There is probably no word in the English language which has been so frequently misapplied and misapprehended as this very simple yet forceful one—"Faith."
The intellectual attitude which the word is supposed to express has been often confused with blind credulity in the face of seemingly contradictory facts. Hence, Voltaire says, "Faith consists in believing things because they are impossible."
Again, the word has been used by the church to describe that unquestioning assent to her dogmas—formulated in her attempts to bring the Infinite within the limits of the Finite—which she requires of "the faithful." Of this faith Pascal says, "Whatever is the subject of faith should not be submitted to reason, and much less should bend to it."
Perhaps more dangerous than either of these uses of the word is that which makes faith to justify a kind of fatalism. It is of this that Madame de Staél speaks when she says, "Have you not observed that faith is generally strongest in those whose character may be called the weakest?" It may be described as a willfully blind trust on the part of man in the wisdom of Divine decrees which he is content to allow to remain inscrutable.
Now none of these half-truths about Faith will be found quite satisfactory to men and women who have tested them in the hard school of experience. These strenuous souls is find that they need courage to face difficulties, calmness in the midst of conflict, strength to endure to the bitter end: and these powers do not invariably follow the kinds of faith enumerated. Where, they ask, is the faith that cheered St. Paul, that uplifted St. John, that inspired St. Francis of Assisi, that has, in short, made heroes and martyrs out of the commonest bits of humanity? And they find it to be nothing more nor less than a clear inward vision of the Great Realities of the Universe. It is quite distinct from Hope, which deals to a great extent with appearances. Hope, we may say, puts on rose-colored spectacles to make the clouds around seem less gloomy; while Faith looks above and beyond the darkness into the region of Eternal Sunshine.
Faith is not blind then, except in the sense in which Love is so. Both see not the unimportant and the fleeting only because their eyes are better occupied in gazing on the imperishable.