So there seem to be degrees of faith. Can we say that the degree of faith we have is determined by our degree of prayer?
Consider the Apostles: they would never have left all they had, trodden this world’s hopes underfoot, and followed the Lord if their faith were not great. And yet, if their faith were perfect, they would not have said to the Lord, “increase our faith.”… “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” ‘I believe’ there was faith. But, ‘help my unbelief’: therefore, this was an imperfect faith.
from St. Augustine Answers 101 Questions on Prayer by Fr. Ermatinger.
The content of faith that an individual possesses at any one given amount of time is both mediated and of a degree: it is mediated due to man’s creatureness (nature) and injury due to sin (limit on capacity), and it is of degree due to man’s transitory place within time (circumstances) and the nature of the time of trial (response to God’s grace) that God gives to each man.
First, how are there degrees of faith? Faith is grace; a virtue stemming from mediated knowledge gained by God’s self-revelation of Himself, His good things, and His will to bestow them. The degrees of faith are not from the absence of faith to a fullness of faith, for while there may be no faith in an individual, there is not a fullness of faith as there is a fullness of grace. Faith functions as a handmaid to the life of grace, which in its completedness is the Mystical Marriage between God and the human soul. Once this has been arrived at, once that which has been hoped for has been obtained, faith complete has served its purpose and is no longer needed. As scripture says, I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine. There is nothing inbetween.
Why should God grant some a degree of faith greater than others? God gives His gifts, according to His justice and His mercy, in such a way that such are a revelation of who He is as love itself, that all might praise and glorify Him. This is not a narcissism for a creature’s ability to praise its creator fulfills the end of the creature and brings great joy to the creature. To fulfill one’s purpose by loving God back fully for His gift of the ability to love Him and the charity that He has bestowed maximizes joy. What God gives is for the benefit of the receiver, not Himself, for He is lacking in no thing.
For those that, in receiving faith, turn in prayer to Him it is a matter of justice that He rewards their faith, hope, and love of Him by increasing their degree of faith. It is a matter of justice because He has promised to do so. This can come about in two ways: through consolations, those mediated and created good things that He wishes to give through prayer, or through deprivation, which is God withholding His created and mediated good things so that a soul might learn to love Him directly and not simply for the good things that He gives. Ultimately, God wills that He give Himself, without mediation, in Mystical Mariage to the human soul. Through both paths, faith increases for those who turn increasingly to Him in prayer.
In God’s mercy, He will bestow degrees of faith upon those who do not deserve to have an increase of faith. This is true at the beginning for all souls; for what creature can claim rights over their creator, especially a creature who has previously rejected Him? So faith is granted without merit by His mercy and God, in His mercy, can grant degrees of faith to those ungrateful souls who spurn, fall from, or are otherwise slothful in response to His grace.
Third, how does prayer determine our degree of faith? Prayer and faith are symbiotic. Faith habitualizes the turn of prayer to God, the turn of prayer results in God fulfilling His promises to grant His promised good things, chief of which is the closening of the relationship between Him and the praying soul. The closening, as mediated by the good gifts of God, increases faith, which in turn increases the turn of prayer. This is like anything else – the more an action is undertaken, here prayer, the more the promptings to the action is habitualized, here the virtue of faith. However, because faith is a theological virtue, the increase is due to God’s will to do so, not man’s effort.
Praying Girl, Roberto Ferruzzi, 19th c.