The Nature of Faith

CEPHAS  Centre for Philosophy and Theology at Stone

A three-day symposium on the nature of Faith 14th -17th July


To celebrate the 800th anniversary year of the Dominican Order, CEPHAS held a three day symposium on the nature of Faith from Thursday evening July 14, departing after lunch on Sunday 17th.


Dante called St Dominic the ‘lover of the Christian faith’, and imagined a mystical marriage between the Dominican Order’s founder and ‘Lady Faith’.

But what is faith? What is it to believe? Is it a moral or an intellectual virtue? Do we believe with the heart or the head? Is it private or public? How does faith come about?


Together with Dr George Corbett and Sr Valery Walker O.P, leading the weekend, nine people gathered to study this important subject.  

The mornings were workshops with Dr Corbett; the afternoons, discussions led by Sr Valery and based on appropriate articles of the Summa Theologica of St Thomas Aquinas.  On Friday evening there was a talk, given by Brother Andrew Wagstaff of the Birmingham Oratory. 

In the introduction on Thursday evening, Sr Valery pointed out what a very large part human faith plays in our daily lives: faith in our doctors, politicians, even our shopkeepers, etc.  So much so, that Pope John Paul II describes the human being as “one who lives by faith”; so faith in God’s revelation is in fact the most reasonable and safe act of faith a human being can make.

Dr Corbett’s morning workshops were wholly based on the teaching of St Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica Part II II articles 1 -8.  

On Friday morning he held two workshops.  The first introduced the subject of our Catholic faith by asking for definitions from the floor and discussing them.  Among those offered were that Faith is:

Ø Something primary; something we feel to be true even though we cannot prove it;

Ø The essence of true marriage; something safe and sure

Ø A firm belief in the Creator; reason fathoming the unfathomable;

Ø Having complete trust, even though knowledge is incomplete – an opening up to a gift which you can accept or reject and a challenging of obstacles;

Ø Finally, there was the catechism definition: a supernatural gift from God which enables us to believe without doubting whatever God has revealed;

Ø and the definition from the Letter to the Hebrews !!: 1 – 3, “Faith is the substance of things to be hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  This would form the basis of much that we studied later.


In the second workshop, Dr Corbett introduced us to:


To believe God revealing; to believe in God; to believe in God as our end (into God).


In the afternoon there was discussion led by Sr Valery, of the question “Why creeds?” what is their purpose and value.  We also discussed the difference between “living faith”  and “dead faith”: faith moved by love as opposed to, for example, the ‘faith’ of demons.

On Friday and Thursday evenings the talks were given in the sisters’ community room, in a relaxed atmosphere and with ‘good wine and nibbles’; after the talks, there was plenty of time for questions and chatting.  In the Friday evening talk on Marriage and Faith, Br Andrew gave the history of English laws on homosexuality from the nineteenth century on, culminating in today’s acceptance of homosexual partnerships as ‘marriage’. He concluded tha marriage, understood as being between one man and one woman 'is proper to human nature precisely because of the difference between humans and animals, “whereby the human species in so far as it is rational overflows the genus [of animals]”, so that human reason has the power to know, and human will the power the choose, the good of the offspring and the good of the spouses. (If you wish to read the full text, it will appear as a separate article.)

In the Saturday morning workshops with Dr Corbett, we built on Friday’s discussion, centred on  the content of the Creeds, and talked about the Divinity of the Holy Trinity and the humanity of Christ.

In the second workshop, we looked at how we come to believe, and at the necessity of the Gospels, the Church, the witness of the saints and Fathers of the Church, the creeds – and Grace!

In the afternoon  we discussed Faith as a virtue, a power for living.  Also, how it is not possible, having accepted the teaching authority of the Church as received from Christ who is God, to disbelieve one article of the Creed and still be considered to have Faith, to be believing God: credere Deum.

And in the evening we adjourned to the Crown Hotel in Stone high street for a curry supper and a very enjoyable, convivial companionship.

Finally, on Sunday morning, Dr Corbett , having given a summary of what we had looked at so far, looked again at the causes of Faith and then the effects of Faith, deification and the gifts of the Holy Spirit and their fruits.

We concluded by looking at St Thomas’ hymn, the Adoro Te, reminding ourselves that St Thomas’ wisdom was the fruit of his living, loving Faith, penetrating his whole life, making him a true son of St Dominic.

The group much appreciated being the guests of the Dominican Community, and being  invited to join the sisters for Mass and the Prayer of the Church (sung in common) whenever they wished.



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