How Could They Doubt

From “Sermon XXIII,” New Series of Homilies for the Whole Year (1909)

The Apostle goes on still further developing the same idea. “For our Gospel,” he says, “hath not been to you in word only but in power also and in the Holy Ghost, and in much fulness, as you know what manner of men we have been among you for your sakes.” You have good reason, St. Paul seems to say, for remaining firm in the faith which I taught you, because the proofs which I gave you of its truth and divine origin were not in words only; you were also witnesses of the miracles which God wrought to confirm it and of the wonderful, the full, and superabundant diffusion of the gifts of the Holy Ghost ; proofs which it pleased God to work through me and for your benefit.

St. Thomas well says that man would not believe the truths of faith did he not see that it is his duty to do so. And were this not true, the faith of those who have come to the full use of reason would not be a reasonable faith. Those outside the Church cannot enter her portals except by following the light of reason, which makes manifest to them her divine origin, and hence the Fathers say that reason is a schoolmaster who points out the way to faith. It is hardly necessary to add that divine grace works in the soul, anticipating and sustaining our own efforts.

Now, how can man know that it is his duty to believe the truths taught by faith? Is it because the light of reason teaches him that they, like natural truths, are in themselves undeniable? No; for even if they were all truths of the natural order, all men would not be capable of understanding them, and a great many of them are supernatural truths and hence wholly beyond the powers of our natural reason.

How, then, can we know that it is our duty to accept them? A man presents himself to you, teaches you a doctrine you do not understand, and assures you that what he says is true; you know the man; you know that he is honest, that he is learned, and there is not the least possibility of suspecting either that he can deceive you or has any intention of doing so. Again, a general on the field of battle receives a written order, commanding him to make a certain movement, the wisdom of which he does not see; nay, it appears to him wholly unreasonable. The general examines the written order, recognizes the signature of his superior officer, and without hesitating an instant obeys.

Do you, in accepting the doctrine you do not understand, and does the general, in obeying the order, which to him seems inexplicable, act contrary to reason? No; on the contrary, you act reasonably, because reason requires that you should submit to the judgment of one, who you know is worthy of the fullest confidence. You do not understand the matter itself, but you do understand that it comes to you through the intellect of one who, you know, does understand it.

This is our case, and it was the case of the Thessalonians. They indeed could not understand all the truths that St. Paul taught them, but they saw that he was disinterested and wholly consumed with the love of truth; that he preached a doctrine from which he could reap no material gain, which demanded of him all sorts of sacrifices, and which exposed his life to danger; they heard him state that he had seen the risen Christ; they saw him work great miracles, miracles beyond all question, in their presence, in confirmation of the doctrines he taught; they saw that he was a pattern of every virtue, and seeing and hearing all this, how could they question or doubt his teaching? It was reasonable for them to believe everything he taught, and it is also reasonable for us to believe the same teachings, since we have all the proofs the early Christians had, proofs that are strengthened, rather than weakened, by the lapse of time, and the additional force and evidence which lapse of time gives.

Geremia Bonomelli (1831-1914) was an Italian Catholic bishop and theologian, who helped to set up mission churches for Italian emigrants across Europe and advocated for the church’s freedom from state interference. His New Homilies for the Church Year were a series of expositional sermons on the liturgical Epistles and Gospels that shaped Catholic preaching in the early twentieth century.


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