Is Doubting The Faith No Longer A Sin?

quote-about-faith-st-elizabeth-ann-seton

VATICAN CITY – Everyone experiences doubts about the faith at times – “I have” many times, Pope Francis said – but such doubts can be “a sign that we want to know God better and more deeply.”

“We do not need to be afraid of questions and doubts because they are the beginning of a path of knowledge and going deeper; one who does not ask questions cannot progress either in knowledge or in faith,” the pope said Nov. 23 at his weekly general audience.

Pope Francis said that although the Year of Mercy has concluded, he still wanted to continue his general audience reflections on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

With fewer than 10,000 pilgrims and visitors present and with rain forecast, the Vatican moved the audience indoors to the Vatican audience hall.  Click here to read more

Comment:

Am I alone is not having experienced “doubts” about the Faith? Maybe I was taught, too thoroughly, that wilful doubt is one of the chief sins against the Faith (Scottish Catechism of Christian Doctrine, Chapter XXVIII, The First Commandment – Section 1: the Worship of God, # 541)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), # 2088 teaches that the first commandment requires us to nourish and protect our faith with prudence and vigilance, and to reject everything that is opposed to it. There are various ways of sinning against faith: Voluntary doubt about the faith disregards or refuses to hold as true what God has revealed and the Church proposes for belief. Involuntary doubt refers to hesitation in believing, difficulty in overcoming objections connected with the faith, or also anxiety aroused by its obscurity. If deliberately cultivated doubt can lead to spiritual blindness. End of extract from CCC

I was taught that God cannot deceive, and thus, we are obliged to accept, in the spirit of Faith, what He has revealed. Obviously, such Faith is accepted in the context of learning about the nature of Church, that the authority of the Catholic Church comes from God, and that, thus, there is no need for “doubts”. Of course we should continue to study and read about the Church, but not in a spirit of asking God to prove Himself to us.  It has become a fashion to doubt, the implication being that unless we entertain doubts we are somehow less intelligent that those who do. The opposite is, in fact, true. It is entirely against the nature of true Faith to entertain doubts. The legitimate questions which arise, and to which we seek answers, are not “doubts” so it is a pity that Pope Francis is using the word and encouraging the idea that it is a good thing to doubt. 

Personally, I think that Pope Francis is confusing the duty to keep ourselves educated in the Faith through study and prayer, with doubting, which is, as indicated above, one of the chief sins against the Faith.  What do you think? 

40 responses

  1. “The legitimate questions which arise, and to which we seek answers, are not “doubts” so it is a pity that Pope Francis is using the word and encouraging the idea that it is a good thing to doubt.”

    Perhaps that is because, dear editor, you have the ability to make proper DISTINCTIONS between terms, whereas the blessed pope seems to never have been educated in this fundamental requirement for “doing theology” or any other form of rational discourse.

    If he would but read a little Newman, or even Newman as quoted in the CCC, he would know that “Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt.” Similarly with ten thousand questions:

    CCC 157 “Faith is certain . It is more certain than all human knowledge because it is founded on the very word of God who cannot lie. To be sure, revealed truths can seem obscure to human reason and experience, but “the certainty that the divine light gives is greater than that which the light of natural reason gives.”(31) “Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt.”(32)”

    Since becoming Catholic, like you I have never had a doubt about the revealed faith. There are times, however, when I have doubted whether the pope is Catholic. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

  2. Deacon Augustine,

    Well said. I have to add, however, that the old joke “Are you more Catholic than the Pope?” is no longer funny. We HAVE to be more Catholic than this Pope to lay any claim at all to being Catholics! So, no need for your “mea culpa”!

    Here’s Dici, the official SSPX organ online, on the subject of doubts…

    Those doubts that they fear in Rome

    In September, four cardinals respectfully submitted to the Pope the doubts raised by the exhortation Amoris laetitia on the question of divorced-and-“remarried” persons. For two months they have received no response to these doubts except papal silence. Are they right? Are they wrong? The Supreme Pontiff answers neither yes nor no.

    On the occasion of the last Consistory, the meeting on the previous day that allows the cardinals to meet with one another around the Pope. was cancelled without explanation—but perhaps not without a reason. Some say that Francis would prefer to avoid a debate among prelates, because he fears these doubts.

    What about parrhesia, the freedom of speech, the frankness without flattery, that the Holy Father had recommended to the participants in the Synod on the Family? Must we conclude that they were free to speak about everything but not to express the slightest doubt?

    Basically, as one good analyst of the present crisis says, we see two concepts of the Church clashing: “On the one hand there are those who consider that it is part of the Church’s pastoral duty to teach revealed doctrine as it is; on the other hand, those who recommend accompaniment, discernment and integration as the only acceptable pastoral attitude.” But can the pastoral integration of divorced-and-“remarried” Catholics be carried out at the risk of a disintegration of doctrine and morality? Is it forbidden to doubt the doctrinal legitimacy of such a pastoral approach?

    A doubt is not to be feared but to be resolved. Father Alain Lorans

    • Ed, no way am I putting a damper on anyone’s faith but some of us walk very different paths to get to God. Remember what Christ said to Nicodemus and also the desertion of the Prodigal Son . In my own path without going too personal, I definitely lost my faith during my 20s but God has a good sense of humour and let me go on my own path (which nearly led to death) before bringing me back into the fold. Never though did I ever doubt that Catholicism was the one true faith on my way back.

      I have a cousin who is Pentecostal or a Jehovah’s Witness – one or the other – and he said he had been born again. My answer to him was if you were going to be born again then it had to be in The Catholic Faith. As of myself I have been very fortunate in feeling the hand of God. My favourite hymn is –Do Not be Afraid– If you pass through raging waters in the sea you shall not drown .If you walk amidst the burning flames you shall not be harmed. As for Francis’ doubts (no doubt) he should keep them to himself. After all, surely he must realise he’s the head shepherd,or maybe he doubts that.

      • FOOF,

        What you describe is the wonderful mercy of God, and your own response to His grace.

        That is wonderful – but I am certain (correct me if I’m wrong) that you would not now entertain doubts or encourage anyone else to do so because that is prohibited and can cause us to lose our souls, for all eternity.

  3. EVerything this [pope] says betrays the one holy Catholic and apostolic church HE is in infiltrator with an emphasis on traitor

    Sent from my iPad

    Editor: I have asked you more than once, Bernadette, not to cross the line between observing what may be objectively “evil” and attributing evil to an individual soul – any soul, from the Pope down. If you cannot see THAT important distinction, then best not to comment at all. It is a very basic Catholic principle, that we cannot make definitive (final) judgments on any soul – only God can do that. So, if you persist in making such genuinely judgmental comments, then you are actually WORSE than this very bad Pope. Reflect.

    • Editor

      Thank you for clarifying that important distinction for Bernadette Milliken. This angry sedevacantist mindset does as much harm as Modernism. It’s poisonous to souls!

  4. Editor,

    This is one of those topics where I will sit back and learn, but first of all, I chuckled at your choice of last line for your excerpt, indicating, in effect, that fewer and fewer people are paying attention to Pope Francis! As they might say south of your border, with tongue firmly in cheek, “Wha’ a shock!”

    That said, the subject of doubts reminds me of an old friend, RIP, who introduced me to the TLM in 2002, but who could not bring himself to leave his NO parish, despite the usual array of horrors, including a pontificating deacon who loved giving sermons so he could talk down to people.

    My friend expressed doubts about the existence of God, his fate after death numerous times, but they were not willful – quite involuntary, and he went to Confession many times about it to be reassured. I think it was just a mental weakness of his, but I couldn’t be sure. He sometimes resorted to Pascal’s Wager to overcome these doubts.

    That said, I can’t help but compare Francis’ gibberish about doubt to the Marxist “clarification of values” process that was introduced into our public schools back in the 1990s. Despite the relatively harmless name, this process encouraged students to question everything, rebel against authority, and set themselves up as the final arbiter of all things.

    But…since Francis has proven himself to be a Marxist, many times over, I suppose the similarity is not all that surprising.

    • RCA Victor, ]

      ” …a pontificating deacon who loved giving sermons so he could talk down to people…

      For the removal of all doubt, this is NOT Deacon Augustine!

      • Some might think so – there was one sermon I gave in which I made some pointed remarks about the homosexualization of our culture and the disgusting exhibition of “gay pride” parades and two women got up and walked out! Interesting what you can discover about peoples’ private lives when you are preaching. 😉

        • Deacon Augustine,

          There was a similar case here in Glasgow when – post Amoris Laetitia – a priest preached about traditional marriage, no Communion for the divorced and remarried,etc. and some people walked out at every Mass that day.

          So, we have to wonder what these people thought and believed PRIOR to Amoris Laetitia? Were they hypocrites, pretending to believe essential Catholic teaching while inwardly dissenting from it?

  5. I have never seriously doubted the Catholic Faith. This of course comes from being grounded in it from a very early age and believing it, feeling it, in one’s innocent and little heart.

    Pope Francis says having no doubts is evidence of a shallow faith.

    Who cares anymore what he thinks?

    Editor: could I repeat what I said to Bernadette above which is, in essence, stick to formal titles/names and if you can’t express your anger without resorting to name-calling, say nothing. If you read your comment now, with my minor amendments, you will see that it is just as powerful, more so, than the original. We’re trying hard to keep this a thoroughly Catholic blog in every possible way. It’s difficult enough under this pontiff, so please – as someone said during the American election: when he goes low, we go high… 😀

        • Exactly, Crofterlady & Vianney. It’s called being as wise as serpents and/or making all things (even quotes from the Mrs Obama & Clinton) work together for good!

          • If any of you have had the ‘pleasure’ of a rail journey from London Bridge to East Croydon, you may have noticed some graffiti in a prominent place on a building.

            I think it was referring to Thatcher, as it said….’the witch is dead but her spell lives on’….

            With regard to Clinton, let’s hope the spell doesn’t live on.

  6. This, from the OnePeterFive site:

    As per the Observatory for the Implementation of the Church Reform of Pope Francis

    As has already happened and is happening for other pastoral, academic, and cultural Catholic institutions, our Observatory for the Implementation of the Church Reform of Pope Francis (OARCPF) – an initiative of a group of Catholuc lay people in support of the pontificate of Pope Francis – has begun in the current academic year the monitoring of the contents of publications of faculty and the teachings imparted [in class] in the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in order to make clear the adaptations or eventual disagreements regarding the address made by Pope Francis on the occasion of the opening of the new academic year of your Institute (Sala Clementina, October 28, 2016), in which you were called “to support the necessary opening of the intelligence of the faith in the service of the pastoral solicitude of the Successor of Peter.”

    In particular, the contents of published works and the imparted classes will be taken into consideration in reference to what is expressed in the apostolic Exhortation “Amoris laetitia”, according to the image “of the Church that is, not of a Church thought in one’s own image and likeness,” orienting research and teaching not anymore towards “a too abstract theological ideal of matrimony, almost artificially built, far from the concrete situation and from the effective possibilities of families as they are” (Pope Francis, mentioned address, October 28, 2016).

    To this end, we will make use of the analytical and critical reading of the studies published by the faculty, of the theses of graduation and doctorate approved by the Institute, of the syllabus of classes of of their bibliographies, as well as interviews of students made after classes, in the square in front of the Lateran University.

    Certain that we are doing a useful task to improve the service that you perform with dedication to the Church and to the Holy Father, we keep you up to date on the results of our observational study.

    This is war.

    I have heard reports that the Vatican is like an occupied state. Certain sources I’ve spoken with have a fear that communications with Vatican officials are being monitored; some have even reported suspicious anomalies in their telephone conversations in which, after a dropped call, the audio of the last moments of their conversation has played over and over again on a loop, as though they are hearing a recording. Some individuals who work within the Vatican are advising their contacts on the outside not to share sensitive information via email or their Vatican-issued cell phones.

    If it sounds surreal, bizarre, and conspiratorial, I agree. But what could be more bizarre than a pope needing to be confronted for his forceful promulgation of what could reasonably be construed as heresy?

    I do not expect that things will slow down anytime soon. Reports have now surfaced that Pope Francis will, for the first time, avoid spending time with the curia before this weekend’s consistory in which the newly created cardinals will be officially elevated. Marco Tosatti speculates that this may very well be a tactic for the pope to avoid having the dubia about AL presented to him in person. He does not want to answer. He does not feel that he needs to.

    You see, The Dictatorship of Mercy demands your complete obsequience. Resistance is futile.

    http://www.onepeterfive.com/the-dictatorship-of-mercy/

    • Therese, thanks for posting this. It is very chilling reading indeed. Yes, we are at war and most of us don’t know it!

      Do you know when this third Synod in Rome will be taking place? The one to follow the last 2 October ones, I mean.

  7. I was encouraged to doubt the Faith, question everything, make up my own mind and spend time learning from other religions. When I started entertaining these doubts I was already well on the way to losing the Faith. It is very dangerous to doubt !

    • Petrus,

      What you describe was the fashion in teacher-training, going by the name of developing pupils’ critical thinking. It seemed never to enter the heads of the lecturers that the pupils’ critical thinking should be properly directed to challenge those who challenge God’s law, not the Church which has the mandate, from Christ Himself, to preach and defend God’s law.

      They had clearly never been taught the sentiments in the quote at the top of this thread, from the American Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton – that is, they had never been taught or had failed to grasp the truth about the divinely constituted nature of Christ’s Church.

      Pupils were to be led to believe that the Church was merely a human institution, so the rules and beliefs could be changed on a whim, and they could pick and choose what to believe, how to behave, It’s a scandal of enormous proportions, as Catholic schools are responsible for having led countless young people OUT of Christ’s Church. Either that or created a generation of lip-service Catholics, who are Catholics only in name. It’s a tragedy.

      • Editor,

        Yes, that was my experience of teacher training. I think it had probably been on the go for two decades when I started training in the 1990s. It’s probably even worse now.

  8. “We do not need to be afraid of questions and doubts because they are the beginning of a path of knowledge and going deeper; one who does not ask questions cannot progress either in knowledge or in faith”

    Note how the Pope fails to distinguish between defined and undefined aspects of the Faith. Note also that he confuses human learning with divine faith, as though the latter is a result of rationalist thought rather than a supernatural gift from God. This is how we get Modernist doctrinal relativism by which everything is open to question and change to fit with the times. In other words, it’s evolution applied to doctrine.

    It is a well established principle that theologians may explore and debate aspects of Christian belief not yet formally defined as dogma by the Church. One example of this is the differing opinions between theologians in the period leading to the dogmatic declaration of Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception. Once the Holy See has formally defined the dogma, however, all debate must cease and all must believe. Failure to comply with what is infallibly declared is a sin against faith that makes one an apostate.

    In fine, to be assailed with doubts about what has been divinely revealed and established is a temptation of the devil that should be strongly resisted with acts of faith. Pope Francis negated to mention this fact thereby leaving theologians and others free to doubt even in matters of divine revelation as though this were somehow conducive to a strengthening of Faith.

    This is the story of Vatican II reform. Theologians questioned everything, even defined dogma, and made damaging alterations accordingly. For the Modernist there is no such thing as fixed doctrine that cannot be questioned and overturned. This stems from the fact that they see Faith as less a divine gift from God than a charism inherent to human nature. In other words, faith is human, not divine. Or, human faith is in the process of becoming divine. This is how they justify ecumenism and inter-religious initiatives. We are all evolving to the “Omega Point” when man will finally become perfectly divine, just like the unique man Jesus Christ. In the meantime we must accept that we have differences in belief due to our more or less evolved understanding of the inate religious sense, the “latent seed” in all men, and work together for a better world, a heaven on earth.

    Sounds crazy but this is the poisonous core of Modernist thought from which, to quote St. Pius X, the poison is diffused through the veins of the Mystical Body.

    Pope Francis is a Modernist through and through, he has made this perfectly clear by his various verbal assaults on those who believe firmly in, and defend rigorously, the defined dogmas of the Church. That’s why he could alter the Mandatum on Holy Thursday to include Muslims and women, and it’s why he has gone out of his way to sow doubt on the moral teaching of the Church. If you ask me Pope Francis listened to those doubt he says he has experienced many times and it has damaged his faith very badly. But then the saints warn us that we must never dialogue with the devil, never give the slightest room to temptation. Once the door of the mind is ajar it’s only a matter of time before the fall comes.

    Our Lord gave the admonition to all of us through St. Thomas the Apostle when He said: “You believe because you can see Thomas, but blessed are those who believe without seeing”. What is divine faith if it admits doubts? Surely then it would no longer be divine.

    • Pew Catholic

      No, I didn’t say that. I said that being assailed with doubts is a temptation of the devil. Entertaining doubts is a sin.

      • Leaving aside anything Pope Francis says (I never listen to him these days), surely doubts are a perfectly natural occurrence where faith is involved, and not the work of the Devil. And I think considering and examining doubts carefully can actually increase faith.

        • Pew Catholic,

          I think you are following the Pope’s bad example (or is it “careless” example) of confusing legitimate questions to better understand the Faith, with doubts about the Faith.

          Let’s say we have a bit of a struggle to understand or fully accept a particular dogma of the Faith. Pick one.

          The “Catholic” thing to do, then, is to go to reliable sources; the key Catechisms of the Church, papal encyclicals or exhortations on the subject, the lives of the saints (all, of course,from pre-crisis/pre-Vatican II sources) in order to learn more about that particular dogma; go to the Catholic Truth blog and ask for assistance to better understand the teaching. Insist on waiting until Editor is free to discuss, but, if all else fails, ask Athanasius. Then read and reflect, pray for strong faith. Especially if your “helper” turned out to be Athanasius… 😀

          That is a process that may last for a long time. In the meantime, the educated (in the Faith) Catholic submits his/her intellect and will to the authority of the Church. In other words, I may not will (want) to believe this for whatever reason, but if it comes from God, then I DO want to believe it, so – while not fully understanding it in human terms – I accept the judgment of the Church.

          At no time have you “doubted” your Faith. You’ve merely carried out your Catholic duty to study your Faith, to learn more, in order to understand better and thus to make your Faith stronger.

          If, on the other hand, you decide you really do NOT want to accept this teaching, for whatever reason, and you reject it, then you have sinned against the Faith by placing your personal, human doubt above God’s divinely revealed truth(s).

          Not sure if that is clear enough but, shucks, it’s almost midnight. Give a gal a break!

        • Pew Catholic

          If Faith is a supernatural gift from God, then how can doubting the precepts of that gift be called conducive to a stronger Faith? Surely the doubting of the precepts of the divine gift is to doubt the giver of the gift. That’s why I say that doubting in matters of Faith is a temptation of the devil, who works on our intellectual pride.

          By its very nature divine faith (with all of its precepts) is mysterious. Since we cannot hope to understand the mysteries that we believe by faith, we simply accept them as true because they come from God, who can neither deceive nor be deceived. If we entertain doubts then we no longer have a pure faith in God.

          Isn’t this how the serpent tricked Eve? He began by raising doubt in her mind and it ended in disobedience to God. No, our faith must be based on 100% trust in God and what He has revealed to us through His Church. Doubt destroys Faith and must therefore be resisted as we would resist any other temptation.

          • Thank you, Editor and Athanasius, for taking the trouble to reply so fully. Faith is indeed a gift, and a strong and certain faith is a wonderful thing. Those of us who are less gifted with faith have to apply reason when doubts and questions come along. As Editor points out, there is plenty of good Catholic evidence to be examined. One must also, I think, have a look at the other side and work out why the doubt arose in the first place. None of this is sinful, surely. In fact, it can often end up with reason reinforcing faith, and at the very least it makes one stop and think about things.

            • Pew Catholic

              Yes, a study of sacred sources, the Catechism and other writings is certainly a great way to deepen our knowledge of the faith, as the reading of spiritual works strengthens it. I don’t really think it’s doubt you suffer from so much as perhaps a need to understand as clearly as you can the various aspects of the faith. Knowledge through study certainly helps on that front.

              One thing I would say, however, is that faith is not dependent upon the greatness of individual intellect, it can be the prize of all both high and low. Furthermore, it is much more likely to be lost by intellectuals (through pride) than by the uneducated who trust more. Being a divine gift it does not require great rationalist thought to attain it. Reason carries us to the door of faith but no further, it is God who brings us over the threshold.

              I just thought I should add that in case there are people reading who think that they somehow have to be professors in order to have real faith. They don’t!

              • Athanasius,

                Thank you for making that important point about the simplicity of true faith.

                I know that I’ve stressed the importance of study and reading etc. so I’m glad that you have made clear that nobody “has to be a professor” in order to have real faith.

                Two things came to my mind on reading your excellent comment.

                Firstly, my gratitude to a lay woman school teacher who told us (at secondary level) that there was only a certain amount that we could do in school, in the limited time for our religious instruction, and so we had to remember that our baptism placed on us a lifelong obligation to keep ourselves knowledgeable about the Faith, so that we could obey the Scriptural injunction to be “ready to give reasons for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15… I’m almost sure!) From then on, I used to buy the (at that time) sound CTS pamphlets on sale at the back of churches. They were terrific, and I enjoyed reading their simple presentations about doctrine and discipline, even as a teenager. “Eccentric” they’d call me these days – and would have done in those days, probably, as well, if I’d broadcast my addiction!

                Secondly, again at secondary school, one of the Sisters of Mercy who was teaching us religion, emphasised that when we see people, humble people, perhaps elderly men and women lighting candles in church, to always remember that that person might be very holy, much holier than “Sister” for all her educational qualifications.

                I’ve never forgotten either of those two lessons. Nor have I forgotten the French lessons where I suffered my first and only experience of disruption during my own schooldays. Her name was Shirley. Should have been Denise the Menace. But that’s another story!

  9. From what I have learned in the past few days with his talk of rigidity and his compliments to those who attacked Humanae Vitae the Pope is ganging up on those who have no doubts. the Penny Catechism talked of Wilful Doubt, that is taking a position against Church teaching because your circumstances make it too hard so you are not going yo listen and you certainly are not interested in listening or reading facts which contradict. According to the Pope those who do not doubt are rigid and intolerant.

    • John,

      “the Pope is ganging up on those who have no doubts…According to the Pope those who do not doubt are rigid and intolerant.”

      Spot on! That is IT – in the proverbial nutshell. Well said.

  10. Cardinal Newman wrote:
    “And so again, when a man has become a Catholic, were he to set about following a doubt which has occurred to him, he has already disbelieved. I have not to warn him against losing his faith, he is not merely in danger of losing it, he has lost it; from the nature of the case he has already lost it; he fell from grace at the moment when he deliberately entertained and pursued his doubt. No one can determine to doubt what he is already sure of; but if he is not sure that the Church is from God, he does not believe it. It is not I who forbid him to doubt; he has taken the matter into his own hands when he determined on asking for leave; he has begun, not ended, in unbelief; his very wish, his purpose, is his sin.”
    (Discourses to Mixed Congregations, Discourse 11)

    • Mike,

      Thank you for that quote. For ease of reference, for those bloggers who would like to read Cardinal Newman’s entire sermon, click here.

      That quote from Cardinal Newman serves to underline the distinction we have made here, both in the introduction to this thread and for Pew Catholic, between doubts, deliberately entertained and pursued, as the Cardinal puts it, and difficulties to be resolved through study, prayer and reading. If someone has a difficulty in understanding or explaining a doctrine, that is not to doubt it. I think we’ve sufficiently explored the difference above, so perhaps you could read the previous comments on this subject and if you cannot see the distinction, ask and you shall receive yet another explanation!

  11. Does anyone know the answer to my question above?

    “Do you know when this third Synod in Rome will be taking place? The one to follow the last 2 October ones, I mean.”

  12. Thanks everybody for your answers. It’s just that I remembering reading somewhere a while back that Pope Francis had some meeting or other in his sights and that it was a cover for sneaking in married priests.

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