One of the characters in Aidan Chambers’ novel Now I Know offers a definition of belief by separating the word into two parts “be and “lief”. “Be” is to exist, to live, to have a presence in the world. “Lief” relates to an Old English word for love and means gladly and willingly.
“So belief means: that you will give all your attention to living with loving gladness in the world you think really exists.”
The etymology is a little more complicated than the 17 year old Nik describes and the word belief in English has a variety of meanings, ranging from the conviction that something is true, to having faith and trust in a person’s character. However, Aidan Chambers reminds us that neither definition paints the full picture.
When English-speaking Christians recite the Apostles’ Creed “I believe in God”, what do they mean?
God is to be trusted?
God is the means by which they embrace and embark on a meaningful life?
In Latin, each of these has a different construction corresponding to the above:
credo in deum
Surprisingly perhaps, it is the third option that we find in the original version used in Christian worship dating back to the fourth century. In his Commentary on John’s Gospel, St Augustine writes
“What is it therefore to believe in him? It is in believing to love, in believing to delight, in believing to walk towards him, and be incorporated amongst the limbs or members of his body.”
In The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis also makes much of the distinction between credere in Deum and credere Deum. “in the act of faith greater accent is placed on credere in Deum than on credere Deum” as it leads to a loving, dynamic faith, one that doesn’t stop at only marking out the limits of what we believe, but leads to a faith that changes our lives.”