Thursday, December 22, 2011

"Credo Quia Impossibile"

Many people argue that the teachings of the Church cannot be believed, because they include seemingly impossible doctrines such as transubstantiation or the Trinity. The mysteries of the Church are treated as grounds for disbelief.
But the fact that we, as humans, cannot understand the full measure of the Trinity and other divine mysteries is one of the greatest signs of the truth of the Catholic Faith. In the famous (and apocryphal) words of the early Christian theologian Tertullian, “I believe because it is impossible.”
For as Christians, we believe our God is infinite. We know that He acts and moves in ways beyond our understanding. We believe He can do all things – even things seemingly contrary to physical nature, because He made physical nature.
By contrast, we, as human beings, have limited intellects. There are many things, even in the physical world, that humans cannot and will never be able to comprehend. The same is infinitely truer of the spiritual world. Indeed, it would be presumptuous for us to expect that we could understand God and the spiritual realm completely.
The veracity of the mysteries of the Faith is not destroyed by the seeming impossibility of transubstantiation or the virgin birth; indeed, it is strengthened by those divine paradoxes. It stands to reason that since God is so far beyond us, we as human beings will not be able to understand everything about God. As Isaiah says: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts your thoughts.” (Is 55:9)
Could a God that humans fully understand be truly God? Or would a supposedly infinite God that limited humans could fully understand be merely a human construct and nothing more?
(By now, longtime readers should know my policy on rhetorical questions.)
The question is not whether we, with our limited intellects, can fully understand all the mysteries of the faith. The question is whether belief in a God we could fully understand with our limited intellects would even be possible.


  1. This argument falls victim to a similar flaw as Pascal's wager. Taking the logic of Pascal's wager to its natural end one should believe in the most vengeful and spiteful god who will punish him the most for not believing, therefore maximizing the expected reward. Here if the underlying premise of the argument is that one should "believe because it is impossible", well many things are seemingly beyond comprehension. Does this line of argument then follow along the lines of Pascal's wager where we should believe in the most incomprehensible belief system? Or is the argument here (which is how I am reading it) that a belief system must have incomprehensible components to even be considered potentially valid? If this is the case how does it help in the argument for the validity of Catholicism verses any other system that involves different incomprehensible elements. Say I accept all Catholic dogma except for transubstantiation, how do you argue that I am wrong? Wouldn't your argument have to include some, presumably comprehensible, reason for why transubstantiation is true? If this is the case then there would have to be a comprehensible explanation for all of Catholic beliefs and dogma, which by this post's argument would bring the validity of Catholicism into question. If it is not the case then there is an alternative to Catholicism that is its mirror except for differences in those doctrines that are inexplicable (one would imagine no matter the selection of doctrines there would be a protestant sect that fits the bill) which would then be equally valid from a logical standpoint and the deciding factor between them would have to be an assumption about which is true on the inexplicable points. This argument then provides no support for Catholicism without an underlying assumption about the validity of Catholicism making it a mute point.

  2. Anonymous,
    This argument was designed to answer atheists who argue that religion is foolish because it cannot be explained by material means. That, of course, is the point of religion - to explain what cannot be explained by rational means! The argument was not designed to determine whether one particular religion (i.e., Catholicism) is true or not. It was an argument for religion in general.
    As such, I believe you are misreading my argument. My argument, so to speak, is that it is perfectly rational to believe in a religious system in which human minds cannot fully grasp all the elements contained within. It is not meant to be an argument for Catholicism per se; it is merely meant to show that it is rational to beleive in things we cannot explain.
    Many things in the Catholic Faith are understandable only through revelation - these mysteries of faith - and are understandable through human reason alone. Why, then, do we believe them? We believe them because we trust in the authority of the Church, and the authority of Scripture, because we believe God has used those tools to transmit understanding of Him to us. I believe in transubstantiation because of Christ's clear teaching in Scripture, and because I accept the authority of the Catholic Church, which has survived for 2000 years against every sort of persecution the world has had to throw at it, and remained fundamentally unchanged in the process. I do not - and even could not - believe in Catholic teaching based on sheer reason alone.
    Of course, one can use human logic to defend these teachings of the Church - this is the field of apologetics, which I hope to enter, God willing. But one cannot fully understand these mysteries completely. St. Augustine, in trying to contemplate the mystery of the Trinity, was told by an angel "And you cannot fit the Trinity into your tiny little brain." It literally is impossible for humans to understand the full measure of the Faith. My argument was that this in itself is a rational point.
    I hope this answered your question. If my logic is flawed, I welcome any criticism.
    Thank you for posting!
    God bless!

  3. Just catching up on reading the posts in your blog. For some reason, this one really helped to strengthen my belief in God and the teachings of His Church. I'm one of those people who needs full concrete understandable logic to believe things and it is hard for me to accept the mysteries of the Faith sometimes. Thank you again for helping me see that I can believe "because it is impossible" Love that quote! God Bless you!


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