Christ the King and Redeemer Lutheran Churches, Racine, WI
“Fides Qua and Fides Quae”
“Fides Qua and Fides Quae”
There are some handy Latin phrases that every good Lutheran pastor and theologian needs to know, and which can also be helpful to laypeople. One of those phrases, which pastor Carlson suggested to me for this week, was “Fides Qua and Fides Quae”.
But rather than rely on my own explanation I thought I'd start by sharing with you yet another fine pastor's explanation of this phrase:
The expression fides qua means “the faith which believes.” Here faith is saving faith which receives and holds the riches of Christ’s atonement. He has won for us the favor of God through the merits of Christ. He gives this salvation to us through the word and sacrament and we grab it and hold it by faith. This faith is what the theologians call fides qua – the faith which believes. It’s the fides qua which makes you a Christian.
Fides qua without fides quae is emotionalism with all sorts of heartfelt sentiments but no understanding of precisely what Jesus is all about. Fides quae without fides qua is heartless theological abstractions.
(Rev. Klemet Preus+)
So what does Fides Qua and Fides Quae have to do with our Gospel reading from Mark, where Jesus casts out a demon? And just as important, what does all of this have to do with you and me? Bear with me and we'll get there...
Our Gospel reading takes place in the synagogue in Capernaum. This is actually one of the historical sites we are pretty sure we've uncovered. I was there in 2007, and they found the old synagogue that Jesus visited there. On the top level are the imported white stone foundations of the 4th century synagogue. But underneath, the black volcanic rock from the local area that built the synagogue of Jesus' day.
The contrast between Jesus and the teachers of his day could also be described as black and white. They spoke with appeals to the Rabbis who taught before them. Gamaliel quotes Simeon quoting Eleazer, etc... But Jesus spoke with authority. He taught something different, and taught it differently. “You have heard it said, but I say to you.” The teachers of men relied on the teachings of men. But he didn't need any other word to rely on, because he, Jesus, is the living Word of God, with God from the beginning but now made flesh and walking and talking among them.
And then something strange happened. An evil spirit spoke out. Which is strange enough. But even stranger is that the demon both knew who Jesus was, and even said so! “I know who you are – the Holy One of God!” This demon, who works for the Father of Lies, is telling the truth! He has confessed rightly who Jesus is, and why he has come – to destroy the forces of evil.
And yet, no one would accuse the demons, or the devil, of being a Christian. And here we come back to the Fides Quae understanding. The devil knows the Bible, friends, better than any of us do. Luther called the devil a master theologian. He is an expert in what God's word says. As Scripture says, “even the demons believe – and shudder” You might even say the devil has a “Fides Quae” faith in God. He knows the truth, knows it to be true, and believes it. But he has no “Fides Qua”, no trust in Christ as his savior.
Sometimes we might even be the same. The danger for us, the temptation for some, is to make the faith an intellectual exercise. To be more concerned about getting it right, than that what is right is “for me”. We pastors are often susceptible to this problem, especially because we've been called to oversee the public teaching of the church. But just because you have all the right confessions and all the right doctrines and all the right theological proclamations, even in Latin, doesn't make you a Christian. If even a demon can rightly confess Christ, in a synagogue, (to his face!) - then simply getting the teachings right isn't enough, is it? The Fides Quae without the Fides Qua.
But there is also the opposite error. And here is where many laypeople are tempted. When we think that believing in Jesus is all that is important, and it doesn't really matter what you believe. The Fides Qua without the Fides Quae. This can lead to all sorts of trouble too. These are the people who think they've already learned all there is to learn about the faith. “I went to confirmation class 50 years ago, pastor!” This is the temptation to put the catechism aside, rather than to continue using it like Luther intended. The temptation to believe in Jesus, but know little of what Jesus actually said or taught.
This is the kind of emotionalism that is all too common in the church. The idea that it's all about the heart. That we don't need any of these objective truths or these doctrines which divide. Let's just love Jesus and that's good enough. But it's a shallow and ultimately a false faith that pays no attention to what Jesus teaches in his word. If you're looking to believe in a Jesus who doesn't teach anything of substance, then you're looking for a false Jesus. If your kind of Jesus is one who doesn't care about whether you baptize babies, or whether you receive his true body and blood in the sacrament, or whether you think your good works get you into heaven... well, then you have the wrong Jesus, my friends.
There's plenty of guilt to go around when it comes to the Fides Qua and the Fides Quae. We are sinners, after all, and we will get things wrong. Maybe we'll focus too much on the doctrine, or we'll focus too little. We'll think to much of our own personal faith, or we will think to much of our own right doctrine. We will break the 1st commandment by turning our teaching itself into a god to be worshipped. Or we will break the 2nd by claiming to love God but despising preaching and his word.
There's only one way out of the Fides Qua/Fides Quae Quandry for sinners, and that way is Jesus himself.
Jesus who died on the cross, and by it destroyed the powers of darkness. Jesus the Holy One of God who makes us holy by his blood. Jesus the one with authority over the demons, and authority to forgive sins. Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith – and of our Fides Qua and our Fides Quae.
He gives his spirit, who works through his word, to create saving faith where there was none. Whenever we try to measure and examine our faith we will find it lacking. But whenever we look to Christ for forgiveness, life and salvation – it is always enough. Faith in Christ, trust in Christ, is a gift from him. Even the smallest faith, of a mustard seed, if that faith is in Christ, can move the mountain of sin from us.
And Christ gives us his word, the content of our faith. We don't develop our doctrine, but like all things of God, we receive it as a gift. We are the recipients of the Bible, and the creeds which summarize it, the catechism which teaches it, and the confessions which – confess it.
That he calls you to believe in him is good news! That he tells you what to believe about him is good news! That despite your lack of faith, weak faith, failing faith – he still saves, is good news! For he died for all your sins. He covers all your unholiness with his holiness. He silences all your enemies with his authoritative word.
Thank God, for the Fides Quae, the “what” of our faith. And thank God for the Qua, the “in whom” of our faith, even Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.