The meaning of the above words 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.
Let this serve as a brief summary of this first Article. But since great mysteries lie concealed under almost every word, the pastor must now give them a more careful consideration, in order that, as far as God has permitted, the faithful may approach, with fear and trembling, to contemplate the glory of His majesty.
The word believe does not here mean to think, to suppose, lo be of opinion; but, as the Sacred Scriptures teach, it expresses the deepest conviction, by which the mind gives a firm and unhesitating assent to God revealing His mysterious truths. As far, therefore, as regards use of the word here, he who firmly and without hesitation is convinced of anything is said to believe.
The knowledge derived through faith must not be considered less certain because its objects are not seen; for the divine light by which we know them, although it does not render them evident, yet suffers us not to doubt them. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath himself shone in our hearts, that the gospel be not hidden to us, as to those that perish.
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.
The pastor should also teach that he who says, I believe, besides declaring the inward assent of the mind, which is an internal act of faith, should also openly profess and with alacrity acknowledge and proclaim what he inwardly and in his heart believes. For the faithful should be animated by the same spirit that spoke by the lips of the Prophet when he said: I believe; and therefore did I speak, and should follow the example of the Apostles who replied to the princes of the people: We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard. They should be encouraged by these noble words of St. Paul: I am not ashamed of the gospel. For it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; and likewise by those other words; in which the truth of this doctrine is expressly confirmed: With the heart we believe unto justice; but with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
From these words we may learn how exalted are the dignity and excellence of Christian wisdom, and what a debt of gratitude we owe to the divine goodness. For to us it is given at once to mount as by the steps of faith to the knowledge of what is most sublime and desirable.
There is a great difference between Christian philosophy and human wisdom. The latter, guided solely by the light of nature, advances slowly by reasoning on sensible objects and effects, and only after long and laborious investigation is it able at length to contemplate with difficulty the invisible things of God, to discover and understand a First Cause and Author of all things. Christian philosophy, on the contrary, so quickens the human mind that without difficulty it pierces the heavens, and, illumined with divine light, contemplates first, the eternal source of light, and in its radiance all created things: so that we experience with the utmost pleasure of mind that we have been called, as the Prince of the Apostles says, out of darkness into his admirable light, and believing we rejoice with joy unspeakable.
Justly, therefore, do the faithful profess first to believe in God, whose majesty, with the Prophet Jeremias, we declare incomprehensible. For, as the Apostle says, He dwells in light inaccessible, which no man hath seen, nor can see; as God Himself, speaking to Moses, said: No man shall see my face and live. The mind cannot rise to the contemplation of the Deity, whom nothing approaches in sublimity, unless it be entirely disengaged from the senses, and of this in the present life we art naturally incapable.
But while this is so, yet God, as the Apostle says, left not himself without testimony, doing good from heaven, giving rains and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness. Hence it is that the philosophers conceived no mean idea of the Divinity, ascribed to Him nothing corporeal, gross or composite. They considered Him the perfection and fullness of all good, from whom, as from an eternal, inexhaustible fountain of goodness and benignity, flows every perfect gift to all creatures. They called Him the wise, the author and lover of truth, the just, the most beneficent, and gave Him also many other appellations expressive of supreme and absolute perfection. They recognised that His immense and infinite power fills every place and extends to all things
These truths the Sacred Scriptures express far better and much more clearly, as in the following passages: God is a spirit; Be ye perfect, even as also your heavenly Father is perfect; All things are naked and open to his eyes; O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! God is true; I am the way, the truth, and the life; Thy right hand is full of justice; Thou openest thy hand, and fillest with blessing every living creature; and finally: Whither shall go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy face? If I ascend into heaven, thou art there; if I descend into hell, thou art there. If I take my wings early in the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, etc., and Do I not fill heaven and earth, saith the Lord?
These great and sublime truths regarding the nature of God, which are in full accord with Scripture, the philosophers were able to learn from an investigation of God's works. But even here we see the necessity of divine revelation if we reflect that not only does faith, as we have already observed, make known clearly and at once to the rude and unlettered, those truths which only the learned could discover, and that by long study; but also that the knowledge obtained through faith is much more certain and more secure against error than if it were the result of philosophical inquiry.
But how much more exalted must not that knowledge of the Deity be considered, which cannot be acquired in common by all from the contemplation of nature, but is peculiar to those who are illumined by the light of faith ?
This knowledge is contained in the Articles of the Creed, which disclose to us the unity of the Divine Essence and the distinction of Three Persons, and show also that God Himself is the ultimate end of our being, from whom we are to expect the enjoyment of the eternal happiness of heaven, according to the words of St. Paul: God is a rewarder of them that seek Him. How great are these rewards, and whether they are such that human knowledge could aspire to their attainment, we learn from these words of Isaias uttered long before those of the Apostle: From the beginning of the world they have not heard, nor perceived with the ears: the eye hath not seen besides thee, O God, what things thou hast prepared for them that wait for thee.
From what is said it must also be confessed that there is but one God, not many gods. For we attribute to God supreme goodness and infinite perfection, and it is impossible that what? is supreme and most perfect could be common to many. If a being lack anything that constitutes supreme perfection, it is therefore imperfect and cannot have the nature of God.
The unity of God is also proved from many passages of Sacred Scripture. It is written: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord; again the Lord commands: Thou shalt not have strange gods before me; and further He often admonishes us by the Prophet: I am the first, and I am the last, and besides me there is no God. The Apostle also openly declares: One Lord, one faith, one baptism.
It should not, however, excite our surprise if the Sacred Scriptures sometimes give the name of God to creatures. For when they call the Prophets and judges gods, they do not speak according to the manner of the Gentiles, who, in their folly and impiety, formed to themselves many gods; but express, by a manner of speaking then in use, some eminent quality or function conferred on such persons by the gift of God.
The Christian faith, therefore, believes and professes, as is declared in the Nicene Creed in confirmation of this truth, that God in His Nature, Substance and Essence is one. But soaring still higher, it so understands Him to be one that it adores unity in trinity and trinity in unity. Of this mystery we now proceed to speak, as it comes next in order in the Creed.
As God is called Father for more reasons than one, we must first determine the more appropriate sense in which the word is used in the present instance.
Even some on whose darkness the light of faith never shone conceived God to be an eternal substance from whom all things have their beginning, and by whose Providence they are governed and preserved in their order and state of existence. Since, therefore, he to whom a family owes its origin and by whose wisdom
derived from human things these persons gave the name Father to God, whom they acknowledge to be the Creator and Governor of the universe. The Sacred Scriptures also, when they wish to show that to God must be ascribed the creation of all things, supreme power and admirable Providence, make use of the same name. Thus we read: Is not he thy Father, that hath possessed thee, and made thee and created thee? And: Have we not all one Father? hath not one God created us?
But God, particularly in the New Testament, is much more frequently, and in some sense peculiarly, called the Father of Christians, who have not received the spirit of bondage again in fear; but have received the spirit of adoption of sons (of God), whereby they cry: Abba (Father). For the Father hath bestowed upon us that manner of charity that we should be called, and be the sons of God, and if sons, heirs also; heirs indeed of God, and jointheirs with Christ, who is the firstborn amongst many brethren, and is not ashamed to call us brethren. Whether, therefore, we look to the common title of creation and Providence, or to the special one of spiritual adoption, rightly do the faithful profess their belief that God is their Father.
But the pastor should teach that on hearing the word Father, besides the ideas already unfolded, the mind should rise to more exalted mysteries. Under the name Father, the divine oracles begin to unveil to us a mysterious truth which is more abstruse and more deeply hidden in that inaccessible light in which God dwells, and which human reason and understanding could not attain to, nor even conjecture to exist.
This name implies that in the one Essence of the Godhead is proposed to our belief, not only one Person, but a distinction of persons; for in one Divine Nature there are Three Personsthe Father, begotten of none; the Son, begotten of the Father before all ages; the Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Father and the likewise, from all eternity
In the one Substance of the Divinity the Father is the First Person, who with His Onlybegotten Son, and the Holy Ghost, is one God and one Lord, not in the singularity of one Person, but in the trinity of one Substance. These Three Persons, since it would be impiety to assert that they are unlike or unequal in any thing, are understood to be distinct only in their respective properties. For the Father is unbegotten, the Son begotten of the Father, and the Holy Ghost proceeds from both. Thus we acknowledge the Essence and the Substance of the Three Persons to be the same in such wise that we believe that in confessing the true and eternal God we are piously and religiously to adore distinction in the Persons, unity in the Essence, and equality in the Trinity.
Hence, when we say that the Father is the First Person, we are not to be understood to mean that in the Trinity there is anything first or last, greater or less. Let none of the faithful be guilty of such impiety, for the Christian religion proclaims the same eternity, the same majesty of glory in the Three Persons. But since the Father is the Beginning without a beginning, we truly and unhesitatingly affirm that He is the First Person, and as He is distinct from the Others by His peculiar relation of paternity, so of Him alone is it true that He begot the Son from eternity. For when in the Creed we pronounce together the words God and Father, it means that He was always both God and Father.
Since nowhere is a too curious inquiry more dangerous, or error more fatal, than in the knowledge and exposition of this, the most profound and difficult of mysteries, let the pastor teach that the terms nature and person used to express this mystery should be most scrupulously retained; and let the faithful know that unity belongs to essence, and distinction to persons.
But these are truths which should not be made the subject of too subtle investigation, when we recollect that he who is a searcher of majesty shall be overwhelmed by glory. We should be satisfied with the assurance and certitude which faith gives us that we have been taught these truths by God Himself, to doubt whose word is the extreme of folly and misery. He has said: Teach ye all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; and again, there are three who give testimony in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one.
Let him, however, who by the divine bounty believes these truths, constantly beseech and implore God and the Father, who made all things out of nothing, and ordereth an things sweetly, who gave us power to become the sons of God, and who made known to the human mind the mystery of the Trinity let him, I say, pray unceasingly that, admitted one day into the eternal tabernacles, he may be worthy to see how great is the fecundity of the Father, who contemplating and understanding Himself, begot the Son like and equal to Himself, how a love of charity in both, entirely the same and equal, which is the Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Father and the Son, connects the begetter and the begotten by an eternal and indissoluble bond; and that thus the Essence of the Trinity is one and the distinction of the Three Persons perfect.
The Sacred Scriptures, in order to mark the piety and devotion with which the most holy name of God is to be adored, usually express His supreme power and infinite majesty in a variety of ways; but the pastor should, first of all, teach that almighty power is most frequently attributed to Him. Thus He says of Himself: I am the almighty Lord and again, Jacob when sending his sons to Joseph thus prayed for them: May my almighty God make him favourable to you. In the Apocalypse also it is written: The Lord God, who is, and who was, and who is to come, the almighty; and in another place the last day is called the great day of the almighty God. Sometimes the same attribute is expressed in many words; thus: No word shall be impossible with God; Is the hand of the Lord unable? Thy power is at hand when thou wiIt, and so on.
From these various modes of expression it is clearly perceived what is comprehended under this single word almighty. By it we understand that there neither exists nor can be conceived in thought or imagination anything which God cannot do. For not only can He annihilate all created things, and in a moment summon from nothing into existence many other worlds, an exercise of power which, however great, comes in some degree within our comprehension; but He can do many things still greater, of which the human mind can form no conception.
But though God can do all things, yet He cannot lie, or deceive, or be deceived; He cannot sin, or cease to exist, or be ignorant of anything. These defects are compatible with those beings only whose actions are imperfect; but God, whose acts are always most perfect, is said to be incapable of such things, simply because the capability of doing them implies weakness, not the supreme and infinite power over all things which God possesses. Thus we so believe God to be omnipotent that we exclude from Him entirely all that is not intimately connected and consistent with the perfection of His nature.
The pastor should point out the propriety and wisdom of having omitted all other names of God in the Creed, and of having proposed to us only that of almighty as the object of our belief. For by acknowledging God to be omnipotent, we also of necessity acknowledge Him to be omniscient, and to hold all things in subjection to His supreme authority and dominion. When we do not doubt that He is omnipotent, we must be also convinced of everything else regarding Him, the absence of which would render His omnipotence altogether unintelligible.
Besides, nothing tends more to confirm our faith and animate our hope than a deep conviction that all things are possible to God; for whatever may be afterwards proposed as an object of faith, however great, however wonderful, however raised above the natural order, is easily and without hesitation believed, once the mind has grasped the knowledge of the omnipotence of God. Nay more, the greater the truths which the divine oracles announce, the more willingly does the mind deem them worthy of belief. And should we expect any favour from heaven, we are not discouraged by the greatness of the desired benefit, but are cheered and confirmed by frequently considering that there is nothing which an omnipotent God cannot effect.
With this faith, then, we should be specially fortified whenever we are required to render any extraordinary service to our neighbour or seek to obtain by prayer any favour from God. Its necessity in the one case we learn from the Lord Himself, who, when rebuking the incredulity of the Apostles, said: If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain: Remove from hence thither, and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible to you; and in the other case, from these words of St. James: Let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea, which is moved and carried about by the wind. Therefore let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.
This faith brings with it also many advantages and helps. It forms us, in the first place, to all humility and lowliness of mind, according to these words of the Prince of the Apostles: Be you humbled therefore under the mighty hand of God. It also teaches us not to fear where there is no cause of fear, but to fear God alone, in whose power we ourselves and all that we have are placed; for our Saviour says: I will shew you whom you shall fear; fear ye him, who after he hath killed, hath power to cast into hell. This faith is also useful to enable us to know and exalt the infinite mercies of God towards us. For he who reflects on the omnipotence of God, cannot be so ungrateful as not frequently to exclaim: He that is mighty, hath done great things to me.
When, however, in this Article we call the Father almighty, let no one be led into the error of thinking that this attribute is so ascribed to Him as not to belong also to the Son and the Holy Ghost. As we say the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Ghost is God, and yet there are not three Gods but one God; so in like manner we confess that the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Ghost almighty, and yet there are not three almighties but one almighty.
The Father, in particular, we call almighty, because He is the Source of all being; as we also attribute wisdom to the Son, because He is the eternal Word of the Father; and goodness to the Holy Ghost, because He is the love of both. These, however, and similar appellations, may be given indiscriminately to the Three Persons, according to the teaching of Catholic faith.
The necessity of having previously imparted to the faithful a knowledge of the omnipotence of God will appear from what we are now about to explain with regard to the creation of the world. The wondrous production of so stupendous a work is more easily believed when all doubt concerning the immense power of the Creator has been removed.
For God formed the world not from materials of any sort, but created it from nothing, and that not by constraint or necessity, but spontaneously, and of His own free will. Nor was He impelled to create by any other cause than a desire to communicate His goodness to creatures. Being essentially happy in Himself He stands not in need of anything, as David expresses it: I have said to the Lord, thou art my God, for thou hast no need of my goods.
As it was His own goodness that influenced Him when He did all things whatsoever He would, so in the work of creation He followed no external form or model; but contemplating, and as it were imitating, the universal model contained in the divine intelligence, the supreme Architect, with infinite wisdom and powerattributes peculiar to the Divinity created all things in the be ginning. He spoke and they were made: he commanded and they were created.
The words heaven and earth include all things which the heaven's and the earth contain; for besides the heavens, which the Prophet has called the works of his fingers, He also gave to the sun its brilliancy, and to the moon and stars their beauty; and that they might be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years. He so ordered the celestial bodies in a certain and uniform course, that nothing varies more than their continual revolution, while nothing is more fixed than their variety.
Moreover, He created out of nothing the spiritual world and Angels innumerable to serve and minister to Him; and these He enriched and adorned with the admirable gifts of His grace and power.
That the devil and the other rebel angels were gifted from the beginning of their creation with grace, clearly follows from these words of the Sacred Scriptures: He (the devil) stood not in the truth. On this subject St. Augustine says: In creating the Angels He endowed them with good will, that is, with pure love that they might adhere to Him, giving them existence and adorning them with grace at one and the same time. Hence we are to believe that the holy Angels were never without good will, that is, the love of God.
As to their knowledge we have this testimony of Holy Scripture: Thou, my Lord, O king, art wise, according to the wisdom of an angel of God, to understand all things upon earth.' Finally, the inspired David ascribes power to them, saying that they are mighty in strength, and execute his word; and on this account they are often called in Scripture the powers and the armies of the Lord.
But although they were all endowed with celestial gifts, very many, having rebelled against God, their Father and Creator, were hurled from those high mansions of bliss, and shut up in the darkest dungeon of earth, there to suffer for eternity the punishment of their pride. Speaking of them the Prince of the Apostles says: God spared not the angels that sinned, but delivered them, drawn by infernal ropes to the lower hell, unto torments, to be reserved unto judgment.
The earth also God commanded to stand in the midst of the world, rooted in its own foundation, and made the mountains ascend, and the plains descend into the place which he had founded for them. That the waters should not inundate the earth, He set a bound which they shall not pass over; neither shall they return to cover the earth. He next not only clothed and adorned it with trees and every variety of plant and flower, but filled it, as He had already filled the air and water, with innumerable kinds of living creatures.
Lastly, He formed man from the slime of the earth, so created and constituted in body as to be immortal and impassible, not, however, by the strength of nature, but by the bounty of God. Man's soul He created to His own image and likeness; gifted him with free will, and tempered all his motions and appetites so as to subject them, at all times, to the dictates of reason. He then added the admirable gift of original righteousness, and next gave him dominion over all other animals. By referring to the sacred history of Genesis the pastor will easily make himself familiar with these things for the instruction of the faithful.
What we have said, then, of the creation of the universe is to be understood as conveyed by the words heaven and earth, and is thus briefly set forth by the Prophet: Thine are the heavens, and thine is the earth: the world and the fullness thereof thou hast founded. Still more briefly the Fathers of the Council of Nice expressed this truth by adding in their Creed these words: of all things visible and invisible. Whatever exists in the universe, whatever we confess to have been created by God, either falls under the senses and is included in the word visible, or is an object of mental perception and intelligence and is expressed by the word invisible.
We are not, however, to understand that God is in such wise the Creator and Maker of all things that His works, when once created and finished, could thereafter continue to exist unsupported by His omnipotence. For as all things derive existence from the Creator's supreme power, wisdom, and goodness, so unless preserved continually by His Providence, and by the same power which produced them, they would instantly return into their nothingness. This the Scriptures declare when they say: How could anything endure if thou wouldst not? or be preserved, if not called by thee?
Not only does God protect and govern all things by His Providence, but He also by an internal power impels to motion and action whatever moves and acts, and this in such a manner that, although He excludes not, He yet precedes the agency of secondary causes. For His invisible influence extends to all things, and, as the Wise Man says, reaches from end to end mightily, and ordereth all things sweetly. This is the reason why the Apostle, announcing to the Athenians the God whom, not knowing, they adored, said: He is not far from every one of us: for in him we live, and move, and are.
Let so much suffice for the explanation of the first Article of the Creed. It may not be superfluous, however, to add that creation is the common work of the Three Persons of the Holy and undivided Trinity, of the Father, whom according to the doctrine of the Apostles we here declare to be Creator of heaven and earth; of the Son, of whom the Scripture says, all things were made by him; and of the Holy Ghost, of whom it is written: The spirit of God moved over the waters, and again, By the word of the Lord the heavens were established; and all the power of them by the spirit of his mouth.Back