Anthony Jordan lecturer Francesca Aran Murphy equated making an act of faith to going on a pilgrimage.


Anthony Jordan lecturer Francesca Aran Murphy equated making an act of faith to going on a pilgrimage.

March 18, 2013

Making an act of faith is similar to going on a pilgrimage, a U.S.-based theologian said at the annual Anthony Jordan Lecture Series.

The pilgrim knows precisely where he is going, but not the adventures he will have on the way. As well, when he begins his journey, the pilgrim has only an abstract knowledge of his destination, said Francesca Aran Murphy, a systematic theologian at the University of Notre Dame.

Likewise, when we begin the journey of faith, we do not know the object of our belief through our own understanding but rather through the witness of others, Murphy said. Others' witness "somehow illuminates our own perceiving and thinking."

However, unlike the pilgrim, the object that the person of faith pursues – the heavenly Jerusalem – always remains beyond one's knowing, she said. "The eternal city remains beyond him - not seen with his physical eyes, always a mystery."

Murphy delivered three lectures on Faith March 8-9 at St. Joseph Seminary in the annual series sponsored by Newman Theological College and the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.

She taught at several British universities before moving to Notre Dame two years ago. She has published five books, including Christ the Form of Beauty and God is not a Story.

Murphy said that during Jesus' earthly ministry, he was seen with the eyes of faith by only a few people and, even then, only briefly. The Gospels clearly show that his closest companions did not understand his words or his actions.

Francesca Aran Murphy


Francesca Aran Murphy

Many realized that Jesus could perform miracles, the disciples heard his strange parables and many recognized him as a great teacher, she said. Only rarely did someone see his miracles and teachings as signs of his divinity.

People had sufficient faith to know what Jesus could do, but they did not have the eyes of faith that enabled them to see him as a mystery, she said. "Jesus is God appearing, but only the eye of faith enables him to appear to be God."

It is the Holy Spirit, Murphy said, who interprets Jesus to us as the Word of the Father. It is only when he is seen as God that the whole picture falls together.


"The Church's faith did not generate Scripture any more than a mother generates her own baby," she said in a second lecture. "You need a father. The father is the Holy Spirit."

Prior to Pentecost, Jesus' followers had empirical knowledge of what he said and did. "Pentecost is the moment when the shoe drops. What (the disciples) had before is knowledge, not faith."

The witness of the Holy Spirit, she said, "is not something alien that hacks into our souls." There is an internal and an exterior testimony of faith that reinforce each other.

It is the eyewitnesses to the miraculous events of Christ's life who provide both the internal and external testimony that is the foundation of the Gospels, Murphy said in her third lecture.

"The human eyewitnesses are the eyes and the ears and the voices of the Holy Spirit in this world."

The Holy Spirit is invisible and gives his witness through the human eyewitnesses, she said. And trusting the testimony of such eyewitnesses is the Church's only way to seeing and knowing Christ. "That is why I define faith as trusting a witness."

Those witnesses gave not only an external testimony to the facts of the incidents they reported, but their testimony was also internal - it was based on their personal commitment to the messages they transmitted.

Our faith, Murphy continued, is thus based not only on the apostles, but also on many lesser-known people. The Gospels are based on dozens of eyewitness accounts from many people.

That claim, she said, "is wider, more populist than simply apostolic backup" to the Gospels. The eyewitnesses were the linchpins for the veracity of the Gospels.

When a Gospel writer names someone in a miracle story – such as the blind beggar Bartimaeus, Jairus whose daughter was raised from the dead, or Cleopas in the Emmaus story – he may be referring to the eyewitness who provided testimony to the event, she said.

In fact, many miracle stories with a named individual behind them are quite colourful and vivid, she noted.