QUAERITUR: Nisi credideritis, non intelligetis.

From a reader:

Fr. Z, a priest friend of mine, Fr. “GS” wanted me to ask you about a Latin phrase that he thought he came across in The Wanderer. He is big a fan of your articles. At present he is in (an infirmary) and doesn’t have access to a computer.

He’s pretty sure it’s “Nisi crederetis non intellegetes,” and wanted to know if that is accurate and who was the author?

Fr. “GS”‘s physical condition continues to deteriorate and he is suffering from depression so any prayers you can say/offer for him would be appreciated.

I am sure all the readers here will, right now, stop and say an Ave or three for Father.

The phrase at question here is:

Nisi credideritis, non intelligetis…. You will not understand unless you will have first believed.”

I always have liked the sound of that future perfect. But I digress.

Without getting into a discussion of the relationship of scientia and sapientia, or on the logical priority of faith or intellectual understanding, riveting in itself, St. Augustine used the phrase quite a few times in his works (lib. arb. 1,4; 2,6; mag. 37; f. et symb. 1; diu. qu. 81,2; agon. 14; doctr. chr. 2,17; c. Faust. 4,2; 12,46;s. 118; s. 126, s,139; s. 140;s. 272) and it is to him that we attribute it.  To him and to Isaiah 7:9.  Augustine was working from a different Latin text of the Old Testament, older than the Vulgate of Jerome, and had what some would say is a mistranslation of Isaiah 7:9. It was at least a variant.

The Hebrew of the passage in question:

וְרֹאשׁ אֶפְרַיִם שֹׁמְרֹון וְרֹאשׁ שֹׁמְרֹון בֶּן־רְמַלְיָהוּ אִם לֹא תַאֲמִינוּ כִּי לֹא תֵאָמֵֽנוּ׃ ס

And the Septuagint text reads:

καὶ ἡ κεφαλὴ Εφραιμ Σομορων καὶ ἡ κεφαλὴ Σομορων υἱὸς τοῦ Ρομελιου καὶ ἐὰν μὴ πιστεύσητε οὐδὲ μὴ συνῆτε

The Vulgate says, however, “Nisi credideritis, non permanebitis.”  It goes back to that Hebrew word: אמן, “to support, confirm, be faithful, be established, to be certain, to believe in”

So, the phrase, important for Augustine, is based on something that had a variant.  Augustine himself knew of and acknowledged the discrepancy, however.  In De doctrina christiana 2,17 Augustine is talking about words as signs and the difficulties of understanding some passages in Scripture, which is written with ambiguous words.  Augustine says that to help understand Scripture better one has to check the original languages and the context.

One the examples Augustine gives of where things can go wrong is from Isaiah 7:9, which someone translated as “Nisi credideritis, non intelligetis” and another rendered as “Nisi credideritis, non permanebitis“.

Suffice to say that Augustine does some amazing things with his version.

So… there it is.  I hope this helped.  However, if you don’t quite get all that, trust me.  Unless you will have first believed, you won’t understand.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Cazienza says:

    An Ave for Father and a happy squiee at the linguistic nerdiness of this post. Thank you, Fr.

  2. Paul says:

    An Ave and another prayer offered for the physical and mental recovery of the good Father!

  3. Mariana says:

    Three Aves for Father and I love Latin!

  4. AnAmericanMother says:

    Three Aves for Father, and thanks for the instruction.

  5. albinus1 says:

    “Nisi credideritis, non intelligetis…. You will not understand unless you will have first believed.”

    I always have liked the sound of that future perfect. But I digress.

    I did Fr. Reggie Foster’s summer program in 2005. The first time I went to a TLM (in Rome) after having sat in his class for a few days, at the point right after the Consecration, when the celebrant says, “Haec quotiescumque feceritis, in mei memoriam facietis”, as soon as my eye hit “feceritis” in my missal, I suddenly, in my mind, heard Reggie’s voice shouting, “TIME 6!”

    (Those who have studied with Fr. Reggie Foster know that he has his own idiosyncratic grammatical terminology, and “time 6” is his term for the future perfect.)

    Ever since then, Heaven help me, whenever I attend a TLM, at that point in the Mass I always think of Reggie, and remember him in my prayers.

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  6. BobP says:

    A refreshing change of pace. Latin lives and unites.

  7. MJ says:

    An Ave for the good Fr.!

    St. Anselm said something similar: “Nor do I seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe that I may understand. For this, too, I believe, that, unless I first believe, I shall not understand.” Maybe he borrowed it from Augustine…?

  8. Alan Aversa says:

    From here:

    St. Anselm says “faith seeking understanding” (fides quærens intellectum) and “Nor do I seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe that I may understand [credo ut intelligam]. For this too I believe, that unless I first believe, I shall not understand [«nisi credidero, non intelligam», St. Augustine Sermo 43 7,9; cf. Isaias 7:9].” (Proslogion I).

    St. Augustine—the 5th century saint whose theory of time is frequently quoted in the quantum cosmology literature, e.g., in Rev. Mod. Phys. 61, 1 (1989) pg. 15—says:

    7. […] What were we arguing about? You were saying “Let me understand in order to believe”; I was saying “In order to understand, believe.” An argument has arisen, let us put it before a judge, let a prophet judge, or rather let God judge through a prophet. Let’s both of us keep silent. What we have each said has been heard: “Let me understand,” you say, “in order to believe.” “Believe,” say I, “in order to understand.” Let the prophet make his reply: “Unless you believe, you shall not understand” (Is 7:9).


    9. Just now when the gospel was being read, you heard If you can believe—the Lord Jesus said to the boy’s father, If you can believe, all things are possible to one who believes (Mk 9:23). And the man took a look at himself, and standing in front of himself, not in a spirit of brash self-satisfaction but first examining his conscience, he saw that he did have some faith in him, and he also saw that it was tottering. He saw both things. He confessed he had one, and he begged for help for the other. I believe, Lord, he says. What was to follow, if not “Help my faith”? That’s not what he said. “I believe, Lord. I can see this something in me, which I’m not lying about. I believe; I’m telling the truth. But I also see this other heaven knows what, and I don’t like it. I want to stand, I’m still staggering. I’m standing and speaking, I haven’t fallen, because I believe. But yet I’m still staggering: Help my unbelief” (Mk 9:24).

    And so, beloved, that other man too whom I set up against myself, calling in the prophet as referee because of the argument that arose between us, he too isn’t saying just nothing when he says “Let me understand, in order to believe.” Of course, what I am now saying, I am saying to help those people believe who do not yet believe. And yet, unless they understand what I am saying, they cannot believe. So what this person says is partly true—“Let me understand, in order to believe”; and I on my side, when I say, just as the prophet says, “On the contrary, believe, in order to understand,” am speaking the truth. Let’s come to an agreement, then. So: understand, in order to believe; believe, in order to understand. I’ll put it in a nutshell, how we can accept both without argument: Understand, in order to believe, my word; believe, in order to understand, the word of God.

    St. Augustine‘s Sermo 43 7,9

  9. MJ: Maybe he borrowed it from Augustine…?

    A very safe bet.

  10. scholastica says:

    Another Ave!

    Also, I have to comment that as a convert, even before hearing of Augustin or Anselm, I discovered this truth as I sought to embrace the teachings of the Catholic Faith. In particular regarding the doctrines of the Blessed Mother’s role in salvation and even the devotion to the Brown Scapular. I’ve shared with many people that it wasn’t until I started wearing the scapular that I started to understand it. Similarly, after ascenting to belief in Mary as the Mother of God simply because the Catholic Church taught it, I came to know her as my own mother.
    Thanks for the nifty new latin phrase to better explain it.

  11. Denis Crnkovic says:

    It goes back to that Hebrew word: ???, “to support, confirm, be faithful, be established, to be certain, to believe in”… Augustine says that to help understand Scripture better one has to check the original languages and the context.

    Do I hear an “Amen”?

  12. I’ve really been surprised to see how many variant versions of famous Bible quotes there are, whether it’s from some Vetus Latina translation from the Septuagint, or some other source. I really like “Terra es, et in terra ibis” [Gen. 3:19], for example. And the rhyming quote “Qui stat, videat ne cadat” [1 Cor. 10:12] seems to be quoted by everybody in the Middle Ages, including Martin Luther! :)

  13. robtbrown says:


    “Feceritis” is also subjunctive #3.

  14. albinus1 says:

    robtbrown: Salve, collega fosteriane!

    “Feceritis” is also subjunctive #3.

    Out of context it could be; but in “Haec quotiescumque feceritis, in mei memoriam facietis” I think it’s pretty clearly future perfect indictive.

  15. robtbrown says:


    The spelling is not merely coincidence–philosophically, they are almost the same. That’s why subjunctive T1 & T2 can function as a simple future, T3 & T4 as future perfect.

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