I have been writing a lot about faith and what it means to be justified by it, in conjunction with our study on the book of Romans. So I thought it would be helpful to know how Reformers defined the concept of faith. Michael Patton from “Reclaiming the Mind” blog had recently made an interesting post on this, which I found very helpful. Here I provide a short summary.
Three main aspects of faith: notitia, assensus, and fiducia.
1) Notitia. Content of the faith. Reformers understood that you cannot just have faith, you must have faith in something, your faith must always have a content.
2) Assensus. Confidence that this content is true. As Michael puts it, while notitia claims “Christ rose from the grave,” assensus takes the next step and says, “I am persuaded to believe that Christ rose from the grave.”
3) Fiducia. Trust in the content of the faith to the degree that it changes the way you live. Christ died for our sins (notitia). I believe that Christ died for my sins (notitia + assensus). I place my trust in Christ to save me (fiducia).
I agree with Michael that the churches nowadays seem to lack at least one of these. Notitia and assensus without fiducia is the head knowledge and is widespread among nominal Christians. Lack of assensus is blind faith, trusting in something we are not sure about.
The post made me think about what separates the true Christian faith from false? True faith must always have notitia (quite obvious). It must have fiducia – head knowledge that does not change who you are is not a true faith. What about assensus, can a blind faith be true? I don’t know. What I do know is that such faith will be unstable, it will fluctuate depending on your mood or condition. Despite the fact that we can never be 100% sure about anything, whether science or religion, we must be able to live with at least some degree of uncertainty. My understanding of assensus is that it is the confidence in the decision you make by examining all the facts and alternative explanations about something. Building faith on assensus is like building a house on a strong foundation; yes, you can build your house on sand, but it will crumble after first serious storm.