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By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

8/14/2012 (3 years ago)

Catholic Online (

To understand the Threefold faith in God

While we need to believe that God exists and believe God, the faith that will pull us out of the "crisis of faith," is the third kind of faith, believing in God, credere in Deum, believing in Christ, credere in Christum.  This sort of faith is an act of personal adherence to the Lord and his teachings; it is an act of entrustment in the Lord, an act that recognizes God and Jesus as our end.  It is inspired by charity and seeks intimate union with the Lord.


By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

Catholic Online (

8/14/2012 (3 years ago)

Published in Living Faith

Keywords: St. Nicholas of Flue, faith, crisis of faith, credere in Deum

CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - "In vast areas of the earth," Pope Benedict XVI recently stated to the assembled members of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith who met in plenary session, "the faith risks being extinguished, like a flame without fuel."  Over and over during the course of his pontificate, the Pope has warned that the world--especially the affluent Western world--faces a "crisis of faith."

To understand the "crisis of faith," we have to understand faith.

Faith is a rich, multi-layered concept, and traditionally theologians distinguished between believing in God's existence (credere Deum), to believe God (credere Deo), and to believe in God (credere in Deum).  This threefold faith was applied also to Christ, so that theologians spoke about believing in Christ's existence (credere Christum), to believe Christ (credere Christo), and believing in Christ (credere in Christum). 

Believing that God exists or that Christ existed or exists, is of no particular merit.  Even the demons believe that God is one and that he exists.  (James 2:19)  This faith--a wholly intellectual assent without an act of will--is without charity, and does not save.  Thomas Jefferson, for example, believed that Jesus was a historical figure, but that did not make him a Christian.

Believing that God exists or that Christ existed is not the kind of faith that will pull us out of the "crisis of faith" of which Pope Benedict XVI speaks, although it is the first step to getting us to the faith that can do so. 

We have to believe that God exists, that Christ existed, but that is not enough.

Believing God is another kind of faith, but it is not meritorious or salvific either.  In fact, this kind of faith is commonplace.  This is the human faith of everyday life applied to God. 

We believe scientists when they say that the earth revolves around the sun.  We believe the newscaster when she tells us that Romney picked Ryan as his running mate.  We believe our parents when they told us we were born on our birthday.  Again, even the demons possess this kind of faith.

As St. Augustine notes in his Commentary on the Gospel of John, there is a watershed of difference between believing God and believing in God.  "We can also say about his Apostles, 'We believe Paul,' but not 'We believe in Paul,' "We believe Peter,' but not, 'We believe in Peter.'"

Thomas Jefferson believed Jesus as a moral teacher.  But he did not believe in Jesus, and so he cannot be counted a Christian.

While we need to believe that God exists and believe God, the faith that will pull us out of the "crisis of faith," is the third kind of faith, believing in God, credere in Deum, believing in Christ, credere in Christum.  This sort of faith is an act of personal adherence to the Lord and his teachings, it is an act of entrustment in the Lord, an act that recognizes God and Jesus as our end.  It is inspired by charity and seeks intimate union with the Lord.

As Peter Lombard puts it in his Sentences, credere in Deum is by believing to love God, by believing to go into God, by believing to adhere to God, and to be incorporated into his body of believers. 

Peter Lombard simply regurgitates St. Augustine: Quid est credere in Deum?  Credendo amare, credendo diligere, credendo in eum ire, et eius membris incorporari. What is it to believe in God?  By faith to love him, by faith to follow him, by faith to go into him, and to become a member of his Church.

This faith--believing in God, credere in Deum--is not dead.  (cf. James 2:17)  It is faith of this kind which justifies the sinner and which necessarily shows itself through the works of love.  It is this faith, and this faith alone, that will take us out of the "crisis of faith."

The credere in Deum faith is the ample, life-changing faith that is suggested in the interesting vision of the hermit St. Nicholas of Flüe (1417-1487), or Brother Klaus as he is popularly known.  In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (§ 226) draws upon a prayer composed by St. Nicholas in describing the implications of faith in one God:

My Lord and my God, take from me everything that distances me from you.
My Lord and my God, give me everything that brings me closer to you.
My Lord and my God, detach me from myself to give my all to you.

This credere in Christum faith transforms.  It incites love, union, adherence and fidelity, and incorporation into the body of Christ, his Church.  It is this faith that provides fuel to the flame of love of God and allows us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  (Cf. Luke 10:27)

St. Nicholas's vision is referred to as the mystical wheel (Radbild), which in its most simple form looks like a wagon wheel with six spokes.  St. Nicholas, who was unlettered, described this vision to a visitor as his "book."  In this Trinitarian vision, St. Nicholas saw the Holy Face of God, in fact Jesus as King, at the center of a circle with two sword tips on the two eyes broadening outward, with a similar sword pointed at the mouth.  Three swords with tips to the earth broadened into God, so that you have a sort of movement out of God and a movement into God.  "God the Trinity (Trinität), is both three-in-one (Dreienigkeit) as he reveals himself to the world, and threeformed (Dreifaltigkeit) as he reaches out to the world to draw it in.  One gets the perception of God in Christ, reaching out to the world in threefold love and reconciling the world into the threefold love within God's very self, so that God may be all in all.  (Cf. 2 Cor. 5:19; 1 Cor. 15:28) 

The meaning behind the vision has been expanded by incorporating it into what is known as St. Nicholas of Flüe's meditation prayer cloth (Meditationsbild).  Here, the rich tapestry of faith and works that results when one believes in the Trinity as revealed by Jesus Christ is made manifest.  Belief in God, belief in Jesus will lead us to love God and to love neighbor as ourselves in works of mercy.

Faith in God as he has revealed himself in Jesus, leads us to believe in Christ: with the faith that the Virgin had in him when his birth was announced to her and she gave her full fiat, her full consent.  (Luke 1:38)  Belief in Jesus will lead us to imitate him.  It will lead us to imitate the humility of his birth at Bethlehem who, though he was in the form of God, did not consider that something to be grasped at but emptied himself and took on the form of a man, like us in everything but sin.  (Phil. 2:6-7; Heb. 4:15) It will lead us to imitate the equanimity and trust in the Father that Jesus the Son showed when betrayed by Judas his intimate, abandoned by his other intimates, and arrested unjustly by religious and civil authorities.  Faith in Jesus will lead us to imitate the obedience to the will of the Father, obedience even unto death, that Jesus displayed when he suffered crucifixion and death so as to redeem us--even the ungodly among us and in us--from our sins.  (Phil. 2:8; Rom. 5:6)  To believe in Christ will mean to follow him in our daily living in the sacramental life of the Church, especially in our participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, doing "this" to make Christ and his Sacrifice present among us and us present among Christ and his Sacrifice.  Finally, faith in Christ means to advance Christ's Kingship, and to hope  in Christ's second coming in glory to judge the living and the dead.  (2 Tim. 4:1)  Maranatha.  Lord Come!  (1 Cor. 16:22; Rev. 22:20)

But there is more.  Belief in Jesus also shows itself in love of neighbor, and this is signified by symbols of six works of mercy-visiting and caring the sick (crutches), showing hospitality to strangers (walking stick and backpack), feeding the hungry and quenching the thirst of the thirsty (bread and jug), visiting those in prison (fetter), clothing the naked (garment at the foot of the cross), and burying the dead (bier). 

With threefold faith, then, but especially with the credere in Christum faith, let us the threefold God praise. 


Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas.  He is married with three children.  He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum.  You can contact Andrew at


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