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In The World Not Of It

In the world not of it

Fr. Paul Barwikowski

Each of us has a desire for knowledge, truth, and love. Nothing in the world will make a man full of truth and love. And that is why St. Thomas Aquinas says that in man there is a rational soul, in which there is a reflection of the Son, who is logos and truth. And there is a reflection of the Holy Spirit, which is love. And these two reflections of this inner life of God Himself are in every man.

Whether a person believes or does not believe. A man is placed on the border of two worlds. On one hand, we are very much a part of this nature, our bodies are made up of various compounds and matter, and still, each one of us has something that is completely out of this world. This is our rational soul, which can find fulfillment only in its source. God sees himself in man and dreams of man.

When man was created, he found himself in paradise, then it is also said that man was in a state of original perfection, and justice and he/she lived in grace. This grace enabled man to look calmly at God and to accept the beauty of God within himself. He shone with the light of God himself, he had a brightness that happened through grace. Thanks to grace, man could look at God, be close to Him, and be in touch with Him, while maintaining God’s freedom and human freedom.

A man is placed on
the border of two worlds

What This Means For Us

One must realize that this is a great gift that man has received. God imprinted in us his own image of his inner Trinitarian life. At the same time, man will never find his perfection in this world, because he is not of this world. Therefore, in each one of us, as we are here on earth, this great desire will remain unfulfilled. And that’s what sets us apart.

For Further Reading On This Topic

In His Image

| Behold-Creation | No Comments
Then God said: Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the…

Out Of The Dust

| Behold-Creation | No Comments
Then the LORD God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.…

In The World Not Of It

| Behold-Creation | No Comments
Each of us has a desire for knowledge, truth, and love. Nothing in the world will make a man full of truth and love. And that is why St. Thomas…

Out Of The Dust

Out Of The Dust

Fr. Paul Barwikowski

Then the LORD God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7).

The Yahwist tradition (derived from the name of God, Yahweh) differs slightly from the priestly version. First of all, it changes the order. According to priestly tradition, which I wrote about in the previous article, man was created last as the crown of all God’s work. God acted as the master of the house, who prepares delicious dishes and sets the table for his guests; he sits his guests at the table only when everything is ready. He wanted Adam to find the world wonderfully prepared for him. In turn, the Yahwist tradition begins the creative work with man. He is the first of the creatures to be formed. In this way, he emphasizes his greatness and dignity. Other creatures are subordinate to him, created for him, as servants.

The image of creation refers to pottery symbolism. God molds, and shapes man from the earth, just like a craftsman molds a clay vessel. The prophet Jeremiah is very suggestive in this image: This word came to Jeremiah from the LORD: Arise and go down to the potter’s house; there you will hear my word. I went down to the potter’s house and there he was, working at the wheel. Whenever the vessel of clay he was making turned out badly in his hand, he tried again, making another vessel of whatever sort he pleased. Then the word of the LORD came to me: Can I not do to you, house of Israel, as this potter has done?-oracle of the LORD. Indeed, like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, house of Israel. (Jeremiah 18:1-6).

In turn, Isaiah points to the complete dependence of the created work on its creator: Your perversity is as though the potter were taken to be the clay: As though what is made should say of its maker, “He did not make me!” Or the vessel should say of the potter, “He does not understand.” (Isaiah 29:16).

The earth (Hebrew “adama”), from which God creates man, means matter. Man is not outside matter, he was formed from it; therefore, it is fragile, weak, and mortal. The Creator will remind him of this after the first sin in paradise: For you are dust, and to dust you shall return! (Genesis 3:19). Despite its fragility, it has a divine breath, a divine spirit: then the LORD God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7). 

The image of blowing life into the nostrils refers to the observation that living beings are characterized by breathing. For this reason, the Hebrew word “nefesh” first meant neck and throat, then breath and life, and finally soul and person, a living being.

Thanks to God’s breath, man is not only a living being, but he has self-awareness, the ability to know himself, to control himself, creative freedom, and the power of introspection and intuition. There is this common “breath” between God and man, which is called conscience, spirituality, and inner life in the highest sense of the word.

Man is not outside
matter, he was
formed
from it

What This Means For Us

Man is therefore a complex being, a mixture of poverty and wealth, nothing and everything. On one hand, it has an affinity with matter, with things. He is not an angel, he has a body and the ability to make choices, also sinful ones, far from God’s thought. Due to earthly gravity, people often follow base sensual instincts and succumb to the limitations of human corporeality. On the other hand, he has a great, almost divine indestructible dignity, inscribed in his interior thanks to the Creator’s given Spirit. Thanks to it, he can create timeless culture and works, a civilization of love and life, and strive for eternity. The Psalmist, noticing this contradiction in man, exclaims in astonishment: What is man that you are mindful of him, and a son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him little less than a god, crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him rule over the works of your hands, put all things at his feet (Psalm 8:5-7).

For Further Reading On This Topic

In His Image

| Behold-Creation | No Comments
Then God said: Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the…

Out Of The Dust

| Behold-Creation | No Comments
Then the LORD God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.…

In The World Not Of It

| Behold-Creation | No Comments
Each of us has a desire for knowledge, truth, and love. Nothing in the world will make a man full of truth and love. And that is why St. Thomas…

In His Image

In His Image

Fr. Paul Barwikowski

Then God said: Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the tame animals, all the wild animals, and all the creatures that crawl on the earth. God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27)

The Spirit of God hovered over the original shape of the matter created by God. That Spirit was also given by the Creator to man. Two different accounts, one from the priestly tradition and the other from the Yahwist tradition (we’ll cover that one in the next article), convey two different but complementary images of the creation of human beings.

The priestly tradition begins God’s creative work very solemnly; it is the result of a deep, thoughtful decision: Let us make man in Our image, like Us (Genesis 1:26). It is more likely, that in this way the biblical author wanted to vividly present God’s solemn reflection in the face of a key creative work. And perhaps in the background, there is a delicate signal of the presence of the Three Divine Persons!

The very image of creation is passed over by the priestly tradition in silence. Instead, it emphasizes its effect: So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him: male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27). 

God created man in his own image and likeness. In Middle Eastern culture, the king was a reflection of the deity and was given divine power. Other people were treated as slaves of the gods. Meanwhile (according to the Book of Genesis) the Creator endowed all people with a royal gift.

The language used here points to an image, a representation, such as a sculpture, and the latter to something similar in appearance but not the same. Thus, man is in no way divine, but in some respects he imitates God. Therefore, man is like God, but he is not God. The privileged way of knowing God leads through man because he is his most faithful image. Situated at the top of creation, as a summary of the entire creative work, man appears as God’s masterpiece; it is not merely a “good thing”, but a “very good thing”.

How is this spirit, image, and likeness of God expressed? Scholars have different ideas. In rabbinical messages, it is the spiritual element that is emphasized here what we call – the soul. The soul is the image of the Lord, and as He fills the world, so does the soul fill the human body. As God sees everything, but is not seen by anyone, so the soul sees but cannot be perceived; as the Lord governs the world, so the soul governs the body; as God in his holiness is pure, so is the soul pure. The soul resides in a place inaccessible to our sight.

man appears as God’s masterpiece;
it is not merely a
“good thing”,
but a “very good thing”.

The reflection of God’s perfection, wisdom, and beauty in man is his reason, free will, and spirituality. Man has been gifted by God with creativity, the ability to bond with the Creator, to have personal relationships, and above all to love! These qualities make him a representative of God on earth, he has power over the earth and the world; its mission is to procreate, to populate the earth, to educate, to search for science, to create culture, and to carry out administrative and technical tasks. God-given power to a man is not absolute but should be exercised responsibly and with love for God’s other creatures.

The priestly tradition emphasizes yet another moment of the creation of man. God created him male (Hebrew “zakhar”) and female (Hebrew “nekeva”). “Adam”, meaning man (but also humanity in a broader sense), is “zakhar” and “nekeva”; but we also know that “Adam” is the image of God. God has something in Him that, in great simplification, we could call the “male element” and “female element”. One and the other! Not one of them, not only Father, Warrior, Avenger, Son, King, Bridegroom. In the Holy Scriptures, we find fragments in which we encounter God with maternal attributes (Matthew 23:37).

What This Means For Us

Both a man and a woman are needed to understand God because both are His reflections. This is the splendor of the marital experience this is the theological beauty of a man and a woman. A world in which a woman is considered “something lesser” or is trivialized or reduced to a secondary role no longer reflects God’s will or the intimate profile of God’s face.

For Further Reading On This Topic

In His Image

| Behold-Creation | No Comments
Then God said: Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the…

Out Of The Dust

| Behold-Creation | No Comments
Then the LORD God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.…

In The World Not Of It

| Behold-Creation | No Comments
Each of us has a desire for knowledge, truth, and love. Nothing in the world will make a man full of truth and love. And that is why St. Thomas…

In Accordance With The Scriptures

In Accordance With The Scriptures

Fr. Ed Pelrine

How do we know that Jesus is the Messiah and not another prophet? Why do we follow him and not another? That is because the Old Testament prophecies of Christ’s coming had been fulfilled in Jesus. Let’s begin in the New Testament and work back from there.

In Matthew 16:13-17, Jesus questions Peter about who Jesus is:  When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”  He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”  Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.”

In the Road to Emmaus account in Luke 24:27, we are told that in the encounter of the two disciples with Jesus, that beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”  Jesus would have referred to these following texts to show the fulfillment of the Old Testament:

Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets,
he explained to them what was said in
all the Scriptures concerning himself

Numbers: Numbers 21:9

“Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.”

This is a symbolic “type” prefiguring the Cross, an instrument of death, which becomes the source of life as Jesus is nailed to it and transforms it into the instrument of our salvation.

The Old Testament goes on:

Psalm 2:7-9:
I will tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to me, “You are my son, today I have begotten you.  Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, the ends of the earth your possession. You will rule them with an iron scepter, you will dash them to pieces like a petter’s vessel.”

Isaiah 7:14:
Therefore, the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.

Isaiah 42:1,4:
Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations . . . He will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth…

Isaiah 52:14-15
See, my servant shall prosper, he shall be raised high and greatly exalted.

Isaiah 53:3-10
There was in him no stately bearing to make us look at him, nor appearance that would attract us to him.  He was spurned and avoided by men, a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity, one of those from whom men hide their faces, spurned, and we held him in no esteem.  Yet it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured, while we thought of him as stricken, as one smitten by God and afflicted.  But he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins. Upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed.  We had all gone astray like sheep, each following his own way; But the LORD laid upon him the guilt of us all.
Though he was harshly treated, he submitted and opened not his mouth; Like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearers, he was silent and opened not his mouth.  Oppressed and condemned, he was taken away, and who would have thought any more of his destiny?  If he gives his life as an offering for sin, he shall see his descendants in a long life, and the will of the LORD shall be accomplished through him.

Daniel 7:13-14
As the visions during the night continued, I saw One like a son of man coming, on the clouds of heaven; When he reached the Ancient One and was presented before him.  He received dominion, glory, and kingship; nations and peoples of every language serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed.

Lastly, we find ourselves back in the New Testament in Luke 1:32-33. As the Old Covenant is being fulfilled in Jesus in the New Covenant which will be consummated on Calvary, there is the figure of Simeon in the Temple, meeting the Messiah as he is presented by Mary and Joseph.  Although this is a New Testament passage, it highlights the transition, the completion of the old and the inauguration of the new. Simeon prophesies to Mary: He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.

Though he was harshly treated,
he submitted and opened not his mouth;
Like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before
the shearers, he was silent and opened not his mouth.

What This Means For Us

“The New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New.”   St. Augustine
God’s plan for our salvation is coherent and cohesive, and one.  Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, prophesied of old, revealed in time.

FOR FURTHER READING ON THIS TOPIC

Who Is Jesus

| Behold-Jesus | No Comments
The English writer C.S. Lewis famously presented his argument for the identity of Jesus as God. It’s a famous argument also presented by the philosopher Peter Kreeft of Boston College.…

Begotten Not Made

| Behold-Jesus | No Comments
One of the approaches to understanding who Jesus is to look at the Nicene Creed, which we recite at mass every Sunday. The Nicene Creed is the most widely accepted…

In Accordance With The Scriptures

| Behold-Jesus | No Comments
How do we know that Jesus is the Messiah and not another prophet? Why do we follow him and not another? That is because the Old Testament prophecies of Christ’s…

Begotten Not Made

Begotten Not Made

Fr. Ed Pelrine

One of the approaches to understanding who Jesus is to look at the Nicene Creed, which we recite at mass every Sunday.

The Nicene Creed is the most widely accepted and used brief statement of the Christian Faith. It is common ground to Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Calvinists, and many other Christian groups. Many groups that do not have a tradition of using it in their services nevertheless are committed to the doctrines it teaches.

When the Nicene Creed was drawn up, the chief enemy was Arianism, which denied that Jesus was fully God. Arius was a priest in Alexandria in Egypt, in the early 300’s. He taught that the Father, in the beginning, created (or begot) the Son and that the Son, in conjunction with the Father, then proceeded to create the world. The result of this was to make the Son a created being, and hence not God in any meaningful sense.

It was also suspiciously like the theories of those Gnostics and pagans who held that God was too perfect to create something like a material world, and so introduced one or more intermediate beings between God and the world. God created A, who created B, who created C, . . . who created Z, who created the world. Alexander, Bishop of Alexandria, sent for Arius and questioned him. Arius stuck to his position and was finally excommunicated by a council of Egyptian bishops. He went to Nicomedia in Asia, where he wrote letters defending his position to various bishops. Finally, Emperor Constantine summoned a council of Bishops in Nicea (across the straits from modern Istanbul), and there in 325 the Bishops of the Church, by a decided majority, repudiated Arius and produced the first draft of what is now called the Nicene Creed.

The Arian position has been revived in our own day by the Watchtower Society (the Jehovah’s Witnesses), who explicitly hail Arius as a great witness to the truth. So here we have “begotten of the Father before all times, before all ages.” Arius was fond of saying, “The Logos is not eternal. God begat him, and before he was begotten, he did not exist.”

A chief spokesman for the full deity of Christ was St. Athanasius, deacon and later Bishop of Alexandria. The Athanasians replied that the begetting of the Logos was not an event in time, but an eternal relationship.

 A favorite analogy of the Athanasians was the following: Light is continuously streaming forth from the sun. (In those days, it was generally assumed that light was instantaneous so that there was no delay at all between the time that a ray of light left the sun and the time it struck the earth.) The rays of light are derived from the sun, and not vice versa. But it is not the case that first the sun existed and afterward the Light. It is possible to imagine that the sun has always existed, and always emitted light. The Light, then, is derived from the sun, but the Light and the sun exist simultaneously throughout eternity. They are co-eternal. Just so, the Son exists because the Father exists, but there was never a time before the Father produced the Son. The analogy is further appropriate because we can know the sun only through the rays of light that it emits. To see the sunlight is to see the sun. Just so, Jesus says, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9)

begetting of the Logos was not an event in time,
but an eternal relationship

God is not in time. Time, like distance, is a relation between physical events and has meaning only in the context of the physical universe. When we say that the Son is begotten of the Father, we do not refer to an event in the remote past, but to an eternal and timeless relation between the Persons of the Godhead.

What This Means For Us

Although we can have a real relationship with Jesus, we can also speak of who he is in theological terms. This Jesus, whom we worship and proclaim as God and Lord, is in eternal relationship as Son to the Father, in the Holy Spirit. He is also fully human through the Blessed Virgin Mary. This joining of divine and human natures is called the Hypostatic Union – one person with two natures. Because he is God, he has the power to save humanity. Because he is man, we humans can receive this salvation. And the reason for all of this is summed up in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

FOR FURTHER READING ON THIS TOPIC

Who Is Jesus

| Behold-Jesus | No Comments
The English writer C.S. Lewis famously presented his argument for the identity of Jesus as God. It’s a famous argument also presented by the philosopher Peter Kreeft of Boston College.…

Begotten Not Made

| Behold-Jesus | No Comments
One of the approaches to understanding who Jesus is to look at the Nicene Creed, which we recite at mass every Sunday. The Nicene Creed is the most widely accepted…

In Accordance With The Scriptures

| Behold-Jesus | No Comments
How do we know that Jesus is the Messiah and not another prophet? Why do we follow him and not another? That is because the Old Testament prophecies of Christ’s…

Who Is Jesus

Who is Jesus

Fr. Ed Pelrine

The English writer C.S. Lewis famously presented his argument for the identity of Jesus as God. It’s a famous argument also presented by the philosopher Peter Kreeft of Boston College. Often referred to as “aut Deus aut homo malus:” either God or a bad man.  

In the fourteenth chapter of John’s Gospel, as Jesus is preparing for his death, he makes this claim to his Apostles: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  Lewis argues that only God could make this claim, and if a mere human being did, he would be evil or mad.

Lewis refers to what he says are Jesus’ claims:

  • to have authority to forgive sins — behaving as if he really was the person chiefly offended in all offenses.
  • to have always existed
  • to intend to come back to judge the world at the end of time.

What do we know about Jesus’ life? He was a first century Jew from Palestine, believed by Christians to be the son of Mary of Nazareth, a devout Jewish woman, and the stepson of Joseph the carpenter. Mary is said to descend on her father’s side from the tribe of Judah and on her mother’s from the tribe of Levi. Joseph was of the House of David as well. Born in Bethlehem in Judea, just a few miles from the capital of Jerusalem, Jesus grew up in Nazareth in Galilee, in the north of the country, which was under Roman occupation.

Jesus began a ministry when he was around thirty years old, and revealed God the Father to the people of Israel. He also revealed himself as the Son of God, as he fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies about the coming Messiah. Gathering a group of chosen Apostles around him, Jesus carried out a ministry of healing and teaching, culminating with his arrest and trial, crucifixion, and death. This was his High Priestly sacrifice, as he fulfilled the sacrifices of the Old Covenant by his sacrificial offering of his own life on the Cross.

On the third day after he offered the Passover sacrifice of the New Covenant, Jesus was raised from the dead in his glorified body, and shortly thereafter returned to Heaven after commissioning his Apostles to preach the Gospel to all nations.

After Jesus revealed himself as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, he expressed his mission perhaps most beautifully to Philip the Apostle, when he said to him, Philip, “When you see me, you see the Father.” 

When you see me,
you see the Father

What This Means For Us

Jesus reveals the face of God the Father to us. He invites us into the relationship of dynamic love which is the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus desires an intimate friendship with us. He pours his life and love into us through his sacraments. He speaks to us through the Scriptures and through the apostolic witness in the teaching of his Church.

FOR FURTHER READING ON THIS TOPIC

Who Is Jesus

| Behold-Jesus | No Comments
The English writer C.S. Lewis famously presented his argument for the identity of Jesus as God. It’s a famous argument also presented by the philosopher Peter Kreeft of Boston College.…

Begotten Not Made

| Behold-Jesus | No Comments
One of the approaches to understanding who Jesus is to look at the Nicene Creed, which we recite at mass every Sunday. The Nicene Creed is the most widely accepted…

In Accordance With The Scriptures

| Behold-Jesus | No Comments
How do we know that Jesus is the Messiah and not another prophet? Why do we follow him and not another? That is because the Old Testament prophecies of Christ’s…

False Starts On God

False Starts On God

Fr. Paul Stein

If you believed that the earth is flat, would that change the way you live? It would if you were a sailor, for you wouldn’t try to circumnavigate the globe. What if you falsely believed that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are really just one God pretending to be three different persons? What if you believed that God is not the Trinity, but rather, a solitary reality acting in different modes that we now call the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? If that were the case, you would eventually decide that it is not worth listening to Jesus and stop following him. You would no longer be a (Catholic) Christian for you would believe a heresy.

The Catholic Church has official teachings we call doctrines.[1] The most important teachings or doctrines are called dogmas. Hence, dogma is a subset of doctrine. These more important teachings are considered core teachings, in that, if you deny one, you effectively stop believing. To hold to true or correct doctrine is orthodoxy (from the Greek: orthos, meaning “right, true or straight,” and doxa, “opinion” or “praise.”) To deny Church doctrine is generally termed heterodoxy, but more specifically, to deny (a) dogma is heresy. An analogy for heresy is that of a child disassembling a remote toy car to see how it works. In reassembling it, he does it incorrectly and leaves out a key part(s). The toy car no longer runs, it no longer works: it stops.[2]

If you don’t believe Jesus is truly God incarnate, the God-man: why would you ultimately follow him?

The Jews of the first century clearly believed there is one God and only one God. Then a certain Jesus of Nazareth showed up, proclaiming he is the Son, that the Father sent him, and that he would ask the Father to send the Holy Spirit. He also suffered and died on a cross, and then rose from the dead three days later; all of it, as he put it, was to offer us salvation from sin and everlasting death (i.e., hell).

If you don’t believe Jesus is truly God incarnate, the God-man: why would you ultimately follow him? He clearly claimed to be God; that was what got him killed (in his humanity). One early heresy in the Church was Arianism, the belief that Jesus is the highest creature, but not actually God. Similarly, Jesus clearly speaks to God as though he is a different person, the Father. He calls himself the Son and speaks of the Father and Son sending another, called the Holy Spirit. If there are not three different “persons” or unique “identities” in God, then Jesus’ speech is meaningless at best, or at worst, indicative that Jesus is schizophrenic. Why then, if the one God is not a Trinity of persons, would anyone be a (Catholic) Christian? It wouldn’t make sense.

Orthodox belief holds together two seemingly contradictory ideas: that God is one and God is three.

Yet, there is no contradiction, only a failure of our finite minds to understand the infinite God. The dogma of the Trinity is not irrational but suprarational. Rather than think of 1F + 1S + 1HS = 3 gods; it is better to consider that 1F x 1S x 1HS = 1God.[3]

A heresy is, in some ways, a false start; it is an attempt to understand what happened in Jesus of Nazareth and gets it wrong. It is taking apart the toy car and putting it back together incorrectly. Trying to insist that there is only one God, but not three different persons can lead to Sabellian Modalism. Sabellius was a third-century priest who advocated the idea that God is really one person who acts in three different modes, of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The three “persons” are not actually distinct identities, but merely three different ways of acting. If that were true, it would be extremely problematic. How could we believe Jesus’ words let alone baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit according to Matthew 28:19.

A modern form of this heresy has been seen in recent years in deacons, priests, and bishops who baptize in the name of the Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. Thinking they are being “inclusive,” such clergy are espousing something dangerous. Why is that? The actions of God, outside of himself (ad extra), are common to all three persons. The Trinity creates. Therefore, the action of creation is common to all three persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.[4] Whenever we describe the action of one person of the Trinity, such as the work of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the other persons are always there. Pentecost is as much the action of the Father and the Son as it is of the Holy Spirit.

The action of creation is common to all three persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

When we speak, and even in the Nicene Creed, we tend to speak of Father as creator, and the Son as savior. Note, however, that calling the Father the “creator” is not meant to exclude the Son and the Holy Spirit as also being creator. That is why in the Creed, after speaking of the Father as “maker of heaven and earth,” it continues to speak of the Son as “God from God… consubstantial with the Father.” The Father creates, as does the Son, and so too does the Holy Spirit. The Son and Holy Spirit are not excluded from the act of creation. However, to baptize in the name of the “Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier,” as opposed to the “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” is to do one of two things:

  1.  Imply that there are three gods: one is the creator god, another is the redeemer god, and the other one is the sanctifying god.
  2. Imply that the one person acts in three different modes, that God is acting as creator, then as redeemer, then as sanctifier.

Since, we would presume, that those engaging in such a practice are probably not pagan – believing in three gods – then they are at least implicit modalists, believing in a heresy.

What This Means For Us

Does such a topic as this one, a false belief in the Trinity actually affect people’s lives? It does. This author once went to a barber who, in the course of a debate over the Bible, specifically the Trinitarian baptismal formula in Matthew chapter 28, identified himself as a Sabellian Modalist. He added, “and the Catholic Church considers me a heretic.” This author’s response was, “and so do the Lutherans, the Evangelicals, the Baptists, and the Presbyterians.”

 There is a priest in the Archdiocese of Chicago, a friend of this author, who years ago had to contact a very large number of families to inform them that their child had been improperly baptized by a previous pastor. The baptism was invalid, meaning, it didn’t work. The children were not cleansed of the stain of original sin, they were not adopted by God as his children, and they did not receive sanctifying grace… all because the pastor thought he was being “inclusive,” by baptizing the name of the Creator, Redeemer, and the Sanctifier. Those children had to be baptized correctly, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

 In the end, our belief in the Trinity explains how we can say that God is Love, why God made a creation he doesn’t need, and even why he would become incarnate and die on a cross to save us. This teaching is absolutely essential, and hence, why the doctrine of the Trinity is a dogma.

Footnotes

[1] The word’s origin is the Latin doctrina, coming from the Latin doctor. Long before that word meant a medical professional, it meant a teacher. Hence a PhD is a Doctor of Philosophy. This also recalls that the intellectual discipline and study of philosophy included mathematics, logic, and the functioning of the natural world. What we now call “science,” used to be considered natural philosophy. 

 [2] Credit to Rev. Lawrence Hennessy, Mundelein Seminary of the University of St. Mary of the Lake, for the analogy. 

 [3] Credit to Rev. Lawrence Hennessy. 

 [4] This topic would entail the concept of circumincession (origin Latin), also rendered as perichoresisi in GreekThis refers to the mutual indwelling, or the one-in-the-other, of the persons of the Trinity. Jesus’ states it as: “I am in the Father and the Father is in me”(John 14:10). Since all three persons share one existence, the Father is in the Son, and the Son is in the Father, and they are in the Holy Spirit, as the Holy Spirit is in the Father and the Son. That is why whenever you encounter one person of the Trinity, you always find the other two.

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God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

Fr. Paul Stein

Perhaps you have seen it, though it is rare these days: the bumper sticker that states, “God is love.” Perhaps you have seen it and thought, “everyone believes that.” To the contrary, everyone does not believe that, because not everyone is Christian, let alone Catholic Christian.[1] “Love” is a Christian title for God which requires the one God to simultaneously be a Trinity of persons. God is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Love always requires at least two persons. If your best friend tells you that she is in love, the first question you will ask her is: who? What’s his name? When we say “God is love (1 John 4:8),” we are describing what he is, not simply what he does. It is the difference between a noun and a verb. When we claim that God is love, that is what God is in himself, apart from and “before” he made the angels, humans, and everything else. That means that God is, in himself, at least two persons; in the end, we learn that love requires three persons.[2]

This revelation of God as love, or as a Trinity of persons comes from Jesus himself. Jesus claimed himself to be the Son whom the Father sent (John 5:23), and the Father would send the Holy Spirit in his name (John 14:26).

"That means that God is, in himself, at least two persons; in the end, we learn that love requires three persons."

Moreover, Jesus shows us, by coming to suffer and die on a cross save us, that God/love is the total self-emptying of oneself for another person. Jesus made a total self-gift of himself for us and shows us that God himself is the total self-gift of one person to another.

The Father, who is 100% God, loves the Son. So, the Father totally empties himself – he makes a 100% gift of his Being as God – to the Son. The Son, receives 100% of the Father’s Being, his existence, and is thus also 100% God. It is just that the Son is not the Father, he is a different person. The Son loves the Father, and so he gives 100% of his existence back to the Father. The two persons share one existence. This shared existence, which is 100% God’s Being, is the Holy Spirit. That is why St. Augustine in his work, On the Trinity, writes of God being the Lover, the Beloved, and the Bond of Love they share. This sharing of their existence, of their very self, is eternal, meaning that it happens outside of time. Thus, the Father is always giving himself to the Son, and the Son is always reciprocating, giving himself to the Father, which is their Holy Spirit.  God is three persons perfectly sharing one existence as the dynamic of total self-giving.

It is helpful to keep in mind that today, the word “person” usually means a specific human being. Thus, three persons immediately implies three separate human beings. However, in Catholic thought, a “person” is a unique identity, not another being. It is what makes you, you and not another. When you say, “I believe,” you mean not Harry, Sally, this guy or that gal. “I” indicates that there is something unique present that cannot be repeated anywhere else. For example, identical twins both have the exact same DNA, yet each is a distinct person, or identity. If someone were to clone you – which is immoral – your clone would still be a different person than you.

Jesus is truly human; he has a human body and soul. He has a human personality; it is the total of what he likes and dislikes, what he finds humorous, and so on. Yet, he is not a human person, but a divine person. The distinction between person and personality can be understood this way: while your personality may change over time, you are always the same person. He is the Son, the second person of the Trinity. Jesus is a divine person who exists two ways: as God and as man. For this reason, in the Church a “person” doesn’t necessarily mean a human being. In fact, the one God is three persons.

What This Means For Us

Knowing that God is Love explains so much. Why does God love? Because that is what he is.[3] Since God is infinite, perfect in himself, and already the relationship of three persons: why did God make a creation he doesn’t need? In a word: love. Love is its own reason. After we, finite humans, rebelled against God through sin: why didn’t he just wipe us out? In a word: Love. Why did God become human in Jesus Christ, and then suffer and die on a cross to save us sinners? In a word: love.

Footnotes

[1] The word Christian applies to all those who believe Jesus is the God-man, who is the second person of the Trinity, and suffered, died and rose from the dead to save us from sin and everlasting death in hell. As such, Christians include: Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox, Assyrians, Copts, and a number of other groups.

[2] One may think of human love, where there is only a man and woman involved; the math would seem to indicate only two persons. However, humanity only exists and continues to exist because of God. Thus, even human love requires three persons, or two human persons and the love of the Trinity.

[3] God loving his creation because he is love, shows that the verb follows the noun. What God does flows from what he is. In more technical terminology: action follows being.

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God is Being Itself

Fr. Paul Stein

In the first article, we discussed how God is not the “supreme being,” meaning a god like one of the pagan gods such as Zeus or Thor. God transcends all beings (angels, humans and others) and everything that exists. God is Being itself, not a being among other beings. This line of Catholic thought can be found in the writings of people such as St. Thomas Aquinas, drawing from the encounter of Moses with God at the burning bush in chapter three of Exodus in the Bible. When Moses asks God’s name, it was common practice in those days for the pagans to invoke their gods by name. Yet, God is above any concept humans have of “the gods,” and responds: “I am who I am” (Ex 3:14). It is, precisely, not a name at all.

The Hebrew word or “name” for God, which is translated as “I am who I am,” is called the tetragrammaton. It consists of four letters rendered into English as YHWH. While the Hebrew language has vowels, it is only written down with the consonants; you must know which vowels to supply. To the Jewish people, the name of God is considered unpronounceable. Thus, instead of trying to pronounce it, the Jewish people substitute the word Adonai for the tetragrammaton. Adonai is translated into English as “Lord.” Keep this in mind when Jesus is proclaimed as “Lord.”

"God is Being itself,
not a being
among other
beings."

In recent times, people in the Church have mistakenly treated it like it is a proper name to use: “YaHWeH.” In deference to God and in respect to Jewish tradition, we should avoid this. Additionally, the translation “Jehovah” is simply incorrect. The tetragrammaton is translated into the New American Bible as “I am who I am” and not “Yahweh.” It can also be translated as “he who exists” or “he who causes to be.” This is why we can speak of God as Being itself.

God is the one who causes humans, angels, the universe, and everything else to exist. Anything that does exist, exists because God wants it to exist. Apart from God, nothing can exist. But calling God “being itself” does not mean that the universe and all beings are made out of God, like children make shapes out of Play-doh or artists makes vases out of clay. God is not the stuff from which the universe and everything in it was made. That would be pantheism, which is Greek for “all is God.” The physical world and the spiritual world are not God and are not made out of God; he transcends them.

When children in school and religious education ask, “who made God,” the answer is, “no one.” God exists outside of all temporarily, both time in this universe and the aeviternity of angels and saints in heaven. He always was, is and will be. God has “always” existed; he has no beginning.

Furthermore, we can distinguish what a being is, from the idea that a being is. For example, Pope Francis is a human being, he is not an angel or a dog. Pope Francis currently exists, or currently has being, whereas in the year 1620 AD he didn’t exist yet. With God, there is no difference between what he is and that he is. He is his own existence. When we ask, “what is God?” the answer is, “God is his own act of existence.

This means that God is simply the one who is; he is the cause of his own existence. Anything apart from God that does exist, exists because he causes it to exist. And he has to keep causing it to exist, he has to continually make it exist; otherwise, it would simply vanish from existence. Thus, there is something kind of true to the words of the song: He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands. God sustains all things in their existence, he not only initiated their existence, but causes them to continue existing. He sustains all things in their existence. The moment God no longer wants something to exist, it simply disappears from existence.

Thus, while creation is in one way separate from God, it can only exist because he is present to it, sustaining it in existence. So, we not only say that God is transcendent, but also immanent: God is interior to and present to his creation in order for it to exist. Creation is not made out of God, but can only exist because he is present to it at all times.

What This Means For Us

Calling God “Being itself,” means that he is not a being among other beings. He is transcendent, infinite, eternal, omniscient, and omnipotent. At the same time, he is immanent. Beings such as humans only exist by participating or sharing in his existence. This is why God knows us better than we know ourselves. God knows not only our conscious thoughts, but our subconscious and every hidden motivation that drives us. As St. Augustine wrote his Confessions, “You were more inward to me than my most inward part and higher than my highest” (3.6.11).

As transcendent and yet immanent to us, we can trust that God knows us, sustains us, and is always with us. No matter where we go or what happens, God is there. This is the idea behind the daily examen in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius (n. 43): looking to find God in all things each day.

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What God Is Not

What God Is Not

Fr. Paul Stein

Have you ever tried to explain to someone, what you mean by the word “God?” Perhaps you used words like “creator” and “Father.” Today, it is challenging to explain to people what we believe as Catholics; many people assert that they don’t believe in a “supreme being.” In a sense, we as Catholics don’t believe in a “supreme being” either.

What people often mean by “supreme being” is a god like Zeus, Thor, or one of the other gods of Nordic, Greek, or Roman mythology. Such pagan gods are understood to be very much like us humans, they are just much stronger, more knowledgeable, powerful, and tend to live forever. When people see artistic images of God the Father as an “old man on a throne,” they think we Catholics believe God is such a “supreme being.” Nothing could be farther from the truth.

God is transcendent. That means that he is above and beyond the physical world. In order to create the universe, or multiverse, God has to be existentially above all that is physical. God as God, is not physical at all. He does not have a body, he does not have eyes, or ears, or sit on a throne. Those are all images that help us understand our relationship with him, but are not literal.

"God is transcendent.
That means that he is
above and beyond the
physical world."

Sometimes, because God transcends all that is physical, people describe him as a “pure spirit.” However, angels are pure spirits. Again, the image of angels having wings helps us understand that they are swift and can move about the physical universe instantaneously. However, they are not physical at all; they are pure spirit. Even we humans, who are physical because we exist bodily, also have souls. Thus, we exist in the spiritual world as well as the physical world at the same time. As the creator of angels and human souls, God must be existentially above all that which is spiritual. (A separate article will cover the subject of “God’s Spirit” and the Holy Spirit.)

So what is God? Technically speaking, we don’t exactly know. In a way, we speak about what God is, by describing what he is not.[1] He is not physical; he is not spiritual as angels and souls are spiritual. He transcends all of that.

The same is true regarding limits, power, and knowledge. The universe, while enormous at about 100 billion light years in size, is still limited in size. Angels, while impressive in power and knowledge, are still limited. Anything that is limited is finite. God, since he is not limited, is infinite. As God is not limited in power, he is omnipotent; he is all-powerful. As God is not limited in knowledge, he is omniscient; he knows all things and everything that can be known.

Time itself is his creation,[2] and thus he exists above and outside of time; he is eternal. This use of the word eternal does not mean that he merely lives forever like people think the pagan gods live, or even the “eternal” life for which we hope in heaven. As properly eternal, God is outside of all change; he is always the same. Even angels experience change, though they are not part of the experience of time in this universe. Thus, Church writers describe their existence, and human existence in heaven, as part of aeviternity. It is a type of temporality that is very different than what we experience in this universe.

What This Means For Us

What this means is that if we get to heaven, we will never be bored. If God were just the supreme being, or finite like us, we would eventually fully understand him. And then there would be no new adventures. Because God is infinite, there will always be more to God, more to understand, and more ways to grow in relationship with him. Even now, we begin that adventure in our relationship with him. He always has more for us if we open ourselves to him and his will. Our Catholic faith is quite the adventure.

Footnotes

[1] This way of understanding God is called the via negativa, or an apophatic theology. It describes God by describing what he is not.

[2] For those more versed in physics, the universe is more properly called spacetime. Time is thus considered the fourth dimension of the universe; it is constitutive of the universe and hence part of God’s creation.

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