Sunday, September 13, 2015

God the Father

Now we turn to the Nicene Creed as adopted at Nicea and amended at Constantinople, widely held today to be the bare essentials of the Christian faith. In the next posts we shall explore the creed’s text, meaning and echoes from the Bible.
We believe
The original is plural, a statement of all the Church: all of us believe this. The Latin credo (I believe) was used later, in worship and usually referring to an earlier creed of uncertain origin known as the “Apostles’ Creed.”
in one God,
the Father, the Almighty
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
Monotheism is the cornerstone of Judaism. The Bible does not attempt to debate the existence of God nor is there an argument that there is only one God; instead, the recurring statement is that only the God of Abraham and Moses should be worshiped.

Jesus reaffirms Judaic monotheism when he recites the famous Hebrew prayer, the Sh’ma, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone!” (Mark 12:29), which echoes Deuteronomy 6:4.

The assignment of fatherhood to God also has Judaic origins (Isaiah 63:16, for example), but was used many times by Jesus (John 14:9-11).

The scholar Rudolf Bultmann, the father of biblical form criticism, is reputed to have declared that the only word we can safely say came directly from the mouth of Jesus is Abba (Aramaic for “father”), which is the opening of the prayer he taught his closest followers. The comment is often regarded as a humorous scholarly extreme, but it emphasizes the broad consensus concerning how Jesus addressed God.

The meaning is that God is the ultimate source, or father, to all of us. There may be an intimacy implied, such as that explored by Jewish theologian Martin Buber and addressed in his work I and Thou, but it is a “mature” relationship (see my post According to Linguists “Abba” is not “Daddy”).

To be clearer still, “father” does not assign a sex to God; the masculine gender, when used, is merely grammatical. The original proper name for the God of Abraham, YWHW (often rendered as “Yahweh” or “Jehovah” to fill ancient Hebrew’s lack of written vowels) means “the existent One.” The bishops at Nicea and Constantinople, who were philosophically sophisticated, were not about to add a mandated sex or gender, other than as required by ordinary language usage. The fatherhood of God is a sexless paternity; it could be a maternity—indeed, in the most precise logic, it would be both.

Then comes the assertion that God is creator—there is ample evidence in Christian usage that the “maker” of the Nicene Creed is meant to be identical to the “creator” of the Apostles’ Creed—of the material world (Genesis 1:1) but also of the immaterial (Colossians 1:15-16). This responds to a variety of Gnostic and related claims concerning the separateness and independence of matter and spirit, sometimes to the point that God, a spirit, does not control matter.

The creed places God before and above all that exists, material or spiritual.

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