Nicene Creed: God the Father
Most of the Nicene Creed is about clarifying how Christians can believe in one God, while at the same time claiming this one God is three persons. This is no small task. As many priests might confess, most homilies on the Trinity fall into one heresy or another.
A small look at the early Christian controversies concerning God, seem to have little to do with the first person of the Blessed Trinity, the Father. More than likely this is due to the Jewish roots the Christians inherited. God the Father was easy to understand as God.
The controversy stemmed more from the relationship of the Son, Jesus, to the Father, and ultimately the relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Thus, the Nicene Creed is fundamentally about articulating what might seem quite familiar to us.
But in the early Church, this was not such an easy question to work out. They had fundamental questions about God. Who is God? What is our relationship to God? How does God act in the world?
So how is it we begin in reciting the Nicene Creed? With a brief statement about the Father. “I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.” As mentioned, the controversy was not really about God the Father. This was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This is the God of the Jewish people.
But there are some things that are contained that need to be fleshed out. The first is the need to address what some have done in the name of inclusive language. You may have heard the phrase, the Creator, the Redeemer, the Sanctifier. Referring to God in this way is wrong on many levels, but there are two primary reasons I would like to mention.
First, we believe in three persons, not three functions. While God does create, redeem and sanctify, God does more than this. God is more than this. Think of it this way. While we may see the job we do as a major way we identify ourselves, it is not the only way we identify ourselves.
I am a priest. But I am also a son. I am a brother. I am a friend. I am a cousin. So while I might say, in answer to the question, “Who are you?”, that I am a priest, that is not the only way I am identified. Notice the other ways I could identify myself all have to do with relationships.
And the same is true with God. We are not called to a relationship with functions, but with persons. If the stress is on God as a function, then by extension we could come to view humans, made in God’s image and likeness as functions.
But our inherent dignity does not come from what we do, but rather comes from who we are. I do not reach out in charity to help another because of what they can do, for me or others, but because Jesus, especially in Matthew 25, tells me that to be a disciple means I must reach out to help others in a whole wide variety of ways.
And so our goodness comes from the fact we exist. And it is good that we exist. This is because we can only exist if God creates us. But God creates us ultimately for a relationship with him. For those of a certain age, we might recall the answer to this question in the Baltimore Catechism. What did God make us? “To know, love and serve him in this life and live forever with him in the next” was the answer.
The second reason concerns the problem of assigning only one function to each person of the Blessed Trinity. The Son is also the Creator, the Holy Spirit is also the Redeemer, and God the Father also sanctifies. God the Father redeems, the Son sanctifies, the Holy Spirit creates.
Without this belief that each person of the Blessed Trinity acts in this way, we no longer have a belief in the Blessed Trinity, but rather something less. Stressing only these limited functions leads to a belief of God that does not see the persons of God as co-equal. For if we are not created, there is nothing to redeem or sanctify.
Thus, the action of creating in essential for the other functions to occur. Therefore, if God the Father is the Creator, God the Father has primacy over the other persons, for their functions would be dependent upon the actions of God the Father.
This was what the formulation of the Nicene Creed was acting against. The Nicene Creed stresses that the Son and the Holy Spirit are co-equal with God the Father. These three persons form one infinite, all-powerful, all-loving God.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it this way. “The confession of God’s oneness, which has its roots in the divine revelation of the Old Covenant, is inseprable form the profession of God’s existence and is equally fundamental. God is unique; there is only one God: The Christian faith confesses that God is one in nature, substance and essence.” (CCC 200)
I said there were primarily two reasons, but I feel I must add a third. That is, Jesus referred to God as his Father. A lot. The challenge in the present age is the idea of metaphor. Here’s what I mean.
While I loved by Father dearly, he was not God the Father. By referring to God the Father as Father, I am implying something not about God, but about my father. To the degree that my father was a good father, that statement is made in relationship to God the Father.
In the ways that my father acted like God the Father, he was a good father. But he was not always like God the Father, because while my father was a very good father, he was not perfect. (That’s okay, he did not have a perfect son, either.)
And so calling God Father, I am suggesting God is the optimal or best Father. Moreover, as Father, he is beyond any human father. And one more thing. Scripture does use images and metaphors that refer to females. God can not forget us because a mother could not forget her child. God is the widow who gives all he has for us, just as the widow gave all she had for God. God is like the widow searching for a coin.
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