What does it mean to say, “I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth”? This article of the Creed refers not just to the God of the New Testament, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It speaks of the creator of heaven and earth. It unites the Old and the New Testaments. It unites heaven and earth. It unites God and humanity.
What we are reciting together in the Creed is more than just a formula. The “Catechism of the Catholic Church” states it well, quoting St. Thomas Aquinas: “Our faith does not rest in formulas or propositions, but rather in the realities they express.”
This does not in any way devalue doctrine or diminish the importance of the articles of the faith. It just shows us that these propositions put us in touch with three persons: The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. They put us in touch with the very purpose for creation.
“Father” is not just one more name for God; it is the essential revelation of who God is — from all eternity. “Father” is more than a name — it’s more than a noun; it’s a verb. For God is eternal, but he is eternally fathering,
As significant as it is for us to confess our faith in the creator of heaven and earth, Father is a far deeper penetration into the mystery of a God — who is not less personal than we are, but eternally and infinitely more, and more interpersonal than we are as well.
God is a Father because from all eternity he is eternally fathering the Son. And the truth of his fatherhood is revealed from all eternity in an act of love. And I mean an act — pure act, pure fatherhood; it is life-giving love.
From all eternity, the Son images the dynamism of his Fatherly love, not only by receiving that love and life as gift, but loving the Father as dynamically as the Father fathers the Son. And what do we call that bond, that pure act of interpersonal love? The Holy Spirit.
This is the Trinity. This is the formula that penetrates into the mystery of who God is from all eternity. And this is why he made us in his image and likeness in a human family — but destined for nothing less than a divine family.
This is the heart and soul of what it means for us to be Catholic Christians. The Church is the family of God and originates in the eternal plan of the Father, in the deified humanity — the Body — of his Son. In the power of the Holy Spirit who makes us one.
This truth is what our world needs. This is what we need. The Trinity is the only God that exists. The Trinity is the only thing that God eternally is. And the Trinity is the only thing that explains everything.
I believe this is why Pope Francis is right in describing the crisis of fatherhood as constituting the crisis of our age.
God has given us all fathers so that we can come to know him for who he is. But he has given us all fathers who have flaws, who have failed us, who have hurt us, who have wounded us. He has done this so that we can learn to forgive as we have been forgiven.
But we can also recognize that these fathers are like rungs in the ladder and the father figures that we have — in teachers, in coaches, in uncles, in godparents — all of these father figures are like rungs in a ladder through which we ascend in heaven to behold the face of “Abba, Father.”
God is a Father like no other. We are not God’s children by nature. By nature, I am a child of my parents, Fred and Molly Lou Hahn — because I am made as a creature; I am not begotten.
Jesus is the only begotten Son of the Father. He is God from God, light from light, true God from true God — precisely because he’s eternally begotten, not made.
And in calling God “Abba, Father,” Jesus revealed to us the highest truth about God.
Even 2,000 years later, this is a radical truth — if we let it really move from our heads to our hearts, and from our hearts to our homes, and from our homes to the world around us, including our own parishes and the cities in which we live.
The Trinity is more than a mathematical abstraction that somehow God is “one” in “three.” It is more than simply a dogmatic formula that we must believe. This formula penetrates into the mystery of who God is from all eternity and why he made us in his image and likeness in a human family, but destined for nothing less than a divine family.
We are made to be in a human family, but we were made for something greater. We were made to be reborn into a divine family — the holy Trinity — our true home.
This is more than just the truth of the faith. This is more than just the reality that we can trace all the way back to divine eternity. This is the one thing that God wants us to believe with all of our hearts more than anything else — because everything else flows from it.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus cried out, “Abba, Father!”
And this is the relationship that God wants to establish with each one of us. It is a relationship more intimate than we dare to believe — in every breath we breathe, in every relationship we enter, and every time we go home and every time we find the homeless and every time we look at the people out there in the world who are lost. Jesus suffered and died for them as much as for us, and they are all potentially sons and daughters of the Most High — just as much as we are.
So I would like to lay before you this challenge: allow God into your heart and not just your head. Really say, from the heart, what it means to believe that God is the Father almighty, and that three persons in the Trinity have committed themselves not just to forgiving us, not just to healing us, not just to teaching us, but to recreating us, rebirthing us through the waters of baptism, through all the seven sacraments, until we come all the way home and behold the face of God the Father, the love of Christ, and the faces of one another that reflect the radiance of a glory the world has never even imagined.
This is who we are as Christians. This is why, as Catholics, we take great pride and gratitude, not in ourselves, but in our Father — who has accomplished more than all of us could ever do for him.
As Pope Francis recently reminded us, this is what happens when the Shepherd chooses to become the Lamb of God, to take away the sin of the world. But not just to take away our sin, but to implant within us his own divine Sonship through the Holy Spirit, entrusting his own mother to be ours.
If this doesn’t get you excited, you might want to check out a cardiologist, because this should stir our hearts. This is who we are! And this is why we gather to pray, to celebrate — as family, but not just the human family, but the Family of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Dr. Scott Hahn is founder of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology in Steubenville, Ohio. This essay is adapted from his address to the Los Angeles Catholic Prayer Breakfast on Sept. 19 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.