of Ancient Beliefs
Edited by: The Most Rev. +Joseph Thaddeus, O.S.B., SSJt., Ph.D.
THAT GOD HAS SPOKEN to all mankind is a historical fact ... a fact that can be ascertained by anyone who takes the trouble to do so. The easiest way to start is to examine carefully the facts about Jesus Christ — Who He is… what He did… and what He taught — as these are found in the historical records of the New Testament as well as in many other documents not necessarily accepted by the Mainline Church..
Jesus Christ brought to everyone important information about God and about His relations with the world and with all mankind. It is information that God alone could give us and in so doing, He put His unlimited wealth of knowledge at our disposal. Our acceptance of this information is faith. And by believing what God has told us, we make this information our very own.
Faith, then, is knowledge. "I believe" means "I know." This knowledge has been communicated to us by God and all of it, therefore, is unquestionably true.
Almost everyone believes in God. There is a big difference of opinion as to what God has told us about Himself... what we must believe about Him... what we must do to obtain everlasting life with Him.
The idea of some people seems to be that what we can know about God is so vague and uncertain that it is up to each individual to form his own religious creed. This ignores entirely the fact that God has given us definite information which is not subject to our personal opinion and from which we cannot sort out what we consider true or not true.
The Apostles' Creed, for example, is a summary of the principal truths contained in the information God has given us and which the Church has been passing on and explaining to every generation since early Christian times. It is not merely a pious prayer. It is not something which we are free to believe only in part or to interpret in any way that strikes our fancy.
Unless any creed has a definite and genuine meaning, unless it expresses real and concrete truth, unless it conveys positive and practical information to a person's mind, it will never be a living force in your or my life. That is precisely what a religious creed is meant to be — a creed to live by.
A person's creed usually influences his or her whole life. In the light of a creed, a person knows God, knows him or herself, knows the world in which s/he dwells, and they know the people around him — and as they believe, so they live.
We have seen beliefs turn mankind into brutes, lead nations astray, and plunge the whole world into misery. Today we know that it does make a difference what road we take, what a person believes, what groups of men and women believe, what nations believe.
THE RIGHT KIND OF CREED
Everyone has some kind of creed. It may be an anti-religious or an irreligious creed. It may be any of the many religious creeds. It may be vague or clear, permanent or changed every year ... it may be right in some respects and wrong in others — perhaps mostly wrong, but everyone has a creed of some kind.
It is important, we think, that everyone of us has the right kind.
As far as Orthodox and Roman Catholics are concerned, the Apostles' Creed, rightly understood, is the right kind. It sums up our attitude towards God, towards mankind, and towards our religion. We believe, as the Creed says, in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell, the third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven, sitteth at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty, from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy [Orthodox] Catholic Church, the Communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.
We believe all these things because the authority of God is behind them. And because we believe them, our hope for the everlasting life which God has planned for us is based not upon vague and wavering human opinions, but upon the absolute certainty that God Himself gives us.
Father and Creator
The FIRST THING that our creed tells us about God Himself is that He is the Father Almighty. In some ways that makes Him very familiar to us because He is a father, and we understand fatherhood.
The test of all fatherhood is the giving of life. Yet, however essential the human father may be, he plays but a minor role in the vast complexities of birth. He may know but very little of where the life he gives comes from or how it comes. He is merely a transmitter of life, not the creator of it. Yet he is truly a father and has reason to be proud of the fact.
God is our father in a sense far beyond this. He has known our whole being before we were made. He has determined who we should be and of what sort we should be. He has planned all the processes by which we came into being. The life which He gave is a share in His own existence.
Every father generates children in his own likeness. God made us in His own image and likeness. We alone of all creatures have that elusive quality which makes us persons, distinct and individual. We alone of all visible creatures have minds to understand and wills to self-determine our destiny.
The office of fatherhood is not only to give life but to provide. God has been most bountiful toward us. He has given not only things to meet our barest needs, such as food and clothing, but others which form the mechanics of the universe, as time, light, the energy which drives the atoms and the stars, and the nobler things which feed the spirit, as beauty and knowledge.
All of this, God has given with a liberal hand! He has made not just one rose to
delight us, but millions of them; not only one small branch of knowledge which
we can pursue, but all knowledge is thrown open to us. We do not have just
barely enough to sustain life, either physical or spiritual; we have a
superabundance of it by the Grace of God. If there are difficulties in the
distribution, this is due to man's failure to imitate
his Father, not to his Father's niggardliness.
THE LOVE OF GOD
All this implies love. God our Father has not made us that He might crush us under foot, or mock at the cruelties in which we are involved. God has made us out of love and He loves us because He has made us.
It is love then which led God to make man in His own image and likeness. It is love which leads God to keep man in existence and to perfect the image of God in him. Love depends upon the goodness of the thing to be loved, and God's love for His creatures grows stronger as creation advances up the scale of life. Man is at the top; He is the fittest object of God's love.
Because God is our Father, all men are our brothers. That is the real basis for the common brotherhood of man. If we realize that we are all children of the same Father Who loves us and wants us to to imitate Him, we can find a basis for mutual love. "Beloved, if God has so loved us, we also ought to love one another," says St. John (1 John 4:11).
But while we can understand God as our Father, it is more difficult to understand Him as God Almighty. Everything about Him is different and awesome, and beyond our natural power to comprehend.
He is eternal, for example. There is a very strange name which God gave to Himself in speaking to Moses — "I am who am" (Ex. 3:14). Christ, Who was also God, spoke in this unique manner, too. "Before Abraham came to be, I am" (John 8:58). Abraham had lived hundreds of years before Christ, yet Jesus did not say "I was," but "I am." There is only one tense with God, the present. Time is a condition of our material world and is an imperfection.
The Book of Genesis tells us how God made all things. For example, He said, "Be light made" (Gen. 1:3). How did God know what light was like? There had never been any such thing before, no models on which to make it. Yet there was no difficulty in it for God; He knows all things that are and all the endless variants of what might be. That is His nature. He is all-wise.
He is all-powerful, too. "Be light made," He said. And the next words are: "And light was made" (Gen. 1:3). Just like that. There was no trouble for God in it. He spoke and at His word all things were done.
All these things He made from nothing. This is impossible for us to imagine because it is so unique. The only kind of production that we know and to which we can compare it, always means changing one thing into another. But there was nothing for God to change into something else when He produced the universe. Without using anything, He produced it wholly new and entirely distinct from Himself. We cannot imagine "nothing" without consciously or unconsciously making it "something."
CREATION IS BEYOND IMAGINATION
Artists can never depict the creation of the universe. All they can do is suggest it, usually by picturing God as a benign and powerful old man completely surrounded by empty space into which He is scattering various planets. This at least impresses upon our minds some important ideas. We need to think about creation and not merely imagine it. Although God is a spirit without a body or parts of any kind, He is a living being with real powers of thinking and carrying out the idea in His mind. The universe is distinct from Him. There is nothing divine about the world except its origin. That is its important relation to Him-—it is His creature. It is important to try to understand what it means to be a creature.
When we make or produce something, all we do is change or transform things. This is true of any kind of production that you can think of. When a woman makes a new hat, she merely takes various materials and gives them a new form. She always uses something which she arranges and changes until she has the form of a hat she had in mind. As a designer, she might call a very special hat her "creation," because it is different from all other hats. There is no model of this hat existing outside the idea in her mind. The hat may be her product but it is not her creature. Although she conceived the unique form of the hat, she depended upon materials which she used. They are not her product.
GOD IS THE CREATOR
The world is God's creature because He produced it in its entirety. He did not use anything in creating it. He depended upon no pre-existing material and the only model was in His mind. Everything that it is, everything that makes it up is His product. Its dependence upon Him is total. That is what it means to be a creature — total dependence upon God.
And everything in the universe is a creature. God's act of creation is not the answer to the question of the origin of big things only — planets, stars, continents, seas, and mountains, etc.; it extends to the smallest of things, an atom, a speck of dust, a wink of the eye. God is the Creator of heaven and earth — all things.
Considered as an act of Almighty God, creation is a mystery, as well we might expect it to be. That the world and all in it was not produced from anything is possible only to the almighty power of God. The human mind cannot fathom the possible accomplishments of Omnipotence, but it can see that God cannot do that which is absurd and that creation is not absurd. It does not mean "something coming from nothing without a cause." The cause of creation is God, Who is independent of everyone and everything in His action as He is in His very being. When rightly understood, creation is the activity of infinite power overcoming the mere possibility of creatures distinct from the Creator and making them real—giving them actual existence.
Nothing that science has certainly established conflicts with the Bible or our Creed. It was not the intention of the author of Genesis to give the story of creation in scientific details and in a scientific manner, but to give his readers an important religious truth — in fact, a truth which is the foundation of our religion: the dependence of the universe in general and man in particular upon God, our Creator.
All we know about God can be summed up by saying that He is infinitely perfect. Whatever goodness there is on earth, whatever power or ability, whatever virtue or nobility, all find expression in their supreme degree in Him.
But even then there is a vast difference between God, the Creator, and man, the creature. We speak of men having love. God is love. He doesn't have it; He is it. Love would have no meaning, no existence unless God gave it existence. So with all these other things! God gave man Free Will! God is justice; man is supposed to be truthful and therefore just! God is truth. It is God Who is the source of all life and abundance, the measure and the cause of all these things. So we call Him all-perfect.
This is the God in Whom we believe. He is infinite in all dimensions, unique, and beyond our full understanding. But He is not beyond our knowing or our admiring and loving. Indeed, man's highest duty is to know and love God. In that alone can man find his destiny.
The Fall and the Promise
OUT OF THE UNIMAGINABLE VOID of nothingness God called up all His creatures into existence. He created them in widely varying shapes, forms and capabilities, yet they form an orderly scale of perfection from the simplest mineral to the most gifted man. The stone has some of the perfection of God; it has existence. But it does not compare with the perfection of the rose. And the rose, in turn, is very poor compared to the life of the animal which can move around and sense things.
At the very top is man. He stands on the highest rung of the ladder of earthly perfection. He possesses qualities not possessed by any of God's other visible creatures. The Book of Genesis tells us why this difference exists. On the momentous sixth day of creation God said, "Let the earth bring forth the living creature in its kind, cattle and creeping things, and beasts of the earth, according to their kind. And it was so done" (Gen. 1:24). It was the kind of command He had given for the creation of the rest of the universe.
But with man the act was far different. "Let us make man to our image and likeness: and let him have dominion over the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air, and the beasts and the whole earth, and every creeping creature that moveth upon the earth. And God created man to his own image: to the image of God he created him" (Gen. 1:26-27). There was nothing else like this in the whole length and breadth of the visible world.
The precise point of difference in man is that image of God, that spiritual thing called his soul. But though it is spiritual, it is not therefore unreal, or unable to be investigated. This spirit is an immaterial thing that works through man's mind and will, just as his body works through his arms and legs and senses.
The mind of man is an analyzer of facts; not just individual facts, but general principles which arise from them. A man knows not only his own pet dog; he can know about all sorts of dogs. He can classify them — airedale, bull, police, hound. He can do even better than this and speak simply of "dog in general," and know perfectly well what he means, even though he has never seen such a thing as a "dog in general."
INTELLECT AND FREE WILL
The human mind can also think. We can put two ideas together and come up with a new conclusion by the delicate process of balancing that we call judgment. Thus we say that a man has good judgment when he considers all the angles before coming to a decision. But he does come to a decision, and that is something other creatures cannot do by the process of mental reasoning.
The second power of the human spirit is to will. We can think of a half-dozen things we might do right now, for example, turn on the television, go out for a walk, or wash the dishes. We cannot do them all at the same time, so we choose one.
The most valuable feature of this will-power is that it is free. No man can force it, and God will not. With a dozen good reasons for continuing to read this pamphlet, you may just stop. That may be unreasonable, but it would be your privilege.
But if the will is free from coercion, it is not free from responsibility. Everything else in the world has rules according to which it works. The human will is no exception. In fact, the idea of responsibility has no meaning without free will. If a man goes raving mad and shoots his friends, we may put him safely behind the walls of an institution. But we do not sentence him to death. We realize that he is not responsible because he was forced into his act by a deranged mind.
On the other hand, man is capable of good actions because of free will. The man who runs into a burning house and rescues the sleeping baby does not have to do so. He has free choice, so we give him a medal. All our laws and courts work on the principle that normal people have the free will to choose between right and wrong, and a responsibility to do so. There is no reason to believe that the laws and courts of God have a different basis.
There is this distinguishing mark about the spirit of man. It cannot be killed. The body dies because it is attacked by some disorder but the spirit goes on forever. The Bible says frequently that man is immortal. For example, Christ concluded His description of the last judgment with these words, "These will go into everlasting punishment, but the just into everlasting life" (Matt. 25:46). Note that word "everlasting."
Besides His creation of man, God made another world of angels. On the scale of creation they are a rung higher than man. They have no bodies at all; they are "pure" spirits.
The Bible mentions them very early in its story — at the end of the third chapter of Genesis (Gen. 3:24), to be exact. Thereafter they come and go in all its pages. Of these angels we know that they were subjected to a trial, as man was. Some of them failed. The chief of these is called "the devil" or "Satan."
We shall meet him continually in the rest of this pamphlet, so we must say this about him; he is the Prince of Evil. Though he is damned and in hell, God is letting him try to establish his kingdom here on earth. So he is called in the Bible, "the prince of this world" (e.g. John 21:31), and he boasts (with exaggeration) that all the kingdoms of the world are in his power (Luke 4:6). His very first attempt to raise recruits, the temptation of Adam, met with success.
UNDERSTANDING THE SUPERNATURAL
But before we can understand what happened to the first man, we must know something about the "supernatural." All the creatures of earth today are just what their nature demands, nothing less — except man. Man was by his nature the finest animal on earth — an animal with a spirit. He could have known things, even God, by looking at the world around him. He could make up his mind to follow out the laws governing free will, and he could have been happy with his knowledge and love of the God of nature.
But God gave man a supernature — the ability of knowing things in a new way. On earth this kind of knowing is called "faith"; in heaven, it is called "seeing God face to face" (1 Cor. 13:12). Man was given a new power of willing, too, so that he could love in a supernatural way. But most of all he was given a new kind of life which was the root of these things. We call this life "grace," and it is a sharing in that life by which God Himself lives. The destiny of this supernatural life is far greater than that of the natural life. Instead of natural happiness, this life offers heaven — the happiness of eternal life with God.
The Book of Genesis tells us that Adam was a friend of God in the special way of supernatural grace. He was also the head of the whole human race which was to come after him. There were special