Faith for Catholics is not only a simple trust in the gospel, it also includes believing in specific ideas. It means accepting certain truths about who God is, the nature of humanity, Christ and his life and even the church. When Catholics talk about the rule of faith they are describing the way in which Christian truth is understood, expressed and lived. Catholics understand God's truth to be perfect, both in its pure essence (or remote rule of faith) as well as in the way Christians must understand that truth (the proximate rule of faith).
An understanding of the Catholic ideas about the rule of faith must start by considering revelation. Catholics believe God has been revealed to humanity through the person of Jesus Christ and his life, death and resurrection. They also believe that God has been revealed in the Bible, and that God self-reveals through other means such as the traditions of the church as well as the natural order. Revelation, then, is the source of the rule of faith.
Remote Rule of Faith
Catholics believe all truth comes from God. God alone is truth to the Catholic. Catholics describe God's nature, attributes and knowledge as the "remote" rule of faith. God self-reveals to humanity, and that revelation itself is the remote rule of faith. It is considered remote because, as fallible creatures, human beings cannot directly interact with this perfect knowledge without some outside assistance. That assistance comes through the proximate rule of faith.
Proximate but Inanimate
Both the written books of the Bible and the unwritten traditions of the Church make up part of the proximate rules of faith, according to Catholics. This is the part of God's truth that human beings can interact with. Catholics read the scriptures and participate in the traditions of the church and thereby interact with the rules of faith. These are considered "inanimate" rules of faith, however. The Bible and the traditions of the church can't give themselves interpretation; they necessitate something living or animate to be fully understood.
Proximate and Animate
The Catholic Church, and the magisterium or leadership in particular, has the duty to properly interpret the rule of faith for the Catholic Christian. The teachers of the Church, including theologians of the past, current priests and bishops and of course the Pope provide Catholics with an infallible understanding of the Bible and the church's traditions. Catholics refer to this role as the "proximate and animate" rule of faith because this is a dynamic, living interpretation of the rule of faith.
Rule of Faith in Protestantism
The Protestant Reformation broke away from the Catholic Church over a number of different doctrinal issues. One of the core issues that separates these two strains of Christianity is the rule of faith. Protestants teach that the rule of faith is simply God's self-revelation through the scriptures, and that it is the duty of every believer to read and interpret the scriptures without interposition from the church. The Catholic Church has argued strongly against this position, fully rejecting private judgment as the rule of faith.
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