God is unique; there is only one God: “The Christian faith confesses that God is one in nature, substance, and essence” (Roman Catechism, I. 2, 2.). (CCC #200)
The classic question is whether God is One or Three. The answer is “yes” to both. He is One and He is Three. One God, one nature, one substance, but three divine Persons. The best way to understand this is to understand it from the point of view of a family. Imagine a family in which there was perfect love and perfect unity. Of course, this is only possible in Heaven because we live in a fallen world. But just try to imagine it. A family where there is perfect love, perfect harmony, perfect unity, etc. Additionally, imagine if each individual were in perfect union with God’s will. Each member knew, understood, chose and lived God’s will perfectly. Now let’s say this family is the Johnson family. You would say that this is one family but that this one family is made up of individual members. Different persons. But each person is a member of the one Johnson family, and that one family is perfect in every way.
Now I know a perfect family is close to impossible to imagine in this world. Even the best of families have regular disagreements and issues. But if you can try to imagine this ideal, then perhaps it’s possible to at least understand the nature of God in an analogous way.
The analogy does fall short in one way. The Johnson family would be one family of many families in our world. But the family of the Trinity is the one and only divine family. The Trinity is the only family possessing divine nature. There are countless human families possessing human nature. So, consider the following points to help clarify:
The three Persons of the Trinity are the only three to share in the one divine nature.
–They love each other perfectly.
–They each have the same perfect knowledge of the Truth.
–They each share the same perfect will of love grounded in their perfect knowledge of the Truth.
Therefore, the three are of the same essence, nature and being. They are one while at the same time remain three.
There will be more to come on this in future reflections, but at least for now we are introduced to the concept.
“But,” said Moses to God, “if I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what do I tell them?” God replied to Moses: I am who I am. Then he added: This is what you will tell the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you. (Ex 3:13–15)
How would you like to have the name, “I Am Who Am.” Pretty deep. In fact, it’s so deep that it’s a name that can only be applied to God. This is God’s name given Him by Himself and revealed to Moses for all to come to know. This is God’s essence, His very being, His nature. It is Who He Is!
The Catechism explains this using mysterious language:
God is the fullness of Being and of every perfection, without origin and without end. All creatures receive all that they are and have from him; but he alone is his very being, and he is of himself everything that he is. (#213)
So what exactly does that mean? That’s right! The question is the answer! Huh? Confusing? Well, in fact it’s not actually confusing; rather, it’s profoundly mysterious. This IS the nature and essence of God. To Be. To exist. To be existence itself. To have always been. And, interestingly, God’s name is a sort of refusal to have a name. It’s as if God were saying, “Look, I cannot be named. My essence IS WHO I AM, and this is how I AM to be known.”
Yes, it’s still confusing. But that’s OK. Perhaps what we should be happy understanding is that God cannot really be named, but if we try to do so, then we are left with a profound mystery. It’s the mystery of His nature. And it will only be understood properly in Heaven. For now, though, we do our best.
What else can we say about God from His name? That He is stable, permanent, unchanging, the fullness and source of all being, the beginning and the end of all being, Truth and the source of all truth, and so much more. The rest of our reflections on the Creed should help us enter more deeply into this mystery of the essence and nature of God.
Now let’s look more closely at God as Father.
When we were baptized, we were baptized NOT in the names (plural) of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Rather, we were baptized in the name (singular) of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This Trinity is one. But God is also distinct in His Persons. So let’s look at that.
Who is God the Father? Why do we call Him “Father?” Well, to begin, God the Father is neither male nor female. God the Father is eternally a pure Spirit. But an earthly father and mother both reflect various aspects of God. This shows that God the Father is, in fact, the source of all parenthood. The source of all begetting. The source of all that is. And He is not just the source of the physical world, not just the source of humanity, but is also the source of all that is good and beautiful in humanity. He’s the source of love, tenderness, care, fidelity, authority, etc. God the Father is the source of all.
We should also realize that by calling God Father, Jesus reveals a very personal nature of this divine Person. THE Father is my Father, your Father, our Father. He is one Father. The only Father. The Father of all. But the key here is the personal nature of God. And it is the personal nature of a God who is our source, sustenance and sole support. Yes, it’s mysterious also. No worries. Just do your best to understand what you can and remain open. Little by little, it will make sense.
Another question is specifically why we call Him “Him” and not IT or the Parent in Heaven? Because “Father” is the language Jesus used when revealing Him to us. Jesus called God the Father. So why did Jesus do this? Why did He use a male image? Not sure. We’ll have to ask Him in Heaven. But this is the language He used, so it’s the language we use. It’s not a slap in the face in any way, shape or form to mothers. It doesn’t lessen or cheapen the motherly role. It’s simply what Jesus revealed and the language He used. But He used it for a reason. Perhaps, in part, it was because, in His eternal plan of salvation, we would have a new spiritual mother. We would be given the Mother of Jesus, the Mother of God as our mother. So, with Mary as our Mother and the Mother of all the Living, we also have God as our Father. No doubt this is not the only reason God is revealed to us as “Father,” but it will suffice for now for our purposes.
God is not just “Father,” He is also the “Almighty.”
Is there anything God cannot do? Is there anything beyond His power? He is called the one and only Omnipotent One. The All-Powerful One. So the answer is simple. No. Nothing is beyond the power of God.
“But wait a minute,” you might say! Sure, it’s easy to believe that God, the All-Powerful One created all things, sustains all things and could cause all things to cease to be in the blink of an eye. I understand that sort of power. But what about all the suffering in this world? Why is there so much suffering? And if God really is All-Powerful, and at the same time All-Loving, then why hasn’t He fixed this? Why doesn’t He just eliminate all suffering with a mere thought? If He is the All-Powerful One, couldn’t He do this? Shouldn’t He do this? Mustn’t He do this?
Yes, He can do this, should do this and must do this if He is the All-Powerful and All-Loving One. But what you’re missing if you ask this question is this: He already HAS done this! Sure, some may easily miss this point. We can look around and see people suffering. We see illness, the loss of loved ones, unjust persecution, tragedy and the like. This can lead us to conclude that God is distant and not exercising His Almighty Power! But He has exercised it and continues to exercise it in a way that is so deep, so profound, so mysterious and so perfect that it may easily go unnoticed when we ask this question. How has He exercised His Almighty Power in the face of the question of suffering? The Answer is Jesus, His divine Son. It was done by His suffering, death and resurrection. This is the answer the Father’s perfect Almighty Power gave.
More will be said on this in the sections on Jesus’ death and resurrection. But for now, suffice it to say that the Almighty gave the perfect answer to suffering in the Person of His Son. But before addressing this, let’s stick with the nature and essence of the Father and ponder His act of creation by being the Maker of Heaven and Earth.
One of the most fascinating topics of discussion for kids, believe it or not, is the creation of the Universe. As soon as they hear the story of Adam and Eve and then also learn about dinosaurs, their little minds begin to turn. “Did God create the dinosaurs?” they often ask. Kids are fascinated with questions and answers that surround the creation of the world, Adam and Eve, dinosaurs and cavemen, etc. But this topic is not just a fascination to kids! It also is something that those of all ages find curious.
So often one of the most puzzling questions that arises regarding the creation of the Universe revolves around the stories of Adam and Eve and also the seven days of creation. These are two different stories of creation. The problem is that they do not seem to be consistent with science. And they even appear to contradict each other. So what’s the deal? What do we believe? Is there a true contradiction? Could the Bible have gotten it wrong? These are good questions deserving a careful and accurate answer.
First of all, it’s important to point out that the two stories of Creation in the Bible are written using a specific literary style. They are not written as a science book is written. They are not intended to be a literal and factual telling of the creation of the world from a purely scientific approach. With that said, we must also say they are 100% true. True insofar as they clearly relate all that the sacred author and the Holy Spirit intended them to relate to us.
The purpose of these two stories is to reveal some basic truths of our faith. Here are some of those truths:
God is the Creator—God made all things out of nothing. This is a fact of our faith and also is completely consistent with all scientific data. Even science acknowledges the theory of the Big Bang as a very plausible idea for the creation of the world. The Big Bang supports the idea that there was a “time” before time. And then suddenly, for some reason still not fully understood to science alone, there was a “Bang!” A beginning, the start of motion, time, expansion…and the Universe began. The key here for our faith is that God is the origin and source of the Universe and created all things out of nothing.
Creation is a work of the whole Trinity—Though an understanding of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit was not explicitly revealed in the stories of creation, the Trinity is, nonetheless, seen and revealed in a mysterious way in the act of creation. God spoke and the Spirit hovered above the waters. This reveals the Father and the Spirit. And the fact that the Universe fell from its original state of innocence introduces the need for a Redeemer—God the Son. So the Trinity is introduced in a mysterious and hidden way even from the beginning of time.
God made the Universe to show forth His glory—Why did God create? Strictly speaking, He didn’t have to. But He freely chose to in His Wisdom, and it resulted in the manifestation of His glory. We see the splendor of God in His creation, and we see God reflected in His creation. This is especially true of the creation of man.
The world is ordered and good—A key concept to understand from the creation stories is that the world is good and has a perfect order and design. This goodness is seen in all parts of the physical Universe. It’s especially, once again, seen in the innate goodness of man.
The fall—By the free will of our human parents, disorder and sin were introduced into the world. This resulted in a fall of all creation from the state of original innocence which was God’s original design. This fallenness affects all parts of God’s creation and introduces the need for restoration and redemption. But the key here is that fallenness was not part of God’s plan. It was the result of human free will.
So take the stories of Creation and the insights of science and blend them together so that we can gain a deeper understanding of the beginnings of time and the beginnings of the Universe. And, of course, the most important part of creation is the creation of Man.
We are made in the image and likeness of God. What does this mean? It means that of all of creation, man enjoys a unique and sacred quality not shared by the rest of creation. Only humanity is in the imago dei—the image of God. This is clearly seen in our understanding of what it means to be a person. No other living being, not dogs, cats, trees, or fish share in this gift of being a person.
What does it mean to be a person? Well, to understand this we have to first know who else is a person. There are three types of persons. There are human persons, angelic persons and divine persons. That is: humans, angels and God. The unique qualities that come with the dignity of being a person are the gift of an intellect and free will.
Now I know what some will say: “My dog has an intellect and will!” True, animals can “know” to a certain extent and can “will” to a certain extent. But their intellectual and willing capacity is of a far different nature than that of humans, angels and God. Only the latter three are capable of full self-knowledge, self-possession, sacrificial love and deep spiritual communion with each other. Animals are not capable of this. They can know in the sense that they remember, can learn, and can act on instinct. They can even experience a certain level of emotion and feeling. But this does not mean that they are capable of truly “knowing” another. They cannot know and understand the nature of reality, comprehend the goodness of God and others, etc. And they cannot love for the sake of love. Freely giving of themselves in a true sacrificial way. They cannot give, in love, on the level of charity. And they cannot come to know and love God. Sorry dog lovers…it’s just the way it is!
As a person, we, the angels and God are all capable of entering into a relationship of true communion with others through the exercise of our intellect and free will. It’s this ability to be in communion, in relationship, that enables us to live our dignity and vocation. We are made for this communion, and, in fact, that is what Heaven ultimately is! It’s an existence of perfect communion, unity and love united with God and all those others united to God. It’s a relationship, a bond, and a oneness. This is what it ultimately means to be in the image and likeness of God. It’s our capacity found in the dignity of being persons. Of course only God knows and loves perfectly. But that doesn’t change the fact that we are still capable of both.
Next we look at the fact that one of man’s most unique characteristics is that he unites the material and spiritual worlds in his person.
OK, so angels are pure spirits, but humans are both body and spirit. That can be confusing, but it’s true. But a danger is to think that we, as humans, are only part body and part spirit. A 50/50 mixture. And what about when we die? Doesn’t our body die but our spirit live on? So are we then angels? These are good questions that can be easily answered if we understand what it means to be human and how God created us.
To be human means we are 100% body and 100% spirit. And the two of those are not just two parts of who we are. Rather, these two qualities we have are fully united in such a way that, in philosophical language, we say the soul is the form of the body. The soul is created by God at the moment of our conception and joined to the body in such a way that the unity of these two make up the one human nature. So, interestingly, it is humanity which acts as a bridge between the material and spiritual worlds. The two worlds are united in us. And, of course, that is why the redemption of the world is united in Jesus.
It should also be pointed out that at times we speak of the soul as something distinct from the spirit. We also sometimes speak of the heart as something more than just physical. Various philosophers and theologians throughout time have used the terms in various ways. But suffice it to say that “soul,” “spirit” and “heart” are all, for the most part, interchangeable referring to the immaterial aspects of our human nature.
From this understanding of the unity of body and soul, we move also to the unity of male and female.
Complementarity is the key! The fact that men and women are different is a fact so obvious that it usually evokes a smile when said out loud. Even children know this. Boys like to typically play one way and girls another. And they can perceive the difference.
The danger is that, at times, the differences between men and women have been abused and exaggerated to the point of undermining the intent and design of God for the opposite sexes. Some stereotypes would say that men can become “domineering” and “overpowering,” while women can become “overly emotional” and “sensitive.” When femininity or masculinity becomes distorted, then so does the possibility of mutual unity.
Just as we are made with a body and soul, and that body and soul form a single person, so also male and female are to be united and “become one.” Not “one” in the sense that they are no longer two, or no longer individual persons, but one in the sense that they have the capacity of becoming united in a complementary way, being the ideal “helpmate” for the other. They form a bond in marriage that is inseparable and reflects and shares in the unity we are all called to share in with the Trinity.
The key point here, for this reflection, is to understand that humanity was designed and created by God as male and female. It’s part of our nature. And it has a purpose that we must seek out, discover and live.
And this design was initially meant to be lived out in a state of original paradise.
God created humanity with the intention of living in a perfect paradise of peace, harmony and union with God. This is the original “Heaven,” so to speak. It is referred to in Genesis as the Garden of Eden.
In this place there would be nothing that accompanies our fallen nature. No illness, pain, suffering. No sin, discord or unhappiness. It would have been a physical place that Adam and Eve, our first parents, lived. It was a real place. In this place, there would have been no distortion of human nature. That means the effects of what we call “concupiscence” did not exist there. Concupiscence is the disorder we all experience within our soul that tempts us from acting contrary to our dignity. It’s the distortion of our emotions, desires, our intellect and will. These struggles were not present in this original earthly paradise.
Later on we will see how the new Heaven, opened up by Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, is a much better place than even this original paradise. But for now we need only acknowledge the original “state of holiness and justice” intended by God.
From there we have the sad reality of the fall of man.
Left to our own self-reflection, we cannot properly and fully understand and acknowledge the reality of sin. This especially applies to the reality of original sin but also applies to personal sin. We need divine revelation to shed light on it. But when it does, the picture becomes clear. Sin is real.
But the good news is that when we recognize the reality of sin, we also should realize the need for a Redeemer! More on this later. For now, let’s look at sin.
Sin was first introduced into reality with the fall of the angels. The angels were created good as pure spirits possessing both an intellect and a will. With these two natural powers, of knowing and willing, they are capable of making decisions and acting on them. Their purpose is to know and love God freely, to know the greatness and glory of God, to acknowledge their role in the order of creation, and to freely will to live out their calling in love. This is what they are made for! But with the freedom to love, they also have the freedom to hate. And with the freedom to know God, they also have the freedom to reject the truth about God and themselves.
Their sin, then, was to reject the omnipotence of God and their relationship to Him out of pride. In this rejection, they also reject their role of loving humanity and serving out of love. This spiritual pride turned them from God, and thus they went forth exercising their spiritual angelic powers in opposition to the plan of God. Scripture says that one third of the angels fell. The leader of these angels, the highest of them, is the devil, or satan. His name is Lucifer, which means “light bearer.” His original calling was to bear the light of God!
We see in the story of creation that satan was present exercising his angelic power of influence over Adam and Eve. As a fallen angel, he used this power of influence to lie and deceive. He led our first parents into believing that God was not Who He was and that they were more than who they were. He said to them that if they disobeyed God and ate of the forbidden fruit, they would “be like God.”
As explained earlier, the question of whether the story of Adam and Eve actually happened literally, the way it is written, is not the point. That story teaches not so much literal, historical and scientific facts. Rather, it teaches the necessary truths of creation and the fall. So the story is true insofar as it teaches us that Adam and Eve, our first parents, gave into temptation and turned from God.
Some may think that it’s not fair that we have to suffer the consequences of original sin just because our first parents turned from God. Here is a good way to understand this. Imagine that your parents moved to China before you were born. When you were born, you were born in China. It’s not your doing but is a natural consequence of their choice. So it is with sin. When our first parents were cast out of paradise because of their sin, all their offspring are born into the state or condition they found themselves in. It’s the natural consequence that affects us.
But there is no reason to lose hope! The fact of the matter is that, even from the first moments of sin, God’s plan of redemption was put in place. The amazing thing is that God has willed to take our sin and transform it and our fallen condition in such a way that we are brought to an even higher place than our original state of innocence in the Garden. The promise of a redeemer, the Son of God taking on flesh, becoming human, uniting Himself to our nature, brings with it the unfathomable calling of God. We are now called to share in God’s very life. The first insight into this is seen immediately in Genesis when there is this promise: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel” (Gn 3:15). In other words, the Savior is coming! And “the Woman” is clearly seen as a reference to our Blessed Mother. This is hope. The Catechism quotes Saint Thomas as saying, “God permits evil in order to draw forth some greater good,” and Saint Paul is quoted as saying, “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (#412). Yes, Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death…” but it then goes on to also say, “…but the Gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord!” Hold on to that hope in faith, and you will see the unlimited good God wills to bring even from the horror of our fallen state and our sin.
This line from the Creed is a clear reference to all we reflected upon in the previous section regarding God’s creation and God Himself. It’s a simple profession of the fact that reality consists of both that which is spiritual and material. God created the physical world out of nothing. He also created the “invisible” world out of nothing which is a reference to the angels (and fallen angels) and our own spirits. And we also profess a belief in the existence of that which is not created but is invisible: Namely, the Most Blessed Trinity!
From here we look at the very person of Jesus Christ and His Mother.
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