Lesson 3: God the Father

God's revelation to man about himself and his own inner life proceeded in stages. There is a steady progression through the OT until the fullness of revelation is made by Jesus, the only-begotten Son of the Father, in the NT.

As we mentioned in the last lecture, there are some hints about the inner trinitarian life of God in the OT; a good example of that is Gen. 1:26. This is most likely what is called the magisterial "we", such as the Popes used to employ and still do on occasions, but still many of the Fathers of the Church considered it a hint of multiplicity in the Godhead.

In the wisdom books, especially Proverbs 8 and Wisdom 7 & 8, divine wisdom is personified; it has proceeded from God from all eternity and cooperates in the creation of the world. In the light of the full revelation of the NT, one may well see in these passages a pointer to the divine personality of the Word of God who is the image of the Father or wisdom.

The OT frequently mentions the "spirit of God." What is meant is not a divine Person but a power proceeding from God which gives life, bestows strength and illuminates the mind. In the light of the NT many of these passages (see Ps. 104:30; Isa. 11:2; Wis. 1:7) were referred by the liturgy and the Fathers of the Church to the Person of the Holy Spirit:

-- Ps. 104:30, "When thou sendest forth they Spirit, they are created; and thou renewest the face of the ground."

-- Isa. 11:2, "The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord."

-- Wis. 1:7, " Because the spirit of the Lord has filled the world, and that which holds all things together knows what is said..."

In human language the word "father" designates a relationship that exists between a man and his offspring. A father is one who has begotten a child; he is an originator, a transmitter or a source of life. The term can be used in its proper sense of the relationship of father to son or daughter; it can also be used in an improper, derived or metaphorical sense of someone who causes or produces something else. Thus, inventors are often called the fathers of their inventions.

The OT often speaks of the fatherhood of God in the metaphorical sense. For example, we read in Deuteronomy 32:6, "Is this the return you make to Yahweh? O foolish, unwise people! Is not this your father, who gave you being, who made you, by whom you subsist?" God is the "father" of created things, especially of man, by reason of his creation, preservation in being and providence. Through our redemption and elevation to the state of grace, God is our Father in the spiritual and supernatural order. Thus, Jesus says, "your light must shine in the sight of men, so that, seeing your good works, they may give praise to your Father in heaven" (Matt. 5:16). And again, "you must therefore be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt. 5:48).

God is our Father, yes, but not in the proper sense of generating us so that we are of the same nature as he. In that sense, God has only one Son, the eternally only-begotten Son who is Jesus, our Lord and Savior.

NT revelation teaches that there is in God a fatherhood in the proper sense which belongs to the first person only. Jesus' relation to the Father is unique and exclusive. When he speaks of the Father in heaven he says either "my Father" or "your Father," but never "our Father," including himself with his disciples. The reason is that his relationship to the Father is very different from that of the disciples or of us. When Jesus teaches the disciples to pray the "Our Father," he tells them how to talk to God. but this is not Jesus' prayer for himself; when he prays he says simply "Father" or "my Father."

Other statements of Jesus, which assert his identity with the Father, prove also that his sonship and the fatherhood of God are to be understood in the proper sense of originator or principle. This identity is brought out in terms of knowledge in the important passage in Matt. 11:27, "Everything has been entrusted to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, just as no one know the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him." The same idea is expressed even more clearly in John 10:30, "I and the Father are one," and in John 5:26, "For the Father, who is the source of life, has made the Son the source of life."

St. John calls Jesus the only-begotten Son of God, "And we saw his glory, the glory as it were of the only-begotten of the Father" (1:14). St. Paul says that "God did not spare his own Son" (Rom. 8:32). Jesus' enemies clearly understood that he claimed equality with God because God is his Father; for this reason they plotted to put him to death. St. John says that the Jews were "even more intent on killing him, because, not content with breaking the sabbath, he spoke of God as his own Father, and so made himself God's equal" (5:18). In this context, it should be noted that the word "God" (in Greek; ho theos) in the NT almost always refers to the Father; there are a few cases in which the Son is called God and also the Holy Spirit, but they are rare.

Since Jesus is the Son of the Father, he has the same divine nature that the Father has. So he is equal to the Father in all things except to be Father. Thus, the Father communicated his whole substance to the Son -- everything he is except his paternity of the Son. From this it follows that the Son is divine -- he is God Almighty. He is also a distinct Person, different from the Father; not separate from the Father, but distinct from the Father. For many times Jesus says in the Gospels that he was sent by the Father into the world; he says that he came to do the will of his heavenly Father. These expressions indicate a distinction between the Father and the Son. They are not just synonyms for the same Person, as the modalists or Sabellians would have it.

We read at the very beginning of St. John's Gospel: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not made anything that was made." St. John goes on in the same chapter to identify the Word with Jesus of Nazareth. This text points out that the Word is God and that he is a distinct Person, different from the Father, for "he was with God."

Consider what the Athanasian Creed (D 39-40) (also known as the "Quicumque" from the first Latin word) says:

"We worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity; we distinguish among the persons, but we do not divide the substance. For the Father is a distinct person; the Son is a distinct person; and the Holy Spirit is a distinct person. Still, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit have one divinity, equal glory, and coeternal majesty. What the Father is, the Son is, and the Holy Spirit is....Thus, the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. But there are not three gods, but one God... The Father is not made by anyone, nor created by anyone, nor generated by anyone. The Son is not made nor created, but he is generated by the Father alone. The Holy Spirit is not made nor created nor generated, but proceeds from the Father and the Son."

For Scripture references on God the Father consult the texts cited at the end of Lessons 1 and 2.

Reading Assignment

Read what St. Thomas Aquinas says on this in the Summa Theologica, I, QQ. 31, 32 & 33.

Writing Assignment

Write an essay of two or three pages on God the Father, using the Scriptures, the early creeds of the Church, and the liturgy of the Church.


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