Question 033.

So faith is merely the source of prayer?

For St. Augustine, faith is more than prayer’s source.  It is certainly more than trusting that his prayers are heard… God alone knows the things of God in their fullness… But he does communicate something of himself to man, and that is precisely the content of Augustine’s faith…Although we are deprived of the vision of God, giving our mortal state, we do attain it to a certain extent by faith.

from St. Augustine Answers 101 Questions on Prayer by Fr. Ermatinger.


Thanks to Luther, it has become common parlance to speak of faith as a species of trust or hope; one has faith if one trusts God with some certain fervor of feeling.  For Augustine, faith, while its action involves hope and trust, is more properly a form of knowledge.  Because of man’s created nature, and the damage wrought by sin, man cannot have an unmediated vision of God; man cannot see or know God directly.  Yet, it is God’s will that man see and know Him as He is in Himself.  Faith is the handmaid of the vision of God.  Allegorically, faith is the seeing but in the mirror darkly.

The grace of faith is that created gift of God by which He reveals to us the good things He wishes to give, His commands, His will, His very nature.  Faith is true knowledge communicated by God indirectly.  Here knowledge must be distinguished from facts.  Facts are true things about reality that are true because they are.  Knowledge implies a relationship between the knower and the thing known.  It implies a degree of right-ordering of the relationship; the knower acts with respect to the thing known according to its nature.  It is a gravitational pull that guides and conforms the action being undertaken.

Faith is the mediated knowledge of God – it leads man to the unmediated vision of God; the Light of Tabor, by and in which we will see God face to face.  In the context of the action of prayer, prayer is the rightly ordered response to knowing God and His good things that He wishes to bestow upon man.  God gives the grace of faith – entering into a relationship with the individual and communicating mediated knowledge of Himself, His good things, and His will to bestow them.  This creates a gravitational pull, which man may choose to resist, and that pull is the “turning to God” of prayer.  As one turns in prayer, one ever turns all the more.  

By reason, one might have a factual understanding that God must be good, but it is faith that reveals that He is charity.  If one has the knowledge that God is charity, then one will wish that their actions towards Divine Charity be rightly ordered.  The only right-ordered response is love.  Faith leads one to pray that one might love God as He ought to be loved.  This is what God wishes to grant to those who pray, and so He does.  So faith increases, which increases the turn in prayer, to which God answers by granting that which is prayed for by increasing faith and hope to receive more and more fully the good things of God, the chief of which is the unmediated knowledge of Himself, charity.  This can be seen as a ladder by which one ascends to God; rung over repeated rung, grace begets faith begets turning begets hoping begets receiving charity begets loving begets grace begets faith…..

This ladder is not a ladder into infinity, but the ascent does end and what is prayed for in hope by the promptings of faith’s mediated knowledge of God is granted and one shall see God directly, face to face, as He is.  There shall be no mirror, no shadow, no darkness, no secondary lights.  Only eternal charity, God Himself.


Young Woman in Prayer, Vasily Surikov, 1879