The Father, an Appreciation

The First Person of the Holy Trinity gets shabby treatment. I say that without any irony whatsoever. God the Father gets shabby treatment in His Person, in His works, by the disregarding of His Law, and by the current, widespread profanation of the institution of human fatherhood, which is a created image of Himself.

If human fatherhood is to be restored to its proper dignity, if the father is to be honored as the head of the family, and if Catholic men are to rise to that noble office, it is necessary for us to contemplate and to honor the Eternal Father. Christ Our Lord gave us a prayer that has been fruitfully prayed and meditated upon by the saints ever since. There are many excellent commentaries on the Our Father one might read with profit. The present lines, intended to be an appreciation of the Father, are brief reflections on only the first six words of the prayer.

Pater — πάτερ — “Father.” This is the first word in the prayer in Greek and Latin. Prior to creation, God is a Father, the “Origin without origin” in the Holy Trinity. His paternity (or fatherhood) is an eternal reality, for He begets His Son “before the world was” (John 17:5). In eternity, His paternity consists exclusively in being the Father of the Second Person, for He is not the father (or grandfather) of the Holy Ghost. Before creation, the Father had no other children than “the only begotten Son” (John 1:18), and He is no more a Father by virtue of creation. I say this because our divine childhood is but a participation in that of the Word. We can add nothing to God.

Created fatherhood, which images the divine paternity, is analogous to it as the much lesser to the far greater reality. God’s fatherhood is no metaphor based upon the fatherhood we know in creatures; rather, it is more real — is more truly fatherhood — than the human fatherhood which is derived from it. (This may sound difficult to grasp. It is explained in further detail in Patriarchy and the Defenseless, the section below the asterisks.)

As Father of the Word, The First Person is the Source of the Word’s very Self. That is why we call Him “First.” Therefore, everything we see in the Son is something He received from the Father: strength, holiness, goodness, pity, justice, mercy, kindness, majesty, power, love, anger, etc. — all of it. Our Lord tells us this Himself: “Amen, amen, I say unto you, the Son cannot do any thing of himself, but what he seeth the Father doing: for what things soever he doth, these the Son also doth in like manner” (John 5:19). For these reasons, Jesus is the revelation of the Father, as He told Saint Philip the Apostle: “Philip, he that seeth me seeth the Father also” (John 14:9). Saint Paul calls Him the “icon” of the Father: “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15), using the Greek word εἰκὼν (icon) where the Douay Rheims reads “image.” Through Jesus we know the Father. Through Him we love the Father. Through Him, with Him, and in Him, we render to the Father all honor and glory in the Holy Mass.

Noster — ἡμῶν — “Our.” The Eternal Father of the Only-Begotten Son wills to make Himself Father of certain chosen creatures in time. This is an entirely supernatural reality that is both a divine condescension and a gratuitous elevation of man to a dignity he has not earned. We men are not born sons and daughters of God, but, rather, “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3). In holy Baptism, the Father adopts us in His only Son, by an utterly free and totally gracious benevolence. “For whom he foreknew, he also predestinated to be made conformable to the image of his Son; that he might be the firstborn amongst many brethren” (Romans 8:29). It is only in this exclusively supernatural sense that we can call God “our Father.”

Because of the wondrous economy of the Incarnation, Jesus could tell Saint Mary Magdalene, “But go to my brethren and say to them: I ascend to my Father and to your Father, to my God and to your God” (John 20:17). By this economy, the Apostles and all the baptized are Jesus’ “brethren.” By it also, Jesus’ Father in eternity becomes ours by adoption, while our God in time becomes His God by virtue of His human nature. Again, this is all made possible by the Incarnation. As the Christmas liturgy exclaims: “O wonderful exchange: the Creator of mankind, assuming a living body, deigned to be born of a virgin; and, coming forth as a human apart from seed, he lavished on us his divinity.” (The reader may listen to the musical setting of this antiphon, the O Admirabile Commercium by Johannes Regis.)

Note that the possessive pronoun is in the plural: He is our Father. Each one of us can say “my” Father, but the prayer emphasizes the social, or familial character of the Church. This is the true basis of Christian charity: we are children of the same Father, and brothers of the same Christ; therefore, we ought to love one another. As for those who are not yet in the Church, our charity should be directed to their conversion, so that they may become part of the same family, children of the same Father.

What we call Judaism (in all its forms) is essentially inadequate for salvation because it rejects all this. It rejects the principle of our supernatural adoption in Christ. Hence The harsh utterances of Jesus: “If God were your Father, you would indeed love me” (John 8:42); “You are of your father the devil” (John 8:44). It is therefore not the religion of the Old Testament, but only accidentally resembles it, for in rejecting the Son, it severs itself from its roots: “Abraham your father rejoiced that he might see my day: he saw it, and was glad” (John 8:56). “For if you did believe Moses, you would perhaps believe me also; for he wrote of me” (John 5:46).

What is called Islam is also essentially inadequate because it rejects the Trinity, and in diabolically concise and precise ways, as when the Koran says “[Allah] begets not, nor is He begotten” (Surah 112:3). It should come as no surprise that Islam rejects the notion that men can be made God’s children.

Qui — ὁ — “Who.” Abstractly considering His essence or nature, God is a “what” — the unique Being in which divine nature subsists. But the Father is a Person, one of three divine “Whos.” Just as the concept of “fatherhood” is analogous in God and in man, so is the concept of “personhood,” which connotes a being with intellect and free will. In creation, this concept is embodied only in angels and men, who share in God’s “likeness” (Gen. 1:26). Our God is a personal God (or a “tri-personal” God), not a mere life force. He imparts personhood to us. Therefore, we can enter into distinct “personal” relationships with each of the Three. The relationship with the First Person is that He is our Father and we are his “most dear children” (Eph. 5:1). “Behold what manner of charity the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called, and should be the sons of God” (1 John 3:1).

Es in caelis — ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς — “…art in Heaven.” In Book 12 of his Confessions, Saint Augustine distinguishes between “the heavens,” meaning the sky, and “the heaven of heavens, which is the Lord’s,” which is that place (and state) where God uniquely dwells with His saints. It is a place, for it contains the bodies of the Ascended and Assumed Ones, Jesus and Mary; there, too, will be the bodies of all the saints after each of the elect rises again in eodem corpore, in the same body he had on earth. It is a state, because it is synonymous with the glory of beatitude, consisting essentially in the direct vision of the Trinity, the Beatific Vision.

But before creation, there were no “places.” Because space and location are material realities, prior to the creation of matter, they had no existence. Only the Trinity existed, in all the immensity of the divinity. When God deigned to bring matter into existence, it did not contain its Creator, for “heaven, and the heavens of heavens cannot contain thee” (3 Kings 8:27). While God is everywhere and in everything, it is more true to say that all that exists exists in God, therefore everywhere is in God, who remains the greater reality than material things and the space they occupy. “For in him we live, and move, and are” (Acts 17:28).

But still, if God is everywhere, why do we say that the Father is “in heaven”? It is primarily to convey the truth that God is utterly transcendent, is above all that is corruptible, is higher than the mundane, and dwells in a glory that exceeds all the created beauty that imperfectly reflects it. The canopy of the sky, situated above us on earth (and called “heaven”), gives us an image of this transcendence that is adapted to our present understanding.

Lastly, if our Father is “in Heaven,” then that is where our our inheritance is. “For the Spirit himself giveth testimony to our spirit, that we are the sons of God. And if sons, heirs also; heirs indeed of God, and joint heirs with Christ: yet so, if we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him” (Rom. 8:16-17).