Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Terminology Tuesday: fides quaerens intellectum

fides quaerens intellectum: Literally, "faith seeking understanding." The phrase originated with Anselm in his Proslogion and was used to show the relationship of religious faith to human reason. For Anselm, matters of religion and theology are understood only by first believing them and then proceeding to gain an intellectual understanding of the things already believed. In other words, faith is both logically and chronologically prior to reason.1

1. Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzki & Cherith Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), p. 52.

4 comments :

Michael said...

What a terrible idea: believe first, ask questions later.

epistemaniac said...

not really... you and I believe all sorts of things first, and then act on/clarify/deepen our understanding later. when you view this page on the internet you believe that the internet is working properly, that someone hasn't hijacked or hacked your computer and is actually controlling all you see instead of it being actual servers... you also believe the hardware is working properly first, then seek to see if this is the case... you trust that your own physical senses (your eyes in particular) are likewise working properly, then you act on this information in faith in seeking greater understanding trusting that your senses are not deceiving you. This cycle (exercising faith leading to greater understanding-greater understanding leading to greater faith) shows that knowledge is very bound up in this give and take between exercising faith and then acting on it in some way to justify (or refute!) what it was that was originally believed. Calvin puts it like this: "Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other. For, in the first place, no man can survey himself without forthwith turning his thoughts towards the God in whom he lives and moves; because it is perfectly obvious, that the endowments which we possess cannot possibly be from ourselves; nay, that our very being is nothing else than subsistence in God alone." (Calvin, J. (2002; 2002). Institutes of the Christian Religion (1)) John Frame elaborates "On the first page of his Institutes, Calvin observes that the knowledge of God and the knowledge of self are interrelated. We might expect Calvin (as a good Calvinist!) to add that of course of the two, the knowledge of God “comes first.” Remarkably, however, Calvin says instead that he doesn’t know which comes first. This comment I take to be enormously perceptive. The best way to look at the matter is that neither knowledge of God nor knowledge of self is possible without knowledge of the other, and growth in one area is always accompanied by growth in the other. I cannot know myself rightly until I see myself as God’s image: fallen, yet saved by grace. But also I cannot know God rightly until I seek to know Him as a creature, as a servant. The two kinds of knowledge, then, come simultaneously, and they grow together. The reason for this is not only that each of us is part of the “situation” that is essential to the knowledge of God (see above) but also the additional fact that each of us is made in God’s image. We know God as He is reflected in ourselves. Furthermore, all the information we receive about God, through nature, Scripture, or whatever source, comes to us through our eyes, ears, minds, and brains—through ourselves. Sometimes we dream fondly of a “purely objective” knowledge of God—a knowledge of God freed from the limitations of our senses, minds, experiences, preparation, and so forth. But nothing of this sort is possible, and God does not demand that of us. Rather, He condescends to dwell in and with us, as in a temple. He identifies himself in and through our thoughts, ideas, and experiences. And that identification is clear; it is adequate for Christian certainty. A “purely objective” knowledge is precisely what we don’t want! Such knowledge would presuppose a denial of our creaturehood and thus a denial of God and of all truth." (Frame, J. M. (1987). The doctrine of the knowledge of God. (64)

Joe said...

I believe that "faith seeking understanding" actually has roots in St. Augustine not Anselm. Anselm got it from St. Augustine.

Joe said...

3. Faith Seeking Understanding: "In his Sermon (43.7, 9) Augustine asserted: Crede, ut intelligas (“Believe in order that you may understand”).12 For Augustine, faith (“trust in a reliable source”) is an indispensable element in knowledge. One must believe in something in order to know anything. Knowledge begins with faith and faith provides a foundation for knowledge. Faith is itself indirect knowledge (like testimony or authority). While faith comes first in time, knowledge comes first in importance. Faith and reason do not conflict, but instead complement one another. Augustine believed that while reason does not cause faith, reason everywhere supports faith. Augustine also argued that Christians should seek to use their reason to understand doctrines (the Trinity, Incarnation, etc.) that are given via divine revelation (thus “faith seeking understanding”). Augustine’s writings about the role of faith influenced Credo, ut intelligam (“I believe in order that I might understand”) by St. Anselm (a.d. 1033-1109)."- Ken Samples

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