Faith and belief
A parish priest
The Feast of Sts Peter and Paul is one of the great festivals of the Church, for it is from the Apostles that we have received our Faith. The Faith, which we profess in the words of the Creeds, is a truth revealed to us by God himself, revealed to us through the Apostles and the Church. However, this in no way denies that we each have a whole collection of beliefs, judgements and ideas, more or less consistent, more or less changeable, with which we view the world and each other. It is part of what makes us who we are; it is precious to us, though not necessarily to other people. There is a subtle relationship between the Faith and beliefs, between the core and the periphery.
It is part of the modern response at a renewal of baptismal vows: ‘This is the faith of the Church. This is our faith, we believe and trust in one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.’ Faith is a gift, a gift from God that we share together in the Body of the Church, that we receive by baptism and is for us a source of life.
By contrast, there are many who say, ‘I want to believe and trust in God, but I can’t,’ or some such phrase as ‘I wish I had your faith.’ People who want to know the answers before they commit themselves, to know what they are buying before paying good money for it. They are saying in effect, ‘I need to understand in order to have faith.’ But the Christian tradition has always grasped that it is the other way around, ‘I need faith in order to understand.’ Or again, ‘First have faith, then you will learn.’
It is a gift, shared within the Body of the Church, from which each of us gains understanding about ourselves, other people, the world and the God who made it. Could you or I or anyone else devise so rich, so complex, so extraordinary a compilation as the Creed? Of course not. However complicated and sophisticated our set of beliefs may be, that is not how they would ever end up on their own. That is to confuse beliefs with faith.
Neither Christ nor his Church impose a set of beliefs. When we say, ‘This is the faith of the Church’ we do not mean ‘This is the precise set of beliefs that you, as an individual believer, must adhere to if you wish to remain within the fellowship of the Church.’ There is no thought police. We do not have our private beliefs, opinions and judgements vetted and approved.
God is not telling us what we must believe, but he is offering us the gift of faith. A foundation for the development of our own beliefs. You may believe what you like, but believing what you like will not make it true. If you want the truth, then learn, Mother Church suggests, what it means when Jesus said to his disciples, and therefore also to us if we will hear him, ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life – no one comes to the Father except by me.’
Let us come, then, to the celebration of this feast of Peter and Paul, Princes of the Apostles, and celebrate together the Faith we have received. Look around the congregation, and imagine the extraordinary range of beliefs and opinions. It is never this that unites us, but the faith we have been given.