Thursday, 21 July 2016

Hebrews 11: 1-7 - What is faith?

Hebrews 11 is a discussion of what is necessary for salvation, starting from some general propositions, and then developed through consideration of Old Testament exemplars of faith.  Today, a look at three aints from before the deluge: Abel, Enoch and Noah.

Hebrews 11:1
What is faith? It is that which gives substance to our hopes, which convinces us of things we cannot see.
 Est autem fides sperandarum substantia rerum, argumentum non apparentium. 2 In hac enim testimonium consecuti sunt senes.
Hebrews 11:1 provides a definition of faith which St Thomas describes as 'complete but obscure'.  His in depth analysis of the text though, eventually allows him to draw out a very clear formulation to focus on:
...our faith consists in believing that the blessed will see and enjoy God. Therefore, if we will to reach that state, it is necessary that we believe the principles of that knowledge. And these principles are the articles of faith, which contain the summary of this knowledge, because the vision of the triune God makes us happy. 
Hebrews 11:2-3
It was this that brought credit to the men who went before us. It is faith that lets us understand how the worlds were fashioned by God’s word; how it was from things unseen that the things we see took their origin.
 In hac enim testimonium consecuti sunt senes. Fide intelligimus aptata esse sæcula verbo Dei: ut ex invisibilibus visibilia fierent.
 The message of the Old Testament: Now the doctrine of the Old Testament was twofold: one was clearly given; the other was hidden behind the veil of figures and mysteries. The first concerned the unity of God and the creation of the world; the second the mystery of the incarnation and reparation. Hence, just as they observed the Sabbath in memory of the creation, so we observe Sunday in memory of the resurrection.

Creation of the world: In regard to the doctrine of the creation of the world he says, by faith we understand that the world was created by the word of God. This can be read in two ways: in one way so that by the word of God is in the ablative case. Then the sense is we, as the ancients, by faith, i.e., by the doctrine of faith, namely, of the Old Testament: ‘God said: Let there be light; and the light was made’ (Gen. 1:3); ‘He spoke and they were made’ (Ps. 32:9), understand that the world was created, i.e., arranged, by the word of God, i.e., by God’s command.

Faith in the creator is the foundation:  But all those words are expressly against the Manicheans, who say that what a man believes is not important, but what he does. But the Apostle sets faith down as the principle of every work; hence he says that it is the substance, i.e., the foundation. Therefore, without faith, works are performed in vain.

 OT exemplars of faith who lived before the deluge... 

Abel: Hebrews 11:4
It was in faith that Abel offered a sacrifice richer than Cain’s, and was proved thereby to be justified, since God recognized his offering; through that offering of his he still speaks in death.
Fide plurimam hostiam Abel, quam Cain, obtulit Deo, per quam testimonium consecutus est esse justus, testimonium perhibente muneribus ejus Deo, et per illam defunctus adhuc loquitur.
Scriptural testimony: ...By faith Abel offered to God a sacrifice; hence, as confession witnesses to the faith within, so from his external sacrifice, his faith is commended by reason of his external worship in sacrifice. His chosen faith is shown by his offering a chosen sacrifice, for it was from the firstlings of his flock, and of their fat. For the best sacrifice was a sign of his chosen and approved faith: ‘Cursed is the deceitful man that has in his flock a male, and making a vow, offers in sacrifice what is feeble to the Lord’. No mention is made of the excellence of Cain’s sacrifice, but only that he offered it from the fruits of the earth. He says that Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, i.e., he offered a better sacrifice than Cain to God, because it was offered for the honor of God. Otherwise, it would not have been pleasing to God.

Abel's sacrifice was lauded because he was a just man: ...he received approval as righteous, namely, by faith: ‘From the blood of Abel, the just’ (Mt. 23:35). Yet it is not because of Christ’s testimony that he says, Abel obtained approval as righteous, because he intends to introduce the authority of the Old Testament only, but because of what is said in Genesis (4:4): ‘God had respect to Abel, and to his offering,’ because God has respect especially to the just: ‘The eyes of the Lord are upon the just’ (Ps. 33:16) offering which is not sacramental is accepted because of the goodness of the one offering; for the wickedness of the minister does not alter the sacramental goodness. But in regard to the one offering, goodness is required, if the sacrifice is to benefit him.

Enoch: Hebrews 11:5-6
When Enoch was taken away without the experience of death, when God took him and no more was seen of him, it was because of his faith; that is the account we have of him before he was taken, that he pleased God; and it is impossible to please God without faith. Nobody reaches God’s presence until he has learned to believe that God exists, and that he rewards those who try to find him.
Fide Henoch translatus est ne videret mortem, et non inveniebatur, quia transtulit illum Deus: ante translationem enim testimonium habuit placuisse Deo. 6 Sine fide autem impossibile est placere Deo. Credere enim oportet accedentem ad Deum quia est, et inquirentibus se remunerator sit. 
Sciptural authority: Then when he says, by faith Enoch was taken up, he commends Enoch...The Apostle makes no mention of his works, because Scripture says little about him, but merely shows what God did to him, because by faith, i.e., by the merit of faith, he was taken up from the present life, and kept from death in another; hence, he says, that he should not see death: ‘He was seen no more, because God took him’...the death of two persons, namely, Enoch and Elijah, has been deferred, the reason being that the doctrine of the Old Testament is ordained to the promises of the New Testament, in which the hope of eternal life is promised to us...Therefore, after the sentence of death was pronounced, the Lord willed to lead men to a hope for life.

Enoch counterbalances Cain:  Genesis (5:24) [he proves that he was taken up on account of the merit of faith, because the Scripture says of him before his being taken up that ‘he walked with God’ (Gen. 5:24), which is to consent to God and please Him], which is presented in other words...says that he was seen no more, because God took him, but here, he was not found, because God had taken him. But the sense is the same: ‘He pleased God and was beloved, and living among sinners he was taken up’ (Wis. 4:10). For just as it was fitting that man be expelled from paradise because of sin, so also that the just be brought into it. For by Seth he was the seventh and best descendant of Adam, as Lamech by Cain was the seventh and worst descendant of Adam, being the first who, contrary to nature, introduced bigamy.

What do we need to believe?: ...Whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists...Secondly, that he know that God exercises providence over things. For otherwise no one would go to Him, if he had not hope of a reward from Him; hence, he says, and rewards those who seek him...This reward is no less than God Himself, because a man should seek nothing outside of Him...

Implicit vs explicit faith: But are these two sufficient for salvation? I answer that after the sin of our first parents, no one can be saved from the debt of original sin except by faith in the Mediator: but that faith varies as far as the mode of believe is concerned, for different times and states. But we to whom such a great benefit has been shown must believe more explicitly than those who existed before the time of Christ. At that time some believed more explicitly, as the greater fathers and some to whom a special revelation was made. Furthermore, those under the Law believed more explicitly than those before the Law, because they were given certain sacraments by which Christ was represented as by a figure. But for the Gentiles who were saved it was enough if they believed that God is a rewarder; and this reward is received through Christ alone. Hence, they believed implicitly in a mediator.

Knowledge about God can be had in a number of ways: in one way through Christ, inasmuch as God is the Father of an only begotten and consubstantial Son, and other things which Christ specifically taught about God the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit regarding the unity of essence and trinity of persons. All this was believed, but in the Old Testament it was believed only by the greater fathers. In another way, that God alone is to be worshipped; this is the way the Jews believed. In a third way, that there is one God: and this was known even by the philosophers and does not fall under faith.

Noah: Hebrews 11:7
When Noe received a warning about dangers still unseen, it was faith that made him take alarm, and build an ark to preserve his family. Thus he proved the whole world wrong, and was left heir to the justification which comes through faith.
Fide Noë responso accepto de iis quæ adhuc non videbantur, metuens aptavit arcam in salutem domus suæ, per quam damnavit mundum: et justitiæ, quæ per fidem est, hæres est institutus.
Scriptural authority: He mentions five things that he did: first, that he believed God’s words about the judgment to come, but which was not yet seen. Hence, he says, By faith, Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, believed. Secondly, he was moved to fear by faith, because faith is the beginning of fear: ‘The fear of God is the beginning of his love; and the beginning of faith is to be fast joined unto it’ (Sir. 25:16). Hence, he says, moved by fear, namely, of the promised deluge, which, nevertheless, was not seen. Therefore, faith is concerned with invisible things. Thirdly, he fulfilled God’s command by building the ark; hence, he says, he constructed an ark, i.e., he did what was suitable according to God’s arrangement. Fourthly, he hoped for salvation from God, hence he says, for the saving of his household, i.e., his family, because they alone were saved: ‘herein a few, that is eight souls, were saved by water’ (1 Pt 3:20). Fifthly, since he did all the foregoing because of faith, he condemned the world, i.e., showed that worldly people deserve condemnation. But the revelation he received about constructing the ark was an answer to his desire and of the righteousness which is by faith.

Noah's reward: Then when he says, and was instituted heir of the justice which is by faith, he shows what he obtained by faith. For just as after someone’s death another person succeeds in his inheritance, so too, because justice had not entirely died in the world, because the world still continued, but in the deluge almost the entire world perished, therefore, Noah was made heir, as it were, because of his faith. Or of the righteousness which is obtained by faith. Or, just as his fathers were justified by faith, so he was made the heir of justice by faith, namely, an imitator of his fathers’ justice by faith.

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