The God Who Shows His Face: An Oration on the Creed
Rev. David A. Fisher
“Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.” - 1 John 4:8
"God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob -- not of the philosophers and scholars." - Blaise Pascal
The reality of God is not a question to be solved by careful application of our rational faculties. Of course there is a valid place in the history of humanity in general, and in the history of religion in particular, for philosophers, theologians, and scholars. However, the “act of faith” and “ultimate trust” in God is more like falling in love, than discovering quantum physics. As the apostle John proclaims to us in his gospel, that unless we love, how can we know the God who is Love.
The Latin Church Father, Saint Augustine of Hippo remarked in his Seventh Homily on the Letter of John, “Dilige, et quod vis fac” (love and do what you will), and he wrote this with the intention of saying that the punishment of a loving father for their child, would be preferred to the deceiving kindness of a kidnapper; God is Our Loving Father.
The seventeenth century French philosopher, inventor, and Christian Apologist Blaise Pascal wrote in his Memorial, which was his written remembrance of a mystical experience that strengthened his commitment to defend this Catholic faith; that his experience was not of a philosophical God, but the God who called Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God who gave the Law to Moses, who inspired the Prophets of Israel, who sent his Word who became flesh and dwelt among us, died on the Cross, and Resurrected by the power of the Father’s Holy Spirit.
The Relational God
The Fathers of the Church were confronted with the task of explaining the Christian faith to the Hellenistic/Greco-Roman world. A world that had a long tradition of not only polytheism (the belief in many gods) but also many philosophical schools of thought, with Neo-Platonism and Stoicism being predominant. Given this reality some of the Fathers, even Saint Augustine himself, tended to locate as the starting point of their reflections on God from the “Unitary” notion of God, the “Oneness” of God, which corresponded to the Neo-Platonic idea that the perfect being, that is God, is the Summus Bonum (the Greatest Good). Starting from the Oneness of God they then arrived at God as Trinity. Unfortunately, this line of thinking led to the study of God as One and God as Trinity as separate courses of study in the Medieval universities.
The Fathers who defended the reality of God as revealed in Sacred Scripture and whose “face” is shown us in Jesus Christ, it is the work of those Fathers that is enshrined in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. It is the through the sacrifices and ministry of Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, Saint Ephrem the Syrian, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, Saint Basil of Caesarea, Saint Gregory Nazianzen, Saint John Chyrsostom, and many more who defended the relational nature of God. The God revealed by Jesus Christ is not an isolated Monism as in Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover, eternally happy with his own perfection, rather the God revealed by Jesus is the God who eternally realizes in his nature: relationship, communion, trinitarian life. Jesus Christ shows us that God is Love from all eternity, and in the act of creation his divine love is extended in relationship to his “image and likeness” - human beings.
The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed
In the year 325AD, three-hundred and eighteen leaders of the Church met at Nicaea to counter the heresy of Arianism. This first Ecumenical Council was called by the Emperor Constantine and while promulgating various canons for the sake of church order, the enduring work of the Council involved drawing upon the already existing baptismal formulas, such as the “Apostles Creed” to produce the Creed of Nicaea.
In the year 381, the Emperor Theodosius convened the Second Ecumenical Council at Constantinople. The presiding bishop was Saint Gregory Nazianzen, and drawing upon what now seems to have been a baptismal formula used by Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, who was in attendance, the Creed as we know it today, the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Symbol of Faith was promulgated as the “orthodox” expression of the Church’s faith in the Triune God. By the sixth century The Creed began to be recited at the Eucharistic Liturgies of the Eastern Patriarchates and by the eleventh century began to be recited in the Latin Mass in Rome.
The Creed is more than just a recitation of dogma, it is in a real sense a prayer to and in the Holy Trinity. It is a proclamation and prayer of our faith in how the Eternal Trinity shares the divine life of “Perechoresis” (the term used by the Fathers of the Church to express the interpenetrating life of the three persons of the Trinity), which is a life of eternal perfect love, with us - the children of God.
The Fathers of the Church used the Greek term “prosopon” to say that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit each had a “face”. The term “prosopon” meaning person had developed from the word “prosopeon” meaning mask, used in ancient Greek theater. This term for mask eventually developed into the term for person, one who shows their face. The Fathers went further to say that although the three persons of the Trinity are “homousias” or “homoousian” (one in being, or con-substantial), there relationship within the divine perechoresis is “hypostatic,” that is relational. The Creed of Nicaea- Constantinople expresses this by means of professing that the eternal relationships within the Trinity originate from the Father. The only-begotten Son from the Father is the one who becomes Our Lord and Savior, and the Holy Spirit who dynamically proceeds from the Father is the one who sanctifies and confirms our faith in the Son who saves us.
This is the faith of the Church, faith in the God who shows us his “face,” who reveals that he is Love, and calls us to take up our cross and follow our Lord through the door to eternal life, where our humanity will reach its full stature in relationship with the Holy Trinity.