Article 32: Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
Father John G. Hillier
“I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth …”
How many times have you spoken these words over the years? I watched a 94-year-old parishioner pronounce these words, through her tears, from her usual place in the front pew at Saint Brigid Church in Peapack at Sunday Mass this past November. She had just lost her dear sister, Mrs. Angela Popa, several days before, having sat with her at Mass just the evening before her death. I was humbled by the conviction with which this woman prayed, even under a cross of deep loss. If only her profound faith could be imitated by those who sadly distance themselves from the Church’s Liturgy and the sacraments when life throws them curve balls. (Sadly, this woman, Mrs. Victoria Sibilia died just days after I had noticed her pray so fervently at that Sunday Mass. In fact, she died exactly 1 month to the day after the death of her sister)!
With these words: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth …”, we begin the familiar Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, also known as the Nicene Creed. This creed was first introduced in 325 AD at the first official council of the Church (also known as the Council of Nicea) and was completed in 381 AD at the second official council of the Church (also known as the First Council of Constantinople). We Catholics have invoked the Creed for centuries and continue to do so up to the present day.
Like all things familiar, we sometimes assume that the words of the Creed summarize, among other things, all the attributes (or qualities) and characteristics of God. In fact, however, the Catechism reminds us that “of all the divine attributes, only God’s omnipotence (or unlimited power) is named in the Creed” (ccc 268). In other words, “God who created everything also rules everything and can do everything” (ccc 268). Could it be that God’s omnipotence implies all of his other attributes too including his immutability (he does not change), his omniscience (he knows everything), his omnipresence (he is present everywhere), and the fact that he is eternal (not limited by time and has no beginning and no end)? We believe in a God who is also righteous, faithful, holy, and good. As well, he is also “spirit,” meaning he is invisible, and “personal,” meaning he is not some impersonal force or energy as depicted in some of the Eastern religions.
“The Holy Scriptures repeatedly confess the universal power of God (ccc 269). He is called:
- “Mighty One of Jacob” (Genesis 49:24).
- “the Lord of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel” (Isaiah 1:24).
- “… king of glory … The Lord, strong and mighty” (Psalm 24:8).
- “… he is your Lord, and he is your God, our Father and God forever and ever!” (Tobit 13:4).
The Scriptures also speak of God as follows:
- “Ah, my Lord God! You made the heavens and the earth with your great power” (Jeremiah 32:17).
- “But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook sins for the sake of repentance” (Wisdom 11:23).
- “… (says the Lord Almighty) … I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me” (2 Corinthians 6:18).
- With Job, the just man, we confess: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2).
- “nothing will be impossible for God” (Luke 1:37).
Although God is “the Almighty” one, clearly all-powerful, “God’s power is loving, for he is our Father, and mysterious, for only faith can discern it when it ‘is made perfect in weakness’” (ccc 268). This, of course, refers to the events of the Passion of Christ which is the “most loving” act of God following the fall of Adam and Eve. The Catechism explains: “God the Father has revealed his almighty power in the voluntary humiliation and Resurrection of his Son, by which he conquered evil” (ccc 272).
While this section of the Catechism seeks to explain that God is “all-powerful” in all ways, using the Sacred Scriptures as its major resource, it then states emphatically that God’s power is demonstrated most perfectly in his love and mercy. The Catechism teaches, “God reveals his fatherly omnipotence by the way he takes care of our needs; by the filial adoption that he gives us … finally by his infinite mercy, for he displays his power at its height by freely forgiving sins” (ccc 270).
The final paragraph in this section of the Catechism teaches: “Once our reason has grasped the idea of God’s almighty power, it will easily and without any hesitation admit everything that [the Creed] will afterwards propose for us to believe – even if they be great and marvelous things, far above the ordinary laws of nature” (ccc 274).
Why does this make sense? Because, just as it is only with faith that we can accept “the mysterious ways of God’s almighty power,” this faith, modeled after the [faith of] Our Blessed Mother, Mary,” accepts, as she did, “that ‘nothing is impossible with God’” (ccc 273). This is also the faith with which the two sisters, Victoria and Angela, referenced at the beginning of this article, practiced so fervently, the fruit of which they now enjoy, even as we continue to wait “in joyful hope.”