Article 26: Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
I Believe in God the Father
Father John G. Hillier
Over the years it both surprised and bothered me to hear people say that they could not identify with God as a loving Father because they themselves did not experience love or mercy from their own dads. How awful that must be. How sad. I could never identify with such a thing since the opposite is true when I think of my dad, and reflect on my life with a father who loved us and sacrificed much for my mom and us children, even though he did not have all of the answers to every question we asked or to all the challenges of life.
On the other hand, I also know that as much as my dad loved us, he would be the first to admit that his love was minuscule compared to the love and mercy of God, Our Father. Perhaps that ought to be the consolation for those who did not or do not have a loving relationship with their earthly dads.
The Creed we profess each Sunday (also known as our Profession of Faith) “begins with God the Father” (ccc 198). Later, as the Creed continues and speaks about us humans, the world and other aspects of our faith, “it does so in relation to God” and “all depend on the first” affirmation of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in God,” (ccc 199) or the first affirmation of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, “I believe in One God” (ccc 200). The Catechism explains, “the Credo begins with God the Father, for the Father is the first divine person of the Most Holy Trinity” (ccc 198). It explains further, “our Creed begins with the creation of heaven and earth, for creation is the beginning and the foundation of all God’s works” (ccc 198).
Our present Jubilee Year of Mercy hinges on the Christian “affirmation of God as Our Father” and beckons us to become evermore “merciful like the Father,” to use the words of the Jubilee Year slogan. The revelation of God as Father is rooted in the ancient religion of Israel but gradually, as Jesus more explicitly refers to God the Father, we begin to recognize that the affirmation of God as Father includes the truth that God’s mercy is the most prominent attribute that Jesus highlights among His many attributes. “Be merciful, just as [also] your Father is merciful,” (Luke 6:36) Jesus says.
The “confession of God’s oneness … that God is one in nature, substance and essence” (ccc 200) is also rooted in the Old Covenant of ancient Israel, and later quoted in the New Testament as follows:
“Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:4; Mark 12:29).
“Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.. . To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear. ‘Only in the Lord, it shall be said of me, are righteousness and strength” (Isaiah 45:22-24; cf. Philemon 2:10-11).
Although we Christians affirm “three divine persons in One God,” we do so without denying the Oneness of God. We affirm “the God of our faith (who) has revealed himself as HE WHO IS; and … has made himself known as “abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6). God’s very being is Truth and Love.” (ccc 231).
In the New Testament Jesus himself affirms that God is “the one Lord” whom we must love. “You shall love the Lord your God,” Jesus says, “with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:29-30). At the same time Jesus explains that he himself is “the Lord” (Mark 12:35-37). To affirm that Jesus is Lord is distinctive to the Christian faith. This is not contrary, however, to belief in the One God. Nor does believing in the Holy Spirit as “Lord and giver of life” cause us concern that a division in the One God exists.
When we speak of the Most Blessed Trinity we are saying that the One God revealed through the pages of the Old Testament is, in fact, triune, that is, there are three Divine Persons — the Father, the Son (Jesus) and the Holy Spirit — in this One personal God. This incomprehensible mystery is the core of Catholic theology.
One of the most significant statements about the Trinity, quoted in paragraph 202 of the Catechism, takes us back 800 years to the 4th Lateran Council in the year 1215. This 12th official Council of the Church convoked by Pope Innocent III and held at Rome’s Lateran Palace beginning November 11, 1215 made the following affirmation:
“As Catholics, we firmly believe and confess, without reservation that there is only one true God, eternal infinite and unchangeable, incomprehensible, almighty and ineffable, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit; three persons indeed, but one essence, substance or nature entire” (ccc 202).
When all is said and done, we could not know that God is Triune except by God revealing this truth to us about Himself.