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The Divine Attributes Retreat
The Attributes of God
God the Creator
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
Continuing our theological retreat, our present conference will be on "God the Creator"; however, there will be two conferences on this very important and broad Subject. Our purpose in this meditation, we're going to see, what the Church infallibly teaches about Creation. Then, examine more closely what we may call the "When," "How," and "Why" of Creation. And in the following conference, look specifically and practically on how our Faith in the mystery (it is a mystery), of Creation is to be lived out in our own daily spiritual lives.
As we have been saying from the beginning, the focus of this retreat is to give us the Faith-foundations for our pursuit of sanctity. We begin then with reading at some length on crisp paragraph from the Church's infallible teaching defining what we as Catholics are expected to believe regarding the mystery of Creation. For the record, the Doctrine was defined by the Fourth Lateran General Council, date: 1215 A.D. The Council was occasioned by the then widely prevalent heresy of Manichaeism (remember?) that became by the 13th century in Europe Albigensianism. It was this saying (very important Council) which defined the meaning of the Real Presence which first used and infallibly explained the meaning of Transubstantiation. It was this Council which decreed (and the Decree is still valid) that every Catholic on reaching the age of reason should first (note the adverb), should first go to Confession and then receive Holy Communion. It was this Council which prescribed what for 700 years we have been calling the Easter Duty.
Well, it was the same General Council which at length and very precisely defined the meaning of Creation. Here is the reading of the infallible teaching: We believe and profess without qualification that there is only One True God: The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit creator of all things visible and invisible, spiritual and corporeal, who by His Almighty Power from the very beginning of time has created both orders of creatures in the same way out of nothing, the spiritual or angelic and the corporeal or visible universe and afterwards he formed the creature man who in a way belongs to both orders as he is composed of spirit and body." - the Church's Dogmatic definition of what we as Catholics believe to be the mystery of Creation.
First preliminary comments: you will notice immediately that the Church believes that all Three Persons of the Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit were or shall we say was the Author of the Universe. And even though in the Apostles Creed we do profess: "I believe in the Father Almighty Creator of heaven and earth," we know however and we better know that the title "Father" applied to God in the Apostles Creed is not just to the First Person. It is to all Three Persons - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Moreover, and this we should get clear (one of my hopes for this retreat is to clarify our Faith) so that in living out the Faith, we will be more effective in glorifying God and obtain more graces because our Faith is so clear. What is the general principle in Catholic Theology? We believe that whatever God does (as the expression goes), "outside of Himself," is always done simultaneously by all Three Persons of the Holy Trinity. In other words, there are two kinds of activity in God. There is the interior Divine Trinitarian Life of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Whatever those Three Persons do within the Trinity is always done within themselves and (listen!), by necessity. The Father (I will be as respectful as I can but to bring out what I want to say), the Father couldn't say: "I have been generating the Son now, let's see, well from all eternity, I'm going to take a rest." Whatever the Trinity does within the Godhead is done necessarily with the necessity of God Himself He has done eternally and is done as each Person - the Father generating, the Father and the Son (here's a strange verb, we never use it in English), spirating the Holy Spirit. But the moment (to use our human vocabulary), the moment we step outside of God, whatever He does, Everything that God does except within the Godhead is always done by all Three Persons simultaneously and equally.
(Back to our subject) - Consequently, the Creation is the work of all Three Persons. Now we get into more detail. To begin to understand as far as our mind enlightened by grace allow us of when, how and why God (watch this!), not only HAS created but IS creating. By way of prelude, let me just make this short observation. Catholic Spirituality in about the last 30 years in countries like the United States has become increasingly infected (a charitable verb), increasingly infected by Oriental non-Christian Philosophy. Book after book (I wish I did not have to say this) and some graced with imprimaturs - oh they will drip with piety. They will reek of mystical incense but they are not Christian. You have heard about the New Age Movement (I hope). Millions of Americans are infected by the ideas of the New Age Movement which is penetrating religious education in one diocese in our country after another. And the New Age Movement denies everything we are talking about here.
Back to our explanation of what for us is the irreversible Doctrine of our Faith. We ask ourselves and try to understand when, how and why God has Created (past tense), and is creating (present tense). With apologies for counting everything, I have 13 items.
Item No. 1: Creation took place at the beginning of time. We may use humanly speaking the expression: "God began to create and when He began, that was the beginning of time. Meaning what? Meaning, that if we understand what time is, it is perfectly obvious there could have been no time before Creation. Time, we define as the measure of change. There must then be beings that can change and the process or duration of their change calculated as we for example calculate the revolution of the earth and by now have set all our clocks around the world according to that one and that's just one kind of change.
Second: Once we realize that time began with Creation, because it is only with the dawn of Creation that anything changed. You see God as God as we shall see in more detail before the retreat is over is the Absolutely immutable Being, the One who does not because He cannot change. The dawn of Creation was the dawn of change.
Third:There was no such thing as time in existence before Creation. Why not? Because the first and most momentous change (and what a change!), ( what a change!), began to take place. Things which did not exist began to exist. (My friends, that's quite a change!!)
Fourth: God is the only absolutely changeless Being. And if there is one error to which the human mind is constantly and naturally prone - it is to attribute to God the qualities that are so obviously true of the world in which we live! You know the fundamental heresy underlying the revolutionary ideas in Moral Theology - the underlying error is the myth of a changing god. So as the outstanding spokesman of what has come to be called Situation Ethics - Joseph Fletcher - has written a series of books. Listen! Time was when adultery used to be considered wrong. Fornication, homosexuality, masturbation - well, says Fletcher, "We can postulate a changeless morality only on the premise of a changeless god." Do you hear me??? We better get what we are talking about CLEAR!
Fifth: I call them items to bring out the meaning of the Church's teaching: God did not create. Fifth item of explanation of our Faith in the when, how and why of creation: God did not create, therefore, from all eternity (to use our human expression), God began to create, He did not change in creating but the world sure changed from having been nothing to becoming, (well), the World. "But I don't get it." My friend, relax. That's what a mystery is. The secret behind mysteries is to believe them. Make as much sense out of them as we can and then, turn off the mind. The mind starts speculating. Turn it off. The door of the mind opens again. We bang it shut.
Sixth: It is therefore an Article of Faith that the World did not always exist. It came into existence. If there is one Article of Divine Revelation that we should have no trouble accepting, it is just what we've just said. That the world did not always exist, it came into existence, why? Because one very important part of this World that happens to have our name did not always exist. Do we all agree? And how we need, how we need to keep telling ourselves that. Time was I was not.
We go on. Number seven: Did God have to create? Absolutely, NO. And there again, errors, volumes, book after book, it was come to be called a contradiction - Process Theology - as though God who is "Theos" could evolve. And once more, how deeply, how widely, how devastatingly the errors of Process Theology have penetrated into once sound Catholic minds. One of the largest nominally Catholic Publishing Houses in the United States, I will not identify it, is also the largest Publishing House in the world for Process Theology whose basic premise is God is constantly changing. He is evolving and to compound the blasphemy, and we are contributing to his perfection.
Number eight: This God who did not have to create was therefore not constrained, either from within Himself or from outside of Himself to bring anything into existence. As we'll see in our next meditation, unless this is clear and it had better be very clear, we'll always have problems trying to make sense as we say of - "What are we doing in trying to please God and obeying His Will." As the expression goes, "What's in it for God?" And the answer is, NOTHING. You know there are impious heretics and there are pious heretics, did you know that? And the more dangerous are the pious ones. Pelagius who denied the necessity of grace was a pious heretic. Luther, who started the Protestant Reformation, was a pious heretic. God was not constrained or compelled even by His Love to create anything or anyone outside Himself. Why not? Because then, if there had been any coercion, or compulsion, from either within God or from outside of God, He would then not be God. God is All-Perfect. God cannot be constrained, (listen!), even by His Infinite Love. God alone, we keep saying must exist. Nothing else need exist. As a consequence, we cannot, otherwise we deny our Faith, we cannot even suspect that God was or is in any way necessitated to produce anything outside of Himself. And we never speak of God producing anything within Himself. The word production is to be reserved exclusively for what God does outside of His own Infinite Perfect Being.
We go on. Now we ask a little more sharply, not so much about the "when" but the "how" and the "why" of creation and for this, we have another infallible teaching of the Church from another General Council, this time from the First Vatican Council, date: 1870. Here's what the Church infallibly tells us is the "how" and the "why" of creation. "This One and Only True God by His Goodness, and Almighty Power and by a completely free decision, has created both order of creatures, visible and invisible, not to intensify His own happiness nor to acquire any perfection, but in order to manifest His Perfection to the benefits which he bestows on creatures." - solemn definition of the First Vatican Council telling us "how" and "why" God has created and continues creating.
First, the "how": We are told God is Creator by a completely free decision of His Divine Will. How this needs to be said: "Is there a will in God? Is there a Will in God which is absolutely necessary?" As we asked before, could God the Father decide no longer to generate the Son? NO. Could Father and Son decide, "That's enough, that's the last of the Holy Spirit? Of course not. Whatever then God does within Himself is always done by the Divine Necessity of His own Being. But God has another will. And how this needs to be underlined. God also has a FREE WILL. In other words, God chose, He decided that He would create the World out of nothing- How then did God create? We say with absolute gratuity. Only and exclusively because He wanted to. Why did God create? Only because He freely chose to. Why did God create? Only because He decided for reasons best known to God that He would WILL to bring what was nothing into existence. In one short sentence, why did God create? Only (and the adverb is revealed), only because God wanted to. Oh how much there is not for a seven day retreat but for seven years of Theological reflections. And this is the God who as we saw in reflecting on the Holy Trinity, we are to become like to imitate Him. Everything, everything, EVERYTHING that God has done for us from having brought us into existence - He has done only, (may I repeat the adverb), ONLY because He wanted to. And that is why that's the fundamental reason why we've got a free will. Am I clear??? That in loving gratitude to God, for all that He has done and we are confident will continue doing into the endless reaches of eternity; it is only because He wants to. Love does not bargain. Love wants to GIVE and never stops giving as long as Love remains.
Now the harder question: "why?" Why has God created? First, negatively, why He did not create. And we've got to say this because I repeat, there is so much blatant though often subtle error on this primordial Article of our Faith going around in some other (believe me) in nominally Catholic circles. Why did God not create? He did not create, the Church tells us infallibly in order to in any way benefit Himself. Why not? God is All‑Perfect. God is perfectly happy. God is God because He needs no one and no thing. Why did God not want to create? To benefit Himself. Now positively! Our Faith tells us God's purpose in creating was to manifest His Perfection by benefiting His creatures. Let's be clear. I have taught the Subject too many years to too many priests not to know even the best minds can be blurred or fuzzy on this Truth. God parts with nothing in creating. He loses nothing when He creates. He does not leave anything. He is not impoverished or deprived. God is no less God after creating than before. Why? Why finally has God created the Universe? In order to make His rational creatures happy. That's why He made the angels. That's why he has made and continues making human beings.
He wants us to be HAPPY. He wants to satisfy all our desires. But now, an important qualification. That is indeed God's purpose in creating. But, and how we need to still ourselves to believe it that this happiness is conditional. And no less than God used His Free Will in creating us, in bringing us out of nothing into being and we had no choice. We didn't tell God before we existed, "Lord, how about making me?" "Who are you to tell me what to do, you NOTHING!?" Contradiction. God made us without consulting us. God made us without asking us. God made us without our asking Him! Our creation was absolutely unconditional on the part of God. Ah, but this is a retreat. So it was. So was our creation absolutely unconditional on the part of God. But having come into existence, our destiny is NOT conditional.
God made us because HE wanted us to be happy. But God will not give us that happiness for which we were made unless (listen!), unless we WANT it! We must want to be happy. And this is no sterile, meaningless desire. "So you want to be happy," the Lord says. "I sure do." "Are you sure you want to be happy?" "Lord, let me repeat. I want to be happy." Third time like asking Peter: "Do you really want to be happy?" "Lord you know all things. You know I want to be happy." "Now, I'll tell you. You want to be happy. I want you to be happy. But you'll be happy in this life and perfectly happy in the life to come ONLY if you fulfill the conditions I who am your creator set down for your happiness." That in one, I hope not too long a sentence is what life in this world is all about. How we need to be crystal clear in God's purpose for creating us. I would like to quote from the Old Testament where time and again the ancient Prophets make a strange comparison. Said the prophets: "Yahweh blesses those who bless Him." Or in one mysterious statement, and when I say it people will challenge me: "I've never seen that in the Bible," I tell them, "Look it up." Says God: "I Yahweh love those who love Me." And that's all. When all the books in the book have been read, and all the speeches listened to, that's all happen it's consisting - being loved by God. AH, but notice when God says "I love those who love ME!" That is why we have a free will so with our free will, we might give to God whatever He asks of us (change the verb), whatever He demands of us, (change the verb), whatever He requires of us for happiness in this world and our beatitude in the world to come.
Forty two years in the priesthood have taught me many things; many things, things I have never dreamt of before. Here's one. Christianity is the most sober, sane, logical Religion in the World. It just adds up. Why did God make us? To be happy. He wants us to be happy. And if we are not, and during the retreat I suggest that we all examine our consciences: What are the areas of unhappiness in my life? Where do I not experience the peace and joy that I want and believe that I have a right to? Whatever you do, don't blame God. And the main purpose of the Spiritual Exercises is to come to grips with what we're talking about here: being honest with God, asking Him as we close with this prayer:
"Almighty Triune God, You have brought us out of nothing into existence. Your only reason we believe for creating us was that we might be happy in this world and perfectly happy in the world to come. Lord God, You have done all that You could do to ensure our happiness. Open these blind minds of ours. Unshackle these selfish wills of ours to see what you want us to do and give us the strength to do it because it is only in doing your will in this world that we shall have peace. It is only in surrendering ourselves to You that we shall reach that heavenly Company where You Father, Son and Holy Spirit are awaiting us our home, Amen. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Transcription of the retreat given in December, 1988
Copyright © 1998 Inter Mirifica
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