Creeds, Faith, and Reality

(This is Neil.) I’m sure that most of our readers are following the Pope’s visit to the United States. You can read the coverage of John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter, Rocco Palmo, Michael Sean Winters of America, the New York Times (including Amy Welborn), David Gibson of Beliefnet, and, doubtless, many others (I just include, for brevity’s sake, besides Rocco Palmo, only “official” news sources).

Of course, I can’t provide coverage. Here, I would like to quickly share part of this past Sunday’s “Credo” column from the Times, written by the Anglican Bishop Geoffrey Rowell. The Bishop tells us three things.

First, in writing about creeds, the Bishop tells us that “God cannot be confined within the capsules of concepts” (something that the Pope has also said):

Creeds were often known as “the rule of faith” or “the symbol of faith”, reminding us that the faith to which they point is larger than the words which seek to articulate that faith. As Newman once put it, “creeds and dogmas live only in the one idea they are intended to express”. God cannot be confined within the capsules of concepts. Even St Thomas Aquinas, the author of that massive work of theological probing and questioning the Summa Theologiae, left it unfinished. After a deep religious experience when celebrating Mass in 1274, the year of his death, he laid down his pen. “Everything I have written seems like straw by comparison with what I have seen and what has been revealed to me,” he said.

Second, “faith” is not something added to “reality.” The question is not whether we have faith, but rather about the particular sort of faith that we receive:

Yet faith is a far more universal principle. We live by faith because we can live in no other way, the only question is, what is the faith by which we live? The cult of celebrity, political ideology, the amassing of possessions, the addictions that drive us, can in a broad sense all be thought of as instances of faith. So too, more positively, can the searching understanding of the scientist, the imaginative horizons of the artist or composer, and the deep commitments of friendship and marriage. Without some kind of faith none of these things is possible. The human being is not simply a reasoning animal, though reason is also part of the response of faith; reflective faith is, to use an old Christian phrase, “faith seeking understanding”.

Third, the Bishop says that reality, including humanity, “points beyond” itself to God, its Creator:

The opening confession of the Creed is belief in God. The world and our human identity point beyond themselves to the creative source of all that is. That creative source, which has given rise to the immensities of the Universe, and the rich, imaginative possibilities of personal life, is at least personal, even if, as we rightly recognize, the necessarily human language in which we speak of God cannot compass His transcendent reality.

The poet-priest R. S. Thomas asked why God appeared so frequently in his poems, responded simply: “I believe in God.” Pressed about what sort of God he meant, Thomas replied: “He’s a poet who sang Creation and He’s also an intellect with an ultra-mathematical mind, who formed the entire Universe in it. The answer is in a chapter of Augustine’s Confessions where it says, ‘They all cried out with one voice, He made us’.”

For the Christian this God does not remain unknown, but has revealed Himself to us in Jesus Christ, in the characteristic way in which persons make themselves known to us, not as ideas and abstractions, not as collections of atoms and molecules, or the patterns of energy of sub-atomic particles, but as persons with a capacity for love and relationship. Love always involves both faith and hope. Without this trio there would be no human life as we know it.

That reality points us to the God who made us, and whose being and action the Christian creeds confess, as one who is a communion of love, and life, and relationship, the source of our being, the ground of our knowing, the goal of our living. To say Credo — I believe — is to open ourselves to the deepest possibility of our lives. As the great preacher St John Chrysostom said: “Let us then draw Him to ourselves, and invite him to aid us in the attempt, and let us contribute our share — goodwill, I mean, and energy. For He will not require anything further, but if He can meet with this only, He will confer all that is his part.”

I wonder if Bishop Rowell has expanded on these reflections anywhere (they are very interesting and do require expansion)…


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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