The Catholic Faith in Slow Motion (no. 2)
Fr. Phillip Johnson
The second in a series of reflections about thinking, praying, and professing the Faith of the Church
in celebration of the Year of Faith, proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI
I believe in one God, . . . maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible. The first words of the Creed reflect the first words of the Bible: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” This is the very first truth, the foundational truth, that whatever exists does so by the act of God.
Because we live in a culture still more or less rooted in a biblical faith, we might think that every religion agrees on this first truth – that this first part of the Creed is about what Christianity has in common with all other religions. But this is a false assumption. Certainly the two other biblical religions, Judaism and Islam, share this faith. But almost all other religions, ancient and modern, assume that a god, or the gods, are a part of the “all things visible and invisible” – that the creation somehow emanates from a god, or that God and the universe are simply forever co-existent. In a sense, the Bible alone has a true creation story.
The Catholic faith, drawing on the concepts of Greek philosophy, uses two terms to sharpen the definition of the word “created”. (1) “Ex nihilo” (“out of nothing”). This means that God is not simply the divine artist, making the universe of some pre-existent stuff. Out of nothing did God create all things. Before there was anything, there was God alone. (2) Just so, God's being and the being of the created “all things” are infinitely different. God is pure Being, the very definition of being. While the being of the created “all things” is derived. They (we!) exist by God's free gift of our being.
All things visible and invisible: Angels and aardvarks, stars and mosquitos, forces and powers, physical and spiritual and psychic; laws of nature and patterns of beauty; all hidden structures of all the hierarchies of being, and you, and me.
“In the beginning,” at the genesis, at the source: The creating act founded “all things”. But we are not to think of God's creating work simply as an event that took place a long, long, long, time ago. “Genesis” has a structural as well as a temporal meaning. The word “create” includes God's in-this-present-moment holding of all things in existence. If God stops creating, all things cease to exist.
This does not mean that the universe has no autonomy whatsoever. God's creating act sets the universe free, sustained by the laws of its existence. Nevertheless, at the foundations of the existence of all things, is God's creating act. There is then an order in all things that may rightly be studied scientifically. Big bang theories and theories of evolution are not in and of themselves atheistic. Because, by definition, no scientific theory can answer the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?”.
I believe in one God . . . maker of heaven and earth. All the above is but a clearing of the mind, so that we can come to the real point. We do not simply profess that God is creator; we profess faith in this Creator. We profess a declaration of trust, in order to enter into a right relation with our Creator. This was, in fact, for Jesus, the very first meaning of “faith” – personal trust in the Fatherly care of the Creator. Personal trust and endless gratitude. It is the first and foundational truth: the existence of “all things” including my own personal existence, has the character of a personal gift. It is a wonderful mystery to ponder as the Thanksgiving holiday approaches.
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