The Way to the Father

Not long ago, I penned an appreciation of the Father. Presently, I would like to consider Our Lord as the Way to the Father. That is how Jesus described Himself, and, moreover, we cannot have a filial relationship with the Father without Jesus, who is the “one mediator of God and men” (I Tim. 2:5).

In order to to this, we must first consider things according to a grand cosmic scheme embracing the Trinity and creation before we come to the small-scale, the personal, and the intimate.

At the Incarnation, the Second Person of the Trinity was made the Incarnate Word (λόγος ἔνσαρκος, Logos Ensarkos). But before there was the Man-God Jesus Christ, there was the Word (λόγος ἄσαρκος, Logos Asarkos, the “un-enfleshed Word”), that is, the not-yet-incarnate Second Person of the Holy Trinity. That Person comes from the Father by way of an eternal generation, which is a conception of knowledge. The Father through the Son spirates the Holy Ghost in a procession of love. Saint Thomas Aquinas says that there is no further internal procession in the Trinity (otherwise, It would not be a trinity!), but there is one “external procession,” and that is creation.

To recapitulate: from the Father, the Origin without origin, is begotten the Son, and from them both proceeds the Holy Ghost. Then, as if continuing the beautiful momentum of God’s eternity, creation proceeds from all Three.

But God is not only the Creator. He is also the Consummator — the End of all. Creation returns to its God, but it does so by an inversion of the order of the Processions. Let us very broadly trace out this return of the creature to its Creator, borrowing the words of a deservedly obscure author, who reviewed a book by a Carthusian spiritual master:

“A Carthusian” follows the Platonic pattern of exitus-reditus (emanation and return), in order to explain this. Simply speaking, this means that we came from God and will return to Him, but there is a rather grand cosmology and anthropology that accompanies the notion. The Eastern Fathers used this schema heavily (e.g., Saint Maximus the Confessor), and Saint Thomas employed it, with some nuancing, in the very structure of his Summa Theologiae.

The creature we call man is a microcosm of creation, having something in common with angels, animals, plants, and minerals — and even God. For this reason, man is called the nexus Dei et mundi, the connecting point of God and the world. This creature, who somehow embodies all of creation, returns to the God whence he came in what we might call an inverse Trinitarian order. On this point, our author quotes Saint Thomas, from his Commentaries on the Sentences: “And just as the procession of Persons is the reason for creation, so it is also the cause of our return to the End. It is by the Son and the Holy Spirit that we have been created, an it is by them that we shall rejoin him who has made us [the Father]” (p. 119).

Our way to the Father is in the Holy Ghost, and through Christ. Consider Saint Paul’s words: “Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Rom. 8:9), which indicate that the Holy Ghost forms us into Christ’s Body. The Third Person is, after all, the “Soul of the Church.” We may put this idea together with Our Lord’s words: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). The resulting conclusion is that the Holy Ghost forms Christ’s Body (the Church), and, as members of that Body we are led to the Father. What is true of the Church as a whole is true of the spiritual life of each member. We go to the Father in the Spirit and through Christ.

The Holy Ghost was sent over the primordial chaos, bringing order to it: “And the earth was void and empty, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of God moved over the waters” (Gen. 1:2). It makes sense that this “mission” of the Third Person, who is the procession of Love and therefore of Unity, would make an orderly whole of disparate parts. This is what the Holy Ghost does, in another order, as the “Soul of the Church.” As Saint Augustine said, “What the soul is in our body, that is the Holy Ghost in Christ’s body, the Church” (St. Aug., Serm. 187, de Temp., Cf. Divinum Illud, 6; Mystici Corporis, 57).

The souls vivifies, unites, and orders the matter of our bodies into us. We see the Holy Ghost doing this work of vivifying, uniting, and ordering the Church very dramatically on Pentecost, where the “chaos” of Babel was overcome by the Unity of the Church, each man understanding the Apostles in his own tongue (Acts 2:11). This Church unity is identical with the “unity of the Holy Ghost” mentioned at the Minor Elevation that ends the Roman Canon. What He does in creation and in the Church as a whole, He does also, in yet a different sense, in each soul: He brings supernatural life, unity with the Trinity and with brother Catholics, and the order of the virtues and gifts.

By the power of the Holy Ghost, we profess our Faith in Jesus: “Wherefore, I give you to understand that no man, speaking by the Spirit of God, saith Anathema to Jesus. And no man can say The Lord Jesus, but by the Holy Ghost” (I Cor. 12: 3). Moreover, and more relevant to our subject, He is the Spirit of adoption: “For you have not received the spirit of bondage again in fear: but you have received the spirit of adoption of sons, whereby we cry: Abba (Father). For the Spirit himself giveth testimony to our spirit that we are the sons of God” (Rom 8:15-16). We approach the Father as sons and daughters because of this Spirit of adoption.

These paragraphs on the Trinity and the Holy Ghost are not digressions from our topic, for the Holy Ghost compacts us into the Mystical Body of our Mediator, making us sons of God, and the entire project of our spiritual adoption and salvation is Trinitarian.

Now we have arrived at the central question: how, and in what sense, is Jesus Christ the “one mediator of God and men” (I Tim. 2:5) and the “way… to the Father” (John 14:6)? While this will be by no means complete, I answer that He is so in three ways: First, as the “Icon” of the Father, Christ reveals the Father to us: “And I have made known thy name to them, and will make it known; that the love wherewith thou hast loved me, may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:26). That name is “Father,” which Jesus had taught (among other times and ways) in the Sermon on the Mount, when He promulgated the Our Father. Secondly, as the Man-God, Jesus is the Victim-Priest, whose atoning death is the meritorious cause of our salvation — of our union with the Father in this life and in the next. Third, as our Mystical Head He is the efficient cause of our union with God. For, in being joined to the “one man” who descends from and ascends into Heaven (John 3:13), we partake inthe Mystery of His glorious Ascension and return to His Father.

And that last reason is why there is no salvation outside the Church. The Catholic communion is no mere human institution, but the very Mystical Body of Christ, joined eucharistically to the physical Body of Christ. The Church is also the Bride of Christ, nuptially united to Her Groom, whose very chastity prevents His union with the harlots of false religious sects, be they heretical, pagan, or whatever else. Let us not forget the nuptial imagery with which that most doctrinaire of Papal Bulls, Unam Sanctam, begins:

WE ARE COMPELLED, OUR FAITH URGING us, to believe and to hold — and we do firmly believe and simply confess — that there is one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, outside of which there is neither salvation nor remission of sins; her Spouse proclaiming it in the canticles, “My dove, my undefiled is but one, she is the choice one of her that bore her” [Canticles 6:8]; which represents one mystical body, of which body the head is Christ, but of Christ, God.

Commenting on the famous utterance of Saint Cyprian (258),“You cannot have God for your Father if you have not the Church for your mother” (Unity of the Catholic Church), and a similar statement of Saint Augustine, Saint Peter Canisius (1597) says this in his Catechismi Latini et Germanici:

Outside of this communion — as outside of the ark of Noah — there is absolutely no salvation for mortals: not for Jews or pagans who never received the faith of the Church, nor for heretics who, having received it, corrupted it; neither for the excommunicated or those who for any other serious cause deserve to be put away and separated from the body of the Church like pernicious members…for the rule of Cyprian and Augustine is certain: he will not have God for his Father who would not have the Church for his mother.” (Emphasis mine.)

Lest the reader suppose I present here a perverse mixed metaphor by calling the Church both Christ’s “Body” and His “Bride,” we recall the very nature of matrimony in the divine plan as an image of the union between Christ and His Church: “they two shall be in one flesh” (Eph 5:31; the full context is all to the point).

Through Him +, and with Him +, and in Him +,
is unto Thee, God the Father + Almighty,
in the unity of the Holy + Ghost, all honor and glory.

Through Jesus +, and with Jesus +, and in Jesus +,
we come to Thee, God the Father + Almighty,
in the unity of the Holy + Ghost, for thy honor and glory.