The Virtue of Faith

Father Dowling

Faith is a fact of life, made necessary by our human condition as being, not God, but limited creatures capable only of incomplete and uncertain knowledge. As a spiritual virtue, faith is a firm disposition, warranted by reason, authority, and experience, to believe the truth about ultimate reality, comprehending who God is and who we are in relation to him.

Faith is the business of Step 2, where we are motivated by hope to believe in a God who can heal us; of Step 3, where we make a decision to surrender all to a God we begin to understand as a caring and a loving God; of Steps 5, 6, and 7, where we admit and surrender our defects of character to him; and of Step 11, where through prayer and meditation we seek conscious contact with a God we now understand as having a will for us and the power to help us carry that out.

[Image: Father Dowling of St. Louis, who met Bill W. at AA’s first clubhouse at 331½ West 24th Street in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan and went on to become one of his unofficial sponsors, together with the Rev. Sam Shoemaker. For Bill's tribute to him, see "To Father Ed — God Speed," in The Language of the Heart, pp. 364–366. For the story of their relationship, see The Soul of Sponsorship: The Friendship of Fr. Ed Dowling, S.J., and Bill Wilson in Letters.]

Bill W."In my own case, the foundation stone of freedom from fear is that of faith: a faith that, despite all worldly appearances to the contrary, causes me to believe that I live in a universe that makes sense.” – Bill W.   

Big Book
"For faith in a Power greater than ourselves, and miraculous demonstrations of that power in human lives, are facts as old as man himself." – Big Book, p. 55    

12&12"True humility and an open mind can lead us to faith, and every A.A. meeting is an assurance that God will restore us to sanity if we rightly relate ourselves to Him.” – 12&12, S2, p. 33

Life Recovery Bible"Faith without works is dead." – James 2:26 and Big Book, p. 88
"Now, faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." – Hebrews 11:1 

Wynn C."Faith without works is dead, but works without faith is not dead. Works without faith builds faith, if this is your goal. All I could do in the beginning was to offer to serve any place I could serve. And I learned, by such simple service, how to stay sober.” – Wynn C., “Freedom from Bondage,” in Big Book, Personal Stories   

St. Francis of Assisi
"Lord, make me a channel of thy peace . . . that where there is doubt, I may bring faith." – Prayer of St. Francis, 12&12, S11, p. 99   

"I believe, in order to understand; and I understand, the better to believe." – St. Augustine   

"You can judge the quality of their faith from the way they behave." – Tertullian   

Thomas Aquinas
"To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible." – St. Thomas Aquinas   

John Calvin
"Faith alone saves, but the faith that saves is not alone." – John Calvin   

Julian of Norwich
"All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well." – Julian of Norwich    

Blaise Pascal
"Faith certainly tells us what the senses do not, but not contrary to what they see; it is above, not against them." – Blaise Pascal   

Ralph Waldo Emerson
"All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen." – Ralph Waldo Emerson   

William James
"Faith means belief in something concerning which doubt is theoretically possible." – William James   

Flannery O’Connor "Faith comes and goes. It rises and falls like the tides of an invisible ocean. If it is presumptuous to think that faith will stay with you forever, it is just as presumptuous to think that unbelief will." – Flannery O’Connor   

Albert Einstein
"I cannot conceive of a great scientist without this profound faith. Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind." – Albert Einstein   

Kahlil Gibran
"Faith is a knowledge within the heart, beyond the reach of proof." – Kahlil Gibran   

C. S. Lewis"Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes." – C. S. Lewis   

G.K. Chesterton
"When men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing; they then become capable of believing in anything." – G. K. Chesterton  

John A. Hutchinson
"Unthinking faith is a curious offering to be made to the creator of the human mind." – John A. Hutchinson  

Thomas Fuller
"He does not believe who does not live according to his belief." – Thomas Fuller    

A. A. Hodge
"Faith must have adequate evidence, else it is mere superstition." – A. A. Hodge   

James S. Spiegel
"If to exhibit faith in God is to actively affirm his control over one’s life, then to lack faith is to assert one’s control over it." – James S. Spiegel   

Peter Kreeft
"The object of faith is God, not ideas about God." – Peter Kreeft   

Father Dowling"Chuck, your cross was alcoholism; my cross was lack of faith. I went through all my studies and was ordained and didn’t believe a thing. I came to believe by watching what happens to you people in Alcoholics Anonymous.” – Father Dowling (as quoted by Chuck C. in his book A New Pair of Glasses)   

Sam Shoemaker
"Unbelief isn’t doubting some fact of long ago; unbelief is acting and feeling as though there were no God in the daily conduct of our lives." – Sam Shoemaker    

William C. Mattison"The sorts of answers sought [by faith] are literally metaphysical, and thus unable to be verified with more empirical methods that so often provide us with clarity and certainty.” – William C. Mattison   

Julian Barnes
"I don't believe in God, but I miss him."  – Julian Barnes   

Montague Brown
"Faith is not some oddity of religion, but a fundamental principle of nearly all human activity." – Montague Brown   

Twenty-Four Hours a Day "It is not theological arguments that solve the problems of the questing soul, but the sincere cry of that soul to God for strength and the certainty of that soul that the cry will be heard and answered." – Twenty-Four Hours a Day   

PTP123"Yet, Step 2 and AA spirituality is about nothing if it isn’t about faith in God. Many good reasons exist why AA makes a distinction between religion and spirituality, but a denial of God is not one of them." – PTP123  

PTP4"This [spiritual] transformation is what frees us from fear. It is the product of a faith that works, a faith that, by the grace of God, practices specific spiritual principles in specific ways." – PTP4   

Practice These: Faith - St. Anselm
Practice These: Faith - Martin Luther

For more PTP123 passages on faith, see, among others, “Roadblocks to Faith,” pp. 97–132, “Humility Can Lead Us to Faith,” pp.161–183, and “A Faith That Works,” pp.186–188. For PTP4, see pp. 11, 164, 264, 410, 423; and freedom from fear, 170; and reason, 274; and religion, 14, 15, 295, 387; as trust, 170, 404, 405, 406; courage founded in, 172, 407; that works, 15, 73, 168, 358, 428; theological virtue of, 8, 381, 396. For more Big Book and 12&12 passages, click on and search faith. See also entries in As Bill Sees It.

Additional Resources

  1. Readings for 03/16, 03/17, and 04/09 in The Business of Heaven: Daily Readings from C. S. Lewis, edited by Walter Hooper
  2. “Practicing Trust: The Virtue of Faith,” chapter in How to Be Good in a World Gone Bad: Living a Life of Christian Virtue, by James S. Spiegel
  3. “The Virtue of Faith: Answering Big-Picture Questions,” chapter in Introducing Moral Theology: True Happiness and the Virtues, by William C. Mattison
  4. "Dover Beach," by Matthew Arnold

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