The Difference Between Religion and Faith


Someone put to me the question: 'What is the difference between faith and religion?' Although one shouldn't write a circular letter to give lessons, it seems that the question is so important, and a response is so necessary, that I felt the need to publish a circular letter in the Newsletter in response to the question put to me. This important question calls for clarification, clarification that is of fundamental importance in the spiritual life.

Many Protestant theologians seem to put religion and faith in opposition to one other. In Catholicism, there is certainly a distinction to be made, but there is no real opposition between the two. Nevertheless, it remains true that religion is not synonymous with faith. The virtue of religion is part of the cardinal virtue of justice; in itself, it doesn't require the exercise of the theological virtues; it however remains true that the life of faith is not in opposition to the virtue of religion, rather the former transfigures the latter. Indeed, in Christian life, there can be no true virtue if it is not informed by the theological virtue of charity.

How then can we clarify the distinction between religion and faith? We said that the virtue of religion is part of the cardinal virtue of justice. Of itself, it does not bring us to a personal relationship with God and even less does it imply a relationship between God and man. Religion is the practice of a moral virtue whereby man gives God what is God's due: that is, adoration, acknowledgment of God's transcendence, obedience to certain rules that regulate the religious life of man. In religion, man lives in obedience to a law; but he does not yet live a personal relationship with God and even less does God enter a personal relationship with man. It is more precise to say that with the virtue of religion man depends on certain laws that regulate his relationship with the divine, rather than on God Himself.

In Christianity, there is no obedience to a law, because the law of the Christian is the Holy Spirit who lives in his heart. The difference between religion and faith is expressed even in the Old Testament, when the Prophet Jeremiah proclaims that the law shall be written not on stone tablets but in the heart of man. God becomes so close to man that man is no longer only a creature, but now exists in a relationship of friendship with God whom he acknowledges as Father. Here we are on a different plane from that of religion, even though it is not contrary to religion. In fact, the theological virtues have this peculiarity: they transform moral virtue into a life of intimacy with the Lord. God is no longer the transcendent God who lives in an eternal and infinite solitude: He has become the Father who establishes a marvellous intimacy of love with man. The name of God for us Christians is no longer only Infinite Being. He is the Father and you are a brother and friend of Christ, you are a son of God.

From what was said above, we can now understand why Christian life is so great; Christian life brings man to the level of God. It is by pure divine condescension and by His ineffable loving Will that He brings man into His own bosom. He who in Himself was infinitely distant from man and inaccessible, unknowable to him has become closer to us than we are to ourselves. The life of faith is truly the greatest miracle imaginable; it is a gift that man would not have ever imagined or desired. We can thus understand how faith is truly the foundation of all for the Christian.

It is in faith-as St. Paul teaches-that we find justification; it is in a journey of faith that man may reach holiness. Man no longer lives his own little life, because through the theological virtues he may participate in the very life of God. The beatific vision will crown the journey of the Christian on earth; even if this journey

is made in the night, it is nevertheless true that we have been transferred to the world of God. Our eyes still cannot be opened completely to the divine light, just like a newborn child is not yet aware that he was born. In like manner, we do not yet have full awareness of our dignity and of the greatness of our divine calling, but certainly we have already entered into the Kingdom of Heaven. Something absolutely new and unheard of takes place when in Baptism faith is infused in the soul of a child and the child becomes son of God, Christ the Lord (by participation).

We are now in the month of December, when we look forward to and celebrate the Nativity of Our Lord. The feast of the Nativity must be the celebration of our birth: God, in the Incarnation, became one like us, but we, in Baptism, are reborn and become sons of God.

Let us celebrate Christmas as our birthday: not just the remembrance of a past event but the joyful recognition of our rebirth in Christ and the condition for the journey that brings us ever deeper into the bosom of God.
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