"Faith is more than intellectual assent, more than hope in what God will do without us; it is also a present participation in the work that God is doing - that is to say, in the task (mission) to bring forth justice to nations." This apparently simple definition, by a theologian, helps us to begin to understand the implications of saying: "I believe."
For a deeper appreciation of the “faith-mission” relationship, one necessarily must delve into the meaning and dimensions of the gift of faith. A simple, descriptive definition of faith can serve us: Faith includes our whole life in God, Father, Son and Spirit; it is our free, reasonable, and total response to a loving, Trinitarian God – and His personal revelation. Another brief description might be: Faith is a fundamental act or disposition by which human beings respond to God’s revelation and then enter into a saving relationship with a personal God.
Traditionally, faith was clarified with the terms: fides quae and fides qua. Fides quae (“faith which”) refers to the knowledge and acceptance of revealed truth as content, teaching, doctrine, or dogma. The Church has always had a concern for correct doctrine; this involves knowledge and an intellectual assent to propositions which describe the very content of what is believed. Fides qua (“faith by which”) refers to a personal, self-surrendering act of trust to a personal God who reveals His inner divine life and invites individuals into a personal relationship of communion and friendship. Belief in doctrinal teaching is integral and necessary for a complete understanding of faith; yet it is secondary and subordinate. The primary and essential element is one’s personal commitment to the God of love, revealed definitively in the person of Christ. The Youcat (Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church) defines faith using these two traditional categories: “Faith is knowledge and trust” (No. 21).
A contemporary, integral understanding of faith certainly incorporates these two dimensions; however, emphasis is also to be placed on a third aspect of faith. One might term this third dimension the “missionary” or “witnessing” dimension of faith. Emerging from one’s personal friendship with God in Christ, as well as a genuine acceptance of revealed truths, one actively seeks to share one’s God-experience with others; one is impelled into mission, desiring to evangelize others. One’s faith-encounter leads to active witness and dynamic evangelization. Thus, faith demands entrusting oneself to God, knowledge and acceptance of basic Church teaching, and a dynamic commitment to spread the faith, to “tell the world of His love!” Indeed, where one or another of these three characteristics is lacking, faith must be judged to be immature or imperfect.
Schematic Expressions of Integral Faith. The three pivotal elements essential to a complete understanding of faith can be expressed using a variety of terms and images; although various expressions are employed, the same three dimensions of faith are always expressed. A schematic – and often alliterative – presentation will hopefully elucidate the profound meaning of holistic faith. And, at the same time, one will perceive why mission and evangelization are always integral to genuine faith. Blessed John Paul II’s assertion that “Mission is an issue of faith” (RM 11) is probably best understood within this triple perspective of faith. Faith always includes (see illustration below):
Various Approaches to Understanding Faith. The Jesuit Cardinal Avery Dulles wrote extensively on many areas within theology. Among his significant contributions, one finds his effective application of the use of “models” within theology. His first very successful work in 1974 was Models of the Church where he presented a popular, yet balanced and integrated theology of the Church. Dulles went on to apply models to other areas such as revelation and faith. His “models method” aims to be a simple and helpful approach to both grasp and express a multifaceted theological reality. A model functions by encompassing several elements in one heuristic structure; it progressively opens one to a deeper penetration of a complex and even mysterious reality – like faith itself.