Always Active, Always at Rest

By: Fr. Paul Scalia

Somewhere Saint Augustine describes God as semper agens, semper quietus – always active, always at rest. As the prime mover, He is always active – causing the existence of all that is, the motion of all that stirs. At the same time, as the unmoved mover He is both unchanging and unchangeable – always, in that sense, at rest. Those who believe in and worship such a God will come to be like Him – always active, always at rest.

At rest, first of all, because faith brings stability. Chapter two of Lumen Fidei begins with a reflection on words from the prophet Isaiah: “If you will not believe, you shall not be established” (Is 7:9). The act of believing is linked inextricably with stability, being certain and secure. This can be the case only because faith brings us truth, and in so doing provides a firm foundation. “Faith without truth does not save, it does not provide a sure footing…[It] remains prey to the vagaries of our spirit and the changing seasons…” But faith does bring us the truth, and in so doing stabilizes us.

Screen shot 2013-10-04 at 1.59.31 PMThus, Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman said his embrace of the Catholic faith was “like coming into port after a rough sea.” That description resonates with many believers, who value the gift of faith precisely because it protects and delivers them from the storms that rage in this world. Faith secures them, establishes them, enables them to be at rest.

And yet it is precisely this security that the modern world scorns. Believers are depicted as weak and lacking courage to face “the real world.” Our resting in God is perceived and/or depicted as weakness and cowardice. And to the extent that we remain only “at rest” — to the degree that our security becomes complacency — that scorn is deserved. Our faith must be, like God, always active. After all, a firm footing is also necessary for moving forward. Stability also enables the believer to take up the journey of faith. In this sense, Christian rest is not indolence or standing still. The man of faith must be always active.

No surprise, then, that Lumen Fidei’s most dominant theme is that of the journey (the word appears 36 times). Faith makes us always active. It creates the journey by bringing to our mind and heart the destination extended to us by God. Faith brings about a pilgrimage, not just a wandering. In fact, it delivers us from our aimless wandering by providing a fixed destination. And it enlightens the path that leads to that destination. But faith also needs the journey: “faith ‘sees’ to the extent that it journeys” (LF 9). If we desire our faith to bring us clarity, we cannot sit still – we must be on the journey. And if our faith does not bring us clarity, perhaps it is because we have given up the pilgrimage for which it is designed.

Part of this journey is the striving for a greater understanding of faith’s content. In his excellent book on the virtue of faith, Joseph Pieper writes about “the association of rest and unrest, that characterizes the believer.” He translates Saint Thomas’s term cogitatio as “mental unrest.” The believer, although at peace and secure, at the same time experiences an intellectual restlessness. He desires to understand more and more what he already possesses by faith. This unrest corresponds to the journey or pilgrimage. We cannot stand still. And if we as believers refuse that intellectual journey — to deepen in our understanding and appreciation of the faith — then we confirm the stereotype of faith as a security blanket and nothing more.

Faith without clarity brings no security, no peace. Faith without a journey quickly stagnates, becoming simultaneously soft and brittle. For our faith to be Catholic, it must possess both elements: the peacefulness of resting secure in the Lord, and the urgency of a journey to be made.

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