Necessity of Instruction in the Catholic Faith: Part 7

Talk 7 Roman Catechism “I believe in One God”

The Roman Catechism teaches: The meaning of the words “I believe in One God” is this: I believe with certainty, and without a shadow of doubt profess my belief in God the Father, the First Person of the Trinity, who by His omnipotence created from nothing and preserves and governs the heavens and the earth and all things which they contain; and not only do I believe in Him from my heart and profess this belief with my lips, but with the greatest ardour and piety I tend towards Him, as the supreme and most perfect good. From what has been said it follows that he who is gifted with this heavenly knowledge of faith is free from an inquisitive curiosity. For when God commands us to believe He does not propose to us to search into His divine judgments, or inquire into their reason and cause, but demands an unchangeable faith, by which the mind rests content in the knowledge of eternal truth. And indeed, since we have the testimony of the Apostle that God is true; and every man a liar, and since it would argue arrogance and presumption to disbelieve the word of a grave and sensible man affirming anything as true, and to demand that he prove his statements by arguments or witnesses, how rash and foolish are those, who, hearing the words of God Himself, demand reasons for His heavenly and saving doctrines? Faith, therefore, must exclude not only all doubt, but all desire for demonstration.

Saint Thomas Aquinas explains (The Catechetical Instructions, Article 1) the first article of the Creed as follows: “There are those, however, who believe that God rules and sustains all things of nature, and nevertheless do not believe God is the overseer of the acts of man; hence they believe that human acts do not come under God’s providence. They reason thus because they see in this world how the good are afflicted and how the evil enjoy good things, so that Divine Providence seems to disregard human affairs. But this is indeed absurd. It is just as though a person who is ignorant of medicine should see a doctor give water to one patient and wine to another. He would believe that this is mere chance, since he does not understand the science of medicine which for good reasons prescribes for one wine and for another water. So is it with God. For God in His just and wise Providence knows what is good and necessary for men; and hence He afflicts some who are good and allows certain wicked men to prosper. But he is foolish indeed who believes this is due to chance, because he does not know the causes and method of God’s dealing with men. “I wish that God might speak with thee, and would open His lips to thee, that He might show thee the secrets of wisdom, and that His law is manifold: and thou mightest understand that He exacteth much less of thee than thy iniquity deserveth.” (Job, 11: 5-6)

We must, therefore, firmly believe that God governs and regulates not only all nature, but also the actions of men. “And they said: The Lord shall not see; neither shall the God of Jacob understand. Understand, ye senseless among the people, and, you fools, be wise at last. He that planted the ear, shall He not hear, He that formed the eye, doth He not consider? . . . The Lord knoweth the thoughts of men.” (Ps. 93: 7-11) God sees all things, both our thoughts and the hidden desires of our will. Thus, the necessity of doing good is especially imposed on man since all his thoughts, words and actions are known in the sight of God: “All things are naked and open to His eyes.” (Heb. 4: 13)

We believe that God who rules and regulates all things is but one God. This is seen in that wherever the regulation of human affairs is well arranged, there the group is found to be ruled and provided for by one, not many. For a number of heads often brings dissension in their subjects. But since divine government exceeds in every way that which is merely human, it is evident that the government of the world is not by many gods, but by one only.”

The Roman Catechism teaches us as follows: “There is but one God, not many gods. We attribute to God the highest goodess and perfection, and it is impossible that what is highest and absolutely perfect could be found in many. If a being lack that which constitutes supreme perfection, it is, therefore, imperfect and cannot have the nature of God” (“The Creed,” First Article, 7).

Saint Thomas Aquinas speaks about errors relating to the first article of the Creed: “There are three errors concerning this truth which we must avoid. First, the error of the Manicheans, who say that all visible created things are from the devil, and only the invisible creation is to be attributed to God. The cause of this error is that they hold that God is the highest good, which is true; but they also assert that whatsoever comes from good is itself good. Thus, not distinguishing what is evil and what is good, they believed that whatever is partly evil is essentially evil–as, for instance, fire because it burns is essentially evil, and so is water because it causes suffocation, and so with other things. Because no sensible thing is essentially good, but mixed with evil and defective, they believed that all visible things are not made by God who is good, but by the evil one. Against them St. Augustine gives this illustration. A certain man entered the shop of a carpenter and found tools which, if he should fall against them, would seriously wound him. Now, if he would consider the carpenter a bad workman because he made and used such tools, it would be stupid of him indeed. In the same way it is absurd to say that created things are evil because they may be harmful; for what is harmful to one may be useful to another. This error is contrary to the faith of the Church, and against it we say: “Of all things visible and invisible.” “In the beginning God created heaven and earth.” (Gen. 1: 1) ”All things were made by Him.” (John 1: 3)

The second error is of those who hold the world has existed from eternity. They are led to this view because they do not know how to imagine the beginning of the world. This is also contrary to the faith of the Church, and hence we say: “the Maker of heaven and earth.” For if they were made, they did not exist forever. “He spoke and they were made.” (Ps. 148: 5) The third is the error which holds that God made the world from prejacent matter (ex praejacenti materia). They are led to this view because they wish to measure divine power according to human power; and since man cannot make anything except from material which already lies at hand, so also it must be with God. But this is false. Man needs matter to make anything, because he is a builder of particular things and must bring form out of definite material. He merely determines the form of his work, and can be only the cause of the form that he builds. God, however, is the universal cause of all things, and He not only creates the form but also the matter. Hence, He makes out of nothing, and thus it is said in the Creed: “the Creator of heaven and earth.” We must see in this the difference between making and creating. To create is to make something out of nothing; and if everything were destroyed, He could again make all things. He, thus, makes the blind to see, raises up the dead, and works other similar miracles. “Thy power is at hand when Thou wilt.” (Wis. 12: 18) (The Catechetical Instructions, Article 1)

The First Vatican Council teaches us: “The Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and Roman Church believes and acknowledges that there is one true and living God, creator and lord of heaven and earth, almighty, eternal, immeasurable, incomprehensible, infinite in will, understanding and every perfection…Since he is one, singular, completely simple and unchangeable spiritual substance, he must be declared to be in reality and in essence, distinct from the world, supremely happy in himself and from himself, and inexpressibly loftier than anything besides himself which either exists or can be imagined.” – (Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, Chapter 1).

THE DIVINE ESSENCE (from The Catechism Explained, by Fr Francis Spirago)

What God is in His divine nature or essence is known to us partly from created things, but more clearly from His revelation of Himself.

St. Paul tells us that, “The invisible things of God from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made” (Rom. i. 20). Creation is a sort of mirror that reflects the divine perfections; thus from the beauty of things created we can infer the greater beauty of Him Who created them (Wisd. xiii. 1). So again from the order that prevails in the visible world we can conclude that He Who made it is a Being of surpassing wisdom, and from its vastness we learn the power of Him Who upholds and supports it. Yet the knowledge thus obtained is always imperfect and obscure. From a beautiful picture we do not learn much about the character of the painter. In creatures we see God only as through a glass and in a dark manner (1 Cor. xiii. 12). The heathens, before the coming of Christ, were sunk in the grossest vices, and this darkened their intellect and rendered them still less able to arrive at a knowledge of God from His works (Wisd. ix. 16). In order to en lighten this ignorance God revealed Himself to men, speaking to them by the mouth of the patriarchs and prophets, and above all by the mouth of His Son, Jesus Christ (Heb. i. 1, 2). It was Christ Who gave to men the clearest manifestation of the nature of God; all the rest spoke somewhat obscurely, for none of them had seen God face to face.

Even since God’s revelation of Himself, man is not capable of a thorough or complete knowledge of the nature of God; the reason of this is that God is infinite, and man is only finite.

Just as we cannot inclose a boundless ocean in a little vessel, so we cannot take in the infinite majesty of God with our finite understanding. “Behold, God is great, exceeding our knowledge” (Job xxxviii. 26). “The things that are of God no man knoweth, but the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. ii. 11). We can neither express in words nor conceive in thought what God really is. It is easier to say what God is not than what He is. He who attempts to fathom the majesty of God becomes profane. It is told of Icarus in the old mythology, that he fastened wings to his sides with wax, and attempted to fly up to heaven; but when he came too near the sun, it melted the wax and he fell into the sea and perished. So it is with those who seek to fathom the nature of God; He casts them down into the sea of doubt and unbelief. He who gazes upon the sun becomes dazzled; so is it with those who seek to penetrate into the nature of God. Even the angels veil their faces before God (Ezech. i. 23). The most perfect of them cannot comprehend His majesty. They are like a man who looks upon the sea from some high point; he sees the sea, but he does not see the whole of it. How can we expect to reach heights which even the angels cannot attain to?

We can only give an imperfect and incomplete explanation of the nature of God, viz.:

  1. God is a self-existent Being, infinite in His perfections, glory, and beatitude, the Creator and Ruler of the whole world.

When Moses asked almighty God His name, on the occasion of His appearing in the burning bush, God answered, “I am Who am” (Exod. iii. 14) i.e., “I exist of Myself, I derive My being from Myself.” All other beings derive their existence from God, and there fore in comparison of Him are as nothing. Hence David says, “My substance is as nothing before Thee” (Ps. xxxviii. 6). God also possesses the highest perfection. We see how some beings upon the earth are more perfect than others. Some things have only existence with out life, as stones and metals; others have life, but without sensation, as trees and plants; others have sensation and movement as well, as birds and beasts; man has a spiritual life, with intellect and free will. Above man there are countless numbers of pure spirits, each with a special perfection of its own, and each increasing in virtue as it ascends towards the throne of God. But they can never arrive at infinite perfection, since the most perfect among them can always attain to some higher excellence. Hence we must believe in a Being of infinite perfection, from Whom all other beings derive their virtues, Who possesses in Himself, and Who is infinitely exalted beyond, all existing or possible perfections that can be found in all other beings than Himself. Nothing greater than God can either exist or even be thought of. God is also infinite in glory and beauty. For if on the earth there exist so many beautiful things, how far greater must be the beauty and glory of God, since it is He Who gave them all their beauty. He could not have given it unless He already possessed it. He is like the boundless ocean, and the beauty of all created things is like a series of drops taken from the ocean. God is also infinite in His supreme happiness or beatitude. He lives in endless and infinite joy; no creature can interfere with the perfection of His happiness. None can either increase or diminish it (1 Tim. vi. 15). As the sun needs no light from other bodies, because it is itself the light, so God needs nothing from others, because He is Himself in possession of all good. We can only give Him what we have already received from Him. God is the Creator of the whole world, of heaven, earth, and sea. He is also the King and Lord of all, and has made all things outside of Himself subject to certain fixed laws. The earth is subject to fixed laws. It goes round the sun in three hundred and sixty-five and a quarter days, and revolves on its own axis in twenty-four hours. All the heavenly bodies move according to fixed laws, so that we can foretell eclipses of the sun and moon, etc.; there* are laws which regulate all the material things on the face of the earth. Plants, trees, and animals have their growth and development governed by stated laws. The actions of reasonable beings are also governed by laws, which, however, by reason of their free will, they are able to disobey. The penalties for transgression are laid down by almighty God. God is the King of kings, the eternal King (Tob. xiii. 6). The majesty of the greatest of earthly kings is but a feeble and faint reflection of the majesty of God. Hence we are bound to obey Him, because He is our King and He will have all subject to Him, either willingly in this life, or against their will to their eternal misery.

  1. We cannot see God, because He is a spirit, i.e., a being without body, immortal, possessed of intellect and free will.

Our Lord says: “God is a spirit, and they that adore Him must adore Him in spirit and in truth” (John iv. 24). It is because God is a spirit that the Jews were strictly forbidden to make any image of Him (Exod. xx. 4). God cannot be seen by man; there is a veil between us and God. We cannot see the stars during the day, but only when darkness comes on. So we cannot see God during the day of our life on earth, but only when the darkness of death comes over us. In this life God is a hidden God (Is. xlv. 15). He inhabits the in accessible light (1 Tim. vi. 16).

Yet God has often assumed visible forms.

Thus He appeared to Abraham as a traveller, at the baptism of Our Lord under the form of a dove, and in the shape of tongues of fire at Pentecost. But the external form under which God appeared was not God Himself. In the same way we often read of the eyes, ears, etc., of God; but this is only to impress upon us the fact that God sees us, hears us, etc.

  1. There is one God, and one only.

The most perfect being in the world must be only one. The tallest tree in the wood is but one. To say that there are more Gods than one is like saying that there can be more than one soul in a human body, or more than one captain on a ship. Even the pagan Greeks and Romans honored one god as supreme among the rest. The plurality of gods probably arose from the plurality of the forces of nature (such as thunder, lightning, fire, etc.), which filled the beholders with fear, and caused them to adore these forces as gods. Or it may have arisen from the deification of heroes, or from the power of the evil spirits which, having attracted notice, caused them to be worshipped as gods.

Saint Thomas Aquinas gives us the following explanation (The Catechetical Instructions, Article 1): “If a maker is greater than the things he makes, then God is greater than all things which He has made. “With whose beauty, if they being delighted, took them to be gods, let them know how much the Lord of them is more beautiful than they. . . . Or if they admired their power and their effects, let them understand by them that He that made them, is mightier than they.” (Wis. 13: 3-4) Hence, whatsoever can even be affirmed or thought of is less than God. “Behold: God is great, exceeding our knowledge.” (Job 36: 26) We are led to give thanks to God. Because God is the Creator of all things, it is certain that what we are and what we have is from God: “What hast thou that thou hast not received.” (1 Cor. 4: 7) “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof; the world and all they that dwell therein.” (Ps. 23: 1) “We, therefore, must render thanks to God: What shall I render to the Lord for all the things that He hath rendered to me?” (Ps. 115: 12) (ibid.)

With the Church we can pray: “O Lord, although you have no need of our praise, yet our thanksgiving is itself your gift, since our praises add nothing to your greatness, but profit us for salvation, through Christ our Lord” (Roman Missal, Common Preface IV) Truly “heaven and earth is full of They glory!”