Faith, an attitude of the entire self, including both will and intellect, directed toward a person, an idea, or—as in the case of religious faith—a divine being. Modern theologians agree in emphasizing this total existential character of faith, thus distinguishing it from the popular conception of faith that identifies it with belief as opposed to knowledge. Faith indeed includes belief but goes far beyond it, and in the history of theology the distinction has more often been drawn between faith and works than between faith and knowledge. This distinction was powerfully expressed by the apostle Paul, who argued that the sinful human being cannot achieve salvation through good works, but only through faith in the free grace of God. In this view, forcefully revived by Martin Luther at the time of the Reformation, good works are consequences of faith. The faithful relation to God enables the believer to transcend limitations and bring forth good works.
|II||NEW TESTAMENT CONCEPTION OF FAITH|
The most evocative description of faith in the New Testament is found in Hebrews 11:1, where faith is heralded as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Here, the word for faith is the Greek pistis, which denotes the act of giving one’s trust. The New Testament conception of faith involves an amplification and an alteration of the older, Hebrew idea of faith as that quality of stability and trust that informs the living relationship between two beings. For the New Testament writers, faith has found its center in the believer’s relationship to Jesus Christ. But the New Testament idea of faith goes beyond that of the Hebrew scriptures in its addition of the concept of “belief in” or “belief that.” Hence, Christian theology has traditionally distinguished between the “subjective” element in faith, which involves the supernatural action of God upon the human soul, and faith’s “objective” component, which is characterized as adherence to a body of truth found in creeds, in definitions of church councils, and especially in the Bible.
|III||LATER CHRISTIAN CONCEPTIONS|
During the Middle Ages, Roman Catholic theologians distinguished two kinds of separate but ultimately compatible religious truths: those that are accessible to unaided human reason, such as belief in the existence of God; and those that require faith in order to be grasped, such as belief in the resurrection of the dead. Historically, the Roman Catholic church has defined faith as the complete acceptance of doctrine and of the absolute authority of God in what he reveals or promises to reveal.
Not all Christians have believed that the demands of faith are compatible with those of reason. Many early Christians, including St. Paul and the 2nd-century theologian Tertullian, insisted that faith resembles folly to the eye that has not been opened by the grace of God. In a similar vein, the 19th-century Danish thinker Søren Kierkegaard felt that a chasm separates human reason from faith, and that the would-be believer must make a “leap of faith” across this abyss in order to find salvation. In general, modern Protestant theologians have emphasized, as Kierkegaard did, the subjective or individualistic aspect of faith and have concentrated on the risk and moral effort involved in attempting to lead the life of faith, rather than on the acceptance of creeds as an expression of faith.