed, in the Rg-Veda the two parts usually occur separately”, but even there they are occasionally combined”, and later are regularly so”. The combination develops a use in secular writing, where it means to put one’s heart on something mundane: to long for, to desire something, and also to put one’s heart on a person in the sense of trusting him, regarding him as trustworthy, credible, or worthy of much respect”.

The religious life, whatever its form, begins, India has said, with faith; and faith, in its turn, is one’s finding within that life (one’s being found by) something to which one gives one’s heart. To what one should give one’s heart, and what happens once one has given it in this or that direction, form the subject-matter of much of India’s religious literature, and are not our concern here. But whatever the venture, and whatever the prize, the first step, whether in initiative or response, is a setting of one’s heart.

We may take as representative of numerous passages one resonant verse of the Bhagavad Gita, which asserts that any sacrificial oblation, any donation, that may be offered, any austerity that may be practised, any deed that may be performed, is regarded as vacuous if one’s heart is not in it”.

It is only the modern world, with its loss of faith, its anomie of the “uncommitted””, that has become alert to the prelimi­nary issue of what is involved in human beings’ ability genuinely to take an interest in something, to give their heart at all”. Thus we meet the view that faith is a universal human characteristic, with the significant point about any person being the particular kind of faith that he or she has. As Radhakrishnan puts it, it is the striving (or being pushed) “to­wards what is better”; and he compares Plato’s ” ‘the trend of our desires and the nature of our souls’ “”.

To see the point of a parable, to be gripped by the purport of a myth, to appropriate to oneself in existential commitment the moral of a tale, even to rejoice in the singing of praises—these” are acts of faith. To believe in a tale of the gods, in the modern sterilized sense of the word “believe”, may be no more than gullibility or intellectual error. To have I faith in a myth, on the other hand, is to take it to heart, to recognize its human implications and to accept them as implicating oneself.

Commenting on Shakespeare’s play Macbeth, the literary critic Nor­throp Frye has remarked”‘ that if one wishes to know the history of Eleventh-century Scotland, one should look elsewhere for information, but if one wishes to know what it is like to gain a kingdom and to lose one’s soul, then one should read this drama

May one hope that the term “faith” in English will develop in such a way that English-speaking persons’ discernment of what faith is, and ,has been, will develop in such a way—that these will come to be called reading “without faith”? If those who disagreed with Shakespeare as to the data of Scottish history were to be said not to believe the play, or to believe in the play, this would clearly be a quite different issue.

Military metaphors were common”. To be baptized was to join the new salvation army, with its discipline, its perils, its commitments, its fellowship, and its pursuance of ultimate victory. The oath that Roman army recruits took on being received into the armed forces, an oath wherein they pledged their personal fidelity to the emperor, was termed sacramentum. The Latin-speaking sector of the Church took over this word to characterize baptism, and other ritual acts, as Tertullian, for in­stance, amply illustrates”. In other wording, also, the notion of a solemn contract is evidenced: a contract entered into between the baptizands and God”. The analogy with a wedding was frequent”: with the commitment (the central “I do”), the joy, the start of a new life.

The “I do” by which the baptizands affirmed and effected the consecration of themselves to God, to Christ, and to the Spirit, the giving of themselves in full sincerity and in formal commitment, is, more aptly, “I set my heart”. The term selected was the Latin for this phrase: namely, credo.

This word, it seems, is a compound from cor, cordis, “heart” (as in English “cordial”, “accord”, “concord”, and the like; compare also, from the closely parallel Greek cognate kardia, the English derivatives “car­, diac”, “electrocardiogram”, etc.)”, plus do, “put, place, set”, also “give””. The first meaning of the compound in classical Latin had been and its primary meaning continued to be “to entrust, to commit, to trust some­thing to someone”, and of money, “to lend”.

The whole tone of discussions about baptism in Latin is like St. Cyril’s in Greek, where the concern is about a passing from a life of sinfulness to a life of purity-. I from darkness to illumination, from the mundane to the divine, from an involvement in one order to a committed involvement in another. It is not at all a question of moving from non-belief to belief”.

In the course of the ceremony there was no inquiry of the baptizands I as to whether they believed anything. Just as they were not asked whether I they believed in a devil, before being asked solemnly and ceremonially Ito repudiate him, so they were not asked whether they believed in God or Christ or the Church before being asked solemnly and ceremonially to pledge their allegiance.

Commitment, at first, was simply to Christ (especially among converting Jews); and presently (among Greeks) to God as Trinity. Gradually—but very slowly—atten­tion was diverted to defining with some precision how best to state to what.

St. Augustine, who championed the notion of as a divine gift, not available to man’s own choice except through was on occasion quite explicit that it is a matter of will”. With and with other early Christian thinkers the mind, of course, is not engaged, even though its role be less prominent or be felt less decisively.

Thomas’s col­league and critic, for whom there is indeed a journey of the mind to (into?) God”, but it is a decidedly spiritual ascent culminating in a “mystical ravishment””.

For intellectuals as a class, one may suggest, faith is an attitude to truth, and specifically to truth as conceptualizable, and more specifically still, to transcendent truth—not yet discovered”, not yet known.

As an intellectual in the Greek tradition, as we have said, he held that man’s highest relation to the universe and to ultimate reality is through the mind. Yet for him the whole person should accompany the mind in the involvement.

For a distinction—with momentous consequences—is made between ifides formata and fides informis: faith with and without love. The latter  for Thomas is not a virtue”.

Abelard had posited, rather, another set of terms: aestimatio (also existimatio), with the verb aestimare. By doing so, he was understood h-, any of his contemporaries as meaning what most to-day would mean  belief”. He was, accordingly, roundly denounced, for seeming to so that faith is simply belief. To his contemporaries this was shocking. – as as if a person’s having faith were simply his believing, were something therefore that each could feel and speak about as it might strike him; and as if Christian life were a function uncertainly of the inconclu­sive and diverse beliefs of those who practised it”.

Faith for him is knowing a truth without yet a total understanding of it: it is an apprehending that is not yet a comprehending. (Over against this, for many moderns knowledge has become often so impersonal” a concept as to descend to the level of “information”. Faith is a kind of knowing well above that level. Hence my use, in endeavouring to render Thomas’s position, of the terms “knowing” rather than knowledge, of “apprehending”; and my pointing to its being a full or final understand­ing that alone is lacking.)

“. At issue is not whether this or that be right, but rather one’s response to manifest rightness. A heretic, St. Thomas makes clear, is one who rejects an article of the faith—just one, even— perversely or stubbornly (pertinaciter)”: otherwise, he is not a heretic but merely in error (non haereticus, sed solum errans'”). Such persons,

even though accepting all other articles, do not have faith”

VATICAN I To ultimate truth and reality man owes not only his existence but his allegiance. Truth, reality, goodness are objectively given. They are independent of and prior to man, and to his awareness of them; they are greater than he. Human reason, the human spirit, thus does not create truth or other values but discovers them as pre-existing. Since this is so, man’s task is one of pursuing what is in some sense already “there”; loyally subordinating both one’s mind and one’s will to truth and reality (to transcendent value) insofar as these disclose themselves (or, are dis­closed, are uncovered; insofar as they make themselves discernible to us). Such “loyalty” is the foundation of man’s wholeness; it is the gate to this ultimate, final well-being.

If, the document is virtually saying, it is the case that there is a transcendent truth prior to the empirical world, prior to man, prior to man’s awareness both of what is and of what ought to be, so that man, though free to do as one likes, will in fact flourish in any ultimate sense only if one align oneself with this truth-reality—if this is the case, then one’s so aligning oneself, one’s decision so to do and one’s capacity so to do, are a gift.

it does not matter if ordinary Christians—the masses, simple peasants, children, and the like—do not have a right understanding of their faith. Their ideas on the matter (we might say, their beliefs) hardly count, so long as they have faith. (Harent Preparation rationelle de la foi; le fideisme )

Literally, and originally, “to believe” means “to hold dear”: virtually, ) to love. This fact—and it is a hard, brute, fact—provides the underlying force and substance of our thesis here. Let it be emphasized, and re­iterated. Let it be remembered, throughout the remainder of this chapter and even, if one be allowed so to plead, throughout the remainder of each reader’s life. Literally, and originally, “to believe” means “to hold dear”.

This is what its German equivalent belieben still means today. Die be­liebteste Zigarette in an advertisement signifies quite simply the favourite among cigarettes; the most popular cigarette; the most prized. Similarly the adjective lieb is “dear, beloved” (mein lieber Freund, “my dear friend”). Die Liebe is the noun “love”; and lieben is the verb “to love” (Ich liebe dich, “I love you”). Belieben, then, is to treat as lieb, to con­sider lovely, to like, to wish for, to choose.

This same root shows in Latin, as in libet, “it pleases”; in the Latin phrase used in English, ad lib. (for ad libitum), “as one likes, at pleas­ure”; and in the noun libido, “pleasure”, projected into modern usage by the Freudians. Latin libet and libido are also found, although less com­monly, in the forms lubet and lubido.

The interchangeability of “believe” and “belove” is an empirical fact, historically. Here is one” example. LaEamons Brut, or Chronicle of Brit­, ain; a poetical semi-Saxon paraphrase of the Brut of Wace” was edited 1 in 1847 from two surviving manuscripts, one from “the early part of the thirteenth century”” and the other a little later, in Henry III’s reign. The texts of the two manuscripts are quite close, but not identical. A certain King Bladud, for instance, is presented as having built a temple, perhaps at Bath, dedicated to Minerva. One of the manuscripts reads: to hire he hefde loue (to her he had love), while the other has, in hire he bi-lefde”. That is, here bi-lefde manifestly means “he held dear”—virtually, he loved. In a later passage another king is being urged to honour his pledge; to uphold an oath that he has sworn; not to hold cheap a pledge that he has given. The wording is: bi-lef bene aeo (second manuscript, bi-lef Pane oP)”. Nobody can believe his own oath, in the modern sense; but it makes good sense, and is indeed unavoidable, to translate “believe” here as “to value highly, to hold fast to, be loyal to, keep allegiance to”. The modern phrase would be “honour thine oath”. Just as the king honoured Merlin, to the irritation of his rivals at court, so here a man is being asked to hold his oath in honour.

We may note in passing, also, that the English word “to honour” in such phrases means not merely to consider honourable, to hold in high esteem, at the theoretical level, but to add’ to this an active operational thrust. In present-day English, “to honour one’s word”, “to honour one’s bond”, “to honour one’s pledge”, signify not merely an attitude, mental or 1 emotional or both, but a following through in practice. “To believe” in mediaeval English meant almost exactly what “to honour” means in these usages in modern English.

One of the earliest recorded” instances in English of the word “belief” is from a homily from the late twelfth or early thirteenth century, where it is averred that Christian men should not set their hearts, we might say, on worldly goods. The phrasing is “. . . should not set their belief” on them33. There is no suggestion here that Christians should regard the material world as unreal, illusory, should not believe in it,’ in that modern sense. On the contrary, it is implied that the mundane is concrete enough, but is not worth esteeming, should not become beloved.

In the same fashion Wycliffe used “belief” for “obeying” when in his translation of the New Testament into English he rendered Acts 26:19 (“I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision””) as Y was not vnbileue­ful to the heuenli visioun55. That is, I did not fail to act out in practice what I saw to be God’s will for me. In our day, the Revised Standard Version still uses “disobedient” here; but “not unfaithful” would make very good English.

Belief was the earlier word for what is now commonly called faith. The latter originally meant in English (as in old] French) `loyalty to a person to whom one is bound by promise or duty, or to one’s promise or duty itself,’ as in ‘to keep faith, to break faith,’ and the derivatives faithful, faithless, in which there is no reference to `belief’; i.e. ‘faith’ was [equivalent to] fidelity, fealty. But the word faith being, through Old] F[ench] fei, faith, the etymological representative of the Latin] fides, it began in the 14th century] to be used to translate the latter, and in course time almost superseded ‘belief,’ especially] in theological language, leaving ‘belief’ in great measure to the merely intellect process or state in sense. Thus ‘belief in God’ no Ion means as much as ‘faith in God’.

This meaning is evinced also in Shakespeare. In his plays, on occasion, f our verb still meant what credo meant. An instance is in All’s Well That Ends Well (2:3:159), when the King says to Bertram, “Believe not thy disdain”. In this he is acknowledging that that Count does indeed have disdain for the humble-born orphaned girl Helena, but is telling him not to act in terms of it: not to correlate his behaviour with this manifest truth. To believe is to follow through in practice what one recognizes intellectually. Here, “Believe not” names the decision not to follow through, the deliberate act of will that rejects what one acknowledges as a fact”.

Man, on the other hand, has always thought  that being human does require special effort; or special special grace. For a crocodile, it is easy to be a crocodile; for us, on the other hand, it is easy not to be fully human, easy for us to from our true calling. Man can fail to be human, can fail to or herself; and can fail properly to recognize the authentic humanity of one’s neighbour, can treat other men and women as if they less than human.

A preacher who strives to persuade his congregation to believe doctrines put r in by-gone centuries is vastly less effective than one whose sermon ­enables moderns to understand: who clarifies what those hoary propositions signified in the lives of persons and societies for whom, in world-view of their times, they were true expressions of the eternal verities. (Even a hostile critic must recognize [sic] that and how they were genuine wrestlings with these, or at least with profound and persisti­ng human problems.) It is somewhat pitiful to see modern Christians being asked to believe (or, by inadvertent implication, to disbelieve, or in distillations of wisdom and insight and transcendent truth.

Not to believe ancient doctrines is as old-fashioned and as unintelligent to believe them (as perhaps linguistic analysts, in their tortured and ob­fuscated way, dimly sense). The problem lies not in the doctrines, but in conceiving of them as beliefs. This is the modern West’s most massive reductionism.

Understanding is indeed a virtue; this is primarily so for an intellectual. Nonetheless, are we seeming to evade here the haunting and imperious question of truth? Are we emphasizing a comparativist concern, perhaps unduly (“interesting, no doubt, yet peripheral . . .”), perhaps in the in­terests of good causes like harmony and peaceful co-operation, or histori­cal sophistication, yet failing to reckon with the intellectual’s central task, of assessing rational truth and falsity, or with the Christian’s (Muslim’s, Buddhist’s), of assessing the final truth or falsity of Christianity, Islam, Buddhism? We do well to understand our fellows; yet we must not omit to know the truth.

Such a discrimination, however, reflects an attitude no longer tenable, I would contend. To achieve understanding is to move towards knowing; and, conspicuously in the human realm, all one’s knowing of truth limps if one does not understand one’s neighbour. (The neighbour may be of another community or another century.) To know separately is to know in inadequate part.

Moreover, just as religious persons should perceive and acknowledge the enormous achievements of modern secularism, so the irreligious would do well to recognize the devastation, in the depersonalizing of so society and the desiccating of individual lives, that their secularist world-promotes, so large a sector of the truth does it omit. Even science, so promising and so seemingly immaculate a saviour, has for several, of late, been showing itself a potential nightmare, with Hiroshima and polluted oceans, and its apparent drastic incapacity to correlate the human spirit with its world.

while one’s faith, as many have averred, is given t by God, one’s belief is given by one’s century or one’s group.

The famed “religious tolerance” of Hindus, their acceptance in principle of pluralism as something not merely inescapable but right and proper, has become explicit as a formulated affirmation only gradually and especially perhaps in relatively recent times, in a form that some Western scholars dif­ferentiate by naming “neo-Hinduism”. Perhaps involved in this emergence (of the formulation, not of the phenomenon) has been a reaction to modern Western impingements.

In Latin, the word pactum was used (e.g., Retinete semper pactum, quod fecistis cum Domino—”keep ever in mind the pact that you made with the Lord”: Niceta of Remesiana, De Symbolo, and also pactio (e.g., [pactio] in qua creditur Deo in nomine Trinitatis: Justinian of Calencia. More generally, cf. “Baptism as a contract”. On the con­tinuing use in English, into our own day, of the terms “promises”, “covenant”, “vows” in the Anglican Prayer Book in characterizing baptism.

There is no question ) whatever, from any corner, but that Latin credo and Sanskrit iraddhja are originally the same word.

This do is not do, dare . . . (Greek &Swat [diclami]), “to give”, but ‘rather a third-declension verb do (Greek titherni), “to put, to set. to place”.

Faith, accordingly, has to do with willing, and is an anticipatory apprehension, a foretaste or “sipping” of truth yet to be fully grasped. Faith is that by which we know what it is that we wish to know (Nil autem malumus scire, quam quae fide iam scimus).

“No one should have any views on interreligious questions until he or she has talked with members of other communities; and preferably, not until he or she has friends among them.”

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