Faith: The Road to Knowledge

Archbishop Ullathorne demonstrates how even the human way to obtain knowledge requires a great deal of faith:

“It begins with faith,” he writes, “and the greater part by far of everyone’s knowledge has no other ground than faith. Were a man to separate his knowledge into two parts, and distinguish what he knows from his own observation or perception from what he only knows on the testimony of other men, he would be amazed to find how little he knows at first hand, and how much he knows upon the faith of testimony, and on no other ground. The great map of everyone’s knowledge rests on faith. What we know not on personal knowledge, we take on the testimony of those who had or who have personal knowledge. We thus know history, and what passes at a distance from us, and what is in other men’s minds, and what others have seen, or investigated, or experienced. It is upon faith in each other that the whole business of life is conducted. Society exists and is held together on the principle of faith, and the cessation of faith in each other would be dissolution of society.” (Groundwork of the Christian Virtues)

“Faith comes first, and after faith comes understanding. ‘Unless ye believe,’ says the Scripture, ‘ye shall not understand.’ So it is in nature; so it is in the supernatural still more. As simple, docile children, we first believe our parents; through that belief our reason is developed, and so we begin to understand. We believe our teachers, resting first on their authority; then by degrees we see for ourselves and understand what in their teaching is true. We believe historians, or the past would be a blank; we believe voyagers and travellers, or we should know but little of this world; we believe the observations of men of science, or we should be contracted to our own narrow experience; we believe what truthful people say of themselves and of others, in conversation and in biography and in correspondence, or our knowledge of human nature would be marvellously limited. The vast body of our human knowledge rests on human faith, and upon that knowledge, once obtained, our understanding is exercised.” (Letter in Memoirs of Lady Chatterton)

Quotations from Michael F. Glancey, Characteristics From the Writings of Archbishop Ullathorne (London: Burns & Oates, 1889).

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