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Retreat on the Credo
Faith in God the Father
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
The opening article of the Apostles' Creed proclaims the first and primary mystery of our faith. It is not only placed first, it is first. Unless this first article is true nothing else is believable. "I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth." My purpose here will be to do two things: first, briefly explain what we mean by the mystery of faith expressed in each article, then at greater length, or at least with greater personal importance, comment on how this truth of faith is to be lived out in our own lives; because the Apostles' Creed is not only to be believed, it is also and with emphasis to be lived.
There are no less than seven things we affirm, when we say the first article of the Apostles' Creed, we declare first that we believe; second, in God; third, Who is Father; fourth, Who is Almighty; fifth, Who is Creator; sixth, of heaven; and seventh, of earth. I might add, by the time we finish the twelve articles we'll have a pretty good coverage of the whole Catholic faith.
We say: "I believe." The Apostles' Creed unlike the later creeds, say the Nicene that we recite at Mass, was in the first person singular: I believe. This means that by believing we submit our minds to what God has revealed about Himself and about His will for us. There are two objects of God's revelation: Who God is and what God wants. When we say "I believe", in Latin, "Credo", we affirm that we take whatever He revealed on His word because He is all-wise: He knows, He therefore cannot be deceived; we affirm that He is all-good, so that He would not deceive us. We don't believe anyone, we shouldn't believe anyone rationally unless we trust that person's knowledge and integrity. When we say therefore we believe in God we affirm we implicitly and completely rely on God's infinite wisdom and His sovereign goodness.
"In God." Who is this God we believe in? He is the only Being Who cannot not be. Nothing else, nothing else need exist; only One Being must exist and He is God. He is not only the One necessary Being which makes the rest of us unnecessary beings. I'm always pleased to see a few empty chairs or pews in a chapel or church where I speak and I tell the people we could be those empty chairs. This uniquely necessary Being is all-perfect: He wants nothing, He needs nothing, He is all-holy and perfectly happy from all eternity. We know what it means to be unhappy, because there are so many things we desire that we don't have. A good definition of unhappiness: unfulfilled desire. That is not God.
"The Father." God was Father from everlasting because within the bosom of the Trinity there was always Father, Son and Holy Spirit. You might wonder then are we addressing only God the Father, First Person, in the first article of the Creed? Not really, because all Three Persons are Creator - and you had better use the singular Person - Creator. Yet we attribute - as the phrase goes - we attribute the creation of everything to the First Person, though we know it is all Three Persons who are responsible for the universe. Why? Well, because God's making the world corresponds to the role of the First Person in the Trinity Who is the Origin of the Second, and the First and Second Persons are the Origin of the Third Person.
But there is another and more personal meaning to addressing God as Father in the opening words of the Creed. Because by every possible title, more than any other parent God is primordially our Father. A father is the one from whom offspring derive. We are all the offspring of God. A father is one, or humanly speaking should be one who cares for the children he brings into the world. No father cares more zealously or kindly or constantly than God cares for us. You see, God not only was our Father, He IS: the Fatherhood of God is not only a past memory, it is a present, enduring reality. God is our Father because we depend completely and totally on Him not only for our beginning or our present existence but into all the endless centuries of the future. God is finally our Father because as only God can do, and He did, He has bequeathed to us as far as it is possible for God to do, we are destined to share in His own Divine Trinity.
We affirm in the Apostles' Creed that God is Almighty. Our minds stagger at the implications of that simple adjective. He can do anything that does not contradict His nature. God has a free will: He could have had He so desired created nothing; He could have made a world totally different from the present one; He can if He wishes, because He is Almighty, annihilate whatever He made; and no one, no one eventually can oppose His will. We speak of disobeying God and rightly so because we can. We talk about opposing the will of God and so we can, but not forever. God is Almighty; no one finally resists His will; God always eventually has His way.
We address Him in the opening article of the Creed as "Creator." Because He is Creator He produces whatever He produces outside of Himself out of nothing. That bears more attention than I'm afraid we commonly give it. What's this nothing out of which God makes everything? Well, it is first of all nothing in the sense that God starts with nothing. Nine months before we were born we were nothing. You mean we didn't exist at all, not even a little piece of us? Sorry, nothing.
It further means, and in today's sophisticated world at least to hear it, when God created He parted with nothing: nothing left God. We are not some off-shoot or little chip or radiation or, as the over learned philosophers say, emanation. When God created He used nothing and He parted with nothing; that's our God.
Once we address God as our Creator we affirm, in the light of all we've said, that the only cause of anything existing outside of God is His own sovereign, free, independent will. God wanted to create so He did. What is the only assignable cause on faith for the existence of the universe including this dearest, sweetest part of the universe called me? The only reason is the free will of God.
What did this God create? Over the centuries the Apostles' Creed we have good reason for believing. The Apostles' Creed can be on historical grounds assigned to the first century. Whether as tradition has it that each of the twelve apostles contributed one article, we don't have to go that far. But there is no doubt that the contents of these twelve articles is literally the faith of the apostles, which they themselves received from the Master.
In later centuries as one after another of these articles was being challenged by some long polysyllabic heretics, the Creed became a little longer and more sophisticated. But it is all here already in this very short Apostles' Creed.
What's this heaven we affirm God created? It is first of all the world of spirits: the angels and human souls. Faith tells us God did not first create man; He first created the angelic world. And as you may have heard there are good Fathers of the Church who claim that God's intention was to stop there, except that some angels fell and their place God wanted to replace with other rational beings, so we come into the picture. If that's true, no wonder the devil in the gospels, when he was asked what his name is, said, "My name is legion." That would mean there are as many demons as there will have been born human beings till the end of time. That's a lot of demons!
The heaven then that we affirm God created, and it's not placed first just coincidentally again, is the world of spirits. Angels - these are the good ones - of whom Daniel says ten thousand times ten thousand (that was his figure of speech for a vast number) that worship at the throne of God. Then the human spirits - our souls. Our parents contribute only our body. Every child conceived in the womb calls for God's creative act: He makes a human spirit out of nothing and infuses that spirit into the body prepared by the parents.
By heaven is further meant the abode of the angels and saints who now behold the Face of God. Heaven therefore is not something that will just come; heaven exists. There is a heaven.
And by heaven is finally meant the eternal kingdom that God has prepared for those who love Him.
God is the Creator of the earth. This is the world of material things. Everything composed of extended matter that has size and shape and quantity and bulk, what the world around us has come to practically identify with the only thing that's real. Can you touch it? Can you smell it? Can you see it with your eyes? Can you feel it? Then it's real. Sure it's real. But notice in what category of reality we know this. Let's make sure that in our own estimation of things heaven comes before the earth. It means the sun, moon and stars. Each one of those twinkling stars is, so astronomers tell us, thousands and in some cases millions of times as large as our earth, and what we see with the naked eye is as nothing compared with what's there. Star blots out star there are so many there. Whatever occupies space and can be perceived by the senses that's in our language of the faith, the earth which God created. And all of this He made for us.
Given these facts of our faith, certain profound implications follow. First, admiration. We stand in awe at this God in Whom we believe. Our minds even rationally can conclude to His existence; but with the help of revelation our faith is immeasurably enriched and deepened and broadened and extended about Who this God is. If there is one hymn we should sing with all our hearts it is the one" How Great Thou Art, O Lord!" where every word deserves hours of meditation. Not only great, but how great! There is no one as the psalmist in psalm after psalm keeps telling us, there is no one who can compare with God. And it is not merely a greatness that somehow we conjure up with our minds; in fact what we know about God is as nothing compared to what He really is. God wants to hear this: the first law of a creature is to admire the Creator. How stupid we can be to be awed by the greatness among human beings. If there is one thing we should be absolutely resolved to do: never fear anyone except God. How many crimes have been committed, often in high places, because men have feared other men.
Gratitude. All of this that we have so briefly and sketchily described God has made for us, in ways we cannot imagine now. That's why heaven will have to last for all eternity; it will take that long, and that's a long time, to begin to begin to exhaust the greatness of this God. All of this God has made for us. It is a sheer gift on His part, with no claim on ours. When we say as we should that God is Creator by His own sovereign free will, it means only because He wanted to. And since even humanly speaking we are as grateful to people for what they do as we realize they did not have to do it.
Love. The highest form of the love of God is the love of adoration. It is one thing to tell God we love Him and yet, perhaps implicitly, not so much love God selflessly as love Him because He's been so good to us in the past and frankly we are looking for further benefits in the future. That's what I call functional love. The purest love is the love of adoration, when we stand in awe before this great God of ours. I hope you sometimes tell Him this: "Lord, why did You do it? Of all the creatures in the universe, that You should allow me to know You! and this creature that need not have existed, to tell You I love You!"
Confidence. How could we ever distrust God's power? As He told Job and his friends, "Where were you when I brought the world into being, when I separated the land from the sea?" Every worry, every anxiety, whether we admit it or not, whether we recognize it or not, is a weakness in faith in this God Whose almighty power made everything, keeps everything in being. What in God's holy name are we afraid of? And how can we ever distrust His mercy? Sure we've sinned. God knows, we know. But God Who is so notoriously good, how can we dare doubt His forgiving mercy towards us?
Petition. This God is very shrewd. He knows the kind of creatures He's made, so He's done two things. On the one hand He has produced this wonderful universe of which we are happily a part. God could not have done more to impress us with His power. But this same God, I repeat, He is divinely shrewd, He's made sure that we ourselves in so many ways are powerless. We need sleep every night; what a confession of weakness! We need food. We come into the world helpless, we leave the world helpless. This, I submit, is the main implication of this first article of the Creed: All around us we are surrounded by the majesty of God, His greatness, in a word His omnipotence; as we look inside of ourselves we see in so many ways tie evidence of our origin - which is nothingness. And God allows us to know both facts simultaneously: our nothingness and His greatness. All He demands is that we humbly acknowledge what we are - nothing, and beg Him, the Almighty, to give us what we need. If we ask, as humbly as we ask, as faithfully as we keep asking, He will give us a share in His own greatness; which is my definition of sanctity: greatness acquired by a creature that has humbly recognized its own nothingness.
Conference transcription from a retreat
Copyright © 1998 by Inter Mirifica
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