As Catholics, we have a Profession of Faith which states all of our core beliefs (CCC 14), but to understand this faith, accept it, and truly believe requires a long “progression” of faith. God in his infinite wisdom inspired the writing of the Bible over thousands of years (CCC 106). As each new book was written and compiled, God slowly added more to the deposit of faith (CCC 84). In the beginning, humanity had a very simple understanding of the world. As humanity progressed, it learned the world was much more complex than it seemed. If someone had gone back to the time of Adam & Eve and explained how the Internet worked, the people would not have believed such a thing could even be possible on the planet Earth. In these present times we are able to believe because we can use the Internet but also because we have this foundation of history and science. We learn enough in school that we might not understand every detail of how it works, but it’s at least plausible to us. It’s the same with our Catholic beliefs.
The first humans had only a basic understanding of the faith. In the time of Adam & Eve, the people only knew God existed and that he created the world and all it’s inhabitants (Gen 1:1-27). They didn’t know anything else. In Noah’s time, God taught humanity about punishment when the flood wiped out most of the population (Gen 6:7-8). In Abaham’s time, God taught humanity about obedience when Abraham trusted God that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars (Gen 22:12,16-18). A big revelation for the Israelites was the Ten Commandments God provided to Moses (Ex 20:1-17).
God knew humanity could not understand the deposit of faith from the beginning. It took generations to absorb and believe a new teaching. When humanity had enough of a foundation, God taught them a little bit more about the faith. This has gone on throughout history. It took thousands of years for humanity to be ready to know Jesus. Not everyone was ready (Jn 6:60-71) but enough to spread the Good News that God had sent his Son to save us. Belief in the Holy Spirit came next. In the Macedonianism heresy some Christians stumbled on the belief that the Holy Spirit was co-eternal with the Father and Son.
Belief in the Catholic Church was another new thing that had to be accepted. To this day there are millions of Christians who don’t believe in the authority of the Catholic Church. Even with belief in the Church, another development to accept was the belief that the Church could know, without a doubt, that a holy person is in heaven (CCC 828). Many people don’t believe in this. It’s a hard teaching, but when they can believe it, they have improved their understand of the overall Christian faith. There are countless teachings that I could go into when they were added to the deposit of faith, but it would be the length of an encyclopedia to go through it all. Instead, I end with where the progression of faith ends: Private Revelation.
The deposit of faith contains the entire truth, so belief in private revelation is optional (CCC 66-67). It can be something as amazing as a vision or as simple as a small insight into the faith after reading the Bible. Whatever the case, Catholics are not bound to believe private revelation because, for the most part, we can’t verify it is true. In rare cases, the Church has identified certain private revelation as being supernatural in origin. When that happens a holy person, such as a pope or saint might believe in and profess it to be true. It’s still private revelation, but over hundreds of years and a long line of affirmative belief, it can almost become a de-facto part of Church teaching. Catholics are still not bound to believe it, but there comes to be a sort of consensus among all Catholics that it is true (CCC 67). We have examples of this primarily in the appearances of Mary, such as Our Lady of Fatima and Our Lady of Lourdes.
Much like how I wouldn’t be able to understand an advanced math book unless I had a long and proper foundation in math, humanity could not understand the path to eternal life if God had simply thrown down a book in the beginning with everything we needed to know. It was just too complex. Humanity had to understand and believe in one teaching before God could reveal another teaching. Because of our human limitations, it took thousands of years for the human race as a whole to progress in this understanding and belief. God is eternal though. He patiently revealed more when humanity was able.
Because of writing and books in modern times, we can read and learn much faster than those in the past, but it still takes time to absorb the knowledge and wisdom of God. Every believer is on their own faith journey. It takes some people their whole life to understand the truth while others might understand in just a few years. We all need to be patient with ourselves on this journey, reading, studying, and praying to continue learning. We also need to be patient with others.
They first have to believe that God existed, he was all powerful and created everything. Once they believe that, they can learn to obey his teachings. Only after that is known can they believe in Jesus Christ, the Son, and all his teachings. The Holy Spirit comes next, how it is everywhere and in everyone constantly urging good deeds. This is the place where many Christians are because the next step is believing in the Catholic Church. There is this human institution, the Church, that Jesus promised would stay true to his Way for all time (Mt 16:18). Once they believe in the Church, they can trust its authority and obey its teachings. This allows them to trust to the Church when it names the many saints throughout history that are now in heaven.
At the very end, they might have a personal belief in some private revelation, maybe their own or something they learned from others. This belief is does not supercede or contradict the Bible or the Church but instead supplements what they already know with more insight (CCC 67). This is where I am now. I understand and believe everything the Bible and Church teach, but I also sometimes gain insights. I write these down on this blog in case anyone else finds them insightful as I do.
Even with our modern technologies, deposit of faith is a lot to believe in, as the apostles made clear when they questioned Jesus (Jn 6:60). Not everyone learns at the same rate. You might know the whole truth about a particular teaching, but others may not. Do your best to lead them to the truth, but be patient with them just as you are with yourself. Don’t get frustrated if it’s taking awhile for them to move past an obstacle. They are on their own faith journey. Sometimes we have to leave it up to God. Always be a supporting presence in their life, ready to help whenever they have questions, and you will be fulfilling your obligation to spread the faith to them.
May God bless you with his abundant grace,