God is One - God
is Three; - God
PEOPLE OF GOD
Reverend H. A. Johnston, S.J.
ISBN - 85826 - 020 - 4
A.C.T.S. No. 1595 / Do (1971)
Pope Paul VI marked the close of the year of faith on the Feast of SS.
Peter and Paul, 1968, with his proclamation of The Credo of the People of God a
declaration of the sacred traditional faith of the Catholic Church for
this day and age.
This pamphlet presents some reflections on and exposition of this faith
from the pen of the Reverend H. A. Johnston, S.J.
Originally published as a series of articles in the Australian Messenger of the Sacred Heart
in 1969-70, they have been edited to form a series of three pamphlets. Part I (this pamphlet) discusses the meaning of faith, the mystery of God
and the work of our redemption by Christ.
Part II and Part III, to be published in April
and May, 1971, will tell of the work of the Holy Spirit, the perfecting
of man by grace, the mystery of the Church, the Eucharist and man's
Nihil Obstat: BERNARD O'CONNOR, Diocesan Censor.
Imprimatur: J. R. KNOX Archbishop of Melbourne.
5th March, 1971.
* * *
It seems natural to begin by asking ourselves what is the meaning of
the word Credo and what it stands for. Credo is a Latin word meaning "I
believe". Our English word "creed" is derived from it, as well as other
words, like credible. But besides its literal meaning Credo stands for
something more, for a formula containing a summary of our faith; it is
equivalent to our English word Creed.
This twofold meaning of Credo,
(1) "I believe", and
(2) "what I believe",
has a parallel in our English word faith. Faith is in the first place
the act or virtue of the person who believes, but it also stands for
what he believes, as when, for example, we speak of the Catholic faith.
In this pamphlet we shall be concerned mainly with the second meaning,
for we shall be examining the summary of what we, as Catholics, believe
in the formula recently set forth for us by Christ's vicar, the Pope.
At the same time it is very necessary for us to have a clear
understanding of what we mean by faith in the primary sense; in other
words, to know why we believe as well as what we believe.
What Faith Is
Faith is one of the ways in which we find out facts. We all know that
we derive knowledge from different sources. One source is our senses.
We run into something in the dark and we feel it. If there is light we
see it. We can hear an aeroplane hidden above the clouds. In everyday
life, as we know, we are constantly getting information from our senses.
Obviously we should be inferior to animals, whose senses are often
keener than ours, if we had no higher source of knowledge. But we
differ from the animals in having the power of reasoning. When Robinson
Crusoe saw a footprint on the sand of his desert island, he was able to
draw the conclusion that there was another human being there, though he
had not yet seen him. From a knowledge of their speed and their
distance from the sun (things that can be found by sense observation)
astronomers can estimate the weight of the planets from many millions
of miles distance.
Yet, with all the advantage that reason gives us, our knowledge would
be very limited if we had only sense and intellect to rely on. By far
the greater part of our knowledge comes from quite a different source,
information we receive from others.
Information From Others
When you listen to the broadcast of a race result, you do not see it
yourself, and you could not have known it by reasoning (though perhaps
sometimes you think you can, to the bookmakers' delight and
prosperity); you get the information through the word of another.
If I had to sacrifice all the knowledge I obtain from others I should
find myself very badly off indeed. Nearly all my knowledge of science
comes that way; I accept it on the word of scientists. All my knowledge
of past history comes through the testimony of others. If my knowledge
of geography were restricted to the part of the earth I have seen for
myself, it would be very small indeed. The news in the daily papers
comes to me on the evidence of reporters and news services. We can say
that all this knowledge comes to us through faith, human faith, which
means accepting information on the word of another.
But the faith we are now concerned with is divine faith, that is,
accepting truth on the word of God. This is an entirely new source of
knowledge, and of course a very precious one. We must, it is clear,
first establish that God has spoken, either directly or through an
accredited messenger; but once that is done there is a whole new world
of truth opened up to us. Let us examine some of the striking
characteristics of divine faith.
God may make known to us different
kinds of truth. He may, make known to us truths about himself
and truths about our own destiny which, in theory at least, we might
make out for ourselves by the use of our reason. But our reason has its
limitations, and not all of us have the natural endowments or the
training or the time necessary for the investigation of profound
truths. But we can all know these things easily and with certainty if
God deigns to become our teacher.
Then there are other things, truths that depend on God's free will and
truths that are completely beyond our power of discovering or even of
comprehending, which we can know only if God chooses to make them known
to us. We could not know that there are three Persons in God unless God
Himself told us so. Even when we know this truth through God's teaching
we cannot fully understand it. Not that mysteries like this create any
difficulty for faith. God is infinite and our minds are finite. It is
absolutely impossible that what is finite should contain, embrace, or
enclose what is infinite. We cannot even put a quart in a pint pot.
Divine faith, therefore, transcends
reason; that is, it gives us truth that could not be acquired by
reason alone and may be beyond our power of understanding. But it is
not on that account unreasonable. On the contrary, faith is eminently
We take the word of men. We should only make ourselves ridiculous if we
refused to accept any truth that we could not verify for ourselves. But
if it is reasonable to accept the word of men, how much more reasonable
it is to accept the word of God. This brings us to another point.
We are absolutely safe when we have
the word of God for a truth. We cannot always trust our senses,
for we can easily be deceived about what we see or think we see. Our
earth is travelling round the sun at a rate of nearly 20 miles a
second; but to our senses we seem to be absolutely motionless.
Our reason can make mistakes; even
the youngest of us is not infallible. Weakness of intellect or
want of attention or impetuosity or prejudice or pride can seriously
affect our judgement and lead us into error. Human testimony cannot
always be relied on. But God cannot make mistakes, nor can He deceive
us. Once we have God's word for anything we know that it is absolutely
impossible that this should not be true.
A special characteristic of divine
faith is that there is an obligation for me to accept God's word.
I may be imprudent or unreasonable in refusing to take man's word for a
thing or to accept the teaching of a scientist; but these have no
special authority to teach me or to demand my submission to their
views. It is different with God. I am a creature and as such am in duty
bound to accept the teaching of my Creator and to obey Him. That is why
pride - reliance on myself and my own powers and reluctance to submit
to God - is a great obstacle to faith.
But though I am bound to believe, it
counts to my credit when I do believe. I merit by my faith. The
reason is that faith is free: I am not forced to accept God's word. It
is true that faith is an assent of the mind, but that assent is given
in response to an act of the will.
I am not free with regard to the testimony of my senses; when I see a
thing in normal conditions it does not depend on my free choice whether
I accept its reality or not. Similarly, if something is perfectly clear
to my mind, for example, that two and two make four, it is not in my
power to doubt it; the truth forces itself upon me.
Faith a Free Act
But it is different when someone tells me something; I do not find
myself forced to accept it, even if I believe in the honesty of the
person. The reason is that the fact itself is not presented to me, but
only someone's testimony to it. This leaves the truth itself hidden
from me. That is why there is always a certain obscurity about faith;
and that is why the act of faith is a meritorious act. I honour God by
accepting His word when nothing forces me to do so.
We are familiar with the last beatitude of the Gospels: "Blessed are
those who have believed without seeing". That brings us back to the
beginning, where Our Lady is called blessed because she has believed
that the word of God would be fulfilled in her. The gift of faith is
one for which we should be very grateful.
THE POPE'S CREDO
Having dealt with the meaning of Credo in general, we now turn to this
particular Credo, which was issued at the end of the Year of Faith,
1968. It is not, of course, a new creed, for a creed is only a summary
of the truth which God has revealed to us, made known through scripture
and the teaching of the Church, and that can never be a different
truth. We may recall what St. Paul said to the Galatians:
"I am astonished at the promptness with
which you have turned away from the one who called you and have decided
to follow a different version of the Good News. Not that there can be
more than one Good News: it is merely that some trouble-makers among
you want to change the Good News of Christ; and let me warn you that if
anyone preaches a version of the Good News different from the one we
have already preached to you, whether it be ourselves or an angel from
heaven, he is to be condemned." (Galatians 1: 6-8).
And the letter of Jude, we remember, speaks of "the faith which has
been once and for all entrusted to the saints" (Jude vv. 3 and 5). It
is our glory and happiness to possess this truth of God which can never
fail, and the Credo which the Pope has given us is a call to renew our
gratitude for our faith and our fidelity to it. The Pope is the
divinely appointed head of the Church and the Vicar of Christ, which is
another reason why we should welcome his Credo. Respect for and
obedience to the Pope have always been regarded, and rightly so, as the
mark of the true Catholic.
The Pope is the successor of St. Peter, a fact which is repeated over
and over again in the decrees of the Second Vatican Council; and there
is no higher authority in the Church of God than a general Council with
the Pope at its head.
Vicar of Christ
Christ was, as he himself asserted, the true shepherd, but when he was
leaving the earth he appointed a deputy to take his place. Our Lord had
said earlier that He wanted His sheep to form one flock under one
shepherd. Now Peter is constituted shepherd of that flock. St. Ambrose
surely expressed the mind of Christ when he said, "Where Peter is,
there is the Church"; the shepherd identifies the flock and makes it a
That what was given to Peter was given also to His successors hardly
needs arguing. Christ was preparing a Church that would last to the end
of time. As the apostles had successors in the Church, so also the head
of the apostolic band. The foundation Christ laid was not just a
scaffolding, to be removed when the building had been set up.
Can we claim to be Christ's sheep, of whom He said, "I know mine and
mine know me", unless we allow ourselves to be guided by the shepherd
to whom Christ committed us? So we accept with joy and gratitude this
Credo of the Pope. In the introduction to it he writes:
as once at Caesarea Philippi Simon Peter, in the name of the twelve
apostles, declared that Christ was truly the Son of God, in contrast
with the opinions of men, so today his lowly successor and shepherd of
the whole Church, raises his voice to give the strongest testimony to
divine truth. It was for this reason that the truth was entrusted to
the Church, that she might announce it to all nations."
"WE BELIEVE IN ONE GOD"
Every creed begins with God, and in a true sense it may be said to end
there. God is truth itself, so there can be no truth which is not found
in God. Our belief in every truth that is revealed is belief in God,
for when we accept God for what He is, we accept His whole revelation
Similarly, when we love God that love governs our whole life. St.
Augustine gives as a rule of life, "Love, and then you may do what you
like". This does not mean, of course, that if we have some sentimental
love of God we are not bound by any law and can do what we please, but
rather that if we love God truly we are so bound to Him that we cannot
fail to do His will in everything.
A passage in the book of Revelation reads:
"I am alpha and omega (which are the
first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, as we might say A and Z),
the first and the last, the beginning and the end."
There is also a chapter of A'Kempis which begins:
"Here is my God and my all."
Then the author pauses and asks, "What more do I wish, and what greater
happiness can I desire?" And after repeating the opening words, he
adds, "Enough is said for one who understands."
"For one who understands," that is just our trouble. God is everything
to us in Himself, but it is very difficult for us - indeed impossible -
to understand Him as He really is, while we are in this world. We have
no direct perception of God; we know Him only through the creatures in
which His being and perfection are imperfectly revealed.
Beauty Ever Ancient, Ever New
We could go through the whole of creation, for example, and gather - as
a bee gathers honey from innumerable flowers - all the beauty that can
be found in created things: the beauty of nature in the skies at night,
at sunset, or at dawn; the beauty of flowers and trees, of mountains
and valleys, of light and shadow, of rockbound coast; the beauty of man
and beast and insect; the beauty of art and literature and human
character; the beauty of music and the songs of birds. If we could
unite all this beauty into one, how breath-taking it would be. Yet,
compared with the beauty of God it would be as nothing. No matter what
degree of beauty we had reached, it would still be finite, whereas the
beauty of God in infinite.
But there is more than that. The beauty of God is not merely far
greater, it is different in kind. Beauty in creatures is an accidental
thing; it can come and go. and it is not the very nature of the being
that possesses it. But it is different with God. It is not so much that
He possesses beauty as that He is beauty itself. And so with goodness
and wisdom and all other perfections. Consequently there is nothing in
this world which can represent God as He really is.
Helen Keller had some idea of what colour and sound meant, but she did
not know them as they really are, because she was blind and deaf. She
knew them through imperfect comparisons and from a description of the
effect they had on those who could see and hear. But the true nature of
colour and sound were hidden from her.
So it is with our knowledge of God in this life. All the words, we use
of God, his being and perfection, are inadequate. They are drawn from
and represent created things. When we transfer them to God we do our
best to get rid of the imperfections and limitations inherent in them,
but we are still left with ideas and terms which belong to created
things and can be applied to God only imperfectly; created things have
some likeness to God, but it is a very imperfect one. They point
towards Him and give hints of what He is, but His real nature will be
known to us only in eternity.
Jesus Christ has given us a much better idea of God than we could
obtain for ourselves, and God has ways of communicating a knowledge of
Himself to us in prayer. But it remains true that the knowledge of the
highest mystic is very different from what the beatific vision will
give us when we reach our final home.
God is in His Heaven
Yet, though our efforts can never meet with complete success, we must
always keep trying to grow in knowledge and love of God. The knowledge
and love of God we shall have in eternity, which will be the source of
our perfect happiness, will be in proportion to the knowledge and love
we have acquired, with the help of God's grace, during this present
Even on earth, we must constantly be reminding ourselves, our true
happiness can be found in God alone. St. Augustine expressed a profound
truth when he said:
"You have made us for yourself, Lord,
and our hearts can find no rest till they rest in you."
Our human minds were given us to seek and grasp the truth; but God is
truth itself. Our wills were given us that we might embrace and enjoy
what is good; but God : is goodness itself. We were made for God as a
key is made to fit into a lock and turn sweetly in it. There are many
things in the world today that may tend to make us anxious and fearful,
but it is a consolation to know that God exists, and that there is
another world of perfect goodness and happiness which is our true home.
But we must not make the mistake of thinking of God as a wonderful
being whom we can admire and adore, but who is far away from us . . .
". . . dwelling in unapproachable
light, whom no man has ever seen or can see" (1 Tim. 6:16).
He is in a true sense closer to us than we are to ourselves; He is our
creator. God has created a whole hierarchy of beings, among whom we
have our place. He has created the material world with all its
complexity, into the secrets of which men are constantly delving; He
has created animal life in its great variety; He has created purely
spiritual beings whom we call angels.
Man is the Crowning Piece
The crown of the visible creation is man. God is our creator. He uses
secondary causes, created beings, for the production and maintenance of
our bodies, but ultimately matter also came into being through creation
(that is, the production of being, reality, where there was nothing
before), and our souls came directly from the hand of God.
But we must not think of creation as something that happened in the
past and is over and done with. God is the only source of existence,
and when He gives it to a creature through creation He has to continue
to give it always. God could not create something that no longer
depended on Him for its existence, because a creature no longer
dependent on God would be a contradiction.
When you lift a stone from the bottom of a pond and hold it at the
surface, it is there, not because it is the nature of a stone to float
but because you are supporting it. Take away your hand and it sinks to
the bottom again. When you sing or play on an instrument, there is
music because you are producing it. You stop and the music stops. So
God drew us out of nothingness when He first created us, but equally He
has to continue to give us existence every moment or we should cease to
be. In this sense He is always creating us.
It is this close union with God which is our great dignity and our
glory. If you wanted to write your autobiography, but lacked the time
or skill necessary for the task, you might still accomplish it, very
briefly but adequately by writing: "I came from God; I belong to God; I
am going to God". Nothing else matters compared with that. We have our
Lord's words: "This is eternal life, to know you, the only true God,
and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" (John 17:3).
There are many nowadays who do not believe in God. There are academic
atheists who refuse to accept the existence of God, and there are
practical atheists, a much larger number, who give God no place in
their lives. This is a situation which concerns us believers.
The theoretic atheists are to be dealt with by those who are qualified
to do so; it is the practical atheist with whom we ordinary believers
have to deal. The Vatican Council has told us that it is the duty of
the Church (that is, of us all) to make God the Father and His
incarnate Son present and in a sense visible in the world. Men cannot
see God, but they can see us, the children of God. Our interest in
others, our readiness to help those in need, our spirit of
self-sacrifice, our high principles, the otherworldliness of our aims
and ambitions, these are the proofs of the existence of God and His
action in the world that men will accept.
"Imitate the perfection of your heavenly Father," our Lord said to us.
"Be imitators of God as beloved children," was St. Paul's advice. Show
the family, likeness, since you belong to the household of God.
"Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works
and give glory to your Father who is in heaven."
GOD IS ONE - GOD IS THREE
God is most truly one, not merely in the sense that there can be only
one God but also because His nature is one undivided and indivisible
reality. He has all perfections, but not (as we are almost forced to
imagine it) through the addition of perfection to perfection, but as
having them all identical with Himself in one absolutely simple being.
At the same time we know by revelation that there are in God relations
which do not clash with His perfect unity; that in the supreme reality
which is God there is a society of persons. These relations are
identical with the divinity, but are distinct from one another. This is
the primary mystery of our religion, that in the absolute unity of the
divine nature there are three Persons.
We can easily distinguish nature and person in human beings. If we
point to Peter, say, we might ask,
"What is he?" The answer would be,
"He is a man", one who possesses a human nature. If we ask,
"Who is he?" we are told that he is Peter, a particular person.
We must remember, of course, that these terms, nature and person, like
all terms derived from created things, are not applied to God in
exactly the same sense. They are imperfect when applied to God, but we
have no other terms to use.
While admitting that this is a profound mystery which is beyond our
power of comprehending, we can still go some way in explaining what it
The relations in God which constitute the Persons must be spiritual,
for God is a purely spiritual being; they must arise from the activity
of God's mind and will.
Father, Son . . . .
God knows himself fully and perfectly. He is the only one who does.
When we know an object we form an idea or concept of it in our mind and
this represents the thing known. This concept is something added to our
mind, which did not have it before. But nothing can be added to God,
for no addition can be made to infinity. Furthermore addition means
composition which is opposed to God's absolute unity.
So God's concept of himself (to use human terms) must be identical with
His very being; but yet there is that opposition or relation between
the knower and what is known. The Father, therefore, by His knowledge
of Himself begets the perfect image of Himself which is the Son.
And Holy Spirit
Father and Son must love one another with an infinite, perfect love;
but, again, that love cannot be distinct from their being; it is the
divine substance, but gives rise to a new relationship which is the
Holy Spirit, proceeding from the Father and the Son.
This does not, of course explain the mystery, but it shows the
direction in which we must go in trying to understand it, as far as
that is possible.
It may help to remember that even in ourselves there are mysteries of a
somewhat similar kind. Ordinarily in our acts of knowledge we, the
subjects knowing, are distinct from the object known. But we are aware
that we can think of ourselves, and we can make our own thoughts the
object of reflex thinking. Similarly, we can love ourselves, though
ordinarily the lover and the one loved are different. If, then, even a
finite spirit, such as is found in man, provides us with mysteries, how
much more should we expect mysteries, and much more profound mysteries,
in the case of a spiritual being that is infinite.
There are in God, therefore, relations of origin, Father generating the
Son, the Son generated by the Father, Holy Spirit proceeding from
Father and Son. But here again we must be on guard against transferring
to God what goes with relations of origin in creatures.
If one creature is the origin of another the one that is the origin has
priority over the other. The cause must be given before you can posit
the effect. And the effect is dependent on its cause. But in relations
due to origin in the Blessed Trinity there is no priority of time and
no dependence of one on the other, no inferiority or subjection. That
is part of the mystery. All the divine Persons are equal in every way,
because they all possess one and the same divine nature and all its
We are not to allow ourselves to think that the Father possesses part
of the divine nature, and the Son part, and the Holy Spirit another
part; that would be, of course, impossible. The whole of the divinity
is in the Father and in the Son and in the Holy Spirit. It is not that
there is one thing, the divine nature, and at the same time three
things, the three Persons. No; there is only one thing, one absolute
reality, and three relations in that one absolute reality. Let us
recall a passage in St. John's Gospel (14: 8-10): 'Philip said to
Jesus: "Lord, show us the Father and we shall be satisfied." Jesus said
to him, "Have I been with you so long and yet you do not know me,
Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, "Show
us the Father"? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the
Father in me?" '
That was the same as saying: We are distinct persons, but not separate
A Necessity of God's Nature
Another truth we must know about the Blessed Trinity is that God is
necessarily threefold in person. If, we had been brought up without
knowledge of this mystery, as was the case of the Jews of old and is
the case today with some religions that believe in one God, we might
have regarded it as more natural to think of God as one in person as in
nature. Yet that is an impossibility; there could not be a God of one
person; the ultimate reality must necessarily be threefold in person.
God is a necessary being; that is, He must exist and he must be just
what He is; it is absolutely impossible that He should be other than He
is. It is true that we could not know that antecedently, but once the
Trinity has been revealed to us, then we know that it is the essential
nature of God, which could not be other than it is.
A mistake we must guard against is that of looking on the Trinity in
God as a static thing, as if there were three Persons in God from all
eternity, and that is all there is about it. No; the Blessed Trinity is
a real life in God, something that is going on perpetually. The Father
is for ever begetting the Son and from the Father and the Son the Holy
Spirit is perpetually proceeding.
But, you may say, all this is very abstract, not to say puzzling; does
it mean anything for us beyond demanding our faith and our adoration?
It must be confessed that for many it does not. They are baptized in
the name of the Trinity, they make the sign of the cross, invoking the
Trinity, and they recite the Glory be to the Father; but this great
truth of our faith does not really enter into their lives. This is a
This mystery was the chief point of Christ's revelation to us. He made
known the mystery, first by himself appearing as a man, yet as a divine
person distinct from the Father and the Holy Spirit, then by His words,
by what He told us of himself, of His Father, and of the Holy Spirit.
No other doctrine is so fully set forth in the New Testament. It must
surely have been for our benefit that it was made known to us.
If we do not know and take an interest in the Blessed Trinity, we do
not know God and are. not interested in God, the only real God; we are
in danger of making for ourselves an unreal God, a God of one person,
an impossible God. There can be only one God, and He is necessarily a
God of three Persons.
But in a special way we are losers if we neglect the Blessed Trinity,
because it is our great privilege to share in the inner life of the
Trinity through grace, which is a preparation for a more perfect
sharing in eternity: The life of the Blessed Trinity is our
supernatural life too.
GOD BECAME MAN
The Incarnation can be called the centre of our Christian life, because
it is not only the source of all the Christian revelation but also the
source of all the graces and blessings we enjoy in this life or shall
enjoy throughout eternity. Just as from the sun comes all the light and
heat which makes life on this earth possible, so from the teaching of
Christ and from His merits we derive every good that is ours in this
life and in the next.
The word "incarnation" comes from Latin and means literally "becoming
flesh", that is, becoming man. It stands for the doctrine that the
second Person of the Blessed Trinity, remaining absolutely unchanged in
His divine nature, took to Himself and made His own a complete human
nature, body and soul.
This human nature did not become a human person, for to be a person a
human nature must be independent and responsible for itself, whereas
the human nature which the Son of God assumed did not have this
independence. It was taken possession of by the higher personality of
the Word of God. This mystery - and it is a profound mystery - is in a
sense the opposite of the mystery of the Blessed Trinity: in the
Trinity the three Persons possess one and the same nature; in the
incarnation one Person possesses two distinct natures, one divine and
Jesus - True God and True Man
Jesus Christ is, therefore, truly God, possessing the divine nature
from all eternity, but just as truly man, because he possessed a human
nature from a certain point in time. We can never hope to understand
fully this marvellous work of God, but what we can know provides more
than enough matter for wonder and for rejoicing.
All creation is linked up with this mystery. The Son as God gives
existence to all creatures; as Son He is their model (what philosophers
call the exemplary cause) ; and He is also the final cause, the end for
which everything was created.
"He is the first-born of all creation,
for in him were created all things in heaven and earth, everything
visible and everything invisible . . . All things were created through
Him and for Him." (Col. 1:15-16).
Creation might be regarded as an extension of the divine generation of
the Son, so that when He came into the world He was coming to what was
His own, to take His place as its head. It was the Father's plan, we
are told, "to bring everything together under Christ as head". (Eph. 1:
God's Revelation of Himself
The Incarnation is first of all God's revelation of himself. To know
God as He is in His divine nature is impossible for us in this life;
but God has condescended to make himself known to us in a human nature,
through which we are led to His divinity.
First we know the Son who became man for us. Then through Him we know
the Father, who is one God with Him, and the Holy Spirit whom He is to
give us. Christ is described in the New Testament as "the image of the
unseen God" and "the perfect copy of His nature". Both by His actions
and His teaching, Christ brings us a knowledge of His Father.
Addressing His Father He said: "I have made known your name to the men
you gave me out of the world". (John 17:6). ("Name", we recall, stands
for the nature of the Father, which He communicates to the Son.) It is
only through the Son that we can know the Father:
"No one knows the Father except the Son
and those to whom the Son
chooses to reveal Him" (Matt: 11: 27).
"I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father
except by me". (John 14: 6).
A Perfect Teacher
In human matters we can never find the perfect teacher. However, in the
most important and difficult of all arts, the art of living as children
of God, we have an absolutely perfect teacher, Jesus Christ. God and
>From Him we learn all about our eternal destiny, our relation to
himself, to His Father, and to the Holy Spirit; He teaches us the road
we must follow, the dispositions we must cultivate, and the virtues we
must practice; He points out the helps that are at our disposal and the
dangers we must avoid.
He is unlike other teachers in this, that, whereas other teachers can
do little or nothing for the pupil who has not the ability for the
subject being taught, Christ can give to His pupils (granted a
willingness on their part) both the light they need in order to
understand His lessons and the strength and courage to put these
lessons into practice.
He is not a teacher in theory alone; He lives our life himself and
gives us the example of what He teaches. He lives as He bids us live,
asking nothing of us that He has not done himself, with a perfection
which we can never reach.
He lived a life of self-sacrifice in the highest, degree: He loved us
even to the point of dying a terrible death for us; He submitted
himself in everything to His Father's will. We are not, therefore, just
listening to the lessons of a perfect teacher; we are studying and
imitating a model.
The Father has chosen us with the intention that, in St. Paul's words,
"we should be fashioned into the likeness of His Son". It is a very
high destiny indeed, and a serious responsibility that is placed upon
Redemption in Christ
The Son of God came on earth to redeem us. We had been created for
eternal life with God, but we had been separated from Him by sin. Man
had turned away from God, his last end, and was following a path of his
own choosing which could lead only to destruction. But "God so loved
the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in
Him may not be lost but may have eternal life". (John 3: 16).
Man could not redeem himself, properly speaking, but God found a way
which almost made it seem as if he could. God's Son made himself truly
one of us; He took our sinful nature - though without sin himself -
becoming almost like a lost sheep or a prodigal son for our sakes.
In taking one particular human nature as His own He planned to identify
himself with the whole of our humanity, including it all in himself.
Then he offered in our name, and as identified with us, an act of
perfect reparation, submission and love to His Father; He died to the
merely human life and rose to a new and glorious one.
It is through baptism that we unite ourselves with Christ in His death
and gain the right to share in His resurrection. This is a central
theme of St. Paul's teaching; we can take one passage as an example:
"You have been taught that when we were
baptized in Christ Jesus we
were baptized in His death; in other words, when we were baptized we
went into the tomb with Him and joined Him in His death, so that, as
Christ was raised from the dead by the Father's glory, we too might
live a new life. If in union with Christ we have imitated His death, we
shall also imitate Him in His resurrection." (Rom. 6: 4-5).
It is this union with Christ that is the supreme benefit conferred on
us through the Incarnation.
A Living Union
But we must not think of this union with Christ as only a moral union,
a union of mind and will; it is far more than that, it is a living
union. By the grace He merited for us Christ conferred on us a share in
His own divine life:
"God sent His only Son into the world
that we might live by Him" (1 John 4: 9).
Thus we become children of God in a new way. We could already be called
children of God in virtue of our creation by God, but now we are his
children in a higher way by sharing in the sonship of Christ.
"Think of the love the Father has
lavished on us, by letting us be called God's children; and that is
what we are." (1 John 3: 1).
No longer is Christ described merely as the only-begotten Son; He is
now, in the words of St. Paul, "first-born of many brethren" (Rom. 8:
"When the appointed time came, God sent
forth His Son . . . to redeem those who were under the Law, so that we
might become adopted sons" (Gal. 4: 5-7).
"You are, all of you, sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ" (Gal.
We are, by adoption, what Christ is by nature. But when we use the term
adoption we must be careful not to confuse it with human adoption,
where a husband and wife take a child and agree to treat it as if it
were truly their own; but there are no ties of blood established, and
no inherited gifts or qualities transmitted.
It is different when God adopts us; by His grace He makes a real change
in us and gives us a share in a mysterious way in the divine nature
itself. We have the authority of God's inspired word for that
statement: "sharers in the divine nature" (2 Peter 1, 4).
This means that, sharing in the sonship of Christ, we are introduced
into the very life of the Blessed Trinity, the Father communicating the
divine life in imitation of the generation of His Son, the son
identifying us with himself and the Holy Spirit sharing with us that
love which is the very life of God. The future life of glory becomes
ours by right:
"If God has made you son, then He has
made you heir" (Gal. 4: 7).
"If we are children, we are heirs as well, heirs of God and co-heirs
with Christ". (Rom. 8: 17).
Sharing in the same life, we must all be truly one, in imitation of the
unity of the divine Persons. So St. Paul insists that the difference
between Jew and Greek, slave and free man, circumcised and
uncircumcised, male and female, means nothing, "for you are all one in
Christ" (Gal. 3: 29) ; "There is nothing but Christ in everyone" (Col.
CHRIST ROSE FROM THE DEAD
was buried, and by his own power rose on the third day, raising us by
His resurrection to that sharing of the divine life which is grace."
So we read in the Credo which we are studying. It may, perhaps seem
strange that our elevation to the life of grace is attributed to the
resurrection of Christ. But we are prone to making the mistake of
regarding the death of Christ as the sole cause of our redemption,
whereas His death, resurrection, and glorification, were only parts of
one redemptive process. St. Paul never separates the death of Christ
from His resurrection. For instance, he writes:
"He was put to death for our sins and
raised to life for our justification". (Rom. 4: 25).
These words are not to be taken, however, as meaning that the
forgiveness of our sins is something different from our justification
(or sanctification); they are only two aspects of the same thing. Our
sins are forgiven only through the infusion of grace; the infusion of
grace means the forgiveness of our sins. This view of the importance of
the resurrection of Christ in the work of salvation is very clearly put
before us in the Decree on the
Liturgy of the Vatican Council:
"Christ the Lord accomplished the work
of human redemption and the perfect glorification of God chiefly
through the paschal mystery of His blessed passion, His resurrection
from the dead, and His glorious ascension" (No. 5).
"The paschal mystery of the passion, death and resurrection of Christ,
from which mystery all the sacraments and sacramentals derive their
power" (No. 61).
"On this day (Sunday) the faithful ought to gather together in order
that, hearing the word of God and partaking of the eucharist, they may
recall the passion, resurrection and glory of the Lord Jesus, and give
thanks to God who has given them a new and a living hope through the
resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Peter 1: 3). (No. 106).
Central Teaching of the New Testament
The resurrection may be called the central teaching of the New
Testament. It is referred to more than 30 times in the gospels, and
nearly a hundred times in the whole of the New Testament, figuring in
17 out of its 27 books.
It was Christ himself, as we know, who first mentioned His
resurrection, foretelling it on several occasions, a fact which the
apostles later appealed to. When they came to preach the good news of
Christ after the coming of the Holy Spirit, the resurrection was their
central theme. This comes out very clearly in five addresses made by
St. Peter and six by St. Paul, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles.
The first address of Peter was made to the crowd on the day of
"He spoke about the resurrection of the
Messiah . . . ; "You killed Jesus the Nazarene, but God raised him to
life . . . and we are all witnesses to this fact" (cf. Acts 2: 22-32).
The second was to the people in the temple area (3: 12-26). The third
was when Peter and John had to appear before a meeting of the Jewish
leaders (4: 8-12). The fourth was again before the Jewish leaders (5:
29-32). The fifth was to Cornelius and his household (10: 34-43). In
all of these the resurrection plays an important part. Peter's first
letter contains three separate statements about the resurrection (in
chapters one and three).
St. Paul's Testimony
But it is in St. Paul that the subject of the resurrection of Christ
receives its full development. Six of his talks recorded in the Acts
put forward the resurrection as of primary importance.
At Antioch of Pisidia he repeated the argument St. Peter had used from
Psalm 15 (16) (Acts 13: 17-41). At Thessalonica he spent three sabbaths
proving that the Messiah was destined to suffer and to rise from the
dead (Acts 17: 2-3). At Athens he excited the ribaldry of the cynical
Athenians by putting forward this doctrine (Acts 17: 18-34). But the
real dogmatic development comes in his great letters, in all of which
the doctrine has a prominent place, in Romans, Corinthians, Galatians,
Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians, as well as in the
second letter to Timothy; it is also found in Hebrews.
The 15th chapter of the first letter to the Corinthians, is devoted
entirely to the subject of Christ's resurrection and our resurrection
through His. He begins by asserting the fact of Christ's resurrection
and gives a list of witnesses who can vouch for it. How, then, he asks,
can some people say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there
is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ did not rise, and both
Paul's preaching and his convert's faith have no meaning. Moreover, he
and others would be proved to have committed perjury before God,
because they swore that God had raised Christ to life.
The fact is, he repeats, that Christ did rise from the dead and He was
only the first of a series, the first-fruits of a rich harvest. This
connection between Christ's resurrection and ours is found asserted by
St. Paul in at least eight other places.
That the resurrection was a physical one, a resurrection of Christ's
body, cannot be doubted, if we are willing to accept the evidence of
the New Testament. The resurrection is always spoken of, both by our
Lord himself and His followers, as of the same order as the events
which precede it, it is part of a series: mocked, scourged, crucified,
died, buried, rose.
It is assigned to "the third day" (what we, in our manner of speech,
would normally call the second day), but this would have no meaning if
we are to understand by resurrection simply the glorification of
Christ, for this, of course, came immediately at His death. What became
of the body? All the witnesses testify that it was not in the tomb on
the first day of the week, and our Lord's enemies had to invent a story
to account for this. The explanation of the empty tomb which the New
Testament and the Church give us is that of the angels:
"He is not here, for He has risen, as
This physical resurrection is supported by an abundance of evidence.
St. John tells us that when Jesus said:
"Destroy this sanctuary and in three
days I will raise it up", "He was speaking of the sanctuary that was
His body, and when Jesus rose from the dead His disciples remembered
that He had said this" (John 2: 19).
Jesus said to Magdalen, "Do not cling to me". (When St. Matthew writes
that the women "clasped His feet", He is probably referring to the same
incident.) We remember the words our Lord used to His apostles: "Touch
me and see for yourselves; a ghost has no flesh as you see I have."
There is, then, hardly any need for faithful Catholics to be disturbed
if they come across strange views about the resurrection of Christ, a
doctrine found so clearly set forth in the New Testament and taught
authoritatively in so many Councils and professions of faith. The
strange views sometimes put forward are often called new, but in most
cases they are only old rejected theories resurrected.
In the early years of this 20th century Pope St. Pius X condemned the
"Faith in the resurrection of Christ did not originally concern the
fact itself of the resurrection, but rather the immortal life of Christ
It is better for us to be associated with Christ's Church rather than
be among those whom Jesus . . . "reproached for their incredulity and
obstinacy because they refused to believe those who had seen Him after
He had risen." (Mark 16: 14).
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