The Source of Certitude | Epilogue to Faith and Certitude | by Thomas Dubay, S.M.
The Source of Certitude | Epilogue to Faith
and Certitude | by Thomas Dubay, S.M.
In the Church of the New Testament faith involved a submission of the intellect,
not to a book, but to a living authority. The Apostles submitted their judgment
to the oral teaching of Jesus. The first to hear the apostolic group were
required to submit their minds to the message proclaimed to them. It is
easy to accept a book, for one can make the book mean almost anything one
wishes, but to accept a living teacher requires a self-emptying, for the
living teacher can correct misinterpretations derived from his word.
Apostles gave no one a written volume to be understood variously as each
one chose. No, they proclaimed a message, and they tolerated no contradiction
of it. Even if an angel from heaven were to appear and teach something other
than St. Paul taught, the angel was to be anathema (Gal 1:6-9). Faith, he
said, came from an authoritative proclamation (Rom 10:17); it did not come
from one's private understanding of a book.
To the extent that a person follows his own personal judgment he is not
practicing the virtue of faith. Faith is a response to a teacher, an authoritative
teacher. This is why it does not waver, whereas private views do waver from
one time to another. Once I am sure that God has spoken either directly
or through a teacher he himself has established, I accept with no hesitation
and with no later change whatever that teacher presents to me now or may
present in the future. Otherwise, I am operating according to my own judgment,
and that obviously is not faith. People who accept of the Church's teaching
only what they "see" and approve are not living by faith. They are doing
nothing meritorious or salvific, for they are merely following themselves.
Their beliefs and moral ideas shift and waver, for things appear differently
to them from one time to another. They are tossed to and fro precisely as
St. Paul says we ought not to be tossed by every gale of doctrine.
One of the chief reasons why some religiously minded people do not enter
the Catholic Church is that they are not prepared to make the act of faith,
that is, the act of submitting their judgment to a living authority. The
problem is not that the evidences for a divine origin of the Church are
lacking. On the contrary, they are clear and abundant. What is lacking is
the attitude of a mind willing to accept what it does not see simply on
the authority of a teacher. These people may profess a great appreciation
for Scripture. They may see its beauty, but they are not willing to surrender
their belief that their views are superior to another's. They will not bring
themselves to admit that a teacher who contradicts their ideas could be
divinely authorized. This is why the root obstacle to faith is pride.
Certitude is a communal enterprise. No one attains the solidities necessary
for a full human life as a rugged individualist. Infants learn dozens of
basic facts (including their parents' identity and their own) only within
the bosom of the family. Trades are still learned from others who have mastered
them. Fledgling astronomers, physicists, biologists, medical or law students
all pick up their assumptions and principles and procedures from their respective
academic communities. No one begins alone.
Even the experts in a given field usually wish their conclusions to be tested
and criticized by their peers. Before an author submits his typescript to
a publisher he asks a few colleagues to give it a critical reading. Only
the arrogant presume that they are oracles of unquestioned truth. All through
human life secure conclusions are the result of cooperative work. Authority
So it is also in the divine economy of salvation. Taking human beings as
they are, God has chosen to bring us to himself not through mere reasoning
but through a proclamation he himself authenticates. Since this volume is
not a textbook of fundamental theology, I have not investigated the fact
of a divine revelation and a commissioned Church. Crucial as these realities
are, they nonetheless lie beyond the plan of this work.
What we should at least notice here is that our certitudes communally and
individually within the Church derive from objective historical facts and
not from mere philosophical theory. There is a threefold linking that founds
1. The Christ event grounds its own reality and certitude. "The risen Jesus
manifests himself to his disciples and thus creates in them an experiential
certitude regarding his Resurrection; this certitude then finds expression
in the Christian kerygma." 
2. The apostolic community, the early ecclesia, enjoys a primary
and privileged position in mediating this Christ-event to the entire world.
This first Christian community experienced the risen Lord and received an
abundance of his transforming Spirit. They had no doubts about their proclamation,
for it was rooted in what they could not possibly deny: their day by day
experience of Jesus of Nazareth culminating in his Passion and death and
crowned by the staggering experience of his risen life. "For this reason,
the apostolic Church is normative for the Christian faith of every age,
not simply because it is not possible to come in touch with the Christ-event
except through the testimony of the apostolic Church but also and above
all because the apostolic Church came into being through a privileged grace
and revelation of Christ." 
3. Within this early Church were conceived and from her womb were born the
New Testament writings. These compositions were authored by her members
and attested to by the whole community under the guidance of her leaders,
the Apostles and their successors. Thus the New Testament and the apostolic
Church are interlinked as normative for all later ages. They in turn are
tied in with the unshakable Christ-event. The Spirit of the risen Jesus,
who transformed the apostolic community on Pentecost, also inspired the
Scriptures and continues to dwell in the Church which Jesus founded. This
risen Lord through his Spirit is the radical ground of our certitude, for
he caused the Resurrection, inspired the New Testament and dwells in the
This ecclesial community in unbroken continuity from the first century to
the twentieth and beyond cannot betray its indwelling Lord for he is with
her until the end of time (Mt 28:20). She cannot teach error, for "when
the Spirit of truth comes, he will lead you to the whole truth" (Jn 16:13).
This Spirit is given to the Church forever, not just for the first century
(Jn 14:16). Human beings cannot have a more secure source of certitude.
 Juan Alfaro, "Theology and the Magisteriurn", in Problems and Perspectives
of Fundamental Theology, eds. René Latourelle and Gerald O'Collins,
trans. Matthew J. O'Connell (New York: Paulist Press, 1982), 343.
 Ibid., 344.
Fr. Thomas Dubay, S.M., is a well-known retreat master and expert
in the spiritual life.
A Marist Priest, Father holds a Ph.D. from Catholic University of America
and has taught on both major seminary level for about fifteen years. He
spent the last twenty-seven years giving retreats and writing books (over
twenty at last count) on various aspects of the spiritual life.
Ignatius Press has published several of his books, including Fire
Are The Poor, Faith
and Certitude, Authenticity,
Evidential Power of Beauty, and Prayer
Primer. He has presented many series on EWTN, including an extensive
the spiritual life of St. Teresa of Avila and a series on
the life of prayer.
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