ONE HOLY FAMILY
Now what we want to do in this series is rather an ambitious undertaking and I know that. It's basically to try to summarize and simplify covenantal salvation history, especially in the Old Testament as it leads up to the establishment of the new covenant in the Catholic Church.
The Importance of Studying Covenantal Salvation History
Now there are various ways to do it, but before I describe the ways that some do and the way that I prefer, I want to just suggest some reasons why it might be important. One of the very first times I attended Mass as a non-Catholic, a Protestant, Christmas Eve; it was the Midnight Mass in a suburb of Pittsburgh, my home town. I got there just in time to hear this cantor stand up and before the actual Mass began, he began to sing a song. It is actually a part of the ancient Christmas liturgy. I asked for a copy afterwards and I got the Proclamation of Christmas. I won't sing it or you'll all flee my presence, but I will tell you what it says: "The twenty-fifth day of December in the 5,099th year of the creation of the world from the time in the beginning when God created the heaven and the earth, the 2,957th year after the flood, the 2,015th year from the birth of Abraham, the 1,510th year from Moses and the going forth of the people of Israel from Egypt, the 1,032nd year from David's being anointed king, and the 65th week according to the prophecy of Daniel and the 194th Olympiad, the 752nd year from the foundation of the city of Rome, the 42nd year of the reign of Octavius Augustus, the whole world being at peace, in the sixth age of the world, Jesus Christ, the Eternal God and the Son of the Eternal Father willing to consecrate the world by his most merciful coming, being conceived by the Holy Spirit and nine months having passed since his conception, (all kneel) was born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary being made man (rise), the nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh."
I was a non-Catholic, but when I heard that, I wanted to jump up and shout because all of a sudden a panoramic, bird's-eye view of salvation history was given in song to approximately 900 uncomprehending Catholics who were sitting there. You know, if they could understand the words they were like, "What week of the prophecy of Daniel?" You could just see the looks on their faces. It's a beautiful song but the awareness, the understanding and the appreciation for how much went into preparing the world and the nations and the whole broken human family for the coming of Christ was lost to I would say the vast multitude that night and on many other Christmas Evening Masses.
It just highlights the importance for us as Catholics, as Christians, to enter into more fully the liturgical worship of the family of God, the Church; we need to know the Bible. It is not a Protestant book. It was written by Catholics in the Catholic Church and for Catholics. I am so glad Protestants and other non-Catholics have it. We can profit so much from mutual sharing back and forth. I don't want to say anything to gainsay the profit we can actually acquire from studying Scripture with non-Catholics. But it really is a most treasured family heirloom, and it's also a most neglected family heirloom. So it's important not only to bring them and to follow along, but also to study prayerfully in the days, the weeks, the months and years to come.
Series of Covenants God Established Down Through the Ages
Now, what I propose to do is to simplify Old Testament covenantal salvation history by focusing upon the sequence or series of covenants that God established down through the ages of the Old Testament leading up to and climaxing with the coming of Christ. Now, you might not know all the names right off the top of your head, but I think you'll recognize them.
We can first speak of a covenant with Adam. Pope John Paul II in one of his encyclicals Redemptor Hominis underscores the fact that God established a creation, a covenant bond, with humanity, with A-dam. Adam's name is not only the name of an individual, the founding father of the human race, but it's also the Hebrew word for humanity, much like we use the word Washington to denote the founding father of our country and the capitol of our country, as well.
So Adam is that name of the father and of the entire human family. The covenant that John Paul II underscores (he also mentions this in April, 1986, for those who are keeping score) is in a sense the foundational covenant from which all of the others in the Old Testament spring. The second covenant that God establishes with the human family is with Noah and his household. The third covenant, centuries and centuries later, is with the patriarch Abraham or Abram, as he was known then, initially, before God changes his name. There Abraham was a chieftain over a tribal household that God was willing to identify as his own and administer it through the covenant.
Then Abraham had a son Isaac, and Isaac had a son named Jacob and Jacob had twelve sons, who all in a sense fathered large families which became the twelve tribes of Israel. Why Israel? Because God had changed Jacob's name to Israel. So, the twelve sons of Israel became twelve tribes and formed under Moses a national covenant.
At Mt. Sinai after the Exodus and the Passover, God established a covenant with Moses and Israel to make them his people. Then the last covenant that we will focus upon in our overview this week will be the Old Testament covenant with King David and his son Solomon because there, the nation of Israel was granted by God a kind of power and prominence that was not just any old nation's possession. When you become a kingdom, that means you rule over other nations. You make them vassals or colonies or what-have-you. That's what God does when he establishes a covenant with David.
There we have the Old Testament covenants in sequence leading up to the coming of Christ. First with Adam, second with Noah, third with Abraham, fourth with Moses and fifth with David. Then Jesus Christ comes to establish the new covenant.
How to Understand Covenant
Now, there are various ways to understand covenant. Some people might use the word interchangeably with contract as in 20th century American parlance. I'll say right from the outset: that is a misleading usage. The difference between covenant and contract in the Old Testament and throughout scripture is so profound; the difference could almost be highlighted by saying it's the difference between prostitution; contract, and marriage; covenant. Or between slavery; having a slave and having a son.
Contractual relations usually exchange property, exchange goods and services whereas covenants exchange persons. So when people enter into a covenant, they say, "I am yours and you are mine." So God uses the covenant to enter into a relationship with those whom he created in his own image: humanity and all human persons. I'll take it one step further and try to simplify it and make it practical.
Based on the scholarship of countless scholars over the decades, covenant can be properly understood, I believe, to be a sacred family bond. In ancient Israel, there was no word for family. Somebody could conclude, "Well, maybe for the ancient Hebrews family is not important." But you can't read very far in the Old Testament before you realize that for them tribal bonds, kinship obligations, marriage and parenthood and brotherhood -- all of these family relations are unbreakable bonds that God himself has instituted. So, obviously for the ancient Hebrews, family was very important. But then why no word for it?
I'm convinced and I'm arguing in a dissertation presently that "covenant" was that word, -- that when you establish a covenant, you establish a family bond; and that when God covenants with humanity in that series of Old Testament covenants, what he is doing is, He is fathering his people. He's fathering his family. So in order to clarify and simplify why he did it, when he did in the Old Testament, we can think of the first covenant with Adam as the marriage covenant. "He created man, male and female he created them, and he blessed them and bid them be fruitful."
So he established humanity in a marital covenant and then, the second covenant is with Noah. Now, when a covenant is made with Noah, it's made with Noah who is married, but he also has three sons who are also married. Together they form in Hebrew what would be known as a "bethob" or a household or a family. So our second pact will move from one holy Catholic marriage to one holy Catholic family and then the third covenant with Abraham is made with the chieftain who, in a sense, leads and rules over, what you would call in Hebrew, "mishbahah", or a tribe.
God's family now has moved from a marriage to become a household, to become a tribe made up of many households and many, many marriages - - he had domestic servants by the hundreds under his authority, we might not have realized that before. Then when the twelve tribes of Israel are covenanted to God at Mt. Sinai under Moses, there you have a national family, one national family of God, made up of twelve tribes, hundreds of households and presumably thousands of marriages. So, the structure of the covenant is always familistic, domestic. God administers kinship relations and obligations through the covenant. It's a blood bond. Ultimately the covenant he establishes with David is intent upon raising Israel to the level where Israel can subjugate these other nations and force them, or in a sense, urge them to come up to Jerusalem annually in order for the nations to learn the law of God, the wisdom that God has given to King Solomon, the son of David.
In other words, God, through these covenants is doing his best to take that one human family which has been broken apart by sin, which has been torn apart by violence and injustice; he is trying to reunify this disunified human family we know as the human race. It's his family but it's broken by sin, and the covenants are the means by which he reunites and reconciles it unto himself.
Now, having said that -- that's just like a bird's-eye view of what we want to accomplish because as we finish the series out this week what I hope to highlight or underscore is the fact that when Jesus Christ comes, he doesn't abolish and annihilate the Old Testament, what he does, he completes it and he perfects it. How? By taking what was in David's time a national kingdom, by taking that national kingdom and making it an international kingdom. The Greek word for international is "catholic" and that catholic kingdom which is not political or military but rather spiritual, ecclesiastical, and sacramental is what we know as the one, holy, Catholic or worldwide Church, the family of God, the Communion of Saints.
This is so key for us as Catholics because we need to see that God has blessed us by making us Catholics, bringing us into his family, and giving us the grace so that we can be the tools and instruments that he uses to reconcile all the entire human race to himself. Do we realize the privilege we have as Catholics? Humanity has a corporate destiny: to become the one, unified family of God. The Catholic Church is the sacramental organism, the sacramental family by which this will be accomplished supernaturally.
Natural human power is incapable, so the supernatural grace of Christ comes to form a new covenant, a worldwide family in Christ's own flesh and blood. Vellanicole, a scholar who has done a work on Divine Sonship, in his doctrinal dissertation said, "In the Israelite tradition, the covenant relation always had something of the family about it." So important because what is it that unites family members? Flesh and blood and a common name. So what is it that unites us in the Catholic family? The name we received when we were baptized and reborn into the Catholic Church. We were baptized "in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit." The Trinity is the eternal and original family. We've got a Father and a Son and those aren't our names that we threw onto the inscrutable, unknowable God. Those are the names that God himself has revealed to us so that we might know what God is in himself, a family -- a Father, a Son and Spirit whose name we receive when we are reborn and adopted and brought into God's family in baptism.
Then in the Eucharist that family bond is perfected and strengthened because there we receive the flesh and blood of the founding Father of this new family, this new covenant, Christ, the second Adam. Paul calls him the second Adam because in his own flesh and blood he has formed a new human race, a new human family which he feeds, nurtures and expands through the Eucharist. When we receive Eucharistic Communion, do we look upon that as a family meal given to us by the very sacrifice of Christ in his own flesh and blood, so that we can be bonded to God the Father, that we can become in a sense, adopted members of the Trinity as our family, so that heaven can be our home?
That, in sum, is the goal of this series. I want to kindle a fire in your hearts so that you are going to feel what it means to have the dignity of sons and daughters of God. Not so that we can be triumphal as Catholics looking down our noses at non-Catholics and saying, "Oh you ignoramuses." No, on the contrary, so that we can feel and be humbled by the awesome privilege of being fully in communion with God in his family, the Catholic Church and so we can get excited about sharing that, not in an offensive way but rather in an exciting and an attractive and compelling manner. That's the goal.
Now, I've given you the bird's eye view. It's taken some time but it's important for that and I'm going to review it briefly at the beginning of each talk. But now we're going to have to get down there for the worm's eye view.
The Creation Account
Now, I want to say a few things as we turn to Genesis 1 and as we consider what creation really means for us. First of all, it is Church teaching that the Bible is inspired by God, that in addition to the human authors that are instruments that God uses, instrumental authors of the various books, God in a very real way is also the principal author of the Bible. It's inspired and comes from the Holy Spirit. God in a sense is the principal author of Holy Scripture according to the Church's teaching and therefore, it says "whatsoever God wanted and nothing more."
Therefore, because God is truth, it does not err, once it's properly understood as it's handled and interpreted in a responsible way. It will not lead us astray. It will teach truth and, Divino Afflante Spiritu, one of the most important documents in the 20th century from the Church about the Bible tells us that the errorlessness of the Bible is not just directed to things that pertain to our salvation but that inerrancy or infallibility also extends out to the history that's taught.
Now, immediately we encounter a problem because as we 20th century Americans approach the Bible, we can see lots of problems. For one thing it doesn't give us history the way 20th century American historians give us history. Western history is almost always linear, in a chronological sequence; whereas Hebrew history in Sacred Scriptures is often elliptical. It's often concentric and circular. Seldom do you find a linear sequence arranged in perfect chronological order, because they weren't just interested in recording the wars and the battles and the depressions and the elections like 20th century Western histories tend to do.
Various Interpretations Regarding Six 24-Hour Days of Creation
Scripture gives us religious history and it uses a lot of symbol and it uses a lot of figures and it uses a lot of different literary types and forms that we have got to understand if we are going to accurately interpret the Bible. So the question of six 24-hour days, is that what God did? Well Catholics are not forbidden to believe that, nor are they required. All right, just make that clear. Catholics have never been required to believe that God created in six 24-hour days. In fact, down through the ages very few Catholic interpreters have taken that view; but you are allowed to.
Now, there are other views as well, but those six days are symbols of God's activity and various other interpretations. We don't have time to go through them all. There is, like I say, the literalistic interpretation that sees it six 24-hour days. There is the mythical interpretation, which the Church in a sense properly warns us against, that just sees the whole thing as nothing but a made-up fable. The Church insists that Genesis 1 through 11 gives us history, but in an ancient Hebrew sense, not in a modern Western sense; and so it's hard for us to understand how they did history back then. We might impose our standard and say, "Unless it's done our way, it can't be done at all." But they told history using symbols and figures in a way that we would never tell history.
For instance, in Daniel chapter 7, 400 years of Israel's history are depicted in terms of four beasts that successively oppress God's people, four ugly animals. Now when you actually dig down into the interpretation of that, all scholars agree that they refer to Babylon, present day Iraq, interestingly enough, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome. Now these are historical political entities, but they are historically described in the Old Testament through symbols. So we have to be aware of that.
Now, other interpretations. Some scholars try to have the six days of creation correspond to the six geological ages that some theoreticians have put forth. I think that's somewhat dubious myself, but there are scholars who have propounded that theory and defended it with great articulation. For me, and I think for the scholars who are these days most responsible, I think that the key is to understand the difference between literalistic interpretation and literary interpretation.
In other words, we have to approach Genesis as an ancient Hebrew narrative that is telling history that's religious, not secular, that is family history, not political-military history like we like to tell; and it's telling this religious family history using many figures and symbols. For instance, why does God create in six days and rest on the seventh? Because he couldn't get the whole thing done in one? I mean if he's God, he could you know just go "presto" and the whole cosmos comes into being. I mean if he meets the job description, God could do that, right? So why did he do in six days and rest the seventh?
There are various interpretations and explanations given. The one that impresses me the most is built upon the recognition that the Hebrew word, the verb "to swear a covenant" is literally built upon the Hebrew term "to seven oneself." I remember back in Hebrew class in seminary, the Hebrew professor giving out a vocabulary list and I saw the word, "to swear a covenant" and then there was a comma or "to seven oneself." I raised my hand and said, "Professor Huggenberger, which is it? Is it to swear a covenant or is it to seven oneself?" And he said, "Well look, the verb to swear a covenant is built upon the number seven." The thought occurred to me and I have since found it in many reputable scholars. Then, of course, that explains why God's creation is depicted in seven days, because what is God doing in the act of creating the cosmos? He's swearing a covenant to his world. He's not just master. We're not just slaves. He's not just creator and we're creatures. That's true, but it doesn't go far enough. If he had stopped on the sixth day, we would be creatures, slaves and private property of God. But he went on and blessed the seventh day and took a rest and invited us into that rest because that represents the covenant relationship that he establishes with his creation.
Now, what is a covenant? A family bond, a sacred family bond. That is why I suspect, if you turn to Job 38, Psalm 104 and other passages in the Old Testament where the whole world is described, you don't read about quasars and galaxies and black holes and solar systems. You don't have a scientific description. Every time I find creation being described, it's described in one of three terms. Either it's described as a house, a palace, or a temple. It's got foundations. It's got a cornerstone. It's got pillars. It's got a door. It has windows. It's got a roof and it's got gardens and it's got all kinds of other things that you have when you decorate a house, a palace, or a temple.
When God creates in seven days, he creates a house. He builds himself a home that he can move into so that he can dwell in our midst as a father, not just a creator. So we are not just creatures; we are his children. Now, I would suggest that that gets closer to the heart of how the religious history of Genesis 1 is intended to be understood -- using symbols, getting at literal historical truth, but using literary figures to do so. Now we could add other explanations and I think this doesn't rule out other explanations, but I think this gets a little bit closer to the Hebrew understanding of what it means for God to create in six days and rest the seventh and invite his creatures into that Sabbath rest.
I want to move on but before I do, I just want to underscore one point that I've already made and that is, we can read the Bible with confidence. Sometimes you'll come across Scripture scholars who perhaps are out of touch with what the Church has taught and still teaches and will always teach, what the Holy Spirit has always led believers to see and that is that the Bible is absolutely reliable. Once it is properly understood, it's without error. St. Thomas once said in his famous Summa, "Our faith receives its surety from Scripture as Augustine says in the Epistle to Jerome, 'If but one untruth be admitted into Sacred Scripture, the whole authority of the Scripture is weakened'." And he goes on to say, "With God as the principal author, there are no errors, once the Bible is properly understood and interpreted." That's the key proviso, of course.
What we are doing then is trying to see the Bible in its own terms. We're not trying to read the Bible in terms of 20th century science, 20th century politics, 20th century sociology or poetry or literature or whatever. We're trying to understand that narrative in its own terms. Seeing the covenant idea is central because when you read the Old Testament, as I did, over and over and over again, what became clear to me over time was that the central idea was the covenant. There are other central ideas, too, but one central idea was the covenant.
St. Augustine once said that the new covenant is hidden in the old covenant, whereas the old covenant is explained by the new covenant. So we are going to be taking this panoramic view as we work through Genesis 1, 2 and 3, as we consider creation a little more closely, but with this idea that what we are trying to gain is practical and profound wisdom to live the Christian life. It isn't just esoteric theory for the ivory-tower theologians. It's for us to come to a much more intimate understanding of all that our Lord has been doing for us for ages and ages.
"In The Beginning..." What was God Doing Before He Created?
Let's consider creation a little more closely now. We've considered what in general the six and seven day pattern might refer to, but let's take a quick look at that phrase, "in the beginning." It's one of my favorite passages in the Bible: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." Now we could tear that apart and spend I think hours and hours on it, but let me just ask you a question. This is what came to me over and over again when I used to read this: "In the beginning God created." What was God doing before he created? Did you ever wonder that? How many people have ever wondered, "What was God doing with the billions and trillions and quadrillions of years that he had on his hands before he created? Just sitting around, twirling his thumbs, waiting, wondering what it would be like, planning, and so on?
It's a hard question. Now there are two approaches to answering it. One was taken by a great reformer, a great Protestant reformer, John Calvin said that he was preparing hell for people who ask such impertinent questions. There might be a certain propriety in such a response. But I prefer what St. Augustine said and many others as well. Augustine, I think might have been trying to be a little bit humorous. Certainly he was trying to be subtle and ironic when he said, "What was God doing before he created?" He answered, "Nothing. He didn't have the time." Now you've got to think about that for a second. It kind of gives you a charley horse between the ears. What does he mean, "Nothing. He didn't have the time." Well, for Augustine, time and space are relative properties for creatures but not the creator.
We speak of God, for instance, as being "omnipresent," that he is present everywhere. A corollary of that is that God cannot move. Is that because he is just some static, frozen deity? No. In order to move from here to there, you've got to be here but not there and then you've got to be there and not here. Figure it out. Can God move? No, because where isn't he? Where could he move to that he isn't already present? Poor God, stuck in one place, but that one place is every place! So we don't speak of God as being spaceless, so much as filling space to overflowing. Space can't contain the infinite glory of God.
Time is the same way. Time in a sense is a succession or duration of moments. As creatures understand time in their own finite existence whatever the conditions may be, a house fly or a human. It doesn't matter. But time is one of the experiences of finite creatures. Just as God cannot move anywhere in the universe because he is everywhere to begin with, so for God, the past, the present and the future are one, eternal simultaneous moment, one eternal present.
Now, if you understand that, write a dissertation, publish it and make millions because few people can go much further than just to say, "Okay, for God all eternity is his experience and the past, present and future one eternal present." I mean, we can say it but I don't think anybody here tonight can really imagine what that's like. You know, we can say, "Time flies when you have fun and a year can go by like a day or a week can go by like a day, or whatever," but I mean not to the degree that God experiences time as one simultaneous present moment. He fills time like he fills space.
So what was God doing before he created? Nothing. He didn't have the time! Time began when God created it. He created out of nothing. He didn't use a pile of pre-existent matter that he had in the side yard. He created out of nothing. Matter is what he spoke into existence by the powerful word of God. So likewise, time was created and space and matter. These were the things that God created when he said, "Let there be light" and he pronounced these various "fiats" as we might say in Latin, "Let there be, let there be...." He didn't roll up his sleeves and get to work and so many hours later it was there. His word went forth and whatever he declared, by declaring it, he did it!
That's the Word of God and that Word became flesh and dwelt among us. In the New Testament we discover that that Word is not some impersonal utterance; rather that Word is the eternal logos; the eternal Word is the Second Person, the Eternal Son of God, our Savior. So the powerful agency of God at work from the very beginning is none other than Jesus Christ himself, according to John, chapter 1 and Colossians 1, verse 15 from St. Paul's perspective and from others as well. So we can already recognize the work of our Savior, not just some generic god, but the Blessed Trinity through Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit is at work building us a home that he will then renovate and reconstitute in the glorious new heavens and the new earth at the end of the ages.
The Earth Was Formless and Empty
So, in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth and it goes on to describe a problem. It says, "Now the earth was formless and empty and darkness was over the face of the deep and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters." Now there are two words in the Hebrew that denote a kind of problem. The earth was formless and void or empty. In other words, God had to do two things. He had to create structure and he had to fill with inhabitants. It was unformed and unfilled. There was no habitation in the beginning and there were no inhabitants.
Then in the six days of creation, he first creates by his own Word day and night. What does he create the second day? He creates the sky and the sea. On the third day he creates the land. What he just did in those three days was to respond to the first problem. If the heavens and the earth were formless and empty, what he just created in those three days was form. He created form to creation. He created day and night, that's time. He created sky and sea, that's space and then he creates land so that the inhabitants can dwell and live.
What does he do the second set of three days? You can see a correspondence. The fourth day corresponds to the first, the fifth to the second and the sixth to the third. He creates the dwellers of the day and night. He creates the sun, moon and stars to rule over the day and the night on the fourth day. On the fifth day he creates those beings that will rule over the sky and the sea, namely the birds and the fish. Then on the sixth day he creates those that will inhabit the land that he created on the third day. In other words, the Hebrews understood this as kind of the home building project. God creates the structure in three days and then he fills that structure with living beings on the second three days. And on the seventh day, he covenants himself to that creation so it becomes for him a kind of temple-palace, his own home. The creator enters into a family relation and becomes, as it were, a father to his creatures.
The Doctrine of Creation
Now, there are other basic insights that we can gain from this. I think it would be worthwhile to consider some. For instance, the doctrine of creation. We're going to look at three teachings of the Church that come from Genesis 1: the doctrine of creation, the doctrine of man and the doctrine of marriage, just briefly.
First of all: we believe in creation. Does that mean we can't believe in evolution? No, it doesn't. All the Popes have repeated the idea that we can believe in evolution. We don't have to. You're free to reject the theory as many scientists are these days. But evolution and creation are not incompatible theories once they are both properly understood. Why? Because creation tells us where matter came from and evolution tells us how it developed to become what it is today. In a certain sense you could say that the theory of evolution, properly understood with its limits, presupposes, it assumes a doctrine of creation, because evolution assumes matter that has been evolving and developing down through the ages, but it doesn't answer the question -- never even raises the question -- where did the matter come from?
Some "big bang" theorists might say. "Well it was from that primordial blob of helium that exploded and, as it exploded it went out and collected extra electrons and we had the periodic chart and all the elements in the universe came through tens of billions of years or whatever. But it never answers the question, "Where did that primal mass of helium come from?"
Then you have the oscillating universe theorists who say, "Well that was an extinct universe from another big band that collapsed." Well, that's postponing the question, "Where did it all come from?" Matter doesn't have to exist, but it does exist, so why does it exist? It assumes that there must be a doctrine or belief or teaching of creation. So the two are not theoretically incompatible, but in a sense potentially complementary, once you understand the limits. Evolution teaches the development of matter whereas creation talks about the origin of matter. I hope we get that clear because that could really solve a lot of problems that people have these days, I believe. We also find not only a compatibility of these two ideas, but we see that God is absolutely sovereign in creation and that when he creates, he does not create something in opposition to himself, he creates something which is entirely under his control and lordship. God is sovereign over all of creation.
In addition we discover that as he creates, he pronounces his creation very good. He says, "Behold, it is good." "Behold, it is good," and at the end it says, "it is very good." Now, some people believe that matter is evil and spirit is good. My soul is good, but my body is a kind of necessary evil that I need to get through this world. But as soon as I can discard it, I will, thank you. No way. That won't fit with Genesis 1; that won't fit with all of Christianity and the Catholic teachings. Matter as well as spirit, body as well as soul are positive goods that are created by God for good. They are ultimately the instruments that God uses in redeeming us.
If our body causes us to sin, God then reverses that by using our body, our flesh, Christ's flesh to redeem us and to restore us to a relationship with himself. The goodness of matter, in a sense, is the cornerstone to all of our sacraments. It's precisely because our Redeemer is also our Creator that He can take what He created and use it to restore us and glorify us for everlasting life. We need to see the world around us and the structures of this world as things which are good.
Vatican II called lay people to go and sanctify the temporal order. The political sphere is not just evil. The economy is not evil. There might be evil things that are being done, but these structures, these spheres of government are good, positive goods. So the doctrine of creation teaches us that God is Lord of Creation and that the creation He has made is good, even the matter, the physical stuff of our body and our flesh.
The Doctrine of Man: Created in God's Image and Likeness
Now that gets us into the doctrine of humanity. What does it mean to be man, male and female. First of all we see in Genesis 1:26 and 27 that it means that we are created in the "image of God." What does this doctrine of the imago Dei suggest? Some people said that the image of God denotes the rationality that humans possess over and against animals. That's true, as far as it goes. But in the Hebrew narrative of Genesis, the image of God is a phrase that suggests even more. For instance, we read elsewhere in chapter 5, we read in verse 3, "When Adam had lived 130 years he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image and he named him Seth."
That's the very next time "image and likeness" is used as a phrase and what does it there mean? To father a son. So that when God the Creator creates man in his image and likeness, what does that suggest? It suggests that our Creator, in the act of making us is fathering us. He is creating us to enter into a father-son relationship so that we are the children of God. We are given the grace of God from the moment of our historical existence.
Now this is a key point that theologians often debate about, but I think that it can be made very simple and that is this: By nature we would only be creatures and servants of God. That is, if all we had was human nature to go with, we'd be God's servants, God's slaves, God's possessions, his property. But from the moment of our historical existence, when he first created us, he gave to us his grace; so that Elohim, God the Creator, becomes Yahweh, the covenant Lord, the family God who calls us into his own home, into his own family life.
Some people say, "Well, there are two creation accounts in Genesis. We have one in chapter 1, and we've got another one in chapter 2." I'd say, "Bingo. Exactly." Now some people say, "Well therefore you got contradictions." No, we've got complementarity. In Genesis 1, we see God, Elohim, the Creator bringing the cosmos into existence at the end of which he creates his own image and likeness. The cosmos is being transformed into a home. These creatures are being transformed into his children. So that obviously leads right into Genesis 2 and this alternative understanding of creation which is purely covenantal in the sense that God fashions man into a married couple, and then he says, "Be fruitful and multiply." And they behold each other and they are enraptured and thrilled, and they are in love and so on.
It proves to us again, the Bible does not contradict itself. When you approach these problems you end up seeing great complementarity and insight, but you also see that our creator becomes our father and that these creatures are called to become his children and to live out that life in the covenant, as covenant family members of God, with God.
This is very Hebrew. It's very hard for Americans to understand this manner of thinking, but I think it's very, very important. Where is it important? Well in many, many areas of life. For one thing, we should see that when God creates humanity in his own image and likeness, that imparts a certain sanctity to human life per se. Human life does not become dignified or valuable according to its economic output and productivity or according to its political preferences or party membership. Human life has a sacred dignity in and of itself. Why? It's in the image of God! Humans are children of God. That's what they were created to be and even after the fall, that's still what we are called to be and that's what Christ graces us to become more and more -- to grow up as God's sons and daughters.
So, all human life has dignity. Preborn human life, in utero, is in the image of God. If our Lady was immaculately conceived, that tells us that at conception, you've got a person who can be in relationship to God. If when Jesus was in the womb of Mary when she went to visit Elizabeth, and John the Baptist who was in Elizabeth's womb "leaped for joy," we discover that not only do we have human life, but we've got human experience in some way that we cannot understand scientifically.
Human life has an awesome, immeasurable value and our society has to learn to go beyond economic productivity in measuring the value of human life. Not just in utero, not just the preborn, the unborn, but the aged, as well. The infirm, those who might be deficient intellectually; they are humans in the image of God; therefore, their life possesses an intrinsic, divine dignity. We also need to see that each human person has dignity. They may have sinned in some heinous way. They might have committed some awful crimes, but they are human persons and so they must be respected as such. They are redeemable, no matter what they have done.
We also see that human labor has a certain value. Because, what does God do? Does he say, "Look, if you sin, I'm going to send you to work?" No. Work is not the curse. The frustrating, toilsome labor is the curse. Work is a blessing. Work is a divine vocation. We are to work in imitation of God and so we are to work six days and rest on the seventh because, ultimately, we are not slaves. We are not just creatures who work for God. We are called into that seventh day relationship, that covenant relationship. We are called to lay out our work and trust that our father will supply whatever we lack. That's what parents do, don't they, for their children? They supply whatever they need, whatever they lack.
So we see the sanctity of human life, the dignity of the human person, the value of human labor, the centrality of worship. Worship is part of human nature. Natural law teaches worship. St. Thomas says, "Apart from revelation we would know that we should offer regular worship to our creator and our Father," the centrality of worship. I would also suggest that one of the most fundamental truths that you find in Genesis 1, 2 and 3 is the brotherhood of humanity, the sisterhood, the siblinghood -- I don't mean to be sexist, you know,
We are family. That is not just some quaint metaphor that is meant to stir up emotions. That is biological, historical and theologically true. That's bedrock certainty. We are God's family. We are not just biologically and historically descended from one pair of humans, which the Church does teach and calls us to believe, but ultimately that we believe that that human couple was created in the image of God, in the marital covenant.
The Doctrine of Marriage: "Be Fruitful and Multiply."
This leads me to one point that I want to make with great force. In the Christian teachings rooted in Genesis 1, we have a doctrine of marriage that is second to none. How many of the world's religions require their adherents to practice strict monogamy? Think of Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Janism, Islam, Judaism and so on. How many of the world's religions require their practitioners to maintain strict monogamous relations in marriage? One! In all human history, only one. Christianity, not Judaism. Abraham had two wives, Jacob had two, Israel had two. Christianity represents a kind of beautiful world revolution in the dignity of women and in the sacred dignity of marriage being restored to its original purpose.
God said, "Let us make man in our image and likeness," in Genesis 1, and how does he do it? "Let us make man in our image and likeness and let them rule over the fish and the sea, etc. etc." And it goes on, "Male and female he created them." God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply." Now, when he created man, male and female and he said, "Be fruitful and multiply," what does that suggest? That he says, "Well, go ahead and enter into this copulative relation and then let's just see those offspring. If you like each other and want those children, we can formalize the arrangement somehow. Marriage or whatever convention you like?" No, he is not suggesting, "Have an affair and if things work out, we can finalize it."
The statement assumes a marital covenant. Marriage is not man- made. Marriage is divinely instituted the very moment man, male-female is created. How do you like that? Our culture could be turned upside down if we could see that strict monogamy is rooted in the nature of man as male and female at the moment of our creation, and it's something that Christ infallibly and explicitly republished and restored. That's why Christianity has had a hard time wherever women and marriage and children have been repudiated or looked down on.
This is where Jesus went in Matthew 19 when the Pharisees probed and questioned him about divorce. He went right back to Genesis 1 and 2. There he set straight and made clear the doctrine of marital indissolubility, "What God has joined together, let no man put asunder." He's not just saying, "Shame on you for breaking up the marriage." He's saying, "God is the one who creates marriage. Who do you think you are, mere humans, to break it up?" We can say it's broken up. We can even feel emotionally and psychologically that it's broken up. We can even have the state declare it broken up legally, but if it's a sacramental marriage, it's indissoluble.
Technically, I just committed a little boo boo. If you want to study the law of the Church really closely, you discover something very fascinating. If two people get married before 10,000 people at a great Mass, they celebrate matrimony and then that night they decide to pray all night and then go to sleep, and the next night (read the book of Tobit, by the way; it was done). And if they decide after three or four days that God has called them to live a Josephite marriage or to live in a celibate fashion -- and this has happened actually in Church history where they have been called to religious life after that or something along those lines -- what happens? A marriage is actually validated with the contract that's celebrated in the Church, but it is only rendered permanent and indissoluble when the marital act is done. When the act of marriage is performed, that is what makes marriage in the legal and strictest sense indissoluble.
Does the Catholic Church look down on sex? No way! It's the sexual act of the covenant of marriage that makes that marriage all that it was created to be -- permanent, lifelong, indissoluble and dare I say, fruitful and multiply. We might say, "Be fruitful and add 1.2, you know." No. God said, "Be fruitful and multiply." That doesn't mean thoughtlessly have as many as you can and just say, "Well, God will take care of these 25 kids, even though I've got no job." No. Of course, the Church never taught it either. We trust God to provide for the life that he creates, though, within us.
We are in a sense, co-creators with God in the act of marriage. This covenant is life giving in its power. There is something here that our culture needs to hear again that, marital love in the covenant of marriage is life giving, not just accidentally or incidentally, but intrinsically. That is the divine intention, for the two to become one. So there's a unitive purpose in marriage. The two should become one and that intimate union should be the source of all kinds of companionship and friendship and communion and so on. But the two become one, and then ultimately, what? Three and four and five.
God is a family, an infinite family of three persons. When God creates the human family in his own image and likeness, how do finite beings image an infinite family? By becoming three, four, five, a million, ten million, twenty million, thirty million or whatever. We are called to be fruitful and multiply in the image of God, not just biologically but psychologically, socially in love and song.
Genesis 1 Gives the Blueprint for all Creation
This is something that the Church is getting herself into lots of trouble for teaching these days because we have pedophobia, a fear of children, a disordered fear of having children. I understand why. I have three and, if we waited until we were ready and mature enough to have them, we'd be at least 80 or 90 before we had one! But God promises to give us the grace that we need and this is the doctrine of creation: that our bodies are good, that the sexual instinct can be harnessed for glorious ends. The doctrine of marriage teaches that we are created to be in an indissoluble covenant and that that indissoluble covenant is made by God to be fruitful and that fruitfulness is not meant to be thwarted, Contraception is unnatural.
Even when I was a Protestant, even when I was still anti-Catholic, studying natural law and scriptural law, it was patently clear to me, after some study and to my wife as well, that contraception was not in keeping with God's design for the life-giving power of marital love in this covenant. And all Protestant theologians for over 400 years agree with the Catholic Church. It wasn't until the last 50 years that a few began to change and then many, and now it's become a flood. Many of these theologians who first began allowing contraception are now endorsing abortion and homosexual marriage and all kinds of things that Christians had never thought of allowing.
We've got a mission to a dying and despairing world to give them the life-giving power of marital love, to lift their vision higher and to show them what it really is in itself. We see in Genesis 1 the blueprint for all creation because, if Adam and Eve were to obey completely and perfectly, what would have happened. They would have imaged God. They would have been faithful sons and daughters. They would have been a loving spouse to each other. They would have created children who were, in turn, faithful and we would have imaged the Trinity.
Unfortunately, pride, selfishness, fear and these things came in. We haven't even gotten to Genesis 3. We're out of time. But let me just suggest by way of conclusion that we all in our lives focus upon the gift of family and see it in covenant terms as God has designed it. Then to shift your focus a little bit and to see that the Church is the family of God as well. In a sense, the eternal, everlasting, permanent family. That this parish is our family and that Father David is truly a father because supernaturally he does all in a supernatural plane of what I do as a natural father in the natural sphere. And as we hear again the call of God for us to live out that image and likeness, we can pray to him for all the assistance and all the grace we need.
Now, when we study theology, when we approach Sacred Scripture, we are doing something that is not just for the specialists and the scholars. I am saying this by way of conclusion. I want to say this by way of encouragement. Theology is not a specialized science for the esoteric few, the theoreticians, the ivory tower scholars. Theology comes from a compound that means "knowing God." That's what theology is.
The Family of God is the Master Idea of the Catholic Religion
Cardinal Ratzinger once said that theology is a spiritual science. The normative theologians are the authors of holy Scripture. We have in the Bible the very means by which we can enter into a much more intimate relationship with our Father, and as we are going to see throughout this week, the family of God is the master idea to the whole Catholic religion. It's going to be the key to understanding why we look upon Mary as being our Mother, the Pope as our Holy Father, the parish priest as being a sacramental father, the saints as being older brothers and sisters, the Eucharist as being the family Table.
All this is part of the program that God established when he made the covenant and created us in his own image and likeness. Thank you very much.
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