The very first thing we do as Christians is believe and speak.
The two go together like the deity and humanity of Christ. And so the very first words of the creed are “We believe,” and they are meant to be spoken aloud in public assembly by the body of Christ. The creed is emphatically a public thing, because God is a very public God and, indeed, a God who is a public challenge to all the other gods that litter the public square.
Our culture takes it for granted (at least for the present) that there is only one God. Of course, there’s no particular reason why that should go on being the case. Where our ancestors believed in one God as a matter of reason and revelation, the average American believes in one God as a matter of custom and unthinking cultural inertia.
It should not be any surprise at all when (not if) some popular movement arises to try to revive polytheism just as popular movements have already tried to promote atheism. When such movements arise, the Church will go on saying what God’s people have said since Moses: The Lord is one.
Polytheism is really just an attempt to chop little godlets out of the one true God.
It takes this or that favorite aspect of the divine nature and pretends that’s all there is to God. Falsehood and false gods nearly always are born when a truth gets ripped out of the whole Truth and taken in isolation.
Because of our tendency to rip truth out of the weave of revelation, one of the functions of the creed is to help us rightly order our knowledge of God. Jesus’ ultimate revelation to us is that God is not so much Master, Lord, King, Ground of Being, Author of Creation, or Ruler of Time and Space as he is “my Father and your Father.”
All these other titles have their place. But the supreme revelation remains that God is Father.
The creed states that God is Father before it mentions what would have been taken for granted by any ancient monotheist: that God is almighty. That’s because the fatherhood of God explains what we overlook about his omnipotence. For us, omnipotence is often understood to mean that God is bound to take the path of least pain and is especially bound to see that we do, too.
We read Psalm 91:1-2 (“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, who abides in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.’”) and reflexively hear it saying, “If you are right with God, he won’t let anything bad happen to you.”
Indeed, in this very Psalm are the verses the devil tried to use to tempt Jesus to leap off the temple (with the implication that if God would not save him from pain, he’s not much of a Beloved Son).
Jesus rejected the lie.
He knew that the might of God was not displayed by never suffering, but by passing through the agony of the cross instead of around it. The Almighty was never mightier than when he submitted to death — and conquered it.
Of course, the first great act of the Father’s omnipotent power was creation. St. Thomas once remarked somewhere that if God wanted to destroy the universe he would not have to do anything. He would have to stop doing something. Creation does not just refer to something that happened at the Big Bang.
It refers to the fact that the universe — every nanosecond and square millimeter of it — is held in being right now by the present act of God. God wills you — now. And he does it not out of some need to be entertained or truckled to, but out of sheer, lavish — one might even say playful — grace.
All that exists does so because God loves it into being from nothing and maintains it in being so that it does not lapse back into nothingness.
The creed also tells us God is the Creator of all that is seen and unseen. By “unseen” the Fathers of the Church primarily meant what Paul referred to as thrones, dominations, principalities and powers — the whole angelic realm, as well as the natural world we see. Everything that exists is made by God, and, therefore, everything is interesting and (mark this) interrelated.
Catholic theology still thinks this way today. Not just “religious stuff” but all things are fit for us to learn about and all things give glory to God by the fact of their being, if not by virtue of their will. For God the Father is the Creator of all things from quark to archangel.
Mark Shea is the content editor