The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Friday, February 3, 2023

The First Article – God the Father


The first observation that needs to be made in commenting on the first Article of the Creed is that a book could be written on the first word alone. (1)   Whether we are speaking of the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, the first word is the verb for “believe” in the present tense, active voice, indicative mood, and first person.   In the Nicene Creed in the Greek in which it was originally written this verb is “Πιστεύομεν” which is the plural form meaning “We believe”.   By ancient tradition this is the Creed recited or chanted in the liturgy of the Sacrament of the Eucharist or Holy Communion.   When employed liturgically it becomes “Πιστεύω”, the singular form of the verb meaning “I believe”.   The Latin version follows the liturgical text and uses the singular form of the verb, “Credo”, which is also the form that appears at the beginning of the equivalent Article in the Apostles’ Creed of which the Latin is the standard text.    The word “creed” is itself a derivative of this word which later came to be the term for this type of expression of the Christian faith.   Before “creed” caught on these were generally called “symbols” which is still the main term for them in the Eastern Church.  Symbol is a word in both Greek and Latin that means “sign” or “token” and was applied by the Churches to their basic statements of faith because these were used to distinguish between members of the Church and unbelievers as well as between the orthodox on the one hand and heretics and schismatics on the other.   Orthodox Churchmen could confess the faith, heretics and unbelievers could not.  


This is why creed is so appropriate as a substitute or synonym for symbol.   Every religion’s teachings contain elements of both faith – what is to be believed – and practice – what is to be done, but Christianity stands out in that whereas other religions, including the other Abrahamic religions, emphasize practice over belief, Christianity emphasizes belief over practice.   This is true of all Christian Churches, regardless of where they stand on the question of whether St. James interprets St. Paul or St. Paul interprets St. James on the matter of faith and works.  Jesus Christ commissioned His disciples to go into the world with a message to proclaim.   That message, called the Gospel or Good News, is about how He, God’s Son, was sent into the world by God to restore sinners to God’s favour (grace) freely offered through the New Covenant of redemption from sin that He established through His death and resurrection.   With the inauguration of the New Covenant came the institution of a new community or society of faith, the Church, participation in which is open to all, both those who had been part of the national community of the Old Covenant (Jews) and those who had been outside the Old Covenant (Gentiles).    The New Testament prescribes both an external and an internal sign or symbol of membership in this community.   The external symbol is baptism.   The internal sign is the instrument by which the grace proclaimed in the Gospel is received, faith.   Since only God can look on the heart and see faith directly, faith must be confessed.   This is why the Church was right to early recognize the importance of communal confessions of faith and why it is so appropriate that these are called creeds as well as symbols.  


The first Article of the Apostles’ Creed is:  Credo in Deum Patrem omnipotentem, Creatorem caeli et terrae.     In the Book of Common Prayer this is translated as “I believe in God, the Father almighty, Maker of heaven and earth”.   The corresponding first Article of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed is Πιστεύομεν εἰς ἕνα Θεὸν Πατέρα παντοκράτορα, ποιητὴν οὐρανοῦ καὶ γῆς, ὁρατῶν τε πάντων καὶ ἀοράτων.   The liturgical version differs from this, the conciliar version, only in that it places the first word in the singular.   The Book of Common Prayer renders this “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, And of all things visible and invisible”.    The Article is basically identical in both versions of the Creed with the Nicene being the more precise specifying that God is ἕνα (one), and that He is the Maker of ὁρατῶν τε πάντων καὶ ἀοράτων (all things visible and invisible) as well as of caeli et terrae or οὐρανοῦ καὶ γῆς (heaven and earth).   Interestingly, the original Nicene Creed published by the First Council of Nicaea (325 AD), spoke of God as “Maker of all things visible and invisible” but did not mention “heaven and earth”.   The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, as revised by the First Council of Constantinople (381 AD), therefore, includes both phrases, the one included in the Apostles’ Creed and the one included in the original Nicene.


The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed was not the first time these expressions “heaven and earth” and “visible and invisible” were joined together in reference to God’s act of Creation.   St. Paul used both in the sixteenth verse of the first chapter of his epistle to the Colossian Church.   In the inspired text it was the deity of Jesus Christ, the Son, which the Apostle was stressing.  “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible”.   Although the Councils that produced this Creed were convened primarily to address a heresy that attacked the deity of Jesus Christ, Arianism, which maintained that Jesus was a lesser divinity, the first created being, rather than the Eternal Son of God, it was in response to a different heresy – or class of heresies – that they borrowed this language from St. Paul and applied it to the Father as Creator.


Among the many heresies that plagued the early Church were those that taught that the visible and physical was corrupt and irredeemably so whereas the spiritual and invisible was pure and incorruptible and that therefore only the spiritual was created by the God preached by Jesus Christ while the physical was created by a lesser, evil, divinity they called the Demiurge and equated with the God of the Old Testament.   The heresies that St. Irenaeus of Lyon discussed in his Adversus Haereses (180 AD) are mostly of this nature.   St. Irenaeus, following Justin Martyr, traced their origin to Simon Magus, the converted Samaritan sorcerer whose attempt to purchase the Apostolic power from St. Peter and the ensuing rebuke are recorded in the eighth chapter of the book of Acts.   That the earliest forms of this kind of heresy date back to the first century before the close of the Apostolic era and the canon of the New Testament is attested by the epistles of St. John which speak of sects which had broken away from the Churches and which denied that Christ is come in the flesh.   Today this class of heresies is usually called Gnosticism, although the term is of relatively recent coinage.   St. John called them antichrists.


By declaring her faith in God the Father as Maker of “heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible” the orthodox Church affirmed that the God of the New Testament is the same God as the God of the Old Testament and so definitively rejected these heresies which postulated that the two Testaments spoke of two different Gods.


The identification of the God of the New Testament with the God of the Old Testament is absolutely essential to the Christian truth concerning God.   The fullest revelation of Himself that God has given to mankind is in the Incarnation of His Son, Jesus Christ, Who in the verse preceding the one cited previously from Colossians, St. Paul declared to be the “image of the invisible God”.   In Jesus Christ, We have a more complete knowledge of Who and What God is than that which can be discerned from the natural revelation of Creation or that which God gave to His Old Testament people in the Law.   It is God’s revelation of Himself in the Incarnation, however, that requires our acceptance of His revelation of Himself in the Old Testament.   When Jesus asked His disciples Whom they said He was and St. Peter answered “the Christ, the Son of the Living God”, Jesus praised His answer, said that it had been revealed to St. Peter not by man but by His Father in Heaven, and declared it to be the rock upon which He would build His Church, Who was the God of Whom St. Peter said Jesus was the Son?   Zeus?  Apollo?  Odin?   Of course not.   It was Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament.


The Gospels record Jesus as beginning His public ministry in Galilee by going from town to town, teaching in the synagogues, and preaching that “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”, a reference to the Kingdom promised and prophesied in the Old Testament.   At the beginning of His most famous Sermon He warned His hearers against thinking that His purpose was to abolish the Law and the Prophets (the Old Testament).  When He healed the lepers He instructed them to see the priests and bring the offering commanded in the Law.   When asked about divorce, Jesus referred to the Genesis Creation account which Marcion and other heretics maintained spoke of a God different from the God Jesus preached.   In a confrontation recorded in the eight chapter of St. John’s Gospel the Jewish leaders asked Jesus if He was greater than Abraham and Who He made Himself out to be.   In His response He said that “it is my Father that honoureth me; of whom ye say, that he is your God”.   Having thus unambiguously identified His Father with the God of the Old Testament, He went on to provoke the Jewish leaders into asking Him “hast thou seen Abraham”, to which He replied by saying “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am”, identifying Himself with Jehovah (2).


That Jesus could speak of both Himself and His Father as Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament, attests to the essential unity of God, which is affirmed in this Article of the Nicene Creed in the word ἕνα.   The Father is the One God, in Whose One eternal Being the Son and the Holy Ghost share through their eternal Generation and eternal Procession from the Father respectively.   The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are co-equal and co-eternal, but as the One Who eternally begets the Son and from Whom the Holy Ghost eternally proceeds, the Father is begotten of none and proceeds from none.  (3)  


There are several different senses in which God is Father.   Sometimes God is spoken of as Father in a sense that is virtually synonymous with His being Creator.   In recent centuries this sense of God’s Fatherhood has been emphasized to the exclusion of all other senses, especially by liberals who speak of the “universal Fatherhood of God”.   This sense of God’s Fatherhood does appear in the Scriptures – St. Paul uses it in his reasoning with the philosophers at Mars Hill in the seventeenth chapter of the book of Acts – but it is by no means the primary sense of the Fatherhood of God in the Bible.  When Jesus speaks of God as Father, sometimes He qualifies the term with the second person possessive when speaking to His followers, as for example when He instructs us to pray “Our Father…”   That those who are not His followers cannot claim God as Father in this sense is made quite clear in the Johannine writings where Jesus speaks of His enemies as the children of the devil and where the children of God are identified as those who have received Jesus by believing in His name.   Sometimes Jesus speaks of God as “the Father” without a possessive, in which instances the meaning is basically the same as that of “God” and this is the closest that can be found in Jesus’ own words to the universal Fatherhood concept.   Most often, however, Jesus speaks of the Father with the first person possessive pronoun.   As Jesus’ Father, God is Father in a way that He is Father of no other, the way that means that because Jesus is God’s Son, Jesus is God too.   This is the primary meaning of the Fatherhood of God the Father.   Indeed, it is in this sense of Fatherhood that the Father has always been the Father, because He has always been the Father to the Son.   The heretical evangelical teachers who teach Incarnational Sonship and claim to be orthodox Trinitarians because they acknowledge that Jesus was eternally the Word of God, co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and Holy Ghost, even if they claim He became the Son in the Incarnation, should be asked Who they think the Father was before the Incarnation.  


When, therefore, the first Article of the Creed begins by affirming belief in God the Father, and concludes by affirming Him as Creator, this ought not to be understood as equating God’s Fatherhood with the fact that He is Creator in a reductionist sort of way.   Each Person of the Trinity was involved in Creation.   The Holy Ghost is specifically referenced in the second verse of Genesis.   When the New Testament speaks of the Son’s involvement in Creation it uses the language of instrumentality.   “All things were made by him”, St. John writes in his Gospel, “and without him was not anything made that was made”.   The word “by” here renders the Greek διά which conveys the idea of intermediacy in place, time and means.  We have already mentioned St. Paul’s similar language in Colossians.   Note that in the passage of the Gospel where St. John writes the above Jesus is spoken of as the Word.   He too is specifically mentioned in Genesis 1 where each act of Creation begins with “And God said”.    Jesus is the Word spoken through which God creates everything.   The Father is identifiable in the Genesis Creation account as the God Who speaks the Word through Whom all things are made and in the second chapter of Genesis Who breathes the breathe of life – the words for “breathe” and “spirit” are identical in the Biblical languages – into man.   Thus, while the entire Holy Trinity participates in Creation, the Father is the principle Agent of Creation, the One Who speaks the Word and breathes the Spirit, and so the act of Creation is particularly ascribed – the theological term for this is “appropriated” – to Him in our Creedal confessions.   It is not this that makes the Father, the Father, however, but His eternal relationship to His Son, about which we shall have more to say, Lord willing, when we look at the Second Article.


 (1)   From a strictly grammatical point of view this first word is the most important word in the Creed.   Grammatically, the subject of the Creeds is the believer (or believers if the plural is used).   The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all placed in the accusative (direct object) case in the Creed, and in the Nicene Creed whatever actions are ascribed to them, with the exception of the verb for “made” when it says that “through Him [Christ] all things were made” are expressed as participles (verbal adjectives) rather than finite verbs.   This form of speaking or writing, in which statements that would in direct discourse contain subjects in the nominative case and ordinary finite verbs are made the predicate of a verb of thinking or speaking, with the verbs converted into infinitives or participles, and what would otherwise be put in the case of the subject is put in the case of the object, is called indirect discourse.   In the Apostles’ Creed this first verb is the only verb connecting the subject, the believer, to the predicate, that which it is asserted the believer believes about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, although it is repeated at the beginning of the  eighth Article about the Holy Spirit.   In the Nicene Creed two other verbs, “we confess” and “we look for” are included after the Articles about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and the Church to introduce the Articles about baptism and Last Things.

(2)   This is the significance of the present tense.   When Moses asked God for His name He answered “I Am”.   The Hebrew word traditionally transliterated into English as Jehovah when it is not rendered THE LORD in all caps is a variation of this.

(3)  The Quicumque Vult or Athanasian Creed puts it this way: Pater a nullo est factus: nec creatus, nec genitus. Filius a Patre solo est: non factus, nec creatus, sed genitus. Spiritus Sanctus a Patre et Filio: non factus, nec creatus, nec genitus, sed procedens.   In English this is “The Father is made of none; neither created, nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone; not made, nor created; but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten; but proceeding”.

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