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The Holy Spirit Constantly Perfects Our Faith So That Revelation May Be Better Understood

General Audience — April 10, 1985

—    Originality of faith
—    Work of the Spirit
—    Source of supernatural illumination

We have said many times during these reflections that faith is a particular response on the part of man to the word of God who reveals himself until the definitive revelation in Jesus Christ. Without doubt, this response has a cognitive character. It gives man the possibility of receiving this knowledge (self-knowledge) which God "shares" with him.

The acceptance of this knowledge of God, which in the present life is always partial, provisional and imperfect, gives man the possibility of already participating in the definitive and total truth which will be revealed to him one day in the immediate vision of God. "Abandoning himself completely to God" in response to his self-revelation, man participates in this truth. From such participation there begins a new supernatural life which Jesus calls "eternal life" (Jn 17:3) and which the Letter to the Hebrews defines as "life by faith": "my righteous one shall live by faith" (Heb 10:38).

1.  Originality of faith

If then we wish to deepen our understanding of what faith is, and what the expression "to believe" means, the first thing that strikes us is the originality of faith, in comparison with the rational knowledge of God which starts from "created things."

The originality of faith consists, first of all, in its supernatural character. By faith, man gives his response to "God's self-revelation" and accepts the divine plan of salvation which consists in participation in the nature and intimate life of God himself. Such a response should lead man beyond everything that the human being himself attains by the faculties and the powers of his own nature, both as regards knowledge and will. It is a question of the knowledge of an infinite truth and of the transcendent fulfillment of aspirations to the good and to happiness which are rooted in the will and the heart. It is a matter of "eternal life."

"Through divine revelation," we read in the Constitution Dei Verbum, "God chose to show forth and communicate himself and the eternal decisions of his will regarding the salvation of men. That is to say, he chose 'to share with them those divine treasures which totally transcend the understanding of the human mind' (n. 6). The Constitution is here quoting the words of the First Vatican Council (Dogmatic Constitution Dei Filius, n. 12), which underline the supernatural character of faith.

Thus the human response to God's self-revelation, and in particular to his definitive self-revelation in Jesus Christ, is formed interiorly under the enlightening power of God himself. God works in the depths of man's spiritual faculties, and in a certain way, in the whole ensemble of his energies and dispositions. That divine power is called grace, in particular, the grace of faith.

2.  Work of the Spirit

We read again in the same Constitution of the Second Vatican Council: "To make this act of faith, the grace of God and the interior help of the Holy Spirit must precede and assist, moving the heart and turning it to God, opening the eyes of the mind and giving 'joy and ease to everyone in assenting to the truth and believing it' [the words of the Second Council of Orange repeated by the First Vatican Council]. To bring about an ever deeper understanding of revelation the same Holy Spirit constantly brings faith to completion by his gifts" (DV 5).

The Constitution Dei Verbum speaks succinctly on the subject of the grace of faith. However, this synthetic formulation is complete and reflects the teaching of Jesus himself who said: "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him" (Jn 6:44). The grace of faith is precisely such an "attraction" exercised by God in regard to man's interior essence, and indirectly in regard to the whole of human subjectivity. It enables man to respond fully to God's "self-revelation" in Jesus Christ, by abandoning himself to God. That grace precedes the act of faith. It stirs up, supports and guides it. Through it, man becomes capable first of all of "believing in God," and in fact believes. Thus prevenient and cooperating grace establishes an interpersonal, supernatural "communion" which is the living structural framework of faith. Through it, man who believes in God, participates in "eternal life": "He knows the Father and him whom he has sent, Jesus Christ" (cf. Jn 17:3) and through charity enters into a relationship of friendship with them (cf. Jn 14:23; 15:15).

3.  Source of supernatural illumination

This grace is the source of the supernatural illumination which "opens the eyes of the mind." The grace of faith particularly embraces the cognitive sphere of the human person and concentrates on it. From this follows the acceptance of the entire content of divine revelation. This revelation contains the mysteries of God and the elements of the plan of human salvation. But at the same time man's cognitive faculty, under the action of the grace of faith, tends to an ever deeper understanding of the contents revealed. This understanding is projected to the total truth promised by Jesus (cf. Jn 16:13), toward "eternal life." This effort of growing understanding finds support in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially in those which perfect the supernatural knowledge of faith—knowledge, understanding, wisdom....

From this brief sketch the originality of faith is presented as a supernatural life. Through it, God's "self-revelation" is rooted in the ground of human intelligence, becoming the source of supernatural light. Through it, man participates, in a human measure, but at a level of divine communion, in that knowledge by which God eternally knows himself and every other reality in himself.