The point has been made before: Many of the enemies of truth, goodness, and just plain decency seem to know that they are attacking something divine: There wouldn’t be such vituperation spewed forth against the Pope and the Church as such unless… well, unless the Vicar and Body of Christ were at least implicitly recognized to be such.
But what exactly do some of our more malicious persecutors actually understand about the faith, even if only implicitly?
Here, a theological vantage is helpful in order to understand better the kind of hatred for God that may be at the root of some of these attacks. What follows is not a spiritualization of a patently concrete crisis, an attempt to mystify-away the legitimate critiques that are ensconced within some of our adversaries’ hateful hubris. Surely, men and bureaucratization are in need of purification and reform. However, it is important to recognize the cosmic and psychological dynamics of what is often cashed out as merely an ideological and cultural battle.
In his treatment of the virtue of faith in the Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas Aquinas asks whether or not the demons have faith (II-II, q. 5, a. 2). It would seem obvious that they do not. And yet, the Letter of St. James clearly avers that even the demons believe and tremble (2.19).
What does it mean to say that the demons “believe?”
St. Thomas holds that the act of faith is twofold. It is principally intellectual, since it is ordered for the attainment of divine truth. But because this truth is substantially supernatural to us, even by grace, we see as in a mirror darkly (1 Cor 13.12). We don’t actually “see” the supernatural revelation and essential identity of God, the way one can “see” the truth of a logical demonstration or the individual identity of his own person. The glory of divine vision awaits us, please God, in heaven, where we shall see Him face to face (1 Jn 3.2). For now, in order to perfect the intellectual act of attaining divine truth according to its earthly possibilities, God gives us the virtue of faith that, in anticipation of heaven, we might possess the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things believed (Heb 11.1).
Consequently, the act of faith requires an “assent” of the will. Because we do not “see” what we believe, we must be directed to cleave to divine truth as if we did, in order that it might veritably constitute supernatural knowledge. Aroused by the divine goodness that is its graced end, the will impels our intellect to adhere to what the Church proclaims as manifesting divine Truth. Consequently, as the Catechism teaches, citing St. Thomas, our explicit acts of faith do not rest in the articulated teachings themselves—although they are irreducibly necessary—but in the very reality of the divine mysteries (CCC 170). We truly know what we believe because we think with assent, to use the phraseology of St. Augustine.
The act of faith therefore requires both the illumination of the intellect and inspiration of the will by God Himself (Denz. 1791). Meritorious faith is inflamed by divine charity, whereas faith that does not work according to divine love (see Gal 5.6) is still graced, but motivated by something less than the divine goodness of God Himself.
This gift of faith, however, does not remain in those who sin against the act and its proper object. For example, a person who positively rejects the name of Christ, or the divine inspiration of the canonical books of the Bible, or the work of the Catholic Church as that of a divine society, or even but one of her official teachings (according to the so-called cafeteria model), such a one is formally sinning against faith: He has denuded himself of the armor of God (Eph 6.11, 13).
Now, in the same family as this type of sinners against the faith are the wicked angels, those spiritual creatures who are irremediably convicted in their malice.
And yet, if their spiritual eyes are so darkened by hatred that they do not see the mysteries of the trinitarian economy or the supernatural splendor of the triune Godhead, which can only be possessed by a creature through anticipating grace or perfecting glory, how is it that they can be so focused in their militancy against divine truth and goodness?
According to the Angelic Doctor, it is actually possible to believe in the veracity of supernatural objects in a natural sort of way. Such a kind of “belief” is not “faith,” whether it is operating and living by charity or not. Rather, it is belief in the exterior credibility of what is proposed for faith because its signs are compelling. Thus, when the demoniacs from the tombs or the man in the synagogue with the unclean spirit acknowledged Jesus as “the Holy One of God,” they were not confessing the divine mystery of Jesus Christ’s eternal divinity and sonship. Motivated by fear and self-preservation, and recognizing that this special man from Nazareth was an historically unique, heavenly agent of God because of his miraculous works, they only seem to profess what is of the supernatural substance of faith. (See Mt 8.29, Mk 1.24, Lk 4.34.) They recognize that Jesus is holy and of God. And they can scrutinize this fact with natural capacities that are keener than those possessed by human creatures. They might even be able to judge that there is something terribly ultimate about Jesus. But they are like scientists who have reached the limits of their investigative means. Wicked angels do not possess the truth of Jesus’s Godly holiness, that he is the incarnate Word of the Father. They do not know his supernatural, divine mystery.
Something similar is taking place in human persons who seem to recognize implicitly the truth of that which they hate. They recognize the authenticity and authority of the Church’s preaching and hierarchy; but because they are not motivated by a love for true goodness—but rather by the desire to scorn, or the desire for popularity—their recognition is unable to further receive the grace necessary to penetrate and attain the truth of what that hierarchical authority proposes for divine belief.
That the Church is a divine institution with a properly sacerdotal and prophetic ministry is objectively credible based upon external signs that manifest her perduring, Godly mission on earth. The enemies of the Church recognize that these signs augur divine agency, and even, perhaps, portend their own demise… but they are not moved to divine faith. Why?
Because there is evil in their hearts.
Thus, one could, for example, recognize the holy uniqueness of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta—and yet repudiate and impugn her with the kinds of words with which an exorcist is lambasted by a demon, precisely because such a one recognizes what Mother Teresa is about, even if he is unwilling to affirm who Mother Teresa most truly is. The root defect here is in the will (totally irrespective of issues of culpability).
The upshot of all this is that staunch enemies against the Church will typically not be won over by argument, at least not formally. The sin is not so much the error in their minds as the obstinacy in their hearts.
They don’t want to believe.
The orthodox Catholic must recognize the deeply cosmic nature of the battle that is taking place on earth. Moreover, he must appreciate that the detractors he meets, and who are (consciously or not) in league with demonic agency, these enemies of the faith need a manifestation of the faith that can both convict and allure their hearts, insofar as God may be offering them the grace to be so affected. For, unlike the demons, their maliciousness against God and the true religion is still remediable.
In all likelihood, it’s not about meeting the men who write best-selling books and run anti-religious shows on cable television… but about meeting those who are more or less influenced by them. Perhaps our general challenge is less about converting crusaders against Christianity as it is about ministering to their lukewarm bystanders.
It is as imperative as ever that the Church maintain the traditional apologetic front, which shows the reasonableness of the faith and the fallaciousness of arguments against it. Catholics must be equipped with this intellectual understanding, and must be comfortable introducing apologetic defenses into the public forum.
Additionally, the peaceably courageous, long-suffering humility that is the mark of the new man who has put on Christ must now, as much as ever, remain the cruciform battle standard of truth. By God’s grace, we must be capable of inspiring as well as illuminating, of moving as well as informing.
“Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Matt 5.16). This is the light of beauty, the splendor of Christian love and sacrifice that is the mark of divine charity. There may be nothing uglier on the face of this planet than the creature’s hatred for the Creator. But there is nothing more beautiful than the incarnate love of God’s patient, humble solicitude, with which we can intelligently depict the brilliance of His grace.